How much to convert passenger car from steam to electric heat?

3 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • 1,568 posts
How much to convert passenger car from steam to electric heat?
Posted by CandOforprogress2 on Tuesday, April 03, 2018 2:39 PM

My local short line has some passenger cars that only run in summer because they are steam heat. What would it take to turn them over to electric heat. Some of baseboard type heating can be drafty.

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 6,803 posts
Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, April 03, 2018 4:26 PM

1) They would need a reliable source of electric power at both voltage and amperage suitable for the necessary heating.  If you wanted to 'convert' them entirely over to electric heating the installation would have to have sufficient wattage (and wiring capacity) to keep the cars warm in winter -- that is likely to be considerably more expensive.  You would need a LOT of generating capacity for typical passenger cars ... and perhaps very good insulation and weatherstripping.

You probably wouldn't have to go to full HEP as Amtrak would require, but I would suggest that 240V (perhaps using the inter-car connectors developed for the ECP brake trainline) rather than a lower voltage would be recommended.  Theoretically you could also carry a neutral between cars to divide the 240V bus via a conventional breaker box to be able to get lighting and other loads.

I don't see much point in tinkering with batteries, axle generators, and the like to produce heating.  Enough equipment and material is available OTS or costed-down to make trainlined power a reasonable way to go, and local electricianswill be familiar doing the things are necessary for both installation and maintenance.

2) Resistance heating is one of the most wasteful ways to produce space heating known, so that really isn't much of a recommendation; I also suspect there is no good way to 'electrify' the existing steam-heat radiator system in the cars.  I'd be tempted to see whether old HVAC heat-pump central units could be 'repurposed' to provide both heated and cooled air to be provided through ducts, with 'shore power' between trips used to do most of the heating or cooling, and the onboard power just keeping things maintained.

I would ask over on RyPN what different museums and organizations have done with regard to this.

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 15,773 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Tuesday, April 03, 2018 4:27 PM

First off - does the short line have a locomotive able to supply HEP?

If so, the cars would have to be wired to supply power to whatever form of electric heat is desired, drawing power from the HEP supplied by the locomotive(s).

  • Member since
    December, 2005
  • From: Cardiff, CA
  • 2,930 posts
Posted by erikem on Tuesday, April 03, 2018 11:21 PM

IIRC, Kratville gave a figure for 28KW/car for the pre-war HEP equipped UP streamliners, but that was good for keeping a train warm when running 80+mph through a Wyoming winter. Incidentally, The UP found that it was more efficeint to use electric resistance heating fed by diesel gensets than by heating with steam generated with Vapor-Clarkson steam generators.

If the genset is asked to generate more than ~10KW, it would make sense to go 3-phase to keep the generator (actually alternator) happy. With 208V Wye (star) connected output, there would be no problem in using either 120V or 240V rated heaters.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy