lördag 15 november 2008

Twenty-first century steam

60163 Tornado on its first day of public service
Originally uploaded by Alastair Wood

The locomotive in the top picture is Tornado, based on a 1946 design and the first high speed steam locomotive to be built in the world since the 1950s. It is now being commissioned and when this is complete will be able to run at speeds of up to 90mph. It has taken over 15 years to complete.

This is a tremendous achievement. It is a pity that it was not possible to incorporate most of the technical developments which have taken place since the 1960s and have improved the power and efficiency of steam locomotives by about one-third; perhaps some of these can be retro-fitted in the future. The reason, I understand, was that the design, if modified, would have had to go through the costly rail vehicles approval process. In the circumstances, I think it was the right decision to go ahead with building the original design.

There are various other projects to construct new steam locomotives of types which were not preserved. But there is little need for steam locomotives for hauling express passenger trains, which is what most of these schemes are. On the other hand, the operators of tourist railways are short of powerful, efficient and easy to maintain locomotives suitable for the kind of trains they actually run. The lower picture is of a newly designed locomotive for exactly this purpose. Sadly, the manufacturer, DLM of Winterthur, has so far failed to attract any orders. If an order for 20 or more could be put together, they could be offered at an attractive price and could well find purchasers for more than tourist railways, since they would be competitive with the kind of modern diesel trains used on secondary lines which are not electrified.

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