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Conservation of Momentum in One Dimension

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Derailing Trains
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Derailing Trains

Credit: Jeramey Jannene
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37171504@N00/2467837785
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Created to stop out of control trains, derailers are used to prevent trains from going into a possible collision with another object.

Amazing But True

  • Trains on average weight approximately 8,000 – 10,000 tons and travel approximately 40 mph or 17.9 m/s. This implies that the average train has a momentum between 143,200 – 179,000 ton m/s as it travels down the track. 
  • To stop an object with such a magnitude would require a very long distance (greater than 1 mile) to bring to a stop smoothly and safely. Therefore, even if the conductor of a train was able to see a danger on the track ahead, he would be unable to stop the train in time.
  • The limitation on stopping the train is because of friction and impulse. For a given frictional force applied to the train, a given amount of time must pass for the final velocity to be brought to zero.

\triangle p=Ft

  • Since there is a limit to the amount of force that can be applied to the train, either through the brakes or from the tracks, the only other possible method is to remove the train from the tracks completely. By using a derailer, you effectively increase the frictional force that is being applied to the train by causing it to slide along the ground instead of the rails. Since more of the train will be in contact with the ground, a greater resistive force would be applied.

Explore More

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. If you were to a derail an 8,000,000 kg train that is traveling 10 m/s, how long will it take to bring it to a stop if a 2 kN frictional force is applied?
  2. What is the major disadvantage of using a derailer?
  3. Why is using a derailer safer than just erecting a several foot thick brick wall?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jeramey Jannene; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37171504@N00/2467837785; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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