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The Story of Electricity By John Munro Characters: 42763

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The electric railway of Dr. Werner von Siemens constructed at Berlin in 1879 was the forerunner of a number of systems which have had the effect of changing materially the problems of transportation in all parts of the world. The electric railway not only was found suitable as a substitute for the tramway with its horse-drawn car, but far more economical than the cable cars, which were installed to meet the transportation problems of large cities with heavy traffic, or, as in the case of certain cities on the Pacific slope, where heavy grades made transportation a serious problem. Furthermore, the electric railway was found serviceable for rural lines where small steam engines or "dummies" were operated with limited success, and then only under exceptional conditions. As a result, practically every country of the world where the density of population and the state of civilization has warranted, is traversed by a network of electric railways, securing the most complete intercommunication between the various localities and handling local transportation in a manner impossible for a railway line employing steam locomotives.

The great advance in electric transportation, aside from its meeting an economic need, has been due to the development of systems of generating and transmitting power economically over long distances. If water power is available, turbines and electric generators can be installed and power produced and transmitted over long distances, as, for example, from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, or even to much greater distances as in the case of power plants on the Pacific coast where mountain streams and lakes are employed for this purpose with considerable efficiency. A high tension alternating current thus can be transmitted over considerable distances and then transformed into direct current which flows along the trolley wires and is utilized in the motors. This transformation is usually accomplished by means of a rotary converter, that is, an alternating current motor which carries with it the essential elements of a direct current dynamo and receiving the alternating current of high potential turns it out in the form of direct current at a, lower and standard potential. The alternating current at high potential can be transmitted over long distances with a minimum of loss, while the direct current at lower potential is more suitable for the motor and can be used with greater advantage, yet its potential or pressure decreases rapidly over long lengths of line, so that it is more economical to use sub-stations to convert the alternating current from the power plant. It must not be inferred, however, that all electric railways employ direct current machinery. In Europe alternating current has been used with great success and also in the United States where a number of lines have been equipped with this form of power. But the greater number of installations employ the direct current at about 500-600 volts and this is now the usual practice. Whether it will continue so in the future or not is perhaps an open question.

The electric car, as we have seen, employs a motor which is geared to the axle of the driving trucks, and the current is derived from the trolley wire by the familiar pole and wheel and after flowing through the controller to the motor returns by the rail. The speed of the car is regulated by the amount of current which the motorman allows to pass through the motor and the circuits through which it flows in order to produce different effects in the magnetic attraction of the magnet and the armature. In the ordinary electric car for urban or suburban uses there has been a constant increase in the power of the motor and size of the cars, as it has been found that even large cars can be handled with the required facility necessary in crowded streets and that they are correspondingly more economical to maintain and operate.

The success of electric traction in large cities had been demonstrated but a few years when it was appreciated that the overhead wires of the trolley were unsightly and dangerous, especially in the case of fire or the breaking of the wires or supports. Accordingly a system was developed where the current was obtained from conductors laid in a conduit on insulated supports through a slot in the centre of the track between the rails. A plow suspended from the bottom of the car was in contact with the conductors which were steel rails mounted on insulated supports, and through them the current passed by suitable conductors to the controller and motors. This system found an immediate vogue in American cities, and though more costly to install than the overhead trolley, was far more satisfactory in its results and appearance. In certain cities, Washington, D. C., for example, the conduit is used in the built-up portion of the town and when the suburbs are reached the plow is removed and the motors are connected with the trolley wire by the usual pole and wheel.

Perhaps the most important feature of the electric railway in the United States has been the development and increase of its efficiency. Wherever possible traffic conditions warranted, it was comparatively easy to secure the right of way along country highways with little, if any, expense, and the construction of track and poles for such work was not a particularly heavy outlay. It was found, as we have seen, that the current could be transmitted over considerable distances so that the opportunity was afforded to supply transportation between two towns at some small distance where the local business at the time of the construction of the road would not warrant the outlay. This led to the systems of interurban lines, small at first, but as their success was demonstrated, gradually extending and uniting so that not only two important towns were connected, but eventually a large territory was supplied with adequate transportation facilities and even mail, express, and light freight could be handled.

Again the success of such enterprises made it feasible for the electric railways to forsake the public highway and to secure a right of way of their own, and gradually to develop express and through service, often in direct competition with the local service of the steam railways in the same territory. Here larger cars were required and power stations of the most modern and efficient type in order to secure proper economy of operation. The general character of machinery, both generators and motors, was preserved even for these long distance lines, and their operation became simply an engineering problem to secure the maximum efficiency with a minimum expenditure.

