Diesel-electric locomotives were introduced in the United States in 1924, and have become the most widely used type of locomotive. The modern diesel-electric locomotive is a self-contained, electrically propelled unit. Like the electric locomotive, it has electric drive, in the form of traction motors driving the axles and controlled with electronic controls. It also has many of the same auxiliary systems for cooling, lighting, heating, and braking. It differs principally in that it has its own generating station instead of being connected to a remote generating station through overhead wires or a third rail. The generating station consists of a large diesel engine coupled to an alternator or generator that provides the power for the traction motors. These motors drive the driving wheels by means of spur gears. The ratio of the gearing regulates the hauling power and maximum speed of the locomotive. A modern diesel-electric locomotive produces about 35% of the power of a electric locomotive of similar weight. Diesel-mechanical locomotives have a direct mechanical link consisting of a clutch and a series of gears and shafts between the engine and the wheels, similar to the transmission in an automobile. Because mechanical drives deliver less power to the wheels than electric and diesel-electric systems, they are only used with the smallest locomotives. In diesel-hydraulic locomotives the engine drives a torque converter, which uses fluids under pressure to transmit and regulate power to the wheels. Hydraulic drives are little used in the United States but are widely used in some countries, such as Germany.
Gas turbine–electric locomotives are similar to the diesel-electric but use a gas turbine to drive the generator. The technology is used primarily on turbotrains, high-speed passenger trains that do not have locomotives but instead are powered by units built into one or more of their cars.
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