1. Welcome to the CivilWarTalk, a forum for questions and discussions about the American Civil War! Become a member today for full access to all of our resources, it's fast, simple, and absolutely free!
Dismiss Notice
Join and Become a Patron at CivilWarTalk!
Support this site with a monthly or yearly subscription! Active Patrons get to browse the site Ad free!
START BY JOINING NOW!

Railroad Speeds

Discussion in 'Railroads and Steam Locomotives' started by DaveBrt, Nov 3, 2017.

  1. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Average train speed throughout the South before the war was about 15 miles an hour. This speed was the time from start of the day's trip to its end and includes the time spent in stations. The speed run between stations might get to 25 miles per hour, but only in certain locations and only on passenger trains.

    Since stress on iron rails was dependent on the weight of the load and the speed with which it passed over the rails, the railroads universally reduced their running speeds to reduce rail wear, once they saw the war would not be over in the summer of 1861.

    By the last year of war, the speeds were also slower because the locomotives had been denied the maintenance they required and so could no longer pull the required weight at previous speeds. There are many late-war stories of trains being unable to top hills because of weak, wheezing locomotives and trains traveling only slightly faster than a man could walk.
     

  2. (Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
  3. Jimklag

    Jimklag Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2017
    Messages:
    7,299
    Location:
    Chicagoland, Land of Lincoln
    In Company Aitch there is an anecdote with Sam telling of riding on the cars at the breakneck speed of 30 mph.
     
  4. photoman475

    photoman475 Sergeant

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2015
    Messages:
    525
    Location:
    Fargo, ND
    Southern railroads may not have been built to northern standards, either. Were the tracks properly ballasted, and the drainage correct? What was the track maintenance like before the war? Then there's the loco and car maintenance, etc. Were the bridges adequate for the loads? All that kind of thing.
     
  5. Southern Unionist

    Southern Unionist Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2017
    Messages:
    576
    Location:
    NC
    Track profile also had a major impact on average speed. On flat, straight lines near the coast, top speed and average speed could be similar. Freights going uphill slowed considerably, killing their averages on inland routes.

    Adding more horsepower to climb hills faster would have meant heavier locomotives, and the rails and bridges weren't ready for that.

    Then there was the braking issue. Until air brakes were invented, longer, heavier, more powerful trains going faster would have meant more runaway accidents, and they already had too many.

    For the short term, most people were quite happy that trains were considerably faster than horses on roads, and water transportation.
     
  6. ucvrelics.com

    ucvrelics.com 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

    Joined:
    May 7, 2016
    Messages:
    2,841
    Location:
    Alabama
    Ive been trying to finds CW photos I have of some CS RR. They would just cut down trees on the ROW then cut to cross tie length, hue out a flat spot on each end for the rail and spike it down. Tie plates were few and far between as were fish-plates which were know as chairs back then as the rail had to holes in the ends to connect them.
     
    mofederal likes this.
  7. ucvrelics.com

    ucvrelics.com 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

    Joined:
    May 7, 2016
    Messages:
    2,841
    Location:
    Alabama
    Here is a photo of typical Southern RR construction.
    csrr.jpg
     
  8. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Hate to tell you, but that is USMRR construction.
     
    mofederal likes this.
  9. ucvrelics.com

    ucvrelics.com 2nd Lieutenant Forum Host

    Joined:
    May 7, 2016
    Messages:
    2,841
    Location:
    Alabama
    Thanks for the info I guess that means that Southern RR's were worst than that especially in the western theater.
     
    Pat Young and mofederal like this.
  10. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Would you care to explain your sniping comment?
     
    mofederal likes this.
  11. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2016
    Messages:
    1,143
    Coming from the aviation world, I understand aircraft maintenance and letterchecks. What were the maintenance schedules for a properly maintained locomotive in this era?

    Thanks,
    USS ALASKA
     
    Jimklag likes this.
  12. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Superintendents and Master Machinists were very pragmatic -- repairs were conducted when required, not by any preventative schedule. The engineer (train runner) and his fireman had a set of chores to do at the end of each day's running, but they were related to being able to run, not to preventing future problems. Some of the day-end chores were: filling wood and water, emptying ash from firebox and smoke box, filling the headlight's oil container, lubricating and tightening all running gear, wiping down the outside of the locomotive to remove smoke, ash and mud/dirt.

    Needless to say, exhausted crews, who had to run again very soon, might be a bit less than thorough.
     
  13. Southern Unionist

    Southern Unionist Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2017
    Messages:
    576
    Location:
    NC
    In addition to everything else that has come up so far in this thread, average train speeds also had a lot to do with railroad economics, which is a complex subject. All railroads (other than those that had been seized by the government during the war) were private businesses, so every decision was ultimately a financial one. Railroad history is littered with failed companies that were not good at figuring out how much it would cost to make trains go faster, or at estimating how much the customers would be willing to pay extra for faster delivery, or in finding the right balance point between the two sides of this equation.