With the success of electric railways in cities and for suburban and interurban service naturally arose the question, why electric power whose availability and economy had been shown in so many circumstances could not be used for the great trunk lines where steam locomotives have been developed and employed for so many years? The question is not entirely one of engineering unless as part of the engineering problem we consider the various economic elements that enter into the question, and their investigation is the important task of the twentieth century engineer. For he must answer the question not only is a method possible mechanically, but is it profitable from a practical and economic standpoint? And it is here that the question of the electrification of trunk lines now rests. The steam locomotive has been developed to a point perhaps of almost maximum efficiency where the greatest speed and power have been secured that are possible on machines limited by the standard gauge of the track, 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, and the curves which present railway lines and conditions of construction demand. Now, withal, the steam locomotive mechanically considered is inefficient, as it must take with it a large weight of fuel and water which must be transformed into steam under fixed conditions. If for example, we have one train a day working over a certain line, there would be no question of the economy of a steam locomotive, but with a number, we are simply maintaining isolated units for the production of power which could be developed to far greater advantage in a central plant. Just as the factory is more economical than a number of workers engaged at their homes, and the large establishment of the trust still more economical in production than a number of factories, so the central power station producing electricity which can be transmitted along a line and used as required is obviously more advantageous than separate units producing power on the spot with various losses inherent in small machines.

But even if the central station is theoretically superior and more economical it does not imply that it is either good policy or economy to electrify at once all the trunk lines of a country such as the United States and to send to the scrap heap thousands of good locomotives at the sacrifice of millions of dollars and the outlay of millions more for electrical equipment. In other words, unless the financial returns will warrant it, there is no good and positive reason for the electrification of our great trans- continental lines and even shorter railroads. That is the situation to-day, but to-morrow is another question, and the far- seeing railroad man must be ready with his answer and with his preparations. To-day terminal services in large cities can better be performed by electricity, and not only is there economy in their operation, but the absence of dirt, smoke and noise is in accord with public sentiment if not positively demanded by statute or ordinance. Suburban service can be worked much more economically and effectively by trains of motor cars, and time table and schedule are not limited by the number of available locomotives on a line so equipped. On mountain grades, where auxiliary power or engines of extreme capacity are required, electricity generated by water power from melting snow or mountain lakes or streams in the vicinity may be availed of. Under such conditions powerful motors can be used on mountain divisions, not only with economy, but with increased comfort to passengers, especially where there are long tunnels. All this and more the railway man of to-day realizes, and electrification to this extent has been accomplished or is in course of construction. For each one of the services mentioned typical installations can be given as examples, and to accomplish the various ends, there is not only one system but several systems of electrical working, which have been devised by electrical engineers to meet the difficulties.

To summarize then, electric working of a trunk line results in increased economy over steam locomotives by concentration of the power and especially by the use of water power where possible. Thus economy is secured to the greatest extent by a complete electrical service and not by a mixed service of electric and steam locomotives. Electrification gives an increase in capacity both in the haulage by a locomotive, an electric locomotive being capable of more work than a steam locomotive, and in schedule and rate of speed, as motor car trains and electric terminal facilities make possible augmented traffic, and an increased use of dead parts of the system such as track and roadbed. There is a great gain in time of acceleration and for stopping, and for the Boston terminal it was estimated that with electricity 50 per cent, more traffic could be handled, as the headway could be reduced from three to two minutes. The modern tendency of electrification deals either with special conditions or where the traffic is comparatively dense. From such a beginning it is inevitable that electric working should be extended and that is the tendency in all modern installations, as for example, at the New York terminal of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad where the electric zone, first installed within little more than station limits, is gradually being extended. As examples of density of traffic suitable for electrification, yet at the same time possessing problems of their own, are the great terminals such as the Grand Central Station of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad in New York City, the new Pennsylvania Station in the same city, and that of the Illinois Central Station in the city of Chicago. Not only is there density here but the varied character of the service rendered, such as express, local, suburban, and freight, involves the prompt and efficient handling of trains and cars. Now, with suburban trains made up of motor cars, a certain number of locomotives otherwise employed are released; for these cars can be operated or shifted by their own power. Such terminal stations are often combined with tunnel sections, as in the case of the great Pennsylvania terminal, where the tunnel begins at Bergen, New Jersey, and extends under the Hudson River, beneath Manhattan Island and under the East River to Long Island City. It is here that electric working is essential for the comfort of passengers as well as for efficient operation. But there are tunnel sections not connected with such vast terminals, as in the case of the St. Clair tunnel under the Detroit River.

