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© The Mathematical Association 2004 1
Tractive effort, acceleration and braking
Context
For a railway to operate efficiently and safely, its locomotives should be powerful
enough to accelerate their trains rapidly to the maximum allowed line speed, and the
braking systems must be able to bring a train reliably to a standstill at a station or
signal, even on an adverse gradient. Railway operators need to calculate train
accelerations and decelerations in order to plan their timetables, and signals must be
sited so as to allow adequate stopping distances for all the various passenger and
goods services that they are required to control.
In practice there are many different and complex considerations that must be included
in a realistic model of railway operation. Here, just some of the simpler main issues
are identified and examined, in order to show how mathematical analysis can be used
to provide an indication of expected performance. The data values used in the
examples (from [1]) do not refer to any specific operating company, locomotive or
rolling stock, but are chosen to give realistic illustrations of how practical equipment
might behave.
Tractive effort
The force which a locomotive can exert when pulling a train is called its tractive
effort, and depends on various factors. For electric locomotives, which obtain their
power by drawing current from an external supply, the most important are:
weight the adhesion between the driving wheels and the track depends on the
weight per wheel, and determines the force that can be applied before
the wheels begin to slip;
speed up to a certain speed, the tractive effort is almost constant. As speed
increases further, the current in the traction motor falls, and hence so
does the tractive effort.
To characterise the power of their locomotives, manufacturers measure tractive effort
as a function of speed. Tests are often performed with the locomotive stationary but
resting on rollers, thereby avoiding the effects of air resistance and any imperfections
in the track.
The data points in Figure 1 show an example of the tractive effort of an electric
locomotive. In order to use this information easily in calculations of acceleration and
deceleration, it is helpful to develop an approximation which covers the speed range of
interest, but has a simple mathematical form. One possible technique is piecewise
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
Speed (m/s)
T
r
a
c
t
i
v
e
e
f
f
o
r
t
o
r
D
r
a
g
(
k
N
)
TE Measurement
TE Approximation
Drag
Figure 1
Tractive effort and drag
as a function of speed
Algebra and functions
Differentiation
Integration
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
2 © The Mathematical Association 2004
polynomial approximation – the speed range is split into several contiguous intervals,
in each of which the tractive effort is represented by a polynomial function. For the
example shown, a good representation can be obtained by using three speed segments,
and a linear approximation for tractive effort on each:
], 45 9 . 24 [ 525 33300
] 9 . 24 2 . 4 [ 1440 56100
] 2 . 4 0 [ 50000 ) (
< ≤ − =
< ≤ − =
< ≤ =
v v
v v
v v P
where P is the tractive effort in newtons, and v is the speed in metres per second. This
is shown as a solid line in the Figure.
Drag
Inevitably, a moving train exerts a drag on the locomotive propelling it. This force,
which opposes the motion, comes from a variety of sources, the most important being
friction in the axle bearings, air resistance, and resistance from the rail as the wheels
roll along it. Railway operators estimate drag from experiments which measure the
force needed to keep a train moving at a constant speed. Polynomials can again be
used to approximate the variation of drag with speed, and it is generally agreed in the
railway industry that a quadratic function often suffices over the full range, although
the coefficients used will vary from railway to railway and with train type. As an
example, the drag might be given approximately by:
, 5 . 3 20 2000 ) (
2
v v v Q + + =
where Q is the drag in newtons, and v is the speed in metres per second. This is
shown as the dashed line in Figure 1.
Brake force
The brake force available depends on two factors:
1. the adhesion between the rail and the wheels being braked, and
2. the normal reaction of the rail on the wheels being braked (and hence on the
weight per braked wheel)
Generally, it is specified as a fraction (β, say) of the total weight of the train:
β mg B =
A typical value for β is 0.09
Train dynamics
The dynamics of a train moving with speed v along a track inclined at an angle α to
the horizontal are determined by the forces shown in Figure 2.
