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