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Room 101 - Steam, Diesel or Electric trains?
Lisa Miles
1228 Posts

If you had to put either steam, diesel or electric trains into ‘room 101’, which would it be and why?  🤔 

🚂🚅🚇

41 Replies
Simon Barker
950 Posts

A bit of a random question, but…

I would say diesel.  Steam trains make great tourist attractions, and there will never be enough of them to cause any major pollution or climate change problems.

We've had electric trains for well over a century now, so there's really no good reason why lines haven't been electrified yet.  Why do we still need diesels?

Lisa Miles
1228 Posts

That would be my choice too Simon 🙂 They're smelly and dirty and noisy too although some may say that Steam trains are just as, if not more noisy! BUT are steam trains really that  environmentally friendly or more efficient than a diesel train? 

David Parr
242 Posts
Electrification is costly. They only recently (5 years?) electrified the Manchester - Liverpool line, and, to accommodate the overhead wires, they had to lower the track bed to get under each of the bridges - creating a flooding issue. And, of course, it depends on how the electricity is produced.

From a purely emotional angle, I'd revert to steam :)

Hmm 🤔 if we'd never had steam trains, I wonder if we would have invented the internal combustion engine and therefore wouldn't have either diesel or electric trains? I'd banish diesel trains to room 101.

Interesting fact about lowering the track David 👍

Helios
162 Posts

ohhh tricky one , heritage locomotives are nice to see and in the larger scheme of things dont do much harm , on the few days they run , probably electric ,so you can get a nice view out of the window as you are carried on your journey .

Electric traction is highly capital intensive, steam traction is highly labour intensive and requires [say] three hours to get a head of steam.  Diesel traction is lowish capital cost and available at the throw of a switch.  You choose.

Now lets be serious here. R&D stopped in 1937 when Fury blew up. Ok there was an attempt by Bullid to buck the trend, which was largely successful. The Rugby testing plant was really getting somewhere then it was closed.

There is no doubt in many enthusiast minds that the oil lobby won, and the coal lobby lost. Steam on the road was also killed by the taxation brought in 1932, again as part of the lobbying by oil and rubber companies. As far as I am aware electronics have never been used on a reciprocating steam engine, so for example automatic cut off has never been tried?
 

I am writing a book about steam buses, which ran in London from 1903 to about 1920. Smooth quite, very rapid acceleration, beaten by a cartel and forced out. 
 

But the central thing is that engineers worked with what fuel they had.

A group of Swiss engineers have a scheme to generate steam from a central rubbish plant and to use the storage capacity of steam to run every vehicle within an airport. The CO2 and costings are impressive. Can they get funding? Can they heck.

so everyone is rushing down the hydrogen route, which is very difficult to compress and store, ignoring all other opportunities, and using precious metals in fuel cells which are only marginally better at conversion than - a steam engine! So why not use the technology that we have already, technicians already building engines and boilers, and burn hydrogen or better still methanol derived from scrap wood with solar and wind energy doing the distilling?

Picture by coolbowers on Twitter at Chester

fb2324bd2921d2afd87239a6916024e1-origina

Maybe steam is not dead. In the meantime  Tornado has been out today stretching its legs, remember brand new a few years ago, built entirely by enthusiasts funded by enthusiasts and pulling revenue earning train but burning Russian coal because of the PC brigade shipped right around Europe. About 6 or 8 full size ‘extinct locos are in the process of being created. What we need is bio coal. It is being and can be made, but no R&D and no government interest- sound familiar?
 

end of rant!

 

Russell Bulley C.Eng B.Eng MIET

I notice the East -West rail line have chosen diesel for the new trains on this new line…..

Zoomup
3516 Posts

Diesel engines are more reliable than either steam or electric. They are autonomous and unlike electric engines don't rely upon expensive and often vulnerable overhead electrical systems. Diesels are safe, powerful, reliable and efficient.

