T1 Trust displays progress in building new steam locomotive

The combined cab, boiler shell and bow of the T1 Trust 5550 locomotive is on display in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Dan Cupper)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – In the first public presentation of the combined cab, boiler shell and bow of its new streamlined steam engine, No. 5550, the Pennsylvania Railroad T1 Steam Locomotive Trust displayed its progress on a project whose donors hope to see in operation by 2030.

The Trust trucked the 30-ton assembly 1,200 miles from its manufacturing site in St. Louis to a hotel in Harrisburg where the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society is holding its annual convention this weekend.

The Trust’s aim to create a new member of the iconic fleet of 52 Class 4-4-4-4 PRR T1 high-speed passenger locomotive engines, all of which have been scrapped [see “Pennsy T1 comes to life in a St. Louis shop,” Trains News Wire, March 30, 2018]. Trust chief executive Jason Johnson said the group has raised $1.715 million to date and the engine is 39% complete, as measured by component weight.

Completed, the engine will weigh 1 million pounds and the tender 200,000 pounds.

The nose of No. 5550 stands next to a banner showing a completed T1. (Dan Cupper)

The Trust has shown parts of the locomotive, such as a keystone number plate, 80-inch-diameter drive wheel, nose and cab, at previous society conferences. But the mass and appearance of the work-in-progress assembly was a stunning change from previous meetings.

The original PRR T1 fleet consisted of two prototypes, nos. 6110-6111, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1942, and 50 production engines built in 1945-46, half by Baldwin (nos. 5500-5524) and the other half by Altoona of PRR (Pa.) Works (nos. 5525-5549). Hence the Trust’s decision to number its engine 5550, which would have been the next in the series. No. 5549 was the last completed locomotive at Altoona of approximately 6,800 steam and electric engines built since 1866.

Styling, including a distinctive windbreaker-like nose that presaged BLW’s shark-nosed road diesel design, was the brainchild of famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

Johnson said four 80-inch-diameter speakers have been cast, with the other four in production.

Necessary variations from the original PRR design include:

— Cooking with fuel oil instead of coal.

— A boiler entirely welded instead of riveted.

— A modern 26 braking system.

– MU capacity with diesels.

— A wheel slip alarm.

As to where to run No. 5550, Johnson said economics dictated it be on branch and regional lines at 25-40mph. It would technically be possible to run on the main lines “if we had coaches and our own insurance”, he said, but the costs would eat up almost all the revenue.

Man standing next to partially built locomotive talking to onlookers
T1 Trust CEO Jason Johnson discusses the project with attendees at the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society convention. (Dan Cupper)

The next hurdle, Johnson said, will be building the 68-foot-long frame, which will include both fabricated and welded parts. The originals were one-piece cast frames with all four cylinders integrated into the casting. While it’s technically possible to replicate that feat today, Johnson said, the Trust can save time and money by breaking the job down into “10-20-30-40 parts”. Otherwise, the task would cost three to five times as much. This and other tasks will be accomplished using computer-aided design and 3D modeling, tools that did not exist for Baldwin and PRR.

Scott McGill, mechanical director of the Trust, described the work required to get to this stage. He spent the equivalent of 41 eight-hour days in the Pennsylvania state archives, copying and digitizing 1,754 T1 blueprints out of approximately 450,000 in the state’s holdings, which were rescued from the Harrisburg roundhouse of the PRR. The T1s were largely based here, leading the PRR’s Blue Ribbon fleet, including the broadway limited in Chicago and Spirit of Saint Louis in Saint Louis. The Trust plans represent 99% of those needed, only 14 drawings are missing for a complete set.

The Trust has purchased an older PRR tender that is similar to the huge 180P84 16-wheel class tenders used behind the original T1s, and will spend around $200,000 to streamline it and make it suitable. This saved the group at least $3 million on the cost of building a new tender.

The Trust got its start in 2017 when Brad Noble, a Missouri doctor and longtime PRR fan, read of Britain’s success in building a new version of a ‘lost’ class of steam locomotive, the A1. Tornado. He wonders what would happen if a billionaire like Bill Gates decided to support such a project.

Partially completed locomotive with headlight on
The T1 partially completed at night. (Dan Cupper)

The original T1s were designed to run over 100 mph, and on a troubleshooting mission the Franklin Railway Supply Co. actually recorded one unofficially at 141 mph. The emergence of the Tornado caused Noble to wonder if it was possible to set a new verifiable world speed record for steam, set at 126 mph in 1938 by engine No. 4468 of the London & North Eastern Railway. Mallard.

Through a number of contacts, he approached the Federal Railroad Administration, who trained him and his colleagues on the requirements and specifications needed to build a new locomotive in the post-steam era. He characterized the FRA as both polite and very supportive. The creation of a website and fundraising mechanism soon followed.

Standing in the hotel parking lot amid dozens of photographers and onlookers, Noble said, “I’m grateful to be part of such an epic undertaking. Yes, I said epic.

The project will be on display again on Sunday, May 15 at the Harrisburg-Hershey Sheraton, 4650 Lindle Road in Harrisburg.

More information about the T1 Trust is available on its website; more information about the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society can be found here.

Jose P. Rogers