Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.

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mtuandrew
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Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by mtuandrew » Sat Nov 02, 2019 2:40 pm

Dateline 1944, Schenectady:

The 241 block is misbehaving pretty severely. However, the 539T (cast) and 540T (welded block) have proven themselves on land and sea. Alco is already developing an inline-8 539T that could produce 1300 horsepower without a problem (which beats a 16-567 with half the moving parts, thank you very much), and with minimal development it’s entirely possible to build a 12V539T that can top 2000 horsepower by 1947.

So, why did Alco go all in on the 244 block instead?

Allen Hazen
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Re: Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by Allen Hazen » Sat Nov 02, 2019 9:35 pm

To add spice to the question... The 539T could have been uprated a bit. I think by the late 1940s Also had at least some experimental data on the possibility of a 1200hp version of the 539T, which would have made the S4 equivalent to the new switcher models other builders introduced in 1950, and maybe made the RS-1 a bit more versatile. (Remember that CC versions of the RS-1 were exported to the Soviet Union during WW II: the Russians revers-engineered them, and many "first generation" diesels on Soviet railways were powered by Russian-built 539T derivatives: at some stage the Russians upped the output to 1200 hp.)
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My guess-- and I'm sure there are other people visiting Railroad.net forums who would have their own, possibly more knowledgeable, opinions-- is that there are at least two answers:
---Immediate problem: Alco was trying to compete with EMD (and also with Baldwin and F-M, but EMD was the important one), which had 1500 hp road (and by the end of the 1940s, road switcher) locomotives. Even an uprated, 1200hp, 539T wouldn't have been competitive.
---Longer term issue: The 539T was old technology-- an immensely heavy engine whose development could have been pushed a BIT further, but which (my guess here) was perceived as not having MUCH further development potential. Alco saw the future as belonging to smaller-cylindered V-type engines.
--Why didn't Alco pursue BOTH options: keep working out the bugs in the 244, and at the same time offering 1200 hp RS-1 derivatives (and a 1200 hp switcher when EMD came out with the SW-7). Answer here, I think, is that they didn't have enough engineering talent, or a big enough r&d budget, to do both, and so went with the option that seemed to offer more.
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Opinions of the knowledgeable are solicited: I think there are interesting counterfactual questions here!
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((Kirkland, in his "The Locomotive Builders, vol. 2: Alco," mentions the possibility of developing the 539T further as an option Alco COULD HAVE, but DIDN'T pursue: I'll look it up and see if he says much about the pros and cons.))

mtuandrew
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Re: Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by mtuandrew » Wed Nov 06, 2019 7:14 am

Regarding the immense weight, I have to wonder how heavy the 540T was in comparison. Even if Alco had a financial incentive to cast its blocks and frames (much more so than EMD), a welded block seems like it could have been considerably lighter. It would have required Alco dump a lot of money into development to catch up with the rapid changes in metallurgy and engine design brought on by the war though, like you said. (Just picture the difference between the 1930s 100 hp Ford flathead V-8, the 1953 Y-block with up to 235 hp stock, and the 1962 small-block that lasted until 1996 and has been pushed over 400 hp at the factory.) Maybe they could have brought a few dozen Pratt & Whitney or Packard design employees aboard, redesign the cylinder heads and create that V-12?

Allen Hazen
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Re: Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by Allen Hazen » Fri Nov 08, 2019 12:48 am

I think -- I really MUST go and do some homework and re-read some sources! -- that Also found that the welded-frame engine was more expensive to produce than the cast-from 539T. Hiring engine-design experts to work on a V-12... sounds good, but Alco management, I think, believed that they couldn't afford any more engineering talent than they already had. (And why Packard or P&W? Both firms had done a lot of work on airplane engines during the war, but are the challenges there enough like those in medium speed railroad Diesel engine design to make Packard and P&W veterans the best people for Alco to recruit?)

Rereading what I've just written, Mtuandrew, it sounds as if I am just being negative about your suggestions: NOT my intention! I'll go and read and re-think and see if I have useful replies to make.

Allen Hazen
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Re: Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by Allen Hazen » Fri Nov 08, 2019 1:02 am

Added first thoughts. The 241 and 244 engines were very impressive in terms of output for their size. The final 244 variant (244H) was apparently quite dependable. At least the 251 -- and I assume its thermodynamic essential were similar to the earlier Alco 9x10.5 engines. So I think maybe they made the right decision in big terms, but ran into trouble with some details:
(1) Somebody should have knocked heads together at GE and pointed out that even a long mission for a P-38 fighter plane was very different from a diesel locomotive's operation between 91-day inspections, and that their aircraft-engine-derived turbocharger really wasn't appropriate. Suppose GE had offered a water-cooled turbocharger similar to the Alco designs introduced in the 1950s for later 244-engined locomotives?
(2) A big problem with the early 244 was with the crankshafts. Somebody at Alco should have thought "It's the most highly stressed component in the engine-- do we really want to use CAST crankshafts?"
(3) There are a bunch of details -- Kirkland has a list -- in which the later 251 engine was like the Auburn-designed 241 (things like serrated rather than tongue-in-grove junctions for things that you want to have stay aligned), and where the 244 went for a (cheaper?) alternative: perhaps Schenectady thought that the 241 was overdesigned. That they reverted to the Auburn office's choices for the 251 suggests that they were wrong! If Alco's 1945 engine had been more like the 241 and 251 than like the first-generation 244, they might have had better luck.

All of these are comparatively small decisions-- nothing like abandoning the high-output 9x10.5 engine in favour of a developed 539.

oibu
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Re: Why didn’t Alco run with the 539T?

Post by oibu » Fri Nov 08, 2019 11:15 am

I think those that have pointed out the limitations of the 539 hit it on the head. Higher HP,V-type, less "overbuilt" (which has it's place, but also costs money in extra material, extra machining, waste, etc.), etc. Ultimately the 241 and 244 were steps in the direction of the 251 which carried Alco to the end and MLW/BBD until the mid 80s and is still considered a viable, reliable, and economical prime mover by those using them today. The 539 was bulletproof for sure, but it also was clearly a design that was more rooted in 1920s/early 1930s technology and was already becoming outdated by the mid-40s. Likewise, a larger 539 block with more cylinders would simply add to the "overbuilt" aspect, i.e. even more uneccessary material and even more wasted excess material machined away. Alco I think correctly realized that even an updated 539 in larger or v configurations was not likely to keep up with or ahead of the competition beyond ca. 1950, whereas the 244 and 251 allowed Alco to in most cases be the one to "up the ante" to progressively higher horsepower through the 50s and 60s (And arguably even MLW in the mid 70s with the M640 at 4000 HP, although other changes to the 251 design (cylinder liners, etc.) by MLW post-Alco led to another round of 244-esque faux pas with M630/M636 reliability issues that cost MLW dearly in the 1970s at a critical point and led CP and CN to migrate to GMD even though the Cn and CP C630s (built before the demise of Alco and MLW's subsequent design modifications) were considered the equal or superior to the SD40). It is also notable that Alco recognized the strong points of the 539 for switchers and did not move away from the 539 until the mid-50s in low hp/switcher applications at the same time it progressed through the 241 and 244 to the 251 for higher-hp applications. IMHO while there were some issues with the 244, the overall direction forward was clear and Alco chose the right path. Even the 244 foibles were largely addressed in later production, but the 251 development was the ultimate direction and it achieved it's goals and arguably more given that it carried Alco and it's successors up to the start of 3rd generation technology.

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