And to think people have to breathe that!

Courtesy of Daily Timewaster, here’s a fascinating video clip showing passing steam trains setting fire to coal dust in the air as they pass a coal mine in China.  The last couple of trains, in the deepest darkness, produce the most spectacular effects.  I highly recommend watching it in full-screen mode.

It’s unnerving to think that anywhere from hundreds to thousands of people – workers at the coal mine, those passing on the railway line, and families living in the area – actually breathe that dust every day, just by being nearby.  I wonder what their lungs look like?

(On the other hand, perhaps it’s best not to know!)



  1. But it's Donald Trump and the USA who are destroying the environment by withdrawing from the Paris Accords.

  2. It looks and sounds a lot more like a steam engine trying to move a heavy load up a grade.

    My observations:
    – the first 3 train's plumes all start showing sparks at about the same place (#4 and 5 are different views)
    – the engines are slowing down over each shot, if you set a metronome at the beginning it won't be on the beat by the end
    – train #2 has a wheel slip then catches again (you can hear the engine race)
    – Train #4 has six instances of wheel slip and the smoke plume really lights up between #2 and #3 then gets brighter, flaring during #4 and #5

    It looks like the engines are in full-gear (max power) and the stoker is trying to keep steam up by loading in the coal, the resulting high draft is pulling embers off the fuel in the firebox and blowing them out the chimney.

  3. Rick T's comments make the most sense to me. I was wondering how exhaust, which has to be largely CO2 and steam, could ignite the dust. That got me wondering if it was ignited by being sucked into whatever passes for an intake manifold in those engines. That seemed the only answer.

    It's an impressive show, but those glowing particles seem to fall a bit too quickly to be coal dust that people could inhale. Particles like that are small, and should linger in the air a long time.

  4. I'm going into some hazy memory from way back when but I was given a pretty in depth tour of/did (sorta) volunteer work on some steam engines undergoing maintenance/restoration. I think that there are devices on the train firebox exhaust that are supposed to catch the burning embers from the stack. I think those odd shaped chimneys on early trains were a version of that. It's been 25 years ago I can't remember the details. I do remember that steam trains are filthy inside and out. Cleaning out the firebox and boiler tubes was freaking miserable and I looked like Al Jolsen when I finished work.

    I will say that a Chinese high pressure steam boiler sounds absolutely terrifying. I'd rather take my chances on a Chinese escalator or elevator and I've seen enough liveleak to know the danger that entails. Oh the Chinese are capable of building things to western quality standards for the most part but they generally they don't for various reasons the principle one being: "We make cheap! You buy now!".

  5. A coal-fired steam engine! Come the 20th century, these Chinese are going to make something of themselves.

  6. China imports as much coal as they can find. They are the biggest market for it right now. Steel production and heating. Didn't know they were still running steam trains.

  7. I didn't know they were running steam trains, but I'm not surprised – the interior of China, and their military, still use many technologies we think of as obsolete – for example, the Chinese military still uses cloth covered biplanes for reconnaissance, a copy of a WWII Soviet aircraft.

    I think part of the problem is that the train is burning coal fines – dust and very small particles that in the US are not used due to their volatility and difficulty in handling; with cheaper labor, they may feel they are worth using. Additionally, as Rick T said above, they don't appear to have any kind of spark or flame arrestor on their chimney – the video is at least partly shot in the winter with snow cover, but if a train like this ran in the dry summer in an area with vegetation, there would be a significant fire hazard.

  8. Wonder if they've ever ignited the coal they're hauling? If the coal fines in the air ignite, why not those in the coal cars behind the engine?

  9. JohninMD, what you are seeing are embers pulled out of the firebox by the draft on an engine that does not have spark arrestors in the stack. The exhaust plume from a steam train is mostly steam with hot gases from the fire that have been pulled up to the smokebox. Unless there are actual embers off the firebed there is nothing in that plume hot enough to ignite paper, much less coal dust.

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