Less steam

The Soviet Union went down in the history of the global railway transport as the first country that built a mainline diesel locomotive 95 years ago and formed the basis for diesel locomotive engineering. The sector, however, suffered from the bureaucracy. The test facility near Moscow was closed in the early 1930s, diesel locomotives were sent to the Central Asia. The interest to this type of motive power rose again at Stalin's behest after the end of World War II, and in the middle of the 1950s Nikita Khrushchev voluntary put such locomotives into operation on Soviet railways.
Train without steam locomotive

Everything began in January 1922, when the Council of Labour and Defence of the Soviet Republic (CLD) declared a peculiar importance of the diesel motive power on the railway network. The State Planning Committee (Gosplan) was ordered to transfer available diesel locomotive projects to plants for in-depth development.

On March 1, 1924, the best design of a diesel locomotive was to be chosen on tracks of the Petrograd railway hub. Four machines were to be compared, three of which were supposed to be ordered abroad and one—to be built in Russia. However, the competition was never held: the locomotives were not ready in time.

In Leningrad, the locomotive with electric transmission designed by Professor Jacob Gakkel made its first trip to the Obukhovo station and back on November 7, 1924. The locomotive was to be put into operation in September, but there was a big flood in Leningrad and the electric equipment, including traction engines, was filled with water. It is said that to save the windings of electric machines Professor Gakkel instructed to drill holes in the engine beds and pour ethyl alcohol into them.
Jacob Gakkel, Engineer (1874−1945)
On January 5, 1925, the diesel-electric locomotive travelled from Leningrad to Moscow, where it arrived on January 16, having passed through Tikhvin, Vologda, and Yaroslavl. What was the admiration of the railwaymen who first saw a train moving without a steam locomotive, but pulled by some rumbling long red "wagon"!

It is worth noting that the first diesel locomotives were originally assigned to "Yu" (Cyrillic script: "Ю") series, unused in the spe­cification of locomotives. So, the locomotive designed by Gakkel became known as Yue-002 (later it became Ge1, and then Shchel1 (Cyrillic script: "Щэл1"). Interes­ting it is, but the first Soviet diesel locomotive received the second serial number for the simple reason that Yue-001, built abroad by the Russian railway mission under the leadership of the Russian engineer Yury Lomonosov, was ready first.
kph is the design speed of Gakkel's diesel locomotives
diesel locomotive
Its construction was completed in German Esslingen on June 5, 1924. On November 6, it made its first run on specially laid 1524 mm track in the yard of the plant. In December, it was carried to Daugavpils, where it was put on its wheel pairs and made test runs on the Latvian railway. A month later it arrived in Moscow and it was assigned an Eel2 series.

Another diesel locomotive, built by the order of the Soviet government in accordance with the decision of the CLD, was a 2-5-1 locomotive with a mechanical transmission. It was built in 1924-1926 by the Hohenzollern plant (Germany) on the Soviet project. It arrived in the USSR in 1927 and initially received the Yum005 series, then E-MH-3 and finally Emh3. The last two variants indica­ted its equivalence in power to the E series steam locomotive and the use of mecha­nical transmission.
Sch-EL-1 — one of the two first in the world functioning mainline
is the design speed of Gakkel's diesel locomotives
People's commissar's role

Pilot operation of the first three locomotives confirmed that it was possible to use diesel traction for train operation and revealed a number of design deficiencies of some assembly units. The most successful pro­ject was Eel2. The Diesel Locomotive Office of the People's Commissariat for Railways, established by then, revised this project, and at the end of 1927 transferred its improved version to the Hohenzollern plant for production. Four years later, a Eel5 semi-assembled locomotive, was delivered to the Kolomna plant. In 1932, the plant began mass production of such machines. In addition, it built several locomotives of Oel series for shunting work, and made a twin-section locomotive of the VM series, named after Vyacheslav Molotov, People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs.
Workers assemble a diesel locomotive at Kolomna Locomotive Works, 1931
51 locomotives were manufactured before the Great Patriotic War, of which four were made in Germany, one—by the Baltic Shipyard (Shchel1), and the rest—by the Kolomna Locomotive Works. Unfortunately, diesel locomotive building sector was not developed properly in the years of industrialization. Established in 1926, the Diesel Locomotive Test Facility in Lyublino near Moscow was closed in 1931. All prototypes were sent to Ashgabat depot of the Central Asian Railway.

