Skip to main content

In a Youtube video titled NYC Water Level Route the narrator states that the NYC Niagara “equaled the economies of diesels”. Could this be accurate in some way? Maybe there should’ve been a asterisk with a note that if it wasn’t for the cost of labor or something, THEN the economies would’ve matched diesels? NYC of course scrapped its steam fleet and bought hundreds of new diesels.

Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Which do you still see today?  Niagara's hauled a lot of miles between shopping but the physical plant alone required to maintain a fleet of steam engines compared what was required to maintain a fleet of diesels is huge (coaling towers, water pans, water towers, water testing dept, facilities for maintenance and overhauls, coal, removal and disposal of coal ash, the list goes on.)  Not including labor which was a huge savings in itself.

Last edited by superwarp1
@Sam Jumper posted:

In a Youtube video titled NYC Water Level Route the narrator states that the NYC Niagara “equaled the economies of diesels”.

Totally incorrect in so many ways!

Could this be accurate in some way?

Absolutely NO!!!!!

Maybe there should’ve been a asterisk with a note that if it wasn’t for the cost of labor or something, THEN the economies would’ve matched diesels?

NO, again.  For one thing, the absolute BEST modern steam locomotives were barely 10% efficient at the rail (rear coupler), while the early diesel units, specifically the EMC/EMD FT models, were over 30% efficient at the rail (rear coupler).

NYC of course scrapped its steam fleet and bought hundreds of new diesels.

Now why do you suppose THAT was?????

Last edited by Hot Water
@NYC Fan posted:

It was said in a video. I have a lot of old VHS tapes.  Nothing to play them on or I'd find it.

I think that there is some stuff on YouTube that says that. That being said, it could be that they were playing up the engine. I'd stick with what Hot Water is saying. Steam just has too much cost to it where diesel is far cheaper and more efficient. I know I hate to say it, but you can't argue with the facts. On our railroads, steam is king, and that is really the only place it can exist as such(fantasy unfortunately).

Here are the numbers. The announcer was correct. The comparison was made to three (count 'em) E7s which is what it took match the horsepower of the Niagara. They still fell short given their total was 6000 HP vs 6600 for the Niagara.

Initial cost for the Niagara was less as were maintenance costs compared to the three E7s.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...York_Central_Niagara

Pete

Last edited by Norton
@Norton posted:

Here are the numbers. The announcer was correct. The comparison was made to three (count 'em) E7s which is what it took match the horsepower of the Niagara. They still fell short given their total was 6000 HP vs 6600 for the Niagara.

Initial cost was less as were maintenance costs for the three E7s.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...York_Central_Niagara

Pete

Oh!!!!!

@Norton posted:

Here are the numbers. The announcer was correct. The comparison was made to three (count 'em) E7s which is what it took match the horsepower of the Niagara. They still fell short given their total was 6000 HP vs 6600 for the Niagara.

Initial cost was less as were maintenance costs for the three E7s.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...York_Central_Niagara

Pete

Thanks, Norton. From the Wikipedia article:

These locomotives had a small water capacity (18,000 US gallons; 68,000 litres) in the tender, because the New York Central was one of the few in North America which used track pans. This allowed a larger coal capacity—46 tons—so the New York to Chicago run could be done with one stop for coal. (The stop was said to be at Wayneport, New York, 14 miles east of Rochester, but that would leave 603 miles to Chicago via the Cleveland lakefront.)



Interesting! Wayneport is just a few miles east of my long-ago hometown of Fairport NY. The NYC tracks were right behind our house, but steam operations ended slightly before my time.

A quick Google tells me that Wayneport had a four-track coaling station and an icing facility. I had not heard about it previously. It was within six miles of where we lived.

Photo from internet, dated 1947. Is that a Niagara on the right?

