Sulzer on British Railways
In 1954 British Railways had about 6,000 steam locomotives falling apart at the rivets so embarked on a programme to replace these with four classes of mainline locomotives together with some smaller classes of shunting locomotives. Various manufacturers put forward different types of prototypes and very quickly Sulzer won orders for the power units for the Types 2, 3 & 4: these being 6, 8 & 12 cylinder LDA28 engines respectively.
Vickers at Barrow in Furness had geared up in the early 1950s to produce submarine engines in large quantities in anticipation of an escalation of the war in Korea. This never happened but Vickers had a large works ready to make LDA size engines in great quantity with very quick deliveries, a situation that was recognised by certain people on BR and Sulzer's 'father' of Traction - Tom Schur who was head of Dept 8 in Switzerland where various sizes of LDA engine were already being built for other railway companies. Sulzer (London) took a license from Winterthur and apart from the first 10 engines built in Switzerland, Vickers built about 1,500 engines over a period of 5 years - an engine every working day. This Sulzer order represents the largest single customer contract in the history of Sulzer and will probably stand for all time - a fact stated by Peter Sulzer at the funeral of Tom Schur.
I joined Sulzer London in 1966 when the main build programme was nearly complete and even though I was taken on as a Design Liaison Engineer looking after the flow of information and drawings from Winterthur to Barrow, the duties changed very quickly into those supporting development and service. At this juncture, I would mention that every industry I've been involved with - automotive, railway, aeronautical and marine, the equipment is never perfect from the word go; hence BR engineers frequently accused us of using them as mobile test beds for development purposes. The railway industry is probably the most arduous duty for any engine because of its cyclic nature. The drivers had come from a steam world where the regulator was either open or closed depending on the speed and gradient - I always wondered as a boy what those boards at the side of the track meant. When the diesels came along, nothing changed. The Power handles on the control desk were marked 'off', 'on' and 'max', the drivers once under way only moved the handle to either 'on' and 'max' depending on the speed they wished to maintain - they never used intermediate positions. The engine governor was even marked 'stellung regler' - the German for regulator position!
Winterthur designed and fitted an electronic governor on D1880 - a Type 4 locomotive with a 12LDA28C engine which had both Power and Load control facilities. We made a test run from London to Leeds and back in both modes with engine speed recording equipment fitted to register the difference. On the outward run we asked the driver to use his usual procedure in power control, but return on load control - as if on cruise control on a modern road vehicle. He had to persuaded to leave the handle alone except when slowing for signals etc. Back in London he thanked us but swore he would never use this mode again because it made him nervous! The readings from the recorder were very different - the outward trace looked like a saw tooth, whereas the return journey trace was a lot smoother with far less speed changes and therefore less load and thermal cycles on the engine. This cycling imposed huge stresses on all the engine components and led to a process of continual development to increase the time between service intervals and to extend the reliability of the overall power unit. More of this later in the story.
The Sulzer operation in the London office was relatively small in relation to the vast numbers of locomotives coming into service as the main task was to be the communication channel between the specialists in Winterthur and the builders and operators in the UK. At the same time, we had a number of Winterthur engineers working in the London office who acted as on-the-spot liason staff between Sulzer and BR at a senior level. However, it was always envisaged that the London staff would be expected to control the spares and service issues going forward and hence the UK engineers would have to be on a steep learning curve to deal with all the technical issues first hand. The spares operation will be covered later in the story.
