Steam Line Rupture before Break up?


Oct 7, 2014
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Is there a beak-up theory that accounts for the boiler room 1 boilers being lit when the compartment (likely) catastrophically flooded?

Boiler room 1 was used to power the auxiliary functions of the ship, including the dynamos of the electric plant.

How much damage would an exploding boiler or a steam line rupture do to the structure of the ship?

A steam line rupture could possibly explain some of the electrical behavior seen by witnesses right before the break up. The lights would most likely have dimmed as the steam lines to the starboard dynamos were slowly closed as the boilers were dampened in boiler rooms 4, 3, and 2.

If boiler room 1 catastrophically flooded before the boilers were dampened, there would have been either an explosion, or a sudden increase in pressure in the steam lines leading to the port dynamos. This would cause the lights to burn brightly for a split second, then suddenly go out as the steam line ruptured.

There would have been massive explosions (which were heard by witnesses). and the structure of the ship along the steam line between the third and fourth funnels would likely have been significantly damaged. This is also the area of the ship where 'The Big Piece' is from.

I guess I am theorizing that there was possibly a steam line rupture caused by a sudden flooding of boiler room 1.

If someone with a bigger brain than me could determine the buoyancy state of the superstructure when boiler room 1 would have flooded and the theoretical steam line rupture occurred, you could theoretically determine once and for all whether the ship broke apart at the surface or underwater.

If the damage from a steam line rupture were extensive enough, it could even lead to consideration of a V-break theory, though I don't know if that's a rabbit hole I really want to go down.

I wish I could lead an expedition or just ask someone that's already going down there to inspect the steam lines near the break in both the bow and the stern. They should be relatively accessible.

Edit: It appears some of the boilers from boiler room 1 were found in-tact, which eliminates a boiler explosion, but not necessarily a steam line rupture further aft.
 
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Oct 7, 2014
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Edit: It would be interesting to see the difference in accounts from people that were in life boats on the port side, vs people who were in lifeboats on the starboard side. If there was a steam line rupture in relation to the 'Big Piece', the survivors on the port side would have seen it blow out, where the survivors on the starboard side would not. This could account for the disparity in observations on whether the ship 'broke apart' or not. It's possible it did, but it started on the port side, which is where the steam line would have been. If this is the case, the port side could have started breaking apart above the waterline, and the starboard side could have broken below the waterline. We assume it was a clean break laterally, but that's not necessarily how it could have happened if one side of the ship were significantly damaged. Also, you have to account for the fact that not many of the survivors were mechanically literate, since so much of the technology was relatively new and not widely understood.

Its like the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Two people witness the same thing, but give different accounts based on their perspective and their technical experience, or lack thereof.
 
Oct 7, 2014
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Those in all the other boiler rooms were lit and connected to the engines. BR#1 was not in use at the night of the collision.
Ok. Thanks!

Boiler room 2 was also connected to the port electrical dynamo via a steam pipe.

With the engines stopped, most of the steam pressure generated from BR#2 would have been going through that pipe.

It is possible, then that it wasn't vented like the main steam lines to the engine, to keep electricity going for the lights and pumps.

It's also possible that there was too much steam pressure going through the line, but it was overlooked with everything else going on, so the over-pressurization of the line would have nothing to do with the flooding, but more to do with people being too overwhelmed to pay attention to every detail.

Also, its worth noting that Titanic probably had separate protocols for when the ship was in port, rather than out to sea. In port, they would most likely just keep BR#1 lit, and shut down BR#6 - 2. At sea, they don't have to worry about over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam pipes because steam is also going to the main engines.

If there was a separate steam valve lineup for being at shore, and it wasn't put into action when the engines were stopped, over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam piping would have been ridiculously easy.

Long story short; no one expected the ship do come to a complete stop from a full ahead bell and the procedures for putting the steam system into a shore line up were most likely overlooked because of the emergent nature of the situation.

I'd have to look at whether there were steam relief valves in the auxiliary steam system. Even if there were, there could have been a mechanical flaw in the system that prevented them from opening. Case in point: the USS Thresher sank because valves in the ballast system froze shut due to changes in air pressure going through them and moisture in the air. That was in the 1960s. Another disasterous 'maiden voyage' situation...
 