    Dispatching was a key factor. Everybody knew that passengers and mail were highly time-sensitive, and everybody knew what to do about it. Those trains were kept shorter, and given the highest dispatching priority, to keep their average speeds close to the track speed limit. Other loads were quite different. With bulk commodities like wood, coal, textiles, stone, bulk liquids, and some dry agricultural materials, speed was not important at all. Shippers didn't care if a delivery took two weeks as long as the cost was low. The way to make money moving bulk commodities was (and still is) to make the trains as long as possible, loaded to the point where the locomotive could barely make it to the top of the steepest hill on the route (known as the ruling grade). The trick was keeping those trains out from in front of passenger and mail trains. Making matters more complicated was the fact that manufactured items were more time-sensitive than bulk commodities, but less so than passengers, so the dispatcher had a third priority level to complicate his plans and calculations. Time estimates for meets used to be done on a chalkboard or on paper. Then the detailed train orders would be sent out to station operators via telegraph. Station operators gave written orders to train crews and also controlled station sidings.

    Engineering also played a key role. We already talked about the importance of building a straight, flat track to whatever extent it was feasible, using bridges, high fills, and tunnels to fight nature in hilly country. Again, spending the right amount of money was essential. Railroads often went out of business due to spending too much to building a line that was too perfect, crushed by debt and interest payments when customers wouldn't pay high enough rates for the extra speed. Spending too little could also be fatal, especially if there was a competitor in the area that ran faster and more safely. Many lines got sold at heavy discounts by bankruptcy courts, due to these management failures. The other way the engineering department could help with speed at that time was by adding more sidings, giving the dispatchers more options for meets that resulting in less time being spent by freights sitting around waiting for a higher priority train to show up from either direction.

    Double track lines were still off in the future.

    Don't assume that southern railroads were always inferior to those in the northeast, since the southern economy was so strong before the war. Also, some lines in the South were built with money and expertise from the North. A great future was seen in expanding cotton and tobacco plantations further back from the riverfronts, free from total dependence on farm wagons.

    After the war and on into modern times, northeastern companies and investors have recognized and acted upon railroad business opportunities in the South.
     
  14. Jimklag

    Jimklag Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2017
    Messages:
    7,299
    Location:
    Chicagoland, Land of Lincoln
    It sounds like the old proverb of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There were three mandatory questions I encountered in engineering for a manufacturing company. Can we build it? Can we sell it? Is it cost effective? A good, relatively inexpensive solution was always preferred to a perfect, expensive one.
     
  15. Jimklag

    Jimklag Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2017
    Messages:
    7,299
    Location:
    Chicagoland, Land of Lincoln
    The only exception to the last sentence in my previous post was if the entire industry had a widespread, pandemic problem. If your engineers designed the only solution, you could make it as expensive as you could get away with.
     
    mofederal likes this.
  16. Southern Unionist

    Southern Unionist Sergeant

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2017
    Messages:
    576
    Location:
    NC
    In so many industries, engineering and management are constantly having this debate, and have been for generations.

    On the rail operations side, timing is so important. Early generation railroads needed to be in a state of constant upgrading and expansion, but at a pace that was sustainable, keeping their debt under control. Fortunately for them, their own success usually led to economic growth in the areas they served, generating more business and cash flow. It was an upward spiral.
     
  17. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Southern railroad speeds were set in this manner:

    1. Set the start and end times for the mail train to meet the connections at the road's ends.
    2. Determine the best times for the other passenger train(s).
    3. Set through freight trains so that meeting the mail and passenger trains was done at convenient places.
    4. Fit the way freight train in where it caused the least impact on the above trains.

    Problems: 5. Maintenance and repairs 6. Government special trains

    Notice that times, not speeds, determine the schedules. The mail train's schedule was coordinated with the connecting roads, so all schedules were related. Most roads only changed schedules when the mail schedule was being changed or when the amount of available rolling stock required a reduction in the number of trains per day. You can see these changes by going to one of my RR pages and noting the slow decrease in the number of trains scheduled, though way and through freight trains are not usually mentioned.
     
  18. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2016
    Messages:
    1,143
    It is my understanding that most (all?) Confederate locomotives were wood-burners? Was any type of wood more desirable over others? Would type of wood fuel influence performance?

    Thanks,
    USS ALASKA
     
    mofederal likes this.
  19. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    Many of the Southern roads were justified, prior to construction, by referring to the increase in land values seen on other roads as they were built. It was clear to all that access to new markets (ie someone farther than 5 miles away) would increase the value of money crops -- and therefore the value of the land on when the crops were grown. In fact, other than cotton, most pre-railroad farmers did not grow money crops because they had no markets.
     
  20. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2010
    Messages:
    1,375
    Location:
    Charlotte, NC
    The only coal burners in the South were captured B&O locomotives and it is unclear to me whether they continued to burn coal after March 1862 (I have a data point there). I'm sure superintendents wanted hard woods, but they had to take what was grown along their road --- pine 95% of the time.
     
    mofederal and USS ALASKA like this.
  21. USS ALASKA

    USS ALASKA First Sergeant

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2016
    Messages:
    1,143
    Almost sounds like you are describing current day CSX given the news reports I've been reading lately...

    I know - WAAAAY off topic...

    USS ALASKA
     
    mofederal and Southern Unionist like this.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

Share This Page


(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)