While the field and future direction of electrification is fairly well outlined and its future is assured, yet this future will be one of steady progress rather than one of sudden upheaval for the economic reasons before stated. To-day there are no final standards either of systems or of motors and the field is open for the final evolution of the most efficient methods. Notwithstanding the extraordinary progress that has been made many further developments are not only possible now but will be demanded with the progress of the art.

The great problem of the electric railway is the transmission of energy, and while power may be economically generated at the central station, yet, as Mr. Frank J. Sprague, one of the pioneers and foremost workers in the electrical engineering of railways has so aptly said, it is still at that central station and it will suffer a certain diminution in being carried to the point of utilization as well as in being transformed into power to move locomotives, so that these two considerations lie at the bottom of the electric railway and on them depend the choice of the system and the design and construction of the motor. The two fundamental systems for electric railways, as in other power problems, are the direct current and the alternating current. In the former we have the familiar trolley wire, fed perhaps by auxiliary conductors carried on the supporting poles or the underground trolley in the conduit, or the third rail laid at the side of the track. All of these have become standard practice and are operated at the usual voltage of from 500 to 600 volts. The current on lines of any considerable length is alternating current, supplied from large central generating stations and transformed to direct as occasion may demand at suitable sub-stations. Recently there has been a tendency to employ high voltage direct current systems where the advantages of the use of direct current motors are combined with the economies of high voltage transmission, chief of which are the avoiding of power losses in transmission and the economy in the first cost of copper. These high voltage direct current lines were first used in Europe, and during the year 1907 experimental lines on the Vienna railway were tested. IN Germany and Switzerland tests were made of direct current system of 2,000 and 3,000 volts and in 1908 there was completed the first section of a 1,200-volt direct current line between Indianapolis and Louisville, which marked the first use of high tension direct current in the United States, and this was followed by other successful installations.

With alternating current there can be used the various forms of single phase or polyphase current familiar in power work, but the latter is now preferred, and in Europe and in the United States in the latter part of 1908 the number of single phase lines was estimated at 27 and 28 respectively, with a total mileage of 782 and 967 miles. A trolley wire or suspended conductor is used. To employ a single phase current, motors of either the repulsion type or of the series type are used and are of heavier weight than the direct current motors, as they must combine the functions of a transformer and a motor. It is for this reason that we often see two electric locomotives at the head of a single train on lines where the single phase system is employed, while on neighboring lines using direct current, one locomotive of hardly larger size suffices. With the polyphase current a motor with a rotating field is used, and they have considerable efficiency as regards weight when compared with the single phase and with the direct current motor. The polyphase motor, however, is open to the objection that it does not lend itself to regulations as well as the direct current form, and with ingenious devices involving the arrangement of the magnetic field and the combination of motors, various running speeds can be had. The usual voltage for these motors is 3,000 volts, but in the polyphase plant designed for the Cascade Tunnel 6,000 volts are to be used. They possess many advantages, especially their ability to run at overload, and consequently a locomotive with polyphase motor will run up grade without serious loss of speed. The single phase system has been carried on on Swiss and Italian railroads, notably on the Simplon Tunnel and the Baltelina lines with great success, and the distribution problems are reduced to a minimum. In the United States a notable installation has been on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, where the section between Stamford and New York has been worked by electricity exclusively since July 1, 1908. Here the single phase motors use direct current while running over the tracks of the New York Central from Woodlawn to the Grand Central Terminal. On both the New York, New Haven & Hartford and the New York Central locomotives the armature is formed directly on the axle of the driving wheels, so consequently much interest attaches to the new design adopted for the Pennsylvania tunnels, where the armatures of the direct current motors are connected with the driving wheels by connecting rods somewhat after the fashion of the steam locomotive, and following in this respect some successful European practice.



(From Munro and Jamieson's Pocket-book of Electrical Rules and


I. FUNDAMENTAL UNITS.-The electrical units are derived from the following mechanical units:-

The Centimetre as a unit of length;

The Gramme as a unit of mass;

The Second as a unit of time.

The Centimetre is equal to 0.3937 inch in length, and nominally represents one thousand-millionth part, or 1/1,000,000,000 of a quadrant of the earth.

The Gramme is equal to 15.432 grains, and represents the mass of a cubic centimetre of water at 4 degrees C. Mass is the quantity of matter in a body.

The Second is the time of one swing of a pendulum making 86,164.09 swings in a sidereal day, or 1/86,400 part of a mean solar day.


Area.-The unit of area is the square centimetre.

Volume.-The unit of volume is the CUBIC CENTIMETRE.

