Triple expansion steam railway engines?

  WhiteTruckMan 23:35 15 Sep 2012

Last weekend we spent an entertaining day out at the Manchester museum of science and industry. (I'd post a link, but their site seems to be down right now). I loved the aircraft section, and fell head over heels in love with the Shackleton they have in there (I want one, but my garage is cluttered enough already, and I don't think I could hide it from Mrs WTM anyhow) but steam engines always grab my attention too. There was a static triple expansion engine there, and it always struck me as a piece of sheer genius to come up with it in the first place. Very widely used indeed in ships, but does anyone know why they never seemed to be used in locomotives?

I've asked a couple of people who claim to be railway enthusiasts (I know a bit, but not a lot) but no one seems to be able to give a conclusive answer.

Any takers?


  Forum Editor 00:05 16 Sep 2012

Triple expansion locomotives were used in some countries, but hardly at all in Britain, where they were considered to be too complicated, and requiring too much space.

  proudfoot 10:21 16 Sep 2012

I would think it is due to the UK track loading gauge being so small compared with some other large counties. The largest US loco's are almost twice the size of the largest UK loco.

  Bing.alau 11:48 16 Sep 2012

Yes but aren't the tracks in the USA the same gauge/width apart as the ones in the UK. Didn't I read somewhere that this width was based on the width apart of the Roman Chariot wheels?

If I am going off thread sorry, please delete.

  interzone55 15:04 16 Sep 2012


UK & US track gauge is the same, but the "lanes" are further apart, and so can have a bigger unit hanging either side of the tracks.

Manchester Museum of Science & Industry is fantastic by the way

  WhiteTruckMan 18:05 16 Sep 2012

By far the biggest item in the steam hall is a steam locomotive. There is a name for it's type, but it escapes me right now. It's a twin bogie thing, with driving wheels and steam cylinders on each end. On one bogie sits the coal tender and on the other sits the water, with the massive boiler slung between the two. I think this layout was developed originally for use on welsh narrow guages so a more powerful unit could negotiate the twists and turns. However, this was a full sized monster, and I do recall that it had a brass plate on it from the south african railways.

You would only design and build something like that for the power it could give, which was the inspiration for my original post. which was why not use a triple expansion on rails. Size for size they would give a considerable improvement on single or even twin cylinder models.


  interzone55 18:30 16 Sep 2012


The museum's website is down at the moment, but I've found the loco you mention on Wikipedia

  WhiteTruckMan 19:30 16 Sep 2012

Thats the beast!

A serious piece of kit. Obviously built for sheer power. Now think what it could have done with a triple engine at each end instead of those cylinders. Each engine directly driving an axle, and that axle linked to the others on the bogie by connecting rods.

Certainly complex, but no more so than some I have seen. Plus, for the same power output, more fuel efficient, surely important to railway operators, a notoriously tight fisted bunch.


  rdave13 20:15 16 Sep 2012

WTM, do I detect a serious case of drooling over this 'monster'?

  WhiteTruckMan 23:26 16 Sep 2012

Actually no. It's a piece of genuine curiosity and mystery to me. However, had you seen me with the shackleton...


  rdave13 23:47 16 Sep 2012

This thread is now locked and can not be replied to.

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