Atmospheric railway


Atmospheric railway

An atmospheric railway is a railway that uses air pressure to provide power for propulsion. A pneumatic tube is laid between the rails, with a piston running in it suspended from the train through a sealable slot in the top of the tube. By means of stationary pumping engines along the route, air is exhausted from the tube leaving a vacuum in advance of the piston, and there is an arrangement for admitting air to the tube behind the piston so that atmospheric pressure propels it (and the train to which it is attached) forward. [This system is generally attributed to Clegg and Samuda. For instance, see [http://mikes.railhistory.railfan.net/r027.html this site] (retrieved 2007-11-24) which also includes drawings of the internals of the system.]

Historical applications

Commercial applications of the system were as follows:
* The Birmingham, Bristol & Thames Junction Railway (mi to km|0.5|abbr=yes) Trial in 1840 [ [http://books.google.ie/books?id=RuMEJzNT5-0C&dq=birmingham,+bristol+and+thames+junction+railway&pg=PA8&ots=vFMoC5bVXD&sig=I_iM2zFHL_GA8jZXW9SGBhT7qq4&prev=http://www.google.ie/search%3Fsourceid%3Dnavclient%26ie%3DUTF-8%26rls%3DGGLG,GGLG:2007-15,GGLG:en%26q%3Dbirmingham%252C%2Bbristol%2Band%2Bthames%2Bjunction%2Brailway&sa=X&oi=print&ct=result&cd=2 Samuda, J. D'A (1841). "A Treatise on the Adaptation of Atmospheric Pressure to the Purposes of Locomotion on Railways." London: John Weale, 59 High Holburn.] ]
* The Dalkey Atmospheric Railway extension of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway between Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire) and Dalkey, Ireland (mi to km|1.75|abbr=yes) 1844-54 [cite web|url=http://www.industrialheritageireland.info/railways/dalkey/dalkey1.htm|title=Dalkey Atmospheric Railway|accessdate=2007-07-19]
* The London and Croydon Railway between Croydon and New Cross, London, England (mi to km|7.5|abbr=yes) 1846-47
* Isambard Kingdom Brunel's South Devon Railway between Exeter and Newton Abbot, England (mi to km|20|abbr=yes) 1847-48
* The Paris–Saint-Germain railway between Bois de Vésinet and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France (km to mi|8.5|abbr=yes) 1847-60 [ [http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9B03E1DB1231E13BBC4852DFB7678389649FDE&oref=slogin New York Times, Nov 10 1852] ]
*Beach Pneumatic Transit One city block long subway beneath Broadway in New York City, USA 1870 - 1873.

The Crystal Palace atmospheric railway of 1864 had seals around the carriage, so (like Rammell's similar GPO Railway) the whole carriage fits in a tube tunnel and was propelled by the large fixed fan.

South Devon Railway Anchor|South Devon Railway

The extension of Brunel's broad gauge railway westward from Exeter towards Plymouth by the South Devon Railway Company (SDR) was one of his interesting though ultimately unsuccessful uses of technical innovations. Brunel and others from the GWR traveled to Ireland to view such a system first hand. There, Brunel's engineer of locomotives for the GWR, Daniel Gooch, calculated that conventional locomotives could work the proposed line at lower cost, but Brunel's concerns with the heavy grades led him to try the system regardless. [cite book| last = Awdry| first = Christopher| title = Brunel's Broad Gauge Railway| publisher =Oxford Publishing Company | date = 1992| location = Sparkford| id = ISBN 0-86093-504-3]

The section from Exeter to Newton (now Newton Abbot) was completed on the principle, with stationary engines spaced at around convert|3|mi|km intervals. Trains ran at speeds of up to 70 mph (112 km/h), but service speeds were usually around 40 mph (64 km/h). [cite book| last = Kay| first = Peter| title = Exeter - Newton Abbot: A Railway History| publisher = Platform 5 Publishing| date = 1991| location = Sheffield| id = ISBN 1-8725-2442-7] The level portions used convert|15|in|mm|0 pipes but the steeper gradients west of Newton were to have used convert|22|in|mm|0pipes. It is not clear how the change between the two pipe sizes would have been achieved unless the piston carriages were changed at Newton. It is also unclear how the level crossing at Turf was operated as the pipe projected some way above the rails.

The harsh environment of the line, which runs directly adjacent to the sea and is soaked with salt spray in even moderate winds, presented difficulties in maintaining the leather flaps provided to seal the vacuum pipes, which had to be kept supple by being greased with tallow; even so, air leaked in, destroying the vacuum.Atmospheric-powered service lasted less than a year, from 1847 (experimental services began in September; operationally from February 1848) to 9 September 1848. The accounts of the SDR for 1848 suggest that the atmospheric traction cost 3s 1d per mile (£0.10/km) compared to 1s 4d (£0.04/km) for conventional steam power. Part of the problem was that the engines had to be run for longer than expected as they were not, at first, connected to the telegraph and so had to pump according to the railway timetable until the train passed, which increased pumping costs.

