• Ian Sutton

Steam to Diesel


We are working on a book with the title Technology for a Changing Climate. One of the central themes of the book is that good ideas, and even proven concepts, are not enough to address the climate change issues we face. It takes a lot of time to scale up a new technology, and we don’t have a lot of time. It is one thing to demonstrate a technology at a pilot scale — it is quite another to implement that solution world-wide within just a few years.

One of the examples in the book is called 'Steam to Diesel'.


The following chart shows the time taken for the railroad industry in the United States to switch from steam to diesel-electric motive power.


Diesel and diesel-electric locomotives are attractive economically when compared to steam locomotives, largely because they require much less downtime for routine maintenance and cleaning. The chart shows that the diesel locomotives were put into use around the year 1925. Yet it was not until 1937, a dozen years later, that diesel locomotives were fully commercialized. After that diesel locomotives steadily replaced their steam counterparts. But, even by the year 1955, that replacement was not complete. It should also be noted that most other aspects of railroad technology and operations such as the track, the freight cars, the signaling systems, and even the Union contracts did not have to change at all. So even this relatively modest change took decades to implement.


It takes time to transform industrial infrastructure.

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn

©2021. Sutton Technical Books. All Rights Reserved.