Tag Archives: railways

Giants of Steam, by Jonathon Glancey

Giants of Steam: The Great Men and Machines of Rail’s Golden Age

Book by Jonathan Glancey

Published 2012, 376 p., [16] p. of plates.

An excellent read for anyone interested in the past and possible future for steam. Full of facts and statistics the statements are well backed up and interesting to read.

The book starts with the tragic story of George Jackson Churchward, a giant himself of British steam locomotive design for the Great Western Railway, was tragically killed by 4085 Berkeley Castle after he stooped down to inspect the condition of the track.

This is just the first of the of facts that I learned about steam locomotives and their fascinating history of their development. Only the countries that developed their own steam fleet are included and this left out Australia.

In the book the reader learns about:

  • Andre Chapelon and his advancement of steam locomotive efficiency and power improvements
  • Making steam efficient
    • Gasified firebox, reduced pollution
    • High pressure boiler
    • Super heating
    • Improving steam flow and removing gas bottlenecks
    • Compounding
  • Running costs between steam and diesel are comparable
  • Steam locomotives can use any fuel and are not limited to oil over which wars have been fought (and still being fought)

He laments over the poorly managed way the British converted away from steam. Rather than chucking out locomotives they should have followed the Japanese example and kept steam in good running condition until an alternative was up and running.

Glancey believes there is a future for steam, but I think it would only happen if crude oil got scarce. This is unlikely due to the “frackers” of the United States who are currently producing more oil than is needed. There are locomotives on use on tourist lines that are kept warm overnight so they can start up within 15 minutes for the first service. Gasified fireboxes completely burn the coal and are not only make the locomotive more thermally efficient but also make the funnel output cleaner.


An excellent read about steam locomotives. It would have been even better with diagrams and text explaining how gasified fire boxes and steam flow improvements worked for example. There are lots of train weights, tractive effort and horsepower figures to keep the reader interested. There are also lots of journey times and if you don’t know the area they are hard to appreciate.

Useful Links

Railways to Ride and Railways Ridden

Ida Bay Railway

Australia’s most southern most railway is virtually unknown. Technically it’s a tramway built in the 1890’s to take limestone out to the waiting ships in the port. It runs from Ida Bay (south of Southport, Tasmania) to Deep Hole which has a mile long secluded beach. You can even camp out overnight and get the train the next day.

Pichi Richi Railway

Pichi Richi Railway is a heritage tourist railway and operating museum, running regular heritage train journeys on the oldest remaining section of the famous narrow gauge old Ghan railway. Pichi Richi Railway has its headquarters at Quorn, in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Trains depart from Quorn and Port Augusta.

Puffing Billy

Is a hard to beat day trip, for rail fans and the public.

The Ghan, Adelaide to Darwin

I hope to do this trip once the boys are a bit older and more patient. The articles that I have read about the trip indicate it is great for rail fans and the public.

The Indian Pacific, from Sydney to Perth

This one is on the to do list.

The Savannahlander from Cairns to Forsayth

This one is on the to do list.

Tourists and rail enthusiasts enjoy the rail trip, with a lot of scenic highlights and wildlife. Off train tours make the trip a most enjoyable travel experience. I rate the Savannahlander ahead of the IP and Ghan, as a “Must Do” rail travel experience.

West Coast Wilderness Railway (Tasmania)

This is a world class rail travel experience. Yet to travel on this one. Last time I was in Tasmania the locomotive was in a museum. It’s great to see old railways become reborn again.

Westcoast Railway, Melbourne to Warnambool

We did this one before the boys were born and West Coast had its magnificent R Class loco running burning old brake fluid. The route is no longer operated by West Coast Rail who went insolvent not long after our trip.

Photos are on their way, but they are coming from film and need to be scanned.

Walhalla Goldfields Railway

This is one of Puffing Billy’s “sister” railways. An excellent ride along the cliff walls for most of the way. An engineering feat both in construction and restoration.

Miniature Railways

I’m usually not a big fan of miniature railways as being tall I have problems fitting into them. They are a lot cheaper to ride than the full size railways which is one notable advantage.

Diamond Valley Railway

This miniature railway near where we live is the best 7.25″ railways in Australia. Well worth a ride.