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Dieselisation or dieselization is the conversion to diesel fuel in vehicles, as opposed to gasoline or steam engines, particularly in reference to the replacement of steam locomotives by diesel locomotives from the 1930s to the 1960s.
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In terms of road transport, diesel gained popularity first with commercial hauliers, throughout the later 20th century, and then with passenger car users, particularly from the 1970s onwards, once diesel engines became more refined and also more readily available in passenger cars. Diesel had by this point long been a popular choice for taxi operators and agricultural users.
In Europe as a whole, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz in particular developed reputations for passenger-car diesel engines, whilst VM Motori developed some significant motors for four-wheel drive vehicles.
In London the famed "Hackney Carriage" taxi has long since been powered by a diesel engine. The high reliability, ease of driveability and excellent fuel efficiency of such an engine allows the taxis to carry many people for a lower cost than might otherwise be incurred through the use of conventional petrol engines.
Lightweight diesel engines suited for road vehicles were introduced in the late 1930s. They were soon used in bus coaches, heavy trucks, tractors, and construction equipment. The postwar era saw rapid replacement of gasoline with diesel for heavy trucks and buses, with engines provided mostly by Cummins and Detroit Diesel, and some by Buda Engine Co. (later a division of Allis-Chalmers). Rising gasoline prices during the 1970s spurred interest in diesel for passenger cars, although it soon faded in popularity for private vehicles other than pickup trucks.
The two-stroke marine diesel engine was introduced in 1922 and remains in use today. It is the most efficient prime mover, with models over 100,000 horsepower and a thermal efficiency of 50%. The market share of steam ships peaked around 1925 (a few sailing ships remained) and by the early 1950s diesel ships held over 50% of the market.
In rail transport, dieselisation refers to the replacement of the steam locomotive or electric locomotive with the diesel-electric locomotive (often referred to as a "diesel locomotive"), a process which began in the 1930s and is now substantially complete around the world.
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Weighing against the cost of, and inertia against, replacing the large investment that railroads had in existing steam power were the dramatic increases in flexibility and efficiency with diesel. Diesels could and did have a significantly higher initial price per unit-horsepower delivered, however, their operating and support costs were much lower and unit availability between inspection repair and maintenance stops were much higher. Infrastructure to support diesels underway is much simpler and less costly, owing to their far greater range between fueling stops and absence of water stops. Also, diesels use much less fuel and no manpower when idling, something locomotives often do. Diesels can be parked running for days unattended, whereas steam engines must be constantly tended to if not completely shut down. Bringing a steam engine boiler up to operating temperature is often regarded as both an art and science, requiring much training and experience. A diesel is much simpler to start and shut down. Diesels simply required significantly less time and labor to operate and maintain.
Diesels also had advantages in service flexibility. They are more scalable to power requirements, owing to the control systems that allowed multiple units to be controlled by one operator. "Double header" steam power required a crew for each locomotive. The range of efficient operation for diesels under different speeds and grades is much greater than with steam locomotives, which tended to be purpose-built for specific situations. A high speed Hudson steam locomotive is good for only one situation, high speeds on level grades.
Initially, diesel locomotives were less powerful than the typical steam locomotives. Between the late 1930s and the late 1950s the power available with diesel locomotive engines roughly doubled, although the most powerful steam locomotives ever built still exceeded the power of the most powerful diesel locomotives from the late Twentieth Century.
Dieselization could be accomplished without any major changes to rail infrastructure, presenting lower initial capital costs than electrification. However, in situations where volume is sufficient to amortize the capital costs of electrification, the greater efficiency and speed available with electrification are significant advantages and electrified systems are favored throughout most of the developed world, with the most salient exceptions being North America, the British Isles, and Australia.
Relatively short trackage between destinations and high traffic volumes in continental Europe favored electrification to replace steam. Most lines on the continent are electrified, with the exception of Albania, some low volume secondary lines, and switching service. Diesels were used as an interim solution during postwar reconstruction and electrification. Some countries, most notably Switzerland, have electrified their whole network. The most powerful electric locomotives in western Europe pull Swedish ore trains.
