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 Post subject: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 2:16 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 02, 2004 5:48 pm
Posts: 372
Location: Hickory, NC
I have gotten some conflicting information on the best maintenance/charging instructions on new batteries for our newly acquired S3.

I had received some instructions to run the engine at least 2 hours every two weeks, but am now being told from other sources that won't do much and we need to run it 5-6 hours every two weeks.

Any thoughts or wisdom from experience out there? These are brand new batteries, plenty of water, minimum engine block startup temp is kept at 50 degrees F or higher.


Matt Bumgarner

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 3:36 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:14 am
Posts: 280
I would look at investing in a quality charger vs startup and run. The cranking of the engine draws alot of power and takes a while of running to recover. If your batteties are good, and there are no parasitic draws when the knife switch is open, then you should not have to charge the batteries for quite some time. You should be able to let it sit for months and still restart with no issues. Not knowing how the batteries are set up in your unit I am not sure if the following will work;
The SW9 I maintained had eight 8v batteries in series. Because my "real" job is marine repair I was able to get a good quality, automatic 32v charger for a good price. I would just charge half the batteries at a time and it worked great. We used the same charger on the GE critter and could charge the whole bank at once.

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 4:22 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 10:18 pm
Posts: 101
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Irrespective of locomotive manufacture battery charging on intermittent use locomotives is always a challenge. I agree with EWRice that a high quality charger is the logical starting point. Decent chargers are available at different price points.

The advent of Automatic Engine Start/Stop Systems along with single stage charging has brought some real battery charging issues to the surface on account frequent start ups and insufficient run time to float battery voltage with the eventual "Dead No Start" failure.

To counteract this issue the industry has been moving to three stage battery charging. On Dash 2 units there is a VR31 card along with some minor wiring changes that accomplish this. On units using the old style static voltage regulator there is an LVR31.

There is some interesting reading on this subject at They are the OEM for VR31/LVR31.


 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 5:09 pm 

Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:17 pm
Posts: 236
Letting the engine run just to charge the batteries is very wasteful. The engine also will not get up to operating temperature and will start the engine on it's path to slobbering oil out the stack and else where.

With idling, if the voltage regulator is not properly set, it can boil water out of the batteries, if overcharging.

There is a company near Cincinnati, Ohio that sells a good charger. They can be purchased for around $500. and wired in to the locomotive.

The company is Schauer and can be reached at 513-791-3030. Tell them what you want and they can preset the "float" of the charger.

These are small enough chargers, that they can be put in the Alco battery box, wired to the batteries and left there.

I did this with a Lester-Matic charger on a GE 80 ton. It also had a timer on this charger so you could set it to work for up to 12 hours and just leave it. They cost a bit more.

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 5:11 pm 

Joined: Thu Nov 22, 2007 5:46 am
Posts: 2567
Location: S.F. Bay Area
What? No. Don't run the engine to charge the batteries. That's a huge amount of wear and tear on ancient equipment for something you can do electronically, and better. It's not a '14 Ford Focus.

If anything, the 80 year old mechanical charger is a minor *threat* to the batteries, forcing you to water them more often. Your #1 threat to batteries is your own staff failing to water them properly.

The right answer is a modern, competent 3-stage electric battery charger.

Near mains electric power

Our engines live near electric power. So we use a "Quick Charge" brand portable model, which set us back $400 give or take. I went with a portable charger so it can be used on other things, and so it can be easily swapped without hardwire work (which 90% of our staff can't do). The portability has given us no trouble, except for some numbnuts who broke off the ground pin on the line cord. It has enough juice to recover our batteries enough for a restart within a couple hours. It also has been powered from a generator when the unit's auxiliary generator was down.

I added an Anderson SB50 orange (50A, orange) PowerPole connector to the locomotive, shaping a scrap of hardwood to mount the connector against hard pulls on the connector, and to protect it from random hits by toolboxes and the like. Now, Quick Charge cheerfully provided our charger with an Anderson SB50 connector on request. However, they provided a gray SB50, which is for 36V golf carts and forklifts. I didn't want the chance of a mix-up. The SB50 connector pins are releasable, so I sprung the release and put the pins in an orange shell. Easy peasy, and now I have a spare gray one.

Cabling wise, I ran #10 wire to the charging port location, and tapped onto existing screw holes on the battery knife switch. Inline in the wires, I put a 30A fuse on the nominally "hot" side.

