• General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment
General discussion about locomotives, rolling stock, and equipment

Moderator: John_Perkowski

  by Gadfly
Desertdweller wrote:I've seen a lot more off-the-wall university projects than this.

I don't pretend to know what a "carbon footprint" is, or if it is even a valid concept. The current Federal Administration apparently feels this concept is important enough to close coal-fired power plants on account of it. If these plants are forced to close, or convert to natural gas, the cost of electricity in this country will go through the roof. My own feeling is this is a political, not an environmental issue. As such, it could be resolved in the next national election.

If "clean coal", whatever that is, can keep these plants in operation at a reasonable cost of operation, then maybe this project has a practical purpose. If the purpose of the project is to build a cleaner locomotive, then I think these guys are wasting their time and our money.

The people behind this project need to take the time to research why steam locomotives were abandoned for Diesels in the first place. It certainly wasn't because of their "carbon footprint". It wasn't because of their speed, or their thermal or mechanical efficiency.
It was because of their labor requirement and unit availability. Any student of railroad history knows that Diesel locomotives can be kept in operation with a fraction of the shop and servicing facilities required by steam. Add to that the reduction of crews needed for multi-unit operation, and the contest is won on paper before a wheel has turned.

It seems ludicrous to me that the railroad industry of the 1940's and 50's would be concerned with the environmental impact of steam locomotives. This was a period of extreme disregard for environmental preservation: strip mining without reclamation; open-air nuclear bomb tests; toxic material dumping on a wholesale basis; lead in everything from gasoline to paint; smelter works in residential neighborhoods; asbestos in ceiling tile and plaster; lead pipes for drinking water. The standard solution for smoke stack pollution was to build taller smokestacks. Black locomotive smoke was discouraged, not because it was polluting, but because it indicated wasted fuel.

Is the method to be employed to take a "modern" (for steam locomotives) 1938 steam engine and change its diet? If you just want a cleaner steam locomotive, why not add a CNG tender and fuel the thing with gas? You could get even a 1938 steam loco to run very clean by doing this. But you would not address the reasons steam was abandoned by doing so.

If they are serious about this, then why not go back to the ACE 3000 concept of 30 years ago that never got off the ground? I agree with Les' interpretation. Was steam's potential fully realized without the use of modern computers as to firing and MU control? Probably not. It would be interesting to see someone take this as far as it could be taken. For example, the "flying wing" of the late 40's had a stability problem that existing mechanical means couldn't prevent. It resulted in several crashes. Today, the modern "batwing bomber", the B2, routinely flies with the aid of modern computer technology. Without that, these things would crash! Could modern technology solve the problems germaine to the old huffing-puffing steam locomotive? Maybe. Maybe not.

If such an engine were developed and proven successful enough to knock the diesel-electric off its pedestal, I would doubt we would see the round boiler, pounding-driver'ed locomotive of old----which I am inclined to believe these people are doing. That is, engaging in a fantasy that is GONE, a memory of things past, never to return except for the occasional nostalgic excursion (like today's ferry move of Southern 630). I had a peculiar privilege of working with the excursions back in the 80's where, handing up orders, things looked like 1940 as I rushed outside to hand up to engines like Southern 4501, 2716, 722, and NW 611. All that is gone--including the old train order system and the operators, like me, that went with it. It was a glimpse into the past, a view of a time past.

As much as the old steam engines had their particular charm, they AIN'T comin' back, folks!

  by Allen Hazen
re: "the round boiler, pounding-driver'ed locomotive of old"
Don't knock the old (alias: tried and true) technological solutions just for being old! Boilers have to contain high pressure fluid (water + steam), and for resisting pressure, ROUND is the best shape. And the pounding drivers are what you get with a direct mechanical connection between the cylinders and the wheels: the simplest, and I think (if only you could guarantee uninterrupted operation at optimum speed) most efficient, form of transmission, avoiding the weight and cost of generators/traction motors or torque convertors! The ACE 3000 proposal included rod-connected drivers, and I think (at least for the first proposed production model) fairly conventional, cylindrical, boilers!


That said, I agree that this project is unlikely to lead to re-adoption of conventional-lookingsteam on main-line railroads. It's an attention-getting technology demonstrator for the fuel system. And, for us railroad-lovers, a neat way of getting at least one static-display steam locomotive back in operation!
  by bostontrainguy
The latest Trains magazine has an article about this project.
  by Desertdweller
If you were to design a futuristic, high fuel mileage, clean emissions automobile, would you base it on a 1938 car? And a big one, at that?
And would you do it by altering the fuel it burns?

Maybe a 1938 Lincoln Zephyr V-12, with a modified carburetor that could run on E-85 ethanol. Ignore the fact that no one is left who understands flathead engines. Or, for that matter, understands what a carburetor is. Minor technicalities.

That is what these guys are doing.

  by atsf sp
But they have mentioned that they will completelty redo the engine. They want to add streamlining and at one point in the article mentioned double end cabs. They are going to butcher this hudson.
  by Desertdweller
You can only do so much with a reciprocating steam engine. If you were to change the basic mechanical layout, it probably would be better to start fresh.

