Germanys NASA Crashes a Train to Keep You Safe

In the antiseptic present, many crash tests happen nowhere in particular. The smashing and crumpling goes down inside computers and on screens, because virtual exams are cheaper and usually just as effective as ones that rattle crash dummies.

That’s fine in most case, but not when you’re trying to prove you can make train crashes less deadly. “Computer models, at the moment, do not perfectly describe deformation, says Michael Zimmermann. He’s an engineer with the German Aerospace Center, or DLR, thecountry’s NASA equivalent, which is working on a new kind of passenger rail design. (Yes, ze Germans are into trains like the Americans are into the Moon.)

A screen just wouldn’t do,so earlier this month, gleeful German engineerstook a new passenger rail design for a satisfying smash.

For the test, at a facility in Grlitz, near the Polish border, the engineers fit their totally tubularprototype onto an 80-ton cargo tanker carriage. They dotted the structure with sensors to take constant measurements, and set up high-speed cameras to record the crash from different angles. They sat the prototype on the track and sent another cargo tanker its wayat 11.5 mph. Okay, so not the fastest, but still: pow.

The new design pretty much worked. The tubes pushed into their slots, the rail car wasnt seriously damaged, and the prototype slid backward just a bit.

This test cost less than $100,000, but there’s more work to do. The German engineers need to analyze the data and plug it back into computer simulations. Theyll work to match the setup with lightweight materials, to keep emissions down. And theyll evaluate if the concept can work for a whole train, not just one car. Because while smashing steel is fun, its not something Germans want to encounter on their commutes.


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