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Steam Locomotion in the 21st Century

The Recent History of Steam Locomotive Development

Recent New Construction Steam Locomotive Projects

updated 28 January 2022

Several new steam locomotives have been built around the world since the end of commercial steam locomotive construction in the late 1950's / early 1960's.  In the UK, several small narrow gauge locomotives have been and are being constructed in the last few years.  In addition, major restorations of steam locomotives were successfully undertaken.  New driving wheels have been cast for engines, motion work has been replicated, and new boilers have been fabricated. One of most amazing restorations was the rebuilding of the 4-6-2 no. 71000, "Duke of Gloucester", which required the fabrication of 3 new cylinders, Caprotti poppet valve gear, and rods.  Experience gained with the construction of small locomotives and extensive restoration of large ones helped recreate the body of knowledge necessary to build full-size steam locomotives.  In addition, suppliers were identified and techniques developed (or re-developed) to allow the fabrication of the parts required to repair and build steam locomotives.

The A1 Trust

New Steam
                                Locomotive A1 Tornado

A1 "Tornado"

Inspired by the Herculean efforts of their predecessors, a group was formed in England who wished to build a new steam locomotive from scratch. While many British steamers were preserved, one particularly successful group of 4-6-2's were all scrapped, the "A1" class designed by Arthur Peppercorn in 1948. This design was chosen as the basis for the new locomotive and the group became known as the A1 Trust. Construction took place in the city of Darlington, and the locomotive was named Tornado, and numbered 61063.  The original planned completion date was 27 September 2000. The project took a bit longer than expected, with the locomotive being completed in 2008.  The locomotive entered excursion service in early 2009, and was officially named by Prince Charles.  

Apparently never one to miss an opportunity, Ing. L. D. Porta developed and submitted an incredibly detailed ~150 page proposal for improvements to the A-1 which would dramatically increase its efficiency and performance while maintaining the "stock" appearance desired by preservationists. His suggestions included modifications to the inside cylinder arrangement, provision of a gas producer combustion system, enlarged combustion chamber, increased boiler pressure, equalizers for the axles (a common feature in many countries but rare in Great Britain), and an advanced "Lemprex" exhaust system. Numerous other detail improvements were included as well, showing that Porta had devoted considerable time to the study of the design of this locomotive. While the A-1 Trust had already incorporated some of his suggestions (all-welded boiler, increased superheat, roller bearings, enlarged steam passages, and improved valves) they were hesitant to make some of the more radical changes to the design.

The locomotive was completed in 2008 and entered regular excursion service in early 2009.  Unfortunately, after some time in service the locomotive developed significant problems with the boiler, including an excessive number of broken staybolts and cracking of the foundation ring.  After a lengthy investigation the boiler was returned to its builder (DB Meiningen of Germany) in 2010 for major repairs.  There was a great deal of speculation among steam enthusiasts about the cause of the problems, and whether they were chiefly a result of workmanship, design or operation.  The Tornado's boiler was of all-welded construction whereas the original A1 boilers were of hot riveted construction (standard at the time- 1948).  While Meiningen is very experienced with the fabrication of welded locomotive boilers it may be that some details were not designed properly in the adaptation of an existing riveted boiler design to a new all-welded one.  At any rate, the boiler repairs were completed in the summer of 2011 and the locomotive was returned to service and has apparently been free of problems since then.

See The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust page for much more information on this locomotive and current news about it.

Successful construction of the A1 led to a follow-on, even more ambitious project which is currently underway at the Darlington Locomotive Works where the A1 was constructed. 

P2 Prince of Wales
Rendering of P2 2007 "Prince of Wales"

A new class P2 2-8-2 locomotive, no. 2007, "the Prince of Wales", is currently under construction.  The frames, wheelsets, cab, smokebox, boiler cladding, and many other components are finished or nearly so.  Interestingly, significant design changes were made in this locomotive compared to the original examples, including the fitting of roller bearings to all axles, changing from Lentz to British Caprotti valve gear (as used on Duke of Gloucester), and using the same boiler design as the A1.  The original P2 boilers were externally identical to the A1 boilers, but the A1s operated at higher pressure and included a combustion chamber.  Use of the same boiler on the A1 and the P2 will allow them to be interchanged, if necessary, during overhauls.  Unlike the US, boilers were often interchanged during locomotive overhauls in Great Britain.  Known problem areas in the original P2 design are being addressed as well.  Many "lessons learned" during construction and operation of Tornado are being incorporated into the Prince of Wales which should result in a new locomotive that is significantly superior to the originals. 