Here,
Algebra and
functions
Quadratic functions
and their graphs
mg
Q(v) + B
N
v
f
P(v)
α
Figure 2
Forces acting on a train
on a track with
inclination α
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 3
) (v P is the tractive effort of the locomotive;
) (v Q is the drag;
B is the brake force;
mg is the weight of the train;
N is the reaction of the track.
By Newton’s second law of motion, the acceleration f is given by:
α sin ) ( ) ( mg B v Q v P mf − − − =
This equation can be used to derive a number of relationships that are important to
different aspects of railway operation. Some of these are considered in the following
sections.
Maximum speed as a function of gradient
A train reaches its maximum speed when available tractive effort just balances the
sum of drag and downhill gravitational force, reducing the acceleration to zero.
Consequently, the maximum speed is found by solving:
0 ) ( ) ( = − − γ mg v Q v P
where α γ sin ≡ is the gradient.
Since the approximation to ) (v P is linear within each segment, and that for ) (v Q is
quadratic, the calculation of maximum speed for a particular gradient reduces to the
solution of a quadratic equation. However, in order to determine which segment of
the tractive effort approximation should be used for a given gradient, it is useful first
to establish a set of gradient values } {
i
γ whose corresponding maximum speeds are
equal to the transition speeds
i
v between segments. Specifically:
( ) mg v Q v P
i i i
) ( ) ( − = γ
Then:
] , [ n calculatio for segment use
1 1 i i i i
v v
− −
⇒ < < γ γ γ
Figure 3 shows the results of calculations for a train of total weight 865 tons. Here,
gradient is given in percent – the amount in metres the track rises for every hundred
metres traversed. An alternative convention is to specify it reciprocally – the distance
in metres along the track for a rise of one metre (e.g. 1 in 50 is equivalent to 2%).
Figure 3
Maximum speed as a
function of track
gradient
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2.0
Gradient (%)
M
a
x
i
m
u
m
s
p
e
e
d
(
m
/
s
)
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
4 © The Mathematical Association 2004
Braking distance
To calculate how long it will take for a train to come to rest when the locomotive
power is cut off and the brakes are applied, and how far it will travel in this time, set
0 ) ( = v P . Since acceleration, f, is rate of change of velocity, a differential equation:
γ mg v Q B
dt
dv
m − − − = ) (
describes the motion, and, once the initial speed is given, defines v as a function of
time t.
Since the braking force B is essentially a constant (= mgβ ), independent of speed, the
differential equation can be integrated by separation of variables, leading to:
.
) ( ) (
0
0
∫ ∫
− =
+ +
T
V
dt
v Q mg
mdv
γ β
Remembering that the drag Q(v) is approximated by a quadratic function of speed:
, ) (
2
2 1 0
v q v q q v Q + + =
it becomes clear that the braking time T required from speed v is obtained as the
integral:
∫
+ +
=
v
c bu au
du
v T
0
2
) (
where:
. ) ( / ; / ; /
0 1 2
γ β + + = = = g m q c m q b m q a
Appendix 1 shows how this integral can be expressed in terms of standard functions.
From this result, a further integration is needed to recover the distance travelled as a
function of time. A simpler alternative is to calculate the braking distance directly by
writing:
ds
dv
v
dt
ds
ds
dv
dt
dv
f = = =
in the original equation, to give:
γ mg v Q B
ds
dv
mv − − − = ) (
which is a relation between distance s and speed v.
This differential equation can also be integrated by separation of variables, leading to:
.
) ( ) (
0
0
∫ ∫
− =
+ +
S
V
ds
v Q mg
mvdv
γ β
and hence the braking distance S required from speed v is obtained as the integral:
∫
+ +
=
v
c bu au
udu
v S
0
2
) (
where again
. ) ( / ; / ; /
0 1 2
γ β + + = = = g m q c m q b m q a
Appendix 2 shows how this integral can be expressed in terms of standard functions.
Integration
Analytic solution of first
order differential equation
with separable variables
Integration
Analytic solution of first
order differential equation
with separable variables
Differentiation
Chain rule
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 5
Since braking time and distance depend both on initial speed and the gradient of the
track, there are various summary presentations that provide useful information.
