2022 Audi RS e-tron GT Chases the Union Pacific ‘Huge Boy’

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Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

From the December 2021 subject of Automotive and Driver.

It was darkish as a thundercloud within the cabin of the Audi RS e-tron GT. A prehistoric roar and a primordial tectonic rumble shook the pedals and steering wheel, oozed by means of the seats, and knocked on my vertebrae till my cranium hummed and howled. After the smoking locomotive pulled previous, the silence was eerie, a lonesome area capsule as soon as the rocket falls away. I missed the rumble. The long run solely whirs.

The long run is electrical. Calm down, I do not imply our automotive future, not less than not for certain. We’re steering that method, however quite a bit would wish to occur for at the moment’s smattering of EVs to switch the many years of gas-burning machines on the street. Within the ’50s, the dialog was comparable: one expertise virtually completed, one other on its method. Steam engines had dominated American tracks for greater than 100 years, however by the Nineteen Thirties, diesel-electric locomotives have been beginning to threaten the coal-burning steamers’ dominance. The final large steam locomotive, quantity 4014, a 4-8-8-4 Huge Boy, left the tracks for retirement in 1959. Union Pacific finally restored 4014, and it was this very engine offering the soundtrack as we raced alongside within the battery-powered Audi.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

“Parked, it looms over a prepare station like a metal tidal wave.”

Chasing a prepare appeared like an excellent job for an electrical automobile, doable however difficult. Would the 637-hp RS e-tron GT have the ability to remain forward of the Huge Boy? Would it not deal with the tough nation roads that prepare spotters assured us have been the most effective locations for watching the steam engine barrel previous? Would its 232-mile EPA vary be sufficient for the circuitous route connecting small cities alongside the prepare’s path from Denver to Cheyenne, and would we discover someplace to plug in when wanted? In principle, this would not be troublesome, a 224-mile journey with loads of locations to cost. The Audi had already beat its EPA vary with a 240-mile efficiency in our 75-mph freeway check, and all of the charging-station apps confirmed a number of choices.

Out within the wild, issues are at all times extra difficult. The closest charging stations to the resort in Denver have been blocked by a dusty VW Jetta and a decidedly not electrical Chevy Impala. The subsequent one was damaged. A 3rd was three blocks away in a parking storage that value $12 simply to enter. By that time we have been prepared to pay $100, as a result of we have been right down to our previous few electrons and needed to be charged to get forward of the prepare the subsequent morning.

Engine 4014 is an enormous steam locomotive that pulls followers younger and previous, even some who put on derby hats and dream of exterior combustion.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

Engine 4014 is the one functioning instance of what was as soon as the largest, strongest steam locomotive within the West. Within the early Forties, Union Pacific commissioned 25 of the monsters at a price of $265,000 every (about $5 million at the moment) to haul navy provides over 76 miles of the steep grade of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. After the transfer to diesel-electrics, most of those large steam engines have been scrapped and melted down. Solely eight survived, relegated to static museum shows. In 2013, Union Pacific pulled engine 4014 out of the RailGiants Prepare Museum in Pomona, California. Its restoration just a few years later concerned changing the exterior­-combustion engine to burn bunker gasoline—thick oil—quite than coal. The 11-person resto workforce had a tough deadline of 2019, which they met, barely. “We have been pulling the factor out the door and nonetheless placing elements on it,” says Ed Dickens, Union Pacific’s supervisor of heritage operations, who led the trouble and acts as prepare engineer throughout the Huge Boy’s publicity excursions.

A chic brute in satin black, quantity 4014 is now in tiptop form. It weighs a penny-crushing 1.2 million kilos with its tender and makes 7000 horsepower. Parked, it looms over a prepare station like a metal tidal wave. Folks come from throughout to comply with the prepare on its summer time excursions. Prepare spotters, rail chasers, foamers—no matter you need to name those that observe the tracks—two photographers, one electrical sports activities sedan, and I have been about to see whether or not we might sustain with 200-year-old expertise.

This RS e-tron GT prices $164,390 in 2021 {dollars} and weighs in at two and a half tons (5171 kilos), a little bit of a giant boy itself. It’s not essentially the most highly effective EV obtainable, however we’re sure it was essentially the most highly effective automobile following the Huge Boy from Denver to Cheyenne.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

There’s poetry in operating down the brutality of a fire-eating engine with two smooth-spinning permanent-magnet AC motors, and there is a contact of irony in pacing a steam prepare that not runs on coal whereas many EVs nonetheless do. There was additionally the opportunity of failure, an added thrill. The e-tron promised sufficient vary, however there was no time for miscalculation. In prepare chasing, the route is dictated by a ladder of carbon metal, there aren’t any stops till the engine reaches the subsequent station, and there is not any time to hypermile if you’re making an attempt to catch a car that does not endure stoplights or visitors.

To search out the primary cease, we adopted the group wearing striped overalls and train-themed T-shirts (“I do not snore, I dream I am a prepare”). The couple subsequent to us had began their chase in Kansas. One other household had come all the way in which from Florida. Brendan Blaylock from Seattle mentioned he’d been ready to see a Huge Boy in movement since he was seven years previous. He is 57 now.

