Time to give Coal Fired Steam Another Go ?

Want to post a reply to this topic?
Login or register for an acount to join our online community today!

Time to give Coal Fired Steam Another Go ?

  • Well Railfans, this is a subject thats come up time and time again, and will probably continue to do so for long time to come. But maybe it is time to consider Coal Fired Steam engines again.

    After all Oil prices are continuing to climb and there is always talk that it can't last forever. But Coal is availiable in vast quantities and its availiable in the US.

    I know that steam could never totally replace Diesels, to much has changed since the 1950's. They would of course have to be alot more enviromently friendly and economical than the loco's of the past.

    And it would have to start on a small, For example a 2-10-4 or 2-10-2 with a high tractive effort, fitted with a diesel control stand (like the one Fitted to UP3985) so that it could act as the headend power (controlling diesels behind the tender). And then only using them on coal trains at first so coal supply would be less of an issue.

    Steam locomtives can be successfully modified, Several engineers have proved this. Brit David Wardale sucessfully modified a 2-8-4 and 4-8-4 in South Africa and is currently planning to build a high speed 4-6-0 for use in England (www.5at.co.uk).

    Okay so ACE did'nt work in the 80's but maybe some day, someone will pull it off and there'll be a realistic alternative to the Diesel.

    Thanks for listening, Over to you
    Replies to this thread are ordered from "oldest to newest".   To reverse this order, click here.
    To learn about more about sorting options, visit our FAQ page.
  • Steamers are regional engines. The type of coal, type of water and the very ground it can run on can dictate what sort of steamer you can use.

    While I love steam and have enjoyed it when it happens to be running I doubt that steam will be able to keep up with the trains of today.

    Hook a 120 car double stack to any steam engine you want. When the revenue is spent and the trip completed you probably will find that steamer consuming more of your bottom line. And it may not be as fast as a modern engine (Or consists)

    Insurance and manpower needs are fairly high. This flies in the face of railroads that want one man crews and remote locomotives.

    And society has forgotten how to co-exist with steam. Run one of those working hard thru my town on that slight upgrade the cinders will get into the laundry and everything. As if the noise is not bad enough the gaggle of railfans aiming cameras like artillery onto the train everywhere it goes is sure to create a problem for somebody.

    I dont mean to be so heavy handed on steam. Let's look at the good stuff.

    Today's technology probably allows all-new steam engines to be built to exacting tolerances and modern metals probably will allow steam to carry 300 pounds day in and day out at the boiler. It is possible that we may find a way to transfer energy with something other than driving rods attached to giant expansion chambers.

    Everything that has been done with latest and best steam in the 50's can be improved with computer designed engines that improves reliability, tolerances and the ability to literally wire every tube and part with sensors hooked to a computer that can phone home to the shop before a part failed or a critical problem comes up. Alot of things possible in Heavy Trucks can go into steam locos easily.

    And we can run them on the main with the FRA and proper insurance. Since we are NOT hauling PASSENGERS there should not be a need for 150 Billion dollars in liabiltiy coverage.

    It may not even be coal. Perhaps a fuel/chemical cell that creates the energy needed.

    But whatever it run it better have that steam whistle.
  • It wasn't steam that failed it was maintenance costs that failed steam. Reciprocating machinery regardless of materials will need higher and more frequent maintenance. If you can find a railroad that wants to invest hundreds of millions in facilities and add employees by the thousands let me know because I will sell their stock short until I make my fortune.
  • QUOTE: Originally posted by ndbprr

    It wasn't steam that failed it was maintenance costs that failed steam. Reciprocating machinery regardless of materials will need higher and more frequent maintenance. If you can find a railroad that wants to invest hundreds of millions in facilities and add employees by the thousands let me know because I will sell their stock short until I make my fortune.

    I want to put on my coffee shop hat and "argue" with this point of view. Bear with me.

    Desiels killed steam not the shop. I point to decades of shop work that supported steam long before anyone started to think about desiels.

    The 4-8-4 called project 819 in Pine Bluff will require coal and water 60 miles or so and several times during the work day she would like to have a shot of oil and perhaps a clean rag here and there. All of that takes time and money.

    Time and money railroads are no longer willing to spend in the work day. They want that desiel train moving literally at the flip of a switch and kept away from the shop.