As an example, Figure 4 shows the distance needed to brake to a standstill as a
function of the track gradient, calculated for a range of different initial speeds.
Time spent accelerating to required speed
Each stop that a train makes during its journey involves three phases: braking to a
standstill, remaining stationary to set down and pick up passengers, and accelerating to
the required line speed. An appropriate allowance for the time taken for each of these
phases, as well as other braking and acceleration manoeuvres (e.g. to traverse a set of
points) must be included when drawing up realistic timetables. The previous section
considered time taken for braking; calculation of the time taken in acceleration is
similar, but somewhat more involved because of the piecewiselinear approximation
to the variation of tractive effort with speed.
Setting 0 = B produces the differential equation:
γ mg v Q v P
dt
dv
m − − = ) ( ) (
which, once the initial speed is given, defines v as a function of time t.
Since the tractive effort ) (v P is a function of speed only, the differential equation can
be integrated by separation of variables, leading to:
.
) ( ) (
0 0
∫ ∫
=
− −
T V
dt
mg v Q v P
mdv
γ
Because the approximation to ) (v P is a piecewiselinear function of speed, and the
drag Q(v) is approximated by a quadratic function of speed, the time T required to
accelerate to speed v can be obtained by splitting the motion into segments. A
transition between segments is required when the speed reaches one of the breakpoint
speeds in the piecewiselinear approximation for ) (v P .
For each segment, the elapsed time and the distance travelled can be expressed as:
∫
+ +
=
f
s
v
v
c bu au
du
v T
2
) (
∫
+ +
=
f
s
v
v
c bu au
udu
v S
2
) (
0
200
400
600
800
1000
1200
1400
1600
2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0
Gradient (%)
S
t
o
p
p
i
n
g
d
i
s
t
a
n
c
e
(
m
)
45
40
35
30
25
Initial Speed
(m/s)
Figure 4
Stopping distance as a
function of gradient for a
range of initial speeds.
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
6 © The Mathematical Association 2004
where
s
v and
f
v are, respectively, starting and finishing speeds for the segment, and
the parameters:
( ) ( ) . / ; / ; /
0 0 1 1 2
γ g m q p c m q p b m q a − − = − = − =
all remain constant throughout the segment. The two integrals are again of the type
considered in Appendices 1 and 2, and so can be expressed in terms of standard
functions. The total time or distance needed to accelerate to a given speed is found by
summing over the segments.
Dealing with changes in track gradient
Generally, the gradient γ is a piecewiseconstant function of distance along the track
– an example is shown in Figure 5, which refers to part of the UK WestCoast main
line [2].
To deal with this, the analysis for both braking and acceleration calculations can be
further segmented, with transitions between segments corresponding to instants when
the train reaches a position on the track at which the gradient changes. As an example,
Figure 6 shows a graph of speed against time for acceleration from rest over the given
track profile, calculated using the tractive effort of Figure 1.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800
Time (s)
S
p
e
e
d
(
m
/
s
)
20
0
20
40
60
80
100
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Distance from reference point (km)
H
e
i
g
h
t
a
b
o
v
e
r
e
f
e
r
e
n
c
e
p
o
i
n
t
(
m
)
393
1098
508
338
335
L
333
812
Figure 5
Vertical profile of track.
Each segment is labelled
with its reciprocal
gradient.
Figure 6
Speed against time for
given length of track.
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 7
Sources
1. Data provided by Vince Barker, Modelling Consultant, formerly at Alstom
Transport
2. BR mainline gradient profiles, ISBN 0711008752
Acknowledgement
Thanks to Richard Stanley and colleagues at Alstom Transport for their comments that
helped correct a draft version of the article.
