Applied Science - Built Environment (3)

  • Discovering how trains work.
  • Designing a train route to service a community.


  • caboose
  • coach
  • locomotive
  • pollution
  • train
  • urban planning
  • lab sheet
  • train sets

Students design a train through a city.


The development of railways marks a great step in the progress of human civilization. During the 19th century, railways provided a reliable, low-cost, high volume system of land transportation. The self guiding system and the low rolling friction allowed a locomotive of relatively modest horsepower to pull a long train of cars.

Cities evolved around the railways. The first trains were steam driven. The steam driven "Iron Horse, " train was important in the development of our country. In the United States the first company to build a railroad for passenger service was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. They laid the first stone for a railroad on July 4, 1828. The tiny Tom Thumb steam engine puffed successfully along the tracks pulling the first passenger train. More than 40,000 steam engines were built between 1829 and 1949. The last commercially_built steam engine for a U.S. company was built by the Baldwin plant in Lima, Ohio. Most of the major railroad companies retired their steam engines in the mid 1960's. Today steam engines are found in museums and special events.

Different ways to move trains became cheaper and more efficient including coal, petroleum, and electricity. Today’s trains are fueled mainly by diesel and electricity. Trains are the most inexpensive ways to move large items (i.e. new cars) to their destination. Many of the early towns were planned around the train station.


  1. In this lab, students will look at a model of an electric train. Many students may never have seen one put together, so this lab may take longer than expected. If students bring in their trains from home, it is easy to extend this lab.
  2. Compare the different trains. Describe each of the major pieces and their function. The locomotive is where the energy comes from. It pulls all the other cars. The early trains used coal or wood to create steam for power. Most of today's locomotives are electric or diesel. Coach refers to the cars between the locomotive and the caboose.
  3. Depending on the classroom layout, assemble tracks before the class meets. If students are interested, they can assemble the tracks before the lab. Follow the directions in the box. Make sure all the pieces are connected or the electric circuit will not be completed. An oval pattern works best the first time. If your students want to make more complicated structures, this can be done as an extension of the lab.
  4. Have all students take a turn making the train go. This way they can get a feel for the speed that a train gets, even on a little set. On the lab sheet there are two activities, one for the students to design their own tracks through a community, and the other to answer questions about the activity. Designing tracks through a city to be efficient yet pleasing is called "urban planning". Making technology fit into society is not always easy.

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