Details of this solution have never been disclosed in the technical literature. It is remarkable that Vitaly Rakov, an engineer who published a unique series of books where he described in detail the history of Russian locomotive building sector from 1845 to 1985, in the late perestroika period said that his work had been under the strict control of the USSR Ministry for State Security — KGB, so he had had to remove or rewrite a lot. However, even the book republished in 1995 didn't disclose the events of those years.
E-MH -3 is one of the first Soviet mainline diesel locomotives
The author wrote that "due to the lack of repair facilities, spare parts, and poor training in maintenance of diesel engines, the construction of diesel locomotives for train traction was terminated in 1937. One of the reasons for that was the development of new condensing steam locomotives SOk, which, as it was then thought, solved problems associated with the operation of steam locomotives in waterless regions."

Frankly speaking, an insufficient repair and maintenance base is a weak argument for termination of diesel locomotive industrial production, since similar problems arose when sophisticated SOk steam locomotives were put into operation. It is a known fact that People's Commissar of Railways Lazar Kaganovich stood for the decision to put condensing steam locomotives into ­operation, therefore, his role in the suspension of Russian diesel locomotive building sector development for two decades was significant.
Soviet politicians Nikita Khrushchev and Lazar Kaganovich
in the Moscow underground, 1935
Kaganovich resisted everything new and argued in favour
of steam locomotives
Witnesses at the time admitted: "Leading the transport sector, Kaganovich defended steam locomotives, resisting all state-of-the-art advanced technology and machinery, especially the introduction of electric locomotives, diesel locomotives...". However, Kaganovich wrote in his memoirs: "With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to criticize and reproach why we then focused on a new type of steam locomotives, instead of electric locomotives. Firstly, it was necessary to take into account the shortage of electricity—power plants were built, developed, but could not provide a large increase in the demand for electricity, including that on railways; secondly, the production of electric locomotives and other types of machinery lagged behind even that modest amount demanded by the People's Commissariat of Railways... The situation with the production of electric and diesel locomotives was bad".

We'll return to Kaganovich later, and now let's see why diesel locomotives appeared again in the national locomotive construction plans.
American diesel and electric locomotive RSD-1 designed by ALCO
New birth

During the Great Patriotic War, the Central Locomotive Facilities Department of the People's Commissariat of Railways raised the issue of ordering a batch of locomotives in the United States as part of lend-lease supplies. In North America, the production of locomotives began later than in the USSR, but the pace of develop­ment and production of such machinery was higher. By 1939, there had already been 435 shunting and 90 mainline diesel locomotives in the United States.