VELOCITY is rate of change of position. It involves the idea of direction as well as that of magnitude. VELOCITY is UNIFORM when equal spaces are traversed in equal intervals of time The unit of velocity is the velocity of a body which moves through unit distance in unit time, or the VELOCITY OF ONE CENTIMETRE PER SECOND.

MOMENTUM is the quantity of motion in a body, and is measured by mass x velocity.

ACCELERATION is the rate of change of velocity, whether that change take place in the direction of motion or not. The unit of acceleration is the acceleration of a body which undergoes unit change of velocity in unit time, or an acceleration of one centimetre-per-second per second The acceleration due to gravity is considerably greater than this, for the velocity imparted by gravity to falling bodies in one second is about 981 centimetres per second (or about 32.2 feet per second). The value differs slightly in different latitudes. At Greenwich the value of the acceleration due to gravity is g=981.17; at the Equator g=978.1; at the North Pole g=983.1.

FORCE is that which tends to alter a body's natural state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line.

FORCE is measured by the acceleration which it imparts to mass-i. e., mass x acceleration.

THE UNIT OF FORCE, or DYNE, is that force which, acting for one second on a mass of one gramme, gives to it a velocity of one centimetre per second. The force with which the earth attracts any mass is usually called the "weight" of that mass, and its value obviously differs at different points of the earth's surface The force with which a body gravitates-i e, its weight (in dynes), is found by multiplying its mass (in grammes) by the value of g at the particular place where the force is exerted.

Work is the product of a force and a distance through which it acts. The unit of work is the work done

in overcoming unit force through unit distance-i e, in pushing a body through a distance of one centimetre against a forch of one dyne. It is called the Erg. Since the "weight" of one gramme is 1 X 981 or 981 dynes, the work of raising one gramme through the height of one centimetre against the force of gravity is 981 ergs or g ergs. One kilogramme-metre = 100,000 (g) ergs = 9 8 1 X 10^7 ergs. One foot- pound = 13,825 (g) ergs, = 1 356 X 10^7 ergs.

Energy is that property which, possessed by a body, gives it the capability of doing work. Kinetic energy is the work a body can do in virtue of its motion. Potential energy is the work a body can do in virtue of its position. The unit of energy is the Erg.

Power or Activity is the rate of work; the practical unit is called the Watt-10^7 ergs per second.

A Horse-power = 33,000 ft-Ibs per minute = 550 ft-Ibs per second, but as seen above under Work, 1 ft-Ib = 1 356 X 10^7 ergs, and under Power, 1 Watt = 10^7 ergs per sec a Horsepower = 550 X 1 356 X 10^7 ergs = 746 Watts; or, =EC/746=C^2R/746=E^2/(746 R) =HP where E = volts, C = amperes, and R = ohms.

The French "force de cheval" = 75 kilogramme metres per sec = 736 Watts = 542 48 ft-lbs. per sec. = .9863 H.P.; or one H.P. = 1.01385 "force de cheval."

DERIVED ELECTRICAL UNITS.-There are two systems of electrical units derived from the fundamental "C.G.S." units, one set being based upon the force exerted between two quantities of electricity, and the other upon the force exerted between two magnetic poles. The former set are termed electro-static units, the latter electro-magnetic units.


UNIT QUANTITY of electricity is that which repels an equal and similar quantity at unit distance with unit force in air.

UNIT CURRENT is that which conveys unit quantity of electricity along a conductor in a second.

UNIT ELECTROMOTIVE FORCE, or unit DIFFERENCE OF POTENTIAL exists between two points when the unit quantity of electricity in passing from one to the other will do the unit amount of work.

UNIT RESISTANCE is that of a conductor through which unit electromotive force between its ends can send a unit current.

UNIT CAPACITY is that of a condenser which contains unit quantity when charged to unit difference of potential.


UNIT MAGNETIC POLE is that which repels an equal and similar pole at unit distance with unit force in air.

STRENGTH OF MAGNETIC FIELD at any point is measured by the force which would act on a unit magnetic pole placed at that point.

UNIT INTENSITY OF FIELD is that intensity of field which acts on a unit pole with unit force.

MOMENT OF A MAGNET is the strength of either pole multiplied by the distance between the poles.

INTENSITY OF MAGNETISATION is the magnetic moment of a magnet divided by its volume.

MAGNETIC POTENTIAL.-The potential at a point due to a magnet is the work that must be done in removing a unit pole from that point to an infinite distance against the magnetic attraction, or in bringing up a unit pole from an infinite distance to that point against the magnetic repulsion.

