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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3 (July 1, 1927)

A New Railway Experiment

page 14

A New Railway Experiment.

The search for improvement in locomotive capacity to comply with modern conditions of transport is headed in two directions. One is to increase the power without increasing the size of existing power units; the other is to make possible speedy acceleration by steam power which may be comparable with that obtainable on electric power lines. “Railway Correspondent” comments as follows, on this subject, in a recent exchange:—

Many ingenious attempts have been made such as the “booster,” which has been tried on the London and North-Eastern, and consists in fitting a small auxiliary engine for use on gradients, or whenever additional power is required. Other inventors have aimed at a radical change in design, involving the combination of stream and electricity in the same engine. The London, Midland, and Scottish has just begun to experiment with such a machine, in which a boiler of orthodox type feeds a steam turbine which in turn operates a dynamo. A self-contained power-house on wheels, in fact.

The reason for this seeming complication is that the turbo-electric locomotive seeks to attain the advantages of electrification without the expense involved in laying overhead wires or “live” rails. Electricity, apart from being cleaner and more flexible, gives greater acceleration; that is to say, trains can work up to their maximum speed in shorter time. It is this, and not greater speed in itself, that enables the London Underground Railways to operate nearly three times as many trains an hour as would be possible with steam traction. Furthermore, electrical working increases the power available for hauling a train, since two or more locomotives can be coupled together and synchronized, or several carriages on a train can be fitted with motors, as is the rule on the world's underground railways.

At Break of Day. Typical Sciene at a New Zealand locomotive depot.

At Break of Day.
Typical Sciene at a New Zealand locomotive depot.

The power-house on wheels provides electric traction without the cost of track equipment. If the L.MS. experiment should be successful, it may have the greatest influence on future locomotive practice, not only in England, but throughout the world. The turbo-electric locomotive, it should be added, is not new, but it has hitherto not been the practical success anticipated by its designers, and until now it has not been tried by any great English railway. Much, therefore, depends on the present tests, which are being made on the old Midland section of the railway. page 15 Impressed no doubt, by some personal study of the significance of the Westinghouse air brake in the operation of trains, one of the cleaners proffered the opinion that this brake was “the greatest invention of the railway engineer.”

“What about the automatic train control system?” said the first speaker. “I grant,” he continued, “that the Westinghouse air brake is a wonderful thing, but, in my opinion, power interlocking and all that it implies for the safe running of trains is absolutely the last word in the science of railways. Trains cannot be operated on a modern railway without signals, and a driver and fireman have to possess the highest powers of sight and colour perception to read any signal at any time.” Concluding his interesting observations he said, with emphasis: “It is my opinion if a cleaner wishes to become a first-class engine driver, he must 'get on with the job' in the way I have suggested-study the engineering side of the subject in the latest books and articles by the best writers, master the rules and regulations (which the Department has collated for his guidance as the result of its own fifty years' experience of operating railways reinforced by the experience of other countries extending back for a century), and in every way possible make himself familiar with the requirements of his job down to the smallest details.”

The intelligent enthusiasm with which the lads discussed this subject left no doubt in the writer's mind that here, at all events, the Department had splendid boys in its employ boys who would serve it faithfully and well in the years to come. (I might mention for the benefit of the editor of the Railways Magazine, that the journal is popular with these lads, who await each successive issue with interest and read it with avidity.)

Photo. Rly. Studios. Coaling the Engine.

Photo. Rly. Studios.
Coaling the Engine.

The meal interval over, the writer went over the big “Ab” locomotive, the cleaning of which he had previously been watching. As the philosopher Goethe said “energy will do anything that can be done in this world.” It was certainly true in this case. My young friend was perched upon the high boiler, briskly polishing the brass dome-which did require energy to make it shine. The polishing of the brass bands of the boiler followed, then the boiler and smoke-box and funnel had tallow applied to their surfaces which soon were restored to cleanliness and brilliancy. The cleaner now descended to the pit-a trench about three feet deep and three feet wide which extended the entire length of the locomotive shed-and proceeded to clean the important underneath parts of the engine, “When clearing the underneath,” he said, “I keep a sharp lookout for loose nuts and bolts, and for irregularities of any kind so as to inform the driver or fireman when they come on duty. In this way faults are detected which might later cause trouble and they are remedied before the engine leaves the sheds.” The writer was invited to inspect underneath the big locomotive to verify the fact that it was, in very truth “as clean as a new pin.” It was.

Dawn was now breaking, and the driver and fireman would soon be arriving on duty to prepare the big engine for another express run. There was yet the tender to clean, the tubes, and the front of the engine. However, with assistance, the cleaning of those parts was immediately put in hand, and before the morning sun had properly lit the sky the cleaning of the great engine has once more been accomplished, and the lads stood off to view their work and to pronounce it “well and truly done.”

With the arrival of the engine driver and fireman the engine was for the-th time prepared for the chief express run of the day, and was soon coupled to its twelve fine carriages at the station platform-waiting. At the “stroke of the instant fixed” the whistle sounded in acknowledgment of the “right away” signal, and the huge engine steamed out of the station in triumph, to course presently along at full speed with its precious human freight-a daily feat in the Dominion's transportation, in the consummation of which much credit is due to the efficient work of the lads who toiled all through the night-the cleaners.