steam turbines

The S-2 steam turbine locomotive built by the Pennsylvania railroad was not a success. They never made a second one.
On the other hand, Lionel's model was very popular and was in the product line for quite a few years, from 1946 to 1955. It is a favorite of mine.

C.W. Burfle

In my family the PRR S2 is a very important engine. My father, uncle and I all have multiple versions of the turbine from Lionel, Williams and MTH. My uncle has every variation that Lionel made between 46-55 except the electronic set. 

I've always liked odd balls and the S2 is a great toy train and was a great locomotive even if it wasn't practical or successful.  

"Whoever dies with the most trains, wins!"

-Ward Kimball


Cody D. Leavel 

TCA #08-63009 

If the diesel locomotive had not come along when it did and swept away all the competition, I sometimes wonder what alternative direction locomotive builders might have taken.  Would the PRR have built an S3, keeping at it until they could get the bugs worked out of the direct-drive turbine concept?  Would the N&W and the C&O have continued refining their steam-turbine-electrics till they worked as planned?  Or would the class 1 railroads have simply gone all out for electrification?

It's just pure speculation of course, but I find that kind of thing interesting.

Steam Turbine Locomotive


The steam turbine locomotive was a variant of the steam locomotive and hailed at the time of its development as not only extremely efficient and powerful (which it was) but also that it could compete with the diesel locomotive in becoming the railroad industry's primary main line locomotive.

However, while powerful the design was only efficient at very high speeds and was a maintenance headache for the few railroads which did test them.

In all just the Union Pacific, Pennsylvania Railroad, Norfolk & Western, New York Central, Great Northern, and Chesapeake & Ohio ultimately tested designs of the steam turbine locomotive, which lasted just a few years on each railroad.



Turbines in general have some desireable characteristics, the turbine engine they used in the Abrams tank, for example, was pretty powerful, and a turbine engine like that can use almost anything for fuel, pretty much anything that would burn. The problem with turbines is they tend to be complex, operate at peak efficiency at ranges of speed that may not make sense, and also tend to be heavy (70 ton tanks have a major problem with them, it is very difficult to build temporary bridging on a battlefield that can handle that kind of weight, plus they also tend to burn a lot of fuel, not to mention maneuverability). A turbine-electric might have worked better, similar to the way a diesel did, but the reality is that the diesel is a relatively simple beast comparitively, lot more reliable as well so it won out. It is much like diesels in cars, they aren't really that well suited for them IMO, the way they operate is much better suited for heavy equipment and the like, it is matching operating characteristics. That said, I loved the S2 as an oddball unit, not surprised it remained popular with Lionel buyers for many years

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

Max efficiency at rated power and speed was and maybe still is a big challenge....  not at rated very much in reality.  The UP Big Blow was a turbine electric and didn't they make at least one run of them, like 25 or something.  They were used for several years. and they did do their job as well as diesels I would expect, maybe with the exception of lifetime maintenance costs. 

In reality, they would have had to build and run one to figure out the true maintenance and operating costs.  That's what happened.

To say they were a failure in general because more were not ordered is maybe not accurate in the big picture.  Failure suggests they or the theory did not work which was never the case....  The tipping factors were likely cost and fleet commonality that tipped the scales.

Those attempts the big railroads made at turbines were some very big dollar efforts, but as many have said, the diesel offered utter simplicity, low initial and operating cost and complete fleet commonality.  Steam had no chance going against that.

I wouldn't say they were failures, rather the diesel in general offered a more (life term) cost effective and easy to work with model... pretty simple.

Dennis Holler If its old and broke, I like it

Can't really compare a steam turbine to a gas turbine motor.  Similar idea, but wildly different in how they actually work.

The UP gas turbines were highly successful, with the pinnacle being the 8500HP GTEL Units.  When they started, the bunker C used was relatively cheap, their demise was its rising price.

Also note, that there is a difference too between the steam turbine electrics tried by N&W, C&O, and UP vs the PRR Steam Turbine.  The first through used a steam turbine to power the generator to create electricity for the drive wheel motors, the last one used a steam turbine to actually turn the wheels.

True, a gas turbine is different, both generate power by spinning turbine blade, but otherwise work differently (a turbine gas engine uses the hot gases from burning fuel to spin the blades, a steam turbine heat up water to create steam and the steam drives the blades).  In the end it isn't so much whether the technology worked or not, likely it was as you said, simple economics, something that requires less maintainence and overall costs less to operate is going to win out. 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

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