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What fuel did GE's Turbines use?

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  1. Turbine Prototype FAQ From: boylan@sw.stratus.com (Richard Boylan)

    Combustion coal turbines were a grail of the late '40's and '50's. GE was going to build one, as was an independent group called the Locomotive Development Committee. (Westinghouse hung with steam turbines.) UP picked up work where the LDC left off and put together a coal-fired gas turbine about 1960 or so. Built mostly of spare parts--an Alco PA for the cab and auxiliary power; the bottom half of one of GN's postwar electric locomotives for the power unit; a spare 5000hp turbine; an oil tender from wherever. Not a success. Initially numbered 80, later 8080.

    UP's turbines consisted of:

    #1 and #2, oil-fired steam-turbine units built by GE, Babcock & Wilcox and Alco. Hood units for passenger service. Far too complex for their own good.

    #50 and the first generation of oil-fired gas turbines. 5000hp. Good.

    A 2nd generation of 5000hp gas turbines. Better. Biggest change was outside catwalks. Walking outside was apparently preferable to walking inside past the power units.

    The last generation of oil-fired gas-turbines, the multi-unit 8500hp units. Best. These pretty much displaced the earlier gas turbines entirely, and ran until c. 1970. The older 5000hp gas turbines were sent back to GE and their running gear was recycled into the one-of-a-kind U50B diesel locomotives.

    Richard Boylan
    Stratus Computer
    Marlboro, Mass

    From: pnwc@easystreet.com (Glenn Laubaugh)

    "Gas Turbine" here refers to the turbine iteself. A steam turbine uses heated water (steam) to turn the turbine. A water turbine uses water.

    In a gas turbine, the fuel (liquified coal, bunker C fuel, or even diesel fuel, depending on what tthe turbine is designed to burn) is burned in hot, compressed intake air. This makes the air/combustion gas out of the combustion chamber extremely hot and energetic. This hot gas mixture is then sent directly to the turbine. There is no seconary working fluid between the combustion gas and the fluid that runs the turbine, as there is in a steam turbine.

    Therefore, "gas turbine" has nothing to do with "gasoline" fuel, or any other type of fuel used. "Gas" is just that - a bunch of hot combustion gasses.

    Glenn Laubaugh, Museum Director
    Pacific Northwest Chapter, National Railway Historical Society
    pnwc@easystreet.com http://www.easystreet.com/pnwc/

    Bill Maltby wrote:

    There were also a UP coal turbine. This was a homebuilt using an ex-GN electric from the Cascade Tunnel electrification as a starting point. It was built cabless and an Alco PA cab unit was used for control. I think it only ran a few trips and wasn't succesful at all. This was built in 1962 at UP's Omaha shops. The PA-2 was ex-607. When built it was #80 and was changed to #8080 later. The horsepower was 5000 for the turbine and 2000 from the PA. The PA was traded in to EMD and the turbine was scrapped.

    From: cowley@dove.net.au (Martin Cowley)

    Quoting from "Turbines Westward" (author Thos. R. Lee, published T. Lee Publications 1976, ISBN 0-916244-01-6) page 29:-

    "Although the turbines were originally designed to burn low cost, treated residual fuel oil, the U.P. felt the fuel was too heavy and fraught with difficulties in heating and handling. The problems Bunker "C" created with fuel pumps, nozzles, heating equipment, and turbine blade corrosion encouraged the road to also try other fuels.

    Fuels ranging from 200 viscosity residual fuel oil to liquid propane gas were tested in the turbine. When #57 was delivered, the turbine was adapted to burn propane gas on an experimental basis with the Richfield Oil Corp. Equipped with a special pressurized tank car tender, the unit was placed in test service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Nevada, and made its first revenue run burning propane gas on May 31, 1953.

    The experiment was a technical success. There was less wear on the turbine blades as propane burns clean and leaves no carbon deposit as residue. Propane is highly volatile, however, and the required extra safety precautions seemed to offset the advantages."

    "Fuel consumption proved to be roughly 23 gallons per mile . . ."

    From: "Chevron Law"

    Gas turbine simply means the type of transmission used to supply power. It does not necessarily refer to the type of fuel being burned. Most modern day ships use a steam turbine as the power transmission. One must understand that in a turbine engine there is no direct drive or "drive shaft". A turbine uses a gas transmission to supply power. In this case the hot exhaust is the "gas" which exits at high pressure and in turn, turns another turbine wheel which is hooked up to a generator which in turn supplys another type of energy that is desired. Ships use high pressure steam as the "gas transmission" to ultimately turn the screws.

    Now days turbine engines are simply referred to as turbines or jets which burn a multitude of low grade fuels. Jets on the other hand do not use a gas transmission. They simply compress the exhaust at high pressure which "jets" out the rear for propulsion.