In the early years we had about 40 erectors/service personnel at all the engine and locomotive building works such as Vickers Barrow, BR Crewe and Derby, Brush, Beyer Peacock, Darlington and Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon. Service engineers were posted at every BR maintenance depot in the UK running Sulzer engined locomotives; they all reported to the London office and regular meetings were held to update them with service and development issues. The work at Vickers covered the construction, assembly and testing of the complete LDA28 power unit, i.e. with its appropriate generator from Brush, GEC, or Crompton Parkinson - depending on the type of locomotive. Whilst Vickers fabricated the bed plates and cylinder blocks, they also made many of the running gear components and ancilliary items. This left a great number of parts that came from specialist suppliers - many of whom were well known in British industry. The list would be too large to include here but mention must be made of De Havilland (turbochargers), Specialloyd (pistons), Glacier (bearings), Vickers Hydraulics (governors), Holset (vibration dampers), Mitchell Shackleton (crankshafts), Bryce Berger, CAV, Wilson and Kyle (fuel injection pumps), Serck (radiators and coolers) and Sheepbridge Stokes (cylinder liners). In later years, strong relationships with these and other companies were forged through ongoing developments in so many technological fields. At the same time, Winterthur were solidly behind us with their specialist engineers and scientists conducting technical investigations on materials and processes. Examples of this will be covered later under service problems.
Just to enlarge on this aspect, the 12 cylinder LDA double bank engine at it's highest C rating was subject to unacceptable stresses and vibrations in the early years mainly due to the cyclic nature of the service as mentioned above, but partly because of faulty welding techniques at Vickers. It should be remembered that the LDA28 was a late 1930s design but it won large orders based on its high power/weight ratio due to the double bank design, it met the BR delivery requirements and came from a famous company in the railway industry. Indepth technical expertise on diesel traction was thin on the ground within BR - they were very largely steam engineers and therefore the design details and service experience of diesels was all new to them. At the same time in 1954, welding and machining techniques were relatively basic compared to what came along - rapidly, during the course of the initial contract and the very long service period of over 40 years! Knowledge of deep penetration welding was available, but its application to the fabrication of bed plates and cylinder blocks left a lot to be desired. Submerged arc welding and computer controlled machines were also unknown at that time.
Although Vickers welding techniques and quality can be criticised, they were certainly in the forefront in other areas. Having built many ships - both merchant, naval and submarines, they were absolute experts at gearbox manufacture. The double bank 12LDA was two 6 cylinder engines side by side in integral crankcases and cylinder blocks. The two crankshafts transmitted the power by way of gears known as synchronising gears: these connected the two crankshafts to a third gear driving the generator. Vickers had special machinery (MAAG) for hobbing and grinding these gears and they were made in matched sets of three. BR were deeply suspicious of the integrity of the synchronising gears and we were asked to hold 30 sets in stock as spares against future failures. None of these gears were ever needed and eventually BR paid for them at cost price! The overall size of the contract meant that Vickers had to design and built special machines and jigs to build these engines within the promised delivery times. One of these was the boring machine for the 12LDA crankcases and was designed to ensure that all the bearing saddles on both banks were in line with each other.
Winterthur conducted extensive strain gauge investigations on the test bed and introduced the large rebalancing and derating programme to deal with the problem of structural failures in the crankcases and cylinder blocks. This involved returning every 12LDA28C engine to Barrow for some welding modifications and rephasing and balancing of the crankshafts. At the same time, the engines were derated from 2,750 hp at 800 rpm to 2,580 hp at 750 rpm. This considerably improved the reliability of the engines but further stress relief machining work was necessary on the cylinder blocks and crankcases - this was done at the main works of Crewe and Derby. As mentioned above, driving practices didn't change nor did some of the maintenance procedures, consequently Sulzer were kept very busy investigating problems and searching for solutions. I will list a few of these together with the modifications introduced and it may be realised that the LDA28 engine was on a continuous development programme.
Apart from structural problems, the next most troublesome area was the turbocharger. The cyclic running and rapidly changing heat gradients meant that virtually all the components in the turbocharger had to be modified over time. Here again investigations were conducted by many Sulzer departments whose expertise and facilities were always readily available to the Diesel Division. The Research Dept had the latest equipment for testing materials for bearings, piston rings, cylinder liners and particularly exhaust valves. They conducted a series of high temperature strain gauge tests on valve materials which had an influence on all other Sulzer four-stroke engines. The foundry in Oberwinterthur was the most modern in Europe and were vital in helping us overcome various problems with castings and their materials.
