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I just finished reading a few books on the history and technology of steam locomotives, and it makes me wonder what a steam engine would be like if one were to built today, from the ground up. NOt a copy of earlier designs which are all 60 years old or older by now, long before micro electronics or computer control were even imagined. We have different materials available now. We have a different ethic in terms of energy use.

I'm guessing it would probably be a steam turbine, with a duplex drive, and would use computers to monitor the air mix, steam heat and moisture content, and regulate wheel slip like the traction control on a car. But I don't know all that much. Has anyone ever tried to take stab at designing a 21st century steam locootive?
 

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Hi,

That is making things a bit complicated as was found out in the late 1940's. There is a project in the UK at the following website http://www.5at.co.uk/

That is a modern Class 5 (mixed traffic loco) in UK terms; because of the different way you run your railroads, a modern version of the 800 class of the UP perhaps? One was proposed but it fell by the wayside under the relentless tide of the diesels.


Coal, or oil fed steam locomotives are always dirty, high maintenance objects, needing feeding and watering, so it would need and infrastructure as well don't forget. Thus the simpler they are the better, as less 'time out' in the shops is then needed.
 

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Not exactly a steam engine but when I worked for General Electric we were developing a Turbo Diesel engine which ran on micronized coal. I was helping to design the emissions control devices to protect the turbo and meet air polution regulations. GE had a one cylinder working model in Erie, PA. This product was aimed for the Chinese market since they had plenty of coal..............Jim
 

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I would guess that it would be more of a steam-electric or steam turbine electric and bear little resemblance to the steamers we so loved in the past. Also it would certainly have to have m.u. capability thus eliminating the need for a crew on every "unit". It would have several water tenders much resembling those on UP's Gas Turbines to reduce water stops.

I doubt it would display the powerful exhaust plumes or flashing siderods of the traditional steam locomotive and be much more generic in design as are diesels. All in all a bit disappointing but maybe just a bit more intriguing than the current diesels. It might still have the hissing and crackling sounds of old.
 

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Check the article I just posted in the forum.

gg
 

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You only have to look at Bulleid's 'Leader' to see how it might have all ended in tears....

The thermal efficiency of a steam propelled locomotive was woeful at best, and gaspingly appalling at worst. Even with the latest technology available atthis minute, the 14% efficiency of the British 'improved' Class 5 bears no comparison with even a clapped-out old Alco dismal running on half its cylinders.

The only time ANY reciprocating steam engine approached efficient working was when used at constant rpm in a ship, for days on end....

The next step up, the steam turbine, was also tried on both sides of the Atlantic, and were massive and extraordinarily expensive failures.

tac
http://www.ovgrs.org/
 

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It is a question that often comes up amoungst "friends at the pub" on a Sunday evening... I have often proposed some ideas and my normal general argument goes something like this.

It will be based on the last great technological design leap in locomotives -the Golwe. It should have a Kylchap exhaust system and it should have a deep de Porta "producer gas" firebox burning pulverised coal. Possibly it would employ compounding in the classic "de Borres" or "Smith" methods and it would have a very high degree of superheating. Caprotti valve gear and roller bearing on all surfaces, along with pulse pressure oil feeds to all journals. The stoking would be automatic and there would be some form of automatic water treatment (TIA etc).


After all this -do we simply throw in the towel and build a bigger "Argentina" (?)



Terry's points about "Leader" are well founded, but in my view "Leader" suffered from the basic problem of its designers obsessions... Riddles knew enough about "OVB" to give the guy enough rope to see if the concept could possibly work ,(and it didn't), once in the UK, and once in the Irish Republic -where it burned Peat(!) If "OVB" had kept to the design he originally submitted to Missenden while they were still the Southern Railway then possibly he could have got the double bogied "Stretched Merchant Navy" to have worked. This assumes he ditched the chain drive timing system for the valves, made sure the boiler lagging didn't keep catching fire, etc etc!!! The problems with Number One Bogie on "Leader" could be traced to two root causes. The asymmetric chain drive (my favourite), or the test fault where they reversed the bogie without stopping it first, (Martyns favourite). Some people have put forward the problem is due to the differences in expansion of the sleeves, (Pip's favourite).


Could Leader ever have been made to work -er no...


regards

ralph
 

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I think it'd look like something Chris Walas would come up with ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Complexity. My car is much more complex now than my car in 1980. For the most part, the changes are better--it gets better mileage while delivering more power, it pollutes less, it starts more reliably, it's significantly safer. Of course it's much harder or a shade tree mechanic to work on.When I think about the changes tat have come to cars since 1970, I wonder what sort of influences might be applied to steam?


I suspect Richard is right--it would look nothing like the steamers of old. I'm no expert, not even remotely close but it seems to me some kind of turbine drive would work if you could inject the steam as fuel is injected in a car--something they could not do in 1950. But then again as I said I'm no expert. What's the downside of a turbine drive? No pistons to wear, even delivery of torque, no hammer effect--seems like it would even have less parts. . I assume there are solid reasons why it's unworkable?
 

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From what I've read about the previous experiments with steam turbine locos, they were very sensitive to the kinds of jolts and bumps experienced by a train under normal working conditions. I have no idea whether or not that would be true today.
 

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The problem with all turbines is that they are only efficient at maximum power.

