One of President Obama key ideas has been green jobs. One era of history I’m interested in includes the mid 20th century greening of the railroad industry. The big “green” trend of that era was the development of the diesel locomotive. Yes, those nasty smoke belching diesels were a big improvement over their coal burning predecessors. But that progress came at a price. It meant the elimination of a lot of jobs. You see not only does diesel fuel burn much cleaner than coal, diesel locomotives require much less repair work than diesels. There’s no corrosive steam causing wear on moving parts for one. For the second part, a diesel engine needs oil changes and engine rebuilds and motor and generator (or alternator) rebuilds. That’s most of the work required. And all these can be very standardized. Two of the most common early diesels, the F-7 and GP-7 shared common drive train parts.
How much less time is a diesel down for repairs? Well, there was one snag in the early adoption of diesels. After a couple of years of use, one of the earlier diesels wore out its solid steel wheels. Wheels which would last the two decade life of a steam locomotive. After a little bit of research, they figured out this wasn’t a problem. Over the course of two or three years, that diesel locomotive traveled more than a steam locomotive would over its entire life.
I’d still argue the greening of railroads was a good thing, it was a net destroyer of jobs, not a creator of them. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for writing this post about the more current green jobs situation and reminding me to write this post.