Biofuel Steam Locomotive Tomorrow’s Cleaner Mass Transit?

So exactly how would it outperform these more “modern” diesel electrics, while also setting a new world speed record? CSR spells out that, noting that diesel-electric passenger locomotives develop maximum horsepower at low speed which, when combined with other factors, are hampered in their “ability to reach full potential at 110 or 125 mph.” By comparison, modern steam technology is said to develop and “maintain maximum horsepower above 40 mph, enabling higher speed acceleration than alternatives available today” What’s more, they say, is that this faster acceleration, making use of their steam engine technology, reportedly can be done “at or below the cost of the diesel-electrics” currently in use.

The locomotive being called upon to help prove all of this is old number 3463, acquired by the coalition from its former owner, Great Overland Station in Topeka, Kansas, this past November. Said to be the largest locomotive of its type left in the world and featuring the largest wheels of any North American engine, 3463 is being rebuilt and modernized, including converting it to burn biocoal. It will feature what CSR says are a “gas-producer combustion system, improved steam circuit, modernized boiler, low-maintenance running gear and steam-powered electric generator (to power the passenger train).”

CSR train

image via CSR

It is a lot to place on the shoulders of an old lady from another era, especially when you consider this train was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1937 for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. If it succeeds though, CSR folk feel, it could be a major breakthrough for modern train technology.

“This project presents a novel approach to U.S. locomotive development, looking to technologies of the past to inspire solutions for today’s sustainability challenges,” said SRI President Davidson Ward, in a statement. “I’m confident that the leading energy researchers we’re working with at the University of Minnesota, along with our team of engineers, will be able to bring this technology to the forefront of America’s energy and transportation conversations.”

Plans, say CSR, are to move the locomotive to Minneapolis within the next 12 months. Once moved, they will complete the detailed engineering needed to modernize and reconfigure the locomotive.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.


  • Reply May 28, 2012


    This could be a pretty cool idea.  But you don’t have to use only torrified wood. What about using bio-oil which can be produced from wood and other bio-solid sources?  I understand you can now produce bio-oil and bio-diesel from wood using commercially available technology.  Might be useful for many previously oil-burning steam locomotives.

    • Reply June 9, 2016

      Jesse Cane

      If only there were a type of engine suited specifically to burning (bio)diesel, a diesel engine if you will. 🙂

  • Reply May 29, 2012

    Connie Holland

    sounds great to me

  • Reply May 30, 2012

    Scott Howes

    Hi This is cool sign of success defining moment sustainability in motion the RR has a steam train saw it last year. The Train is just show I do hope this becomes a working train took couple of pictures. I have web site keep me in mind if I can help
    Scott Howes Safety is Job 1 

  • Reply June 7, 2012


    On its face, this scheme makes absolutely no sense — unless “gettin’ bamboozled” somehow makes folks in Topeka proud of themselves.

    In the first place, ATSF 3463 is the only (repeat – only) Santa Fe locomotive of its class remaining in the world. Why would anybody in Topeka, Kansas, namesake of the storied Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company, turn this one-of-a-kind asset over to people who propose to mutilate it to prove something that doesn’t need to be proven?

    In the second place — this locomotive is a reciprocating steam device, with broad, inherent operational drawbacks compared to modern diesel-electrics or other propulsion not requiring huge supplies of water.

    Because of the way power is delivered to the drive wheels, reciprocating steam locomotives “hammer the rails” — outward on both sides on alternating power strokes — necessitating significantly increased track maintenance.

    If the locomotive is to be so completely altered as to eliminate its reciprocating drive train, why not simply start fresh and forget the unnecessary vandalism of this historic treasure?

    The whole story sounds much more like a rather transparent effort to talk incredibly naive people out of their unique, historic treasure for eventual transfer (likely after significant money has changed hands) to one of the nation’s big railway museums.

    Some years back I saw the state of Oklahoma cede ownership of a former Rock Island Pacific-type steam locomotive to an allegedly “nonprofit railway preservation group” in Texas – for $1. However — once across the state line, the locomotive went directly to the yard of a commercial operation in Ft. Worth where a key mechanical component was removed for use in another, operational excursion locomotive. The balance of the hulk was then sent to a big, well-known railway museum in Illinois, in a sale reportedly involving big bucks — where it now resides.

    Any way you look at SRI’s proposal, it’s inescapably a story that might well go down in the annals of flim-flams right along with such classics as “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

  • Reply June 9, 2016

    Jesse Cane

    Nuclear power+renewables+electric locomotives=much better!

Leave a Reply