Wayneport NYC coaling facility 1947

More info from the Wikipedia file relating to the original question:

The 1946 steam-versus-diesel trials

Six of these locomotives were chosen by their designer, Paul W. Kiefer, for the famous 1946 Steam Versus Diesel road trials, where the 6,000 hp (4,500 kW) Niagaras were put up against some 4,000 hp (3,000 kW) diesels (E7's). The locomotives were run along the 928.1 miles (1,493.6 km) from New York (Harmon) to Chicago, via Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo and Elkhart, and return. The results were close:

Cost comparison Steam versus diesel, 1946 NYC road trials[2]
Running from New York (Harmon) to Chicago (928.1 miles or 1,493.6 km) and return
Note: dollar figures quoted in 1946 US dollars.
To get 2019 US dollar figures, multiply by 13.17
Steam S-1 'Niagara'
(six locomotives)
Diesel E7 4,000 bhp two unit
(six locomotives)
Diesel E7 6,000 bhp Three Unit
(estimated by New York Central)
Approximate relative first costs
(as at December, 1946)
100%147%214%
Total drawbar horsepower5,000 hp3,320 dbhp4,980 dbhp
Relative first cost,
in dollars per horsepower
100%265%258%
Total annual mileage per locomotive288,000
(310 trips per annum)
324,000
(349 trips per annum)
324,000
(349 trips per annum)
COST PER LOCOMOTIVEActualAs
percentage
of total
ActualAs
percentage
of total
Estimated
(by New
York Central)
As
percentage
of total
Repairs$102,52831.48%$114,04835.6%$162,00038.4%
Fuel$118,08036.26%$90,72028.3%$136,08032.3%
Water$8,9282.74%$1,2960.4%$1,6200.4%
Lubrication$3,1680.97%$9,7203.0%$14,5803.5%
Other Supplies$1,4400.44%$6480.2%$6480.2%
Enginehouse Expense$28,8008.84%$32,40010.1%$32,4007.7%
Crew Wages (Two men)$55,98717.19%$64,12020.0%$66,29015.7%
Vacation Allowance (3%)$1,6700.51%$1,9120.6%$1,9760.5%
Social Security & Unemployment Tax (8.75%)$5,0401.55%$5,7671.8%$5,9621.4%
Total Cost Per Mile (Operating)$1.1307$0.9896$1.3011
Total Annual Operating Cost$325,642$320,630$421,556
Fixed Charges
(Interest, depreciation, insurance)
$24,453$38,841$56,640
Total Annual Cost Per Locomotive$350,095$359,471$478,196
Total Annual Cost Per Mile Per Locomotive$1.22$1.11$1.48
Total Annual Cost Per Locomotive Drawbar Horsepower$58.35$108.27$96.02

(Note that Kiefer only claimed 5050 drawbar horsepower from a 79-inch 4-8-4, and the last line (dollars/power) has been added)

The results were much closer than the diesel salesmen were comfortable with, but these steam locomotives were hampered by several factors: a series of coal miners' strikes; aggressive dieselization sales efforts; and a failure of the highly-expensive firebox-wrapper metallurgy to withstand the conditions of actual operation.[1]

Attachments

Images (1)
  • Wayneport NYC coaling facility 1947
Last edited by Ace
@Norton posted:

Here are the numbers. The announcer was correct. The comparison was made to three (count 'em) E7s which is what it took match the horsepower of the Niagara. They still fell short given their total was 6000 HP vs 6600 for the Niagara.

Initial cost for the Niagara was less as were maintenance costs compared to the three E7s.

No way were maintenance costs of ANY steam locomotive lower than an EMD E7!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wik...York_Central_Niagara

Pete

Just my opinion but, if wikipedia states that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west,,,,,,,,,,,,maybe it's just me but, I'll double check that tomorrow morning. Concerning the NP rating, it might be a good idea to check the book, "Know Thy Niagaras" from the NYC Historical Society.

@Hot Water posted:
No way were maintenance costs of ANY steam locomotive lower than an EMD E7!

