GM tests its latest model locomotive at Pueblo, Colorado site
It's going to be a while before the coal and freight trains passing through Pueblo will be pulled by General Motors' new state-of-the-art SD70ACe locomotive, but the big engine is piling up a lot of miles just outside town.
GM's Electro-Motive Division announced the launch of its new model last year and brought four of the new units to the Transportation Technology Center Inc. for a grueling battery of tests prior to the commercial release of the engines next January.
Driven in part by new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on diesel emissions that go into effect in 2005, GM took the opportunity to build an enhanced tool for the nation's railroads with what some industry observers say could be the "locomotive of the future."
It's also part of GM's strategy to recover dominance in the alternating-current market which it developed but lost to rival General Electric.
Locomotive builders started offering an alternating current locomotive in the 1980s, also with the help of the TTCI. The center is operated by the Association of American Railroads and provides technical assistance to the industry as a whole, individual railroads and equipment makers and government agencies, along with a world-class training program in handling hazardous material accidents.
Up until the 1980s, diesel locomotives generated direct current. The industry has been switching to alternating current for heavy-load trains because they work better at slow speeds. While they cost less to maintain over the long term, AC locomotives are more expensive to buy and Electro-Motive has indicated it can provide a DC version of the new SD70.
"If the railroads want a DC version, we will provide a DC version," said company spokesman Curt Swenson. But he said that might not be necessary because "We have been able to narrow the difference in price."
The original SD70 series was introduced in 1993, Swenson said, and will go out of production this year. "The SD70MAC has gained a great reputation for high reliability," he said and the AC versions are seen regularly passing through Pueblo, hauling coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
The new models will be tested here through fall, and one of the original four is now being tried out by one of the country's major railroads as part of a regular train.
While that practical experience is valuable for GM as well as potential buyers, the kind of intense testing being done in Pueblo can't be matched on the open road.
TTCI allows the company to test "all of the systems on the locomotive," he said. "The engine, traction system are taken through their paces out at the test center, measuring horsepower, speed and fuel economy."
The new locomotive also has its own state-of-the-art internal monitoring systems and incorporates the latest in remote wireless tracking.
Because the engines are run constantly on the center's tracks, the company can duplicate years of use. Swenson wouldn't say how many miles are being put on the test units but did say the power used is in the millions of megawatts.
Workers at the center said that the tests are using 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel a week.
To duplicate real service, three older locomotives, basically riding their brakes, are hooked up to the SD70ACe to match the drag of freight cars. -The Pueblo Chieftain