The PA team recreates the fastest steam locomotive made from scratch!

Wait, isn’t it 2022? So why is a team of builders recreating one of the most infamous traveling steam locomotives ever created? It never happens like that. There is no longer anyone who even knows how to do it. But it happens. In fact, they’ve already created the Pennsylvania Railroad’s iconic T1 nose and boiler. Other components are gathering at this time. But how and why?

Have any T1 locomotives survived?

Class T-1 Passenger Locomotive 5526 Pennsylvania Railroad, 1948 | Getty

First, the streamlined T1 came out in the early 1940s, based on a design by industrial designer Raymond Lowey. The same person who designed the Coke bottle and the Studebakers at the same time. Only 52 were made. On the day the first debuted, another Pennsylvania Railroad train, the first diesel locomotive, also debuted. It was the future, not the T1. In the 1950s, T1s slowly disappeared. By the end of the decade, none had survived.

The thing about the T1 was that its streamlining meant it could reach speeds of up to 140mph, according to anecdotal evidence. However, the world record for the fastest steam locomotive goes to the A4 Mallard, Britain’s shining star, at 200 km/h. Because T1 speeds were anecdotal and never certified in timed races, the record has always been with the UK.

But maybe not. A group of obsessed cheaters pool their money and resources to create a continuation of T1. And they’re about halfway there. But there is still a long way to go. And money is always what slows projects down. This is where the T1 Trust comes in.

How to recreate a locomotive that does not exist?

T-1 passenger locomotive
Class T-1 Passenger Locomotive 5526 Pennsylvania Railroad, 1948 | Getty

The nonprofit has been accepting donations since 2013 and has shown steady progress. To help the project, there are original plans and a concerted effort to gather the tribal knowledge needed to make it happen. After all, it’s not the easiest vehicle to recreate.

But it has already happened. Train enthusiasts have already recreated the LNER Peppercorn Class A1 locomotive, another time-lost steam train. So it can and does happen so slowly. And besides the thrill of achieving the impossible, there is this speed record that drives the project.

But on closer inspection, a 428-ton, 122-foot-long locomotive with wheels over six feet high is nearly impossible to manufacture. And according to The Drive, it would take eight, because the T1 was a 4-4-4-4 duplex train. So there are four non-drive front wheels to distribute the weight, then two sets of four-wheel drive. Finally, there are still four non-motorized trailing wheels to distribute this load of more than 400 tons.

How was the locomotive power generated?

"Big boy"
Union Pacific Railroad “Big Boy” | Getty

Power was generated by double-acting steam engines with a bore of 19.75 inches and a stroke of 26 inches. That amounts to a 522.1-liter four-cylinder that withstood 300 psi of vapor pressure. In terms of power, that comes down to 6,665 bhp at 85 mph. The T1 could easily handle 100mph runs with ease. But there were some inherent problems with this.

History shows that cracked poppet valves were a problem. The T1 team will therefore replace them with camshaft-driven rotary valves. This should help fix his Achilles heel. Another change is to switch from coal fire to the use of fuel oil. The recently restored Union Pacific Big Boy steam train 4014 also used this change. Other unspecified adjustments will also occur. But none of this should take away from the authenticity of the T1.

Progress continues

T-1 passenger locomotive
Pennsylvania Railroad Class T-1 passenger locomotive number 5505 | Getty

Thus, the T1 team is moving forward without reference parts and with knowledge gleaned from isolated international sources. And don’t forget that they have the plans and the technical documentation. It also retrofits an existing Santa Fe 4-8-4 2900 tender, which will save the trust millions of dollars and a lot of time building from scratch. It’s a miracle he even exists, at 200,000 pounds.

Right now it’s 40% complete. Currently, the 68-foot frame is under construction. And all from $1.6 million in donations. The mythical T1 therefore seems ready to start at the end of the decade. We’re not suggesting you contribute, but if you’re inclined you can contact the trust.

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Jose P. Rogers