Northeast of Pueblo lies some of the least-seen railroad equipment in the United States. The
Transportation Technology Center
has served as a field test site for railroad technologies since its
founding as part of the Federal Railroad Administration in the late
1960s. Faced with a lack of funding and possible shutdown, the FRA
entered a partnership with American Association of Railroads to take
over the facility after 1982. Then in 1998, that agreement was again
modified to have TTCI operate the facility under contract for both
parties. The facility consists of a number of large labs as well as a
handful of outdoor test tracks, and is used to test all manner of
railway technology for clients, including the FRA, EMD and GE, railcar
and track material manufacturers, the US railroads themselves, and even
railroad shippers. Whether it’s above or below the wheels, they stress
it, measure it, analyze it, and yes, even crash it to find new ways to
make railroad transport safer and more cost effective.
The TTC is normally off limits to the general public and a fairly strict “no photography” zone (made possible by its remote location and large amount of surrounding private and government property), and much of the equipment inside never leaves the grounds. Thus, it’s uncommon, to say the least, to see any railroad enthusiast photos of their equipment. On Saturday, 19-Apr-2008, an extremely rare opportunity came up – TTCI and the AAR were holding an open house to celebrate 25 years of AAR ownership and 10 years of the TTCI contract. The festivities would be open to friends and family of employees. Fortunately, one of the civil engineers – Duane Otter – offered a number of us from the local monthly slide show group the opportunity to attend as his guests. A huge thanks to Duane, as well as to the TTCI and AAR folks, for a great day out and a look at things most people rarely see, and almost never get to photograph.
So, what follows is a small glimpse the TTC. None of the exhibits
that day really delved into any current research, as it was intended as a
family-and-friends day than an engineering conference, but there was
still a good number of interesting items on display. The biggest thing
was that all of the EMD gear – including the SDP40F test beds and the
rare SD60MACs – were kept far away from the accessible areas. The last
open house was five years ago, and there likely won’t be another for at
least five more years, so enjoy these shots – it’ll be a while before
there are any more.
For more information about TTCI and the facility, see
On very rare occasions, the American Association of Railroad’s Transportation Technology Center is opened up to non-employees. On 19-Apr-2008, employees were allowed to invite friends and family out for an open house event, celebrating 25 years of AAR ownership and 10 years of contract operation by TTCI. Needless to say, I didn’t turn down the invitation!
As any good railfan would do, I hit up the free food first, then immediately headed over towards the equipment. Freshly painted GP40-2 203 was providing power for the day’s rides around the main 13.5 mile test loop.
Another look at the new paint on 203.
Looking west down the tracks leading out of the core facilities towards the testing loops – Pikes Peak is visible on the right.
The first building north of the main offices is the Rail Dynamics Lab, where equipment can be run through a variety of testing, including accelerated testing of the vibration and dynamic stresses on equipment incurred during use, but in a controlled laboratory environment.
The cavernous bay inside the TTC’s Rail Dynamics Lab.
This machine is known as the VTU – Vibration Test Unit. A full-sized railcar can be mounted with one truck on each of these blue stands, and a computer will then subject it to all of the bouncing and jarring of a real journey across the country.
Some of the controls for the VTU. The units in the racks on the right should be the electrical drivers for the hydraulic valves that actually create the shaking. Much of the RDL was off-limits to the public, so the VTU is really all I can show you from the inside.
And what would you do with a VTU? Testing auto racks like this one is one possible option. Having a controlled environment allows the railroads and auto manufacturers to test new methods of securing cars to minimize damage in transit. These are all new but pre-damaged cars and trucks, donated by the manufacturers for destructive testing.
Outside the RDL was the Federal Railroad Administration’s newest test car for their Automated Track Inspection Program – DOTX 220. The car was built by Colorado Railcar in Ft. Lupton back in early 2007, and was originally sent to the TTC for proving as part of an Amtrak special on the Joint Line on 11-Feb-2007.
It sure is easier to get a good look at the car when it’s not flying down the Joint Line at 50+ mph.
Inside DOTX 220, looking towards the rear. The two consoles each have a large display above showing items of note in the track (switches, signals, crossings, track defects), and the bottom screens show running graphs of things like gauge, grade, curvature, etc.
From the same position, looking towards the front of the car.
A closer shot of one of the top screens.
