Germany's aerospace agency built a safer rail car

All it takes is a little controlled demolition.

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Andrew Dalton
August 25th, 2016

An aerospace agency might seem like an unlikely place to find a breakthrough in railroad safety equipment, but that is exactly what the engineers at the German Aerospace Center (better known as DLR) have recently come up with. As Wired reports, DLR engineers have designed a new less smash-prone crumple zone meant to reduce the impact of train car collisions.

In cars, the crumple zone is meant to be crushed and compacted in order to absorb some of the energy of the collision, protecting the passenger cabin in the process. DLR's new rail car crumple zone works in a similar way, using a series of metal cylinders that slide into slots to create a "controlled deformation process" that saps the kinetic energy out of a crash.

To test their prototype, DLR's engineers attached it to the front of an 80-ton tanker car loaded with cameras and sensors and then slammed a second tanker car into it at a (somewhat sluggish) 11.5 mph. The result? The unprotected tanker was mostly undamaged and the prototype with the crumple zone budged a bit. Naturally, DLR brought along a video showing the device in action (audio in German):

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