Z.

dcbwhaley
82 Posts

 

fb2324bd2921d2afd87239a6916024e1-origina

Maybe steam is not dead. In the meantime  Tornado has been out today stretching its legs, remember brand new a few years ago, built entirely by enthusiasts funded by enthusiasts and pulling revenue earning train but burning Russian coal because of the PC brigade shipped right around Europe. About 6 or 8 full size ‘extinct locos are in the process of being created. What we need is bio coal. It is being and can be made, but no R&D and no government interest- sound familiar?
 

 

Tornado has shed-loads of electronics on board

A 100kW fusion device as a heat source = environmentally friendly steam engine. Low reving. If I remember correctly Stanley steamer had just 15 moving parts….

If only they would run on 100% bio diesel……

Being in my eightieth year my memory sometimes lets me down but I'm pretty sure that when I was a member of the Instution of Locomotive Engineers the consensus was that a national network of steam hauled stock had become a financial and operating liability.  I doubt that much has changed but nostalgia is always with us … I gather vinyl records are proving more popular than CDs.

Michael Harding: 
 

Being in my eightieth year my memory sometimes lets me down but I'm pretty sure that when I was a member of the Instution of Locomotive Engineers the consensus was that a national network of steam hauled stock had become a financial and operating liability.  I doubt that much has changed but nostalgia is always with us … I gather vinyl records are proving more popular than CDs.

Michael I am sure you are right. But again the whole emphasis of the industry post war was to limp along. No real money was put into steam From a central point of view and individual companies were at the forefront of R&D.

I will give an example. Sentinel https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sentinel-Cammell_Steam_Railcar_No_5208_g.jpg#/media/File:Sentinel-Cammell_Steam_Railcar_No_5208_g.jpg made railcars. If I remember correctly, using a low water volume boiler, fully automatic, oil fired at 300psi. 
 

From the website “The unit is articulated, the three coaches sharing four bogies instead of six that would be required if normal practice were followed. The boiler is a Woolnough ‘three drum’ marine type and is oil-fired. It supplies steam to a pair of six-cylinder engines which drive the wheels of two bogies via Cardan shafts. The steam boiler is in one end of the coach (3rd class because of the heat), the middle coach was 2nd class, and the end coach was 1st class. Each coach had a toilet appropriate to the class!

Top speed of the unit is over 60 mph and it seats 186 passengers. It was used on Cairo suburban services, based at El Wasta depot, some 50 miles south of Cairo. It also worked around Tanta, 50 miles north of Cairo. It was withdrawn from service in 1962, when it was put into storage at El Wasta.” 
 

Technical Details

Boiler335 psi three drum water tube boiler.
EngineTwo 6 cylinder single acting compact steam engine, driving the last and first articulated bogies of the power car.
RegulatorHoused in the boiler room. Controlled by hydraulics from driving compartment at either end of the unit.
ControlNotching up of engines by hydraulics from driving compartments. 
Series of lights to indicate regulator position and notched up position.
Boiler Feed         Automatic with a float valve controlling a feed water pump. Standby injector.
FuelHeavy Bunker C Oil which is heated, strained, reheated and blown under pressure into the boiler firebox.
BrakesStandard Westinghouse air system

No company, as far as I am aware, found reliable materials to produce, say 1000 to 1500psi boilers and therefore the thermal efficiency was never really improved. And more importantly the UK or Europe did not purchase any, thus giving Rolls Royce who took over Sentinel in 1956, no reason to continue.

 

Russ

Andy C
37 Posts

I remember an article in one of the railway mags many years ago about the relative efficiencies of various types of steam locos v. diesel. There was a mention of a steam loco driver in India who would do all sorts of unpaid maintenance work/cleaning etc. on his loco which brought the efficiency almost on a par with the local diesels, however this was the result of a lot of extra labour!

As for overhead electrification (especially with the UK rail network's limited loading gauge) the cost of powering the whole network would be unfeasible plus the numerous problems with such structures. Talking with some line engineers on the WCML one of their main problems was birds sheltering under bridges in wet weather: damp bird perches on 25kV wire, shuffles under bridge, gap between bird and structure less than safe, arc strikes up carbonising bird and eventually burning through wire and dropping a mile of overhead line into the dirt!