The Great Western Railway introduced diesel railcars in the 1930s and the first British mainline diesel locomotive was built by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1947 but, unlike elsewhere in the developed world, the transition away from steam was delayed during the early postwar years. The delay was driven by two economic considerations: the lower initial cost of steam locomotives for immediate replacement of the large number of locomotives worn out from wartime service, and a projected rise in the cost of petroleum relative to coal, a plentiful domestic resource. Nationalisation of the railways took place in 1948; diesel locomotives were first introduced on a wide scale following the Modernisation Plan of 1955. Poor reliability among the first diesel locomotives used in the Modernisation Plan caused it to be implemented at a slower pace while the problems with the locomotives were worked out during the second half of the 1950s.
The last steam locomotive for British Rail was built in 1960 and named "Evening Star" (number 92220). Steam traction was withdrawn on British Rail in 1968 and largely replaced with diesel traction (with electrification on a minority of lines). Steam was finally eliminated on Northern Ireland Railways in 1970 and entirely replaced with diesel.
Ireland also chose dieselization over electrification and as of 2015, the railways in Ireland (with the exception of the electrified Dublin Area Rapid Transit) remain entirely diesel operated.
The small initial market for diesels was created by the State of New York's Kaufman Act of 1923, which prohibited operating steam locomotives in New York City and adjacent towns. Mainline passenger railroads had already been electrified, or their electrification had been planned regardless of the Kaufman Act. Electrification of numerous freight yards was uneconomical, and railroads turned to diesels. The first ALCO boxcab switcher was put in operation in 1925 by Central Railroad of New Jersey at its 138th Street waterfront terminal in The Bronx. The second was delivered in the same year to Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's yards on Manhattan. Both worked into the late 1950s and survive in museums to date. The advantages of diesel-electric switch engines gained them a widespread market during the 1930s.
Dieselization got a boost in the early 1930s from three factors: the development by General Motors and its Winton Engine Corporation subsidiary of diesel engines with vastly improved power-to-weight ratios and output flexibility; the desire of railways to find more cost-efficient locomotion for passenger service at the height of the Great Depression; and design innovations in rail equipment that reduced weight, making the contemporary diesel engines, which were low-powered by today's standards, viable for mainline passenger service. The mid-1930s saw the introduction of lightweight diesel-powered streamlined trainsets such as the Burlington Route's Zephyrs and Union Pacific's M-1000x "City" trains, which were diesel's first assault against the dominance of steam in mainline passenger service. During the second half of the decade, diesel locomotives with sufficient power for full-size passenger trains were developed and put into regular production. Improved GM diesel engines in 1938 increased power and reliability. Dieselization of passenger service gained momentum as the decade drew to a close and the first model of mainline diesel freight locomotive was on the market in 1940. Dieselization was especially attractive to western railroads, for whom the watering requirements of steam locomotives were a problem in vast stretches of the western interior. Coal-country railroads were generally reluctant to embrace diesel, a competitor to one of their main hauling markets, well into the 1940s.
Competition from diesel spurred a round of development in steam locomotive technology. High style, high speed "steamliners" produced during the second half of the 1930s became the speed kings of passenger service. Duplex and articulated steam locomotives built in the early 1940s exceeded the power of any diesel ever built, although their power was edged by gas turbine-electric locomotives during the 1950s. But the limits of steam technology were rapidly being reached. The new locomotives were mechanically complex and extremely specialized. Locomotive size became an issue, as steam engines became so big in the 1940s that the cylinder and boiler dimensions were pushing the limits that the loading gauge would allow. Fireboxes became so big that firing a steam locomotive became an extremely difficult job without the aid of mechanical stokers. Mechanical stokers for feeding coal to locomotives were in use in the 1920s. Steam turbine-electric locomotive power was developed in 1938 by General Electric. GE abandoned the project in 1943 after results were unsatisfactory during trials with three railroads, however, Baldwin Locomotive Works built three steam turbine-electric locomotives in 1948. They were expensive to operate and insufficiently reliable for their intended service, and were scrapped in 1950. Baldwin's steam turbine-electric program resulted in one more locomotive in 1954, which was also not successful in service.
US entry into World War II interrupted dieselization. The US Navy gained priority for diesel engines, curtailing their availability for railway use. No production of passenger locomotives was permitted by the War Production Board between September 1942 and February 1945. The petroleum crisis of 1942-43 made coal-fired steam more attractive, especially near the east coast. After the peak of the petroleum crisis and as wartime production of diesel engines hit its stride, increasing production of freight diesel locomotives was permitted. By the war's end, pent-up demand to replace dated and worn-out railway equipment was overwhelming. General Motors signed proprietary contracts with the major railroads, who were replacing their worn out wartime equipment with diesels. With the GM contracts came articles that GM would supply training, financing, and maintenance, to lower the hurdles in converting from steam to diesel.
