Steam on rail tours

Philip

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Do you think in this day and age with climate change and energy sources becoming ever increasing issues, steam locos should finally be moved off long distance mainline charter services and confined purely to small heritage lines, where speeds are low and journeys short (hence burning less coal)?

On a side note, is smokeless fuel or wood used to fire any steam locos nowadays or is still just dirty coal in all of them?
 
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Bevan Price

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Do you think in this day and age with climate change and energy sources becoming ever increasing issues, steam locos should finally be moved off long distance mainline charter services and confined purely to small heritage lines, where speeds are low and journeys short (hence burning less coal)?

On a side note, is smokeless fuel or wood used to fire any steam locos nowadays or is still just dirty coal in all of them?
Cannot think of anyone using wood fuel in UK. Oil fuel has been used for steam locos, but not currently on any UK standard gauge steam locos as far as I know.
I suspect that steam tours may eventually be stopped from using a few of the "faster" main lines, e.g. WCML, GWML, ECML - but that will be due to lack of paths, rather than to the type of fuel.
 

alexl92

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As has been discussed elsewhere, there is currently no cost-effective and viable alternative to traditional coal for standard gauge steam locomotives, although I’m sure research etc will change that.

I think there is a future for mainline steam, but clearly this has to come second to timetabled services. I also don’t think that a small number of locomotives burning coal should be a problem - their combined environmental impact is negligible compared to the millions of lorries on Britain’s roads.
 

Alanko

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Do you think in this day and age with climate change and energy sources becoming ever increasing issues, steam locos should finally be moved off long distance mainline charter services and confined purely to small heritage lines, where speeds are low and journeys short (hence burning less coal)?

The emissions from steam locomotives is a tiny drop in the ocean, overall. Coal-fired power stations, cement production and agriculture are far bigger contributors.

A different question would be to consider whether steam engines will be as palatable in the future. They look like they are dumping a lot of emissions while they go about their business, so will the general public be more troubled by them over time? BBC News et al love to show the cooling towers of power stations when talking about greenhouse gases. Waste steam can have some impact overall, but the news portrays these towers as though they were producing sulphur dioxide.

I think there is a future for mainline steam, but clearly this has to come second to timetabled services. I also don’t think that a small number of locomotives burning coal should be a problem - their combined environmental impact is negligible compared to the millions of lorries on Britain’s roads.
I agree with this. Move more freight onto railways and you will always come out ahead in terms of emissions per mile. Compare the work of one 66 to thirty lorries, govenored at 56 mph (or parked up two miles from the destination because the driver is out of hours!).

Rail tours seem to thread their way through existing timetables pretty well at the moment.
 

edwin_m

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As mentioned the railway is getting busier and it will become increasingly difficult to timetable charters on the major routes, especially if they can't match the speeds of the service trains. Also the plan is to start replacing lineside signals with ERTMS, which requires on-train computers and sensors which are far more complex than those now fitted for AWS and TPWS. Installing and interfacing these on a steam locomotive will be challenging and expensive. I believe these two issues are far more of a worry for the future of main line steam than the relatively small amount of CO2 emission, which could for example be offset by paying for CO2 reduction measures elsewhere as some airlines now offer.
 

Peter C

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I hope that steam locos will be able to run on the national network for a long while yet. As others have said, they may not be able to run on the mainlines (where paths aren't available), but there will always be a market for steam-hauled railtours and this means that the railtour companies will always try and have a steam engine on their next railtour. I hope. (:D)
As edwin_m has just said, the costs of installing new safety systems on old steam engines (many of which are, what, 60/70/80 years old?) aren't viable. 60163 Tornado was built with AWS (and I assume TPWS) in 2007 but not ERTMS and it can therefore not run on lines which use that system and not the traditional fixed block system. This is the case for all steam locos which are cleared for mainline use (although they have had the systems retrofitted and not built-in from the beginning).

In relation to the OP's last question - the GWR experimented with using oil for powering steam locomotives in the 1940s (IIRC on the date), but they didn't carry it on and it was not rolled out to all engines in their fleet.