Appendices: Evaluation of integrals
1 Integration of reciprocal quadratic polynomial
] [ ) , , , , (
2
S F
x
x
F S
x x
c bx ax
dx
x x c b a I
S
F
>
+ +
=
∫
Step 1: Write the denominator in the form:
( ) ( ) ac b a a b x a 4 with , 4 / 2 /
2 2 2
− = ∆ ∆ − +
and check the value of the discriminant ∆.
i) 0 < ∆ complex roots; no singularities
ii) 0 = ∆ double real root;
2
) (
−
singularity at a b x 2 /
1
− =
iii) 0 > ∆ real roots; two
1
) (
−
singularities at ( ) a b x 2
2 , 1
∆ ± − =
In case (iii), for the location of the singularities, use:
( )
( ) ∆ − −
=
∆ − −
= >
b
c
x
a
b
x b
2
;
2
: 0
2 1
( )
( )
a
b
x
b
c
x b
2
;
2
: 0
2 1
∆ + −
=
∆ + −
= < ,
to minimise loss of accuracy through numerical cancellation.
Step 2: Check that the range of integration does not include a singularity.
In case (ii):
S F
x x x x < <
1 1
or
In case (iii):
2 1 2 1
or or x x x x x x x x
F S S F
< < < < <
Step 3: Carry out the integration by making the substitution:
a b x u 2 / + = .
Putting ∆ = R , the results are:
i)
F
S
x
x
R
b ax
R
I

¹

\
 +
=
2
arctan
2
ii)
F
S
x
x
b ax
I
+
−
=
) 2 (
2
iii)
F
S
x
x
R b ax
R b ax
R
I

¹

\

+ +
− +
=
2
2
ln
1
Integration
Integration using partial
fractions
Algebra and functions
Completing the square for
a quadratic function.
Algebra and functions
The discriminant of a
quadratic function.
Integration
Integration by
substitution.
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
8 © The Mathematical Association 2004
2 Integral of x times reciprocal quadratic polynomial
∫
+ +
=
F
S
x
x
F S
c bx ax
xdx
x x c b a J
2
) , , , , (
For this integral, carry out the checks in steps 1 and 2 above, and then write:
a b a b ax x 2 / 2 / ) 2 ( − + =
to give:
) , , , , (
2
) log(
2
1
2
F S
x
x
x x c b a I
a
b
c bx ax
a
J
F
S
−
+ + =
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 9
Tractive force
The tractive force is the pulling force exerted by a vehicle, or machine or
body.
Tractive effort is a synonym of tractive force, used in railway engineering
terminology when describing the pulling power of a locomotive.
The tractive force value can be either a theoretically or experimentally
obtained value, and will usually be quoted under normal operating conditions.
The actual value for a particular locomotive varies depending on speed and
track conditions, and is influenced by a number of other factors.
Types of tractive efforts
When a figure for tractive effort is quoted in technical documentation it is
either for the starting tractive effort (at a dead start with the wheels not
turning) or as the continuous tractive effort which will be quoted at a
particular speed.
Maximum tractive effort
The maximum tractive effort is the maximum pulling force a vehicle or
machine can exert under any (nondamaging) conditions. In general the
maximum tractive effort will be obtained at a standstill and/or low speeds.
A variety of factors limit the maximum value:
• The maximum tractive effort cannot exceed the tractive mass (m) times
the coefficient of friction (µ) . If a vehicle attempts to supply more force
(F
tractive
> µm) this will cause wheel spin.
• The gear ratios of drive components.
• The maximum power capable of being supplied to the drive systems.
• The safe working torques of the drive system components.
Continuous tractive effort
The continuous tractive effort is the tractive effort which is supplied at a given
velocity. It may refer to the tractive effort required to keep a vehicle rolling
without acceleration or the maximum force that can be produced at given
speed.
[2]
Because of the relationship between Power (P), velocity (v) and force (F) of:
P = vF or P/v = F
the continuous tractive effort is inversely proportional to the velocity for
constant power; the continuous tractive effort is therefore dependent on the
power at rail
In vehicles which have a power source (diesel engine, electrical supply etc)
which is limited in terms of maximum total power (including steam engines)
the maximum continuous tractive effort at a given speed is limited by the
engine's power.