The market share of steam locomotives dropped from 30% in 1945 to 2% in 1948. The drop was most precipitous in passenger service, where modernization of equipment was imperative for image and cost reasons. Retired equipment pressed into service during the war years left a lasting impression on millions of servicemen who sometimes spent extended periods in obsolete, uncomfortable cars in obscure locations. Railroads were facing increasingly stiff competition for passenger service from airplanes and the automobile and the cost-cutting imperatives with passenger service were severe. Steam holdout Norfolk and Western acquired the last American steam locomotives built, a piston locomotive built in their own shop in 1953 and a steam turbine-electric locomotive built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1954.
Due to the advantages of diesel locomotives, railroads in North America had retired 90% of their steam locomotives by the mid-1950s. Also, major cities and their railyards became unhappy neighbors in post-war America. People were no longer content to endure the large amounts of soot and smoke that coal burning steam engines produced. Early diesels, while dirty by today's standards, were a gigantic improvement in air pollution over steam.
Steam engines lasted well into the late 1950s on major American railroads, and in isolated cases into the middle 1960s on small common carrier roads, primarily for yard duties such as switching. The last steam locomotive fleet in everyday use (i.e. not a restored fleet) was retired in the late 1970s. Now they are only found in historical and sightseeing roles, where the steam engine is once again the star of the show. Retired steam engines, many of which were quite new when made obsolete, often found a second life in developing nations due to their cheap labor for maintenance and crewing, ready supplies of coal, and lack of environmental concern.
This list is a sample of some of the more prominent railroad companies' diesel traction conversions.
Soviet leadership in the 1920s and 1930s had originally envisioned railway electrification as a key component of their industrialization, but by World War II only a small portion of their rail lines were electrified. Their project faced many challenges, including the high initial costs of electrification relative to traffic volume on long rail lines, high resource costs of early Soviet electrical power generation, and the urgent need to reconstruct after World War II. The postwar Soviet Union embarked upon a hybrid dieselization/electrification program, with electrification concentrated on shorter lines. Both dieselization and electrification proceeded slowly, with the last steam locomotives retired in 1975. At that time approximately 48% of freight tonnage was hauled by diesel and that share would decrease as electrification proceeded. As of 1990, approximately 30% of passenger traffic and 37% of freight tonnage was still hauled by diesel. Post-Soviet electrification was slowed by the economic collapse of the 1990s. Electrification was completed on the Trans-Siberian Railway in 2002 and on the Kirov Railway to Murmansk in 2005. Since 2003, less than 15% of Russian freight tonnage is hauled by diesel.
The majority of Japan's rail network had been electrified in the post-war years. In spite of this, more desolate railway lines, particularly on the northern island of Hokkaido continued to use surplus steam locomotives well into the mid-1970s. This was due to the limits and problems created by the then-nationalized rail network, Japanese National Railways (JNR). Japan also has large coal deposits as a natural resource. By 1970, most, if not all steam locomotives had been relegated to freight work, and by the time that complete dieselisation occurred, the remaining steam locomotives were used for branch line work and shunting duties and later were put out of use completely..
Diesel and electric locomotives started slowly replacing steam in 1950s. The last broad gauge (5' 6") steam locomotive built by CLW was a WG class locomotive named Antim Sitara (The last star), #10560, built in June 1970. The last meter gauge steam locomotive was a YG class built in 1972. Steam was largely replaced in 1980s. The last scheduled steam operation was on 6 December 1995 on broad gauge. Last steam operation on narrow/meter gauge ended in 1999.
China, after experimenting with diesel locomotives since 1958, started regular production of diesel locomotives in 1969 but continued to produce steam locomotives into the late 1980s. The last mainline service with steam ended in 2005. Poor reliability of the first model of DF4 diesel locomotives, which became the subject of rude jokes between China Railway employees, slowed deployment and only 108 examples were produced between 1969 and 1976. Later passenger and freight versions of the DF4 proved more reliable, and variants continue to be produced to the present. Starting in the mid-1980s China was already looking beyond diesel towards electrification; as of 2004, 18,900 km of China's 74,200 km rail system were electrified. Planning for China's China's high speed rail system began during the 1990s.