historic preservation

Everett Railroad Testing Postponed


The testing of torrefied biomass fuel in Everett Railroad steam locomotive No. 11 has been postponed until later this summer.

Why the date change?

As we mention on our Everett Railroad Testing page,  primary research comes with twists and turns that are sometimes unexpected. In the case of this rescheduling, a large rotary densifier that NRRI intended to use for densifying the fuel into usable pellets had to be taken out of service for retooling. Until that machine is back online, we have no way to properly prepare the fuel for testing in the larger locomotive.

Current time estimates for the retooling of the machine indicate it might return to service in June, but we will wait to reschedule the testing until we know that we can properly condition the fuel. Once that is determined, and we are able to arrive upon viable test dates with our collaborators at the Everett Railroad, we will set the test date. More info will be provided as it is available.

Lawsuit Regarding Santa Fe Steam Locomotive Settled, CSR Rightful Owner of ATSF 3463

On July 6, 1948, Santa Fe steam locomotive No. 3463 rests between runs at Dearborn Station. Photographer unknown, from the collection of Warren Scholl, colorized by Jared Enos in 2015.

T O P E K A, K A N S A S | January 23, 2018 –  The ownership dispute over former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway steam locomotive number 3463 (ATSF 3463) has been settled by an agreement of four parties, with ownership finally vested in favor of the Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR). An agreement between CSR, the City of Topeka, the Attorney General of Kansas, and the Great Overland Station ratified last week clarifies that the 1937-built steam engine is the property of CSR. The Minnesota-based not-for-profit also announced this week that it will be shifting its goals with the locomotive from research to preservation.

“We are thankful to the hard work and dedication of the City of Topeka, the Kansas Attorney General, the Great Overland Station and, certainly, the outstanding team at Frieden, Unrein, and Forbes, LLP, that handled this unique and challenging case,” said CSR President Davidson Ward. “We look forward to continuing our work in Topeka, especially as we announced today our shift in plans for the one-of-a-kind locomotive from solid biofuel testbed to preserved artifact.”

When CSR initially announced its biofuel and steam technology project in mid-2012, it had sought to use ATSF 3463 as a centerpiece of the research and as a showpiece of the technology. This plan was put abruptly on hold in 2013 due to an ownership dispute over the steam engine, and CSR leadership pursued other avenues to keep the research progressing despite the delay.

“Instead of hoping and waiting for the lawsuit to be resolved in our favor, we decided to continue our pursuit of solid biofuel, steam locomotive, and advanced steam technologies,” said CSR Senior Mechanical Engineer Wolf Fengler. “Now that those initiatives are well underway, vetting the theories we had hoped to prove with the Santa Fe locomotive, we have opted to table our plans to modify the engine as a testbed. Instead, CSR will work with collaborators in Topeka to ensure the locomotive is moved, preserved, and, if practical, restored to operation.”

CSR will work with collaborators in Topeka to ensure the locomotive is moved, preserved, and, if practical, restored to operation.

CSR is launching a program today to ensure that ATSF 3463 is properly preserved. The goal is to raise funding to move the locomotive from the Kansas Expocentre grounds to a location in Topeka where it can be preserved, develop a covered home base for the locomotive in Topeka, and determine whether there is a viable case for returning the locomotive to steam as a preserved artifact. Depending on the outcome of the "go / no go" decision regarding operational restoration, CSR will either pursue overhauling the locomotive to operation, or perform a cosmetic restoration to return it to its appearance when donated to the City in 1956.

“The ultimate goal is to ensure the locomotive has a future where it is properly preserved, be that as an operational locomotive or as a static display,” explained CSR Board Member and Santa Fe Railway Historian Warren Scholl. “Now that the ownership of the artifact has been clarified, we look forward to working with all partners, local and national, to ensure the safe future of ATSF 3463.”

How it Works - Phoenix Log Hauler

A typical"tech tuesday" video post has received a great deal of attention in the past week. Posted Tuesday, July 12, on CSR's Facebook Page, the video [embedded below] of Wabeno's Phoenix Log Hauler has received, as of Friday, more than 170,000 views in three days. The unique vehicle, largely unknown to those outside of rural northern Wisconsin, is most likely why the video has been so popular.

