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MS GOETHE : Removal of steam engines in favour of diesel-hydraulic unit in 2008-09 causes uproar

In 2008 it was announced by the Koln-Dusseldorfer company that their last remaining paddle steamer, Goethe, was going to be converted to diesel-hydraulic power over the following winter. The decision to remove the compound diagonal, two cylinder engines, built in 1917 by Gebruder Sachsenberg at Rosslau on the Elbe caused uproar amongst steam and classic ship enthusiasts.
The reasons given were many and varied and on the face of it, quite understandable from a purely economic standpoint, but one of Goethe's main attractions, at least in the eyes of many, has disappeared.
The photo above by Gordon Stewart shows her engines in operation in 2000. 

Goethe's re-engining : a report by Gordon Stewart

The management of the Koln-Dusseldorfer line took the decision to re-engine Goethe with a heavy heart, it appears. The ultimate ownership of the company lies in the hands of the same company which owns the steamer fleet at Dresden -the world's largest. Clearly the directors are supporters of "heritage" steamers, but the KD does have independent shareholders, whose interests must also be looked after.  The KD markets itself as not only the largest, but the most modern fleet on the Rhine, with Goethe filling the "nostalgia" role, along the most attractive part of the Rhine, between Koblenz and Rudesheim. KD will continue to market her in this way, as a paddle wheel ship, although not as a paddle steamer. As a nod to history, plans were quicky announced that the ship's steam whistle would be retained and some way would be found to keep this part of her steamer heritage "in service". Of course this was derided by enthusiasts, but KD countered that it is really only to the small (but not insubstantial) band of steamer-lovers that this really matters. Their view was that most passengers either were not aware of Goethe's history or really were not particularly concerned about it. Coach-loads of tourists on quick Rhine trips were there to see the Loreley and the vined slopes around Ruedesheim rather than the steam engines of Goethe. Maybe this is true, but maybe it also is an indictment of the failure of the KD to adequately market Goethe.

It cannot genuinely be said that Goethe is a historic vessel. Her hull and engines date back to 1917 but nothing else. Easly in her life she was converted to a passenger steamer from a freight and passenger ship, with her deck saloons being considerably extended. During World War II she was sunk by enemy action and it was not until 1953 that she reemerged after raising and rebuilding. The Goethe which sailed on until 1989 was very much a ship of the early 1950s, with a historical engine which was largely concealed from passenger view. When she returned to service in 1996 having been withdrawn and possibly retired once and for all, she re-emerged heavily rebuilt once more : a modern ship with modern facilities with a somewhat traditional exterior appearance, and although her engines were opened up more for viewng, they remained sealed behind glass screens and "viewing the engines" was not one of the major experiences for Goethe's passengers.

Efforts by enthusiasts to dissuade KD failed - the decision had been taken pretty quickly after the public became aware of the threat. Attempts to achieve protected status for Goethe failed : the authorities regarded her a basically a "modern" ship - and so the one thing which made her "historic" was removed on the basis of economics only. The ultimate irony now is that her engines, displayed in a museum, qualify for "protected" status whilst the same engines, in operation as they should be, did not !

Photos of gthe engine works by kind courtesy of Alois Mohr, Chief Engineer
Photos kindly supplied by Olivier Bachmann

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Above : One of the prime reasons given for replacing the engine was the discovery that a crack in the engine entablature supporting the crank,which was believed to have been caused around the time of Goethe's sinking during World War II, had expanded to a point where expensive repairs were needed
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Above : High and low pressure cylinders. In most cases using most methods of calculation, steam power is less economical than diesel. It was believed that the cost of fuel could be reduced by up to 50 percent with diesel engines - and in mid 2008, just as fuel prices hit an all-time high, it seemed like the economics justification for the decision taken was underlined.
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Dismantling the engines requires careful manual work. KD decided early on that the hostorical machinery would not be scrapped, but kept in storage. It was quickly decided that they would be donated to the Staedtisches Museum at Cologne for display.
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Above : Cylinders (as well as boilers) are heavy bits of plant. With reduced weight it was believed that Goethe would sit higher in the water and this would improve her speed and fuel efficiency. With the heavy rebuild of the vessel in the 1990s it was believed that, with her 750 horse power engine, she was now seriously under powered. By comparison, her erstwhile fleet-mate "Mainz" had compound engines which generated 960 horse power.

Recent legislation relating to her crew maximum working-time meant that she could not complete the Koblenz / Ruedesheim return trip without the employment of relief crew. Yet another reason for the need to increase her speed.

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24th November 2008 : Removal of the crankshaft
Not an unusual procedure if an engine is to be overhauled - but in this case it was to be removal for, presumably, the last time.

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Above : An empty engine room
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Above : Connecting rods laid out on the quayside after removal from the hull. Pistons were another source of worry. The previous season, Goethe suffered a breakdown and the loss of a lot of sailing time when a piston fractured. She was only saved by the fact that one of similar dimensions was in preservation : the former Rhine paddler Cecilie's engines were in private ownership in the Netherlands and the appropriate piece was made available. Re-casting the component would have taken time - and a lot of money.
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Above : 13th March 2009 : The new equipment begins installation

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Above : One further benefit of the new engines is that they are designed so that they are made up of two totally independent units. Therefore if one unit fails, the other would be able to drive Goethe to an appropriate point on the water to avoid potentially unsafe situations. Not that Rhine paddlers were regularly subject to engine failure - but Goethe's piston problem showed the potential - and the problem was, in any case, recognised in new rules which are now governing shipping on the Rhine. Goethe could have sailed on with her "single" engine to at least 2015 before the new rules came into operation (and potentially longer, depending on the date of her last full insprection), but it was used as another reason why the engines should be changed now - rather than later.

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