Despite the building of several engine houses the system never expanded beyond Newton. Similarly, the proposal to use the same system on the Cornwall Railway was not pursued.

There are remains of several South Devon Railway engine houses, including one at Starcross, on the estuary of the River Exe. It is a striking landmark and a reminder of the atmospheric railway – which the name of the village pub also commemorates. A section of the pipe, without the leather covers, is preserved in [http://www.didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk/ Didcot Railway Centre] .

Recent applications

The [http://www.aeromovel.com.br/ Aeromovel] Corporation markets an automated people mover that is air driven. The elevated lightweight trains ride on a concrete box girder containing electric motors that drive air inside the box girder, creating a constant airflow. Each train car has a square plate protruding into the box girder. The plate is rotated into the airflow to catch the wind and accelerate the car.

Systems have been built in Porto Alegre, Brazil (a two-station demonstration line) and in Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Jakarta, Indonesia (a 2-mile, 6-station loop serving a theme park).

A web page describing a system called 'Whoosh' was available for a time. [ [http://www.whoosh.care4free.net/ The Whoosh: Innovative Public Transport] Dead link|url=http://www.whoosh.care4free.net/|date=May 2008] Basically the system is a single monorail track of the vacuum tube with a track either side. The piston in the tube is connected to the carriage below which is supported by wheels running on the tracks each side of the tube. Obviously modern materials remove many of the problems of the original systems.

Technical considerations

A supposed advantage of the atmospheric system was its hillclimbing ability. On the two longest-lived applications, at Dalkey and Saint-Germain, this seems to have been vindicated: here the system was used on uphill journeys and gravity in the other direction. Brunel assumed that the system would work on the very challenging gradients of up to 1 in 38 on the Plymouth mainline if the South Devon application had been extended beyond Newton, probably by increasing the diameter of the tube on the gradients (although this would have involved a complex expanding piston arrangement); however here it was tested only on a relatively flat section.

The section above gives a case study of Samuda's system on the South Devon Railway which outlines some of the technical problems, of which maintaining an adequate seal to the tubes, given the technology of the 1840s, was a serious one. Other reasons why it was not practicable on a large scale are more related to operational difficulties:
* Shunting the trains into atmospheric formation was difficult or cumbersome (although this would have seemed less of a problem in an era when much shunting was in any case carried out by horse- or man-power)
* A change in traction, with consequent delays, would be necessary if an atmospheric line became part of a through route
* There had to be gaps in the atmospheric tubes at points, with flyovers or similar arrangements at junctions; and special arrangements would have been needed at level crossings.

References

Further reading

*cite book| last = Clayton| first = Howard| title = The Atmospheric Railways| publisher = Howard Clayton| date = 1966| location = Lichfield
*cite book|last=Hadfield|first=Charles|title=Atmospheric Railways|edition=1st edn|date= 1967|publisher=David & Charles|location=Newton Abbot|isbn=0-7153-4107-3

See also

* Dalkey Atmospheric Railway
* Beach Pneumatic Transit
* Crystal Palace pneumatic railway
* Cable railway - a more successful albeit slow way of overcoming steep grades.
* Funicular - a system of overcoming steep grades using the force of gravity on downbound cars to raise upbound cars
* Steam catapult - the arrangement of seal and traveller is essentially the same, albeit all steel.
* Vactrain - combination of gravity and air power


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Atmospheric railway — Atmospheric At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Atmospheric railway — Railroad Rail road (r[=a]l r[=o]d ), Railway Rail way (r[=a]l w[=a] ), n. 1. A road or way consisting of one or more parallel series of iron or steel rails, patterned and adjusted to be tracks for the wheels of vehicles, and suitably supported on …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Dalkey Atmospheric Railway — Arriving at Kingstown, The Illustrated London News, 6th January, 1844 …   Wikipedia

  • Atmospheric — At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913 Webster] 2.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Atmospheric engine — Atmospheric At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Atmospheric line — Atmospheric At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Atmospheric pressure — Atmospheric At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Atmospheric tides — Atmospheric At mos*pher ic, Atmospherical At mos*pher ic*al, a. [Cf. F. atmosph[ e]rique.] 1. Of or pertaining to the atmosphere; of the nature of, or resembling, the atmosphere; as, atmospheric air; the atmospheric envelope of the earth. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Railway — Railroad Rail road (r[=a]l r[=o]d ), Railway Rail way (r[=a]l w[=a] ), n. 1. A road or way consisting of one or more parallel series of iron or steel rails, patterned and adjusted to be tracks for the wheels of vehicles, and suitably supported on …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Railway brake — Railroad Rail road (r[=a]l r[=o]d ), Railway Rail way (r[=a]l w[=a] ), n. 1. A road or way consisting of one or more parallel series of iron or steel rails, patterned and adjusted to be tracks for the wheels of vehicles, and suitably supported on …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English


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