That uniqueness is also what attracted CSR President Davidson Ward to visit Wabeno and attend its annual "Steam Up Days" festival the weekend prior.

"I had run across the Phoenix Log Hauler parked and under cover when driving through the town on a road trip two years prior," explained Ward. "When the opportunity arose to visit friends in the region and see the 'Phoenix' in action, I couldn't say no."

The Phoenix Manufacturing Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, manufactured the unique piece of steam history in the early 1900's for use by the G.W. Jones Lumber Company at its mill from 1909 to 1935.

The machine is a unique mixture of steam locomotive, steam tractor, and treaded-excavator that was used to haul long sleds of logs from the forests to the lumber mill in Wabeno, Wisconsin. It was used in both summer and winter, with two skis attached in place of the wheels for winter operations. Interestingly enough, the device burns hardwood scraps and uses water picked up along the way (or from snow), and it could thereby be an example of "old school sustainability." Click on the diagram below to get an enlarged view of the machine.

The "Phoenix" was donated to the Town of Wabeno in 1944 by the lumber company, and a group of citizens restored it to operation in 1965. The unique machine is one of only a few similar to it operating today, with the majority of other surviving machines having been made by Lombard in Maine (Lombard licensed components of its invention to Phoenix for the manufacture of this and about 200 other units made by the company).

Each year on the weekend after the Fourth of July, Wabeno hosts a "Steam Up Days" to show off its unique, operating piece of history and host a bunch of other lumberjack-related equipment. It is a good time and an event not to be missed!

Be sure to follow CSR to stay up-to-date on interesting innovation and preservation news:

New Mainline Steam in the South?

New not-for-profit seeks to rebuild unique steam locomotive, CSR's Ward assists in the process

The Nashville Steam Preservation Society announced today its intentions to seek a lease agreement with Metro Nashville to move, inspect, and rebuild to operation Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4 type steam locomotive number 576. The newly-formed group is comprised of some of the most respected and experienced steam preservationists in the industry.

CSR President Davidson Ward has assisted the group from its nascence. In addition to designing the logos and graphic standards of NSPS, Ward has been involved in negotiations with Metro Parks regarding 576, has served as a strategic advisor to matters ranging from fundraising strategy to facilities designs, and is involved in many of the strategic planning matters undertaken by NSPS.

The "Stripe" with a few of the NSPS folks in front of its 70" driving wheels. From left to right: Jim Wrinn [Editor of Trains Magazine & NSPS Board Member], Shane Meador [NSPS President], Jason Sobzynski [Steam Mechanic and NSPS Advisor] and Davidson Ward [CSR President and NSPS Advisor]. Photo: S. Ward

The "Stripe" with a few of the NSPS folks in front of its 70" driving wheels. From left to right: Jim Wrinn [Editor of Trains Magazine & NSPS Board Member], Shane Meador [NSPS President], Jason Sobzynski [Steam Mechanic and NSPS Advisor] and Davidson Ward [CSR President and NSPS Advisor]. Photo: S. Ward

Built in 1942, locomotive No. 576 was designed and built utilizing the most modern technology of the day. Before its preservation, it roamed the southeast pulling freight and passenger trains, most notably during the busy years of World War II.

The restoration of No. 576 will enhance the locomotive’s value to Nashville and the region as a living historical artifact instead of a static park display. Passengers and spectators will be able to ride behind it and experience the sights, sounds, and impressions of a major steam locomotive in operation.

To reach this goal, the organization must reach a lease agreement with Metro Nashville, move the engine to a shop at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, and raise a significant amount of money before embarking on the work.

NSPS President Shane Meador also serves as a  technical advisor  to CSR. Photo: D. Ward

NSPS President Shane Meador also serves as a technical advisor to CSR. Photo: D. Ward

“We are excited about this proposal to help secure locomotive No. 576’s future, and are looking forward to working with Metro Parks, the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, and the Nashville and Eastern Railroad to bring this Nashville Icon back to life to educate and operate it for the good Citizens of Nashville,” said President Shane Meador of the preservation society. “As a native of Nashville, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue returning this one-of-a-kind locomotive to operation.”