I hope that's somewhat useful! :D

-Peter
 

EbbwJunction1

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In relation to the OP's last question - the GWR experimented with using oil for powering steam locomotives in the 1940s (IIRC on the date), but they didn't carry it on and it was not rolled out to all engines in their fleet. I hope that's somewhat useful! :D -Peter
This was done by other railways as well as the GWR, according to this article from the Great Western Archive.
http://www.greatwestern.org.uk/m_in_gwr_oil_fire.htm
36 of the 93 locomotives converted under this programme were on the GWR, but they didn't last long. I don't know where the other 57 converted locomotives came from.
 

Peter C

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This was done by other railways as well as the GWR, according to this article from the Great Western Archive.
http://www.greatwestern.org.uk/m_in_gwr_oil_fire.htm
36 of the 93 locomotives converted under this programme were on the GWR, but they didn't last long. I don't know where the other 57 converted locomotives came from.
Oh OK - thanks. I only knew about the GWR engines from a reprint of a book from the time (made by the GWR, promoting the idea!) :)

-Peter
 

341o2

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The Southern also embarked on an oil firing programme, some 30 locos including pacifics Bideford and Westward Ho! were modified, the scheme was dropped after it was found that oil was just as expensive as coal, and politics of using home mined coal to run our railways.

The Vale of Rheidol used oil firing in BR days, converting back to coal in 2012/3, while the Ffestiniog also had an oil fired period
 

eldomtom2

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As has been discussed elsewhere, there is currently no cost-effective and viable alternative to traditional coal for standard gauge steam locomotives, although I’m sure research etc will change that.
I believe some research and testing has already been done in the US on using wood biomass for fuel. This is not exactly cleaner, but it does solve the problem of a dwindling coal supply as it becomes less and less profitable to mine.
 

MarkyT

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On the subject of post-war oil-burning proposals, after his plant engineering apprenticeship ended in 1946 or 47, my father became a junior draughtsman in the locomotive drawing office at Doncaster. The first job he was assigned was to design a number of oil fuelling installations at various depots around the LNER. They were planning on using a heavy oil that needed warming to flow, so specified a small stationary steam plant to provide the heating. None of this came to fruition and he moved on quite quickly to other tasks. He has also commented on the coal quality issues of the time. Under the new NCB, the premium Yorkshire coal the company had traditionally used for its express services was no longer available, and what they actually delivered proved very variable. The mention of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company is interesting because I'm sure by the late 40s the UK Government was very well aware of the difficulties that majority British state-owned company were having with the Iranian state that eventually resulted in Iran nationalising their assets in 1951. It's my idle theory entirely, but perhaps Sir Humphrey may have pointed out to the minister the folly of committing a sizable proportion of the fleet to exclusive oil fuelling if that commodity then may have to be imported at full dollar market rates in foreign exchange, all while the high quality coal was being exported exclusively in order to obtain foreign exchange (that then had to be spent on the oil!). By the early 50s, my dad reports the coal crisis had eased significantly and BR could once again obtain the particular grades of coal it desired reliably.
 

EbbwJunction1

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According to the Interwebs, the Great Eastern Railway used oil firing. This thread explains it, I assume: https://www.railforums.co.uk/threads/converting-from-coal-to-oil-fired-steam.90182/-Peter
Thanks; I did see this, but didn't include it as it was outwith the period that was originally being discussed. However, it's interesting to note that they were quite advanced for the time, driven on by their CME.

The Southern also embarked on an oil firing programme, some 30 locos including pacifics Bideford and Westward Ho! were modified, the scheme was dropped after it was found that oil was just as expensive as coal, and politics of using home mined coal to run our railways. The Vale of Rheidol used oil firing in BR days, converting back to coal in 2012/3, while the Ffestiniog also had an oil fired period
Thanks; the Southern programme may well account for some (if not all) of the balance of converted locos. Your comment about the VoR and the FR does ring a faint bell as well, but again is outwith the period.
 

341o2

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The plan to convert 1,217 engines to oil burning, using a heavy grade of oil known as "bunker C", unsuitiable for diesel engines originated with the Government, and across all of the Big Four, the Southern having plants at Eastliegh and Portsmouth. It was terminated abruptly for the aforesaid reasons and has been described as the most expensive fiasco relating to locomotive operation, however Bulleid was in favour of it. It would appear that Leader was designed with eventual conversion to oil or mechanical firing, hence the awful conditions the fireman had to work in on the trial runs.
Mechanical coal firing was trialled on a couple of BR standards (actually 3)
 

EbbwJunction1

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Thanks for the video; I hadn't seen that before.

