The Tri-Rail GP49 mod, and where it went wrong


I kind of have a sixth sense thing going on when it comes to engineering. Everything around me gets pretty severely disassembled, at least in my mind. The first time I saw one of these, my sixth sense was NOPEing hard. I was baffled. Why did they do this?

So this is a General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) model GP49. It pulls or pushes things on rails. They were made for the Alaska Railroad and contain a radar guided wheel slip detection/control system for use in icy conditions.

Here, they’ve been made to do a very inappropriate job, and all of us are suffering from the resulting failures.

What’s wrong here? Everything.

First, these units have two cooling fans for the engine, one for the dynamic brakes (resistor grid used as an energy sink, using the motors as generators). Normally, a locomotive of its size would have three.

Above: radiator air intakes. The fans are on the roof below them.

Below: air intakes to cool field installed head end power generator.

Passenger train cars use head end power (HEP) supplied by the locomotive to power lights, air conditioning, cooking equipment for dining cars, etc. This is usually a 480 volt ac 3 phase circuit. The GP49 did not come with a HEP generator so a separate engine/generator pack was added below the radiators and these air vents were popped in to wash cold air over it and keep it from roasting.

Only problem, oops— this allows a lot of air to bypass straight to the exhaust fans without passing through the radiator.

The hot engine alarms and shutdown kick in. A lot.

Currently it is not uncommon for Tri-Rail to run two of these units together, one with only the main engine active, and one only supplying HEP. This reduces the heat load and usually prevents the whole thing catching a fever.


Now you may have seen me mention a radar.

Wheel speed sensor on an F40PH. Sand nozzle at left.

On smarter diesel electric locomotives, there are protection systems in place to deal with wheel slippage. A speed sensor is usually provided on each axle. Analog or digital electronics will test the wheel speed and compare. If one or more axles are spinning too fast, indicating a slip event in progress, corrective logic will activate, reducing the amount of current available to the traction motors by cutting the main generator field current, and possibly applying sand to the rails to make things grip again.

With the GP49, the logic goes a step further. A radar detector actually measures the speed of the train moving over clips and plates on the track.

The idea behind this is that a wheel slip event affecting all wheels can be detected and corrected.

The only problem here is that this system is a little too paranoid. It won’t let the kilowatts flow until it sees the wheels all turning at the right speed to match the radar reading, and it only allows for very slow takeoff.

As of late, either due to updates to the control systems or (convenient?) equipment failure, this seems to be disappearing on the GP49s and they actually…. move.

The overheating problem is still there and very bad, though. Yuck.

How could it be corrected? This would be a tricky one. My best ideas would be to add the third fan, or otherwise increase airflow. Perhaps add a baffle under the radiator and open up the area below to more air for the generator? This one’s gonna be tricky due to the narrow body of the locomotive.

Or just completely reverse the hep modification and place the generator in a separate power wagon? I seem to recall Amtrak having done that.

Train pee. Eww.

Metrorail troubleshooting guide


Problem: loud pounding noises from side of train.

Solution: call for security to remove zombie bum who’s entered the guideway by climbing the fence at unbelievable speed and is pounding on the side of the train as it passes slowly. Yikes!!!

I suspect flakka was involved. Sigh….

Check the bulb in the "zombie bum ambush" light, please? I think it's burned out.

The Mad Switch

Flip this (oops, rather grubby) switch to the right to get mad.


I cannot fathom why someone thought this was a great idea to make a switch that moves with very little force stick out and not provide an automatic shutoff like the headlights have. When you switch that on, two hot burning, energy sucking “festoon” bulbs turn on and start nibbling away at battery power voraciously.

Funny thing, I swear I remember most older cars having this switch recessed.

I suppose I shall be ordering a couple of 12 volt white LED festoon bulbs so I can stop getting mad and having to push start the car Fred Flintstone style. Yabba dabba doo!!!

Mmm, skunky

Looks like we have a few fires this morning.


The source of this skunky smoke is down in Southwest Miami-Dade. It’s been too dry recently, so things are getting crispy. Hoping for more rain soon.


Link to the Florida wildfire map tool.