    There is probably thousands of people in my area would not mind maintaining steam for 25.00 an hour or whatever it is they used to pay in the day.
  • You'd have to get it through the EPA, and that will be impossible. And thats by today's enviromental standards. They will be a lot tougher in the future. And if they do pass it, don't expect the environmental groups to just sit still and let it pass. They will challenge it and overturn the ruling. Even if it gets approved, they'll just challenge it again, until eventually it gets overturned. And even if it is approved, it will be saddled with so many regulations regarding emissions that it will be prohibitivley expensive to run it. States like California would never allow it for revenue service. And given the way the EPA is getting, I wouldn't be surprised if they came after the tourist groups and historic steam locomotives. I'm not saying its going to happen, I'm just saying that I wouldn't be surprised anymore. And like I said, environmental regulations are going to get a lot touger in the future, we ain't seen nothin yet. I don't like it anymore than the next person, but thats the world we live in.
  • jason1 you bring up a really good point. There is no were in creation would the EPA ever and I mean ever allow class one railroads to run steam locomotives on it's high speed or heavy haul trains. It wouldn't even allow them to use steams as switchers. If the EPA did there would be some serious financial (spelling) losses among the railroads and it's customers.
    LORD HELP US ALL TO BE ORIGINAL AND NOT CRISPY!!! please? Sarah J.M. Warner conductor CSX
  • Well I disagree regarding the maintenance. When the PRR was testing its first diesel set on the Detroit Arrow (E7's) the T-1's were arriving in mass. When the EMD rep told the Harrisburg shop foreman the wheels needed turning he informed him that EMD must make soft wheels since none of the T-1's were even close to needing their wheels turned. The difference was none of the T-1's had more than 100,000 miles on them in the time the diesels had run 500,000 miles. And yes I could probably find people willing to work on steam for $12.50 an hour but that is the point. It takes people and wages are only part of it. If you ever saw what you cost an employer in the way of benefits, social security and other government handouts you would be livid becasue wages are just half the picture. No one can afford to higher employees for an antiquated system of propulsion. I'd like some high school dropout to pump my gas, check my oil and clean my wiindshield but it isn't going to happen.
  • ndbprr, thank you for your side. The mileage between the great T-1 versus the Desiel set that ran 5 times further fixed it for me.

    I agree with you regarding workforce and wages. But I am not ready to give up steam as a antiqudated (Spelling?) form of propulsion. Surely we can harness steam in different ways such as very high speed turbines turning generators without the emissions associated with desiel?

    Your reference to the high school drop out executing a "Full service" procedure while you purchase gasoline... I recall those days.

    Society must accept some of the "Blame" because now not only we must pump our own gas, we are expected to get the sodas, napkins, draw our own coffee and codiments for the food they shove across the fast food counter. Truck stops are being reduced to simple fast food koisks without the need for manpower and expense running a full resturant which is practically empty half the time.

    The businesses has managed to keep prices low by slashing man power and limiting the number of crew hands (Forgive my use of words, I also include female workers as well) thus limiting wages and expenses. Workers in turn decline benefits because they are so expensive.

    We cheerfully burn oil. This helps furnish hot water, steam and other needs for the factory down the road. The boiler technology is little changed from ww2 where it was found to be better and cleaner than coal.

    But we would rather have a computer manage the boiler than a actual licensed and experience boiler man who are hard to find these days.

    I want to say that steam can ride again. But I have great doubts our current way of living with JIT (Just in time) and high ball all the freight down the track as cheaply as possible must.. must reach a break point between cost, technology and productivity.

    I was offered a benefit plan. A hospital stay 10 years ago at my surgery was about $750 a day for a semi private room. The plan I read last week showed 1000.00 a day hospital coverage for up to 5 days for approx 35.00 a week to just one worker.

    Add in the good wages I would make (Close to 10.00) and you will see that I decline that health plan because the cheaper alternatives does not adequately cover health care in a death house.. **Ahem hospital. For example 15.00 a week gets you 250 a day room care. That leaves you with I think is at least 500.00 a day in debt.

    I dont think our health care system works anymore. It is broken. Every worker who gets hurt and needs care at a hospital simply gets his or her bill added to the workers who pay the premiums when employers can no longer afford to.

    Looking at steam exclusive of all other forms of transport, by adding energy to water to generate live steam that provides so much expansion energy with hardly the pollution that EPA and others seem to rant about.

    Look at the coal plants. EPA dictates that half the hardware hanging off the plant infrastructure is pollution control. You and I the home owner pays a little bit more for all of that clean air.

    Air that comes from other areas of the earth sometimes are not clean at all and there is no way EPA will be able to micromanage steam out of existance. There is just too much historical and value in trains that use steam for museums and tourist operations.

    We are people. As long people love steam, it will endure. I have heard the same thing said of sail ships. As long people keep the technology and hold the sail alive we will always have tall ships.