• Turbine casing cracking - strain gauge testing by Winterthur led to a change in the internal wall thickness of the casting. Wtr.
Right from the start, a constant problem was one of keeping fluids in the engine. Joint leakage was always with us - particularly from coolant hoses and bushes. Eventually the Research Dept. of BR built a hose rig at Derby to develop materials and connections to overcome most of the problems. The rubber transition bush which transfered coolant from the cylinder block to the head was redesigned to eliminate this constant irritation and silicon rubber was introduced on this component and on virtually all other hoses and pipe connections. At the same time this material was also used on the crankcase doors to eliminate oil leaks. See note 1 below.
BR set up a Working Group to investigate a series of service problems which were inter-related and Sulzer were naturally involved with this as a permanent member of the Group. The practices laid down in BR working practices meant that the Maintenance Depots were going their own way when it came to servicing fuel injectors. Despite the advice from Sulzer, Wilson & Kyle and Bryce Berger, they insisted on endlessly grinding nozzle bodies even though the case hardening on the seat had worn through to softer steel. They just would not replace the complete nozzle - I fought them on this my whole 12 years in Traction and even some years in Marine! The Depot passed the injectors as fit for service because they were producing a good spray pattern on the rig. The end result was a rapid deterioration in the fuel injection leading to black smoke exhaust, build up of carbon on the piston head and neat unburnt fuel running down the cylinder wall causing premature liner wear and crankcase oil dilution. To add to this catalogue of associated problems, when first designed, the Type 4 batteries were never large enough for repeated cold starts and BR couldn't use anti-freeze because of disposal/ecological restrictions. (Actually, anti-freeze would have added to the leakage issues mentioned above because it is more 'searching'). So BR turned to Borax Sodium Metasilicate water treatment and to combat cold weather and poor batteries, they idled the locomotives when not in service! Put all this together - neat fuel dribbling in at idling speeds causing more oil dilution, cylinder liner glazing due to the oil being washed off, oil carry over into the exhaust system causing fires in the pipes and turbo charger 'hot' components and finally, degradation of the lubricating oil meaning more frequent changes. BR even developed a lubricating oil recovery plant to 'clean' and re-dose used engine oil when all along the simple solution was to renew the injector nozzle at specified service intervals.
Even though it is every schoolboy's dream to be a train driver because it is noisy and exciting, the job requires a lot of skill and knowledge of the road. However the change from steam to diesel was a culture shock for most people on BR and governing was almost a 'black art' in their minds and hence much training and familiarisation had to be provided by Sulzer. I was nominated as the one to take on this task in the UK and following my own training in Winterthur, I had to pass this on to the operators both in the UK and overseas. We made wooden models of the governor to illustrate how the various linkages and valves worked together to control the fuel injection and load regulator functions. About four times a year it was necessary to attend the BR School of Transport to lecture on all aspects of the LDA28 engine to senior staff from the BR Technical Centre, main works and maintenance depots. Drivers had their own training school and their instructors also attended these lectures from time to time. There were always more questions on governing than anything else; myself and my manager - Arthur Tayler, were kept very busy at this time and it has to be said that it was always difficult to get governor modifications through the BR 'system' because they didn't fully understand how it all worked!
The governors were built by Vickers Hydraulics to an ingenious and complicated Sulzer design which had to match a number of parameters together in order to keep the engine running on its design power curve and they were tested/set on a special rig - copies of which were later built and supplied to Crewe, Derby, Eastleigh and Glasgow - and overseas to Malawi, Mozambique and Nigeria. The governing and control of diesel engines depends on the application - stationary and diesel electric marine engines run at constant speed, whereas a marine engine driving a directly coupled propeller runs according to a fixed propeller curve - depending on the speed required for the ship. A locomotive engine also has a fixed power curve but varies according to load and the position of the power handle as described previously. The parameters mentioned above are speed, power and governor position; on the rig only speed and governor postion can be set according to the figures from the design power curve for that particular engine's rating, e. g. the 12LDA28C had a maximum power of 2,750 hp at 800rpm at a governor position of 8. 9. These figures have been directed by the designers and thermodynamatists following extensive test bed running.
