Oil burner (engine)

An oil burner engine is a steam engine that uses oil as its fuel. The term is usually applied to a locomotive or ship engine that burns oil to heat water, to produce the steam which drives the pistons, or turbines, from which the power is derived.

This is mechanically very different from diesel engines, which use internal combustion, although they are sometimes colloquially referred to as oil burners.[1]

An early pioneer of this form of engine was James Holden,[2][3] of Britain's Great Eastern Railway. In James Holden's system, steam was raised by burning coal before the oil fuel was turned on.[4]


Some oil-burning engines were originally designed to be coal powered but were converted. When a coal-burning steam locomotive is converted to burn oil, various modifications are usual:

  1. the grate is covered with broken firebrick to act as a reservoir of heat. If the oil flame is blown out (e.g. by a downdraft when entering a tunnel) the hot firebrick will re-ignite it
  2. the lower part of the inner firebox is lined with firebrick
  3. shorter superheater elements are fitted

The latter two changes are needed because oil firing produces higher temperatures than coal firing, and can cause rapid erosion of metal. For a similar reason, the smokebox is sometimes painted with silver-coloured heat-resisting paint.

Oil-fired steam locomotives



Nilgiri Mountain railway

Great Britain

James Holden's use of oil firing on the Great Eastern Railway is mentioned above and it was used sporadically on Britain's railways, usually because of coal shortages[5]. A Parliamentary question was asked about it in 1919.[6]

New Zealand

North America


Oil-fired steamships

See also


  1. Spinelli, Mike (2006-05-25). "Diesel on the Range: Land Rover Flagship to Come in Oil-Burner". Jalopnik. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  2. Cletus H. Jones (1985). Marine Fuels. ASTM International. ISBN 0-8031-0425-1.
  3. Alan J. Goldfinch (2004). How Steam Locomotives Really Work. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-860782-2.
  4. http://www.lner.info/co/GER/locomotives.shtml
  5. Sabourin, A. (July 1913). "Notes sur l'industrie des transports". La technique moderne. 5: 36–37.
  6. "OIL FUEL LOCOMOTIVES. (Hansard, 18 December 1919)". api.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  7. http://www.martynbane.co.uk/modernsteam/nday/mw/ndaymw-biodiesel.html
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