UNIT DIFFERENCE OF MAGNETIC POTENTIAL.-Unit difference of magnetic potential exists between two points when it requires the expenditure of one erg of work to bring an (N. or S.) unit magnetic pole from one point to the other against the magnetic forces.


UNIT CURRENT is that which in a wire of unit length, bent so as to form an arc of a circle of unit radius, would act upon a unit pole at the centre of the circle with unit force.

UNIT QUANTITY of electricity is that which a unit current conveys in unit time.

UNIT ELECTRO-MOTIVE FORCE or DIFFERENCE OF POTENTIAL is that which is produced in a conductor moving through a magnetic field at such a rate as to cut one unit line per second.

UNIT RESISTANCE is that of a conductor in which unit current is produced by unit electro-motive force between its ends.

UNIT CAPACITY is that of a condenser which will be at unit difference of potential when charged with unit quantity.

Electric and magnetic force varies inversely as the square of the distance.


RESISTANCE-R.-The Ohm is the resistance of a column of mercury 106.3 centimetres long, 1 square millimetre in cross-section, weighing 14.4521 grammes, and at a temperature of 0 degrees centigrade. Standards of wire are used for practical purposes. The ohm is equal to a thousand million, 10^9, electromagnetic or Centimetre-Gramme-Second ("C. G. S.") units of resistance.

The megohm is one million ohms.

The microhm is one millionth of an ohm.

ELECTROMOTIVE FORCE-E.-The Volt is that electromotive force which maintains a current of one ampere in a conductor having a resistance of one ohm. The electromotive force of a Clark standard cell at a temperature of 15 degrees centigrade is 1.434 volts. The volt is equal to a hundred million, 10^8, C. G. S. units of electromotive force.

CURRENT-C.-The Ampere is that current which will decompose 0.09324 milligramme of water (H2O) per second or deposit 1.118 milligrammes of silver per second. It is equal to one-tenth of a C. G. S. unit of current.

The milliampere is one thousandth of an ampere.

QUANTITY-Q.-The Coulomb is the quantity of electricity conveyed by an ampere in a second. It is equal to one-tenth of a C. G. S. unit of quantity.

The micro-coulomb is one millionth of a coulomb.

CAPACITY-K.-The farad is that capacity of a body, say a Leyden jar or condenser, which a coulomb of electricity will charge to the potential of a volt. It is equal to one thousand-millionth of a C. G. S. unit of capacity.

The micro-farad is one millionth of a Farad.

By Ohm's Law, Current = Electromotive Force/ Resistance,

or C = E/R

Ampere = Volt/Ohm

Hence when we know any two of these quantities, we can find the third. For example, if we know the electromotive force or difference of potential in volts and the resistance in ohms of an electric circuit, we can easily find the current in amperes.

POWER-P.-The Watt is the power conveyed by a current of one ampere through a conductor whose ends differ in potential by one volt, or, in other words, the rate of doing work when an ampere passes through an ohm. It is equal to ten million, 10^7, C. G. S. units of power or ergs per second, that is to say, to a Joule per second, or 1/746 of a horse-power.

A Watt = volt X ampere, and a Horse-power = Watts/746.

HEAT OR WORK-W.-The Joule is the work done or heat generated by a Watt in a second, that is, the work done or heat generated in a second by an ampere flowing through the resistance of an ohm. It is equal to ten million, 10^7, C. G. S. units of work or ergs. Assuming "Joule's equivalent" of heat and mechanical energy to be 41,600,000, it is the heat required to raise .24 gramme of water 1 degrees centigrade. A Joule = Volt x ampere x second. Since 1 horse-power = 550 foot pounds of work per second,

W = 550/746 E. Q. = .7373 E. Q. foot pounds.


The British Unit is the amount of heat required to raise one pound of water from 60 degrees to 61 degrees Fahrenheit. It is 251.9 times greater than the metric unit, therm or calorie, which is the amount of heat required to raise one gramme of water from 4 degrees to 5 degrees centigrade.

Joule's Equivalent-J.-is the amount of energy equivalent to a therm or calorie, the metric unit of heat. It is equal to 41,600,000 ergs.

The heat in therms generated in a wire by a current = Volt X ampere X time in seconds X 0.24.


The British Unit is the light of a spermaceti candle 7/8-inch in diameter, burning 120 grains per hour (six candles to the pound). They sometimes vary as much as 10 per cent, from the standard. Mr. Vernon Harcourt's standard flame is equal to an average standard candle.

The French Unit is the light of a Carcel lamp, and is equivalent to 9 T/Z British units.

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