Hence the driver is selecting a governor position and thus a point on that power curve when he moves his power handle. (It was not always possible to exactly achieve these figures because the engine efficiency varied slightly from a new engine to one that was approaching overhaul). The unit is purely hydraulic/mechanical (no electronics on these locomotives) only switches, solenoids, relays and rheostats controlling the DC current to the traction motors. Hence, no sensors or solid state controllers. The governor, apart from responding to instructions from the power handle, can only sense speed in terms of the load on the engine - again depending on gradient and operational requirements of the train. As the governor is driven from the camshaft, it senses this speed through simple flyweights which act as follows on the rest of the system. On starting, first of all an electrically driven triple pump set primes the fuel system, circulates coolant through the engine and pumps oil through the whole system and up to the governor. (This unit is not actually pressurised - in fact testing and setting was done with the top cover off). When the pressure switches reach their set points, the power handle is moved to 'On' and an electrical signal opens a solenoid valve on the governor allowing oil to flow into the internal channels that feed the cylindrical slide valves, piston and servo motor. By means of a linkage to the governor position lever (which is now set at idling), and one of the slide valves, oil pushes on a large piston connected to an output lever which in turn is part of the fuel pump linkage - thus opening the pumps to their idling position. On pressing the 'Start' button, the generator now acts as a motor from the batteries to crank the engine. The engine starts, runs at idling speed and the main pumps maintain the pressures.
When the locomotive is ready to move, the power handle is moved up and another slide valve allows oil to flow into a vane type servo motor which rotates the attached load regulator which controls the field strength of the main generator thus supplying power to the traction motors. Simultaneously, the large piston moves again and opens the fuel racks. The load regulator is a cylindrical internal rheostat i.e. a contact brush runs round the internal commutator where each segment is connected to different windings in the generator thereby switching the fields in and out. As the locomotive gathers speed and less power is required from the engine, the governor senses this rise in engine speed - (through the flyweights) and turns the load regulator to reduce the field strength and at the same time reduces the fuel rack position; if the power handle is left alone the engine will run on this (new) power curve setting.
There are some protection devices built into the governor as follows: -
• electrical failure - the oil input solenoid closes
The engine overspeed trip is on the other end of the camshaft and consists of a centrifugal weight which will shut down the fuel racks in the event of an overspeed. The governor gave very little trouble apart from the odd failure of the input solenoid and the rubber diaphragm. However it was necessary to modify the main drive arrangement from a dog drive to a spline drive following fatigue failures in the flyweight shaft. However, because of the constant movements of the power handle and the cyclic running as discussed above, three modifications had to be made inside the governor to protect the engine and turbo charger. The oil flow through the slide valves could be rather sudden at times of frequent load changes and this could lead to 'hunting' of the fuel racks, so some aluminium damper sleeves were fitted to slow down the rate of flow through the valve controlling the fuel racks. It was found that a similar problem occured on one of the oil galleries - i.e. the flow needed to be slowed down but only in one direction. This was solved by fitting a sliding bush in the gallery so that the oil flowed freely when the bush was at one end of its travel, whereas at the other end oil had to flow at a lower rate through the orifice in the middle of the bush. See note 2 below. Similarly, if the power handle was suddenly turned back to the 'On' position, i.e. the driver decided to coast for a while, another slide valve would rapidly turn the load regulator back and this combined with the reduction in the fuel setting, could cause the turbo charger to surge because it couldn't get rid of all its charge air instantly. (As an aside, this is why turbo charged race cars have waste gates!). To overcome this problem an adjustable screw was fitted above one of the slide valves - again, to limit its lift when powering down. See note 3 below.
