Cutting Edge Steam Locomotive

Discussion in 'Traction & Rolling Stock' started by matacaster, 19 May 2019.

  1. matacaster

    matacaster Member

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    Apologies Mods - please move this thread if in wrong section.

    Traditional coal-fired steam engines are massively thermally inefficient and also suffer from limited availability and produce greenhouse gasses.

    Although unlikely and unnecessary, I was just wondering what a newly conceived steam locomotive might look like and what its capabilities would be given modern technology.

    EG engineering tolerances and turbine design knowledge is way better now, so would turbine be the way to go? Would steam / electric with an alternator be the way to go? What would one use as fuel? Would it have cabs at both ends a la diesels and electrics.

    Thoughts on how much would it cost to build one and get it certified for use on mainline?
     
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  3. LOL The Irony

    LOL The Irony Established Member

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    What would be the point of redesigning the steam locomotive when we have diesel & electric trains?
     
  4. gazthomas

    gazthomas Established Member

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    I agree with that, not a good use of water. That said, years back the Swiss dabbled with was were effectively steam kettles
     
  5. Meerkat

    Meerkat Member

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    Is wood chip too energy non-dense for a rail steam engine?
    Not for mainline - I am thinking a tourist/rural light rail or narrow gauge line powered by renewables from local forests.
    Is there an engineer about to do the calcs and tell me the tender would be bigger than the train.....
     
  6. 3141

    3141 Established Member

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    I have a recollection from about 70 years ago, possibly in a Meccano Magazine, of a report that an American railroad was contemplating building a coal electric locomotive. The engineer behind the proposal was quoted as saying that America had 50 years of oil reserves [don't things change over the course of time!] and coal reserves for 500 years, so the idea made sense. I don't remember hearing anything more about it.

    A modern design of steam loco might need a more enclosed cab than traditional ones. But the heat from the fire would present problems, as it did in OVS Bulleid's Leader design.
     
  7. xotGD

    xotGD Established Member

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    A hydrogen fuel cell makes steam as a byproduct. Does that count?

    Anyway, it is a much more efficient way to power a train from hydrogen than burning it to raise steam in a steam loco.
     
  8. squizzler

    squizzler Member

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  9. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    The Argentinian engineer LD Porta pioneered a number of significant improvements
    A quick Google brought up this page
    https://csrail.org/modern-steam
    and in Switzerland ex-DR (German Kriegslok) 2-10-0 52 8055 was modified using his ideas but seems little used.
    http://www.dlm-ag.ch/en
    There is a reference to a wood-pellet fired steam ship there.

    Squizzler got there first :)
     
  10. Taunton

    Taunton Established Member

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    It was built. Norfolk & Western was the railroad, the largest coal carrier in the US hence their interest. Baldwin built it for them, Babcock & Wilcox, largest builder of power station equipment in the US, did the boiler and turbine, and Westinghouse did the electric transmission. They had all the No 1 companies on it, so there you have "cutting edge". The loco was named "Jawn Henry" after a US legend. It was a right disaster and never worked properly, starting with ash from both coal and exhaust getting into the electrics. Eventually they gave up.

    https://www.american-rails.com/jawn-henry.html
     
  11. Midnight Sun

    Midnight Sun Member

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    swiss engine.jpg
    A early bi-mode in WW2, Done so to save coal when under the wires,
     
  12. Midnight Sun

    Midnight Sun Member

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    Already been done at the South Tynedale Railway with No16 0-4-2T Green Dragon
     
  13. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    Would the South African Class 26 Red Devil perhaps be considered somewhat more cutting edge than contemporary steam locomotives even if it is a conventional steam locos albeit at one point with extensive modifications to improve efficiency and power?
     
  14. 30907

    30907 Established Member

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    Yes. It's referenced on the csrail site squizzler and I linked earlier.
     
  15. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    Didn't notice the link.
     
