Going Loco - Track Test of V/Line loco G517

Going Loco
Track Test of V/Line loco G517

We track test the ultimate in rolling stock hardware - a G Class P.T.C. V/Line Locomotive and find, among other things, that it handles 'as if on rails'.

Reproduced from "Australian Road & Track" Magazine, June 1992 issue Please note, the 33 G class loco's entered service in 1983/4, and there are now more modern loco's operating in Australia.

Sister unit G528

There is a sign on a railway level crossing at Hamersley Mines in Western Australia. It says, 'Our trains take 6 minutes to go across this level crossing - whether you are on it or not'.

To get into trains, you have to get into an entirely different state of mind. Trains are about weight, torque and energy - enormous amounts of all of them. Trains are not to be trifled with, as the message above suggests. A train weighing a typical 4500 tons and travelling at 100km/h would, for example, strike a car with a force of approximately 20,000 tons. Difficult to quantify - it all sounds like just big numbers. So just think of it this way - would you drive your car straight off a 28 storey building?

Weight is just part of it - then there's energy. You want energy? How about 3300HP on the end of a lever under your right armpit? Not neck snapping, torso-crushing energy - just a massive awesome compendium of thrust that builds seamlessly from zero to maximum. the sort of energy that will pull 65 wagons with a payload of 85 tons each - up to 5600tons, or just a tad more than your average Commodore with a Hayman Reese tow hitch behind.

This energy translates into momentum that you can easily comprehend. For example, imagine you have just crested the tip of the Great Divide at Heathcote Junction, doing a fullsome 20km/h and you've pointed the nose of your 1000ton 'vehicle' at downtown Melbourne (on a clear day, you can see the 'scrapers from here). If you shut down the throttle and 'let her run', you will 'average' around 50km/h over the next 56km, occasionally brushing the dynamic brakes to kill unwanted velocity as you cruise all the way up to the buffers at the end of Melbourne Central.

You will use just 8 gallons of fuel (idle consumption). And it would be best if no-one got in your way - with this weight and speed, your rig might take 3 miles to stop on a downhill pinch.

All of this has to do with the sheer mass of the thing. A G Class loco weighs 127 tons - the equivalent of 100 Commodores. Even so, this is a 'lightweight' prime mover, 'stripped' to perform light-to-medium freight chores by techniques such as replacing all of the steel side panels with fibreglass sheeting - the combines measures result in a saving of 20tons or so.

There are lighter loco's, of course - for example, the XPT, which wisks a half-dozen passenger carriages from Sydney to Melbourne in under 12 hours. This loco weighs around 74tons, and as a result can handle a 95km/h rated curve at 105km/h.

At the other end of the scale, the energy required to apprehend this mass is almost beyond comprehension. Suffice it to say that on a Hamersley Iron 25,000ton ore rig, each application of the wheel brakes costs around $240 in lining wear. On a typical haul with 50 stops, the train could conceivably run up a bigger bill in brakes (around 12 grand!) than in fuel. Small wonder the operators try to use dynamic (engine) braking whenever possible.

Of course, once you get a rig like this up to speed, you don't want to be stopping at every roadside diner for a refill, so the designers thoughtfully provided around 8,000kg of fuel (equivalent to about 5 Commodores) which gives a fully loaded freight train a range of around 1,700km from the 9,600litres available - 564litres/100km (about 5 gallons per mile).

But freight locomotives are built for business and the G Class loco is state of the art in this environment. The basic hardware on this loco gives away nothing to the world's best-engineered and most advanced automobiles - the package incorporates a mid-engined 16 cylinder, turbocharged/supercharged powerplant featuring 4 valves per cylinder, fuel injection and electronic engine management. All-wheel-drive, traction control, trip computer and advanced communication system are standard equipmnet. A 'perfect' 50/50 weight balance is taken for granted.

Racing buffs might be fascinated to know that our test G Class was equipped with a full-time multi-phase data logger that can record virtually every performance paramater available from engine outputs and operating modes to speed, braking force and driver reaction times. It is even possible to link it to base with telemetry.

The P.T.C. V/Line loco is also equipped with several advanced communication systems, including vehicle-to-vehicle two-way (driver to conductor), vehicle to local base (nearby railheads etc), and vehicle to central control (via a network of more than 160 base stations, linked to HQ via land-lines). Satellite broadcasting and positional pinpointing is just around the corner. These have been developed by Motorola Australia in conjunction with P.T.C. V/Line, and are now considered to lead the world. The Aussie-designed systems are now being sold internationally.

