It sometimes looks like you can never get away from nostalgia. It comes back to you in newer, more complex forms, just as it’s about to happen with Locomotive 3463 – a train locomotive built in the ’30s that kids in Topeka, Kansas used to stare at until recently in a museum.
However, times are moving on and the vintage locomotive is currently being “tuned up” by the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR). This doesn’t mean it will look better, just that it will work better on biocoal-generated steam.
Not only that, but the locomotive is planned to be a high-speed one (reminding me of Back to The Future). In this sense, it has actually given CSR’s project a goal: to set a new world record for steam locomotive speed at 130 mph (209 km/h). And it’s not the only innovation CSR wants to introduce: engineers are modifying it to run on solid fuel derived from biomass, that works like a better version of coal (less ash, smoke and volatile off-gases). On top of that, it’s carbon-neutral: the total carbon release is zero, because the CO2 will get reabsorbed in the plants.
Hence the advantages: less money on fuel and maintenance, more horsepower, acceleration and speed. Not to mention the considerable reduction in carbon emissions, a chapter the coal-based locomotives failed at miserably. Through the 3463, University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the nonprofit Sustainable Rail International (SRI) want to prove a point: on the one hand, that locomotives can be powerful and clean at the same time and, on the other, that solid biofuel and the steam technology are a far from disappointing alternative.
And, of course, as scientists plan ahead, this could only be the starting point for something bigger, like maybe combined heat and power in the developing world and, not to forget, US’s obsession with its much desired fossil-fuel independence. For my part, I think seeing old-looking locomotives on track rails will be kind of nice, especially since one won’t have that sinking feeling in the stomach of how much it’s polluting!
I didn’t ever image I’d publish on a coal-powered locomotive being green, but you know how they say… never say never.