  16. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    Something like the LNER W1 could prove very effective, it was specifically designed to be a more efficient version of a loco with an A1’s performance. Indeed, it seems Gresley had a battle on his hands to prevent his team making it so powerful that there could be no meaningful comparison! While not a success in it’s day It’s since been shown in studies and by André Chapelon in practice that they were very much going down the right road, but by maintaining high output in the low pressure cylinders and varying the high pressure ones (as was the general practice) they were going about it in the wrong manner.
     
  17. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    I thought the W1 was considered a bit of a failure, beset by issues with steaming etc?
     
  18. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    It was initially, but then after years of looking they realised there had been a schoolboy error resulting in the injectors not being supplied with sufficient steam to work reliably when the loco was working. Beyond that and the high/low cylinder settings mistake of the time it only had similar troubles to most locos that are the only one of their kind, not least being that they’re different. By the time it was working as intended (and later had performed improved) it had been matched in performance by the A3s and superseded by A4s. The boiler lived on for decades, working, at Darlington works, until 1965.

    It was an experiment though, and wasn’t showing the savings expected, so got rebuilt. Pity they never tried the same cylinder settings as Chapelon.
     
  19. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    Another prototype not really tested to its full potential. How often that happens times and again.
     
  20. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

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  21. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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  22. etr221

    etr221 Member

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    Over the years there have were many proposals - sometimes leading to experimental locomotives - for radical designs of steam locomotive, many involving turbines or electric transmissions, but none ended up showing any real advantages over 'conventional' designs. I'm not sure to what extent L D Porta (and others working with him, or on similar lines) were trying anything radically different, just a further advance in 'conventional' (as, e.g., things like superheating had been 50-100 years earlier).

    One project worked on extensively, but which never came to fruition, was the American Coal Enterprises ACE3000 (see eg at https://www.martynbane.co.uk/modernsteam/ldp/ace/ace.htm )

    On the subject of wood/biomass burning, the Benguela Railway (across Angola) was famous for being a wood burning main line, with so fueled Beyer-Garrretts, having its own extensive forestry plantations along the line (I remember an exam question, which asked - given the number of trains, their wood consumption, and the rate of tree growth - how large these needed to be)
     
  23. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    Much of it must have been down to not having proper testing facilities as there were in Vitry, by the time of the LNER dynamometer cars were considered far from cutting edge, but much of it was down to how strapped for cash the railways in the UK were, especially the LNER. Then again, while Chapelon had the facilities he never had the backing to produce his best locos in significant numbers.

    When all is said and done though the LNER did test lots of cut of rates on the W1, but received wisdom was to keep the low pressure cut off long so they never investigated using even moderately long high pressure cut offs, never mind high (I don’t think above 50%, optimal being later worked out around 90%), so it’s quite likely it wouldn’t have been done regardless of the facilities available.
     
  24. hexagon789

    hexagon789 Established Member

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    Didn't most locos have a maximum cutoff of 75% anyway? Some possibly being less, I have an idea A4s were orginally max 60 or 65% until this was found a bit insufficient for starting heavy trains.
     
  25. broadgage

    broadgage Established Member

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    It would certainly be possible to fire a more or less conventional steam locomotive on wood chips. The energy density of wood chips is a lot less than coal. The bulk of wood fuel required might rule out long distance high speed main line operation, but would be fine for heritage routes and branch line services.

    For high speed main line use, a steam turbine locomotive with electric transmission is entirely possible. Electric drive has four main advantages over conventional cylinders and motion.
    1) The electric traction motors produce a continuous rotating force rather than the intermittent forces from each movement of conventional motion. Starting tractive effort is thereby greatly improved without risk of slipping.
    2) Every wheel of the engine and the tender would be driven, as in a diesel or electric loco, therefore 100% of the total engine and tender weight is available for adhesion.
    3) Electric drive gives the opportunity to fit a battery for increased peak power output. A battery able to supply 1,000 HP for 15 minutes is entirely doable. Consider the performance of an engine that can produce say 1,500 HP continually from the steam turbine, and with battery AND turbine can produce 2,500 HP for 15 minutes.
    4) The ready availability of electric power facilitates electric drive of ancillaries. An electric feed water pump consumes far less steam than an injector, and can also handle hot water unlike an injector.
    An electric air compressor will also use less steam than a Westinghouse air pump.
    ETS is easily provided.

