Welcome to the 'New Somerset and Dorset Railway'
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
the paradox of steam
It's pretty clear that steam power (and the burning of coal and wood) will become much more commonplace as the oil starts to vanish.
Steam was not replaced by diesel for inefficiency reasons, but for financial reasons. When cheap oil was available then it made sense to switch over to it (though perhaps not at the politically-inspired pace we saw in the UK!)
It's pretty certain that as the oil pinch really kicks in then railway companies will increasingly look at steam as an option where electrification is too expensive. How to square this with the need to reduce carbon emissions will be the big problem. There will also need to be huge infrastructure investment as most steam facilities have been, rather hastily, removed. This is where the wood burning option needs to come in. Wood will be sustainable, and infrastructure replacement will be more attractive for this reason. Forests lining our railway will provide almost free fuel, and will fix more carbon dioxide than is generated by our trains. Narrow gauge logging lines (permanent and/or temporary) can bring the logs to the railhead. No doubt coal will also be used during the transition from oil to wood, perhaps taken from pits in Somerset or South Wales to reduce transport costs.
Steam isn't quaint or nostalgic. Our nuclear reactors are just big steam engines.
Steam is certainly the future for the S&D, though smaller sections may be amenable to, for example, flywheel sustainable electric power (ie the Parry People Movers). But for the big heavy freights and through passenger workings, steam will again be king.