Once operational, No. 576 will pull the Tennessee Central Railway Museum’s restored passenger cars on the Nashville & Eastern Railroad, also used by Nashville’s “Music City Star” Commuter operation. Excursions would originate downtown.

A 14 car-long matching stainless steel TCRM railway excursion, behind its fleet of first generation diesels, rounds the curve near Mt. Juliet in March 2016. It would look nice with a 4-8-4 on the point. Photo: D. Ward

“The locomotive 576 has been an important part of Centennial Park since 1953. The Park Board will be thoughtful in their assessment to ensure that any lease honors the intent of the original donors, retains public access, and provides for responsible stewardship going forward. The opportunity to ride a steam train out of Riverfront Park could be a much richer experience than the current static observation available in Centennial Park and is worthy of consideration,” said Parks Director Tommy Lynch. If approved by the Park Board, the agreement would next go to Metro Council for approval.

“Having worked on more than 20 steam locomotive restoration projects, I am excited about this proposal to return such a unique technological marvel to operation for the Citizens of Metro Nashville,” said steam locomotive expert Gary Bensman, a member of the organization’s board of directors. “Given the condition and disrepair of the locomotive following more than 60 years of being exposed to the elements, this proposal comes at a critical time to ensure the locomotive can be preserved for future generations.”

NSPS plans to raise $3 million to restore the locomotive, which will take place just a couple of miles from downtown Nashville. The organization is also seeking an additional $2 million to construct a permanent, visitor- friendly home and facility for the locomotive that will allow for its continued maintenance as well as to provide an interactive educational environment.

The organization has already received pledges of more than $200,000 to launch this campaign, and will continue seeking private and corporate supporters. After an agreement is reached with Metro, the locomotive will not be moved out of Centennial Park until an initial capital goal of $500,000 is reached to ensure funding throughout the first phase of this six phase project. In addition, the Nashville & Eastern Railroad has sent a letter of commitment stating that it will allow the locomotive to run on its tracks, and the Tennessee Central Railway Museum has pledged the use of its fleet of vintage, restored passenger cars. This proposal also provides a set number of free tickets, annually, to children and seniors of Metro Parks sponsored Community Centers for excursion trains once the 576 is operational.

Coal Fired Steam - Can it Last?

Preservationists have already kept steam alive more than five decades past its official withdrawl, though, and participants in the tourist railroad industry are determined to last many more even if the coal industry continues to decline.
— Hayley Enoch
Coal-burning C&O 614 pulls a train with all its might, blasting smoke out of the stack as it slows to a stall in Miflin, Pennsylvania, on September 28, 1980. Photo by John F. Bjorklund and Courtesy of the  Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

Coal-burning C&O 614 pulls a train with all its might, blasting smoke out of the stack as it slows to a stall in Miflin, Pennsylvania, on September 28, 1980. Photo by John F. Bjorklund and Courtesy of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art.

The May 2016 issue of Trains Magazine features an excellent article by Hayley Enoch outlining the difficulties facing the U.S. railroad preservation industry in procuring quality coal, especially given the recent decline in supply due in large part to coal-fired utilities switching to cleaner, more affordable natural gas. The article explains nicely the varieties of coal available and the way each type of locomotive burns said variety. It also alludes specifically to struggles coal-fired steam locomotive operators face procuring consistent fuel.

To combat this struggle, many operators already have found significant benefit in converting coal-fired locomotives to oil. The engines can be refueled from a standard oil pumper truck, the fireman’s job is made less labor intensive, and there is no ashpan to empty or fire to rake. This in turn cuts down labor associated with operation.

That said, even with coal at $200/ton and diesel at $2/gallon, it is still roughly half the cost to fuel a locomotive on coal than oil ($7.69 per MMBTU vs $15.60 per MMBTU).

All that aside, we as preservationists have a duty to keep steam locomotives and historic rail equipment operating well into the 21st Century. Already, the changing public perception associated with coal consumption is beginning to have an impact.

