Railway Turntable and Roundhouse

Railway Turntable and Roundhouse – History, Uses

Not so common anymore, the railway turntable and roundhouse was a must in the steam locomotives era.

As we well know, steamers
were not designed to operate in reverse, something had to be done,
so the railway companies found a brilliant way to turn the locomotives around with the help of a
railway turntable or also called a wheelhouse.

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The turntable solved an important problem, by easily spinning locomotives in the desired direction.

Newly constructed railway turntable was adjacent to a roundhouse, a building constructed in a
semi-circular form, these new inventions were perfectly incorporable, with a huge benefit over the regular turnaround wye, which
necessitated a bigger space and often would’ve been more costly.[source]

By Michael Mayer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The John Street Roundhouse, built for Canadian Pacific Railway, in Downtown Toronto, is a good example of such a building.
The roundhouse building facade has 32 doors and it could store and maintain 32 locomotives. It has been used for this
purpose over 50 years, being transformed into a museum back in 2010. [source]

Which material was used for the construction of the first turntables?
The first turntables were made out of wood and very small, around 6 feet, compared to the ones build later into the century which could span
up to 120 feet.

Three important pieces combined made out the newly railway turntable, a circular pit in which a bridge rotates, usually build out of steel
which was balanced by a central pivot.

Early railway turntables were handled manually by brute force, slowly moving towards a mechanic operation.

By late 1934, diesel-electric propulsion locomotive started to be introduced in the U.S, featuring a new design and
being operable in both direction, often called “front ends” and “rear ends”.

Newly introduced diesel-electric locomotives made these railway turntables and roundhouses become less usable throughout the world.

One example of turntable still in use can be visited in San Francisco, U.S. Powell turntable was reconstructed
in 1950 and has been in use since then.

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