New Article Transcriptions
Two new files have been added to the “Papers” pages of this website. The first is a transcription of an article titled “Modern Steam Locomotives – Traction for the Future?” written jointly by Michael Thorpe and David Wardle in 1985 and published in a magazine called “Developing Railways”. Whilst it repeats many of the concepts and recommendations that have been published elsewhere (not least on this website), it is of particular interest in that it exudes the sense of optimism that existed at that time when steam traction still retained a presence on several of the world’s railways and when rapidly rising oil prices were raising questions over the wisdom of dieselization (or “steam elimination”) policies that were casting their shadow over those railways. It seemed that steam might still have a chance if strong economic and social arguments could be raised in its support. Indeed, it was at this time that the return of steam to US tracks was being promoted by a newly formed company operating under the name “American Coal Enterprises Inc” which had developed the conceptual design for a highly sophisticated steam locomotive that would compete directly with diesels, being capable of developing 3,000 horsepower (2,240 kW) at low speeds.
In reading the article, one might gain an impression that the two writers held differing views about the form that modern steam traction should take. On the one hand, the paper describes the ACE 3000 locomotive in which “exhaust steam would be fed via a turbine for driving the boiler draft fan to an eduction condenser in the service module coupled to the power unit, allowing an estimated 800 km between water stops which could then coincide with mandatory train inspections. Operation of the boiler, engine unit, condenser and other equipment, would be fully automated using microprocessor control, allowing one-man multiple-unit operation”. On the other hand, the paper includes a rather more “Wardalean” claim that for modern steam traction to be accepted “the utmost reliability is required. In practice this equates with simplicity which dictates the retention of the classic form of the Stephensonian locomotive and in particular the two-cylinder simple expansion piston valve locomotive. This has been the form in which steam traction has proved the most successful for producing drawbar work and for many years has been the standard type”. And this, of course, was the principle that Wardale had so recently pursued in developing The Red Devil on South African Railways.
The second file is rather more prosaic, being a (searchable) PDF copy the 1982 Serpell Report on Railway Finances which reported on its investigations into the finances of British Railways and its operations, and put forward recommendations for improvements to its efficiency. The file was kindly supplied by Angus Eickhoff who draws attention to Clause 6.54 on page 35 which states that:
“The need for improved vehicle scheduling is reflected in the low utilisation achieved by all the Board's vehicles except HSTs. Diesel locomotives achieve only 42,000 miles a year on average. Electric locomotives should achieve a higher utilisation of 92,000 miles each in 1982, but this is expected to fall. DMUs and EMUS average 60,000-70,000 miles a year, meeting a peaked demand. The Board has been developing computer-aided train planning techniques, but these still require more development before they can be generally used. With advanced scheduling methods, an increase of perhaps as much as 10 per cent in utilisation could be achieved which would lead to a reduction of some £15 million a year in the investment required.”
Angus points out that one of the reasons put forward to justify the rapid elimination of steam from Britain’s rails was that diesel locomotives would deliver significantly higher annual mileage than steam was capable of, yet just 14 years later came a formal admission that not only had diesels failed to deliver higher annual mileages, but had signally failed to achieve anything like the mileages that steam locomotives had routinely maintained in their heyday.
It’s now almost 50 years too late to be thinking about closing the stable door, but it’s a salutary reminder of the short-sightedness of both government and the rail industry in the pursuit of misperceived modernisation ideals imported from the other side of the Atlantic.
In this regard, Readers’ attention is drawn to the remarkable paper titled "The Economic Results of Diesel and Electric Motive Power on the Railways of the United States of America" written by H.F. Brown and presented by him to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (London) in 1961.