So, riddle me this; what’s “… big and black and smokin’, steamin’ screamin’ at the wheel”? This line, from Guy Clark’s 1975 song “Texas, 1947”, sums up the six-year-old Clark’s impression of a steam powered locomotive. The tune is really about the migration of the industry to Diesel powered locomotives, leaving the steam behind. Along with a marked increase in reliability and efficiency, the new power mode boasted an increase in availability and a reduction in maintenance costs. For the casual observer, the most noticeable effect of the metamorphosis was a drastic reduction in emissions of smoke, soot and steam!

Though less important to the young Guy Clark, the control of toxic and noxious emissions has become an essential part of the business plan of the rail industry in the new millennium. Railroads have been testing alternative fuels such as LNG (liquified natural gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas) as fuel for locomotives for many years, and renewed emphasis on lowering emissions has ramped up interest in these options. Though Tier 4 Diesel engines offer lofty reductions in emissions, these pale in comparison to the reductions offered by changing the base fuel to natural gas.

Starfire Engineering has been intimately involved in the development of LNG/CNG fuel system, working with fuel system component manufacturers, car builders and railroads to ready the technology for testing. Starfire designed an LNG tender to carry an industry-standard 40-foot LNG container. The tender is placed between two locomotives and supplies both locomotives with fuel. The use of the LNG container offers several advantages, including ease of maintenance, the ability to either refill the tank or switch it with a full one, and the huge plus of not having to design a tank.

Starfire is also actively involved in exploring other designs for use with LNG as well as designs for use with CNG. While testing of the new fuels continues, Starfire Engineering is working with manufacturers of Tier 4 engines and with manufacturers of exhaust treatment systems for use with existing Diesel engines in the effort to bring cleaner burning locomotives on line.

Thank you for joining us, and keep the rails shiny!

For more information, see:
Natural gas takes on another bastion of diesel
A few clean breakthroughs

A Bit of History

Did you know there was a railroad out of Death Valley? If you grew up in the era of the T.V. Western, there was “Rawhide”, “Gunsmoke”, and, of course, “Death Valley Days”. The lumbering “20-mule team” of sponsor Pacific Coast Borax Company


hauled borax from the mines in Death Valley to the company-built Death Valley Railroad. The railroad ran from Ryan, California to Death Valley Junction where it connected with the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. T&T carried the borax to Ludlow, California, and from there the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad carried it to your television screen. The DVRR ceased operations in 1931 at which time the track and rolling stock were acquired by the United States Potash Company.

Play Me a Train Song

The fascinating phenomenon of the “Ghost Train” comes back to life in Merle Haggard’s song “The Miner’s Silver Ghost”.

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