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Rancor

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Jun 23, 2017
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Ok. Thanks!

Boiler room 2 was also connected to the port electrical dynamo via a steam pipe.

With the engines stopped, most of the steam pressure generated from BR#2 would have been going through that pipe.

It is possible, then that it wasn't vented like the main steam lines to the engine, to keep electricity going for the lights and pumps.

It's also possible that there was too much steam pressure going through the line, but it was overlooked with everything else going on, so the over-pressurization of the line would have nothing to do with the flooding, but more to do with people being too overwhelmed to pay attention to every detail.

Also, its worth noting that Titanic probably had separate protocols for when the ship was in port, rather than out to sea. In port, they would most likely just keep BR#1 lit, and shut down BR#6 - 2. At sea, they don't have to worry about over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam pipes because steam is also going to the main engines.

If there was a separate steam valve lineup for being at shore, and it wasn't put into action when the engines were stopped, over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam piping would have been ridiculously easy.

Long story short; no one expected the ship do come to a complete stop from a full ahead bell and the procedures for putting the steam system into a shore line up were most likely overlooked because of the emergent nature of the situation.

I'd have to look at whether there were steam relief valves in the auxiliary steam system. Even if there were, there could have been a mechanical flaw in the system that prevented them from opening. Case in point: the USS Thresher sank because valves in the ballast system froze shut due to changes in air pressure going through them and moisture in the air. That was in the 1960s. Another disasterous 'maiden voyage' situation...

Hey Patrick,

Ioannis is of course correct regarding boilers in boiler room 1 not being lit during the crossing. As you say I understan they were used in port to provide steam for electricity generation while the main boilers were cleaned and prepared for a crossing.

Testimony from Trimmer Thomas Dillion who was in the engine room during the collision:

3746. And did you go into the stokehold?
- Yes.

3747. Do you know which stokehold that would be?
- The after-stokehold.

3748. The one immediately forward of the engine room?
- Yes.

3749. Were the boilers lit in the stokehold?
- No.

Regarding the auxiliary steam lines we don't know how exactly the engineers had the valving arranged, as it was also possible to draw steam for the dynamos of the main lines. Assuming they were using the auxiliary lines they would operate at the same pressure as whatever boilers it was connected to, which were protected from overpressure by their own safety valves so I don't see how it would have been possible to over pressurise the auxiliary line and cause it to rupture.
 
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I think naval architect William Grazke mentioned a ruptured steam pipe about BR 2 (if my memory is right) in the sname report from 1996 exhibition but I can not find it right now. I don't think it was mentioned again in later sname reports.
 
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Stephen Carey

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Ok. Thanks!

Boiler room 2 was also connected to the port electrical dynamo via a steam pipe.

With the engines stopped, most of the steam pressure generated from BR#2 would have been going through that pipe.

It is possible, then that it wasn't vented like the main steam lines to the engine, to keep electricity going for the lights and pumps.

It's also possible that there was too much steam pressure going through the line, but it was overlooked with everything else going on, so the over-pressurization of the line would have nothing to do with the flooding, but more to do with people being too overwhelmed to pay attention to every detail.

Also, its worth noting that Titanic probably had separate protocols for when the ship was in port, rather than out to sea. In port, they would most likely just keep BR#1 lit, and shut down BR#6 - 2. At sea, they don't have to worry about over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam pipes because steam is also going to the main engines.

If there was a separate steam valve lineup for being at shore, and it wasn't put into action when the engines were stopped, over-pressurizing the auxiliary steam piping would have been ridiculously easy.

Long story short; no one expected the ship do come to a complete stop from a full ahead bell and the procedures for putting the steam system into a shore line up were most likely overlooked because of the emergent nature of the situation.