Unlike US locomotives of the 2-8-2 wheel arrangement, which were used almost exclusively in freight service, the P2s were used on express passenger trains. 

This and many other British new steam projects can be found on the New Build Steam section of the Rail Advent site.

Other Recent New Steam Projects

In December 2011 received information from Dr. Christian Hruschka on 2 new steam locomotives in Germany as well as a project to build a main line steam locomotive which was well underway.

The first is the Saxonian I K:  The Saxonian I K was a narrow-gauge 0-6-0 tank engine, which was first built in 1881. For more than half a century it was the typical face of steam on the Saxonian narrow-gauge railways. Unfortunately the last locomotive was scrapped in 1964 in the German Democratic Republic.

From 2006-2009 in Saxonia a unique project was implemented: a replica of Saxony's first narrow gauge locomotive.  After three and a half years of dedicated work the "new" I K No. 54 was officially inaugurated in Radebeul. Since then the locomotive is under use on the the Saxon narrow gauge railways. Railway enthusiasts and tourists enjoy the rides of the "new-old" locomotive with great enthusiasm.

Read more about this locomotive here:

Project No. 2 is also located in the countries of the former GDR. The two towns of Bad Doberan and Kühlungsborn, both to be found on the German Part of the Baltic Sea Coast, are connected with a 900mm narrow gauge railway, named "Molli". Most of the traffic was done by three 2-8-2-tank locos, built in 1932 by the German Reichsbahn and because of that looking like a narrow-gauge-version of the BR 86 class.

After the breakdown of communism in East Germany both towns passed a touristic boom, and it was clear that on one side three steam locos could not cope with all the tourist trains, while on the other side tourists are not interested in diesels. So it was decided to take the plans from 1932 and built a forth one. Read more about the railway and this locomotive here:

Molli 2-8-2T new steam
Molli, Constructed by Dampflokwerk Meiningen in 2009

This 900mm gauge locomotive was built by DB Meiningen of Germany, and features extensive welded construction including the boiler, frames, and cylinders.

Project No. 3 is similar in intent to the A1 "Tornado" Trust in England. It's the attempt to bring a mainline Pacific back to life, a German Reichsbahn 18.1 class, called - because of its wonderful architectural design- the "beautiful C" (during their time at the Wurttemberg railways the 18.1 was named "C-Class") or simply the "Wurttembergian Beauty".  The team to construct a new "C" was to consist of experts from the South-German railway museum Heilbronn: 

Unfortunately, I can find no current information on this project (July 2018) but I will update the page if any information turns up.

The Pennsylvania Railroad T1 Steam Locomotive Trust

In the US, there is a project to create a new locomotive based on one of the most advanced and controversial steam designs, the Pennsylvania Railroad T1 4-4-4-4.  These engines used the duplex drive concept promoted by Baldwin, in which the drive was divided among two sets of cylinders.  In this case, the 4-4-4-4 was the duplex equivalent of a 4-8-4. The duplex arrangement resulted in smaller, lighter, pistons and piston rods which allowed improved balancing of the running gear and reduced stresses on the individual components. Additionally, 4 smaller cylinders improved steam distribution, and therefore power and efficiency, compared to two larger ones on a conventional locomotive. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad initially experimented with the duplex concept with the S1 6-4-4-6, a huge demonstration locomotive cooperatively built by the three major US steam locomotive manufacturers: Baldwin, American (ALCO), and Lima. This locomotive was shown at the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Because of its immense size, the locomotive was severely restricted in where it could operate. While the S1 had some operational issues, it was considered to be enough of a success that the railroad wanted to continue with the duplex concept. 

A new, more reasonably sized duplex design was developed by the railroad and Baldwin with a 4-4-4-4 wheel arrangement. Two prototype locomotives by Baldwin in 1942 and then the Pennsylvania Railroad built another 50 locomotives after WWII.  25 of these were constructed in the railroad's shops and the other 25 at Baldwin.  In addition to duplex drive, these locomotives were fitted with Franklin Railway Supply Type A oscillating cam poppet valves. These valves had been successfully tested on a modified K4 4-6-2, and the railroad was so impressed with the performance improvement that they valves provided, they insisted (against Baldwin's advice) that they be applied to the new class of locomotives. The locomotives incorporated one-piece cast bed frames, roller bearings on all axles and rods, light weight alloy rods, and extensive use of aluminum for non-structural parts. These were some of the most striking-looking steam locomotives ever built with streamlining designed by industrial design Raymond Loewy. 