It all seemed very sensible, and I'm left with the question "why didn't it work?" I know the answer, of course, which is that it cost too much to buy the oil, but it's a real case of "what might have been"!

I suppose that there's another aspect to the problems with importing the oil as well, and that's that we could have been held to ransom by the oil companies, as happened many years later by OPEC and others.

Still, it's all very interesting - thanks for your contributions.
 

Greybeard33

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As mentioned the railway is getting busier and it will become increasingly difficult to timetable charters on the major routes, especially if they can't match the speeds of the service trains. Also the plan is to start replacing lineside signals with ERTMS, which requires on-train computers and sensors which are far more complex than those now fitted for AWS and TPWS. Installing and interfacing these on a steam locomotive will be challenging and expensive. I believe these two issues are far more of a worry for the future of main line steam than the relatively small amount of CO2 emission, which could for example be offset by paying for CO2 reduction measures elsewhere as some airlines now offer.
On 18 December I rode on the WCRC "Flying Scotsman Christmas Dalesman" railtour from Manchester Victoria to Carlisle and back. The route was billed as stem hauled outbound via Bolton, Blackburn, Hellifield and the Settle and Carlisle, returning via the WCML to Carnforth. There the Flying Scotsman was to be swapped for a diesel for the last leg back via Preston and Bolton.

With only a few days notice Network Rail insisted that the route was reversed. So we were hauled by 47854 from Victoria via Preston to Carnforth, where the Flying Scotsman took over. Going over Shap we were looped, as scheduled, at both Oxenholme and Grayrigg. At Oxenholme we were overtaken by a 185 that was 35L, then at Grayrigg there was an extended wait for a freight, 24L, followed by two 390s, 18L and 11L, and finally another 185, 7L. Leaving the loop 6L, Flying Scotsman then stretched its legs to arrive at Carlisle 3E.

The return journey over the Settle and Carlisle was mostly in the dark, so we were unable to see the scenery. A scheduled stop at Appleby was skipped, which meant a wait of nearly an hour in the Hellifield Goods Loop despite being allowed to depart 12E. Then there was a further wait at Clitheroe Horrocksford Jn to regulate us back to RT, nevertheless arriving 16E at Blackburn. Next there was a 25 minute wait at Farington Jn before we were eventually allowed on to the WCML 9L. Flying Scotsman then easily gained time to be RT by Chorley and arrive at Bolton 6E. There we were held in Platform 3 for 36 minutes, eventually departing 3L after being overtaken only by a 331 (RT) and an ECS 142 (13L). But passengers were warned not to disembark because there was a possibility of an early departure.

We eventually arrived back at Victoria on schedule at 2122. I think most passengers, while still enjoying the experience, were disappointed by the change of route and would have preferred a swifter journey back than the scheduled 6h16m from Carlisle to Manchester.

I think this illustrates the difficulty of pathing steam charters on the main line, especially when NR applies very conservative timing loads and regulation rules to ensure no delay to any service trains. An express steam loco is not displayed to best advantage when it spends much of the journey sitting in freight loops, where the passengers cannot even see it.
 

31160

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Well the easy paths for kettles (and seemingly any tour) are there so regular services arnt held by excursions, yes that may mean a 150 with 12 people on get priority over load 12 with 500 people on but that's the way it is and that's it, excursions liability is limited to I think 5k on any knock on delays to services that are delayed but it, there have been a few steam excursions that have sat down on the mainline recently, and if they had to pay the full amount TOCs have to pay then a few of the charter TOCs would be out of buisiness. That's why charters have woeful pathing, early starts and late finishes and loco changes in loops and yards instead of stations, so if that's not what u want then dont travel, I think the pricing of both steam and diesil tours has got way beyond a joke now so I just dont bother with them, I cant see the current situation lasting for ever something's gonna break soon
 

Peter C

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Thanks; I did see this, but didn't include it as it was outwith the period that was originally being discussed. However, it's interesting to note that they were quite advanced for the time, driven on by their CME.
I thought it was a bit old in comparison to the time period we were on about too, but thought it was interesting - nice to know you thought it was interesting too :D It's funny to see the amazing innovations (for the time) which the railway companies made in order to get the upper hand on their competitors.

