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What is a Garratt?

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  • Written By: Jessica Reed
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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A Garratt was a steam-powered locomotive of the early 1900s that consisted of three parts which could turn separately. These three parts allowed the train to move around tight corners that a normal train might not be able to maneuver without tipping over. The design ensured that one piece could turn while the others stayed straight or twisted in a different direction, allowing the Garratt model train advanced maneuverability options. The Garratt steam locomotive was often used to navigate extremely curvy tracks, such as those found in mountainous areas, and made it possible for the locomotive to travel to previously cut-off areas.

The three-frame design consisted of a boiler on the middle frame and two steam engines found on either end of the second and third frames, one to the left and one to the right of the frame containing the boiler. These steam engines gave the train extra power and often needed fewer workers to maintain and keep the train running during operation. The design of Garratt locomotives provided an advantage over other types of trains during the time period. Due to the location and arrangement of the boiler, the train could run faster without tipping over at corners and could accommodate a larger boiler than many trains of the time could carry.

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Disadvantages come along with the advantages. The train could slip when the weight from water and coal were used up from powering the locomotive. To prevent this problem, water was carried behind the train in an attached wagon so the weight on the wheels would remain the same and the wheels would be less likely to slip.

Garratts were developed by a man named Herbert William Garratt, who submitted the idea to Beyer, Peacock and Company. Beyer, an English locomotive manufacturing company, began making the designs. It is noteworthy that the Garratts were typically used in most countries around the world except North America. The Garratts also go by the name of Beyer-Garratt because of the company that manufactured it.

Beyer-Garratt steam locomotives were used from 1920 up until 1950. After the 1950s, they were slowly replaced by more efficient locomotives, such as the electric locomotive and the diesel locomotive. Currently, Garratt locomotives are still maintained and used occasionally. The last of these operating steam locomotives are found in Africa. Garratts can also be found on display at museums where they are maintained and open for viewing by the public.

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