Question by farrel t: how many cars can a lionel engine pull?
What engine pulls the best?
Answer by Ben H
This, truthfully, is a simple question with a very complex answer.
Basically, every locomotive is able to exert a pulling force, and every car has a certain amount of force required to pull it. In order to properly answer your question, we need to examine each of these.
The amount of pulling force a locomotive can exert is related to two factors: the torque available from the motor, and the ability of the wheels to grip the rails(tractive effort). Some locomotive designs are limited by tractive effort, and others are limited by torque.
For most Lionel locomotives made before the 1990s, you’ll find that tractive effort is by far the greatest limiting factor.
Historically, the oldest Lionel locomotives had driving wheels(drivers) which were nickel plated, giving them a smooth surface. These would tend to not grip the rail very well, and would slip very easily.
Other, typically lower-end, locomotives would tend to have drivers which were cast from sintered(powdered) iron. These tend to be rougher, and so will actually grip the track better.
In the 1950s, Lionel came up with Magnetraction, which turns the wheels into permanent magnets, thus allowing them to grip the track more tightly. As a consequence of this, all magnetraction engines also must have sintered iron drivers, thus this alone will increase the pulling power.
There’s a catch to magnetraction, however-it will only work with steel track. Lionel’s traditional “tubular” track is steel, and the magnetraction works fine, as is Lionel’s new Fastrack and track from the Gargraves corporation. Other modern track, however, such as that from MTH(Realtrax) and Atlas O, are made of nickel silver, and thus magnetraction is ineffective on them.
In any case, adding weight to any locomotive increases the tractive effort. More expensive locomotives tend to, as a general rule, weigh more, and thus will almost always pull better. Adding some lead weight to any locomotive can, in most cases, dramatically increase its pulling power.
In the 1990s, Lionel began making extensive use of traction tires, which are small rubber bands wrapped around some of the driving wheels. These grip any type of track very effectively, and greatly increase tractive effort. With most modern Lionel locomotives, the limit of pulling power is how much torque the motor can exert. Most modern locomotives have just about the same motor, so most are pretty much equal.
Now, let’s examine the nature of the cars being pulled.
All cars, of course, have a certain amount of mass. This comes into play when starting the train from rest or accelerating, however once the train is in motion, the amount of mass in the train doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.
What does make a difference, however, is how freely rolling the cars are. Older cars had blunt-ended axles which rolled in cast-zinc bearings. These require a fair amount of force to move. By contrast, newer designs(1970s and newer) typically used needlepoint axles which roll in Delrin plastic bearings. These roll with almost no resistance.
When dealing with a modern locomotive pulling a train of modern-era cars, it’s entirely reasonable to expect to be able to pull trains well in excess of 50 cars. For an older locomotive pulling older cars, anywhere from 4-10 might be a reasonable size.
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