The International Steam Pages


El Tren del Fin del Mundo (The Train at the End of the World) - Part 4

Shaun McMahon continues his report on the trials and tribulations of working with a 'new' locomotive built in 'old fashioned' ways. Click here for the first part (May 1999), the second part (10th July 1999), the third part (February 2000), the fifth part (20th April 2000), the sixth part (24th September 2001), the seventh part (23rd November 2001) and the eighth part (5th March 2003). Also check out the railway's website.

Quite some time has lapsed since the last update concerning the locomotive fleet at Ushuaia appeared, this in the main has been due to the fact that we have been so busy doing the actual work that we have not had time available to write about it all. It is now coming to the end of our high season and hence a good chance to have a look back at what has been going on at the end of the World since June 1999.

The overhaul and modification of the Winson built 2 -6 - 2 T Camila carried on into the deep Winter months, often coming to a complete halt due to lack of people to do the work, lack of available funding, lack of understanding by the company of the scale of the project in hand (a couple of weeks fiddling around with nuts and bolts does not put right the damage done by poor design, manufacture and maintenance) and freezing cold conditions causing total failures of power and water supplies to the station and workshop. During June the temperature went down to minus 17 degrees C for a couple of weeks (lower has been known and is the case in the more exposed town of Rio Grande situated further north on the island), this being enough to have all available staff attending to ice damage. 3 months had been the planned timescale for the work in hand, however it took a great deal longer to complete (it should be remembered though, that the total modification work carried out by L.D. Porta in Cuba to locomotive 1816 took 6 years to complete - the allocated timescale was originally 6 months!). By mid June other problems were coming to the forefront; passenger figures for the Winter season were not as high as expected (FCAF is not a seasonal railway as in terms of having a closed period, though it does has a low and high season) and the financial predictions were not matching what needed to be done! This brought about problems in as much as it became difficult to pay suppliers (the small workshop at Ushuaia has very limited capabilities and hence many of the components required for the overhaul and modification of this locomotive had to be put out to contract both locally and further afield) who were not at all amused with this, hence further delaying progress.

With the water tanks, wheels and motion stripped it was time to design and manufacture the new live steam pipes. As can be seen from the set of photographs taken in May 1999, space to fit these was not really a problem as long as one disregarded the fact that the water tanks were in the way, the original steam pipes had avoided the tanks by taking a double curve inside the smokebox and a single downward bend outside before mating with the steamchests, as the object of the exercise was to reduce pressure drop between steam in the boiler and the cylinders this arrangement was not at all deemed acceptable. Disregarding the position of the tank the new pipes were designed to take the smoothest possible path between the internal steam pipe and the steamchests, this was achieved and all tacked in place before mating the flanges. It is planned to alter this pipework at the next stage of development of this locomotive as the new enlarged superheater will be fitted hence a total rearrangement of the front end will be necessary. Steam pipes were enlarged in terms of area as far as the constraints of the internal steam pipe and steamchest allowed. The lower section of the smokebox was patched were the old pipes exited and hence the staff of FCAF began to see things taking shape as the new pipes were lagged with insulation. It is one thing providing a railway administration with technical facts and recommendations, casting all of this into the hardware and making it work in day to day conditions is very much another thing indeed and it is often (almost always outside Europe) the case that the people concerned do not believe any of it will work until the machine is performing in service to predicted standards and even then they are sceptical as to whether the data recorded is correct or taken without a degree of dishonesty - the people who disbelieve the most are those who sanction the work in the first place and it is prudent to question the motive of the initial sanctioning - readers, let me tell you, it is not always for the benefit of the steam locomotive as most of us would like to believe it is! Whilst the contractor boilermaker was available to us it was convenient for him to carry out the necessary modifications required to the water tanks so that these were then in finished state ready for painting. This consisted of forming blank, watertight compartments that would accommodate the path of the live steam pipes (including the extra space taken up by the higher degree of insulation). The water capacity that was lost on the RH tank was regained with the LH tank as half of the battery compartment was filled with water! The battery (used for radio and lighting) was later positioned below the cab footplate in an external position between the rear buffer beam and the access step Later on the dead space between the pipes and the tanks could be filled with extra insulation.

