Steam Locomotive Performance Testing

Aim - This page aims to describe how to define the performance of a steam locomotive, and then types of tests that can be undertaken to ensure that it is operating within realistic bounds.

Whilst this page has been developed specifically for steam locomotives, a lot of the performance setting and testing concepts will equally apply to other types of locomotives.

If you wish to provide any feedback on this page, please use the contact page. It would be great to have some feedback as this helps to ensure the accuracy of the information and models.



Open Rails Logging

Establishing Performance Benchmark

Locomotive Definition

Driving Technique

Sample Load Test

Test locomotive


To accurately confirm the performance of a steam locomotive in Open Rails it is necessary to establish a performance benchmark to test the locomotive against. To ensure the accuracy of the tests the benchmark needs to have some measureable values that can be used for comparison. Thus it is necessary to do sufficient research to find as much relevant "real life" or prototypical information as possible. Typically a lot of information can be found on the Internet, or alternatively through steam locomotive preservation groups or historical societies.

The research information required for these tests should include:

  • Steam locomotive design parameters which include cylinder sizes, strokes, boiler pressure, grate area, evaporation areas, etc.
  • Steam train operational information such as the loads, speeds, sectional running times, etc.

In these tests, it is also important to only use passenger cars or freight wagons that comply with known prototypical operational and design standards. Incorrectly defined rolling stock can cause inaccurate results compared to the benchmark. The test stock on this page should be a good "known" starting point, though the brake systems on the wagons or the locomotive may need to be adjusted to be compatible.

The main two aspects that can be tested to measure the performance of a steam locomotive are the following:

Thus a standard test is suggested to cover each one of the above items. The load test should always be conducted first as it will confirm the accuracy of the locomotive steam definition. To accurately perform the suggested tests above it will be necessary to find suitable sections of line in an accurate route. For the load test, it is highly recommended that the Coals to Newcastle Test Route is used, as this route has a number of "standard" grades included. For the steaming test, any route which has been accurately constructed to a known real life route can be used. Check the OR route gradients against the published gradient diagram.

"Remember, to ensure OPTIMAL REALISM of the steam locomotive performance, ACCURATE INPUTS are required."

To demonstrate the testing process an example locomotive based upon the British Rail Hall Class locomotive will be used. This locomotive has a very small grate area, and therefore as a consequence it will be more of a challenge to maintain steam generation.

Before undertaking the testing discribed on this page it is recomended that some time be taken to study the OR Steam Locomotive Model page.


Open Rails Logging

To assist in comparing test results Open Rails has a logging feature which takes a snapshot reading of key parameters such as tractive effort, indicated horsepower, steam consumption, etc, at 5 mph intervals. These values are recorded in the Dump.csv file, which is usually found on the desktop. The values in this file can then be pasted into one of the spreadsheets below to graph the relevant parameters.

To enable the operation of the OR logging, open the 'Data Logger' TAB of the Options menu, and select the following options only, 'Start logging with the simulation start' and 'Log Steam performance data'. For simplicity, it is recommended that the Dump.csv is regularly deleted between runs, so that the file does not grow too large.

The following test template spreadsheets have been developed to allow monitoring of key performance measures in OR. Two versions of the spreadsheet have been developed. One is more suitable for plotting British test report results, and the other is more suitable for plotting American test report results. The use of this tool requires either Microsoft Office or Open Office programs.

American Format - Test Results Excel Spreadsheet - v6

British Format - Test Results Excel Spreadsheet - v6

To use the spreadsheet, run a test in OR (once logging has been enabled), then open the relevant test template spreadsheet, and the Dump.csv file as an Excel file. Select all the data in the Dump.csv file from column 2, and then copy and paste into the 'Input' TAB of the Spreadheet. In the top part of the log file information about the locomotive is recoreded for inclusion in the specification TAB of the spreadsheet. Again this can be cut and pasted from the OR log into the spreadsheet.


Establishing Performance Benchmark

The most accurate test outcome for locomotive performance will be achieved if there test reports, such as this one are available for setting and testing the locomotive under test, however these types of reports are not always available, so a reasonable alternative is to use railway publications which tend to be more readily available.

Test may vary depending upon the real life information available. For example if a detailed test report is available then the following series of tests could be undertaken:

Light Engine Test

Tests for the following parameters to be done at full throttle, and 10, 20, 30 & 40% reverser settings.

Load Test

Tests for these parameters will be done over a suitable time period, and with an appropriate load attached to the locomotive, and at full throttle and appropriate cutoff.

The results of these tests can be plotted in the spreadsheet for comparison as described above.

If it is desired to tune the locomotive, then it is suggested that the Advanced Performance Tuning Flowchart be followed to ensure a consistent approach is used to tune the locomotive.

However if a detailed test report is not available then a reasonable alternative is to use railway publications which tend to be more readily available. These documents, such as Working Timetables (WTT), will have a lot of the information described below in them, and can be used to approximate the necessary information required to set up a reasonable working model for the load test. Steam consumption may be a bit more difficult to track down, and it may be necessary to identify a locomotive with similar characteristics to use as a guide.

