MODERN COAL BURNING STEAM LOCOMOTIVES

Content Tools

As read to the Washington Chapter, National Railway Historical Society.

The average citizen, Mr. John Q. Public, is very much concerned about the precarious position this Nation would be in if we were unable to import petroleum crude due to an extreme emergency such as a war. We had some very shocking examples of fuel shortages during World War II when the Nazi U-Boat blockade was in effect and we might not be so lucky today with the potential enemy subs that are cruising the seas. Let us face the hard cold facts, our domestic oil fields are now unable to produce enough liquid fuel for our normal consumer needs so that we have to import petroleum crude continuously, a condition which if interrupted would cause serious trouble to our National security and to the security of the North American continent as well.

The enormous amount of automobiles, trucks, planes and tractors using gasoline, the great fleets of trucks, busses and railway locomotives using diesel engines puts our transportation eggs in one petroleum basket which could make an omelet of our national transportation security. When we consider that in war time the railroads handle 97% of the troop movements and 90% of the military freight traffic, the curtailment of the liquid fuel supply would become extremely serious, not only in the movements of military troops and supplies but all forms of our domestic life.

The unlimited supply of coal in this country and Canada could insure adequate transportation security to the North American continent and would at the same time nurse a sick coal industry back to health and improve our own economy. The only railroad I know of at the present time doing serious research with coal burning locomotives is the Union Pacific with their coal burning turbine-electric locomotive which has produced some amazing results that warrant very serious further research, and I am inclined to think the Union Pacific will be the first to break the diesel bottleneck in our transportation industry as I believe they have the 'guts for progress'.

Only future research and time will tell whether the coal burning turbine or the coal burning high pressure steam engine will replace the diesel for locomotives and farm tractors. I believe both methods will be used until atomic power is developed to handle the job. As I see it, the coal fired turbine-electric would probably be best for the 'Union Pacific', 'Santa Fe', 'Missouri Pacific', and other railroads who have long heavy freight hauls over level terrain. But for passenger service with frequent stops and down time at stations I think the high pressure steam engine-electric would be best and it would certainly be more economical than either the turbine or diesel.

A few years back the Norfolk & Western tried out a coal burning steam-electric which had some novel features but they were offset by the following bugs:

1. Water tube boiler of too low steam pressure.

2.  Steam turbine to power the D.C. generator furnishing power to to the traction motors, a wasteful combination.

3. Insufficient condenser facilities to condense the exhaust steam into water with vacuum on the exhaust line.

4. Too many drive wheels con-contrated under the frame which was bad for the track, roadbed and curves.

5. Was self contained and not adaptable to multiple unit use.

These are just a few of the many reasons why the 'Big Jawn' wasn't able to cut the mustard. The problems were not thought out in detail enough for the locomotive to be correctly designed.

The future success of a coal burning steam-electric locomotive will depend on how well the modern steam principles and practices are observed and used in the designing and construction of such a locomotive.

6. The boiler must be a sub critical (2,000 p.s.i.g.) once thru or flash type such as built by Babcock & Wilcox or by combustion engineering for stationary power plants, using the down-flow membrane fire walls and the up-flow steam generating coils heated by the gasses from the cyclone fire box. Due to limited space this boiler would have to be a package unit containing the economizer, the air pre-heater, and the super-heater. Altho the boiler and accessories would be automatically controlled, it has been my experience that all automatic machinery should be operated by a competent man for regardless how perfect an automatic machine may seem to be, there is one thing it can not do and that is 'think'. That's a fact which can be attested to by all poor mortals who have been sorely vexed at times with the infernal cussedness of inanimate things.

7. While a multi-stage trubine running condensing at full load can be very economical and efficient, the same turbine running on a variable load will be quite wasteful, so the common sense thing to use is a correctly designed reciprocating engine for the variable load and speed peculiar to locomotives. The steam engine which powers the D.C. generator should be a 12 cylinder 'V' type, high speed, single acting, over square uni-flo with balanced plug admission valve, using the 1 to 2 cylinder arrangement for compounding, 4 cylinders for live boiler pressure steam and 8 cylinders for compound steam, all cylinders being same size. If prefered an 18 cylinder 'W' type with the same specifications can be used.

8. The H.O. Baker tri-condenser system should be used together with suitable pumps to get between 25 and 27 inches vacuum on the engine exhaust line to the hot well or tank.

9. The five wheel units should be spaced far enough apart so as not to concentrate the total weight in a small area which is hard on the track, roadbed, and curves.

10. The modern coal burning locomotive, whether it be high pressure steam or turbine, must be designed and built so it can be operated in multiple unit if desired giving the engineer full control of all units. A passage way would have to be included in the construction of the locomotive so the fireman could go from one end to the other in each unit or multi-units for the purpose of inspections. 11. The locomotive under frame should be of the dropped center type with the traction elements at each end of the under frame. The boiler, engine, generator, and accessories would be located in the dropped center portion of the under frame similar to the 'Beyer-Garrett Method'. While I may be wrong, I do believe the Beyer-Garrett Method of under frame suspension does offer a new field to future locomotive designers and I hope they explore the field fully. It seems to me that with just plain common sense application of modern metallurgy and technology a coal burning steam-electric locomotive can be built that will exlipse the diesel locomotive for economy and dependability.

With the new high temperature alloy metals developed in Sweden, Germany and this country, the mechanical problems are of no deep concern but there are other serious obstacles to be overcome before the coal fired locomotive can become the prime motive power in our system of national transportation and they are these.

A. Lack of positive interest by the railroads.

B. The lack of co-operation between the various railroads to pool their resources in common research through the Association of American Railroads for their common good.

C. The influence of educated fools schooled in the internal combustion field, 'the eggheads of the automotive industry'. These are the slide rule boys who prove on paper the thermal efficiency of the diesel. Which reminds me that according to the aeronautical engineering formulas the bumble bee can not fly as his body is too large for his wing spread of poorly designed wings. However, the bumble bee doesn't know anything about this so he goes ahead and flies; anyway.

D. The stone wall resistance by the General Motors Corporation and their subsidiary to any other method of motive power than their own diesels.

E. The infiltration of former General Motors men in high executive railway positions, which can and does, muzzle research in the solid fuel field.

F. The strong opposition by the petroleum industry to any other means than petroleum fuel for motive power.

G. The apathy on part of the federal government in encouraging solid fuel research that would make our nation independent of overseas fuel imports.

These are the seven major obstacles that form the roadblock to solid fuel or coal consumption progress and it will take men who have the brains, the courage, and the integrity, as well as the support of the major railroads to shatter that roadblock. But it can be done and it should be done, 'soon'.

I strongly urge you to go to room 830 of the Transportation Building, Association of American Railroads, and get a copy of the 1962 Salzberg lecture by Major General, I. Sewell Morris. This lecture should be read by every American, whether or not he is a railroad buff.