Rebooting Steam

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Oct 9 07:53:12 EDT 2012


Thank you for your detailed reply. I was going on memory in some areas,
so your clarifications are very welcome.

I certainly did not mean to impugn the objectives of your organization or
the seriousness of your purposes, but at the same time I stand by my
conclusions that in the end the same engineering and economic principles that
underlie your objectives will prove insurmountable. This is one of those "I
hope I'm wrong" situations, because dependence on fossil fuels is inherently
unsustainable. Approaches such as yours are to be encouraged, regardless
of our pessimism.

We will follow your progress with interest, and promise to keep the
discussion professional and constructive.

Dave Phelps

In a message dated 10/9/2012 7:02:05 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
nw-mailing-list at writes:


I have been a member of N&WHS for almost 10 years now and am known by
several members. As VP and Treasurer of Sustainable Rail International/
Coalition for Sustainable Rail and a member of this group I am available at
_jrhodes at csrail.org_ (mailto:jrhodes at if you have any questions
about what we are attempting or would like to get involved. We are an R&D
organization and not an excursion or restoration group. We have some of the
best and brightest in the industry involved along with several railroaders.

Dave Phelps:
I am glad you made it to the ASME/IEEE presentation. If I may speak to a
few of your statements below. We didn't say we planned to make a steam
locomotive with the same Drawbar Thermal Efficiency as current diesels. We
said we planned to make a steam locomotive with lower fuel cost than a
current diesel in the same service, this is quite different along with other
objectives. Yes, I do understand microcreep and have for years. I was caught
off guard by the question since I had not put much thought into its
application in this situation. We are focusing on passenger rail only; passenger
trains are not heavy by any stretch of the imagination and I don't think
microcreep would be necessary but is worth investigation. As to machinery
speed, we are planning to use the Class J's 525 rpm as a precedent, but also
plan a lower piston speed than the J as well. The fuel, torrified biomass,
could be made from plant stalks but current implementations use wood. We
do not feel we have overlooked basic physical and engineering fundamentals.
I would suggest you investigate Modern Steam, including Andre Chapelon
of the SNCF and L.D. Porta of Argentina. As stated earlier I welcome emails
to those with more questions or who would like to get involved.

Best Regards,

John Rhodes
Vice President & Treasurer
Coalition for Sustainable Rail
2107 Wilson Blvd. Suite 750
Arlington, VA 22201
E _jrhodes at csrail.org_ (mailto:jrhodes at
W _www.csrail.org_ (

On Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 4:07 PM, NW Mailing List <_nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org_
(mailto:nw-mailing-list at > wrote:

I have read several articles about their proposal and listened to a
presentation from them. They plan to use the latest state of the art boiler
technology, emissions technology, and computerized dynamic analysis to come up
with a steam locomotive as efficient, fuel heating value to drawbar
horsepower, as a diesel, and able to have machinery speeds what would make a J
blush without destroying the rail. They also plan to use fuel pellets made
from plant stalks that have zero NOx and particulates, and negligible ash

It all sounds wonderful to the uninitiated, and there's just enough
substance that it's worth studying in detail, as an intellectual exercise in
being open minded if nothing else. However, their naive enthusiasm overlooks
some basic physical and engineering fundamentals and will probably die a
natural death once cold hard reality hits them in the face.

They expect to obtain significant improvements in adhesion (coupled axles
and microprocessor controls); when I asked them if they were going to take
advantage of microcreep, their hand-waving answer demonstrated that they
had not the vaguest idea what I was talking about. I assure you an EMD or GE
presenter would have been able to go on at great length on that subject.

Until reality does overtake them, I recommend that we do present an open
mind and ask the tough questions to see how they answer them.

Dave Phelps

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