I'd have to look at whether there were steam relief valves in the auxiliary steam system. Even if there were, there could have been a mechanical flaw in the system that prevented them from opening. Case in point: the USS Thresher sank because valves in the ballast system froze shut due to changes in air pressure going through them and moisture in the air. That was in the 1960s. Another disasterous 'maiden voyage' situation...
My own theory is that the dynamos stayed running until the fracture of the ship which also fractured the steam pipe feeding the dynamo(s). A fractured steam line is a "sudden release of pressure" which is actually a definition of an explosion.
Steam pipes don't over-pressurise, the boiler safeties take care of the steam pressure, and that event is shown well in the Cameron film. Boiler Room 1 was not fired, as the single ended boilers were only lit for port use. This gives an indication on how much steam is needed to keep the generators running - ie "not a lot", so the other 24 double ended boilers used for propulsion contained a massive volume of steam at the standard pressure of the ship, 215psi. This huge volume of steam with the fires lit and with a crash stop has to go somewhere, and unlike oil firing you can't just switch coal off. The actions of the firemen to damp and rake out the fires was reasonably accurate I think. That stopped further raising of steam, and there was sufficient - more than sufficient - steam in all those boilers to run generators.
Right, if I was the Chief Engineer of the ship, as soon as I realised - or was told - that the ship didn't have long to live, and to keep the lights on (there wasn't much driven by electricity apart from stokehold fans - no longer needed - and a few other odds and sods, as everything was steam driven) I would have taken steps to reduce the steam demand as much as possible. I would have changed the main generators over to the harbour condition using the auxiliary condenser and its attendant seawater and air pumps and shut down the main seawater pumps which consume a lot of steam, along with the attendant air/water pumps, LO pumps etc. The refrigeration can be shut down - no one's cooking and the fish don't mind what condition the meat is in... - and various other odds and ends such as hot salt and fresh domestic water etc.
Having done that and seeing how the steam pressure was doing, I would have changed over from the main generators (aft in the ship below the waterline) to the two auxiliary units of 30kW each which were forward of the 2nd class pantry area on the Upper Deck. This 60kW would have been enough for the radio (which had its own motor generator set plus and emergency spark set) and enough to power around a thousand 60W bulbs plus or minus a few. There were no emergency batteries on the ship. The time that this was done was when the sudden discharge from the auxiliary seawater pump on the starboard side of the engineroom nearly flooded the after most boats on that side - Nos 12/13(?) without checking. This is shown on the sinking in real time videos.
There is now not much else that the engineers can do other than keep an eye on the auxiliary dynamos and the auxiliary seawater system. There was no need for a feed system so that could also be shut down to save steam (putting feed into the boilers would cool them to a certain extent and reduce the available steam pressure). I would have sent most of the engineers up top to do what they could to save themselves, and it seems they were seen - including the 2nd Engineer Farquarson - shaking hands up top, leaving only myself and 2 or 3 juniors plus two electricians to handle the switchboards as the systems shorted out when under water.
I would have used the internal engineroom steam pipe to feed these auxiliary dynamos, not the ones from the other boilers, which I would send the engineers to shut the stop valves as the water entered each of the compartments. When the ship broke in two, this would have fractured the steam lines and the lights would have flickered and died out as the steam pressure failed.
A note on boilers: These are full of steam at pressure. However when subject to cold water as they would have been when the compartments flooded, steam contracts when it cools so there would have been a vacuum in the boilers under these circumstances - or at least on the ones that had their stop valves closed. Here's a quick video of what happens to a steel drum full of steam when cold water is sprayed over it -
- there are lots of these on YT and you can do it yourself in your garden!
If you have any more questions, please ask! If you want to know how to start the Titanic - and other ships - I have written a few articles on it hosted on this site - SS Richard Montgomery Matter - scroll down to "Starting the big liners from cold PDF files". Also interesting stuff on the eponymous ship in the site name.
 
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Thanks for all the information. I was a nuclear mechanic in the US Navy, so of course I find all this stuff fascinating.

Another hypothetical;
What if the steam piping was pulled out of the boilers as the bottom of the ship began flexing under the weight of the stern?

That would pretty much be the worst case scenario for a steam line rupture, wouldn't it?

If that explosion, or series of explosions, shredded the substructure of the ship above Boiler Room 2, then the only thing holding the ship together would have been the top deck or two and the hull, and we know how well that did under stress.

Not to mention that that's around the area of the expansion joints, so you would have had a perfect storm of worst case scenarios for the integrity of the ship.

Given that, it would actually be more surprising if the ship didn't break.

That might also explain the flattening of the back end of the bow section, if there was no structure left to keep it from collapsing. And a shredded front end of the stern section would explain all of the peeling that took place as that section sank.
 
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