Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Be Specific, Ship Union Pacific

As befits one of the powerhouse railroads in the U.S., the Union Pacific ran the largest fleet of gas turbine electric locomotives in the country. Built in three series, UP's GTEL's were meant to provide the same power output as several diesel engines, which in the postwar years weren't as powerful as the steam engines they were trying to replace. It cost the same to run a smaller number of more powerful engines, and locomotives were at their most efficient at high, sustained speeds. Despite being thirstier than equivalent diesels, the turbines proved to be less costly to run on fast, mainline freights, and this is where they excelled.

Built in three series, UP's turbines had all been retired by 1970. The turbines used Bunker C heavy fuel oil, which had few uses outside of this one, but by the seventies oil prices were up and new uses for this former waste product were being developed. It spelled the end of the turbine locos, and most were broken up, their parts recycled into conventional diesel locomotives.

Two of the turbines still exist, both from the third series built. This one, engine number eighteen, resides at the Illinois Railway Museum.

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