Just my opinion but, if wikipedia states that the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west,,,,,,,,,,,,maybe it's just me but, I'll double check that tomorrow morning. Concerning the NP rating, it might be a good idea to check the book, "Know Thy Niagaras" from the NYC Historical Society.

The problem is it’s not one steam engine to one E7.  It’s one steam engine to three E7s.

@rplst8 posted:

The problem is it’s not one steam engine to one E7.  It’s one steam engine to three E7s.

So.   That's the way the diesel began to out-perform ALL steam locomotives. The EMC/EMD FT demonstrator set was 4-units (although the term 'units' was not yet used in 1939) totaling 5400HP, in order to compete with the standard 4-8-4 of the mid to late 1930s. Passenger service E Units, could easily be MUed into the required consist, without double heading steam locomotives. Also, the new diesel electric units of the late 1930s, early 1940s did not require monthly boiler washes, quarterly ICC (now the FRA) extensive inspections, annual hydrostatic boiler tests, specially treated boiler water (with the VERY extensive Water Service Dept. employees), and massive quantities of fuel.

If your response is so correct, why aren't railroads still using steam locomotives? Believe me, I've seen over 40 years working with SP4449, UP844, and UP3985 and I really do know what a well performing modern steam locomotive is capable of. However, from a purely practical and economic standpoint, the diesel could, and DID, perform "twice the work, at half the cost".

I have that video but I don’t specifically remember that quote. Next time I hear it I will have a slight chuckle.

Slightly off topic but I have a different video on the NYC and the narrator says (speaking about the Hudsons) that it only took them 10 (or maybe it was 14) days to assemble the locomotive and have it ready for service. I always wondered if that was true? Can you imagine building a locomotive in only 2 weeks. It seems unfathomable.

From Wikipedia:

The results were much closer than the diesel salesmen were comfortable with, but these steam locomotives were hampered by several factors: a series of coal miners' strikes; aggressive dieselization sales efforts; and a failure of the highly-expensive firebox-wrapper metallurgy to withstand the conditions of actual operation.[1]

What’s the firebox-wrapper? Was this, or this type, a NYC or Niagara problem? If the E7 or diesels in general hadn’t come around, would this wrap have still lead to the Niagara fleet being retired early?  

@feet posted:

I hate to say this but one of the reasons steam lasted as long as it did was WW2.  The diesel engines were needed for the war effort.

And this is PART of the story of why the Niagaras even came to be in the first place, .....Diesel engine production was at the time controlled by the war production board. They saw fit to restrict Diesel engines ( of all types) to military purposes. Couple that to petroleum shortages (42-43???ish?) .....coal was not restricted, coal was in abundance,.......the story of the Niagara is all over the NYCHS web site, The development of the Niagara was led by the Central to be ( at the time) the most efficient STEAM locomotive ever produced.......war time traffic, saw the need for motive power, especially dual purpose locomotives......we all know why diesel replaced steam. The railroads saw a huge decline after WWII......diesels became cheaper to produce, cheaper to run and a whole lot less infrastructure to maintain,.......yes, by the numbers, the Niagara ( as well as many other 4-8-4 platforms) were very efficient and powerful,.....these beasts were born to fill a void......when technology was needed elsewhere, once the technology came back home,....that spelled the doom for the Niagara and all her cousins,...

Pat

@Hot Water posted:

So.   That's the way the diesel began to out-perform ALL steam locomotives. The EMC/EMD FT demonstrator set was 4-units (although the term 'units' was not yet used in 1939) totaling 5400HP, in order to compete with the standard 4-8-4 of the mid to late 1930s. Passenger service E Units, could easily be MUed into the required consist, without double heading steam locomotives. Also, the new diesel electric units of the late 1930s, early 1940s did not require monthly boiler washes, quarterly ICC (now the FRA) extensive inspections, annual hydrostatic boiler tests, specially treated boiler water (with the VERY extensive Water Service Dept. employees), and massive quantities of fuel.

