Sunday, April 12, 2009
A steam locomotive is a locomotive powered by steam. The term usually refers to its use on railways, but can also refer to a "road locomotive" such as a traction engine or steamroller.
Steam locomotives dominated rail traction from the mid 19th century until the mid 20th century, after which they were superseded by diesel and electric locomotives.
The generated steam is stored in the steam space above the water in the partially-filled boiler. Its working pressure is limited by spring-loaded safety valves. It is then collected either in a perforated tube fitted above the water level or from a dome that often houses the regulator valve, or throttle, the purpose of which is to control the amount of steam leaving the boiler. The steam then either travels directly along and down a steam pipe to the engine unit or may have first to pass into the wet header of a superheater, the role of the latter being to eliminate water droplets suspended in the "saturated steam", the state in which it leaves the boiler. On leaving the superheater, the "dried" steam exits the dry header of the superheater and passing down a steam pipe enters the steam chests adjacent to the cylinders of a reciprocating engine. Inside each steam chest is a sliding valve that distributes the steam via ports that connect the steam chest to the ends of the cylinder space. The role of the valves is twofold: admission of each fresh dose of steam and exhaust of the used steam once it has done its work.
The cylinders are double acting, with steam admitted to each side of the piston in turn. In a two-cylinder locomotive, one cylinder is located on each side of the locomotive. The cranks are set 90° out of phase with each other. During a full rotation of the driving wheel, steam provides four power strokes per revolution; that is to say each cylinder receives two injections of steam. The first stroke is to the front of the piston and the second stroke to the rear of the piston; hence two working strokes. Consequently two deliveries of steam onto each piston face in two cylinders generates a full revolution of the driving wheel. Each piston is connected to the driving axle on each side by a connecting rod, the driving wheels are connected together by coupling rods to transmit power from the main driver to the other wheels. At the two "dead centres", when the connecting rod is on the same axis as the crankpin on the driving wheel, it will be noted that no turning force can be applied. If the locomotive were to come to rest in this position it would be impossible for it to move off again, so the cylinders and crankpins are arranged such that the dead centres occur out of phase with each other. This precaution is unnecessary on most other reciprocating engines (such as an internal combustion engine) which are never expected to start from rest under their own power, and employ a flywheel to overcome the dead centres.
Each piston transmits power directly through a connecting rod (US: main rod) and a crankpin (US: wristpin) on the driving wheel (US main driver) or to a crank on a driving axle. The movement of the valves in the steam chest is controlled through a set of rods and linkages called the valve gear, actuated from the driving axle or else from the crankpin; the valve gear includes devices that combine the roles of reversing the engine, adjusting valve travel and the timing of the admission and exhaust events. The cut-off point determines the moment when the valve blocks a steam port, "cutting off" admission steam and thus determining the proportion of the stroke, during which steam is admitted into the cylinder; for example a 50% cut-off admits steam for half the stroke of the piston. The remainder of the stroke is driven by the expansive force of the steam. Careful use of cut-off provides economical use of steam and, in turn, reduces fuel and water consumption. The reversing lever (US: Johnson bar), or screw-reverser, (if so equipped) which controls the cut-off therefore performs a similar function to a gearshift in an automobile- 100% cut-off , providing maximum tractive effort at the expense of efficiency, is used to pull away from a standing start, whilst a cut-off as low as 10% is used when cruising, providing reduced tractive effort but with lower fuel/water consumption.
Runnig Gear-This includes the brake gear, wheel sets, axleboxes, springing and the "motion" that includes connecting rods and valve gear. The transmission of the power from the pistons to the rails and the behaviour of the locomotive as a vehicle, able to negotiate curves, points and irregularities in the track is of paramount importance. Because reciprocating power has to be directly applied to the rail from 0 rpm upwards, this poses unique problems of "adhesion" of the driving wheels to the smooth rail surface. Adhesive weight is the portion of the locomotive's weight bearing on the driving wheels. This is made more effective if a pair of driving wheels is able to make the most of its "axle load" i.e. its individual share of the adhesive weight. Locomotives with "compensating levers" connecting the ends of plate springs have often been deemed a complication but locomotives fitted with them have usually been less prone to loss of traction due to wheel-slip.
Locomotives with total adhesion, i.e. where all the wheels are coupled together, generally lack stability at speed. This makes desirable the inclusion of unpowered carrying wheels mounted on two-wheeled trucks or 4-wheeled bogies centred by springs that help to guide the locomotive through curves. These usually take the weight of the cylinders in front or of the firebox at the rear end when the width of this exceeds that of the mainframes. For multiple coupled wheels on a rigid chassis a variety of systems for controlled side-play exist.
Early locomotives were fitted with a valve controlled by a weight suspended from the end of a lever, the steam outlet being stopped by a cone-shaped valve. As there was nothing to prevent the weighted lever from bouncing when the locomotive ran over irregularities in the track, thus wasting steam, the weight was replaced by a more stable spring loaded column, often supplied by Salter, a well-known spring scale manufacturer. The danger of all these devices was that the driving crew could be tempted to add weight to the arm in order to increase pressure; most boilers were therefore from early times fitted with a tamper-proof "lockup" direct-loaded ball valve protected by a cowl. In the late 1850s, John Ramsbottom introduced an ingenious safety valve that became very popular in Britain during the latter part of the 19th Century. Not only was this valve tamper-proof, but any intervention on the part of the driver could only have the effect of easing pressure.
Richardson's "pop" valve was an American invention introduced in 1867 and was so designed as to release the steam only at the moment when the pressure attained the maximum permitted. This type of valve is in almost universal use at present. The British Great Western Railway was a notable exception to this rule retaining the direct loaded type until the end of its separate existence because it was considered that such a valve lost less pressure between opening and closing.