Special thanks
to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for its help with this article.
This giant machine is really what HowStuffWorks is all about. It combines some great mechanical technology, including a huge, 12-cylinder, two-stroke diesel engine, with some heavy duty electric motors and generators, throwing in a little bit of computer technology for good measure.


General Motors FP59 diesel-electric locomotive

This 270,000-pound (122,470-kg) locomotive is designed to tow passenger-train cars at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour (177 kph). The diesel engine makes 3,200 horsepower, and the generator can turn this into almost 4,700 amps of electrical current. The four drive motors use this electricity to generate over 64,000 pounds of thrust. There is a completely separate V-12 engine and generator to provide electrical power for the rest of the train. This generator is called the head-end power unit. The one on this train can make over 560 kilowatts (kW) of electrical power.

This combination of diesel engine and electric generators and motors makes the locomotive a hybrid vehicle. In this article, we'll start by learning why locomotives are built this way and why they have steel wheels. Then we'll take a look at the layout and key components.