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A diesel locomotive is a type of railway locomotive in which the prime mover is a diesel engine. Several types of diesel locomotives have been developed, differing mainly in the means by which mechanical power is conveyed to the driving wheels.

Early internal combustion locomotives and railcars used kerosene and gasoline as their fuel. Rudolf Diesel patented his first compression-ignition engine[1] in 1898, and steady improvements to the design of diesel engines reduced their physical size and improved their power-to-weight ratios to a point where one could be mounted in a locomotive. Internal combustion engines only operate efficiently within a limited torque range, and while low power gasoline engines could be coupled to mechanical transmissions, the more powerful diesel engines required the development of new forms of transmission.[2][3][4][5][6] This is because clutches would need to be very large at these power levels and would not fit in a standard 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in)-wide locomotive frame, or wear too quickly to be useful.

The first successful diesel engines used diesel–electric transmissions, and by 1925 a small number of diesel locomotives of 600 hp (450 kW) were in service in the United States. In 1930, Armstrong Whitworth of the United Kingdom delivered two 1,200 hp (890 kW) locomotives using Sulzer-designed engines to Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway of Argentina. In 1933, diesel–electric technology developed by Maybach was used to propel the DRG Class SVT 877, a high-speed intercity two-car set, and went into series production with other streamlined car sets in Germany starting in 1935. In the United States, diesel–electric propulsion was brought to high-speed mainline passenger service in late 1934, largely through the research and development efforts of General Motors dating back to the late 1920s and advances in lightweight car body design by the Budd Company.

The economic recovery from World War II caused the widespread adoption of diesel locomotives in many countries. They offered greater flexibility and performance than steam locomotives, as well as substantially lower operating and maintenance costs. Diesel–hydraulic transmissions were introduced in the 1950s, but, from the 1970s onwards, diesel–electric transmissions have dominated.[citation needed]

Although diesel locomotives generally emit less sulphur dioxide, a major pollutant to the environment, and greenhouse gases than steam locomotives, they are not completely clean in that respect.[47] Furthermore, like other diesel powered vehicles, they emit nitrogen oxides and fine particles, which are a risk to public health. In fact, in this last respect diesel locomotives may pollute worse than steam locomotives.

For years, it was thought by American government scientists who measure air pollution that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than those of diesel trucks or other vehicles; however, the scientists discovered that because they used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel locomotives, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually. After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a major ingredient in smog and acid rain, and soot would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed.pollutant to the environment, and greenhouse gases than steam locomotives, they are not completely clean in that respect.[47] Furthermore, like other diesel powered vehicles, they emit nitrogen oxides and fine particles, which are a risk to public health. In fact, in this last respect diesel locomotives may pollute worse than steam locomotives.

For years, it was thought by American government scientists who measure air pollution that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than those of diesel trucks or other vehicles; however, the scientists discovered that because they used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel locomotives, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually.

For years, it was thought by American government scientists who measure air pollution that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than those of diesel trucks or other vehicles; however, the scientists discovered that because they used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel locomotives, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually. After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a major ingredient in smog and acid rain, and soot would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed.[48][49] In Europe, where most major railways have been electrified, there is less concern.