Livio Dante Porta

Ingeniero Livio Dante Porta 1922 – 2003


Ing. Livio Dante Porta was the inspirational force behind the 5AT Project and spearheaded most other steam locomotive developments in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Having no mechanical engineering course available to him, Porta graduated as a civil engineer from university in Buenos Aires in 1946, becoming first a disciple and later a friend of André Chapelon.

Porta was a strong believer in Chapelon’s locomotive design philosophy, to which he added his own considerable contributions. Sponsored by Peron, the then new leader of Argentina, he completed his first locomotive (an experimental showpiece four cylinder compound 4-8-0 named “Argentina”) at the age of 27.  Like all his (and Chapelon’s) locomotives, it was a rebuild of an old outdated design, yet it still ranks as the most thermally efficient Stephensonian locomotive ever constructed.  Thus began a career of almost 50 years, dedicated to the advancement of steam traction.

Coming on the scene too late to influence the design of new locomotives, Porta focussed his attention on rebuilding old locomotives to demonstrate that properly designed steam locomotives could challenge and even outperform newer forms of traction that were then taking over the world’s railways.  He developed many new theories and ideas that resulted in huge improvements in the power, efficiency and reliability of poorly performing locomotives, and was directly involved in the rebuilding of locomotives in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Cuba.  His work even extended to the UK where, in the 1960s, he designed modifications to be applied to the National Coal Board’s fleet of J94 “Austerity” 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotives including the fitting of GPCS fireboxes and Lempor exhausts to reduce their emissions. (See Martyn Bane’s website for details.)

From 1957 to 1960 Porta was appointed general manager of the Rio Turbio Railway in Patagonia (Southern Argentina), where he insituted modifications to its fleet of 2-10-2’s, improving them to the point where they became one of the most effective steam locomotive designs of all time, capable of hauling 2,000 tonne trains unaided over the 255km length of the 750 mm gauge railway.

In 1980 Porta joined the ACE team in America, becoming Vice President of Research & Development, and being heavily involved in the specification for the proposed ACE 3000 locomotive, a project to build an automated steam locomotive to directly challenge diesel traction under North American conditions. This ambitious proposal eventually folded due to lack of focus by the project promoters combined with the fall in oil prices in the 1980s.

Porta was subsequently engaged by the Cuban Ministry of Transport with a view to producing an entirely new steam locomotive design for shunting and branch line service on the Cuban State Railways, resulting in the complete design of the LVM 800, the only new locomotive design that Porta was ever able to complete.  However, as has so frequently happened since dieselization of the world’s railways, politics intervened before the construction work could begin and thus the world was denied its only true SGS design of the 20th Century.  Instead, Porta was given the opportunity to demonstrate his skills (and the capabilities of SGS traction) by rebuilding an aged Cuban 2-8-0 locomotive (Minaz No 1816) by which he produced the spectacular improvements that typified his work.

Porta always shared his knowledge freely with others involved in steam locomotive development. The work of Wardale and Girdlestone is greatly indebted to his assistance, and he acted as a consultant/adviser to Waller in Switzerland.  He authored many papers and conference presentations on a wide range of subjects relating to modern steam developments, some of which are available for download from this website.

Right up until his death, Porta remained actively engaged in the development of steam traction and enjoyed the status of ‘Grand Master’ amongst today’s steam specialists.  Porta passed away on 10th June 2003 at the age of 81, obituaries appearing in many newspapers around the world, some of which are listed in these pages.

It is regrettable that Porta did not live to see the 5AT completed. In one of his last letters, he wrote: “May I venture to say that after the first 5AT loco runs, there will be an avalanche of steam loco buildings”, and it is to be hoped that the 5AT will indeed bring truth to his words, and at the same time provide a lasting  lasting memorial to his life’s work.

See also: