Open Rails Steam Locomotive Driving

Aim - this section describes the basic controls for driving a steam locomotive in Open Rails Train Simulator.

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Key Locomotive Controls


To successfully drive a steam locomotive it is necessary to consider the performance of the following elements:

  • Boiler and Fire (Heat conversion )
  • Cylinder (Work done)

For more details on these elements, refer to the Elements of Steam Locomotive Operation.

Summary of Driving Tips
Open Rails Steam Functionality

The Open Rails Steam locomotive functionality provides the following operational options:

Artificial Intelligent (AI) Fireman

In AI mode all locomotive firing and boiler management is done by Open Rails, leaving the player to concentrate on driving the locomotive. Only the basic controls such as the regulator and throttle are available to the player.

Manual Fireman

In manual mode all locomotive firing and boiler management is done by the player. All the boiler management and firing controls, such as blower, injector, fuel rate, are available to the player, and can be adjusted accordingly.

A full listing of the keyboard controls for use when in manual mode is provided on the Keyboard TAB of the Open Rails option menu.

Use Crtl + F to switch between manual and AI firing Mode.

Hot or Cold Start

The locomotive can either be started in a hot or cold mode. Hot mode simulates a locomotive which has a full head of steam and is ready for duty. Cold mode simulates a locomotive that has only just had the fire raised, and still needs to build up to full boiler pressure, before have full power available.

This function can be selected through the options menu of Open Rails on the Simulation TAB.


Key Locomotive Controls

This section will describe the control and management of the steam locomotive based upon the assumption that the AI fireman is engaged. The following controls are the typical ones used by the driver in this mode of operation:

  • Cylinder Cocks - allows water condensation to be exhausted from the cylinders. (Open Rails Keys - toggle C)
  • Regulator - controls the pressure of the steam injected into the cylinders. (Open Rails Keys - D increase, A decrease)
  • Reverser - controls the valve gear and when the steam is "cutoff". Typically expressed as a fraction of the cylinder stroke. (Open Rails Keys - W increase, S decrease). Continued operation of the W or S key will eventually reverse the direction of travel for the locomotive.
  • Brake - controls the operation of the brakes. (Open Rails Keys - ' increase, ; decrease)
Option Settings

For added realism of the performance of the steam locomotive, it is suggested that the following settings be considered for selection in the Open Rails options menu:

  • Break couplers
  • Curve speed dependent
  • Curve resistance speed
  • Hot start
  • Tunnel resistance dependent

NB: Refer to the relevant sections of the manual for more detailed description of these functions.

Locomotive Starting

Open the cylinder cocks. They are to remain open, until the engine has traversed a distance of about an average train length, consistent with safety.

The locomotive should always be started in full gear (reverser up as high as possible), according to the direction of travel, and kept there for the first few turns of the driving wheels, before adjusting the reverser.

After ensuring that all brakes are released, open the regulator sufficiently to lift the train, care should be exercised to prevent slipping, do not open the regulator too wide before the locomotive has gathered speed. Severe slipping causes excessive wear and tear on the locomotive, disturbance of the firebed and blanketing of the spark arrestor. If slipping does occur, the regulator should be closed as appropriate, and if necessary sand applied.

Also when starting a slow even take up of power will allow the couplers all along the train to be gradually extended, and therefore reduce the risk of coupler breakages.

Locomotive Running

Theoretically when running, the regulator should always be fully open and the speed of the locomotive controlled, as desired, by the reverser. For economical use of steam, it is also desirable to operate at as low as possible cut-off values as possible, so the reverser should be operated at low values, especially running at high speeds.

When running a steam locomotive keep an eye on the following key parameters in the main Heads up Display (HUD - F5) as they will give the driver an indication of the current status and performance of the locomotive in regard to the heat conversion (Boiler and Fire) and work done (Cylinder) processes. Also bear in mind the above driving tips.

Main Steam HUD

For information on the other parameters, such as the brakes, refer to the relevant sections in the manual.

For the driver of the locomotive the first two steam parameters are the key ones to focus on, as operating the locomotive for extended periods of time with steam usage in excess of the steam generation value will result in declining boiler pressure. If this is allowed to continue the locomotive will ultimately loss boiler pressure, and no longer be able to continue to pull its load.

Steam usage will increase with the speed of the locomotive, so the driver will need to adjust the regulator, reverser, and speed of the locomotive to ensure that optimal steam pressure is maintained. A point however will be reached finally where the locomotive cannot go any faster without the steam usage exceeding generation. This point determines the maximum speed of the locomotive and will vary depending upon load and track conditions.