New steam locomotive hits 100mph on UK tracks for first time in 50 years

It may not be a high-speed train, but a steam locomotive made history this week by becoming the first steam train to hit 100mph on a UK mainline in over 50 years . The coal-fired LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163 Tornado reached its maximum speed on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between Doncaster and Newcastle on Wednesday as part of its certification trials to allow it to operate on the UK rail network alongside from its electric grid and diesel siblings.

Although it looks like something out of a period drama, the Tornado is actually one of Britain’s most modern locomotives and its seemingly Victorian name is actually a reference to the manned Panavia Tornado fighter-bomber by the Royal Air Force. Despite its dated appearance, it was only completed in 2008 after 14 years of construction at Doncaster Works in the north of England.

It’s not the fastest steam locomotive ever built. That distinction belongs to the Mallard, which reached 126 mph (203 km/h) in 1938. Nor is it the only steam train in service in Britain. There are many working ones in the hands of the National Railway Museum in York, private collectors and charitable trusts. But it is the first true steam locomotive to be built in Britain for over half a century and incorporates a number of modern improvements and safety features which allow it to make regular trips on the main railway lines.

The Tornado was built by the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust to correct a historical oversight. Forty-nine Peppercorn Class A1 steam locomotives were built and operated in Britain in the decades following World War II and they earned a strong reputation for hard work and low maintenance. The last of a line of express passenger steam locomotives on the East Coast Main Line, the A1s could run 189,900 km (118,000 mi) between services, making them the cheapest locomotives in their class.

However, in the 1960s Britain’s state-owned railways underwent a ruthless overhaul as steam was abandoned wholesale in favor of diesel and electric trains. In the scrapping frenzy, all A1s were cut up and melted down in 1966 without a single one remaining.

Then, in the 1990s, the Trust got their hands on a set of original plans and set out to hand-build the 50th A1 – not a museum replica, but a fully functional 105 tonne (106.9 tonne) engine ) plus a tender with a number of upgrades and additional features to make mainline operation legal alongside modern passenger and freight trains.

According to the Trust, the Tornado has already been in service since 2008, but it is limited to speeds below 121 km/h. However, to accommodate other trains, it must be able to travel at over 90 mph (145 km/h), so on the morning of April 12 it was fitted with diagnostic and recording equipment and operated at 10% above its intended maximum speed. under the eyes of railway industry engineers and certification bodies.

“We are delighted to have completed the trials that bring us one step closer to 90mph operations with Tornado,” said Graeme Bunker-James, Director of Operations for the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust. “This will allow us to ensure that the locomotive continues to haul trains on the busiest parts of the UK network, allowing as many people as possible to travel with Tornado. In these tests, the locomotive ran at 90 mph for an extended period and also reached 100 mph under these special conditions and operating with clear signals.

“We now need to analyze the test results and then complete the necessary certification processes before the first public 90mph operations can be undertaken. We hope to conclude this before the end of 2017.”

Source: A1 Steam Locomotive Trust

Jose P. Rogers