And that’s a full house!

Congratulations on another great school year to the Miami Children’s Museum charter school! This is the finale of the end of year talent show…


I cheated and turned on house lights so you can see the kids. This is their show 🙂

Windows printing phun.

The manager of a local tattoo shop called me the other day because, while his artists could still do some amazing things with ink on their clients’ skin, they just couldn’t get ink onto paper right with their Windows based computer. That’s right, the dumbass thing was refusing to print. Rather, it would print, under incorrect settings, but the printer properties dialog had vanished without a trace.

Totally bogus, bruh.

Usually, Windows systems just work fine when it comes to printing, but when the spooler service or drivers get screwed up, you’ll want to go Office Space on your printer and that won’t even help. Install a new printer after smashing the old one and it too won’t work. Argh!

At least once you do this you can recover some cool stuff like gears, stepper or dc servo motors, optical sensors, and other interesting bits out of the beast. But I digress…

Step 1 to troubleshooting the print issue: Try another application and see if printing works from there. Notepad is a safe bet as it’s about as simple as it gets. Just type in “Hello World” or something and try to print it.

Step 2: Reboot. The print spooler sometimes just needs that. Because. Windows.

Now, if the problems persist…

If your problem is that there is a zombie print job that will not go away no matter what, try the fix it tool, then #3.

So there are a few reasons this junk happens.
#1: Spooler is not running or has crashed. Reboot or manually restart the spooler service. If the problem persists…?
Microsoft has an automatic Fix It tool that’ll check for common problems on versions prior to 8. Try giving that a whirl.

#2: Drivers or other system files hosed up.  Possible solution: Run the System File Checker. This will take a while but is worth it — it may fix other problems like DLL Hell you didn’t even know you were trapped in (hey, why is all the broken stuff working again?). This also fixed malware damage to the print spooler on one machine I saw — FOUL!!!

Please note the procedure for running command prompt as administrator in the article on Windows 8. Yes, it IS that rococo. Ugh. Microsoft decided at some point when designing Win 8 that they needed to reinvent the wheel, and they made it TRIANGULAR instead of round. Come on man, if we wanted a touchscreen mobile OS we would have bought your Surface tablets, not desktop PCs. Get a life.

#3: The P-Bomb. Drop a nuke on the printing system and reinitialize it. You will lose any unprinted jobs stuck in the spooler and all printer settings, but sometimes, this is just what it takes. If you don’t want to mess with the settings to do it manually as in the prior link, Microsoft has an automated tool to do it. Full mode will remove all the printer settings and let you start fresh by reinstalling your hopefully now working printer.

(Actually, I’ve had to do the same exact thing on a Mac before when the cupsd files got all scrunged. Same crap, different toilet.)

#4: Manual registry editing in Safe Mode. Yeah, because that should totally be part of the M$ user experience.

After that…. generally I tend to say it’s time for a Windows repair/reinstall if these don’t work. I wish you the best of luck.

Hot Avionic P0RN!

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves for the most part. This is a cabin pressurization controller for a Boeing ??? (Believed to be early 737).


Click to drop its knickers to the floor.

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Recorded using TapeMachine for Android….


Not bad… I just bought the full version, it’s $5 and actually allows basic editing and high quality recording on Android including real-time flac encoding!

And then I used it to record washer noises.

Shut up.


The TCFWcard!


I wonder if my Fivestars rewards card will still like this?

When I first scanned it, the user data areas were all just blank. Fivestars likely just uses the card id number as a user id token and that’s all.

I still like to imagine somewhere a server is getting mad and leaking a rainbow of colorful pastel suds, of course.

At least I was nice and didn’t turn it into an SQL injection card. Yes it’s been done.

Sorry about that horrible French Curve accident, bro

Okay I get it, the juxtaposition of sweeping curves and sharp acute angles has an edgy sort of aesthetic appeal…

But please. Stop. With. The. “Tribal”. Tattoos.

In my opinion a tattoo should have some meaning to you and not just be a meaningless pile of broken drafting tools.

For your amazing originality you win a severely incomplete set of bus schedules.


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