Consider, for instance, the Durango & Silverton Railroad – it faced criticism from local residents regarding smoke coming from the engine house associated with hostling the locomotives overnight. The solution agreed to by all parties was to burn compressed wood pellets in the engines overnight, a fuel that burns more cleanly than coal and with less odor. This measure was also combined with use of emissions scrubbers on the roof of the engine facility.

It is not too much of a stretch to anticipate this type of concern impacting other railroad preservation groups. While photographers may enjoy a large plume of smoke, it is neither responsible of the fireman or the railroad to tolerate that under most circumstances. Every steam railroad was concerned about smoke - couching it "back in the day" from a perspective of inefficiency and economics.

Today, preservationists have a responsibility to use locomotives efficiently and with an eye to avoid criticism from an ever-changing riding public.

Another Alternative in Solid Biofuel?

We at the Coalition for Sustainable Rail have been working with the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute to develop a solid biofuel alternative to coal for use in all manner of boilers – including steam locomotives.

The fuel is made from woody biomass (e.g. sustainably-harvested forest, used railroad ties, etc.) in a process known as “torrefaction.” Known as torrefied biomass (or biocoal), the fuel conversion process is a derivative of coffee roasting technology originally designed in the early 20th century in France (torrefaction = "to roast" in French).

This is not just coffee roasting technology anymore. Raw biomass is heated up in a sealed, oxygenless environment to between 250 and 300 degrees Celsius, a process known as partial pyrolysis.  At this temperature, many of the volatiles in the woody biomass begin to decompose and part of the sappy lignin that binds the material together breaks down and vaporizes.  This gas is captured in the sealed vessel, then returned to the original heat source to add to the combustion heat and increase the thermal efficiency of the reaction system.  Research has shown that the fuel conversion process is up to 96% thermally efficient.

Test Burn of Torrefied Biomass Pellets

The briquetted pucks produced by torrefaction are analogous to coal, except that they are renewable, have no heavy metals, burn cleaner, smoke less, and smell a bit like BBQ in their unburned state. The GIF above shows torrefied biomass pellets created by NRRI during an open-air test burn, and the following table compares torrefied biomass with other regularly-available fuels.


Characteristic Wood Wood Pellets Torrefied Biomass Charcoal Coal
Moisture Content (% wt) 30-40 7-10 1-5 1-5 10-15
Calorific Value (BTu/lb) 3,850-5,100 6,450-6,850 8,600-11,000 8,000-9,500 8,600-14,000
Volatiles (% db) 70-75 70-75 55-65 10-12 15-30
Fixed Carbon (% db) 20-25 20-25 28-35 85-87 50-55
Bulk Density (lb/cu.ft.) 12.5-15.6 34.3-46.8 46.8-53.1 12.5 49.9-53.1
Vol/ Density (BTU/cu.ft.) 53.7-80.5 201.3-279.1 402.6-501.9 161.0-171.8 493.8-638.8
Dust Levels Average Limited Limited High Limited
Hydroscopic Properties Hydrophilic Hydrophilic Hydrophobic Hydrophobic Hyrdrophobic
Biological Degredation Yes Yes No No No
Milling Requirements Special Special Classic Classic Classic
Handling Properties Special Special Classic Classic Classic
Product Consistency Limited High High High High
Transportation Cost High Average Low Average Low

Unlike other alternatives on the market for replacing coal, torrefied biomass is about as close as one can get to the original “black diamonds.” It can be shoveled or stoker-fired into a boiler, it burns in the same way as coal, and the fuel shares the same handling equipment. Just as outlined in Ms. Enoch's original Trains Magazine article, however, solid fuels require unique loading systems (clamshell bucket, loader, etc.).

High-end torrefied fuel is approximately 11,000 BTU/lb, while optimal bituminous coal is approximately 13,000 BTU/lb. While it is easy to assume that it would take 15% more torrefied biomass to equate the same heat output of bituminous coal (since it is 15% less energy dense), the reality is a bit more nuanced.

