Tornado at Old Basing, Feb 09
What is it?
Arguably the whole idea of new build steam began with the withdrawal by British Rail of the final A1 Pacific, and the failure of the brief attempt to preserve it. The A1s were one of the classes of locomotive that hauled express trains on the East Coast Main Line until the 1960s, and their absence among the ranks of preserved engines was a glaring omission.

Skip forward twenty years or so, and a group of enthusiasts set about raising funds to build a brand new one of these engines from scratch. Skip forward another twenty-ish years to 2008, and they had raised all the money, commissioned all the parts, and saw the finished locomotive finally move under its own steam. Quite an achievement.

In terms of kicking off the new build steam movement, if it’s a movement at all, you need to look back to the work of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust in the early 1990s: the decision not to build a replica of an old locomotive but to build the ‘next’ member of the class (the original engines were numbered up to 60162) has been adopted by some (but not all) similar groups. The name ‘Tornado’ was chosen in honour of the jet aircraft then prominent in the public eye after their role in the Gulf War. The ‘covenant’ fundraising model has also been influential. Plus, of course, the success of the project has proved it could be done: after the understandable scepticism surrounding the project at first, by the late ’90s it had frames and wheels in place, and it was becoming clear that the engine was actually going to get built. A lot of other projects seem to have kicked off, or at least gathered momentum, at or after this time.

At the time of writing, Tornado’s future is looking a shade uncertain: after two successful years of running, its boiler had been sent back to its manufacturers in Germany (chosen because steam ended more recently in East Germany than in the UK, and the wherewithal to build a boiler for an express engine existed there but not here) for tests: although made to roughly the old design, it was a welded and not riveted construction, with a steel firebox rather than copper, and as such a bit of an experiment. Many of the other new build projects are watching the outcome of the experiment with interest. Boilers will be the subject of a separate post here at some point, as they are something lacked by many of the other projects. Happily the necessary repairs have been identified and the locomotive is scheduled to be running again in May, although speculation continues over whether the problem was one-off or the result of a hard-to-cure underlying flaw with the novel design – no doubt the Trust will make a more full statement when it’s appropriate to do so.

Meanwhile, the Trust have commissioned a feasibility study for a second new locomotive: a P2 2-8-2 locomotive, also extinct but even in their day something of a prototype design. It remains to be seen whether it will be either financially or technically viable to build it. There are also reports of a separate group also looking to build a P2 – thanks to a steer from a reader, details of that are now here.

Status: locomotive completed in 2008. Feasibility study into building a P2 underway. The P2 would be no. 2007, as the LNER built six of the class.

Completion date: 2008