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
10 © The Mathematical Association 2004
Continuous tractive effort is quoted as a force at a given speed, and may be
presented in graph form at a range of speeds as part of a tractive effort curve
Maximum continuous tractive effort
For vehicles propelled by electric motors the maximum continuous tractive
effort can be less than the short term maximum tractive effort at a given speed.
The maximum continuous tractive effort is defined as:
"The tractive force delivered at full throttle notch (power) after the traction
system has heated to maximum operating temperature"
Similar considerations also apply to hydrodynamic transmissions such as fluid
couplings and torque converters which create more heat at stall than when free
running. (See also Stall torque).
Tractive effort curves
Technical specifications of locomotives often include tractive effort curves,
which show the relationship between tractive effort and velocity.
Schematic diagram of tractive effort vs. speed for a hypothetical locomotive
with power at rail of ~7000 kW
The basic shape of the graph is shown schematically (diagram right). The line
AB shows the operation at the maximum tractive effort, the line BC shows the
relationship of continuous tractive effort being inversely proportional to speed.
Tractive effort curves will often have graphs of rolling resistance superimposed
on them—the intersection of the rolling resistance graph and tractive effort
graph gives the maximum velocity (i.e. when the net tractive effort is zero).
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 11
Diesel and electric locomotives
For a dieselelectric locomotive or electric locomotive, starting tractive effort
can be calculated from the stall torque of the traction motors (the turning force
it can produce while at a dead stop), the gearing, and the wheel diameter. For a
dieselhydraulic locomotive the starting tractive effort depends on the stall
torque of the torque converter.
In general, it is more common for heavy freight trains (such as Class 59, Class
60 and Class 66 locomotives) to have a high maximum tractive effort due to
the mass which they haul. Passenger trains (such as Class 43/Intercity High
Speed Train locomotives) usually have much lower maximum tractive efforts
due to the higher gear ratio required for a higher top speed.
Stall torque
Stall torque is the torque which is produced by a device when the output
rotational speed is zero, it may also mean the torque load that causes the output
rotational speed of a device to become zero  i.e. to cause stalling
Devices such as electric motors, steam engines and hydrodynamic
transmissions produce torque under these conditions.
Electric motors continue to provide torque when stalled. However, electric
motors left in a stalled condition are prone to overheating and possible damage
since the current flowing is maximum under these conditions.
The maximum torque an electric motor can produce in the long term when
stalled without causing damage is called the maximum continuous stall
torque.
Torque converter
A torque converter is a modified form of fluid coupling that is used to transfer
rotating power from a prime mover, such as an internal combustion engine or
electric motor, to a rotating driven load. Like a basic fluid coupling, the torque
converter normally takes the place of a mechanical clutch, allowing the load to
be separated from the power source. As a more advanced form of fluid
coupling, however, a torque converter is able to multiply torque when there is a
substantial difference between input and output rotational speed, thus providing
the equivalent of a reduction gear.
Function
Torque converter elements
A fluid coupling is a two element drive that is incapable of multiplying torque,
while a torque converter has at least one extra element—the stator—which
alters the drive's characteristics during periods of high slippage, producing an
increase in output torque.
In a torque converter there are at least three rotating elements: the pump, which
is mechanically driven by the prime mover; the turbine, which drives the load;
and the stator, which is interposed between the pump and turbine so that it can
alter oil flow returning from the turbine to the pump. The classic torque
converter design dictates that the stator be prevented from rotating under any
condition, hence the term stator. In practice, however, the stator is mounted on
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
12 © The Mathematical Association 2004
an overrunning clutch, which prevents the stator from counterrotating with
respect to the prime mover but allows forward rotation.
Modifications to the basic three element design have been periodically
incorporated, especially in applications where higher than normal torque
multiplication is required. Most commonly, these have taken the form of
multiple turbines and stators, each set being designed to produce differing
amounts of torque multiplication. For example, the Buick Dynaflow automatic
transmission was a nonshifting design and, under normal conditions, relied
solely upon the converter to multiply torque. The Dynaflow used a five
element converter to produce the wide range of torque multiplication needed to
propel a heavy vehicle.