From the beginning of the programme, apart from Erectors/Service Engineers being posted at Works and Depots, a number of senior engineers from Winterthur worked out of the London office as mentioned above and some of them came up with modifications to overcome certain problems. They were all highly skilled and experienced engineers and they gave their names to some of the unusual solutions referred to above.
Note 1: - Cylinder liner upper sealing rings - Bartels
Mention must be made of my colleagues looking after spare parts because although in the first couple of years of the programme the spare gear was ordered from Vickers, Sulzer London had to set up an extensive logistics operation from then on. Norman Lewis led this team and he was responsible for searching out new suppliers in place of those companies that had closed for one reason or another during the rapid de-industrialisation of heavy engineering in Britain. Parts were ordered from literally dozens of manufacturers - from the smallest bolt up to large components such as cylinder liners, so we employed buyers, progress chasers, storemen and inspectors. A large warehouse was full of traction and marine parts and when the whole company moved to Farnborough, an even bigger Stores was built to cope with the half - life overhaul of all 508 LDA28C engines. The traction spares business was the most profitable division of Sulzer UK for nearly 40 years. During my 32 years with Sulzer, the work was never dull and because I had to deal with a huge number of contractors, I got to learn about a vast range of products, services and operators involved with the Railway industry. The latter 20 years gave me similar opportunities and experience in the Marine industry. Throughout my career, it was a priviledge and a pleasure to work with all my colleagues in both the UK and particularly Winterthur, (where following the amalgamation of Traction and Marine into one Diesel Division), I was still dealing with the same staff who were always ready to investigate the service problems coming back from the operators and then patiently explain the mode of failure and the recommended solutions.
After the LDA28 on British Railways
The trial with 12LVA 24 engines in four Type 4 locomotives, the Kestrel locomotive and the subject of the A25 engine for rail traction, was covered in a bulletin dated March 2008. However, following an enquiry from one of my correspondents concerning CCM and their involvment with the LVA24 engine, I replied as follows and this may be of interest with regard to the above heading. When it was decided that Sulzer would withdraw from the traction market, staff in London and Mantes were naturally very disappointed but had to accept the commercial reasons for such a decision. At this time, Winterthur had designed the A25 engine mainly as a marine auxiliary unit but also for use as main propulsion in river craft and patrol boats etc. This engine was almost identical to the LVA24, so much so that the people at CCM Mantes had pictures of the A25 on the wall marked 'LVA25'! Furthermore, when our engineer Geoff McEwen switched to the Marine division, he knew exactly how this engine worked because of his experience with the 16LVA24 engine in 'Kestrel'.
Winterthur had sold the licence for the LVA24 to English Electric (later Rustons) for traction applications. They didn't build a single engine, but cribbed many of the design features for their RKV series. At the same time, following a very poor experience with the A25 in some locos running in the USA, Winterthur closed down the Traction Division, amalgamated the staff with the Marine Division and we all became the Diesel Division. Thus the French company lost their product and market and became very dispirited. We did try once more with the A25 engine in the UK for the proposed Class 58 loco. BR had called senior staff from companies in the traction industry to attend a seminar in London at which they got us all interested in the prospect of building 750 heavy freight diesel locomotives. However, technical and commercial conditions were completely unacceptable - unlimited rolling guarantees, a series of 100 hour tests without any failures and service engineers at every Works and Depot to administer the guarantees etc. The day Winterthur took the decision to withdraw from tendering due to the contract conditions and cost of testing, I went off to collect some high powered BR technical people from Zurich airport for meetings in Winterthur. It was left to me to explain these decisions over a difficult dinner that evening. Three companies put up solutions for the Class 58 - ourselves, Ruston and Mirrlees - who eventually won the contract, we dropped out, and so did Ruston who breathed a sigh of relief! Mirrlees lost a lot of money on this limited contract (only 60 locos, not 750) and when BR was privatised the freight division renamed EWS Railways, ended up buying American EMD locos!
Kind regards to all those who are still interested in the history of the Sulzer LDA28 engine. Chris Brooks Sulzer 1966 - 1998.
Page added February 17th 2014