Belpaire firebox

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Diagramatic cross section of the Belapair fire box showing the large volume of water contained in the square section above the box. The hatched circles show the outline of the boiler on to which the firebox was attached.

The Belpaire firebox is a type of firebox used on steam locomotives. It was invented by Alfred Belpaire of Belgium in 1864. It has a greater surface area at the top of the firebox, improving heat transfer and steam production. Its rectangular shape makes attaching the firebox to the boiler more difficult, but this is offset by simpler interior bracing of the firebox. [1]


In boiler designs the firebox is encased in a water jacket on five sides, (front, back, left, right and top) to keep the firebox wall temperature well below the temperature at which steel weakens. Stays are used to space and strengthen the interior gap between the high pressure boiler outside wall and the interior firebox wall and to conduct heat into the boiler interior. [2]

In conventional designs the top of the boiler is cylindrical over the firebox to match the contour of the rest of the boiler; however, this causes a problem of placing stays at right angles to both the square firebox wrapper sheet and the cylindrical crown boiler sheet. This necessitated the angling of the stays and even the fitting of flexible joints to compensate for heat expansion.These features are difficult to build and weaken the structure.

In the Belpaire design, the boiler wall sheets are roughly parallel with the firebox sheets to allow better placement of the stays. This arrangement gives the firebox end of the boiler a more square shape and is usually made as large as possible within the loading gauge, to offer the greatest heating surface where the fire is hottest.

In the USA, the Belpaire firebox was introduced (c. 1882-83) by R. P. C. Sanderson, who at the time was working for the Shenandoah Valley Railway (essentially a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad since they shared the same financial backing from Clark & Co.). Sanderson was an Englishman (later naturalized American citizen) who had attained his engineering degree from Cassel in Germany (1875). Having knowledge of a special form of locomotive boiler (the Belpaire), he wrote to an old acquaintance from his college days who was working at the Henschel Locomotive factory at Cassel. He sent Sanderson a tracing of their latest type. When shown the design, Mr. Charles Blackwell, Superintendent of Motive Power for the Shenandoah Valley Railway, was very much pleased with the design and placed an order for two passenger engines, afterwards numbered 94 and 95, and five freight engines, afterwards numbered, 56, 57, 58, 59, and 60, with the Baldwin and Grant locomotive companies. This was the beginning of the use of this type of locomotive boilers in this country.[3] The Pennsylvania Railroad used Belpaire fireboxes on nearly all of its steam locomotives. The distinctive square shape practically became a "Pennsy" trademark, as no other American railroad except the Great Northern used Belpaire fireboxes in significant numbers.

In Britain, the Belpaire design was a standard feature on most Great Western Railway locomotives, and a significant number of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway's locomotives also employed the design. Some other British railway companies used the Belpaire firebox on a handful of locomotives, but not to any major extent.



  1. ^ "The Belpaire Firebox". The Railway Engineer,. Volume 45: 237. April 1924. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  2. ^ By American Railway Master Mechanics' Association. "Dictionary of Terms". Locomotive Cyclopedia of American Practice. p. Page 18. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  3. ^ HAPS AND MISHAPS: The Autobiography of R. P. C. Sanderson, 1940, Philadelphia

See also[edit]