-Peter
 

johnr57

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The bigger risk is the continuing lowering of demand for coal generally. With the Governments Clean Air Strategy actively reducing the possible uses of lump coal, Heritage railways are only a very small user of the fuel, the reduced demand will lower the economic supply and thus raise the cost dramatically - that is assuming it will continue to be available
 

packermac

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Do you think in this day and age with climate change and energy sources becoming ever increasing issues, steam locos should finally be moved off long distance mainline charter services and confined purely to small heritage lines, where speeds are low and journeys short (hence burning less coal)?

On a side note, is smokeless fuel or wood used to fire any steam locos nowadays or is still just dirty coal in all of them?
I would have thought a more pertinent question would be the large number of diesel operations both passenger and freight (often under wires) that are operated.
Steam may not be environmentally friendly but the mainline volumes are very small percentage of the total non electric operations in this country.
 

eldomtom2

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The bigger risk is the continuing lowering of demand for coal generally. With the Governments Clean Air Strategy actively reducing the possible uses of lump coal, Heritage railways are only a very small user of the fuel, the reduced demand will lower the economic supply and thus raise the cost dramatically - that is assuming it will continue to be available
See my previous post about biomass testing. It is not an unsolvable issue.
 

Dunfanaghy Rd

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A propos Oil firing: It is interesting that both DB and DR used it on some of the largest engines (eg Br 01 & Br 44) to get more horsepower than a man shovelling coal could deliver reliably.
Pat
 

randyrippley

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Biggest threat to future steam loco use is quite simply where are you going to source decent quality steam coal in the small loads required?
The quote below from https://www.banksgroup.co.uk/mining/need-for-coal/ puts it in perspective
Heritage railways are worth £400m to the British economy and are an important source of employment and skills training, particularly in rural areas.

An estimated 130,000 tonnes of coal is used to heat homes in the UK. As such the the household market is Britain’s major consumer of sized, lump coal, that is the same size and variety of coal burnt in steam locomotives, traction engines, steam ships and most other steam-powered vehicles and machines. Heritage railways in the UK consume an estimated 26,000 tonnes per year, while the preservation industry as a whole burns 35,000 tonnes.

Therefore the UK heritage railway market is reliant upon the domestic household market for its supply of sized, lump coal. If the sale of traditional coal for household use is phased out, coal suppliers and merchants have warned that the comparatively minimal demand from
the preservation industry alone will not be enough to sustain their business
That page links to a reprint of a recent article (pdf) from Steam Railway Magazine at
https://www.banksgroup.co.uk/core/u...pecial-report-re-coal-crisis-20-Sept-2019.pdf

here's some key points from the report, but in short we're in danger of being unable to source suitable coal in the small volumes required

In January 2019, DEFRA published its
updated 2019 Clean Air Strategy. As part
of its aim to reduce national particulate
matter emissions, it proposed to phase out
the sale of bituminous coal for household
use and impose strict 2% sulphur limits
on all solid fuels intended to be burnt in
domestic grates in England. As a devolved
issue, this would not affect Wales, Scotland
or Northern Ireland, and there was no
mention of targeting steam railways, nor
any other heritage coal burners.
However, this proposed legislation
presents a grave concern for the whole
preservation industry throughout the UK.
With an estimated 130,000 tonnes of coal
burnt per annum, the household market is
Britain’s major consumer of sized, lumped
coal, i.e. the same size and variety of
coal burnt in steam locomotives, traction
engines, steam ships and most other
steam-powered vehicles and machines. By
comparison, steam railways only consume
an estimated 26,000 tonnes per year, while
the preservation industry as a whole burns
35,000 tonnes.
As a result, preservation works off the
back of (and is entirely reliant upon) the
domestic household market for its supply of
sized, lumped coal. If the sale of traditional
coal for household use is phased out, coal
suppliers and merchants have warned that
the comparatively minimal demand from
the preservation industry alone will not be
enough to sustain their business.
Furthermore, the three opencast mines
from which railways mainly source their
UK-produced coal – Ffos‑y‑Fran in South
Wales, Shotton in Northumberland and
Garlaffen in Ayrshire – are all set to close
in the next couple of years, so in addition
to the impending closure of Britain’s coalfired
power stations by 2025, any such ban
would hasten the decline of an alreadyailing
coal mining industry.
We would thus be forced to import coal
from abroad – namely Russia, as many
railways do already – but without the
demand from the household market to
improve the scale of economies, prices are
expected to rise exponentially. The Heritage
Railway Association estimates this could be
as much as 400% over and above current
prices, and with the majority of railways
unable to offset significantly higher coal
costs, running steam locomotives may no
longer be viable for many, resulting in job
losses and potential railway closures.
Furthermore, without significant
national demand for sized, lumped coal,
the HRA fears that the screening, sizing
and distribution network for handling and
transporting such coal will disappear,
further increasing costs and the challenges
in moving coal to where it is needed.
In short, getting the right coal at the
right price will become very difficult – if
not impossible – all as an unintended
consequence of DEFRA’s plans to eliminate
the burning of coal by households
 

