My first post here. I'm curious about how power is balanced in multiple diesel-electric locomotives. I understand to that two locos can be ganged in terms of controls, to set speed etc, so that one set of driver controls manages the whole pulling group. (sorry, I don't know the correct vernacular) How is it possible to ensure that each is pulling it's weight evenly compared to the others in the group. Or, put another way, how can I avoid one loco pulling at 5000Nm and a second pulling at 6000Nm. Is it possible to read the tow force in the couplings?

  • $\begingroup$ 20% difference of force between the locs isn't that big of a deal. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak May 30 '17 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak please provide citations $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft May 30 '17 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not convinced you're asking the right question. The wheel speeds must match or you'd have horrible cases of breaking traction. If any engine applies too much or too little force, it'll either see the equivalent of back-stall or it'll cause wheel slippage. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft May 30 '17 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ You don't necessarily want to have equal drive forces. If the power units are distributed along the length of the train, you may want to optimize the dynamic effects when deceleration closes up the couplings as the train attempts to overrun, etc. That type of behaviour can cause oscillations along the length of the train that last for the order of minutes, if they are not damped out, and can cause failures and accidents if they increase rather than decrease over time! $\endgroup$ – alephzero Jun 1 '17 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft, yes, this is my thinking also. The wheel speeds must match but I'd want to be able to manage how much pulling power is being delivered by each locomotive. The question, I guess, is more like how it done now? Do trains employ active couplings that can feed back force/load information to the control system? $\endgroup$ – Steve Taylor Jun 2 '17 at 1:50

Actually, no effort is put into balancing it. Every loco obeys the command from the heading unit, eg "power at 70%" and applies it to the wheels. It doesn't really matter which one does most of the pulling. When units are of same model, then the power will be roughly same. But sometimes completely dissimilar locomotives are used together (eg helper engine at the back), so it's bit like communism: "From each according to his ability". More curious still, most modern locos and MUs have single traction motor per axle, so even with single locomotive your concern is still valid, balancing the power between axles.

The worse that could happen is wheelslip. But it's not related only to the difference of power between units, but also (or rather mostly) to applying correct power for a given speed and the friction between a single wheelset and the rail. Eg. the first unit could be on track contaminated with slippery leaves while others still have it clear. And the answer is that each unit (sometimes even each axle) manages slip on it's own.

When certain wheels start slipping, power to them is reduced, until they stop slipping. That's all. (Additionally, sand is also applied to increase grip.)

//edit: See this video about duplex steam locomotive T1. It's basically two 2-axle steam engines sharing one boiler, so most of the muti-engine concerns apply here. At about 1:12 there is a clear example of the front engine slipping and overspeeding - they both are at same power, as T1 had one throttle controlling both engines, yet acceleration causes the front to lift slightly and suddenly it turns out that the front set has too much power while the rear one is perfectly fine. This is visible example that the engines should not be at exactly same power setting. (I've used steam example because connecting rods make observing slip easier)

  • $\begingroup$ According to an engineer who runs a commercial model railway layout, it is an issue in those layouts to the extent that they can't run 2 locos in tandem without damaging them in short order. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 7 '17 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Agent_L. That's a really interesting response. This gets more and more interesting by the day. $\endgroup$ – Steve Taylor Jun 8 '17 at 1:31

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