This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
It has been proved to a certain extent that electricity can be used to transmit power to a distance, and that it can be used to store it up. Thus far the man of pure science. The engineer now comes on the stage and asks--Can practical difficulties be got over? Can it be made to pay? In trying to answer these questions we cannot do better than deal with one or two definite proposals which have been recently made. That with which we shall first concern ourselves is that trains should be worked by Faure batteries instead of by steam. It is suggested that each carriage of a train should be provided with a dynamo motor, and that batteries enough should be carried by each to drive the wheels, and so propel the train. Let us see how such a scheme would comply with working conditions. Let us take for example a train of fifteen coaches on the Great Northern Railway, running without a stop to Peterborough in one hour and forty minutes. The power required would be about 500 horses indicated. To supply this for 100 minutes, even on the most absurdly favorable hypothesis, no less than 25 tons of Faure batteries would be required. Adding to these the weight of the dynamo motors, and that unavoidably added to the coaches, it will be seen that a weight equal to that of an engine would soon be reached. The only possible saving would be some 28 to 30 tons of tender. In return for this all the passengers would have to change coaches at Peterborough, as the train could not be delayed to replace the expended with fresh batteries. This is out of the question. The Faure batteries must all be carried on one vehicle or engine, which could be changed for another, like a locomotive. Even then no advantage would be gained. As to cost, it is very unlikely that the stationary engines which must be provided to drive the dynamo machines for charging the batteries would be more economical than locomotive engines; and if we allow that the dynamo machine only wasted 10 per cent. of the power of the engine, the Faure batteries 10 per cent. of the power of the dynamo machines, and the dynamo motors 10 per cent. of the power of the batteries--all ridiculously favorable assumptions--yet the stationary engines would be handicapped with a difference in net efficiency between themselves and the locomotive--admitting the original efficiency per pound of coal in both to be the same--of some 27 per cent., we think we may relegate this scheme to the realms of oblivion. Another idea is that by putting up turbines and dynamo machines the steam engine might be superseded by water power. Now it so happens that if all the water power of England were quadrupled it would not nearly suffice for our wants. It may be found worth while perhaps to construct steam engines close to coalpits and send out power from these engines by wire; but the question will be asked, Which is the cheaper of the two, to send the coal or to send the power? On the answer to this will depend the decision of the mill owners. Another favorite scheme is that embodied in the Siemens electrical railway. We believe that there is a great future in store for electricity as a worker of tramway traffic; but the traffic on a great line like the Midland or Great Northern Railway could not be carried on by it. As Robert Stephenson said of the atmospheric system, it is not flexible enough. The working of points and crossings, and the shunting of trains and wagons, would present unsurmountable difficulties. We have cited proposals enough, we think, to illustrate our meaning. Sir William Armstrong, Sir Frederick Bramwell, Dr. Siemens, Sir W. Thomson, and many others may be excused if they are a little enthusiastic. They are just now overjoyed with success attained; but when the time comes for sober reflection they will, no doubt, see good reason to moderate their views. No one can say, of course, what further discoveries may bring to light; but recent speakers and writers have found in what is known already, materials for sketching out a romance of electricity. It is but romancing to assert that the end of the steam engine is at hand. Wonderful and mystical as electricity is, there are some very hard and dry facts about it, and these facts are all opposed to the theory that it can become man's servant of all work. Ariel-like, electricity may put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes; but it shows no great aptitude for superseding the useful old giant steam, who has toiled for the world so long and to such good purpose--The Engineer.