broadgage

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So far as I know, steam locos could burn smokeless fuel which is still readily available. This is readily available and is still used domestically in a significant minority of rural homes. I recall "homefire ovals" being used by BR in a few cases.
The main merit of such patent fuels is a consistent product in regular size lumps, contrary to the variation in natural coal. Dark smoke is much reduced, but carbon dioxide is only slightly reduced.
I have fired a road going steamer with domestic smokeless fuel, it worked just fine.

The price per ton is greater than for natural coal, but the calorific value is better and the price per HP per hour should be about the same.
 

ChiefPlanner

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So far as I know, steam locos could burn smokeless fuel which is still readily available. This is readily available and is still used domestically in a significant minority of rural homes. I recall "homefire ovals" being used by BR in a few cases.
The main merit of such patent fuels is a consistent product in regular size lumps, contrary to the variation in natural coal. Dark smoke is much reduced, but carbon dioxide is only slightly reduced.
I have fired a road going steamer with domestic smokeless fuel, it worked just fine.

The price per ton is greater than for natural coal, but the calorific value is better and the price per HP per hour should be about the same.
Coming from South West Wales , (and with a father who was in colliery management) , I would commend trials with Welsh anthracite. (as mined for now from Gwaun - Cae -Gurwen) - widely used for space heating.

Entirely smokeless , very high carbon content and calorific value , low levels of arsenic etc. Spark free. Low ash.

In the past this particular coal was in high demand for urban central heating , brewing and food production - and in the late 19thC was used in preference to local USA anthracite coal for the Forney locomotives that powered the NYC "EL" until electrification came in around 1900.

It does need a good base to get combustion going , but that can be managed.
 

randyrippley

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As I understand it, both anthracite and smokeless fuel burn too fiercely for the majority of British locos - maybe with the exception of GWR designs. You'd run the risk of burning out the firebox and grate - and with reduced ash you may have problems controlling the fire anyway as there would be no inert "bed" for the hot coals to rest on. That's why "steam coal" is high grade bituminous coal and not anthracite.
As for smokeless fuel.........that will only be available as long as someone mines the coal its made from, and is prepared to run a coking plant, with all the environmental hassles that brings. Of course you can make smokeless fuel by carbonizing heavy oil, but that is just totally wasteful.
But the reality is if the import demand for coal disappears, so will that for processed coals.
 

Meole

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I hope that steam locos will be able to run on the national network for a long while yet. As others have said, they may not be able to run on the mainlines (where paths aren't available), but there will always be a market for steam-hauled railtours and this means that the railtour companies will always try and have a steam engine on their next railtour. I hope. (:D)
As edwin_m has just said, the costs of installing new safety systems on old steam engines (many of which are, what, 60/70/80 years old?) aren't viable. 60163 Tornado was built with AWS (and I assume TPWS) in 2007 but not ERTMS and it can therefore not run on lines which use that system and not the traditional fixed block system. This is the case for all steam locos which are cleared for mainline use (although they have had the systems retrofitted and not built-in from the beginning).

In relation to the OP's last question - the GWR experimented with using oil for powering steam locomotives in the 1940s (IIRC on the date), but they didn't carry it on and it was not rolled out to all engines in their fleet.

I hope that's somewhat useful! :D

-Peter
ERTMS stopped the continuation of the popular Cambrian Coast daily steam about 10 years ago on a line which otherwise had sufficient capacity.
 

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