Looking back the other way, we see the car’s galley area off to the right. The next area up holds a workshop, and the final area at the end is where the actual computer hardware lives. Crews work in three week shifts on the car (staying at hotels during the night), with a week off at home in between runs.
One of the displays from the opposite end of the car.
Next up is the Center Services Building, another cavernous bay located just to the north of the Rail Dynamics Lab.
Sitting outside is this gem, AAR 2000. Built in 1966 as a GP40, it was rebuilt by GEC Alsthom to a GP40-3 in June of 1997.
The rebuilder’s plate on AAR 2000.
A side-on view of the unit
Inside the CSB bay is EMDX 91, an H-engine, 6000hp SD90MAC-H.
A closer look at EMDX 91’s nose from the maintenance walkway.
In the inaccessible space behind the SD90MAC-H is a much older EMD product – DOTX 004, a rebuilt GP7 or GP9. I have no idea as to its heritage, but it looks like a late Paducah GP10 rebuild.
Another rebuilt GP40-3 is inside the shop, to the east of the SD90MAC-H. This is 2001, which has a frame number of 7924-9, meaning it started life as Milwaukee 194, later MILW 2020, SOO 2020, AMTK 663, and various HLCX numbers before landing here. Unfortunately, all of the doors were open, making it very hard to get a decent shot.
A wider shot of the publicly accessible area inside the bay. You’ll note a TTX caboose on the right, as well as a very strange looking car in the middle. We’ll get to that one next…
This is a puncture tester for the Next Generation Railroad Tank Car project, a relatively recent initiative by the railroads, chemical shippers, and car manufacturers to design a safer tank car.
While it may not look very menacing from the other end, it’s clear that this end does mean business – especially if that metal spike is coming after you at a fairly decent clip. I’m glad I’m not the test tank car.
And this is the rig on which the test tank car ends are mounted. That’s a sample end mounted on it now.
The final exhibits in the room are a set of TTX equipment. This is TTX 100, a caboose outfitted for on-the-road research telemetry.
A look at the other end of the car
The business end of TTX 100, with a wall of data-collecting equipment, including paper graph recorders as well as some more up-to-date gear.
The other end of TTX 100 holds some controls for its onboard power, as well as a workbench.
As an example of the sort of thing it might monitor, there’s this very interesting freight car truck next to the caboose. It came from under a 50-foot boxcar (FBOX 504802), and is completely wired with sensors, and was apparently used as part of an experiment measuring truck dynamics for compliance with AAR spec M-976.
Most interesting (at least to me) are the wheels, which are wired with what I presume to be strain gauges on the wheel web.
My initial assumption was that thing on the end is some sort of coupler, allowing signals from the wheel web sensors to be fed back to the stationary cables connecting to the recording gear. It also might be a lateral movement sensor given the diagram next to it, just not sure.
The whole TTX poster by the exhibit, describing some of the testing done recently.
A close-up of the portion related to the instrumented truck.
Moving on to some of the equipment outside, we find DTFR 2003 parked north of the Center Services Building. This is sort of a wide shot to give you a frame of reference on where we are.
This was one of a handful of ex-SP SD45T-2s outfitted with modern EMD cab shells for crash testing. It was built at NRE Dixmoor (Illinois) back in mid-2003.
Clearly it’s not just been in frontal impact testing, either. The back is a little beat up, and some of its old UP paint is showing through. The unit was SP 9309 and later UP 4890 before being converted to the crash test dummy.
A look at 2003’s modified pilot. My guess is that it was simplified after being rebuilt from a crash, since when it left NRE, it still had the regulation stairs and grab irons.
Some of the crash test telemetry wiring and the very interesting cab side windows… Also note the brake reservoir right behind the cab – the usual reservoirs above the fuel tank had been disconnected, and the brakes tied into this standard freight car unit.
This is what tunnel motor fans look like from the bottom side.
And finally, a look at the unit from the engineer’s side rear.
Behind the crash-motor is ex-Amtrak F40PH 232. Several of these came to the test center, and some have been used for crash testing. 232 appears to be complete and unscathed, at least from the outside.
Sitting nearby is DOTX 2001. It looks to be an old Santa Fe hack with a very shiny paint job.
Like pretty much everything out here, it’s not just what it appears. There are wires coming out everywhere, and inside is apparently radio control locomotive gear, as the caboose has MU plugs and warning stickers on the side that it’s a remote control locomotive. Most likely this was cheaper than outfitting a bunch of units for testing.
