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 Post subject: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 8:33 pm 

Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2012 7:52 pm
Posts: 87
A few days ago I ran across a picture of someone cutting boiler sheet with a water jet machine, and it got me to thinking. We are applying modern technology to our restorations on a regular basis. Some engines that had friction bearings now have roller. We use stronger steel, and cut our parts with more precision. We have sensors that can go in the firebox and the boiler when a university does research, and the technology to read the thickness of boiler sheet in a moment. Modern computers are used today to find the best coefficient of drag to improve the fuel economy of all cars. Could it be used to design a better exhaust port, a better cylinder bore, a better draft through the boiler, or a better weight distribution to eliminate track wear? My real question is, with how far technology has progressed since steam was king, would it be possible to design and build a modern, reciprocating engine that could compete in price and reliability with that of modern diesels? Could you make it fuel efficient enough to be real competitor? And I’m assuming this would be a ground up build, from paper to pop off valve. I ask here, because there are far more intelligent people on this forum than this lowly truck driver.

But I was just thinking.....

MS

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 9:17 pm 

Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2016 10:17 pm
Posts: 98
No.

No one wants to deal with the maintenance, the entire continent's rail infrastructure is setup for diesel fueling, not coal/lng/water etc.

You will never compete against 3X2X2 MU sets.

Run through power all operate the same and engineers can pretty well operate 99% of diesel power on the national rail system, not so with steam.


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 9:51 pm 

Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2017 12:08 am
Posts: 57
I think it's a moot point, especially with some Americans in government wanting to outlaw the use of any fossil fuels, which include coal and diesel.

Solar-powered locomotives, anyone? Be safe.

John B. Corns


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 11:00 pm 
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And for those interested in failed solar projects, I would recommend Santa Fe Street in Daggett, California for viewing some.

PC

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:41 am 

Joined: Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:47 pm
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Location: Philadelphia, PA
Remember the NYC Niagara, about as advanced a steam engine as you could find, was vanquished by the EMD E-7, which despite the "7" model number was very early in EMD's locomotive development.

Phil Mulligan


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:13 am 

Joined: Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:55 am
Posts: 121
In the 1980's, there was quite a chance for new steam in the USA when oil imports were costly and when the energy costs of coal vs. oil even made a 1940's steam locomotive competitive in just this one respect.

I recommend you to read Wardale's Book "The Red Devil and other tales of steam".

Wardale describes the ACE3000 project of a reciprocating steam locomotive able to MU with diesels. This might have had more than double the thermal efficiency than the most modern steamers of the 1940's, but my reading between the lines is that too many Americans joined the group of experts, making the project more complicated by the day, thus the developing was prolonged until the oil price dropped again, the potential sponsors dropped off and not one single unit was built.

Now with fracking and low oil prices there may be no chance for new steam based on an economical reasoning.

Instead there might come a situation very soon, when you wished you could even run your preserved steamers every now and then.

Mike


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 7:42 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
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Location: southeastern USA
Modern steam that could compete would probably not much resemble the traditional model.

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 8:15 am 

Joined: Fri Nov 11, 2016 10:17 pm
Posts: 98
The challenge is not whether you can make 1 steam locomotive more powerful or as efficient as a single modern GE T4 AC locomotive, its how do you make steam that is as universally usable as modern diesels which have DPU/MU capability.

No one is going to build new fueling systems across the national rail network. That is simply nuts. The costs would insane and there is basically 0 chance modern steam would be as reliable etc as modern diesels. The ROI on rebuilding fuel infrastructure would be laughable. This is exactly why LNG hasn't taken off.

Also, every railway engineer and mechanic would have to retrained. Run through power wouldn't work as not every railroad would have modern steam etc.

If the RRs were going to spend such a crazy amount on some new motive power, it would be to electrify the national freight rail system. That would be a much better ROI than this.

Don't get me wrong, I love steam, but this is simply not in the realm of reality.


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 9:16 am 

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I have my finger on the pulse of two current development efforts involving 'modern steam' The answer is effectively no.

