Norfolk Southern track geometry uses NS 33 and NS 34.
Norfolk Southern Track Geometry
NS 33 and NS 34 passed along the Norfolk Southern Back Belt at the end of March. The pair are loaded with equipment that simulates car loads and sensors to pick up how those loads react on NS track across the country. A regular locomotive pulls both cars. NS 33 is a converted passenger coach. NS 34 began as an EMD SD35 locomotive. The railroad converted it into into a “slug,” an add-on unit that adds traction to a locomotive. Norfolk Southern then converted the slug into a “research sled.”
In an “Ask Trains.com” column, May, 2009, the magazine explains what NS 34 is:
NS 34 is a former locomotive slug used for testing track geometry. The vehicle is ballasted to elicit a response from the track similar to that of a loaded car or locomotive. An inertial package with a laser/camera system is mounted on one of the trucks to measure irregularities in track geometry and to acquire data on rail wear. A high-resolution machine vision system also acquires data on rail surface and crosstie/fastener condition. The cab was added to house the computers, control equipment, and a GPS system.
So, the research sled simulates cars and gathers data.
While NS 34 gathers data, NS 33 contains monitors and computers to collect data from the sensors in the research sled. The car started as Union Pacific steel streamlined coach 5441.
UP ordered the car from Pullman-Standard in 1950. They operated it as a coach until 1971. While railroads transferred most passenger equipment to Amtrak at this time, UP sold 5441 to Alaska Railroad. Alaska RR operated it until 1987. They sold 5441 to the St. Louis Car Company. That company sold it to Norfolk Southern in 1994. The car spent five years at the NS Roanoke Shops. It returned to the rails as a research car in 1999.
I caught this consist while having coffee and writing at the PJ’s Coffee at 5555 Canal Blvd. Unfortunately I didn’t get up fast enough to set the phone to record video of it passing, as the train rolled Eastbound on the Back Belt. Sad at the missed opportunity, I went back to work. Imagine my surprise when, a few minutes later, the train came back!
It looks like they took the train West to the New Orleans Terminal Company connector track that leads to Union Passenger Terminal. They collected data from the switches there, then returned Eastbound. Then, they changed directions, continuing West. The direction changes caught me unawares, which is why there’s so many cars in the photos.