Whilst this work was taking place, the manufacture of the new driving wheel axles for the remaining 2 sets, which had not suffered failure in service as did the main driving axle back in March 1999, was in progress outside the railway. The design had been altered to incorporate much more realistic proportions than the manufacturers had originally worked to, and several journeys were made to the Musin workshops at Rio Grande some 250 kilometres to the North of Ushuaia so as to supervise the work in hand. The staff of that particular workshop had never dealt with such work before (apart from one occasion when a new driving axle was manufactured for locomotive Rodrigo with no specs given to the Musin workshop hence ending up with flanges and wheel profile being machined square and crank setting accuracy being totally disregarded, no material specification was given or proof received, the result was the failure of this axle in service at the end of November 1999) and hence careful step by step instructions along with detailed drawings, had to be issued so as to ensure accuracy of manufacture. The chance was also taken to renew rod end bushes and valve gear bushes and pins. From the outset it had been decided to equip Camila with a high adhesion type of wheel profile. These had been used elsewhere with a great deal of success (the Rio Turbio Railway 2 - 10 - 2 locomotives for example) and the chance was taken to inspect this at first hand in a practical situation as applied to Minaz 1816 in Cuba along with Porta earlier in the year before carrying out the final design and submitting such to the Musin workshop. The altered profile (which has a groove and then a step machined into it) can be clearly seen in the accompanying photographs. In basic terms the idea being to arrest any stray oil creep towards the contact portion of the tyre. The main drivers were also machined to a larger diameter so as to compensate for the extra wear that is normally suffered by these in comparison to the other coupled drivers. New coupling rod bearings and valve gear bushes were manufactured at Rio Grande and upon completion all components were available for delivery to Ushuaia.

Combustion and exhaust system modifications were set into motion as time for completion of the locomotive was running short and we were already over the time limit which I had originally set (happily ignorant, at the time of setting such, as to the difficulties that are experienced in this part of the World) back in April. Porta and myself had discussed in detail how this was going to be done, with myself opting for a change in burner and panplate design at this stage. This was based on my experience of firstly the Laidlaw Drew type burners and secondly the recent modifications made to that type of swirl burner in order to improve its combustion characteristics and hence the overall performance of the locomotives that such burners are applied to. At the time I did not know enough about the system used by the Swiss for the SLM rack tank locomotives and 52 Class locomotives in order to include consideration into any proposed scheme. In the end it was decided to stick with what we had got (flat trough as designed and fitted by the manufacturers) due to financial and time constraints, also it was felt desirable (more by Porta than myself) to monitor the effect of the new front end with respect to combustion whilst using this type of burner. Whilst in Cuba I examined the oil firing system of 1816 which revealed that the same procedure had been adopted in that particular case. In the end there was little time to change much of the system except to increase the primary air intake by 40% of its previous value. When Porta first inspected the FCAF locomotives during 1998, he soon noticed that it was not possible to make smoke at high outputs and as a result altered the quantity (more than doubling it) and form of the primary air intake in relation to this locomotives combustion system. The panplate was stripped of its refractory bed and 2 additional holes were cut directly in front of the existing 3 air inlets. Trumpet mouths were fitted so as to induce a smooth air intake. On the front end side of matters it was quite a different story as the whole of the exhaust system needed replacing and hence some careful calculations had to be made as to the proportions of exhaust steam pipes, Kordina and Lempor type nozzles. It had been decided from the outset to apply the Lempor exhaust system as it represents the best design to date. Having said that readers should take into account that everything can be improved upon, the next stage of development is the Lemprex ejector which has yet to be applied to a working locomotive. Our initial plan was to manufacture the exhaust system in Buenos Aires, with Porta checking my calculations before supervising the manufacture of all components at the factory. However time and other commitments did not allow this to happen, thus dimensions and calculations were presented to Phil Girdlestone in Port Shepstone, South Africa. Locomotive builders, 'Girdlestone Rail', were coming to the end of manufacturing FCAFs new diesel locomotive and there was a time slot in which all the new front end could be manufactured in order to allow for delivery around October 1999 which would see Camila in service by November. Girdlestone checked all and a few modifications made to the original design and layout of the system within the cofines of the available space. New enlarged exhaust steam pipes were manufactured along with Kordina and Lempor exhaust manifold consisting of 4 angled converging/diverging nozzles. A new De Laval blower was also made but as it is more than likely that the whole system will have to be modified after superheating the boiler it was decided at this point not to cast the blower ring into the exhaust manifold but rather keep it as a separate ring with 4 converging/diverging nozzles positioned so as to fall in between the exhaust manifold nozzles. Mixing chamber and diffuser were manufactured at the same time. Two interesting points to note in this design are; the Kordina wall was designed with a straight wall instead of an S shaped wall, whilst the first set of diverging nozzles have been designed and manufactured in round section (readers please refer to - The Red Devil and other Tales From the Age of Steam, D. Wardale - pages 474, 475 and 476). A second set of diverging nozzles is to be prepared in the original 'egg' shape. It should be mentioned at this point that the application of the straight wall Kordina and initial fitting of round section diverging exit nozzles was not at Porta's advice.

