What were various applications of steam engine?


A train is a vehicle that runs on guide rails called a railway. Miners have used simple wooden or iron railways called wagon-ways for hundreds of years to move rock, coal and ore in trucks. The trucks were pulled and pushed by animals or the miners themselves. The first locomotive powered by a steam engine was built in 1804 by English engineer Richard Trevithick, to haul trucks at an ironworks. The first passenger railway was the Stockton and Darlington Railway in England, which opened in 1828.


A steam locomotive is simply a steam engine on wheels. Fuel burns in the firebox, creating hot gases that pass along tubes inside the boiler. The heat from the tubes boils the water, creating steam. As more steam collects at the top of the boiler, its pressure builds up, and it escapes along pipes to the cylinders, where, controlled by valves, it pushes the pistons one way then the other (this is called double action). The sliding motion of the pistons moves the large driving wheels round via a system of linked connecting rods.


Extensive railway networks were developed during the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in the USA, Canada, Europe and Russia. Improvements in tracks, including the introduction of steel rails in the 1860s, allowed for heavier locomotives, with increased power and speed. Carriage design also improved, and dining cars and sleeping cars were introduced by George Pullman in the USA. Railway networks relied on other engineering improvements. Long-span steel bridges carried trains over wide rivers, and rock tunnels took them under mountain ranges such as the Alps. From the 1850s the electric telegraph allowed communications between stations so that signaling staff could keep track of where the trains were.

By the 1930s powerful, streamlined steam locomotives could haul passenger trains at high speeds. But steam locomotives arc very inefficient. Only about five per cent of the energy in the fuel gets to the wheels, and time is needed to start the fire and get the water boiling. In the 1950s and 1960s, steam locomotives disappeared from most railways and were replaced by electric-powered and diesel-powered locomotives. However, steam engines are still used in some countries, such as India and China.

Electric locomotives ran as early as 1879 in Germany. In 1890 they began pulling trains on underground railways in London, and in 1903 on mainline railways in Europe. Diesel locomotives started operating in the USA in the 1930s.

The “Big Boy” locomotives, built in the 1940s for the Union Pacific Railroad in the USA, were the largest (at 40 m long), heaviest (at 600 tonnes) and most powerful steam locomotives of all. But they were not the fastest. That record belongs to the streamlined British locomotive Mallard, which set the world-record speed for a steam locomotive of 201 km/h in 1938. The record still stands today.

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