This will be a case of "reinventing the wheel". They can reintroduce the developments of Andre Chapelon of around 1950: more efficient exhaust nozzles, better combustion using powdered coal suspended in air, etc. They probably would be well-advised to study the ACE 3000 data. They also need to study why ACE 3000 did not succeed.

Do these guys want to build on existing technology, or do they want to start with a clean page? I see this project as a low-emissions exercise.

  by Allen Hazen
"They also need to study why ACE 3000 did not succeed."

I'm not sure there WAS any technical reason the ACE failed (or maybe: I'm not sure the project got far enough to find potential technical snags).
My recollection (and you shouldn't trust it too far without checking the relevant dates) is that the ACE project attracted interest (and enough funding to do some initial research, including tests with a C&O 4-8-4) about the time of the "Arab Oil Boycott" and "Energy Crisis" of the 1970s, and then fizzled: the big corporations that would have had to invest serious money if the project was to go ahead lost interest.
  by Desertdweller

The ACE could have been a mechanical masterpiece and it still would have been a failure. Steam locomotives require an extensive, labor-intensive support system that had been torn up and scrapped.

We are dealing with an industry (in the US at least) that operates two basic types of locomotives: EMD's and GE's. Two cycle and four cycle. Beyond the prime movers, both makes are basically the same and use the same technology. Both use the same fuel and oil, and can be maintained at the same facilities with only a change of parts stock and training. Even most of the tools are the same.

What would it have taken to make the ACE 3000 a standard 3000hp road unit?

Facilities compatible for the maintenance of steam locomotives. Ash-handling facilities. Coal-handling facilities. Boiler washing and testing facilities. Big overhead hoists for changing out components far heavier than any person could handle otherwise.

How much shop time would an ACE 3000 require compared to an equivalent Diesel? And where are those shops?

Forty years ago, a 3000hp steam loco would have had to compare with a 3000hp Diesel. Only the ACE 3000 has to be running at speed to produce that 3000hp. The Diesel competition (SD-40, for example) can do that standing still.

Forty years have passed. 3000hp is not considered a high-horsepower unit any more. 4400hp is now more like it.

Maybe a coal-hauler like NS could possibly justify coal burning locomotives, although they couldn't justify the ACE 3000. But railroads these days are interested in run-through power. This means your connecting railroads have to be able to accept your locos. This is what killed the UP's giant Diesels: no one else wanted them.

  by Allen Hazen
O.k., I think I pretty much agree with you. I think I misinterpreted your "why ACE 3000 did not succeed": I took you to be alluding to some technical flaw in the design rather than to its overall lack of fit with the economic environment.

One proviso. The railroad industry CAN change: there was no widespread diesel support infrastructure in the 1930s, and the industry adopted diesel locomotives anyway! If it were clear that steam locomotives would, for the foreseeable future, have as much of an economic advantage over diesel as the ACE people claimed (they had figures on the relative prices of coal and diesel fuel: figures that, as it turned out, were wildly unrealistic for the later 1980s, but had a certain superficial plausibility when the ACE project started right after the oil price shock of the 1970s), then railroad management would have looked at RE-BUILDING the infrastructure of coaling stations, etc etc etc.

But the fuel-price advantage would have to very great indeed -- wildly, implausibly, great -- to outweigh the features you refer to.

(As I've said in previous posts, I wish this project well: if it generates publicity for biocoal and -- the main thing for me! -- gives us another big steam locomotive for mainline stan excursion service, that's fine. But I think the likelihood of its leading to a revolution in railroad motive power is vanishingly small. As you do.)
  by Adirondacker
B&M 1227 wrote:After all, it takes a lot of time and money to build and install electrified rail.
It takes a lot of time and money to build a biochar plant and rebuild the infrastructure out along the road to support steam engines. I'd hazard a guess that it would take more time and money than slapping up some catenary and ordering up some fairly standard electric locomotives.
  by Desertdweller
If it were really in the railroads' economic interest to build new steam servicing facilities, they would. But it would not be the same as during the transition era. During the steam era, these facilities were already in existence, and a move was underway with modern steam power (like the 1938 Hudson) to extend engine run lengths and close intermediate terminals. So downsizing of engine facilities actually pre-dated Diesels. The Diesels allowed a speeding of the process.

Building new facilities for handling Diesels was not a problem, as too many facilities were already in existence. Hardly anything new had to be added. If the engine terminal already served gas-electric cars, all that would be needed would be a Diesel fuel tank and a hose. And a set of tools for working on the brand of Diesel purchased.

Roundhouses and turntables became luxury items for serving Diesels and were eliminated. The most elaborate feature for working on Diesels would be a drop-pit for changing out traction motors, and even that would only be needed for a high-volume shop.

