The steam turbine locomotive was developed in the late 1930s as a means
to compete with the diesel. By this point EMD had successfully
demonstrated the usefulness of its E and F series diesel locomotives and
the steam turbine seemed to be the last hope of retaining that means of
propulsion in main line railroading. In a comparison to steam
locomotives only the steam turbine was meant to be more efficient while requiring less maintenance due to fewer moving parts. This was because the design did not have large driving wheels, side
rods, or pistons like a standard reciprocating steam locomotive.
Instead, its running gear was much more similar to a diesel locomotive using traction motors and trucks to house the wheels (except for the PRR's model which did use a more conventional steam locomotive wheel arrangement).
The steam turbine had plenty of advantages but unfortunately had just as many disadvantages. Aside from having fewer moving parts the design did not have to contend with the difficult task of being properly balanced. Likewise, the locomotive did not suffer from wheel slippage when attempting to start from a dead stop. However, the design was only efficient at very high speeds, usually over 75 mph and at slow speeds used massive amounts of fuel (coal) and water. Additionally, the turbine an only be operated in one direction requiring an additional unit to be operated in reserve. Finally, the design proved to be a maintenance nightmare as the unclean environment in which railroads operated was simply not suited for a turbine.
The first steam turbine locomotive design was built by General Electric
in 1938 and tested on the Union Pacific. The two test models
carried an electric locomotive-like 2-C+C-2 wheel arrangement. To give
you an idea of what this means, in the case of a 1-D-1 wheel
arrangement; the “1” refers to one unpowered axle located on each end of
the locomotive and the “D” refers to four powered axles whereby “A”
equals one powered axled, “B” equals two powered axles, “C” equals three
powered axles, and so on. While at first these classifications look
tricky they are actually quite simple once you know what they mean and
They were the only two steam turbine locomotive design to feature condensers and apparently worked
relatively well. In any event, they were only used on the Union
Pacific for about six months and were later sent to both the New York
Central and Great Northern. The GN used them throughout 1943 and
returned them to GE needing new wheels. They remained sidelined at GE
and were eventually scrapped. A year later, in 1944 the Pennsylvania Railroad unveiled their
steam locomotive turbine design the Class S2, #6200, developed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It featured a traditional steam locomotive wheel setup in the 6-8-6 arrangement.
could produce an astounding 6,900 horsepower with a starting tractive
effort of 70,500 pounds. However, it consumed large amounts of fuel and
water and low speeds and proved to be uneconomical. The PRR would
eventually scrap the #6200 by 1949. A year after the PRR first began testing its Class S2 the
Chesapeake & Ohio Railway unveiled its Class M-1 in 1945, developed
by both Baldwin and Westinghouse. This design carried a unique albeit
odd 2-C1+2-C1-B wheel arrangement and was streamlined for premier
passenger service across Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. It was
capable of producing 6,000 horsepower and the C&O eventually would
come to own three, #500 through #502.
The steam turbine locomotive weighed an incredible 428 tons making it
very hard on the track. Once again, this design proved to be quite
troublesome, constantly breaking down due to water leaking on to the
locomotives' traction motors and coal dust clogging the front motors.
By the summer of 1948 the C&O had scrapped all three of its steam
turbines. Finally, in 1954 the Norfolk & Western Railway tested its
"Jawn Henry" design, #2300, named after the famous African American
worker who defeated a steam drill. This design featured a C-C-C-C wheel
arrangement and could produce nearly 5,000 horsepower. Like nearly all
of the designs it was quite heavy at 409 tons but produced the highest
tractive effort at 175,000 pounds. Even as the master of steam
technology, the N&W could not work out all of the problems that
cropped up with its steam turbine locomotive. Within four years of its
debut the "Jawn Henry" was scrapped by the railroad.
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Steam Turbine Locomotives