One of the ocean shipping companies (either Sea-Land or APL, I don't recall which) built a bunch of turbine powered container ships, designed to run at 33 knots (~40 mph). They worked great, but then the price of oil went way up. To save fuel, they tried to run them at 16 knots. I don't recall what the fuel consumption numbers did, but it wasn't enough. The company had to get rid of the ships, and replace them with diesels. Today, all commercial ships are powered by diesels.
 

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Posted By astrayelmgod on 02/25/2009 11:22 PM
The problem with all turbines is that they are only efficient at maximum power.

One of the ocean shipping companies (either Sea-Land or APL, I don't recall which) built a bunch of turbine powered container ships, designed to run at 33 knots (~40 mph). They worked great, but then the price of oil went way up. To save fuel, they tried to run them at 16 knots. I don't recall what the fuel consumption numbers did, but it wasn't enough. The company had to get rid of the ships, and replace them with diesels. Today, all commercial ships are powered by diesels.

Except for LNG tankers that feed of their cargo to fuel the burners, but that is about to change too
 

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I followed with great interest the ACE 3000 project during the 1980s and 90s. My late uncle worked for GM (diesel division first in London, then South Africa later in LaGrange) and was close to the GM engineering team which kept an eye on what Rowland was proposing. We had many fascinating discussions which essentially boiled down to:

1) a modern steam locomotive that could meet a thermal efficiency of 15% (the original ACE goal) would most certainly be less costly in terms of fuel consumption per ton mile than diesel locos
2) achieving that 15% would involve overcoming some very complex engineering challenges that would most assuredly have meant some complicated and expensive to develop subsystems
3) the maintenance nightmare of steam locos did not appear to be fully dealt with in the ACE proposal - the real reason diesel locos won out over steam initially was mainly because of their maintenance and in service advantages
4) perhaps most telling (in the thinking of GM engineers about ACE) was that the ACE proposal did not address the complicated issues of adhesion factors and dynamic braking - both serious issues for railroads operating in snow/rain in mountainous or hilly terrain

While dreamers continue to hold out hope that steam will rise again in some modern loco variant, technologies as we know them suggest the future is more likely to be nuclear then coal.

Regards ... Doug
 

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When people say "Steam Engine" it usually conjures up images of something from a Shay to a Hudson, or Mikado or Mountain or Berkshire or Northern, etc. etc. etc.

Then someone throws in "efficiency" and the design starts to swerve away from the mind's image to those of Turbines, first Turbine Mechanical (Turbine motor geared directly to the wheels) then to gain some more efficiency it becomes Turbine Electric (Turbine motor drives a generator which drive electric motors on the wheels... same as a Diesel Electric).

Then it swerves off into the fantasy realm of nuclear heat source and that will then lead to some other method of converting the heat to motion.

At this point the mind's image of "Steam Engine" becomes a box on flanged wheels... no "firebox", no "Boiler, no "Smoke stack", no "Cylinders", no "Side rods", no "STEAM"... and the question has to be changed to "What would a modern defibbledydo engine be like?" which is not the intent of the original question (to me, anyway).

I am not saying that there could never be some technological breakthrough that will turn a Mike or Berk or Big-Boy into the most efficient form of powered transportation but if you start from the ground up to design a Steam Engine, you will get a Shay or Northern or etc. etc. etc. and it will look like what was last designed 50 to 150 years ago.

Personally, I think a "Modern Steam Engine " SHOULD[/i] look like this...

http://www.aumania.it/fa/matthews/009.jpg
("Heavy Metal Hero" by Rodney Matthews)
 

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With the highly efficient and high horse power diesels available now days, even pure electrics are having a hard time competing. Steam will never come back. Forget it.
 

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Posted By jfrank on 02/26/2009 9:10 PM
With the highly efficient and high horse power diesels available now days, even pure electrics are having a hard time competing. Steam will never come back. Forget it.


"Forget it." ... "Forget it?"... FORGET IT?????
NAY, NEVER!

I do not know the original poster's reason for the question, nor what point he was driving at...

BUT, I think for most Steam Fanatics it is not about "effeciency" and it is not necessarily a simple "nostalgia" trip of "Oh I remembere when..."

It is a PASSION of unparalleled proportion.

Yes, I suppose that some technological breakthrough might be able to create a locomotive that uses steam some place in the energy conversion chain... maybe the boiler becomes an instant flash-steam set of coils that squirts superheated steam across a crystal of unobtainium which is then dribbled on a couple of lab rats such that they gain super strength and they run in the rims of the tires like squirrel cages to make the locomotive move (and the SPCA issues a waiver to do so...)

But if it is not beltching steam and smoke from the stack in a staccato chuffing that echos off the canyon walls (either in the rock canyons in the mountains or in the building canyons of the city), with steam leaking from all the joints, flexures and seals, and with the boiler bubbling, creaking and groaning, and the side rods whirling around flashing in the sun, and a steam whistle wailing in the night... alive, at work, in the hands of men doing real work for the good of the people and nation...
then...,
well...,
yes...,
"Forget it"!



The cry is:

SEMPER VAPORO

Semper: Everlasting, Continuously, Forever, Eternally!...

Vaporo: Steam "In Transistion", Active, Changing, Alive!...
 

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Why limit your thinking to water/steam??

Would another liquid to gas material be better?

A freon based product could change how everything is done.
 
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