    Finally regenerative braking is possible, slowing the train by regenerative braking of engine and tender would put energy back into the battery. The train continuous air brake being relegated to emergency stops.

    So yes it COULD be done, but WILL it be done ? Still the carbon emissions to contend with, and probably not traditional enough to appeal to the heritage market.
    Electrification is the future for busy or fast main lines.
    Battery power is the future for lightly used branches etc.
    Conventional steam has a limited future for heritage use.
     
  26. Bevan Price

    Bevan Price Established Member

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    In the very unlikely chance that steam loco. construction was resumed for daily use on main lines, I think that it would burn oil produced from plants. Also, the oil flow to the burner would be controlled by a computer, so that no "fireman" was necessary.

    There would be at most 3 types, one designed for express passenger work; one for heavy/fast freight; and a smaller (lighter) loco. for mixed traffic work, on lines unable to accept the weight of the other 2 types.
     
  27. DPWH

    DPWH Member

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    It's a very good example of a solution looking for a problem.

    Moreover, building high-tech steam for nostalgic demonstrative museum use is additionally an example of a self-defeating exercise.
     
  28. squizzler

    squizzler Member

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    I disagree with your conclusion that electric traction is desirable. The additional complexity outweighs the benefits in the view off many which is why many are disappointed that engineers in this field are designing locos that look like traditional steamers. Taking your points one by one:
    1. Multi cylinder designs reduce the lumpy traction and hammer blow effects. I understand that when Bulleid designed his 'Leader' one of the benefits claimed was that the unsprung mass on the rails was actually less than the (electric) nose hung traction motors of the day. There are advances yet to be explored such as rotary steam engines.
    2. I suspect that modern designs will be more likely to be tank configuration as less water and fuel will be needed for a given task due to higher energy efficiency. Articulation might be expected to impose fewer penalties on account of better technology now to build flexible pipes and joints. At any rate there were steam engines in the states back in the day that had 'booster' engines in the tender to help them pull away.
    3. No need. The boiler is already your energy buffer.
    4. Small turbogenerators were often installed on locos back in the day.
    5. Not part of your numbered list but intuition suggests your pistons or other positive displacement engine could be configured to compress air or spent steam to provide engine braking and this power used again for traction.
     
  29. Spartacus

    Spartacus Established Member

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    The thing is though that most locos aren’t compounds. That they were almost always worked in a sub-optimum way explains why so many theoretically good compounds turned out to be disappointments, working, but often little or no more efficiently than a normal engine. Tests on the W1 were done with 30%, 40% and 50% high pressure cut off, when analysis has shown that 90% was best (yielding an estimated 3960 drawbar hp with double Kylchap compared with 1702 on test at 50%), showing how far out they were.
     
  30. supervc-10

    supervc-10 Member

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    This. Especially in the days of environmental protection. The amount of nasties a coal fire produces makes an old diesel look clean- this is why coal fires are banned in many cities and coal is being phased out of use for electricity generation. For non-heritage trains, steam makes no sense. And there's no nostalgia factor in a new design of steam locomotive, so it makes no sense for heritage trains either.
     
  31. coppercapped

    coppercapped Established Member

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    It's basic physics...
    Unless the locomotive condenses its exhaust steam it will remain very inefficient in its use of the energy contained in its fuel; if it doesn't condense the exhaust steam the latent heat of vaporisation is lost. The latent heat of vaporisation is the heat required to turn water into a gas at the same temperature and is a very large number, over 2000 kilojoules per kg of water at 100 deg C.

    An open cycle steam engine - whether pistons, turbines or whatever - is hard put to achieve an overall efficiency much above 15% of the energy in its fuel. A large condensing system - a steam driven power station for example where the condensers are under a partial vacuum - can reach efficiencies of about 40%.

    In these days of saving the planet open cycle steam engines have no future.
     
    Last edited: 20 May 2019

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