Other high-tech equipment includes bullet-proof glass, internally-heated windscreen, compressed-air driven, high-speed parallelogram wipers, and split-cycle air-conditioners.

Our test was arranged by Russell Wallace, Fleet Systems Manager for the P.T.C. V/Line or the Public Transport Corporation. Russel selected the latest locomotive - G517 - had it detailed and 'track prepared' in the South Dynon maintenance depot, organised a 'gang' to operate the machine, and cleared a mountain of red tape to get us up into the cockpit (!) and cracking up the main line from Melbourne to Wodonga on what is most certainly the firt-ever no-holds-barred magazine 'road test' of an international-class locomotive ever cinducted in Australia, if not the world...

LIke all regular drivers, we got our briefing in the Dynon muster room, were issued with a standard guage (very thin) P.T.C. V/Line enamel teamug, and log of instructions. The 'log' is basically the 'Melways' or 'Gregorys' of train driving - and with round 200 different speed limits to learn and a comprehensive list of gradients covering every inch of track on the route, it is more than just a little light bedtime reading.

Five-One-Seven had been drawn up to the back of the cafeteria, and armed with our railways issue sambos (very tasty) and tea bags, we sauntered out to greet the gleaming orange beast.

Right away there are things that strike you as being different from your average limo. For a start, the ground doesn't shake when you leave the motor of the car on idle, and it doesn't smell like a steamship from downwind. And you don't have to choose which end you're going to drive! That done, there's the access - a steep haul up 5 steps 6 feet into the cabin, no mean task with billy and mug swinging from one arm and the journalistic hardware (laptop computer, camera cases etc) on the other.

Inside, it is obvious this is no interstate road-freighter either. This is the 'coupe' version with 'two plus two' seating. There's enough room for four sitting and a committee standing. A cockpit is a cockpit, so there is a windscreen and seats facing the glass and there the similarity ends. The most obvious omission is the steering whell, but there is so much other hardware in the driver's console that this isn't particularly disconcerting. Like planes, and most of the world's cars, this thing is driven from the left seat.

Of course, whether you are flying down to the shop for a pint of milk or joining the workaday throng on the expressway, the average motorist is in a bit of a hurry to get behind the wheel and rack-off. Time moves much slower aboard a freighter like this. The first priority is to get the victuals settle in their proper places - no use having mod cons if you don't use them. So the billy is topped up with water and lobbed into the neat little sunken stove on the centre console - complete with it's sunken electric hotplate ring. Sambos are stacked about in the little wire retaining cages, and coats are doffed and hung on various latches. The fridge is stocked with soft-drinks and milk.

Next, the control console at the rear of the cab is folded down and the amazing brace of plug-in electronic control modules in the on-board switchroom are are routinely checked over to make sure all the little LED's are LED-ing properly.

Time to settle into the command console. The driver sits left and the 'fireman' sits right. There haven't been and 'fires' on trains since diesel replaced steam from the fifties, but the title persists. These days the fireman 'stokes' the electronic module's monitors amp metres instead of steam vents. On average it takes around 5 to 8 years to cross from one side of the cab to the other, so drivers tend to have a bit of a swagger and hold a good line of chat, while the observer is more prone to be introspective and caustic.

We have some heavy-duty equipment on board for this test. A data logger is standard equipment and has the software and program so we can do acceleration and braking tests and get full printouts - this is the Leitz Correvit of railways. We have a radar gun for calibrating the main guages, crosschecking and measuring speeds. A new digital speedo has been fitted.

Behind the shoulder blades lurks more than 2400KW or high-tech General Motors diesel-electric power (3300bhp), and the system of getting this to the rail is controlled by an eight-step hand throttle linked to perhaps the most advanced traction engineering hardware on earth.

Imagine if you will how the engineers have to conjure to get 3000 plus bhp to shift 127 tons with a contact patch on each wheel of little more than the surface area of the knuckles of a clenched fist. And this is metal-to-metal, as slick a contact surface as you could ask for.

The first chain in achieving this is to deliver the power from the 169.13 litre engine to the main generator/alternator, which converts mechanical thrust into a continuous stream of electric power rated at 7020 amps (hence the term diesel-electric). This generator drives six separate traction motors located on the bogies (the 'engines' are actually 'hung' from the huge axles which pass through the mounting body of the traction motors). A rear drive on the end of the traction motor meshed with a gear on each axle.

