Boiler explosions are catastrophic failures of boilers, particularly those of steam engines.


As seen today, boiler explosions are of two kinds. One kind is of over-pressure in the pressure parts of the steam and water sides. The second kind is of explosion in the furnace.


Boiler explosions are particularly associated with steam steam locomotives of early days. Locomotive boilers that are of a construction with a very small hand-fed furnace (a fire tube boiler), the latter type of explosion from the furnace side is practically unheard of.

Locomotive boilersEdit

Earlier boilers were of a smoke tube type with coal hand-fed as fuel. The water feed was by means of steam injectors. For storage of these a separate tender is provided, adding to the length of the locomotive. This tender has a sloping floor towards the driver’s cabin (operating floor) for easy flow of coal for the fireman to shovel and feed the same to the fire box. There is often a safety valve included on the steam side and high and low water alarms as well. Any failure of these would result in an explosion of the pressure parts with consequent damage to operating personnel, apart from the damage to equipment. The consequences are more severe due to the restricted working space and constant movement of the locomotives.

Safety valves are provided to operate the pressure parts within safe limits. The water level alarms are provided for corrective action by the locomotive drivers.

Use of boilersEdit

In the very early days, locomotives used steam engines as prime movers. The use of boilers was necessary to provide steam for operation of the steam engine.

The use of steam engines and boilers in locomotives has been almost eliminated in the present day. However, references are made here to the experiences of early boilers for engineers to think of.

Modern boilersEdit

The following information is given for comparison only. These are mainly land based industries for driving steam turbines working as prime movers.

Modern boilers are more sophisticated and larger, constructd for stationary use. These boilers are both water tube and high-pressure types. These types are more sophisticated with all necessary protections, primarily used in land based industries and thermal power stations, particularly of power-generating utilities. The installation in these provides sufficient space for operator movement for them to be in a safe place in case of emergency, such as boiler or furnace explosions, as compared to early locomotive boilers.


In steam locomotive boilers, due to the type of construction and the working conditions in early days, the explosive situations and consequent damage due to explosions were unavoidable. By the time the improvements were engineered on these boilers and prime movers, other methods of prime movers for locomotives had come into practice, such as diesel engines, which proved to be much safer, convenient, and economical.

On land-based boilers, explosions of the pressure systems are very rare because of the various protections provided, and also because of regular inspections compelled by governmental and industry requirements. Furnace side explosions do happen occasionally, in spite of provisions requiring furnace side explosion doors, wrecking the whole boiler mostly due to operators bypassing the safety operating instructions.

List of locomotive boiler explosions Edit


External linksEdit

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