There are 48 miles of railroad track available for testing locomotives, vehicles, track components, and signaling devices at the Transportation Technology Center's (TTC) Facility for Accelerated Service Testing (FAST), Pueblo, Colorado. Specialized tracks are used to evaluate vehicle stability, safety, endurance, reliability, and ride comfort. Using TTC's tracks eliminates the interferences, delays, and safety issues encountered on an operating rail system.
FAST was built to test the effects of increased axle loads on track structure and rolling stock. Early tests were aimed at quantifying the rate of track degradation caused by 33-ton axle loads. Building on the knowledge gained in those experiments, the Heavy Axle Load (HAL) Research Program was initiated in 1988. Researchers increased the weight to 39 tons. Since then, the HAL program has reliably produced improvements in track structure, component design, construction practices, inspection technologies, training, and maintenance procedures.
Armed with HAL results, the rail industry has safely and profitably introduced 36-ton axle loads as the new interchange standard, with restrictions. The research has also proven that 39-ton axle loads are safe and technically feasible.
High Tonnage Loop - HTL
The HTL is used for track component reliability, wear, and fatigue research under heavy axle loads. Operations are restricted to a maximum 40 miles per hour. The HTL is divided into test sections that generally correspond to tangents, spirals, curves (three 5-degree curves and one 6-degree curve), and turnouts.
Wheel Rail Mechanism - WRM
The WRM track is a 3.5-mile loop configured to determine vehicle performance on nominally smooth track and on track with perturbations designed to induce known poor performance modes. The WRM is used primarily for the evaluation of rail vehicle safety compliance in curving.
The RTT is a 13.5-mile loop with four 50-minute curves and a single 1-degree, 15-minute reverse curve. Maximum speed is 165 mph. All curves have 6-inches of superelevation. Track structure includes welded 136-pound per-yard rail, new concrete ties, and treated hardwood ties with elastic fasteners. The track loop is also equipped with a rail break detection and switch indication system. The RTT's catenary system can deliver a single-phase, 60 Hz alternating current at 12.5, 25, or 50 kV, in a single or dual voltage condition. The contact wire height is currently set at a 22 feet, 6 inches. It is also possible to energize the system with DC power.
The RTT is the site of frequent high-speed stability and endurance tests for electric powered cars and locomotives. Total performance evaluations of Northeast Corridor locomotives are carried out on the RTT. Connected to the RTT and used for turning trains, is a Balloon Loop, which has a 7-degree, 30-minute curve with 4.5 inches superelevation, and a 5-degree reverse curve with 3.5 inches of superelevation. This loop is the site of the rail defect gauntlet track used for rail defect detection research.
The Transit Test Track (TTT) is a 9.1-mile oval track, equipped with a third rail power system, used for vehicle performance and specification compliance testing. Investigation of vehicle performance is possible at speeds up to 80 miles per hour over six segments of different track material construction; e.g., continuous welded rail versus jointed rail, wood versus concrete ties.
The third rail DC electrified power system provides transit and commuter vehicles with a voltage variable from zero to 1,000 volts DC with a 3,700 amp continuous rating. The track includes a 10,000-foot-long overhead DC contact wire catenary, suitable for low-speed operation and evaluation of light rail urban vehicles.
Located within the transit loop is the tight-turn or "screech loop." This 150-foot radius B 38 degree, 12 minute B curve test track is used in the investigation of wheel noise, car curving performance, and suspension system stability.
Controlled tests for verification of specification compliance of vehicle performance including spin/slide, propulsion and braking performance evaluation have been performed for numerous transit properties, such as Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, Maryland Transit Authority, LA County Red Line System, Dade County Transportation Administration, and New Jersey Transit Authority (NJTA).
The Impact Track is a 0.75-mile-tangent track and facilitates destructive impact test projects including full-scale train impacts, in support of crashworthiness modifications of locomotive cabs and passenger cars.
The PTT is a 6.2-mile-long track used primarily for vehicle dynamic behavior, safety compliance, and impact tests. Construction consists of standard track materials maintained to include specified track perturbations used in conjunction with the performance of vehicle track worthiness testing. The PTT and other tracks at TTC have been configured to determine vehicle performance on nominal smooth track and on track designed to induce known poor performance modes. These tracks are used in safety performance analysis and for vehicle certification. The AAR performs certification testing on freight rail vehicles of various designs at TTC according to Chapter 11 specifications as found in the AAR M-1001, Manual of Standards and Recommended Practices, to ascertain the interchange service wort hiness of freight cars.
The Train Dynamics Track has a 1°30' curve.