I used orange because each color of connector is keyed differently: It won't plug into another color. In the lingua franca of the battery charger business, the stated voltage is 2x the number of lead-acid cells. Our 32-cell locomotive batteries are called "64-volt", even if float voltage is actually 75-ish. There is a common "convention" for Anderson PowerPole colors. There is no standard for 64V, so I chose one that was a) lower than battery voltage and b) unlikely to ever be seen on our premises. Lower means that an actual 18-volt charger is unlikely to destroy the locomotive battery, at worst its own fuse would be blown. There is a color for 72V, but that's for a 36-cell. That's close enough that its protective circuits (if any) wouldn't work, and it would overcharge a 32-cell pack to death.

Far from mains power.

It's time for solar panels on the roof, and you need a thing called a charge controller to sit between the panels and battery. Note what I said above about the "lingua franca" of battery charging; you need 64V specifically and those are rare. It will take some hunting to find a charge controller that can be programmed for 64V. The good news is, they will also be better units, which do MPPT and 3-stage charging properly, which means you need less solar panel. You could either put the solar panel on the locomotive roof, or at its standard parking spot or shed, and use an Anderson to connect it to the charge controller on the loco.

All that I said, ditto ditto passenger coaches. Quick Charge makes a 32V battery charger, and 32V solar charge controllers are rare but do exist.

Remember the lead-acid battery rules, generally

Don't leave the battery for any time in a state of partial discharge, because that is abuse and causes rapid aging of the battery. It should be restored to 100% charge as soon as practicable.

If the battery is deeply discharged, it's vulnerable to the electrolyte freezing.

Don't make a regular thing of deeply discharging the battery, i.e. where an electrolyte hygrometer shows less than 70% charge (i.e. 70% of charge is still in the battery, you have used 30% of its capacity). Even the best deep-cycle lead-acid batteries take damage from deep discharging; batteries optimized for starting are much worse off, and a dozen dips to drained can kill them. (You get dumb tech consultants in South American villages going "oh, we'll use a car battery for solar" yeah, not for long). So if it's very hard starting on a regular basis, it's probably cheaper to fix that, than replace a battery pack.

If you don't like the lead-acid rules and generally short life, then search the homebrew EV community for a safety controller for three Tesla Model S modules in series. (the modules, alone, provide 1150A, but have none of the charge/discharge-limiting that is mandatory with lithium batteries). Properly guarded, lithiums are free of lead-acid's short life and fragility. Amazing what happens when you make a battery not out of acid.

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 9:12 pm 

Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2005 9:06 pm
Posts: 2304
Location: Thomaston & White Plains
At Railroad Museum of New England/Naugatuck Railroad, we have been using a portable 64-volt charger for years. It's been used to freshen up a loco's batteries in the spring, before placing the loco in service. We also cycle it between stored locos that have batteries we want to keep maintained. It's a little bit cumbersome to move around (30#), and will be seeing less use in the future.

Recently, we purchased a couple of the Quick Charge units, 10 or 12 amp I think they are, for direct installation on two locomotives. So far, that has worked well (one unit installed and operating, second unit will be installed and wired in shortly), and plans are to equip all operational diesel locos with one of these chargers. They are about $400 each, good insurance when cost of batteries is considered.

We have set up 110 VAC ground power connections, which power an oil-fired hot water boiler for cold weather layover protection, the Quick Charge battery charger, and a pre-lube oil pump. The current loco being set up (GP9) will also have 110 VAC lights and power outlet in the short hood, where the boiler is located. One ground cord will run it all.

Howard P.

"I'm a railroad man, not a prophet."

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Sun Jan 12, 2020 11:34 pm 

Joined: Fri Mar 26, 2010 11:43 am
Posts: 631
Battery maintenance is almost a minor religion.

Check and clean the terminals.

Keep the water filled but don't ever, ever, ever overfill the batteries. If you do, the acid tends to seep out and start everything on a patch to corrosion. And you can't just suck extra water out.

Get and learn how to use a refractometer. This will give you an accurate state of charge of each cell. They should stay fully charged, and pretty much equal. If they are not so equal, an equalizing charge is in order. You can charge individual cells if you have links you can access, or charge the whole bank to a higher voltage.

Personally, I would be tempted to turn the voltage regulator in the locomotive to a slighly lower voltage, add a quality digital charger and let it handle the maintenance charging.

 Post subject: Re: Alco S1/S2/S3/S4 battery charging
PostPosted: Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:34 pm 

Joined: Sun Dec 14, 2014 9:05 pm
Posts: 1
We have an S4 and a GE 70 ton. Each has a QuickCharge brand charger on board.
They are programmed to give bulk charge, absorption charge, and float charge. The chargers can remain connected for long periods with no damage to the batteries.
As the batteries become "unequalized", the chargers can be programmed to give an equalizing charge. This is not done until the batteries need it.

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