The wheelsets and motion were by now back from the Musin workshops and work was nearing completion on the alteration and replacement of cab controls in order to make one man operation of the machine that bit easier. In the main this consisted of regrouping all control valves on the right hand side so that the driver can stand (or sit!) in one position and comfortably operate the locomotive. This is a very important factor, which unfortunately is often overlooked by many locomotive designers and manufacturers. A gauge for steam atomisation pressure was also fitted along with a back pressure gauge. In addition to these, gauges were also fitted so as to read smokebox vacuum, firebox vacuum, gas oil and feedwater consumption. Around this time the first box of spares and materials arrived from Girdlestone Rail, and hence with the locomotive still in the air with the panplate removed it was a very easy task to fit the new design of fusible plug which replaced the manufacturers original (the original had long since been stripped of its capability to fuse in the event of low water levels by inserting a bolt into the firebox end of the plug, apparently this was done one day a couple of years ago after it had inconveniently 'leaked' water from the boiler into the firebox and was putting the fire out!). Pipework was also fitted for the driving wheel flange lubricator, with the final legs to the tyres being put in place after the wheelsets had been fitted. Along with the fusible plug (and spare) came piston and valve rings, which were duly gapped and fitted. At this stage the old type valves have been refitted with new to be designed and manufactured for the next stage of work to be carried out to this locomotive.

Upon inspection of the axlebox guides it was apparent that severe scoring of the faces had taken place during the relatively short years of service at FCAF. Of course, there was no shoe and wedge arrangement fitted, as one would expect on a locomotive built in the 1990s. In an attempt to effect a temporary repair it was decided to check the alignment of the frames, remachine the guide surfaces and insert liners. A few words to describe quite a lot of work. The Poissonnier method was chosen as the best to determine accuracy of frame alignment. A Poissonnier aligning instrument was designed and manufactured, Porta supervising such in Buenos Aires and bringing it down to Ushuaia himself at the end of August. The use of the Possonnier revealed that the frames had been put together out of line and hence for the time being this had to be compensated for when refitting the wheelsets. This was duly carried with Porta staying for the week to personally check that all went to plan. It did and the wheelsets and motion were assembled with the locomotive rolling for the first time in some four months. The liners (upon test) moved upwards and hence a rapid redesign of their mounting had to be carried out, this to date has proved to be successful in holding the arrangement in position. Along with the new fusible plug, piston and valve rings arrived new gauge glasses, gaugeglass rubbers, gaugeframe packing sleeves, new clack box plug and new blowdown valve mounting attachment.