Although not strictly a part of classic torque converter design, many
automotive converters include a lockup clutch to improve cruising power
transmission efficiency and reduce heat. The application of the clutch locks the
turbine to the pump, causing all power transmission to be mechanical, thus
eliminating losses associated with fluid drive.
Operational phases
A torque converter has three stages of operation:
• Stall. The prime mover is applying power to the pump but the turbine
cannot rotate. For example, in an automobile, this stage of operation
would occur when the driver has placed the transmission in gear but is
preventing the vehicle from moving by continuing to apply the brakes.
At stall, the torque converter can produce maximum torque
multiplication if sufficient input power is applied (the resulting
multiplication is called the stall ratio). The stall phase actually lasts for
a brief period when the load (e.g., vehicle) initially starts to move, as
there will be a very large difference between pump and turbine speed.
• Acceleration. The load is accelerating but there still is a relatively large
difference between pump and turbine speed. Under this condition, the
converter will produce torque multiplication that is less than what could
be achieved under stall conditions. The amount of multiplication will
depend upon the actual difference between pump and turbine speed, as
well as various other design factors.
• Coupling. The turbine has reached approximately 90 percent of the
speed of the pump. Torque multiplication has essentially ceased and the
torque converter is behaving in a manner similar to a plain fluid
coupling. In modern automotive applications, it is usually at this stage
of operation where the lockup clutch is applied, a procedure that tends
to improve fuel efficiency.
The key to the torque converter's ability to multiply torque lies in the stator. In
the classic fluid coupling design, periods of high slippage cause the fluid flow
returning from the turbine to the pump to oppose the direction of pump
rotation, leading to a significant loss of efficiency and the generation of
considerable waste heat. Under the same condition in a torque converter, the
returning fluid will be redirected by the stator so that it aids the rotation of the
pump, instead of impeding it. The result is that much of the energy in the
returning fluid is recovered and added to the energy being applied to the pump
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 13
by the prime mover. This action causes a substantial increase in the mass of
fluid being directed to the turbine, producing an increase in output torque.
Since the returning fluid is initially traveling in a direction opposite to pump
rotation, the stator will likewise attempt to counterrotate as it forces the fluid
to change direction, an effect that is prevented by the oneway stator clutch.
Unlike the radially straight blades used in a plain fluid coupling, a torque
converter's turbine and stator use angled and curved blades. The blade shape of
the stator is what alters the path of the fluid, forcing it to coincide with the
pump rotation. The matching curve of the turbine blades helps to correctly
direct the returning fluid to the stator so the latter can do its job. The shape of
the blades is important as minor variations can result in significant changes to
the converter's performance.
During the stall and acceleration phases, in which torque multiplication occurs,
the stator remains stationary due to the action of its oneway clutch. However,
as the torque converter approaches the coupling phase, the energy and volume
of the fluid returning from the turbine will gradually decrease, causing pressure
on the stator to likewise decrease. Once in the coupling phase, the returning
fluid will reverse direction and now rotate in the direction of the pump and
turbine, an effect which will attempt to forwardrotate the stator. At this point,
the stator clutch will release and the pump, turbine and stator will all (more or
less) turn as a unit.
Unavoidably, some of the fluid's kinetic energy will be lost due to friction and
turbulence, causing the converter to generate waste heat (dissipated in many
applications by water cooling). This effect, often referred to as pumping loss,
will be most pronounced at or near stall conditions. In modern designs, the
blade geometry minimizes oil velocity at low pump speeds, which allows the
turbine to be stalled for long periods with little danger of overheating.
Efficiency and torque multiplication
A torque converter cannot achieve 100 percent coupling efficiency. The classic
three element torque converter has an efficiency curve that resembles an
inverted "U": zero efficiency at stall, generally increasing efficiency during the
acceleration phase and low efficiency in the coupling phase. The loss of
efficiency as the converter enters the coupling phase is a result of the
turbulence and fluid flow interference generated by the stator, and as
previously mentioned, is commonly overcome by mounting the stator on a one
way clutch.