Unfortunately, the locomotives suffered quite a few teething problems as they entered service. The engines were reported to be very slippery both at low and high speed, as one set of drivers could lose traction. The Type A poppet valves used miniature sets of Walschaerts valve gear enclosed in boxes housed within the locomotive's frames where they were very difficult to access. The high speed slipping issues occasionally resulted in damage to the valve gear which exacerbated the problems. Broken valves became a problem. The railroad gradually began addressing these problems. The equalization of the axles was changed in an effort to address the sliperiness and this seems to have been largely successful. One engine had its cylinders sleeved to reduce their diameter, thereby reducing the tractive effort and making the locomotive less prone to slip. More fatigue-resistant materials were used to fabricate replacement poppet valves which reduced the valve breakage problem. One locomotive was refitted with Franklin Type B rotary cam poppet valves which dispensed with the difficult-to-access valve boxes in the locomotive frames. Another was retrofit with piston valve cylinders, eliminating the poppets altogether. 

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania was also purchasing diesel electric locomotives at this time and those locomotives proved very successful. The T1's had acquired a bad reputation and were gradually displaced from service by the new diesels and even older steam locomotives. The T-1's were all out of service by 1952 and scrapped by 1955. None of the class was preserved.

For years, it had been rumored that the T-1's attained VERY high speeds in service, but most dismissed these claims as pure railroad lore. Interestingly, the late Bill Withuhn was able to uncover records from Franklin verifying these claims. After the locomotives had been in service for some time, the valve breakage problem mentioned above became widespread with virtually every T-1 having suffered broken valves. Franklin was both surprised and embarrassed by this problem, as they had warranted the valves for normal operation up to 100 MPH and limited operation up to 125 MPH. Detailed analysis of the valves themselves as well as breakage and maintenance records yielded no clues. Finally, Franklin noticed that the broken valve occurrences seemed to be concentrated on the high-speed line between Crestline, OH and Fort Wayne, IN where speeds of up to 100 MPH were authorized. A Franklin representative was dispatched "undercover" to ride these trains and record their speeds using a stopwatch and the railroad's mileposts. Over the course of a month, two runs of 135-142 MPH over several miles, done with short trains of six or seven cars while making up lost time, were documented. When he returned to the home office, the representative's written logs as well as his watch were examined and verified to be accurate. Franklin was in a touchy situation as they did not want to blame the railroad's engineers even though they were clearly exceeding the warranted speed for the valves. It was realized that even at the warranted speed of 100 MPH, occasional slippage could result in excessive rotational speed. Franklin wanted to devise a bullet-proof fix if they could. They spent considerable effort with an outside research laboratory analyzing the problem, including testing existing and alternative materials for the valves. After months of effort, they basically concluded that there was no way to make the valves reliable above a rotational speed corresponding to 130 MPH, at least with the materials then available. While normal operating speeds were well below this value, slipping on high speed runs was likely to continue to result in breakage. The problem was not resolved before the T-1's were relegated to lesser service and eventually withdrawn. This information is documented in Bill's book "American Steam Locomotives, Design and Development, 1880-1960" (page 376).

Founded as a non-profit public trust in 2013, the T1 Steam Locomotive Trust is a group that is recreating this extinct American steam locomotive. The new locomotive will be numbered 5550, following the last production T1 that was numbered 5549.  It is estimated that the complete project will cost $10M US.  As of 2018, the group has raised $700,000 US and has fabricated a number of key components required for the new locomotive. These include several driving wheels, the cab, the streamlined "prow", most of the boiler exterior shell, and the rear flue sheet. Many other parts are on order or in the process of being re-designed.  The new boiler will be of all-welded construction. The locomotive frame, which was originally a one-piece casting incorporating all four cylinders and other components, is being redesigned by JAKTOOL. The new frame will likely consist of several separate castings which will be welded together, which will actually provide a superior frame to the original. The new locomotive will use rotary cam poppet valves, similar to T1 5500. The group has been in contact with the group operating the Duke of Gloucester locomotive in the UK, which is also equipped with rotary cam poppet valves. Lessons from that group's experience in recreating the valve system for that locomotive as well as operating it for over 30 years in excursion service will be incorporated into this new locomotive. The sole remaining rotary cam poppet valve equipped US locomotive, USATC no. 611, was also examined in detail. 611 featured a unique installation of Franklin Type B-1 poppet valves, which simplified locomotive operation by effectively automating valve cutoff control. See the Patents page for more information on this system.

In 2017, the Trust acquired the last remaining "Coast to Coast" 16 wheeled tender, which was originally used behind a PRR M-1 4-8-2.  The upper structure of this tender will be modified to match that of the original T1s.  It is estimated that the acquisition of this tender saved the group about $3M in fabrication costs.

Read more at the project's website:

and Wikipedia:

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