Could I suggest some form of diesel-electric hybrid loco? Battery storage charged by a diesel engine running at maximum efficiency and with the engine available to give a boost when needed (on starting or steep gradients). This could be taken a step further with partial electrification of the rail network so instead of the diesel engine there are sections of overhead line or third rail or some other power transfer method, probably at stations where the heaviest power requirements would be needed for starting. Train uses power supply to charge up/start, runs on batteries for most of the route. Simples! No long runs of overhead wires. No pollution.

I would also think that there should be some development of lighter weight trains as well: at the moment I hate to think how much energy is being used just to get hundreds of tons of rolling stock up to speed (and wasted when it slows down) let alone the additional weight of passengers/cargo.

Lisa Miles
1228 Posts

Michael Harding: 
 

… I gather vinyl records are proving more popular than CDs.

That's very true! My local supermarket have started selling classic vinyl records some of which I have an original still…. 😳

I'm lucky (or unlucky depending on your views) to live close to a mainline railway line and quite often see the Flying Scotsman on it's travels to different areas of the country. We always know when it's coming through as there's a huge crowd of spectators trudging through the farmers fields to line the track. 

The standard diesel locomotives don't get as much attention… 😉 

Do they need the weight to stay on the track?
I'll put electric in room 101 just because they are very dependant, the other 2 can run happily on two pieces of parallel steel (minimal intrastructure) and to give diesel a boost, autonomous all day.  Electric trains very impressive though, and on-board wifi is so much better than it was in 1900.

Relatively current steam locomotives were made by SLM in Switzerland https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Locomotive_and_Machine_Works which was sold to DLM AG  https://dlm-ag.ch/en/ 

Russ.  Many thanks for your response to mine.  Having been involved in rolling stock development for many years, I found the details you posted very interesting.  With the advantage of hindsight though one must suppose that the development was speculative, with little chance of commercial success because of the higher manufacturing and maintenance costs of mechanical designs.   Electrical/electronic ones are therefore adopted whenever possible.  Being a member of both the IET and IMechE, I seem to have backed both horses.  Mike

 

Lisa.  Noting yours, I thought you might find the following link of interest 

< https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57763301 >

People will always turn out to see something famous/excptional.  One of my own treasured memories is watching Alan Pegler - the initial saviour of the Flying Scotman - inspecting the loco in the Paint Shop at Doncaster Works, prior to taking delivery from BR.  It's had quite a career since then.  Mike

Rabfly85
7 Posts

Definitely diesel! 

Nothing worse than a diesel pulling up to a platform suffocating you! 

Noisy and also an unhelpful contribution to our emissions.

Electrification is looking like it's picking up again.

cleaner, greener and quieter not to mention lighter,so it reduces track wear and tear too.

There is a cost to electrifying lines, large front loaded costs usually attempting to modernise a victorian railway which is obviously challenging.

The challange is also access to the railway, a small corridor and poor times that limit production.

The industry is working together to enable more efficient solutions to avoid large civil interventions and reduce costs of electrifying withing existing railway with great results.

And yes I'm biased to Electrification 😁

 

Rabfly85
7 Posts

Surge arrestors are now allocatable along with insualted paint to reduce clearance down to 70mm.

You are correct in terms of bird strikes being an issue but the electrical clearances that have been worked to for years are in place for lighting strikes and not traction or bird strikes. This is the primary (or secondary to gauge) issue with infrastructure and a huge financial stumbling block, as well as disruptive when interventions are required sometimes taking years to complete.

 

grubbym
7 Posts

why not consider induction powered trains, instead of overhead power or third rail? with battery storage when needing more power to get moving.

Rabfly85
7 Posts

They are considered and planned for use.

These are looked at as infill at the moment with Pantographs for traction so Bi Mode.

A couple of issues with them is Range and method of charging if no electrification or EMU equipment.

This then leads into weight, between battery tech and the traction equipment these units are much heavier as you can imagine.

The most important factor is probably reliability, NR or TOCs and FOCs can't afford disruption with an already shakey reputation and coming off the back of the pandemic in bad shape and these units are not as reliable to date, will change with time I would imagine.

MrFox
14 Posts

Napier Deltic. 

I'll just leave that there. :)

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