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

Moderator: John_Perkowski

  by toolmaker
This has to be a hoax. There's no reason to do this.
  by bostontrainguy
I double checked the date to make sure it wasn't April 1st!!!
  by AVR Mark
First: My disclaimer: I have never seen a steam locomotive operating except at a train museum. This may be a great idea but I don't believe that it will go anywhere. Does anyone remember the "Ace 3000"? That never built locomotive was supposed to bring back steam power in the late 1970s. Even if they can get the old steam engine working, the infrastructure to support steam locomotives is almost completely gone in the USA. Imagine having to build new Coal fueling facilities and water towers or tanks not to mention to the amount of maintenance that it takes to keep a fleet of steam engines running. I seem to remember a 70% availability on the best steam designs, which would mean an engine spends 30% of its time in the shop being maintained. Maybe this new type of coal will be a good fit for existing coal powered power plants but I won't be holding my breath to see steam locomotives in use on real railroads.

  by toolmaker
Exactly my thougts too Mark. Without the infrastructure to run steam from the home base there's no where to go with this beyond the novelty of seeing it operate.
  by Allen Hazen
I don't see this as likely to lead to a revolution in railroad motive power, but I can see it making a bit of sense, and it's a neat project!

Sense: one of the outfits involved has been doing serious, big-budget, r&d on "biofuel." Running excursion trains (hint to people involved: start negotiating with the big railroads NOW: it may take years to bring them around to allowing main-line steam excursions!) powered by their pseudo-coal would be a great peace of high-profile advertising for their ideas. If it helps them persuade a few power plants to convert, they will most likely have made back all the money they invest in the steam train.

The locomotive to be converted seems to be an ex-AT&SF, 84" drivered, Hudson. Since they claim their bio-coal has similar handling characteristics to real coal, probably not much modification would be needed to convert any conventional coal-burning locomotive to use it. If they can do some other modifications-- coal gasification firebox à la the South African "Red Devil" etc-- all the better.

Claims made for the engine are plausible: indeed, plausible even if it were just restored to as-built condition. 130 mph top speed: probably any of the AT&SF, C&NW or CMStP&P 84" drivered Hudsons could have done this; CMStP&P's may actually have done so. More powerful than any current diesel: most powerful PASSENGER diesels may be the GE P42. (Really powerful, really fast, passenger power tends to be straight electric. Only backward, third-world, countries like the U.S. try to run serious,high speed, passenger trains without investing in electrified track.) And the big Hudsons mentioned probably all developed over 4,000 hp: not much tweaking needed to beat a diesel unit. ... Of course, beating diesels in general service would mean beating multiple diesel units in m.u., and that might be a LOT harder to do with steam.

(Editor: this string might be moved to the "Steam Locomotives" board.)
  by Gadfly
Probably this is alive because of rail buffs' dreams about steam choo choos and finding a way to make their dream come true. I don't think this will ever come to pass, but people will still keep trying to bring back steam power with flying rods and whistles even if only in their nightly snooze!!!! ;) I'd believe it when I see it.

  by bostontrainguy
Gadfly wrote:Probably this is alive because of rail buffs' dreams about steam choo choos and finding a way to make their dream come true. I don't think this will ever come to pass, but people will still keep trying to bring back steam power with flying rods and whistles even if only in their nightly snooze!!!! ;) I'd believe it when I see it. GF
Well there is the Tornado in England (and to a much lesser degree the rumored new steam engine for Edaville!). I think one of the more interesting things here is the "fake coal" and the potential that maybe this could benefit the railroads by eventually replacing coal as a major transportable commodity.

I also have to think about all those dying paper mills in Maine that could possibly become new "Fake Coal Mines" supplying (and saving from extinction) all of the existing coal power plants in this country.

If this biomass thing works out, it's revolutionary and a game-changer and can benefit the railroads greatly.
  by Eliphaz
Setting aside the neutrality accounting issues of biogenic carbon fuel, Carbon dioxide emissions alone do not constitute "clean".
It is difficult to imagine a stoker fired locomotive boiler being driven to its limits with stack emission levels of CO, VOC, NOx and particulate even close to what diesels are required to meet currently.

Post-combustion controls for those pollutants as have been applied to stationary coal burning plants are as massive as the boiler itself, and require extensive auxiliary equipment. I look forward to seeing SRI's packaging of this equipment for the steam locomotive.

Then there is the much lower thermodynamic efficiency of the steam engine. Supposing pollutant lb/hp-hr parity with the diesel means that on a lb/mmbtu basis the steam engine would be roughly three times dirtier.

When Rudolph Diesel was promoting his engines a hundred years ago, his conception was that they would burn peanut oil, which poor communities could produce cheaply on their own land, bringing them the benefit of self-sufficent electric power without having to buy petro-oil. Why that vision of distributed self sufficiency failed to materialize is another discussion.

It would not take much to run a modern locomotive on B-100 bio-diesel, which is already plentiful and cheap. It's likely already been tried numerous times, I shan't bother to look for examples - but there's your carbon neutral loco, with much cleaner stack emissions and higher efficiency than the steam engine can hope to achieve.
  by Jtgshu
I would imagine that if these tests were to prove successful somehow, that we wouldn't all of a sudden start to see 4-8-4s or anything that we picture in our heads as steam engines being built again. As it was mentioned, the infrastructure simply isn't there to support it

However, a "diesel electric" type locomotive with the diesel prime mover removed and a modern, efficient boiler taking its place and powering the locomotive through an electric drive train and not a mechanical drive train could be plausable. Heck, they were built in the 1940s....the N&W's Big Jawn comes to mind


Of course a university wouldn't have the means to be able to build a loco from scratch, so why not use an old one to show the concept? It was done in the 80s with the C&O 614 with the ACE3000 program. I think the whole point of it tho is to show that if the concept can work on a locomotive, it can work in coal power plants, etc.
  by mtuandrew
Biocoal sounds a whole lot like charcoal. :wink:

It's a shame that the U of M couldn't have borrowed one of the Minnesota Transportation Museum's steamers for the duration of this project - they have three ex-NP steamers (a Ten-Wheeler and two matching Pacifics) and one of their restorations could be funded by this project. Otherwise, the project does seem more like a testbed for advanced material science and powerplant engineering.
  by Desertdweller
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.

  by Eliphaz
Desertdweller wrote:. If these plants are forced to close, or convert to natural gas, the cost of electricity in this country will go through the roof.

I agree with everything you said, except for the above. Welcome to the 21st century. gas is now cheaper than coal. the coal plants are being mothballed for economic reasons.
  by John_Perkowski
There are economic reasons the railroads willingly, even gladly, walked away from steam. As a research project, there will be good coming from it. As an economic demonstation, I think the railroads would be better served re-looking electric power and getting out of the prime mover business.

ETA: Moderator's Note: Desertdweller, I deleted your duplicate posts. :)
  by B&M 1227
Bio-Coal, I would guess is not much cleaner than "regular" coal. The locomotive is most likely being marketed as carbon neutral because the carbon it burns and emits into the atmosphere is carbon that was absorbed from the atmosphere by whatever plants went into the product. By burning bio-coal they are only cycling carbon between plant and atmosphere, not taking massive amounts of carbon from below the earths surface and expelling this into the atmosphere. In terms of atmospheric impact, this pseudo-coal powered locomotive is probably less of a threat than diesel. If oil were to become scarce, or if carbon footprints become a major problem, bio-coal may be a good stepping point between diesel powered and electric powered trains. After all, it takes a lot of time and money to build and install electrified rail.