What if… ?

Sunday, October 17 2010

Argentina, revolutionary steam engine by Livio Dante Porta.
From a photo on the Cold Springs blog.

(Click the image to see a larger version of the photo on the Cold Springs blog.)

What if British Railways steam had not ended in 1968? Here is the part of an article about the final development of the steam engine published on the Gloucestershire Transport History website.

What indeed if Robert Riddles 3 cylinder 4-6-2 71000 “Duke of Gloucester” had not been the final express passenger steam locomotive built in Britain in 1954? Or the BTC Modernisation Plan of 1955 not precipitated a rush to replace steam with diesel and electric traction?

The scene could have been so different if the decision makers had listened to an Argentine engineer named Livio Dante Porta.

Livio Dante Porta was born on 21 March 1922 and died on 10 June 2003. In between he pioneered a new generation of low-emission, thermally efficient, low-maintenance steam locomotives that is now being developed concurrently in Britain, Japan, Switzerland and the US that will offer a romantic, and surprisingly efficient alternative at the margin of railway operations.

By the time that Porta had completed his technical studies in Buenos Aires in 1946, the classic mainline steam locomotive was in its final stage of development. On the New York Central, Paul Kiefer had just produced his mighty Niagara 4-8-4s, magnificent and brutally functional machines capable of running at 100mph on level track with 16-car trains on tight schedules between New York and Chicago, and clocking up 28,000 miles a month. Exhaustive tests proved them every bit as economical, and a great deal more powerful, than the latest diesels.

In France, Porta’s friend and mentor, Andre Chapelon, had just created his masterpiece, 242 A1, the most efficient and powerful European steam locomotive of all. On trial in the late 1940s and early 50s, it embarrassed the electric lobby as it consistently beat the bravest new schedules, and with great economy.

But the diesel lobby, backed by the oil industry and politicians intimately connected with it, was to win the day worldwide. Electric traction, meanwhile, was attractive, efficient and clean, with the smooth flow of power from national grids coursing through its locomotives’ motors at the turn of a driver’s handle. If the cheap, simple and robust reciprocating steam locomotive still made sense in developing countries such as India and China well into the 1990s, and even beyond, there appeared to be no room for advanced technological development in steam railway traction.

Read the rest of the post.

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