Even with the benefit of the oneway stator clutch, a converter cannot achieve
the same level of efficiency in the coupling phase as an equivalently sized fluid
coupling. Some loss is due to the presence of the stator (even though rotating
as part of the assembly), as it always generates some powerabsorbing
turbulence. Most of the loss, however, is caused by the curved and angled
turbine blades, which do not absorb kinetic energy from the fluid mass as well
as radially straight blades. Since the turbine blade geometry is a crucial factor
in the converter's ability to multiply torque, tradeoffs between torque
multiplication and coupling efficiency are inevitable. In automotive
applications, where steady improvements in fuel economy have been mandated
by market forces and government edict, the nearly universal use of a lockup
clutch has helped to eliminate the converter from the efficiency equation
during cruising operation.
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
14 © The Mathematical Association 2004
The maximum amount of torque multiplication produced by a converter is
highly dependent on the size and geometry of the turbine and stator blades, and
is generated only when the converter is at or near the stall phase of operation.
Typical stall torque multiplication ratios range from 1.8:1 to 2.5:1 for most
automotive applications (although multielement designs as used in the Buick
Dynaflow and Chevrolet Turboglide could produce more). Specialized
converters designed for industrial or heavy marine power transmission systems
are capable of as much as 5.0:1 multiplication. Generally speaking, there is a
tradeoff between maximum torque multiplication and efficiency—high stall
ratio converters tend to be relatively inefficient below the coupling speed,
whereas low stall ratio converters tend to provide less possible torque
multiplication.
While torque multiplication increases the torque delivered to the turbine output
shaft, it also increases the slippage within the converter, raising the temperature
of the fluid and reducing overall efficiency. For this reason, the characteristics
of the torque converter must be carefully matched to the torque curve of the
power source and the intended application. Changing the blade geometry of the
stator and/or turbine will change the torquestall characteristics, as well as the
overall efficiency of the unit. For example, drag racing automatic transmissions
often use converters modified to produce high stall speeds to improve offthe
line torque, and to get into the power band of the engine more quickly.
Highway vehicles generally use lower stall torque converters to limit heat
production, and provide a more firm feeling to the vehicle's characteristics.
A design feature once found in some General Motors automatic transmissions
was the variablepitch stator, in which the blades' angle of attack could be
varied in response to changes in engine speed and load. The effect of this was
to vary the amount of torque multiplication produced by the converter. At the
normal angle of attack, the stator caused the converter to produce a moderate
amount of multiplication but with a higher level of efficiency. If the driver
abruptly opened the throttle, a valve would switch the stator pitch to a different
angle of attack, increasing torque multiplication at the expense of efficiency.
Some torque converters use multiple stators and/or multiple turbines to provide
a wider range of torque multiplication. Such multipleelement converters are
more common in industrial environments than in automotive transmissions, but
automotive applications such as Buick's Triple Turbine Dynaflow and
Chevrolet's Turboglide also existed. The Buick Dynaflow utilized the torque
multiplying characteristics of its planetary gearset in conjunction with the
torque converter for low gear and bypassed the first turbine, using only the
second turbine as vehicle speed increased. The unavoidable tradeoff with this
arrangement was low efficiency and eventually these transmissions were
discontinued in favor of the more efficient three speed units with a
conventional three element torque converter.
[edit] Lockup torque converters
As described above, pumping losses within the torque converter reduce
efficiency and generate waste heat. In modern automotive applications, this
problem is commonly avoided by use of a lockup clutch that physically links
the pump and turbine, effectively changing the converter into a purely
mechanical coupling. The result is no slippage, and virtually no power loss.
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 15
The first automotive application of the lockup principle was Packard's
Ultramatic transmission, introduced in 1949, which locked up the converter at
cruising speeds, unlocking when the throttle was floored for quick acceleration
or as the vehicle slowed down. This feature was also present in some Borg
Warner transmissions produced during the 1950s. It fell out of favor in
subsequent years due to its extra complexity and cost. In the late 1970s lockup
clutches started to reappear in response to demands for improved fuel
economy, and are now nearly universal in automotive applications.
