Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Solar powered train

Collect sunth and push trains with it
  [vote for,

This technology could be applied to push-assist existing trains with very little modification or to make entirely solar powered designs.

The idea is a solar powered weight lifter. A solar panel on a pole runs a simple motor to lift a weight. When a train goes passed with a physical connection such as a rod and pinion the weight is free to drop in a way that boosts the train along.

It should be possible to design it in such a way that over a certain speed the train doesn't physically connect to the poles. At night there will be enough weights still raised to run the trains, in the daytime they can be lifted again.
Voice, May 30 2013

Vaguely similar prior art Railroad_20Downgrade_20Power_20Generator
Like this idea, only pointed the other direction. Comparison may aid in evaluation. [Alterother, May 30 2013]


       Any counterweight that could add energy to a moving train would have to be very heavy. On solar power alone the lifting mechanism would have to be geared down to a snail's pace.
Alterother, May 30 2013

       This is an impressively bad idea.   

       Why not use to solar panels to feed into the grid, and thereby add to the normal power supply of the train?
MaxwellBuchanan, May 30 2013

       [Max] because in my country most trains don't run on electricity.
Voice, May 30 2013

       Well then, there's your problem.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 30 2013

       Start as part of a package express similar to bike messengers in say New York. Just big enough to carry a dozen file boxes. Work out the kinks, before trying to do a whole train without back up power.
popbottle, May 31 2013

       // in my country most trains don't run on electricity. //   

       If you live in the USA then you're in for a bit of a shock: our locomotives may run on deisel, but the engine just powers a giant generator. The wheels are driven by special electric motors called dynamic motivators. So unless the trains in your country run on coal, they do in fact run on electricity.
Alterother, May 31 2013

       The trains here run on rails.
rcarty, May 31 2013

       My nose runs. Does that count?   

       (wonders about "sunth"? )
not_morrison_rm, May 31 2013

       // // in my country most trains don't run on electricity. //   

       If you live in the USA //   

       To be fair, this sort of language isn't used in the USA. It implies the existence of other countries.
bs0u0155, May 31 2013

       As far as i know, [Alterother], that's how diesel trains work everywhere, or at least in the UK.   

       Concerning the idea, maybe it would work better for a short period during summertime on Icarus if the trains concerned were largely made of aerogel.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2013

       What's the idea here? Solar panels are baked. Energy storage by lifting a weight against gravity is baked (though on a large scale the weight is usually water; see pumped-storage hydroelectric power). Using previously-stored energy to propel trains is baked.   

       You seem to imply that the energy is coupled to the train mechanically instead of electrically (though you don't say this explicitly - "the weight is free to drop in a way that boosts the train along" could mean a lot of things).   

       Am I missing something?
Wrongfellow, Jun 02 2013

       Nope, that's it in a nutshell. It is usually an idea's mad genius that lies in its simplicity, but in this case it's just the flaw. What most people seem not to know about trains is how very, very heavy they are. Even many intelligent laymen directly observing a locomotive or freight car (but somehow unable to read the dry and gross weight ratings stenciled on the side) will underestimate the tonnage and the force involved in moving it.   

       [19thly], I know that, but I was trying to make my point without being any more of a presumptive douchebag than I usually am.
Alterother, Jun 02 2013

       How much of a train's weight is tradition-led overbuilding? I mean, I saw a train once, it was constructed entirely from soot and girders. Is there no place for aluminium on trains? Apart from occupying the cargo space, that is.
bs0u0155, Jun 02 2013

       Freight trains seem overbuilt because the are built to endure incredible abuse. Yes, there are materials that are stronger/harder/more ductile and lighter than steel, but for high-strength hard-wearing and resilient low-cost materials that will take a pounding for decades, nothing beats steel.   

       And yes, there are plenty of aluminium-bodied freight cars, although they ride upon steel chassis. Most of them are built to carry nasty substances, such as anhydrous ammonia or sulfur. One sweltering summer day I had the rare privelege of changing the brake beams on an aluminium covered-hopper loaded with eighteen tons of chicken shit.
Alterother, Jun 02 2013

       [rcarty], [not_morrison]   

       That's looking suspiciously like a parlour game. See help file.
fishboner, Jun 03 2013

       Locomotives are deliberately built heavy, because that's part of what determines how much weight they can pull, what their traction is against the rails.   

       The weight of train ends up not mattering much, because they don't vary speed much, and they lose more energy to wind than to rolling friction at the wheels. Combined with the fact that for all that the cars are heavy, the load weight is higher, and the substructure needs to be strong to carry it (aluminum is lighter than steel, but the strength to weight ratio is similar, and aluminum doesn't have a fatigue limit).   

       Passenger trains, especially light, heavy and commuter rail do, frequently, have much of their structure and all of their housing made from aluminum, owing to their much more frequent stops and starts, which increases the utility of lighter weight construction. The primary load bearing components will still be steel, however, because they need to stand up to millions or hundreds of millions of cycles, which aluminum just doesn't do.
MechE, Jun 03 2013

       As far as the idea itself, if you were going to do something like this, it would probably only be an advantage in the case of steep grades where a helper engine is frequently already used. But in that case you could just use a plug in helper engine, no need for weights.   

       As I mentioned since trains pick a speed and stick with it they're not going to benefit much from a short burst of added energy. The concept of laying panels along the right of way may make sense in some places (I'm thinking the US Midwest, where you've got lots of rail and not much in the way of trees blocking the light), but unless you electrify the right of way, you'd be better off selling that power to the next city and using the profits to buy a more efficient engine.
MechE, Jun 03 2013

       And [Fishy]- I suggest you re-read the help file. It rules out games called for in the idea, but not people having some fun in the annos.
MechE, Jun 03 2013


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