Fireless Locomotive

Fireless locomotives were used for shunting on industrial premises where a total absence of fire risk or pollution was essential or desirable, e.g. chemical works, oil refineries, paper mills and food factories. They were also used in steel works, where they could be run very economically on steam produced in waste-heat boilers over the blast furnaces, as they used no fuel directly.

What looks like a boiler on the locomotive is actually a well-insulated steam reservoir. Partially filled initially with hot water, it would be charged with high-pressure steam from a stationary boiler on the works site; once fully charged it would then be ready for about 4 hours continuous work. Recharging would take about 15–20 minutes.

As the exhaust would be nothing more than pure water vapour, their initial cost being much lower than a diesel, they were completely pollution-free and very economical to operate and maintain.

A post-war № 1 clockwork motor powers this model.


I started work in 1964 at at the Imperial Paper Mills, Gravesend, as a papermaking apprentice. At that time, they employed two fireless locos of the type depicted in your excellent Meccano model. They were both painted green, and one was titled ‘No 1’. From what I remember, they were extremely efficient and quite powerful — considering their small size! They would happily pull a train of fully loaded pulp wagons from the jetty to the required stacking area within the mill. One of these fully laden trains could weigh up to 100 tons! They ran on an extensive network of recessed rails of standard guage, and in addition to the the driver, carried a pointsman, who also had the job of coupling/uncoupling. As an apprentice, I was to experience periods of training in all the various departments within the paper mill. This even included a day of observation on the footplate! (God knows what Health and Safety would have to say now! ). Wonderful times! The mill, alas, has now completely gone (closed down in 1981). The site has since been re-developed into a business centre, Asda, B&Q, etc. !!

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