The following test can be used, based upon information typically found in a working timetable can be used to confirm load pulling performance.

Load Test using a WTT

For the load test a long even gradient is best, and we need to find the following information:

For our worked example we will use the Hall locomotive (49xx Class), which was designed for passenger duties, and operated over the Lickey Incline, which was located between Blackwell, and Bromsgrove. This locomotive is referenced in the Gloucester Passenger Working Timetable (WTT) - 1962

Based upon the information in the WTT on page K92 (part A) a view of the ruling gradients, the starting and finishing locations can be developed. The ruling gradient is the steepest gradient in the section, and as such will be the limiting gradient as far as train loading is concerned. Using the start and finish locations we can calculate the distance over which we will be running. The following diagram demonstrates the information that can be ascertained.

Lickey Incline Gradient Diagram

Next, as can be seen from page K5 (part A) of the WTT, the point to point running time allowed between Bromsgrove and Blackwell for the different types of locomotives, and was in the range of 6 - 7 minutes. Using this running time (6 mins) and the distance of travel calculated between Bromsgrove and Blackwell (in above diagram - 2.1875 miles) the average speed between the two locations can be found to be. The unassisted load for this section of line for a Hall Class locomotive is 190 tons, and can be found on K162 (part B).

Thus we have defined an expected performance benchmark for the locomotive, i.e., the Hall locomotive will unassisted haul a load of 190 tons up a 2 mile, 1 in 37 gradient at an average speed of between 18.75 and 21.88 mph depending upon the running time.

Other measureable information may also help to confirm and validate our benchmark. Such an example in the case of the Lickey Incline might be this page, which indicates that the above benchmark is the correct order of magnitude.

We can now test our performance benchmark for the load test withe the sample Hall locomotive on the bottom of this page and the ICC passenger cars on the test stock page can be used. The Coals to Newcastle test Route has a long section of 1 in 40 gradient, and can be used as an accurate test environment.

It should be noted that the location of the above type of information may be found in different railway publications, and in different formats, depending upon the country and company, thus the example above is purely shown as a guide to the process that can be used to define the performance benchmark.


Locomotive Definition

Refer to the setting page for more information on defining the basic setup for a steam locomotive ENG file.


Driving Technique

The steam locomotive is a heat engine, which in other words relies on the transfer of heat energy to mechanical energy. Therefore it is important to make sure that there is always more heat going into the locomotive boiler then out of it. The boiler heat values can be seen in the Extended HUD, by pressing Shft-F5, and these figures should be monitored when running the tests.

By maintaining a high value of HEAT in the boiler the operational pressure of the locomotive will be maintained at suitable levels. If the HEAT OUT value is allowed to exceed the HEAT IN value for a long period of time, then the boiler pressure will drop, and the locomotive will not have sufficient power to pull the load.

Starting (assuming a full load on train)

Start with regulator and reverser at maximum values. And as soon as the train has started moving, start to reduce the reverser. To gain maximum acceleration, keep the reverser set so that it is always just below the maximum steam production of the boiler. This approach will maintain boiler pressure to a reasonable value provided the fire is providing satisfactory heat.

Remember that a steam locomotive is not like a car, and therefore it is unable to accelerate as quickly in a short distance. Depending upon the load and track conditions, it may take a several miles to achieve the desired operational speed.


Sample Load Test

Load test

As suggested the first test is to see how the locomotive performs against the load benchmark as it ascends a known grade. For our test we will ascend the 1 in 40 grade in the the Coals to Newcastle test Route, and use the standard test stock.

To run the first test select the following options:

Using the driving technique described above, run the locomotive up the grade, and compare its performance against the defined benchmark.

The test can be repeated by varying some of the settings or conditions. The test locomotive has a number of different configurations in it that can be used to compare the MSTS settings against the OR basic and advanced settings. Also other MSTS defined carriages can be used to test and compare the results.

Similarly other benchmarks, and tests can be defined using the methodology described above.

Things to check if the benchmark is not achieved

One of the first points of interest to note for the Hall test locomotive is the difference between the OR and MSTS versions, for example compare the calculated tractive effort in the MSTS versions to the OR versions. This is due to the different way that MSTS and OR uses the physics parameters to calculate performance values. Thus it needs to be recognised that a direct comparision of MSTS versus OR is not possible, and hence the need to define performance benchmarks based upon prototypical information.

If the testing does not achieve the defined benchmark, then check the following items:


Test Locomotive

Hall Locomotive

To facilitate testing and comparison of different ENG file configurations, the test locomotive has been set up with the following varieties included:

Reference information found on the Hall:
Hall Class diagram
Modified Hall Class Specifications
Hall Class Locomotive Test Report

Appropriate consists are also included in the Hall test locomotive pack.

Original model by Frank Sandwell (Version 1 - Sept 2015)