A circuit-like sample on the RS e-tron GT’s leather-based seats is a nod to the large battery tucked away within the ground.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

“Locomotives are spectacular,” Dickens says, making an attempt to clarify why folks spend holidays parked by trestles. “The diesel loco­motives are neat: $2 million brand-new, 4000 horsepower, 16-cylinder diesel engine. However the steam loco­motive—you’ll be able to see all of the propulsion equipment truly working. The sound. The warmth. It is terror and pleasure.” Certainly. The engine rolled beneath the pedestrian bridge and blew its whistle. To these of us standing instantly above it, it seemed like a rend within the cloth of time. A small youngster screamed and burst into tears.

I would been warned that prepare recognizing will get loopy, that it is not only a cruise alongside the tracks. “Once you chase the prepare, it turns right into a NASCAR race,” a rail fanatic cautioned. On the street, the imagined cruise turned to a contest to get forward of the prepare and the chasers. The Audi is ideal for this. It will shoot to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, however the 1.7-second 50-to-70-mph scoot is the way you leap previous train-spotting visitors.

On the subsequent cease, we heard the roar at 9: 30, and at 9: 31 the dragon arrived. Even from contained in the automobile, safely parked the prescribed 25 ft from the tracks, the boiler warmth will curl your eyelashes.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

Again on the freeway, we discovered ourselves within the crowd we would handed that morning, and it was certainly like a stock-car race, or perhaps a midnight freeway takeover. As visitors slowed and sped, the Audi’s acceleration proved a bonus, however the true MVPs of the day have been the responsive steering and fade-free brakes—­carbon-ceramic rotors, a part of the $20,350 Yr One bundle. Earlier, Dickens had informed me what he cherished in regards to the Huge Boy was its finesse. “You have bought 7000 horsepower within the palm of your hand,” he mentioned, “however I could make it begin so elegantly, the passengers do not even know we’re shifting.” The e-tron might declare the identical: a lot energy on faucet, such a fragile and drama-free journey.

Throughout us, vehicles jockeyed for place, and the Audi shot forward, unflappable. Whereas the e-tron GT does not provide sufficient regenerative braking for one-pedal driving, utilizing the steering-wheel paddles to regulate for a bit extra resistance on the fly was good for the altering speeds of the scrum. The automobile shares some dealing with methods with the prepare too. The one method an engine virtually half a soccer subject lengthy could make a flip is that if it bends. The Huge Boy has an articulated body, permitting the entrance wheels to make a flip whereas the rear of the chassis remains to be on the straight. Audi’s model of that is rear-wheel steering, a characteristic that helps a giant sedan really feel smaller and extra maneuverable.

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

One space the place the Audi cannot compete with the prepare is in passenger area. It might be good for those who might hitch just a few good sleeper carriages behind, as a result of whereas the rear seats are acceptable, they do not provide sufficient headroom to qualify as first-class transport. The GT might have 4 doorways, however it could desire to be a two-person journey. And as a freight automobile? Neglect about it: small trunk, even smaller frunk.

Talking of measurement, the Huge Boy’s mass is astonishing. Once we have been parked by the tracks, the prepare first appeared as a small darkish spot within the side-view mirror, then grew to color the Audi’s rear glass, facet home windows, and entrance windshield with an evening sky of iron and smoke. Alongside the massive prepare, the e-tron GT was a bauble, a shiny purple ember, though not with out charms of its personal. Whereas the steam crew toiled within the Huge Boy’s cab, hanging out the home windows as a lot for air as visibility, I used to be reclining in ventilated seats, listening to podcasts about railway historical past. For a job that requires numerous ready round, you could possibly do worse than sitting within the well-appointed leather-based and satin-chrome inside of the GT, watching folks admire its exterior. Once we first bought to Denver, a resort visitor lowered his sun shades and pursed his lips in an expression of appreciation we did not suppose existed exterior of ’80s music movies, and through one cease a teenage boy shouted, “I do not know what that’s, however I can inform it is one thing!”

Roy RitchieAutomotive and Driver

It was one thing, and that factor was operating out of cost. We reached our ultimate cease on the prepare station in downtown Cheyenne with the show displaying 90 miles of vary, virtually however not fairly sufficient to get us again to Denver. Possibly a charge-up whereas we bought lunch? Cheyenne’s Previous West vibe is lovely, simply the sort of place the place you’d like to plug in for a few hours and wander round making an attempt on cowboy hats and ingesting beer out of a glass formed like a boot. Solely there is not any place to cost downtown, which is why we spent 90 minutes exterior a Harley-Davidson seller in an industrial space for a gradual trickle that gained us 50 miles. Audi says the e-tron can quick-charge at 270 kilowatts to 80 p.c in simply 20 minutes, which is nice if you will discover a DC hookup.

We made it again to Denver with 30 miles to spare, proving it is doable to chase the previous with the longer term, however you will spend numerous the current sitting in parking heaps. Do not get discouraged, although, for those who’re dreaming of road-tripping on an electrical whim. It took 30 years for the diesel-electric locomotives to part out the steam engines. We’re barely 12 years into mainstream electric-car choices. Because the infrastructure grows and battery chemistry improves, EVs will get even higher at offering the transportation to chase your desires. Full steam forward.

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Patrick Moore

Patrick is our chief editor and he's very passionate about cars. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing and he studies journalism. His favorite brand is BMW and he drives an X5 series. When he's not writing for Vehiclenews.net, he enjoys spending time with his family and 9 years old son.

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