The eight-stage throttle (more or less the equivalent of 8 gears) enables power to be delivered to the wheels from a trickle to a blast. But untamed, such power could send the wheels into constant slip, or spin the traaction motors up to turbine speeds - and destruction. So the G Class loco is equipped with something called "SuperSeries" - and this is the automotive equivalent of an all-wheel-drive traction-control system. since all 12 wheels are driven, "SuperSeries" uses a sophisticated computer to zap around the chassis in nano-seconds and work out which wheel sould get precisely how much power. As a result, a G class with 4500 tons behind can be moved away from a standstill on a wet track without wheelspin. Try that in your family tin-box!

There is no sensation on earth like a locomotive overcoming inertia and moving down a railway track. The bulk and weight of the thing is mind-altering as you can feel it tremble and shake the ground like and earthquake. On a locomotive, the driver's tacho is the 'amp guage' and this also doubles as a fuel economy meter - keeping the guage in the 'green zone' not only produces the most thrust but the optimum efficiency and economy.

The lateral G-forces are immediately obvious - making it necessary to be firmly seated or standing braced at all times. Just crossing points generates 0.3 lateral G, and it is possible to pull 1 to 2 G on sudden turns combined with points.

From the control console, the first impression is that all the railside hardware is placed too close. Building and 'sticks' (signals) loom up in the distance, looking like they are placed for a head-on. A bit closer and it looks like you'll take the side out of buildings. Draw alongside and whisk past with the cabin swaying sideways and the paint flicking off! Or so it seems.

The lateral movements are disconcerting - especially when you find out why they happen. the fact is, the whole upper body pivots on two centrally located points, assisted by four sliding metal plates. This allows the carbody to move sideways in a controlled manner when the locomotive hits curves or points etc. As the machine is supported in this manner, the locomotive's free to rock'n'roll.

Nothing much happens fast on a train. If you need to use the dynamic brakes, you first have to shut the throttle down and wait around 10 seconds. then you can engage the dynamic brake selector and sart to wind the throttle back on. If you are planning to use this method to stop, you need around 100m for every 20km/h or so. Needless to say, anticipation is a strongpoint in the train drivers arsenal of skills.

According to drivers, accidents happen in real-time slow-motion. Wheras a car gets out of control in split seconds and crashes in a few more, a major 'event' on a train may take 20 or 30 seconds and will result in unbelievable havoc. Unless the 'event' involves a collision with another train (called a cornfield meeting) the locomotive and its trustees usually win the day. Certainly cars can be turned into paper mache and semi-trailers used for scrap-metal.

There are different driving skills on a train. Hundreds of speed limits, dozens of signals and numerous command codes have to be learned. On top of that there are horns to be sounded (before and at level crossings) and radio communications to maintain. Most of all, there is the 'vigilance system'. Every 90 seconds, an alarm rings. There are 'his' and 'his'controls for the driver and fireman, but the fireman must kill the beeper within 20 seconds, or the engine shuts down and the loco stops. This is the equivalent of the legendary 'dead man's hand' and consigns the kind of scenario depicted in "Runaway Train" to the category of Hollywood fantasy. It is literally impossible for crew to over-ride the vigilance system. And these days it is radio-linked to 'Mision Control' for extra security.

The logger collects data contnuiusly on driver/locomotive interatctions and dynamics. This information is fed directly back to the Driver Training Centre where it provides the basis for 'continuation training', the P.T.C.'s term for its ongoing upskilling program. The logger also provides the driver with a number of information features which assist his decision making.

Technology and skill replace the sheer speed and hands-on sensation driving an automobile. Apart from keeping 3000bhp in the right operating mode and avoiding cutting new paths in the scenery, there are lots of things to do.

For example, you can use the data logger to set speed increases and decreases. This gadget has the facility to measure the length of the train. By dialling the length into the 'brain' it will count down as the loco passes a restricted speed section and signal when the end of the train has passed through it - as it is impossible for the driver to judge this.

We have just passed through 'the heads' (Melbourne outer suburbs) and the Clyde Engineering railyards where G517 was built, when there is a loud series of explosions - a freightening datt-datt-datt that sounds like a machine-gun fire in a war movie. It would be enough for any normal mortal to bail-out, but driver Neville Mann mutters 'crackers' under his breath and starts to haul on the brake. 'Crackers' or 'dets' are detonators laid on the track ahead of a danger zone to warn oncoming train drivers. These are the 'warning triangles' of traindom, and I defy anyone to sleep through them. Drivers tend to brake firmly for these, in case the dets haven't been set far enough ahead of the 'situation'. The loco props hard and the boys joke about the outcome if there is a buffet car attatched. 'Right now,' says fireman Chris Keating, 'the buffet girls would be stuck all over the front wall of the carraige, trays still held high. A few minutes later they'd be down here to bang our heads with them.'