    In closing of what I know is a very long post, I must say the sail is returning to design of maritime vessals with techology that will use ocean waves and solar power to generate energy. Yahoo News made a mention of a Japanese Break Bulk Carrier that is on the design boards which they hope to build and put it into service within 5 years.

    If they can do that for sea, surely we can open up this USA with new track running steam away from population centers hauling cargo that just needs a steady ride, not highball service.
  • Coal................It could hapen but I guarentee not in the ways of the past, more like a coal turbine engine locomotive.
  • Coal-fired turbines of both varieties, both steam turbines and gas turbines, were failures. Coal-fired gas turbines will probably never succeed until a method for keeping fly ash from the turbine blades is developed. Coal-fired steam turbines work in stationary service (power plants) but modifying them for railroad service could be a real chore for the engineers.
    The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • 2 words.... WONT HAPPEN.... at least not as a singal power unit... and the list of why not is long.... but the nunber one reason is MONEY.... the costs required for steam locomotives would far out weigh the benifits...even with the cost of oil going up..it is still less expensive to run oil then it would be to run steam power.... becouse of locomotive down time... the hireing of employees to service the locomotives...haveing to rebuild the infostructor to execpt steam power agin... (coaling towers..water towers... steam back shops...) the list can go on and on...and then you have to figer in the costs of rail infostructor agin...a D/E locomotive is lot more forgiving when it comes to the rails themselfs... they go over track that would derail a steam locomotive..... so to get the rails up to a standers where steam engins could run would kill the industry alone...and then the steam turbin idea... not a bad thought..but when you get down to the nuts and bolts of that...its still going to have a limited range due to water needed and fuel....and a turbin is a hell of alot more complicated hunk of equipment compared to a comprestion engin...thier is alot more that can go wrong..and go very wrong (throw an impellor blade) and if that happens...your whole turbin unit is a gonner... remember the UP turbin engins? they where taken out of service becouse of thier major use of fuel oil...in the 70s... not going to get much more milage out of coal either....and then you have to figer in noise factors...the UP turbins where NOT alowed into some places becouse of the high noise levels they put out...(like haveing a low flying jet come blasting past your back door)....and the last note on the turbins...the size of the locomotive itself... it would be a massive unit..(like the UP turbins where).....and the very last reason....like someone said above...EPA...they make it just about impossable to do anything... you cant take a dump in a crapper without them getting involved (and they have in that...the 1.2 gallon or what ever it is flush water limit on a crapper?) so in short... its a nice dream...but the facts stack up aginst it in the long run
    csx engineer
    "I AM the higher source" Keep the wheels on steel
  • I absolutely agree about our need to make more use of coal. It makes no sense, economic or strategic, to mortgage our future to the vagaries of an unstable Middle East and the supply of energy in coal, both anthracite and bituminous is as close to eternal as anything on this planet ever gets, but as for steam engines driving locomotives it is too labor intensive except perhaps in Third World countries. This said, however, coal can replace much of our petroleum needs simply by using it to generate elctrical power and using it to power electric locomotives. Electric locomotives, motors in PRR terminology, offer us the best of both worlds, easy operation and, after the infrastructure is paid off, lower costs and if generated by coal energy independenc. No, I don't think we are liely to see K 4s and T-1's again but I'd glady settle to see GG 1's out there again.
  • Resurrecting STEAM? Are you out of your mind.
  • Time to give coal fired steam another try?

    Sure, if you want to bankrupt what's left of the U.S. rail system in a year or two.

    For all of you who want to see more coal use...apparently you don't live or have spent much time in the coal fields. Coal mining is simply the most environmentally destructive operation man has ever undertaken. Looks cheap now, but future generations will have to pay $ Billions to fix the mess--that's on top of the $ Billions needed now to repair past damage.

    In PA alone, the price tag is now $5-10 Billion just to keep past damage (acid mine drainage, surface collapse, etc) in check. And don't think for a minute that PA is going to be left holding the bag on this. The Feds are going to be held accountable for this, so every taxpayer in the U.S. is going to be hit to fix the problems.

    Not saying I am anti-coal, but there are two sides to every story, so be careful what you wish for.

  • Yes, GP 40-2 there are costs to coal mining both immediate and longterm and having been born and raised in Pa. I have seen some of the enviornmental damage you speak of but ALL forms of energy extraction carry costs hidden and obvious. Hydoelectric blocks salmon spawning, nuclear creates hazardous waste and offers a lucrative target to terrorists. Petroleum and natural gas require dangerous transport and dependence on unsecure sources ( and may be harmful to the health of caribou). Of all the sources of energy available coal is the least harmful and cost effective and if enough coal fired generating stations could be constructed the US could greatly expand the network of electric railroads. I am convinced that this is the best way to go