The ash content of torrefied biomass fuel is generally at or below 5%, whereas typical bituminous coal is around 10% ash content (Kentucky-sourced). Likewise torrefied biomass fuel is generally around 1% moisture, while the same bituminous coal is 8%. This means the torrefied fuel will light and burn much easier, and the combustion will be much more efficient (heating ash and water does nothing to improve the fire but consume energy). Therefore, a locomotive boiler may require slightly more biocoal by weight than coal to boil the same amount of water, but not the aforementioned 15%.

When CSR first announced its project in 2012, NRRI was able to make a few pounds of torrefied biomass per hour. In the coming few months, however, it will finalize commissioning of a one-of-a-kind, 28,000 pound-per-day reactor capable of making quantities of fuel sufficient to fill steam engine tenders for testing.

Big reactor - this November 2015 photograph shows the biofuel reactor currently being commissioned by the Natural Resources Research Institute at its Coleraine Minerals Research Laboratory. Fun fact - the building housing the reactor was built in 1911 as a locomotive backshop for the Oliver Iron Mining Company.

We are currently in talks with a few steam locomotive operators to undertake testing with the fuel to see how it performs in traditional fireboxes, both burned alone and blended with coal. Our group is aiming to get ahead of the curve in finding a readily-available, drop-in replacement fuel for coal.

To quote Ms. Enoch:  "Will a day come when tourist railroads may be forced to move away from coal if their operations are to continue? It seems unfathomable, but nothing is out of the question. For the moment, though, that day is still on the horizon." 

We agree that the day is still on the horizon, but we are working to be prepared in case that day does come. Our research is focusing in part on ways to keep the traditions of hand and stoker firing alive, regardless of whether the locomotive burns coal or a wood-based alternative.

Preliminary Inspection of L&N 152

Shane Meador takes a UT reading along the sidesheet of the firebox.

Shane Meador takes a UT reading along the sidesheet of the firebox.

As announced earlier this year, CSR has been retained by the Kentucky Railway Museum to serve as consulting engineers on the rebuild of its 1905-built 4-6-2 locomotive - former L&N No. 152. 

A core component of this consulting work is to perform a mechanical inspection of the 111 year-old locomotive that includes a full ultrasonic thickness survey of its boiler and a thorough mechanical inspection. Prior to undertaking the detailed survey and inspection, we sent a crew of two, President Davidson Ward and Technical Advisor Shane Meador, to New Haven, Kentucky, this week to perform a preliminary inspection.

The two CSR members met with volunteers and staff members of KRM to perform a cursory overview of the engine. Work included visual inspection of the pressure vessel and machinery, site preparation of areas of interest, and spot checking  boiler sheets throughout the locomotive with a UT tester. CSR also arranged to have a sandblasting contractor meet both teams on site to discuss the unique job of blasting the inner and outer boiler surfaces. 

Shane Meador (foreground) and Joe Bratcher (background) look over the condition of the firebox wrapper sheet in the vicinity of boiler studs.

Shane Meador (foreground) and Joe Bratcher (background) look over the condition of the firebox wrapper sheet in the vicinity of boiler studs.

The preliminary inspection was beneficial to both groups - providing CSR the opportunity to visit with KRM crews and get to know No. 152 a bit better and giving KRM's Crew 152 the chance to meet with CSR and discuss next steps regarding locomotive preparations.

Speaking of next steps - Crew 152 will continue stripping the boiler of the few remaining components, and they will finalize the removal of tube ends and ferrules from the tubesheets. The locomotive boiler will then be sandblasted and prepared for detailed UT inspection.

Shane Meador inspects the large 5-1/2" superheater openings in the front flue sheet of 152.

Shane Meador inspects the large 5-1/2" superheater openings in the front flue sheet of 152.

Once the boiler is prepped, CSR will send a larger crew to Kentucky to perform a multi-day work blitz, including the complete UT inspection of the locomotive boiler and a mechanical inspection of the engine and tender. This inspection will feed into completion of a preliminary "Form 4" calculation, which will indicate the Maximum Authorized Working Pressure (MAWP) of the boiler in its current condition and outline any areas that might need detailed reconditioning.

We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with KRM on this important project and look forward to the next steps.