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In case you haven't noticed, diesel trains are never turned off. They are always left running. But, why would the railway department waste so much fuel if the train isn't moving! It seems a bit strange, right?
Of course, diesel locomotives are not kept running for all its lifetime. It's just that diesel trains are kept running for long periods of time, even at a stop. At least some of you might've noticed this, while the train is halted at the stations for long periods of time. That said, here's why diesel trains are not turned off that often!
It is a common thing in trains, to lose the brake pressure due to leakage. Most of you would've heard the loud hissing sound coming from under the train, when it is stopped at the railway station.
If the engine is turned off for long periods of time, it takes another long span of time to repressurise the brake lines. Trains, being large and heavy, need the optimal brake line pressure for its efficient stopping. For obvious reasons, loco pilots never compromise on brake line pressure.
Another reason for not turning off diesel train engines, lies in the engine itself. If the engine hasn't been started since long (or, if the engine is cold), it takes quite an effort to restart it. Depending on the size and construction of the engine, it can take 10 to 20 minutes just to start it.
A train's diesel engine is a large unit, with around 16 cylinders. Diesel engines work on compression ignition and do not have an external ignition agent (spark plugs) as in petrol engines. So, in order to start a diesel engine, it has to attain its optimal working temperature by air-fuel compression alone. This is extremely difficult to do in a large diesel engine like as in a train.
It is also interesting to know that while diesel locomotives are idling, fuel consumption is more than when the train is moving. This is because, while idling, the batteries are being charged, and the air compression is in operation.
Today's trains have something called ‘Auxillary Power Unit (APU)' in order to reduce the fuel consumption while idling. This is basically a separate system for powering all the electronics, and is also found in aeroplanes. APU can also help in reducing the emissions in diesel locomotives.
Thoughts On Why Diesel Trains Are Never Turned Off
Diesel locomotives are slowly disappearing from the Indian Railway scene. The amount of fuel-dependency and the maintenance issues which come along with diesel engines are the primary reason for this. Though electric trains are far more efficient than conventional diesel engines, some still love the nostalgia factor which comes with trains making smoke.