If your response is so correct, why aren't railroads still using steam locomotives? Believe me, I've seen over 40 years working with SP4449, UP844, and UP3985 and I really do know what a well performing modern steam locomotive is capable of. However, from a purely practical and economic standpoint, the diesel could, and DID, perform "twice the work, at half the cost".

I think this misses a key point.  It doesn't matter whether it's one or two or there of four or more E-7's.  A key point is that the diesels can be divided into 2000 Hp increments and you can take the number you need for a train.  You can't do that with a steam engine.

I'm a steam lover but also a railroad cost analyst in my earlier life (NYC and MILW and FRA).  My two personalities draw opposite conclusions.

@Sam Jumper posted:

In a Youtube video titled NYC Water Level Route the narrator states that the NYC Niagara “equaled the economies of diesels”. Could this be accurate in some way? Maybe there should’ve been a asterisk with a note that if it wasn’t for the cost of labor or something, THEN the economies would’ve matched diesels? NYC of course scrapped its steam fleet and bought hundreds of new diesels.

If you move it carefully,

@Sam Jumper posted:

In a Youtube video titled NYC Water Level Route the narrator states that the NYC Niagara “equaled the economies of diesels”. Could this be accurate in some way? Maybe there should’ve been a asterisk with a note that if it wasn’t for the cost of labor or something, THEN the economies would’ve matched diesels? NYC of course scrapped its steam fleet and bought hundreds of new diesels.

The world is full of ignorant narrators.  We used to have a rule of thumb (1970's) that one third of anything about railroads in the public press was wrong, probably an underestimate.  I think the percentage has increased.  Thay Utube statement is a good example.

If you move it carefully,

The world is full of ignorant narrators.  We used to have a rule of thumb (1970's) that one third of anything about railroads in the public press was wrong, probably an underestimate.  I think the percentage has increased.  Thay Utube statement is a good example.

You haven't been following the thread. The narrator was referring to a study made in 1946 of two types of motive power capable of moving the same load. That would be a definition of knowledge, not ignorance.

Pete

When looking at studies like this, one must be VERY careful, as here are a LOT of potential pitfalls;

1) Understand that the railroads were full of men who had built their careers by operating and managing steam locomotives.  ANY technology that was poised to eliminate their area of expertise and possibly give a path for advancement to a different group of people was not likely to be received well.  A couple years after this particular case,  certain Nickel Plate managers outright fudged the numbers  to try to get the board (successfully by the way) to buy more Berkshires instead of diesels.

2) I'm sure, based on experience, the NYC could pretty accurately estimate the costs of operating their steamers.  What it would cost to operate the E7 locomotive in question for even the FIRST year, let alone five or ten or fifteen years down the road would have been pure speculation on their part.  I doubt even EMD could predict those numbers much more accurately that early in the game.

3) I haven't looked at any of these reports in depth for a long time, but I'm not sure anyone, even the builders could have predicted just how long some of these diesels would be logging revenue miles for their owners.  At best, the numbers were probably based on a fifteen year lifespan, but in the case of the E7's, at the very end of Penn Central and into Conrail, they were JUST disposing of the last of the E7 units.  That's in the 30 year range.

4) It's hard to tell, but I get the impression that in many cases, the cost factors were based on the notion that the railroads would operate both steam and diesel locomotives concurrently long term.  As Jack pointed out, retiring steam locomotives meant that you could eliminate entire facilities as well as individual job crafts.  The report above lists $8900 per year for water for the steamer. That may very well be the allocated cost of that water ASSUMING you were going to keep all of that stuff anyway.   If you figure in the cost savings by eliminating the water wells, the pumps, the piping, the treatment department, the hassle of dealing with frozen water in a northern climate and more, the up front cost of the diesel starts to look better and better. For the NYC, just being able to close and tear out all of those track pans would have resulted in HUGE savings in facilities, maintenance, taxes, labor, you name it.

