Q+A: T1 5550

Promotional painting of 5550, courtesy T1 Trust

As an accompaniment to our feature on international new build projects, we’re pleased to present this short Q&A with the T1 Trust, with thanks to Brad Noble.

The project is clearly taking inspiration from the A1 in the UK – how much have you been able to learn from that and other UK new build projects, and what do you think are the similarities and differences between doing this sort of thing in the two countries?

So far, we have received copies of some technical information regarding the different classifications of poppet valves. The 71000 Trust and Caprotti Black 5 Limited have shared some specifications and technical drawings for the British Caprotti gear, which are a useful starting point for recreating aspects of the Franklin Gear for which we have no engineering information. For example, even though we have the drawings for the Franklin poppet valves, the material specification was treated as a trade secret, and not published on the blueprints. With no definitive information on the correct alloy, the material spec from the British Caprotti valves at least gives us somewhere to start.

Another example would be the drive gearbox for the valve gear – we do not currently possess dimensioned engineering drawings for these components, but they are generally similar to the corresponding elements of the Caprotti gear on 71000. The Caprotti drawings might not be 100% applicable, but give us more detail on the internal workings of the drive mechanism than we have from the Franklin documents now in our possession.

We received copies of the Franklin Type B manuals and erecting shop prints by way of the P2 group, albeit indirectly. Both organizations contacted Mr. Charles Smith, (son of the late Vernon Smith, who was instrumental in developing the Franklin System of Steam Distribution in the early 1940’s), with an eye toward scanning copies of his father’s personal archives. Both organizations had intended to use the material as reference for engineering an appropriate gear for our respective projects (The B1 configuration for the P2, and a B2 configuration for the T1) Unfortunately for us, the P2 group got the request in first, and had the relevant material sent to them for scanning before the T1 Trust. Rather than send the delicate and rare documents out a second time for scanning by the T1 trust, we obtained a copy of the P2 Group’s scans.

With regard to the similarities and differences between England and the US – obviously the scope of work is essentially the same, overall, although we have the disadvantage of trying to recreate a much larger, more complex locomotive, so our costs are proportionately higher. Another similarity (relative to many UK projects) is the general completeness of the engineering drawings – aside from the valve gear, better than 90% of the original T1 drawings survive on linen, with many of the remainder available on microfilm. One notable exception to that trend is the Bluebell Atlantic group – that group has shared with the T1 Trust just how far it is possible to go with relatively few drawings. Taking a look at the A1 Trust for instance, one challenging difference is public perception of the locomotive. The A1 was generally regarded as a successful design with an in-service life of about 15 years. The T1, rightly or wrongly, was not considered a success, given that most of them had service lives of less than six years. That gives us the obstacle of trying to change public opinion, in addition to raising the huge sums of money required. It is reasonable to speculate that support for this project is probably not as high in the USA as it was in the UK for Tornado, as American railfans tend to be less supportive of projects that don’t represent their favorite road. Most of our appeal is to fans of the Pennsylvania Railroad in particular, and not so much to supporters of the Reading Company, New York Central, Norfolk and Western, Union Pacific, etc.

Many UK enthusiasts will take a particular interest in the possibility of the T1 setting a new official speed record for a steam locomotive – how much of a priority will this be for you? Should we get used to the idea that Mallard’s record will eventually be broken?

5550’s completed ‘prow’ – courtesy T1 Trust

From a fundraising standpoint, at least on this side of the pond, taking a crack at the record is a high priority. It’s the sort of thing that captures public interest to a higher degree than simply building a replica locomotive. From an engineering standpoint, actually setting a record is of no importance whatsoever. We are focused on re-creating a T1 as close to original as current regulations will permit, not building a machine specifically designed to set a record. We do not intend to expand the T1’s performance envelope beyond the original specification – we will be retaining the original boiler pressure (300 psi) running gear (all roller bearing axles and rods), driver size (80″) piston sizes (19-3/4″ x 4) valve sizes (2 x 5″ intake and 2 x 6″ exhaust per cylinder head), and valve events if we are able to determine them.

We will make some revisions to the boiler for regulatory reasons, but any other changes to the steaming plant will be to increase combustion efficiency, or improve reliability and ease of use. The T1 was historically regarded as free steaming, and in good order could supply sufficient steam to keep pressure at all demand levels. Unfortunately, they had a reputation for being particularly dirty (smoky), so we’ll investigate alterations to make the 5550 cleaner burning. Changes to draughting arrangements or addition of overfire air, if implemented, may have the unintended consequence of altering the steaming rate, but we will not be developing these features specifically for that purpose. We will also look to replace the troublesome (and not well documented) Hancock Turbo Feedwater heater with a more reliable Worthington unit of similar capacity. We’d like to answer, once and for all, what a T1 was actually capable of – and put an end to many years of debate and speculation (both for and against).

Having said that, we believe that the T1 had the capability to exceed the current record, and if the few official documents regarding running times are accurate, probably did so on a fairly routine basis. With something on the order of 6000 horsepower on tap, very lightweight reciprocating machinery, and a valve gear that was particularly efficient at very high speeds, the T1 possessed a unique potential for speed. Assuming we are able to complete the project, Mallard’s record should at least be considered under threat.

You estimate the cost to be around USD10million – what approaches are you taking to fundraising?

The fundraising efforts of the T1 Trust have been varied and creative. It will be through the support of volunteers, railfan donors, foundations, grant makers, corporate donations, and legacy giving that PRR T1 5550 will ultimately come to life in steam.

In what has been heralded as the most successful railroad based crowdfunding project to date, the T1 Trust’s 2015 Kickstarter campaign included an extremely unique donation premium. The T1 Trust offered full size bronze keystone number plates cast with the original T1 #5550 pattern made by Chuck Blardone. The keystones were offered as incentives for donations of $5,000. The T1 Trust is pleased to continue this remarkable opportunity for interested supporters to secure their very own piece of railroad history. Donors who would like more information on how they can support the PRR T1 Trust and receive a full size bronze 5550 keystone are encouraged to send an email to
info@t1trust.com or send a letter to the address below.

Additional giving opportunities can be found in the Fundraising portion of the Trust’s website. These opportunities include Driver Sponsorship, and the sponsorship of other parts, archival drawing sponsorship, regular monthly giving, one time
donations, and membership in the PRR T1 Trust’s Founders Club.

Some donors may be less interested in the month to month fundraising drives and more interested in the project’s overall success. For these donors a life-income gift to The T1 Trust may be the preferred method of contribution. In order to meet this need, the Trust has established the 5550 Keystone Society. This name was chosen to emphasize the pivotal role these gifts have in making 5550 a reality. The 5550 Keystone Society is a group of PRR T1 Trust supporters who have made an enduring pledge to railroad preservation by offering a charitable life income gift to the PRR T1 Trust or by naming the Trust as a beneficiary in their estate plans. The 5550 Keystone Society is a way for us to appreciate and honor these remarkable individuals for the generous contributions they have made to secure the future of the PRR T1 Trust and PRR T1 #5550.

Members of the 5550 Keystone Society, receive exclusive benefits and confidential details about the efforts of The T1 Trust. 5550 Keystone Society members receive the Trust’s quarterly newsletter, “The T1 Trail Blazer”, which contains news and special features describing how the Trust is building the magnificent T1. Society members also receive a personalized certificate of membership suitable for framing, a full size print of the 5550 launch painting, the PRR T1 Trust’s annual report, and invitations to special events. For further details, or to become a member of The 5550 Keystone Society please send an email to the Trust’s Legacy Manager or write us at:

The PRR T1 Trust
PO Box 552
Pottstown, PA 19464
USA.

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