Fireless Steam Locomotive

Fireless Steam Locomotive

By Roger Heid


A long time ago, when I first heard about a ‘Fireless’ Steam Locomotive, I had to pinch myself to confirm that I was not hallucinating and that I was awake and not having some strange and distorted dream. How in the dickens could that be? So I started to theorize. Maybe certain employees, namely the ones hot under the collar, are dumped into the fire box, and they will generate the steam. Somehow, that did not quite jive with reality. I ditched several other ill-fated ideas, including certain x-rated erotic situations. Ergo, I needed to inform myself.

A fireless steam engine obviously has no fire box; therefore it does not need a water tank and a coal supply. Instead, it has a rather voluminous pressure tank. The steam or very hot water is injected into the pressure tank from an outside source, such as a steam generator. That makes sense, except, why would anyone want to go through all that trouble. There must be some logical reasoning behind all this.


Now it comes to mind that a fireless steam locomotive is also smokeless and sparkless, plus it does not emit any pollution, whatsoever. This leads one to think that a contraption like this would be needed in an environment in which the above mentioned side effects cannot be tolerated, such as in chemical, munitions and explosives plants, or such.

images (2)

Following that train of thought, it becomes apparent that electric locomotives are also prohibitive as there can be a lot of sparking between the pantograph and the catenaries. Most Diesel engines give off too much air pollution and CO2 in a closed environment. Obviously, this does not contribute to healthy work conditions.

However, some battery operated electric locos and certain diesels can be modified to be able to operate in such environments. Those types are referred to as ‘Flame Proof’. In addition, there is also a type of loco which runs on highly compressed air. These types are mostly used in mines.

Battery operated locos have the disadvantage of not being powerful enough for some jobs, or else they need to be recharged way too often. Besides that, rechargeable batteries are either too expensive or too heavy or both.

More often than not, such a yard shifter sits around 80-90% of the time, waiting for a job to do. Letting a Diesel engine sit around idling most of the time reduces its operating cost effectiveness. You see, they can be hard to start and restart, especially in cold weather.

After considering all these factors, the existence and use of a fireless steam engine makes a lot more sense. Obviously, such a locomotive has a very limited operating range. Therefore you will usually encounter them on rail yards that are connected to or affiliated with certain manufacturing or processing plants. Let us not discuss that part. You can figure out yourself just where these locomotives might find their best calling. Examples are breweries and food manufacturing/processing plants.

The first ones saw the light of day in the late 19th century, in both, Europe and the US. In some places, they are still in use to this date, believe it or not. More details about these locomotives could be elaborated on, but for the purpose of this blog, I gave you enough information, I think.

Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to ride in one of those. Typically, in the areas where these engines are used, visitors are not admitted. But I did get to see one, from some distance. I think it was of the O-D-O ilk. It was quite odd looking. It kinda looked like a pregnant BR 89.

images (1)

Some time ago, I bought the Maerklin model shown below. I wanted it just to have something esoteric on my tracks. I like it a lot. It has excellent running characteristics. Here and there, it performs tasks that the real world version was never designed for. Its nickname is ‘Fatso’. Psssht! Please, don’t tell anyone. I don’t know if it is still available or if anyone makes a 2-rail DC version.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>