Also in the vicinity were a number of test freight cars. One of my favorites was DTTX 751062, a five-unit stack car loaded with all sorts of TTX test containers.
And there was also the big blue EMD flatcar with no numbers or reporting marks…
Here’s an old CNW covered hopper, clearly wired for some sort of research. Based on the modifications around the truck, I’m guessing it has to to with truck dynamics.
Sitting on one of the northwestern tracks was BNSF 6746, an old Santa Fe SD40-2. This is the unit that brought the passenger cars up from the junction with the BNSF at North Avondale.
Lasers? Well, that’s one way to keep the hobos off the car… Honestly, I have no idea what they were testing with this one, but it’s just not every day you find an aluminum coal gon with laser warning signs on the sides.
Also sitting out, though in a different part of the yard, was AAR 110, the Track Loading Vehicle. Forces can be applied to the center axle and the resulting effects measured. The vehicle was built from an SP SD45X (and obviously given 4-axle trucks in the process) in 1987.
A closer look at the center test axle. In the AAR’s own words, “The vehicle will be able to simulate controlled derailment scenarios and provide controlled load environments to quantify the dynamic response characteristics of track. The vehicle will apply loads to the track and measure track response while the TLV is either stationary or moving.” (Railway Age, Mar 1989)
Despite looking nothing like its original SP SD45X self, it did retain the huge SP plow on the front end.
Also out front is AAR 100, which holds the control equipment for the Track Loading Vehicle.
Obviously you need some sort of equipment to maintain all of that test track… Hey, it was sitting out, so I shot it.
At 1400h, it was time to get onboard the train for a ride around the main test loop.
Obviously the train rides were a hit – so much so that they added at least one extra trip.
No, we’re not riding on this train…
Sure, it’s not a train, but how often do you see TTCI trucks?
The first car in the passenger train was BNSF 51, Snoqualmie Pass, serving to provide HEP to the actual coaches.
The frontmost coach was BNSF 68, Rollins Pass. Just such an odd name for a BNSF car, considering that none of their predecessor roads even went close to Rollins.
Following Rollins Pass was BNSF 44, Colorado River. My seat was the farthest window back on the right.
Behind Colorado River was BNSF rear observation car 66, Red River.
And bringing up the rear was the only Union Pacific car – UPP 6203, Sun Valley.
A view from my seat at the rear of Colorado River.
The train ride offered the chance to see and photograph some of the items in areas of the facility not open to guests that day. One of the first things spotted was the prototype Bombardier JetTrain turbine locomotive, 2200, built in 2002 as a high speed rail prototype for non-electrified routes. As far as I know, this is the only one built.
Far off in the distance, a bunch of stored EMD power can be seen. The heat rising off the plains makes it hard to get a good shot. (Plus all I had for a telephoto was my pocket camera…)
The three remaining SD60MAC prototypes. 9501 was cut up several months back to make a static engine test stand.
What’s this? It’s an interesting looking well car.
Apparently it’s a DynaStack, a prototype built by FreightCar America in June of 2007. As far as I know, it’s a one-of-a-kind prototype. The selling point is apparently lower car weight, allowing for less dead weight in the train.
In addition to the TTX test containers we saw earlier, apparently there are these dummy TTX trailers sitting around as well. These would be short single axle trailers, likely for simulating 28-foot double pups.
Not sure what length of trailer these model, but likely 45 or 48 foot.
Again, being railfans, about the only thing that distracts us from trains is food. Consider me distracted – once we wandered back towards the hub of the festivities, there was ice cream and cake to be had.
With the festivities officially over at 1600h, the TTC guys wasted no time in getting the passenger cars back to the interchange. Here they are leaving the TTC grounds, headed for the BNSF at North Avondale.
Pulling down off the wye at the North Avondale interchange. No BNSF crew was called to take the train yet, but eventually the cars would go east to La Junta, where they’d be placed on the rear of Amtrak’s eastbound Southwest Chief.
Most photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 40D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM, Sigma 18-50mm, or a Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS/USM. A small number were taken with a Canon SX100 IS.
This work is copyright 2021 by Nathan D. Holmes, but all text and images are licensed and reusable under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Basically you’re welcome to use any of this as long as it’s not for commercial purposes, you credit me as the source, and you share any derivative works under the same license. I’d encourage others to consider similar licenses for their works.