PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

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bsd_mike
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PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby bsd_mike » Fri Sep 27, 2019 8:54 am

Oversimplifying, it seems the goal of PTC is speed monitoring and control.
Continuing to oversimplify...would it not be possible to have basically a FRED control airbrake application.

It seems a computer-controlled valve to divert/vent steam away from pistons would not be impossible to implement to slow an engine down.

Couldn't something be made up for controlling power application and brakes on a steam locomotive?

Head into Ax-Man and you can find small scale solenoid controlled valves.

Thoughts? I am sure I am missing a lot of requirements. If a government committee came up with this, it has to overwhelming.

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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Junk_Man999 » Fri Sep 27, 2019 7:27 pm

Would it be possible? Yes. Would it be difficult? Possibly, but unlikely. Would it be horrendously expensive? Most definitely.

The actual computers operating this stuff aren't likely to be all that complex. Most of the cost that goes into automated systems like these is based on what most other parts suppliers are able to get in a given industry.

There's a reason some of those CPUs they used in server farms nowadays cost THOUSANDS of dollars when they only cost a few hundred to make.

Large corporations pay the large fees in order to get support and warranties for if/when this stuff breaks.
They then pass this cost onto the customers or others participating in the industry.

Thus, now you see why these systems are so expensive. In reality, all you're dealing with is a computer that actuates solenoids or pneumatic valves when it detects an unsatisfactory state of operation.

In actuality it probably costs a few thousand dollars to manufacture this stuff.

The railroad industry is just so low volume that they have to figure out how to milk money out of it somehow.

Unfortunately, anything that a 501(c)3 could produce wouldn't be accepted, even if it was built to greater specifications than what most of the railroads use. My guess is this stuff has to be done by licensed manufacturers.
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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Mark D » Sat Sep 28, 2019 10:21 am

Actually even a small company, and it doesn't have to be a corporation, could get a product certified by the FRA. They don't care who makes it as long as it can perform properly in all the tests it has to go through. After that, it would have to undergo a trial in a real life exposure.
If anything doesn't go right during this series of testing it goes back to the drawing board. Once it can pass all tests over the same tests many times to ensure it will last in the long term. Only then would the FRA let it out on a real world test on a railroad that would accept it. After much more testing, if all were to go well, it would then be allowed to be marketed to the steam operators.

But that's the easy part. The hard part is for the steam engine owner to find a class one or class two railroad company willing to allow that rickety old steam engine out on their rails. Back in the '90s into the 2000's there was a heyday where the railroads were allowing steam operators to operate on their rails, as long as they had good insurance.
And I believe it would still work if they could get insurance. It's the lack of ability to afford insurance that is stopping the steam engines from operating on the high iron.
In the past, operations such as the 261, were insured by paying Amtrak to use their self-insured policy. That ended when the new CEO got his little hands in the works and messed it all up.
There is no more to be said until or unless something changes in the insurance industry.

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bsd_mike
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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby bsd_mike » Wed Oct 02, 2019 7:23 am

It is hard to believe that Amtrak could get harder to work with than they were in the 80's...
Is there anything that can be done about that? Any politicians to badger?

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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Mark D » Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:18 am

I don't know how it was in the '80s, but Steve Sandberg had a great relationship with Amtrak until the top guy (I forget his name) retired and Delta Dick (former head of Delta Airlines) took over. Delta Dick is slowly winding down operations except for a few major routes. He has no time for anyone who wants anything from Amtrak.
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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby John Bohon » Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:04 pm

Going back to the original post it is definitely possible to build computer controlled devices to make a steam locomotive perform as intended by PTC. One of the problems is that diesel and electric locomotives are controlled by electronics and PTC is designed to work with a device that simply throws an electronic switch and shuts down the power supply to the wheels with no resulting damage to the locomotive. If you shut down the steam supply to the cylinders at high speed and the locomotive remains shut off until it stops a mile or two further down the track you are risking serious damage to the cylinders and valves due to lack of lubrication. A diesel can go to neutral at speed and be happy as a clam. Neutral at high speed with a steam locomotive is risky at best and can virtually destroy the cylinders and valves at worst. With a steam locomotive, in anything except an immediate and dire situation you want to stop from high speed maintaining a drifting throttle and valve setting. The train stops just as fast but without damage to the locomotive. Remember too that the throttle and reverser on a steam locomotive is not a simple little lever that actually controls the position of an electrical switch like on a diesel or electric locomotive. They are both mechanical devices that are connected by some series of linkages to the part they operate and not just to a switch. It is going to take some engineering to find a way to make all that stuff connect to the throttle and reverse lever or somewhere between there and the valves and pistons and still allow the engineer to operate the locomotive in normal mode. None of that is impossible but is certainly more than a "can't you just" type of problem. Once you get the device designed you have to get the FRA to go along with it and probably do testing to prove it actually works. Just to add to the problem think about how each steam locomotive is designed differently and each will provide different types of throttles, reverse gears, steam flows to the valves and cylinders. As far as a company to manufacture all of this goes remember what a finite number of locomotives are actually out there hoping to run on the mainline. It is a small market indeed.

