For the latest New Build Steam feature article, we’re again stepping briefly beyond the regular scope of the site, this time to look at the various new build steam projects underway outside the UK.

However, all of the projects here will be familiar to regular readers from occasional mentions in news round-ups. Nor are there huge numbers of projects to get to grips with: there seem to be many more new build steam engines under construction in the UK – indeed, specifically in England and Wales – than in the rest of the world combined. That said, please let us know in the comments or via social media if we’ve omitted one.

As in the UK, the projects globally range from highly credible operations making clear and demonstrable progress to projects that have gone quiet or may even only ever have existed online. Perhaps most notable are the two American projects, both of which have been making noises about threatening Mallard’s world speed record for steam – albeit one by a close recreation of an old class, the other by applying overtly modern technology. UK enthusiasts may need to adjust to the idea that the British record might not end up standing for a full 100 years.

ATSF 3463 – USA

This project is not a recreation of a non-existent class, but the creation of a modern class of steam locomotive using an existing engine as its basis. Like the proposed 5AT project in the UK, the project aims to apply and develop the latest thinking on steam traction, as developed after the end of steam in the UK and many other countries.

The work is being undertaken by the Coalition for Sustainable Rail, who are also running other projects to develop modern steam. CSR intend to use the last surviving example of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad’s 3460 class of 4-6-4s, 3463, as the basis for the new locomotive. However, the ownership of the locomotive has been the subject of a prolonged period of negotiation and dispute, beginning in 2011 and which resulted in the project being put on hold in 2013; legal proceedings have recently (April 2017) found in CSR’s favour. CSR are currently finalising their ownership of the locomotive, and have told New Build Steam that they will wrap up this process before releasing further information publicly – accordingly, we hope to present a brief Q+A from the project in future, but can’t do so alongside this piece.

CSR plans to adapt 3463 to burn a solid biofuel, the engine having been an oil burner throughout its first working life (but built for possible future conversion to solid fuel). Biofuels have already been tested in a narrow gauge locomotive, and CSR is an industry partner of the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota in developing a steam-electric boiler generator.

Documents published by CSR in 2012 and 2013 referred to the project (PDF) as ‘Project 130’, with the stated aim of reaching 130mph with the locomotive. This aim has been less prominent in recent messaging, although we await with interest future statements about the project that may clarify this aim.

Front page image of 3463 by Jim Woods on Flickr, adapted and reproduced under Creative Commons licence CC BY 2.0.

V-class 2-8-0 (Australia)

Photo: public domain.

Regular readers may already be aware of Australia’s Victorian Steam Locomotive Company, as it is ‘twinned’ with the Claud Hamilton Locomotive Group in the UK. The Australian project aims to recreate a V-class 2-8-0, as originally built for Victoria’s ‘broad gauge’ (5’3”) network from 1899 to 1902 (Victoria’s rail network began conversion to standard gauge in the 1960s, and the process is still ongoing).

When complete, the locomotive – to be numbered V499 – will be only the second Vauclain compound locomotive operational in the world, and unique in the southern hemisphere. The intention is to run it on the Victorian Goldfields Railway, but not to take it onto the main line.

Progress on the build appears to have been slower than hoped: construction of the tender tank (to sit on a pre-existing chassis acquired by the group) was targeted for 2013, but as yet has not occurred; and many of the project’s social media sites such as YouTube and Vimeo appear not to have had any new content for a couple of years or more. However, the latest Facebook status updates indicate that some components have been purchased, and the metal will be cut for the cab in the first half of 2017.

UPDATE: the VSLC contacted New Build Steam after this article was published, and confirmed that the metal for the cab has been cut and fabrication is imminent. A Q+A with the group will appear on New Build Steam in the future.

NBDS 32 (Netherlands)

Photo: public domain

This Dutch project aims to build an example of the class of 4-6-0 express locomotives originally constructed for the North Brabant German Railway by Beyer Peacock in 1908. These were based on Robinson’s ‘Immingham’ class for the Great Central Railway, later LNER class B4 – an unglamorous but successful design that was in service until 1950.

The project’s website contains a summary page in English, although understandably it is not prioritised for news updates. Accordingly, it’s hard to say what the current status of the build is, although the English webpage certainly makes some grand claims. It states that finance is in place from Dutch engineering firms who want to use the project as a showcase for their apprenticeship schemes. It is budgeted at 3.5 million euros, and scheduled for completion within five years, with a possible second locomotive of a different class to follow. A version of the European Train Control System suitable for steam locomotives will apparently be developed as a spin-off from the project. It is also claimed that the locomotive will be built by, “a team of professional locomotive designers, who were [sic] already involved in restoration or building replicas of ex-LNER engines.”

The project’s Facebook page has not been updated since May 2015. The group was approached for comment.

UPDATE: it has now been confirmed to New Build Steam that this project has been abandoned due to lack of funds, related to the failure of BrabantStad’s bid to be European Capital of Culture 2018. The same group hopes to announce another new build project later this year.


5550’s #4 wheel set – photo courtesy T1 Trust

The other major American project aims to recreate the T1 class of rigid-frame duplex locomotives, as originally built for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The T1 Trust responded positively to New Build Steam’s request for comment, and you can read more in their Q+A feature. Additionally, their website contains an extensive FAQ section – this article will conclude with an overview of the project for completeness.

The PRR was one of the giants among American railroad companies, boasting the highest volume of traffic in the States for the first half of the twentieth century, and a total route mileage over 10,515 miles in 1925 – close to 50% of the length of the much more densely built British network at the same time. The merits and performance of its T1 class have become one of the great controversies debated among railway enthusiasts since the class was withdrawn from service in the early 1950s, after careers of mostly less than a decade.

The new locomotive is estimated to cost an ultimate USD10 million, and to be complete in around 2030, subject to funding. Construction of high profile components has already begun, with the first of the driving wheels cast in February 2016 and the distinctive streamlined ‘prow’ currently being assembled.

When complete, the locomotive will be the only rigid frame duplex locomotive in the world and the only locomotive working in the USA using poppet valves. Operations at 85-110mph are expected to be feasible – in excess of typical top speeds in the UK, and high even relative to the revised upper limit planned for Tornado. For the potential implications of this for Mallard’s world record, read the Q+A

5550’s cab under construction photo courtesy T1 Trust

ADDENDUM: Z199 (Australia)
A project originally entirely missing from this article was the construction of a South Australian Railways Z-class 4-4-0. This is being undertaken privately, and as of early 2016 it was estimated to be 45% complete, with perhaps 15 years’ work still lying ahead. While this is a 3’6″ locomotive rather than standard gauge, as with the V-class it is included here to stretch a point – ‘standard’ gauge is not as standard in Australia as elsewhere, and substantial broad and narrow gauge networks remain in use.