    Mitch Ford

    From: Steven Orth

    The geeps were MU'ed with the turbines to give the consist more horsepower. They were not "attached", except by MU cables, air hoses, and the couplers. Units 57-75, and all the 8500 HP turbines were equipped for MU service. ALL of the turbines had a small diesel for hostling and to run the excitation generators and air compressors. The smaller 4500 HP turbines had 250 HP diesels, the 8500 HP turbines had 850 HP diesels.

    They were operated primarily between Ogden and Green River, and later operated all the way to Council Bluffs. For three months they operated from Ogden to Los Angeles. They did need to be turned, and they certainly would fit on the UP's 135 ft turntables at Ogden, Green River, Laramie, and Cheyenne. The 8500 HP turbines would not fit on a table with the fuel tender attached.

    The turbines should be considered a success. Nearly all of them ended their careers with 1 million miles on them, give or take 100k. That was accumulated over 10 to 12 years of service. Compare that to the Big Boys. The Big Boys operated from 1941 to 1959 and most ended with 1.2 million miles on them. Nobody calls the Big Boys unsuccessful. By todays standards that is not fantastic, but the turbines should be compared against what they replaced.

    Technology overcame the turbines. Uses were found for Bunker C fuel oil. In 1949, when the UP began experimenting with turbines, Bunker C was almost a waste byproduct of petroleum. The UP owned a large amount of oil reserves and had plenty of bunker C. The UP went so far as to modify many GP9's and SD24's to burn bunker C. The DDA40X, with it's modular electronics, spent a lot less time in the shop. They spent a lot less time in the shop than the first generation diesels too. The turbines main advantage was high horsepower out of a single unit. Diesel technology finally caught up with them in 1970. Many of the turbine's contemporary diesels (ALCO FA's, RS-2's, EMD F3's, F7's, etc.) had also been retired or rebuilt into newer locomotives by the railroad by 1970 also.

    The best book to read about the turbines is "Turbines Westward", by Thos. R. Lee. It is published by Ag Press, Manhattan, KS. It gives a great amount of historical info and dispells many myths, such as the 10,000 HP "upgrade". Recommended reading for anyone interested in turbine locomotives. Lots of great B&W photos.

    From: "Dave Johnson"

    I called up a friend who, to protect the guilty shall remain nameless, and "pumped" him for some UP Gas Turbine info ... at least from the top of his head. I will do it again after he has had time to think on it. Some tidbits are ...

    A couple of the turbines were modified to put out 10,000 HP. This was done mainly with excitation, however, a little more fuel was required also. At speeds in the high 20's, he thought about 28 MPH the traction motors could take more than the normal 8500 HP setup. This was done up to the high 30's, maybe 40 MPH maximum. The traction generators were the limiting factor, not the output that could be obtained from the turbine.

    Bunker-C was in a glut of supply because all the ships you have seen in the WWII films were not burning millions of gallons of it after the war was over. Thus the really really cheap price, plus UP had interest in the oil business. He says they burned Bunker-C in steam engines also. They called it "Tank A" fuel because that is where they obtained it in Cheyenne .... a tank called "Tank A".

    The "Big Blows" had a steam boiler to heat the tenders which were insulated. Think what fun you would have in the winter if the steam boiler went b/o at 50 below wind chills. The "donkey" engine was used to turn the turbine on start up and cool down, supply air, and pump cooling water around as well as move the beast.

    Starting was done by getting the aux diesel on line. Then you could get the turbine rotating and then fire it up with diesel fuel. Once that got going and things got hot it would be switched over to the Bunker-C. (I stepped in a glob of Bunker-C on the ground once and it was between tar and mollasses when cold.) This was all done with a stepping device and relays and was pretty much automatic if everything worked right.

    He said they used to run SD-24's behind them for maximum HP (I know, I know ... all I've seen are GP's in pictures). The turbines burned about 90% of max HP fuel at idle so they would shut the turbine down going down longer hill. BIG THING, is you never stopped turning the turbine hot because the shaft was so long/heavy that it would sag when hot and you would never get it turning again. If you did it would be somewhat out of balance and shake the heck out of things.

    The donkey engine would be used to keep the shaft turning for a lengthy cool down period. If not sure but I think a hot turbine stopped without cool down took a couple of days to cool down? I'll pump him for more on this. (I'm not sure if road crews ever shut the turbines off going down hill, but for sure the staff guys have done it. Shut off means cutting off the turbine fuel but keeping the turbines turning.)

    I asked him if the reason for a diesel on the rear was to get the heck out of a tunnel if the train stalled. Since diesels can consume the O2 and leave alot of CO in a tunnel you can imagine what a gas turbine could do. You would want to cut off a stalled train and run for your life. He didn't think that was the reason, however, did relate once when they had borrowed a non air conditioned EMD test car behind that he noted that the outside air temp (OAT) was quickly moving up to around 400 degees inside a tunnel. He said they closed up the test car before entering tunnels. I asked about course of action if the train stalled ... he said there was a lot of things like that they didn't dwell on much in days of old. I suppose OSHA, et. al. would have a field day nowadays.

    David K. Johnson, xNYC, xUP, IATR
    EMail: cgwrrkid@netins.net
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