They write that American locomotive building companies relatively easily agreed to fulfill the Soviet order: during World War II, diesel fuel in the United States was declared a strategic material, there were strict restrictions on its use, which stopped the domestic demand for diesel locomotives.
TE1, a Soviet six-axle cargo and passenger diesel locomotive
designed under the personal direction of Joseph Stalin, a replica
of American lend-lease Da locomotive
Since early 1945, the Soviet Union began to receive six-axle locomotives built by ­ALCO (locomotive underframe, diesel engines) and General Electric Company (electrical equipment). They were given the DA class, which meant D for Diesel, A for ALCO. The machinery was delivered by sea through Murmansk and Molotov (near Arkhangelsk) ports. Main frames with the equipment, hoods and driver's cabins installed on them were carried on ships separately from locomotive bogies, so diesel locomotives had to be assembled at ports of arrival, after which they were sent to the Ramenskoye depot of the Moscow-Ryazan railway, where in February 1945, the first DA20-11 was prepared to work. All in all, the Soviet Union had received 68 diesel locomotives from the USA by the end of the war.
In July 1945, a conference of the three victorious powers in World War II was held in Potsdam, Germany. Da20-27 locomotive hauled the train with the Soviet delegation to Berlin. For eight decades, there have appeared several legends about the event. According to one of them, an American locomotive got coupled to a special letter-marked train on the way to Berlin, near Mozhaisk, because of the failure of the locomotive. Another version is that the diesel locomotive was used for trial trips in the framework of preparing to pass the special train through that railway section.
TEP80
WORLD FASTEST DIESEL LOCOMOTIVE — TEP80 WAS BUILT IN TWO COPIES BY KOLOMNA LOCOMOTIVE WORKS. DURING A PILOT TRIP IN OCTOBER 1993, ONE OF THEM REACHED A SPEED OF 271 KPH ON SHLYUZ-DOROSHIKHA SECTION OF THE ST PETERSBURG — MOSCOW RAIL LINE, SETTING THE WORLD RECORD FOR PASSENGER DIESEL LOCOMOTIVES. TODAY, THE CHAMPION IS ON EXHIBIT IN THE RUSSIAN RAILWAYS MUSEUM IN ST PETERSBURG.
It is said that during one of his stops on the way to Berlin, the Secretary of the All-Union Communist Party (bolsheviks) Stalin strolled along the platform and became interested in an unusual locomotive at the head of the train. Others believe that it was People's Commissar of Railways Kovalyov, who directed Stalin's attention during the trip to a quiet and smooth run, lack of side shocks, puffs of steam and ash outside the window—the constant companions of steam traction.

Supposedly, after the story about the Ameri­can locomotive, Stalin asked: "Why can't we build one?" Whether it really happened or not, but in two years the Kharkiv Heavy Mechanical Engine­ering Plant produced the first Soviet post-war TE1 locomotive which was practically a copy of the American RSD locomotive known in Russia as Da series.
MH letters in the name of a locomotive denote the use of mechanical transmission
Cargo TE2 diesel locomotive at Varshavsky Railway Station, St Petersburg
Then, in 1948, the same plant designed and built a TE2 twin-unit diesel locomotive. Since 1950, the production of TE1 locomotives was stopped (their total number was 300 units), the construction of a pilot batch of TE2 machines began. A total of 528 twin-unit locomotives were produced until 1955.

TE2 locomotives were very efficient and the following examples prove it: on one of the difficult sections of the Orenburg Railway, these locomotives replaced double-heading SO steam locomotives; and on the Tashkent Railway, TE2 replaced powerful FD hauling engines while maintaining the weight norm and the technical speed of trains.

Meanwhile, locomotive builders did not rest on their laurels (the development of TE2 in 1952 was awarded the Stalin prize of the second degree) and engaged in the design of a TE3 locomotive.
Fuel transportation by train pulled by a diesel traction unit
from Kansko-Achinsk coal basin (Krasnoyarsk region)
Disrupters again

And then came 1956, which left its mark in hi­story as the year of the beginning of technical reconstruction of traction on the USSR railways. The initiative came from the top—from First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1955 instructed Gosplan together with the Ministry of Railway to start developing a master plan for the reconstruction of railway transport. The task was set to completely abandon steam locomotives in favor of diesel and electric locomotives in 15 years. It was noted that foreign countries would need 75 years for similar work.

In his memoirs, Nikolai Baibakov, at that time the Chairman of Gosplan, admits that at the request of Khrushchev, all materials were prepared secretly from Lazar Kaganovich, First Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, who, when the secret was out, called the prepared document "wrecking".

Making the decision, Nikita Khrushchev, perhaps, tried to compete with the United States, wanted to catch up with and overtake the West. Indeed, at that time steam locomotives were massively withdrawn from operation on the other side of the ocean. But the USA had its own reasons.
Designation of the steam locomotive designed by Gakkel
changed several times
After World War II, diesel locomotive engineering companies and oil companies, freed from the prohibitions of wartime, began to pursue an aggressive policy of putting as many diesel locomotives into operation on railways as possible. The moment, consi­dering the problems with traction, was more than appropriate. In addition, the steam traction in the United States in those years could not but be affected by external factors: strikes of miners and the refusal of the metal­lurgical industry to supply expensive boiler steel to the market.