The closest technologies to practical modern steam involve ultrasupercritical steam and are not directly suitable to railroad-scale operation. Cost-effectiveness rules out many potential fuels, and the ones that remain would often require non-cost-effective handling and other regulations not present in the 'days of regular steam'; even effectively outsourced, these rapidly eat up any 'big savings' strictly from lower-cost fuel. I'd agree that the great stumbling block is the necessary support infrastructure: treated water alone for the equivalent of something as small as 8800hp being ongoingly expensive to provide even without fixed facilities.

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:35 pm 

Joined: Fri Nov 16, 2007 10:21 pm
Posts: 124
I feel like the most modern designed steam locomotives in existence are rack engines built in Europe in the 1990's. Off the top of my head I can't remember who built them or where they are located.

They use computer designed nozzles, high thermal insulation, automatic firing controls for one person operation, and stationary heaters in the shop to bring the water up to temperature before the fire is ever lit. I believe they still have thermal efficiencies only around 10%. Probably the best that has ever been achieved by reciprocating steam locomotive design.

I think modern designed locomotives like this could have a place in the tourist industry for daily use, saving wear and tear on the historic equipment and improving reliability and decreasing operating costs. Most passengers don't know the difference between steam and diesel anyway, and if it goes chug chug and blows a whistle instead of an air horn, they will be happy. Save the vintage stuff for the photo charters and special events.

But to replace diesels on main line commercial freight operations? No way. Diesels are simply more thermally efficient. A reciprocating steamer will never compete with fuel and water consumption.

Eric


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 1:04 pm 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
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The rack engines I believe are Roger Waller's; whether it was DLM or SLM that built them, I don't remember.

Note that they had a combustion howling problem as originally built; it would be interesting to review how that was resolved.

The interesting modern locomotive is the rebuilt Kriegslok, 8055. The boiler and steam circuit are so built that the locomotive can be maintained indefinitely at 300psi even in winter conditions with about 35kW of electric heating elements. That permits the full charge of treated water to be maintained, and pressure cycling eliminated, for extended periods of idle time... and eliminates little more than the corresponding electrical watt-hour consumption from being part of locomotive firing-up or "booting" expense.

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 3:44 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 7:19 am
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Location: southeastern USA
It was SLM before they became Sulzer - I have a big envelope full of stuff from back then hiding somewhere. They used a light oil fired cluster of vaporizing burners surrounding a central "pilot light" that alone would maintain spot fire. The firebox was fitted with an arch made of stainless steel which would droop when heated, solution was to turn it over every time it happened.... efficiencies included very good insulation, excellent front end, and one person operation and they produced less pollution than state of the art 1980s diesels doing the same job. The packet I got was about the adhesion 2-10-2T product using the same technology.

Nigel Day retrofitted one of the Mt Washington Cog rack engines and gained a lot of efficiency a couple decades ago as well.

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Corollary: "He who does is doomed to watch those who don't repeat it anyway."


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:30 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 8:31 am
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Location: South Carolina
Overmod wrote:
The rack engines I believe are Roger Waller's; whether it was DLM or SLM that built them, I don't remember.

Note that they had a combustion howling problem as originally built; it would be interesting to review how that was resolved.


They were built under SLM, but I’m sure successor DLM could build more if there was interest. IIRC, the howling problem was corrected by adding a Helmholtz resonator to the combustion air inlet. I found a technical paper about the issue some years ago which described the problem and correction in detail.

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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 6:04 pm 

Joined: Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:55 am
Posts: 121
Dave wrote:
and they produced less pollution than state of the art 1980s diesels doing the same job.


A friend of Roger Waller once explained to me that these astonishing circumstances occurred in 52 8055, when compared to the most modern electrics a) as long as a certain distance between locomotive and power plant produces bigger losses in the catenary and b) as long as the power plant is being fed by fossil fuels.

