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Another comparison from the Milwaukee Road.

To pull an excerpt from the above article:

"Railfans, and often railroaders of that era who weren't actually looking at the cost numbers, mistook the substantial decline in shop forces of that era as having some "special meaning" regarding the maintenance requirements of a modern Steam engine.

The decline in shop forces mirrored three significant post-War influences: 1) automation, 2) the decline in tonnage hauled during the period of Dieselization (a decline which averaged about 42% on US railroads, which just about matched the percentage decline in shop forces), and 3)the wholesale replacement of a motive power type with an average age of 27 years (on the Milwaukee), and near the top end of their service life maintenance curves, with machines that were at the bottom of their service life maintenance cost curves."

The article goes on to talk about economic service life of steam vs diesel, how GM reduced the ESL from the touted 20 years to 14 years in 1954. a 43% reduction, etc.

From what I understand, for the roads that had standardized, modern superpower and a competent maintenance program, the only reason the change over occurred was the otherwise wholesale abandonment of steam power, due to low interest rates on new diesels and the havoc war time traffic played on an generally aging steam fleet, forcing the closure of companies mass producing parts like feedwater heaters, rods, etc.

One only has to look at the operating ratio of the N&W and NKP vs. their dieselized competition in the last years of steam to see this. (In 1951 the NKP OR was 68.2% vs 80.2% average for all Great Lakes Region class 1s. In 1954 the N&W had an OR of 66.4%, with its grades and passenger service, it was still in the nation's top 5. Norfolk Southerns OR stands at 61% today, it's best ever, in the midst of PSR, for reference)

Or in the case of the NYC, a president who wanted to keep up with the Joneses and hated the image of steam, despite the research of the motive power dept. See Paul Keifers (Chief of Motive Power, NYC) book, published in 1948 titled "A Practical Evaluation of Railroad Motive Power"

Come to think of it I believe I read somewhere that the N&W saw a leadership change that effectively enforced the same mandate.

Last edited by P&Sfan
@Hot Water posted:

specially treated boiler water (with the VERY extensive Water Service Dept. employees), and massive quantities of fuel.

Numbers for the Milwaukee Road

"....a Diesel-electric uses considerably more lubricant that a steam locomotive, generally equivalent to about 10% of the cost of diesel fuel itself. By 1950, the cost of lubricants for road motive power had risen to $625,090. In figures I've compared over the period of dieselization, it was generally a wash; whatever was saved in "water" costs was lost to the higher cost of lubricants used.

Did the cost of water include the cost of water treatments and the tanks?

"Water" included the costs of treatment. The maintenance of "water stations" was a separate operating expense not attributable entirely, however, to Steam engines. In 1950, maintenance cost of such facilities was approximately $24,000 annually; by 1961 -- five years after the end of steam operations -- maintenance of such facilities was still costing nearly $11,000 annually.

The cost of water in 1961 for road locomotives was still $71,000 compared to the cost of lubricants used in 1961 which was nearly $700,000 even though traffic was down considerably compared to 1950 levels, that cost exceeding the 1950 cost of water at $647,000." -Operating Costs Comparison: Steam, Diesel and Electric Michael Sol

Last edited by P&Sfan

Was the variation of days due to all the factors like age, how much work they did, or any other number of underlying factors, could you explain? I'm interested.

The variation in days between boiler washes was dictated by the poor quality of the water, i.e. the greater number of dissolved solids in the water, the more often the boilers needed to be washed. The UP, for example, had to wash boilers on locomotives assigned across Nebraska every 15 days account the massive quantities of dissolved minerals, etc., in the water.  


The main purpose of water treatment chemicals is to prevent the contaminants from adhering to the inside steel areas of the boiler, and thus causing "hot spots" from the baked-on minerals & mud. The worse the quality of the water, the more chemicals needed to be added, while the operating crews used the various blowdown & "sludge-remover" devices more and more often throughout their trip.

Last edited by Hot Water

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