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Dieselisation or Dieselization (see spelling differences) is generally used for the nowadays increasingly common use of diesel fuel in vehicles, as opposed to gasoline or steam engines.


Rail transport

In rail transport it refers to the replacement of the steam locomotive or electric locomotive with the diesel-electric locomotive (often referred to as a "diesel locomotive"), a process which began in the 1930s and is now substantially complete worldwide.

The replacement of either steam or diesel haulage with electric locomotives is known as electrification. In contrast to dieselisation, electrification is not perceived as generally desirable in many circumstances in the industry, because it only sometimes produces savings due to the high initial capital cost of the process. In a few countries like Switzerland and Japan, though, electrics were responsible for the end of steam.

History of dieselisation in rail transport

Dieselisation took place largely because of the reduction in operating costs it allowed. Steam locomotives require large pools of labour to clean, load, maintain and run. They also require extensive service, coaling and watering facilities. Diesel locomotives require significantly less time and labour to operate and maintain.

Impact of World War II

After World War II inflation dramatically increased labour costs in the Western World, making steam an increasingly costly form of motive power. At the same time, the war had forced improvements in internal combustion engine technology that made diesel locomotives cheaper and more powerful. The post war world also re-aligned the business and financial markets, as did world geo-politics as in the Cold War (1947-1953).

North America

In North America, railroads looked to cut costs in the face of stiff competition from trucks, planes and automobiles. Railroads in America at this time also had an image problem, viewed as archaic, a fact that was re-enforced in the war when retired equipment was pressed into service. This left a lasting memory for millions of service people delayed for days in uncomfortable cars in obscure sidings.

Size also became an issue. American steam engines became so big in the 1940s that the cylinder and boiler sizes were pushing the limits that the loading gauge would allow. Fireboxes became so big that firing them became an almost impossible job without mechanical stokers. Diesels, to the contrary, were scalable. With multiple power units and slave locomotives, very long trains of up to 2 miles in length were possible, exploiting economies of scale. Diesels had a greater running capacity, before needing servicing, so small division points were closed.

Diesels slowly gained the advantage. Two ways they held the field was that diesels could be driven by one person, with no need of a fireman to shovel coal. Also, diesels use less fuel when idle; their fuel efficiency is much higher. Diesels can be parked running for days, and left unattended, where steam engines cannot, and diesels can pro-rate their fuel usage to the length of trains, another thing a steam engine cannot do. Due to the modern advantages of diesel locomotives, most major Class I railroads in North America had retired all of their steam locomotives by the mid 1950s.

Of course, steam haulage also had its advantages, the degree of applicability of which varied. Steam engines were cheaper and easier to maintain, particularly in developing nations.


The reputation of diesel benefited from memories of World War II, when military vehicles – especially tanks – using diesel were less prone to burst into flames when hit, than their petrol-engined counterparts.

In the United Kingdom the railway companies had been deploying diesel railcars and shunting locomotives for a while before the war, and the south east had an extensive electric network whose reach had grown throughout the century. Other less successful research went into more efficient and easily maintained steam locomotives. War efforts froze developments and progress restarted in 1947. Large scale change began in 1954 as post war financial squeezes ended.

The British Transport Commission produced the rail modernisation plan recognizing the high labour costs of steam and the need to modernise equipment, although catastrophically not the need to modernise working practices. The report made a large number of proposals including large scale dieselisation and updates to freight handling practice, the process being backed by considerable government funding. The last mainline steam traction on British Railways ended in 1968, although the British Rail owned Vale of Rheidol narrow gauge line remained steam hauled. Steam power has since been reintroduced on a few timetabled services, but this is targetted at the tourist market not efficiency.

Latin America and Asia

Latin America had their steam fleets working until the late 1960s and 1970s. Some nations, those with less oil reserves, such as India, China and South Africa used steam until the 1980s and 1990s. Russia or the Soviet Union electrified. Asian nations used steam until the 1970s when those nations modernised.

