Sunday, March 4, 2012

Big. Bold. Brash. UP's GTEL's

There are many things to admire about the Union Pacific Railroad (UP). What comes to mind immediately was their boldness in designing and building big power.

There was a period of time during the 1950's through 1960's, in which UP's Mechanical Department went all-out to develop high horsepower locomotives. This desire lead to the "Big Boy," the "Challenger," and in conjunction with General Motors, the "DDA40X Centennial."

They dabbled in the diesel-hydraulics, and flip-flopped the radiator fan to give us the "Tunnel Motor." Big. Bold. Brash.

I found in my collection, a group of three photos of UP's GTEL's - Gas Turbine-Electric Locomotives. As a mere lad of 15, more than a half century ago, I had been "trading photos" with correspondants found in the advertising section of Trains magazine. I have many "traders" from those days. That is how I got the photos.

As you recall from your science class in high school, there are three basic types of turbines:

One propelled by a liquid. As found at your local hydroelectric project. All that is required is a man-made lake and flumes to send the water against the turbine blades.

Another driven by steam. This was the case with Chesapeake & Ohio's "Jawn Henry" locomotive. All that is required is a steam boiler to supply high-pressure steam against the turbine blades.

And the third type of turbine, driven by the combustion of burning fuel gasses against the turbine blades, as was found in Union Pacific locomotive. Developed first with Westinghouse, then with General Electric, the result was Union Pacific's audacious introduction of the GTEL - Gas Turbine-Electric Locomotive.

Union Pacific experimented with not one, but six classes of turbine locomotives. They were a sight to behold on the western landscape. Rail fans and photographers tracked them down unmercifully! The six classes included:

  • GE Stream Turbine, of which two were built and tested.
  • GE 8,500 HP A+B sets, of which 30 were built.
  • GE 4,500 HP double cab, one was built.
  • GE 4,500 HP cab units. 10 built.
  • GE 4,500 HP "Veranda" units. 15 built.
  • ALCo-GE Coal turbine, a monster A+B unit. "A" contained a 2,000 hp diesel "starter" and control cabinet for the 7,000 horsepower gas turbine housed in the "B" unit. UP 80+80B ran on injected pulverized coal from October 1962 through May 1964.

• UP 6 + 6B, 8,500 horsepower (6.33 MW). Later up-rated to 10,000 hp (7.45 MW)
• Lead unit contains diesel engine used as a starter, and B unit contains gas turbine unit, with fuel carried in trailing tender.
•Built February 1959, Serial Number 33205.
•Retired October 1969.

Here is a walk-through of UP 18, which was up-rated to 10,000.

• UP 52, B+B-B+B, 558,000 lbs.
• 5,000 hp (3.7 MW)
• Built July 1965, Serial Number 35650
• Retired September 1973

• UP 72. "Veranda" car body. B+B-B+B. 534,000 pounds
• 4,500 hp (3.35 MW)
• Built August 1954, Serial Number 32039
• Retired December 1963

  • UP 61-75 single-cab 4,500 horsepower Gas Turbine locomotives were delivered without tenders. The tenders were added later by UP, rebuilt from FEF-1 class 4-8-4 (800-819) steam locomotive tenders.
  • UP 61-75 were nicknamed "Veranda Turbines" because they were equipped with outside walkways along the sides of the car bodies.
  • The truck and bolster assemblies from UP 61-68, 71-73, 75 (12 units) were reconditioned by UP at Omaha in 1963 and 1964 and shipped to GE-Erie for use on the U50s. The car bodies were scrapped by UP at Omaha and Cheyenne.
  • The truck and bolster assemblies from UP 69, 70, and 74 (three units) were reconditioned by UP at Omaha in 1964 and shipped to Alco-Schenectady for use on the C855s. The car bodies were scrapped by UP at Omaha and Cheyenne.
  • UP 31-53 were built using reconditioned truck and bolster assemblies from UP's retired 4500 GTEL gas turbine-electric locomotives.
  • UP 52 was delivered rated at 5,600 horsepower as a field test of a Cummings PT improved fuel system. The modification was removed and the unit de-rated to 5000 horsepower in October 1966.
Technical information on UP 6, 52 and 72, courtesy of Don Strack's UtahRails.

Gas Turbines, as a class, are quite versatile. They can burn diesel fuel, Naphtha, light oil, pulverized coal dust, and even ground up peat! But the choice of fuel for Union Pacific was the so-called "Bunker C" fuel.

"Bunker C" is not crude oil, but a residual after the "good stuff," like kerosene and gasoline, etc. have been removed from the crude. For a highly detailed explanation of Bunker C as a locomotive fuel, see Don Strack's UtahRails.

While the gas turbine-electric locomotive has disappeared from American rails, over in Russia, this 11,130 horsepower unit recently completed testing, validating the brute's new world record for a single locomotive. In September 2011, the GT1-001 established a new record for a single locomotive, pulling 16,000 tons.

By 1969, as fuel prices rose, the poor efficiency of the GTEL began bumping them off UP's Equipment Roster. Fortunately, two units were saved for history. UP 26 is housed at the Ogden Union Station, and the second, UP 18, is on display at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Union Pacific. The "Great Big Rolling Railroad!"

3 Comments - Click here:

Rangachari Anand said...

Great article. Nowadays, my understanding is that a much smaller quantity of Bunke C like residue is left over as a byproduct.

LinesWest said...

Great article O-E.  Allow me to add a couple more bits of technical info on these GTELs, I studied them briefly a while back.  They reported to be as loud as 747s on takeoff when under operation and that was one limitation to their use around the system.  I believe that (like the Big Boys), they were most at home in the big spaces of Wyoming and Sherman Hill.  Another interesting "feature" of these beasts was the need to keep the turbine turning at higher RPM and not "idle" it for periods like downhill running.  Apparently, the high temperatures associated with operation could tend to warp the turbine shaft if it sat idle at high temperature.  

They also had some very interesting experimental work with coal-dust fired turbines.  As you noted, turbines can burn almost anything!


Brewer Brad said...

If you like prime mover control history, check out the site. The Woodward Governor Company had their fuel controls on 90 percent of the GTEL series locomotives.

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