5)  I'm not sure how well any of those reports could accurately reflect or predict that steam locomotives, already very expensive to operate, were only going to become vastly more expensive to maintain and operate into the next decade and beyond if they had lasted.  Labor, the cost of coal and the fact that the supply was often unreliable, were all factors, as well as the fact that there was beginning to be a big contraction in the steam hardware suppliers, and the price of parts, as well as their availability would  become an issue going forward.  The Nickel Plate held out as long as they could, but all of these factors contributed to them finally throwing in the towel and sending ten year old S3 Berkshires to the deadline along with their twenty five year old siblings.

Just some food for thought.........

@Hot Water posted:

So.   That's the way the diesel began to out-perform ALL steam locomotives. The EMC/EMD FT demonstrator set was 4-units (although the term 'units' was not yet used in 1939) totaling 5400HP, in order to compete with the standard 4-8-4 of the mid to late 1930s. Passenger service E Units, could easily be MUed into the required consist, without double heading steam locomotives. Also, the new diesel electric units of the late 1930s, early 1940s did not require monthly boiler washes, quarterly ICC (now the FRA) extensive inspections, annual hydrostatic boiler tests, specially treated boiler water (with the VERY extensive Water Service Dept. employees), and massive quantities of fuel.

If your response is so correct, why aren't railroads still using steam locomotives? Believe me, I've seen over 40 years working with SP4449, UP844, and UP3985 and I really do know what a well performing modern steam locomotive is capable of. However, from a purely practical and economic standpoint, the diesel could, and DID, perform "twice the work, at half the cost".

I’m not saying that steam locomotives were overall cheaper or even equal to diesel-electric.  I’m just saying the comparison the NYC made was one Niagara, to three E7s.  By their calculations the Niagara was cheaper.  This is obviously cherry-picking since, as much as I hate to admit it as a PRR fan, the Niagara was a special case.  Diesels won the war, no need to get bent out of shape because a steamer won one battle.

New York Central bought their first E-units at the same time the first Niagaras arrived, right after WW2. As I recall, in comparing the two in service, they found that the Niagaras did an equally good job pulling passenger trains as the E-units did IF a lot of time and effort was spent keeping the 4-8-4s in absolutely top condition. If you let maintenance slide even a little, the steam engines fell behind. However, the diesels didn't require anywhere near the same amount of maintenance to perform. That is what ended up tipping the scales to the diesels.

I'll admit that my phrasing might have been a little too strong, but Holland's Berkshires of the Nickel Plate pretty well spells out that the test data contained omissions and information released to the public was selectively chosen that favored the case for more Berkshires.   It references letters to that effect written by T.C. Shortt and Gus Ayres to F.S. Hales.  It has been reported in this book and at least one other source I have read that general industry speculation at the time was the that the fix was in.  Lynne White defended the decision in 1953, but admitted that there was little difference in cost and performance between the two contenders.  It's also true that he was JUST joining the company during the year of the tests and his first hand knowledge of the situation was likely limited.

@wjstix posted:

New York Central bought their first E-units at the same time the first Niagaras arrived, right after WW2. As I recall, in comparing the two in service, they found that the Niagaras did an equally good job pulling passenger trains as the E-units did IF a lot of time and effort was spent keeping the 4-8-4s in absolutely top condition. If you let maintenance slide even a little, the steam engines fell behind. However, the diesels didn't require anywhere near the same amount of maintenance to perform. That is what ended up tipping the scales to the diesels.

You are a little off, the Central was running E units as early as March of 45, so although closer to the end of the war, it’s certainly wasn’t after the war ....but E units and Niagara’s did arrive about the same time,.....

Pat

Pretty interesting thread. I gather that overall costs might have been lower for diesels but I did not realize how close the Niagras came to competing with diesels. Cool stuff. I never thought about how coal ash had to be disposed of and water treated. Those are definitely costs I would have missed on my own. Makes sense though. I also think steamers are rough to start up. That's a lot of boiling. And it never boils if you watch it (or so I'm told).