Timeline by nation


  • Canadian National - first diesel in 1928; last new steam in 1944 (though the Newfoundland Railway last bought steam in 1949, just prior to becoming part of CN); dieselisation completed in 1960. Last revenue steam run in 1970.
  • Canadian Pacific - first diesel in 1937; last new steam in 1949 (and last domestic Montreal Locomotive Works steam); dieselisation completed in 1960.
  • Pacific Great Eastern - First diesel in 1948; dieselisation completed in 1956.
  • Northern Alberta Railway - dieselisation completed in 1960.
  • Ontario Northland Railway - dieselization completed in 1957.
  • Sydney and Louisburg Railway - First diesel in 1961; dieselization completed in 1966. Last major Canadian railroad to use steam.


  • China Rail - last mainline steam built in 1988; last mainline steam operated in 2002. The Wuhai-Jilantai branch ran steam into 2003.
  • JiTong Railway (provincial) - First diesel in 2000; dieselisation completed in 2005. Usually claimed as last mainline steam in the world, though Zimbabwe ran steam later.
  • Industrial - Some steam still in use.
  • Tiefa Coal Group/Tiefa Mining Company - Last new steam has builder's plate dated 1999, but supposedly completed 2000. Last new commercial steam in the world. Steam still in use.


  • Deutsche Bundesbahn (German Federal Railways) - large-scale steam production ended 1955, but two more built 1957; dieselization completed in 1977.
  • Deutsche Reichsbahn (East German State Railways) - passenger steam use ended 1977, but briefly reinstated in 1981 due to oil shortage. Freight steam use continued to 1994.


  • Indian Railways

Broad (5'6") gauge - last new passenger steam 1967, last new steam 1970, last steam operation 1997 (unofficial).

Metre gauge - last new passenger steam 1970, last new steam 1972, last steam operation 2000 on Western Railway.


  • Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (National Railways of Mexico) - last new steam 1946, last standard-gauge steam 1968, last 3' gauge steam 1973.
  • Mexicano del Pacifico (Mexican Pacific) - Industrial shortline. All-steam at least to 1991, return to steam 1994.

United Kingdom

  • British Rail - last new steam in 1960; dieselisation completed in 1968.
  • National Coal Board - dieselisation completed in 1982. Last industrial operator in UK to use steam.

United States

  • Baltimore & Ohio - dieselisation completed in 1960.
  • Central Vermont - dieselisation completed in 1957.
  • Chesapeake & Ohio - last new steam 1949 (and last domestic Baldwin steam); dieselisation completed in 1957.
  • Chicago, Burlington & Quincy - first diesel 1934; dieselisation completed in 1960 (but see Colorado & Southern, below).
  • Colorado & Southern - dieselization completed in 1962.
  • Crab Orchard & Egyptian Railroad - Steam-using tourist line that added regular revenue freight service in 1977, dieselized 1986. Recognized by the AAR as the last US railroad of any kind to use steam locomotives in regular revenue service.
  • Denver & Rio Grande Western (narrow gauge lines) - ended revenue operation in 1968, never dieselising.
  • Grand Trunk Western - dieselisation completed in 1960.
  • Great Northern - dieselisation completed in 1957.
  • Great Western Railway - steam used at least to 1965, possibly 1967.
  • Great Western Sugar Company - last steam operation in 1983. (One of the?) last industrial steam users in the US.
  • Green Bay & Western - first diesel in 1938; dieselisation completed in 1950.
  • Illinois Central - dieselisation completed in 1959.
  • Lehigh & New England - dieselisation completed in 1949.
  • Magma Arizona Railroad - dieselisation began and completed in 1968 (only one locomotive). The last US railroad to dieselise (but see Crab Orchard & Egyptian, above).
  • Milwaukee Road - last new steam 1944 (see [1]); dieselisation completed in 1957.
  • Monon - dieselisation completed in 1949.
  • New York Central - last new passenger steam in 1946; last new steam in 1948 (for then-subsidiary Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, last Alco steam); last passenger steam run 1956; last steam run 1957.
  • Nickel Plate Road - last new steam in 1949 (and last Lima steam); dieselisation completed in 1959.
  • Norfolk & Western - last new passenger steam in 1950; last new mainline steam in 1952; last new steam in 1953; first diesel 1955; last passenger steam run 1959; dieselisation completed in 1960. Last Class I in US to build and use steam.
  • Northern Pacific Railway - last new steam 1944; first diesel 1938; dieselisation complete 1960.
  • Northwestern Steel and Wire - used steam at least to 1980, possibly 1983. Another of the last industrial steam users.
  • Seaboard Air Line - dieselization completed in 1953.
  • Soo Line Railroad - last new steam 1938 (new), 1942 (secondhand); first diesel 1938; dieselisation effective 1955, but some steam locomotives retained for a strategic reserve. Last company-owned steam locomotive used for railfan trip in 1959.
  • Southern Pacific Railroad - dieselisation completed in 1958.
  • Southern Railway - dieselisation completed in 1953.
  • Pennsylvania Railroad - last new steam in 1946; dieselisation completed in 1957.
  • Union Pacific - First diesel in 1934; last new steam in 1944; last passenger steam run 1958; dieselisation completed in 1959.
  • Western Pacific Railroad - dieselisation completed in 1953 (last steam operated on subsidiary Tidewater Southern).