Due attention had been given to the fact that there was a need to look closely at the design of the present front and rear bogies, with a view to altering such in the future. Unfortunately time did not allow such to be carried out at this stage and work will have to be done during stage 2. However the side control springs had been (amazingly!) taken out by one of my predecessors at FCAF and the chance was taken to replace these, thus giving a much better (if not yet perfect) ride. The chance was also taken to alter the existing brakegear in order to give a more even application of the blocks, concurrently the brakeblocks themselves being replaced by a new composition type. By now it was nearly the end of September and events were beginning to run very late. The new chimney, lining up instrument, exhaust pipes, Kordina, Lempor exhaust manifold and de Laval blower had all been dispatched by Girdlestone Rail with all being due to arrive by early October so as to effect completion for the beginning of the high season in mid November. The consignment had been split in two halves of (or as near as could be achieved) of 25 Kg each. We were given the news that one half had arrived safely in Ushuaia, and that there was as yet no sign of the second half but that is was expected within a few days. We waited for a few days but nothing appeared and upon further enquiries it was explained to us that the other 25-Kg had not even arrived in Buenos Aires. The parts which had arrived in Ushuaia were chimney and lining up instrument, all very well but of little use to us without the other half of the exhaust system! Captain Hugo Matthews, a marine surveyor based in Buenos Aires (he was also at one time the captain of a Merchant Navy vessel that the President of Tranex had served on before turning his skills towards the railway world!), was quickly contacted. As it turned out there was no sign of the second box of components, no sign at all! As the investigation continued the work on Camila also continued. With all major components in place detail finishing, such as the heavy insulation of the cylinders could go ahead, the water tanks were deliberately left until the very end as it was convenient to have the extra space in order to fit the new exhaust steam pipes. Valve setting was also carried out; and the accuracy of such was to became evident once the locomotive had entered service. The valve setting was carried out by John Bancroft, a regular driver on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway in Wales, UK, who was employed by FCAF for six a month contract as fitter/driver due to a shortage of locomotive drivers which became apparent around August.

Porta visited again for a second time, this time turning his attention towards stage 2 of the modification work and in particular the boiler and frame redesign. The chance was also taken to test Garratt locomotive Nora for steam leakage. Porta maintains the world record for minimum steam leakage as a fraction of boiler evaporation with respect to the Rio Turbio 2 - 10 - 2 Mitsubishi locomotives. Following the tests conducted at Ushuaia with respect to Nora results showed that steam leakage as a fraction of maximum boiler evaporation was a 67%! Ironic that the world record holding locomotives are only some 500 Km up the road from FCAF and gave results of 2% leakage.

Though the burner was not replaced at this stage, it was intended to superheat the atomising steam, however this was not done in the end as there was no stainless steel piping of the correct diameter available in the South of Argentina.

As the high season got nearer and the traffic department were beginning to cry out for a second steamer the full repainting of Camila was undertaken. This was carried out by a local contractor using spray method. The shade of green was slightly altered and red lining replaced the old L & B style white lining as applied by the manufacturer. Headlamps were painted white. The new diesel locomotive, Tierra del Fuego was on its way, but still no sign of the remaining parts of the exhaust system. The first part of the consignment could not be released until the second landed at customs in Ushuaia. With the unloading arrangements to be made for TdF, work stopped on Camila as the paint was applied and subsequently dried in time to show the locomotive off in unfinished form on launch day of the new diesel, 6th November 1999. By this time there was little hope of the remaining missing components showing up and it was decided to refit the old exhaust steam pipes, blast pipe and chimney. A slight modification was made in that a petticoat was manufactured and fitted which did improve smokebox vacuum though by how much is not known as test instrumentation was not fitted in previous years - improvement figures can only be quoted if test instrumentation is fitted and correctly used, anything else is an opinion and therefore unvalid. All of a sudden came the news that the box containing the remaining parts had been located by South African Airways. It had been wrongly sent by SAA to London and then dispatched around Europe until someone had the sense to send it back to where it came from. Once in Durban, Phil Girdlestone was able to identify the package and resend to Buenos Aires whereupon it was forwarded to Ushuaia and could be matched with the chimney in the customs clearance area of the city.