Roger Waller once invited me to see the 52 8055 when it was rebuilt, about the year 2000, L.D. Porta was around too, that day, a remarkable great guy living for steam. At that time, there were promising projects on the horizon, mainly for the tourism industry, such as the Indian rack locomotives, the Harz mountain railways or a Dutch tourist line.

The Harz guys wanted to remain traditional and instead decided to do general repairs to their fleet of 2-10-2T's (new frames and cylinders; new boilers surely will be following some day) , and the Dutch project (4-8-4T) just didn't materialize. A few years ago, another east-German narrow-gauge railway has new built a 2-8-2T to a design they already had three units of.

Not to be underestimated is the possibility of the use of fireless locomotives. In East Germany, a fleet of about 200 was built until the 1980's, some of which are still around and at least one is being used on workdays, among a few others. Roger Waller also presents modern solutions for possible new fireless engines. As well, he is into modernizing diesel ships into steam.


So I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of more new-built steam for tourism and for special situations, but all the cases worldwide in the last decades, where steam has made a comeback on regular passenger- and freight trains were due to very dire economical situations. If your dictator has turned your african country into a hellhole and the resulting embargo means you won't get any more piston rings for your GM products, you have a second look at what is rusting behind your shed.

Mike


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 Post subject: Re: Could modern steam compete?
PostPosted: Thu Oct 15, 2020 10:45 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2018 8:04 pm
Posts: 224
DuesyJ29 wrote:
A few days ago I ran across a picture of someone cutting boiler sheet with a water jet machine, and it got me to thinking. We are applying modern technology to our restorations on a regular basis. Some engines that had friction bearings now have roller. We use stronger steel, and cut our parts with more precision. We have sensors that can go in the firebox and the boiler when a university does research, and the technology to read the thickness of boiler sheet in a moment. Modern computers are used today to find the best coefficient of drag to improve the fuel economy of all cars. Could it be used to design a better exhaust port, a better cylinder bore, a better draft through the boiler, or a better weight distribution to eliminate track wear? My real question is, with how far technology has progressed since steam was king, would it be possible to design and build a modern, reciprocating engine that could compete in price and reliability with that of modern diesels? Could you make it fuel efficient enough to be real competitor? And I’m assuming this would be a ground up build, from paper to pop off valve. I ask here, because there are far more intelligent people on this forum than this lowly truck driver.

But I was just thinking.....

MS


Some rather amazing books have been written about the design and operation of steam locomotives and it would surprise you what has been built and tried over years. There was some brilliant engineers working in the steam locomotive field and I do believe they took it as far as it could go. The pinnacle of steam locomotive design came (in my opinion) with the Union Pacific Challenger followed by the Big Boy. Both superior steam locomotives. They took the length, height, boiler size, weight, and PSI, to about a far as you could go with the Big Boy, and it was a dependable, practical steam locomotive that could haul freight over mountain grades as well as fast running passenger trains.

True there was more powerful locomotives, with greater tractive effort, and higher PSI, but those locomotives were often considered failures. I read that after the Big Boys the next big thing in locomotive technology (apparently there was blue prints in the works) was going to be a steam locomotive with no side rods and not outer cylinders. Instead it would have two small steam cylinders per driving axle, located under the boiler, and mounted to the frame. These two cylinders would drive a axle with a gear. The gear would then turn a larger gear mounted to the drive wheel axle. Seems like a interesting concept.

We do know for certain that steam locomotives will always be terribly inefficient (somewhere around 6-8%), they have a lot of parts that generate a lot of wear, and they need more people to keep them going. However they burn cheap fuel, can move long trains often with a single or double locomotive, and are not very complicated.

Could they compete? Hard to say. Diesels are not cheap to operate by any means. Union Pacific in the year 2019 had 13 billion in expenses. 16% of that was for fuel! That is a massive about of money for fuel. We are not even considering the maintenance costs for the locomotives in that figure or the costs of the people who work on them. It would be interesting to see how much the restored Big Boy costs to operate over a year, if it was pressed back into service and operating over the usual route.


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