We head down a passing loop (passing loops are the equivalent of highway passing lanes) at Longwood Crossing Loop and await a man-driven service module to skate past. Crossing loops are also equipped with 'criple roads' for emergency use. A lot of these activities are still controlled by men with flags walking along the tracks (especially when trackside work is in progress). These blokes are the CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) stewards of railways - a red flag means you go to the 'pits', a green flag and you're clear again.....

We press on now. It is still pissing with rain and the wipers are leaping about frenetically on the screen like a preying mantis copulating. The sweet small of Twinings (tea) is wafting back from the billy and the loco is making great pace along a flat section with the numbers 130 coming up on the digital screen - backed up by the mechnincal readout on the data logger. This is the max, full chat.

The train in fact can be made to go faster, but in railways, it is the track, not the machine that governs speed. Capacity depends on the quality and lay of the rails type of sleepers, and depth of railbed. So before you can give it a rev, you have to be straddling the right hardware.

There are compensations when driving a locomotive. Things you never have to consider are right-of-way or left-of-way - it's basically 'me first' or 'might is right'. You can also dismiss red light runners (literally), diamond turns, side traffic, passing traffic, U turners and tailgaters.

There are other hazards though, such as cars frgetting to stop on level crossings, kids playing on railway lines, big kids playing chicken on railway lines and....plastic bags of water hanging from overbridges. This unfunny practical joke is usually performed at dark-of-night and, given the forces involved, frequently results in the 18mm (3/4") bullet-proof class shattering and emptying into the cockpit. Drivers have been seriously injured or worse.

Soon after we had completed the brake tests on this locomotive, the on-board computer ran out the figures and it showed that the loco had taken 869 metres to 'stop' from 100km/h. I asked engine driver Neville Mann if this was a 'panic stop'. He replied laconically, 'Only if there was a car in the road, in which case it would be the car driver who was in a panic'.
How long then would it take to stop if it hit a car in the road?"
His answer came back in a flash. '870 metres'.
'But thats longer.'
'Yes,' he said. 'One metre extra for what's left of the car.'

You have been warned.

Two Generals

The G class locomotive is the most powerful current series, and is produced in various versions, some even more powerful than our 'test' loco.

We decided to stack it up against the most powerful Holden produced by GM in Australia - the Group A Holden Commodore, and took one along for this test.

The test car was kindly provided by Holden Motor Sport's John Lindell, through GM's Melbourne press office, just before it was prepared for Brad Hones to drive in the Targa Tasmania Rally.

While the Commodore was able to lay down acceleration times *slightly* faster than the G class GM loco (about 30secs faster to 100km/h) as events turned out, Bradley might have fared better in his altercation with a tree stunp if he had elected to take the G-Class insead - most self respecting tree stunps step back a pace when they see a loco bearing down.

On the surface of it, it would take as little as 10 Commodores to win a tug-of war with the G class on a horsepower basis. But in fact the loco produces around 340kN or tractive effort so the real number would be closer to 850! GM did intend to build 750 examples of this machine and eventually settled for 500, so it could never muster enough machinery to win that war.

On the other hand, the Group A will easily double the top speed of the G-Class, whle the fuel volume (although diesel) for a single Melbourne to Sydney trip in a G class would probably power the petrol driven Group A for a year or so.

Apart from that, and other small considerations such as overall dimensions, weight, Cd, accomodation and amenities, the two GM products are remarkably similar, as both utulise monocoque chassis with steel and fibreglass bodies, and both have been described as handling 'as if on rails'.

Loco Specs (Commodore specs)

Price - $2,500,000 ($68,950)


Type - 16cyl, 2 stroke, diesel, SOHC:single overhead camshaft, 4 valve per cylinder, turbocharged/supercharged (EFI V8, 2 valves per cylinder)
Displacement - 169.13 litres (5.0 litres)
Power, kW @ rpm - 2460kW @ 908rpm (210kW@5200rpm)


Type - Electric - 12 wheel drive (Mechanical - 6 speed manual)


0-100km/h - 48.4secs (6.6secs)
Standing 1/4 mile - 42.65secs (14.9secs)
Top Speed - 133km/h (250km/h)
Fuel Consumption - 500l/100km (9.8l/100km)


Special thanks are due to:

People at the 'coal face'

Page created by Craig Haber

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