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Author Topic: motive power  (Read 8982 times)

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« on: November 21, 2012, 04:24:58 AM »

I am absolutely new to model trains.  Could someone please explain the difference between "motive power" and "locomotive"? I notice what looks like locomotives (to me!) in the motive power listing.

What would be a good source to increase my basic knowledge?  I have read through some ten year old Atlas layout books/info, but this web site shows me that I need to educate myself.

I am interested in N-scale.

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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2012, 04:39:24 AM »


Welcome to the hobby. I'm sure you'll find it full of things to learn, new friends and fun, even if it seems a little
confusing at first.

There isn't any difference between locomotive and motive power. I suppose one could say that self-moving cars, like
subway cars, are motive power but not locomotives but that would really be splitting hairs.

For new information, check to see if your local library subscribes to Model Railroader magazine. If so, that publication
will give you a lot of information itself plus, it will carry ads for publications from Kalmbach Publishing. (Kalmbach also
publihes MR.) If they don't get MR, look for a local hobby shop which caries model railroading merchandise. They
would almost certainly have a rack of Kalmbach books which you can peruse to see which ones would be most
helpful to you.
                                                                                                               -- D

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« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2012, 04:43:08 AM »

Thanks--I am headed to a local hobby shop in the next couple days, it will be nice to know what to look for.
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2012, 10:13:04 AM »

Click on Motive power. You will see what is in there. Nothing is powered by steam.


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« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2012, 12:13:19 PM »


Welcome to a hobby that has been a lifetime passion for me and many others!

Here is a link to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) Introduction to Model Railroading:

It is totally free. You do not have to be a member, register or sign up to access any NMRA information. And, NO advertising! Just a lot of information on many aspects of the hobby. Be sure to follow the sub-links to see all that is offered.

Happy RRing,


Sequoia Pacific RR in 1:20 / 70.6mm
Boonville Light & Power Co. in 1:20 / 45mm
Navarro Engineering & Construction Co. in 1:20 / 32mm
NMRA Life Member #3370
Member: Bay Area Electric Railway Association
Member: Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources
James in FL

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« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2012, 03:29:48 PM »

Well here’s my take;

Motive power is the source that makes a locomotive move; it is what starts the process of work. It can be the wind, or maybe water, or electricity, or nuclear, or steam, or fire, (or whatever else) that can be used to produce work. It derives from a natural source.

Locomotive is that big heavy metal thing on top of the rails (and all its components) trying to move that consist, whether diesel, steam or electric driven.
Most modelers use the term “motive power” to mean the locomotive itself.
It’s a context thing I guess.

Reading it here, I take it to mean the powered unit.

Perhaps the term “motive power” does not translate well.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2012, 03:49:57 PM by James in FL » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2012, 06:49:14 PM »

Well, over here in the UK we used to have engine shed for steam locomotives, but now we have MPDS or Motive Power Depots. So I suggest Motive Power means diesel locomotive.
« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2012, 07:13:59 PM »

Not a big deal. It all comes under Motive Power from what I have found.
I suspect Bachmann broke it up to make two different categories. Steam and everything else.
Most of Motive Power is by electric motor or internal combustion engine. Ok, a few will want to argue, motor or engine. lol.

I notice the OP never came back.

Jerrys HO
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2012, 07:41:15 PM »

I notice the OP never came back

and you say your eyes are bad. Grin
James in FL

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« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2012, 07:54:01 PM »

Wait a minute, I wanna get this right.  Wink

Is the locomotive, the motive power?
Or, is the motive power, the locomotive?
Can a steam engine not be motive power in the same context?
We don’t need no stinkin’ physics.
And which is it? Motor or Engine?
Or does that depend on steam or diesel or electric?
Enquiring minds want to know… or maybe not…
I'm going to change trucks and wheels (or is it wheelsets?) on some Budd cars...

And is it switch or turnout?  Roll Eyes
« Last Edit: November 21, 2012, 08:29:43 PM by James in FL » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: November 21, 2012, 08:38:21 PM »

there are varying terms for those items. it all depends on what your perspective is.

when i worked with the railroad, the locomotives were referred to as "power" as in "spin the power' for turning the locomotive on a wye, or "tie the train down and leave the power running" for setting the brakes on the train to leave it unattended, but the locomotives running.

electric locomotives were commonly referred to as "motors" and some lines referred to their diesel power as motors as well. i've never heard of steamers being referred to as "motors".......

Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA

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« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2012, 12:56:04 AM »

Motive power.

Is a stand alone locomotive be it steam, diesel or electric.  It can also be referred to as  plain "Power" but only in certain contexts.

In North America, a diesel is powered by a Prime Mover which in other English speaking parts of the the world will be referred to as the "Diesel Engine" or "Diesel Motor" or just plain "Engine."  However, another word for locomotive is "Engine" as in "Steam Engine" or "Diesel Engine" but electric locomotives are always electric locomotives, not "Electric Engines".  But then again, in North America, a diesel locomotive/engine is often referred to as a "Unit" as in "Diesel Unit"  In the UK, diesel and electric locomotives as well as DEMUs and EMUs are referred to as "Traction" but not in North America

A "Motor" can be the prime mover/diesel engine in a locomotive or it can be a another name for an electric locomotive.  A "Motor" can also be the name for an early design of diesel railcar, those nicknamed "Doodlebugs" and built before the RDC.  But there's nothing to stop an RDC also being referred to as a "Motor".  In the UK, a "motor" can also be a steam powered push-pull train that consists of up to four passenger cars, with a locomotive in the middle, or at one end if two cars or less. The engineer sits in a driving cab in the lead passenger car controlling the brakes while the fireman tended the fire and, in most cases, also ran the the locomotive/engine.  In the UK,  "motor" can also be the nickname for a diesel or electric multiple unit that replaced a steam push-pull train.

I think we'll end the lesson here as I think I've now made it all clear.


« Last Edit: November 22, 2012, 12:13:57 PM by rogertra » Logged

James in FL

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« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2012, 12:35:05 PM »

Your engine, or motor, or unit, will not function without some sort of motive power.
Engines and motors do not create motive power but rather they create work.

Some words, terms, and phrases have evolved to encompass other meanings.
The true meaning of the phrase has been muddied.
You can label something pretty much whatever you want nowadays, like Rich says “not a big deal”.

If you want to call a diesel or steam engine or motor, motive power, that’s ok with me.
 I’ll still have a general idea of what you’re talking about.
Toy train locomotives are a far stretch from motive power, but call it what you will.
Rule #1 applies. Be happy in your designated label.

And a question for the teach…

What is the form of motive power for a steam locomotive?
a)   Water
b)   Fire
c)   Steam
d)   a and b
e)   a and c
f)   b and c
g)   all of the above
h)   none of the above
i)              the steam engine is of itself the motive power

There is a bonus slice of pumpkin pie today if you get it right.
Happy Thanksgiving

Skarloey Railway

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« Reply #13 on: November 22, 2012, 01:36:19 PM »

Isn't it perfectly good English to say that
"the motive power on this consist is three GP40s" or "three GP40s  provide the motive power on this consist"

I think that motive power includes anything capable of moving under its own power.

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« Reply #14 on: November 22, 2012, 08:56:33 PM »

It's perfectly good english where I come from.


If your parents never had children, chances are you won't either.
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