Steam locomotives in the United States were declared out of fashion, and steam locomotive engineering companies had to switch to the production of diesel locomotives in conditions of fierce competition. Already by 1949 the American railroads purchased about 8,000 locomotives, and from 1949 to 1957 the railway companies acquired another 19,500 units. From 1953 steam locomotives in the USA have no longer been produced.
TE6
TALKING ABOUT DIESEL TRACTION, WE CAN'T BUT MENTION THE DIESEL LOCOMOTIVE OF A SECRET SERIES DESIGNED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE USSR DEFENSE MINISTRY. IN 1952, KHARKIV HEAVY MECHANICAL ENGINEERING PLANT BUILT A TE6 SINGLE-UNIT FOUR-AXLE DIESEL LOCOMOTIVE-POWER STATION. IT IS EASIER TO GET INFORMATION ABOUT THIS MACHINE FROM ENTHUSIASTS THAN FROM OFFICIAL TECHNICAL LITERATURE, EVEN THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PRODUCED LOCOMOTIVES OF THIS SERIES IS NOT DISCLOSED. V. RAKOV, RUSSIAN TRACTION ROLLING STOCK HISTORIAN, MENTIONED THE "FLYING DUTCHMAN" ONLY IN HIS BOOK REPUBLISHED IN THE 1990S. ACCORDING TO HIM, ONLY THREE SUCH LOCOMOTIVES WERE BUILT, ALTHOUGH NUMBERS OF AT LEAST TEN MACHINES CAN BE FOUND IN THE INTERNET.
THE MAIN PURPOSE OF TE6 IS STABLE OPE­RATION DURING NUCLEAR WAR. TO PROTECT ELECTRICAL CIRCUITS OF THE LOCOMOTIVE FROM DAMAGING BY AN ELECTROMAGNETIC IMPULSE OF A NUCLEAR EXPLOSION, A SPECIAL METAL BUSBAR WAS LOCATED IN ITS BODY. THE ELECTRIC EQUIPMENT OF THE LOCOMOTIVE WAS GROUNDED TO THE BUSBAR. ALL WIRING WAS SHIELDED. BEFORE GETTING INTO THE ENCAPSULATED BODY AND THE AIR INTAKE SYSTEM OF THE DIESEL ENGINE, THE AIR PASSED THROUGH TWO CIRCULAR WELL STRAINERS PLACED IN SEPARATE OIL BATH AIR CLEANERS. TO AVOID RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINATION OF THE MACHINE, A SPECIAL FAN CREATED EXCESSIVE PRESSURE IN THE LOCOMOTIVE BODY.
Production of new steam locomotives in the USSR was curtailed in 1956
The situation in the USSR was completely different: the year of 1955 is considered the heyday of steam locomotive construction: the plants began mass production of next generation steam locomotive—passenger P36 and freight LV locomotives. Tests of the perspective locomotives of the OR23 series and coupled P34 and P38 giants created during the fifth five-year continued. Their mass production was supposed to ensure the carrying capacity of railways in the coming years, to slowly prepare for the introduction of advanced types of traction.

Instead, in 1956, the production of new steam locomotives as well as tests of experimental machines, which were no longer destined to be put into operation, stopped. The steam locomotive era in Russia completed its 110-year history.

Such a discretionary decision was supposed to contribute to a faster withdrawal of steam traction from train and shunting operation. However, in 1957, supplies of new Er steam locomotives, built by order of Soviet railways in Hungary, continued. These machines were mostly sent to industrial tracks or immediately put into long-term storage and sent to the reserve bases, where some locomotives stood until the 1990s and then were cut into scrap metal. And on some parts of the network, steam traction was in use until the end of the 1980s. Meanwhile, Russian diesel locomotive design industry entered a new stage of its development.
Four famous American locomotives of the 1950s (from left to right):
EMD F8 passenger locomotive, two ALCO FAs cargo diesel traction units,
and EMD F3 cargo and passenger locomotive
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