Tuesday, September 13, 2005


General Motors destroyed the electric commuter railroads which flourished in the USA in the 1920's and '30's. They did this by insisting, as one of the largest shippers, that the railroads replace their electric locomotives with diesel units. Problem is diesel pollutes, the engines cost three times as much as an electric and last half as long. In 1935 there were seven times as many electric units as diesel, by 1970 there were ten times as many diesel as electric. (1)

But this was only the tip of the iceberg. After WW2 there was increasing pressure on the rail roads to convert from steam to diesel, as well. In 1945 almost all freight was transported by steam or electric. Within 10 years there were very few steam locomotives left in North America. In Europe this process took a little longer, steam finally being driven out in the early 1960's. This conversion process was a layer cake of disasters for both rail and the public.

First off, the expense for the railroad companies. Steam locomotives have a working life of about 50 years. Most of the engines were built in the 1930's, and those that weren't were from the 1920's or 1940's. Thus, we are looking at equipment that needed to be replaced from 1970 to 1990, yet they were all cut up for scrap metal by 1955! Locomotives were not the only loss. All the infrastructure created around steam, such as coaling stations, water towers, repair shops etc. either was scrapped or needed a complete and costly re-vamping. The destruction of all these locomotives and equipment is a loss that would run in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Even if much of the loss was written off in taxes, the expense was passed on to the tax-payer.

Now, while destroying all that perfectly good equipment, the rail lines would had to replace it with highly costly diesel units. Furthermore, these engines are not as durable as steam, are more complex, thus cost more to repair and need to be replaced more often.

The rail lines had to buy diesel from the oil companies. Many railroads owned coal mines, or as in Europe, both mines and rail were owned by the state. Furthermore, coal is found almost everywhere, whereas petroleum is rather rare by comparison. Western Europe is rich in coal, poor in oil, the same goes for Australia, Argentina, China, India, and South Africa. Canada is lucky to have coal on both the West and East coasts. The USA is sitting on a mountain of coal. Switching from steam to made diesel most of the world petro-dependent, leading ultimately to the oil crises and wars of the present epoch.

At the very time rail made the highly costly switch over, it was losing both freight and passengers. Government built air ports were helping the airlines steal passengers. Government built highways were converting medium haul freight to trucks and train passengers to bus passengers. Thus rail was caught in a pincer - costly investment on one side, loss of revenue on the other. Note how the state helped to destroy rail. Consider the amount of tax-payer wealth that had gone into building the lines in the first place - land grants, cheap loans, cash gifts, tax-write-offs - all of these would total to hundreds of billions of dollars of OUR money. Yet our money, once again to the tune of hundreds of billions was being used to destroy this investment!

All this may seem insane, but this was planned to happen this way. The oil companies and the auto manufactures found another new way to pillage the public and using their mouth pieces in government destroyed rail. We do not live in a free market economy and we never have. We live in a planned economy, one that is organized not for the benefit of the people, but for a tiny wealthy minority.

1.THE DARK AGES by Marty Jezer, South End, 1982


Blogger Les Visible said...

I have long been pissed off about what happened to the rail system. Thanks for putting this cogent essay up to read.


Les Visible

1:19 PM  
Blogger labby22 said...

hahaha you got to be kidding me. You cant honestly be advocating that coal and the steam power it produces are a viable alternative to petroleum. Its insane. I havent seen too many steam powered cars around, most likely because the idea is totally impracticle when compared with Gasoline or diesal.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Who said anything about automobiles? Can't you read? I wrote about RAIL ROADS and I am old enough to remember when trains ran very well on steam, thank you!

7:35 PM  
Blogger labby22 said...

"running very well" doesnt exactly cut it when comparing the steam engine to a much more powerful diesal engine. And that goes for railroads as well. Im sorry but the arguement in the article is out to lunch.

7:58 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Once again, you don't know what you are talking about. Steam technology didn't stop developing in 1940. See http://www.trainweb.org/tusp/index.html
And even if they were to remain less powerful so what? This does not defeat my argument about waste, corruption and enslavement to the petroleum and auto industry.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

That should read, but it got cut off

8:51 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

The son of a bitch useless shit of a system cut it off again, so google it yourself!

8:52 AM  
Blogger labby22 said...

"enslavement", not sure what you mean by that. Also, you do realize that diesal engines are more efficient and pollute less, do you not? One of the best aspects of a Diesal engine is that while idleing, the engine a very small amount of fuel.

How could the continued use of steam engines be considered anything but a waste???

9:24 AM  
Blogger labby22 said...

sorry "the engine uses*"

9:25 AM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

There is a vast amount of literature critical of the auto and oil companies and their pillaging of the public. If you are not aware of all this material it isn’t hard to find if you are interested. I am not going to do your homework for you.

Even if the difference in pollution between a diesel unit and a coal unit could not be significantly overcome by scrubbers and high efficiency combustion, pollution by steam is a weak argument against it. Pollution by locomotives of either kind is not a significant factor in overall pollution. Trucks, planes and autos are the overwhelming source of this problem and pollution is significantly reduced by switching to rail.

Some quotes from “The Ultimate Steam Page”

“Detailed steam/diesel comparison test on New York Central shows minimal cost difference in modern steam and new diesels” ( Tests in the 1940.s)

“Steam/diesel comparison tests on N & W are a draw “ (tests in the 1950’s)

The following written about an engine developed in the 1980’s:

“Judging that the EMD GP-40 diesel-electric of 3000 crankshaft horsepower was pretty much the average railway locomotive, the ACE team set out to design a steamer that could effectively compete against it. The ACE 3000 was to be capable of 3000 (nominal) draw bar horsepower (4000 hp peak), an efficient operating speed range of 15 to 70 MPH, have computer-controlled firing, and a typical (not peak) thermal efficiency of 15%. While the ACE team acknowledged that this efficiency was much less than a modern diesel-electric locomotive (which had an efficiency of about 30%), they knew that the immense cost difference in coal and diesel oil would allow a less-efficient coal burning locomotive to be much more economical to fuel than a very efficient oil burning diesel locomotive. “

“Amazingly, despite the vast thermal efficiency gap between the 614 (steam-coal) and modern diesel-electrics, 614's computed fuel costs were LESS than those of the newest EMD diesels hauling the same trains over the same tracks under the same conditions, due to the extreme price difference in coal and diesel fuel. As Roland put it, if a 6% efficient steamer could haul freight at a lower fuel cost than a state-of-the-art diesel, imagine an 18% efficient steamer “

4:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Ender's Review posted a link to your post in this week's issue.

11:44 AM  
Blogger werner said...

I remember reading about the possibility of steam turbines instead of piston type engines some years ago. Also it would be interesting to look at a cost benefit analysis of large scale electric traction as is used in many European countries. Might not be practical in North because of the climate. Still this would be useful to look at.

6:06 PM  

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