Road transport


In terms of road transport, diesel gained popularity first with commercial hauliers, throughout the later 20th century, and then with passenger car users, particularly from the 1970s onwards, once diesel engines became more refined and also more readily available in passenger cars. Diesel had by this point long been a popular choice for taxi operators and agricultural users.

In Europe as a whole, Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz in particular developed reputations for high-quality passenger-car diesel engines, whilst VM Motori developed some significant motors for four-wheel drive vehicles.

See also

Alternative fuels

  • Electric vehicle — and the concept of transport electrification
  • Hybrid vehicle

Energy policy and politics

  • Energy policy
  • Efficient energy use
  • Global warming
  • Oil Shock
  • Pershing Map
  • Suez Crisis

Diesel fuel


  • Baldwin Locomotive Works
  • Beeching axe
  • General Motors streetcar conspiracy
  • Woodhams' Scrapyard


  • Ron Ziel. Steam in the Sixties. Meredith. 1967.
  • Ron Ziel. Twilight of World Steam. Grosset and Dunlop. 1973
  • David Plowden. Farewell to Steam. Bonanza 1966.
  • Bradford Barton. Steam in the Andes. Cornwall. 1973
  • A. Durrant. Steam in Africa. Hamlyn. 1981.
  • J. Stover. Routledge Atlas History of American Railroads. 1999. Routledge
  • Hans Schaefer. Chinese Railways; last updated Feb 2006.
  • Don Ball, Jr. The Pennsylvania Railroad 1940s-1950s. 1986.
  • J. B. Hollingsworth. North American Railroads. 1984.
  • Brian Hollingsworth. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World's Steam Passenger Locomotives. 1982.
  • Sammy King. MUCHO BUENO SABOR --- Mexicano del Pacifico. 2007.
  • Sammy King. Valle de Mexico --- Valley of Memories. 2004.
  • Sammy King. Ferrocarril Interoceanico. 2004.
  • Sammy King. Smorgasbord of Steam (Lazy Susan Style) Part 3: Tiefa Coal Group. 2005.
  • Rob Dickinson. Steam in Asia 2007.
  • Steam Locomotive Information: Great Western "Dinkies". 2001.
  • Sydney & Louisburg Railway Historical Society
  • Dates in Canadian Railway History
  • Great Western Railway Locomotives
  • FA-1 Builder's Photo from Green Bay & Western Lines.
  • Detailed Diesel Roster from Green Bay & Western Lines.
  • Steam Locmotives (sic) in India from Allahabad Rail Fanning.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dieselisation". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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