Camila was steam tested on 23rd November and ran some trial trips before entering service proper on 28th November. By now another problem was upon us in the form of the steam locomotive air pumps. As readers will appreciate, without the air pump it is not possible to create air for the continuos air braking system. After a long time struggling to get the Winson built pumps to work we gave up and decided to look for another type of pump. As fate would have it Chris Parrott, Passed Fireman on the Tal Y Llyn Railway in Wales, UK, and FCAFs regular driver of Garratt locomotive Nora mentioned the fact that the TR had completed a production run of air pumps and that it was likely that there were spare pumps, available for sale, in stock at Pendre Workshops. The Tal Y Llyn had already exported to the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia. Dave Scotson, Engineering Manager TR, was soon contacted and within a couple of days an arrangement for the sale of two air pumps was made. An emergency instruction was issued that would allow trains to run for a given period of time without continuos brakes.

At the beginning of December, with Camila and Tierra del Fuego handling the train service whilst Nora underwent routine maintenance, I paid a 5 day visit to the North of Argentina where I was to represent Tranex at the 3rd meeting of the newly formed Association of Argentine Tourist Railways. Whilst away I received the good news that all components for the Lempor exhaust system had arrived at the workshops in Ushuaia. The meeting of the AAR was being held at Tren a las Nubes, Salta and for a some time this railway had been looking for a way to reintroduce steam traction so as to replace diesel locomotives on their passenger service and it was deemed convenient by the board of directors to hold a meeting with respect to this matter. Porta had proposed a design around the requirements of this 240 Km long railway that climbs to height of 4,200 Metres above sea level and upon detailed discussion with the President and Engineer of Tren a las Nubes (an English translation being Train to the Clouds), it became evident that this design proposal needed to be formalised so that it could be considered properly. Porta could not attend the meeting at Salta but on my way back to Ushuaia I had a chance to speak in detail with him regarding this, in turn he would produce something on paper by the time I was due to pass through Buenos Aires again (this turned out to be the following week). Upon inspection of all the exhaust system components and consultation with the Traffic Manager it was decided to install the new exhaust system between Christmas and the New Year, if the air pumps arrived in the meantime then Camilas could be fitted concurrently. Some months ago, Tranex had been contracted by Rail Development Corporation to inspect and handle the forwarding arrangements of two YP locomotives which were being purchased for use at an undisclosed destination and by the following week it was time to travel to India to carry out the first part of this work. Thus it was possible to meet with Porta again in Buenos Aires so as discuss in more detail the design of the 801 series locomotive for the Salta line. The proposal for such has since been submitted for the board's consideration and details of the locomotive are to be the subject of a later article. The series number follows on from the LVM 800 series designed for use in Cuba.

The Lempor exhaust system was finally fitted to Camila just in time for it to work the last train of the year. In service testing continued afterwards so as to evaluate the modification work carried out to this locomotive so far. At this stage it was noticeable that the locomotives fuel and water consumption was less than it had been in its previous state, likewise it was much more free running as indeed the back pressure readings indicated when readings were taken against values of smokebox and firebox vacuum. Tal Y Llyn Railway air pumps 3 and 11 were fitted to Nora and Camila respectively during the first week of January and have so far proved to be reliable in everyday service.

On 12th February evidence of bulging was apparent on the lower right hand side of the inner firebox of Camila, the locomotive was thus withdrawn from traffic the same day so that a full examination could be carried out. Whist the locomotive is stripped it is very likely that the remaining work necessary in order to complete stage 2 of modification will be carried out. The design for a replacement boiler has been underway for some time hence completion of such and manufacture are the next steps that will be undertaken by the company. It is hoped that an update of events will appear in these pages in the not too distant future.

Shaun McMahon, Technical Manager , Tranex Turismo S.A. , Ushuaia , Rep. Argentina.


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Rob Dickinson

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