Most roundhouses in this country were torn down altogether. Of the survivors, most had their number of stalls reduced, and had their turntables replaced with switches.
Locos needing to be turned were turned on the nearest wye.

Of course, closing all these facilities allowed a great reduction in the labor force. I think that was the biggest deciding factor, not power, efficiency, or even engine crew requirements.

I think steam locomotives are fun to watch. One passed through town here last week. I've never had a desire to run one, but if the new project catches on I'll enjoy seeing them. But I hold no hope for a steam comeback, unless one can be done using mostly existing (Diesel-electric) technology.

  by atsf sp
Also remember this project is headed by a railfan.
  by Gadfly
atsf sp wrote:Also remember this project is headed by a railfan.

At the risk of becoming unpopular, I find that this is true of most of what I call "militant railfans". They simply cannot see the forest for the trees. No doubt the steam locomotive is a much-loved machine that remains in the hearts of Americans young and old. Even those who have only seen one on TV think fondly of "choo choos" and their lovely whistles. The problem is they are renown in their inefficiency, and had not the diesel-electric come along, they would caused the failure of many railroads long before they became fallen flags. If so many of the "foamers" of today were allowed to run things in the railroad industry, they would run the whole business into the ground with empty passenger trains going to nowhere and steam engines, a DEAD technology, pulling them just so they can get their photos to put into "Trains" magazine. I am sorry to say so, but I believe that. It is also why most Class I railroads won't knowingly HIRE rail buffs, and the reasons have been discussed here many times.

It is NOT that steam locomotives aren't powerful; they ARE. And in many cases, MORE so. However, their failure is in the ability to put that power to the rail quickly and efficiently, mostly in their starting ability (slipdowns)---which, again, lights the fires of foamers everywhere and puts a mad dog look on their faces! ;)
Have you ever observed these people upon seeing a engine slip down? *Some* of them become entranced as if some glorious event has occurred while real railroader puzzle, and----yeah, MOCK them--while wondering what is so amusing about slipping. It's like watching a kid giggling over a hot rod spinning out of the drive-in!
Labor costs are higher, maintenance is higher, the phenomonon of "dynamic augment" (a fancy term for the pounding of the rail that occurs with a steam loco)-- these things and more contributed to the demise of the huffing-puffing steam engine. But the over-wrought, but well-meaning rail fans simply will not give up their dream of returning steam power to the rails. *I* don't think it will ever happen, but, hey, they told Henry Ford, Hiram Maxim, the Stanley Brothers, that the automobile was just a "fad". So if they really can design an efficient steam locomotive, who am I to question them? But, I will believe it when I SEE it! :)

  by Allen Hazen
Re: "had not the diesel-electric come along, [steam locomotives] would caused the failure of many railroads long before they became fallen flags"

Didn't Alfred Perlman (last president of the New York Central, and by many accounts one of the most dynamic and innovative railroad leaders of his time) say that any railroad profits after WW II were due to two technological innovations: the diesel locomotive and the treated crosstie?
  by Gadfly
Allen Hazen wrote:Re: "had not the diesel-electric come along, [steam locomotives] would caused the failure of many railroads long before they became fallen flags"

Didn't Alfred Perlman (last president of the New York Central, and by many accounts one of the most dynamic and innovative railroad leaders of his time) say that any railroad profits after WW II were due to two technological innovations: the diesel locomotive and the treated crosstie?

Exactly. With the prevailing post-war economy, the changing travel demographics, if the railroads had not had the option of going to the new technology of diesel-electric, many of them would have failed much sooner than they did. Going to diesel-electric gave them a reprieve. A few roads stubbornly hung into steam (NW being one) on into the late 50's), and I remember seeing steam freights on the old Winston Salem Southbound RR (a subsidiary of NW) around 1958 or 9. I was a child and had a deep FEAR of those things---all that smoke, huffing and puffing, etc) I thought they were ALIVE and would jump off the track and give chase so as to devour little boys! ;) It was, however, that exposure to the railroad that molded my destiny, for dormant within me, was this "thing" about the industry. I tried to ignore it as the mere curiosity of 10 year olds, but it just wouldn't go away. I sat under the shed at the Salisbury, NC passenger station watching in those days, as little boys would, curious about machinery of all sorts. Steam was gone on Southern Railway, and the presence of the diesel-electrics made it easier for me to be "friendly" to the idea of locomotives. IOW, I wasn't afraid of them. But them steam engines? Them wuz monsters, in my book!!! :)

Was the ACE 3000 over-optimistic, promising more than steam technology could ever deliver. I would admit I would like to have seen a prototype of it, and the test-bed specs of the new locomotive. It had some good ideas about coal (slurry---- loading (pre-paks that could be rapidly hoisted into the chassis of the engine and hooked up like water or hydraulic lines with water tenders done the same way. Computers would do the MU and firing chores. Would it have worked? We don't know. What killed it in the short term? Fuel prices FELL, the companies backing it lost interest.

I would love to be wrong, but I don't think you will EVER see a steam engine again---except for the occasional excursion!