Mark is correct in saying the problem goes beyond anyone's ability design a PTC device that will work on steam. Finding a railroad that will let you run your engine and train is getting more difficult with each passing day. It is possible PSR is a bigger threat to running steam excursions than PTC. The whole object of PSR is to get rid of employees and equipment which can leave nobody to be pilot crews on special trains. The 261 group is probably lucky so far in that BNSF has not gone down the PSR road.

Insurance has been an ongoing problem for at least 30 years. I remember a year in the shortline industry when I was buying insurance and there was exactly 1 company in the country who would sell insurance to a shortline railroad. Needless to say they got their price. One serious accident with a steam or tourist train could cause widespread closings and cancelations of many of todays small operators which is exactly what we all are.

Fortunately I have never had any business dealings with Amtrak so I can not comment on how it has been to deal with them. What is obvious is the new management has no interest in running passenger trains outside of the NEC. That would certainly reflect the opinion of the Republican party who is currently in control of most legislative bodies. Their answer to Amtrak since at least the Regan administration is to zero out Amtrak in the budget. It only stands to reason they will support anything that will chip away some of the things they do not like in order to make them eventually go away. That is nothing more than politics as usual. They care nothing about a few people wanting steam excursions. It is all those people who live in all parts of the country that are demanding their passenger trains remain an option that have forced Amtrak to continue to be funded.

John Bohon

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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Mark D » Fri Oct 11, 2019 9:40 am

Good post, John. I don't disagree with anything you say, and I learned a few things too. I'm only responding because you mentioned that you had never had to deal with Amtrak. Lucky you, if you had the need to deal with Amtrak in todays world.
But in the past, in the '90's and back they were very easy to deal with. As long as you were willing to pay, you could get what you need as long as it doesn't harm Amtrak in some fashion.
In todays world, it the exact opposite. Amtrak no longer deals with outsiders at all, except grudgingly will tie a PV car if you pay enough and if you are at the right depot. There's a reason why that dude from Delta Airlines is called Delta Dick. It's meant to show the disdain many rail car owners have for him. And it's not helping Amtrak at all. Amtrak used to rake in some nice jing from the private car owners. And that also goes with the excursion operators. Same thing.
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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Mark D » Fri Oct 11, 2019 9:43 am

However, in stopping a steam locomotive in an emergency mode, what would be wrong by dumping the air, and that's easy enough to do, but still keep some steam moving through the cylinders with the cocks open? That would keep them lubricated.
It could be set up to do just that automatically. Automatically is the key word.

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John Bohon
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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby John Bohon » Sun Oct 13, 2019 4:06 pm

That is exactly what you would have to do to the locomotive Mark. The problem is how do you do all that? If you link a mechanical device to the throttle somewhere between the lever in the cab throttle itself the apparatus is going to obviously change the appearance of the locomotive or cab. In the case of a dome throttle in the cab is about the only place you can make the change. Once the mechanism is attached it must move freely under normal operation. Adjusting the cutoff during the stop is another problem. I suppose that could be left to the engineer but when drifting the reverse is going to need be near or at maximum travel to insure lubrication. As for dumping the air you also need to start the sand and bail the independent to keep the wheels from sliding on the locomotive. On a diesel you may put flat spots on the wheels but wheels for diesels are relatively easy to come by compared to driver tires for a steam locomotive. By comparison on a diesel you can pop the air and the PC switch will do all the rest automatically though I do not know if that is how the process is done on diesels.

After you design and build something that will work on steam you have to get the device approved by the railroad and FRA. In a world of diesels I can see the look on the officials face when you say the throttle is going to open when making an emergency stop. They are not use to that even being a possibility. Truthfully I have not read the regulation and have no intention of doing so but I suppose it is possible all that is required is a penalty brake application and electrical shutdown of the power that will stop the train but not put the brakes into emergency. If that is the case at least the engineer is not going to have to deal with an emergency braking situation on a steam locomotive. Does anyone know how that is worded?

As for dealing with Amtrak, it is important to remember we are in a phase in our government where the people generally in power want nothing to do with any type of social spending by the government. It only stands to reason the current management of a semi government operation like Amtrak is going to get harder to deal with as they do what their superiors want and chip away at the agency. There are a lot of voters in many parts of the country that would like for their train to keep running. There is no predicting the future but I would assume there will be some losses but mostly Amtrak will still be around and the policy of being impossible to deal with may go away. All we can do is wait and see. Truthfully it is not just Amtrak. All the big railroads have been making themselves more difficult to deal with n recent years. Our sort of railroading is getting harder with each passing day and that is not likely to change.

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Re: PTC and Steam...why couldn't you??

Postby Mark D » Tue Oct 15, 2019 9:13 am

Well put John. I mostly see it the way you see it. But there wouldn't be any problem with the locomotive or the stopping if the throttle was just cracked a bit to keep some steam moving. Since in an emergency an engineer isn't going to be setting the throttle precisely, there could be an air powered valve that automatically takes over as soon as the air is dumped.
I'm positive there is a way to make it work, but nobody's really going to build and test a system until there is a real need for it. And that's never going to happen in todays world of Amtrak.
That's the short version of what we've already agreed upon above.

I am optimistic that at some time in the future things might change. I'll probably never see it, but maybe people in their teens now might actually see steam on the high rails, running at speed with passengers. Maybe in another world.
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