One thing I wanted to say was about assembling a steamer in two weeks. I would feel confident it could be done because it's mechanical. My experience at work supports my opinion that purely mechanical things assemble quickly if you have the background knowledge to do it.

I really appreciated this thread. Good read.

@BillYo414 posted:

Pretty interesting thread. I gather that overall costs might have been lower for diesels but I did not realize how close the Niagras came to competing with diesels. Cool stuff. I never thought about how coal ash had to be disposed of and water treated. Those are definitely costs I would have missed on my own. Makes sense though. I also think steamers are rough to start up. That's a lot of boiling. And it never boils if you watch it (or so I'm told).

One thing I wanted to say was about assembling a steamer in two weeks. I would feel confident it could be done because it's mechanical. My experience at work supports my opinion that purely mechanical things assemble quickly if you have the background knowledge to do it.

I really appreciated this thread. Good read.

There's a video on the Hudson's which discusses the treated water, but doesn't really touch to much into the details on that. But if you really think about the time and how much water treatment has come into being, it makes sense. All the minerals in well water are definitely no good for anything that boils water. Have hard water here and occasionally have to use vinegar in the tea kettle to dissolve all of the minerals that cake on inside in order to restore faster boiling. Just imagine how costly it would be to replace all the piping or scrap out the deposits.

You almost have to custome treat water for each well.  And it doesnot take a long time for scale to ruin a boiler with bad water.  I am thinking about a particular 4-8-4 which did not get properly treated water....

Proper water treatment methods is only part of the story with big, modern steam locomotives, either "back in the day" or currently. The other VERY important factors are: 1) proper REGULAR boiler washes (the ICC, now FRA, requires a MINIMUM of once every 30 days), but the worse the water is, the more often proper boiler washes were performed, 2) regular use of the blowdown devices by both the Engineer & Fireman (the worse the water conditions, then the more often the blowdown devices MUST be used).

@Ace posted:

Surely there were still federally mandated scheduled inspections on diesel locomotives?

Yes, but even to this day a "30 day inspection" on a diesel electric locomotive takes only a few hours. The "monthly inspection" on a steam locomotive took a whole shift inside a large roundhouse.

Of a different sort to be sure, but still rather comprehensive.

Not nearly as "comprehensive" as inspections on steam locomotives, especially since diesel electric locomotives do NOT need an extensive "boiler wash" every 30 to 15 days!

Technology and time are not static but constantly progress.   It has been said,  "Fear God and Time."  A more contemporary phrasing might be, "Fear God, Time and Technology"!

History, including railroad history, is a valuable source of knowledge, from which we should take/learn valuable lessons from as we inevitably progress forward.

Early on, there was  Horse and Mule power, then steam locomotives and then  dieselization;  and, almost certainly some form(s) of non-fossil power is just around the bend.

My point is we are fortunate to have  "765 - the 21st Century Survivor" [Thank you, Rich] , and other steam power still on the rails; plus numerous static survivors of the "Age of Steam."

More importantly, Each of us  also has our personal "time travel machine" ....  in the form of our train layouts and collections ... both big ones and not-so-big ones.

The tracks at busy commuter stations took a beating from the steam engines starting and stopping with that much HP in the short wheelbase of a single power unit. The diesels spread it out better.

  I had a book on dieselation of the UP or SP I forget which one, which stated that 2000 people were laid off from the water service department.

Back in the 60's; American coal enterprises, Foster Wheeler Inc and one more [cant remember who] determined that 11% of the energy in coal actually was converted to motion in a RR steam engine. Thats called thermal efficiency. A modern auto gas engine is maybe 33% efficient diesels come in close to 38%,and the new Mazda compression ignition engine about 55%.

If you search U tube for world largest diesel engine it coughs up an ocean going monster at about 200.000 hp that is about 50% thermal eff.

That my friends is my 2 cents worth

Add Reply

Post
OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
330-757-3020

www.ogaugerr.com
×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×
×