[edit] Capacity and failure modes
As with a basic fluid coupling the theoretical torque capacity of a converter is
proportional to , where r is the mass density of the fluid, N is the impeller
speed (rpm), and D is the diameter. In practice, the maximum torque capacity
is limited by the mechanical characteristics of the materials used in the
converter's components, as well as the ability of the converter to dissipate heat
(often through water cooling). As an aid to strength, reliability and economy of
production, most automotive converter housings are of welded construction.
Industrial units are usually assembled with bolted housings, a design feature
that eases the process of inspection and repair, but adds to the cost of
producing the converter.
In high performance, racing and heavy duty commercial converters, the pump
and turbine may be further strengthened by a process called furnace brazing, in
which molten brass is drawn into seams and joints to produce a stronger bond
between the blades, hubs and annular ring(s). Because the furnace brazing
process creates a small radius at the point where a blade meets with a hub or
annular ring, a theoretical decrease in turbulence will occur, resulting in a
corresponding increase in efficiency.
Overloading a converter can result in several failure modes, some of them
potentially dangerous in nature:
• Overheating: Continuous high levels of slippage may overwhelm the
converter's ability to dissipate heat, resulting in damage to the elastomer
seals that retain fluid inside the converter. This will cause the unit to
leak and eventually stop functioning due to lack of fluid.
• Stator clutch seizure: The inner and outer elements of the oneway
stator clutch become permanently locked together, thus preventing the
stator from rotating during the coupling phase. Most often, seizure is
precipitated by severe loading and subsequent distortion of the clutch
components. Eventually, galling of the mating parts occurs, which
triggers seizure. A converter with a seized stator clutch will exhibit very
poor efficiency during the coupling phase, and in a motor vehicle, fuel
consumption will drastically increase. Converter overheating under
such conditions will usually occur if continued operation is attempted.
• Stator clutch breakage: A very abrupt application of power can cause
shock loading to the stator clutch, resulting in breakage. When this
occurs, the stator will freely counterrotate the pump and almost no
power transmission will take place. In an automobile, the effect is
similar to a severe case of transmission slippage and the vehicle is all
but incapable of moving under its own power.
Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking Transport: Railways
16 © The Mathematical Association 2004
• Blade deformation and fragmentation: Due to abrupt loading or
excessive heating of the converter, the pump and/or turbine blades may
be deformed, separated from their hubs and/or annular rings, or may
break up into fragments. At the least, such a failure will result in a
significant loss of efficiency, producing symptoms similar (although
less pronounced) to those accompanying stator clutch failure. In
extreme cases, catastrophic destruction of the converter will occur.
• Ballooning: Prolonged operation under excessive loading, very abrupt
application of load, or operating a torque converter at very high RPM
may cause the shape of the converter's housing to be physically
distorted due to internal pressure and/or the stress imposed by
centrifugal force. Under extreme conditions, ballooning will cause the
converter housing to rupture, resulting in the violent dispersal of hot oil
and metal fragments over a wide area.
Transport: Railways Tractive effort, acceleration, and braking
© The Mathematical Association 2004 17
FAILURE ANALYSIS RAIL CONTACT
Rail contact: plastic deformation (Ratcheting behavior).
Repeated rolling or sliding contacts stresses the material cyclically. Dependant on
the contact stresses the material responds in one of the following four ways,
1. Perfectly elastic behavior if the contact pressure does not exceed the elastic
limit, i.e. for a line contact pmax/τc= 0.31 or expressed in the load intensity
τc/pmax=1/0.31.
2. Elastic shakedown behavior, in which plastic deformation takes place during
running in, while due to residual stresses or strain hardening the steady
state is perfectly elastic.
3. Plastic shakedown behavior, in which the steady state is a closed elastic
plastic loop, with no net accumulation of plastic deformation.
4. Ratcheting behavior, in which the steady state is an open elastic plastic
loop, the material accumulates a net strain during each cycle.
Railcontact: rolling contact fatigue, crack initiated at the surface.
For full description of failure analysis and remedy see reference .
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