As I was reading this a part of me felt that maybe this would have worked better as a television show, or even a Youtube video made by some train enthusiast, but then again considering that this book was written in 1978, and that Youtube didn't exist at the time, then maybe the book format was the best that was available. Though you did have the BBC, and I am sure there would have been similar shows on the BBC at the time. I remember a show called the Curiosity Show, which was a sciencey show that was aimed at kids. I have to admit that I loved it, and science in general, even though the German exchange student whipped us when it came to the let's see how pure we can get the water experiment – hers looked as if it was drinkable (though nobody was game enough to try it out).
Anyway, this isn't a general kid's science book, but rather a very specific book targeted at trains. In fact the title 'young engineer' should give you a pretty big clue that the purpose of this book is to allow train enthusiasts, or at least the children of train enthusiasts (or train enthusiasts who happen to be children) an idea of how trains work. Mind you, I have been to a fair few train museums, namely because my brother loves trains, and even visited some workshops in Queensland where they are restoring the old steam trains that used to plough the railways (and one of the huge trains we saw inside even appeared in this book).
Mind you, this book is showing its age because we have the author fully talking up the APT (Advanced Passenger Train) which ended up becoming a complete and utter flop, but that probably has a lot more to do with government interference than the concept not actually working. In fact one of the best ways to completely foul up a perfectly reasonable project is to get the government involved, which is the case with Australia's NBN where the shortcuts that are now being taken have turned it into an incredibly expensive white elephant, however to cover up their complete screwup they have the AFP raid the offices of the opposition communications spokesperson. Gee, I'm going off on lots of tangents with this book.
It is also quite interesting seeing some of the world records, which have since been broken. Well, not truly because the land speed record for a manned rail vehicle still stands (which was set by the US Airforce back in the 1950s), however the records for commercial trains have been broken since this book was written. So far, the fastest conventional rail vehicle was along the lines of 574 kph, while the fastest commercial rail vehicle, which uses maglev technology, is around 603 kph. The speeds that are set as records in this book are actually the top speeds that trains such as the ICE in Germany and the Eurostar reach on their regular trips (and the 574 kph set by the TGV in 2007 was probably performed under controlled conditions).
The other interesting thing about this book is that it goes into technical details of the older steam trains, especially since they were categorised on the number of wheels that they had, with the leading wheels, the drive wheels (namely the ones that the pistons were attached to and caused the train to move) and the trailing wheels. Obviously with the development of diesel and electric power the need for the large wheels diminished – and the main reason for that is that apparently it takes at least a couple of hours to get a steam locomotive primed to go, where as a diesel, and electric, take far less time. Mind you, the main reason behind the development of the electric trains was due to the development of the subway systems in Paris and London – steam trains simply don't work all that well in a subway (and if you go to the old railway tunnels up in the Adelaide hills you will see the vents for the steam, and smoke, from the old steam trains).
Oh, and another interesting thing, when I went onto the internet to find out how electric trains work, the first thing I was directed to, surprise surprise, was an advertisement for Alstrom, which happen to make the power units for electric trains. Also, for those who really love trains, there is always my Youtube Channel, which is pretty crap mind you, but at least it has videos of trains.