10 questions and answers for the T1 Trust

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pennsylvania Railroad T1 No. 5533 in 1946. PRR, Trains collection.
I asked Brad Noble, chairman of the T1 Trust that plans to build a replica Pennsylvania Railroad T1 4-4-4-4 steam locomotive, 10 questions about the project. The non-profit educational organization’s aim is to construct PRR T1 No. 5550, the 53rd locomotive of its class for mainline excursions and to set a world speed record for steam locomotives. Here’s what he told us.

Question: Who makes up The T1 Trust that is pushing this project? Tell us about their experience and qualifications, please.

Answer: The T1 Trust has more than 200 members with a variety of work experience and qualifications. As chairman of The T1 Trust, it is my job to organize and network among membership, donors, and potential sponsors. Professionally I’m a pain management physician and surgeon. I believe the T1 Class deserves a second chance. Possessed of great power and speed these thoroughbreds were at the pinnacle of US steam design. The fact that none were saved is an atrocity. The T1 Trust aims to reverse this tragedy and turn it into an opportunity for education.

Others include:

  • Wes Camp is the trust's chief operations officer. A retired Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Master Mechanic, Camp was vice president and chief mechanical officer with Ross Rowland’s High Iron Co. in the 1960s & 70s and chief mechanical officer of the American Freedom Train in 1974 and 1975.
  • Dave Griner, who worked for Hartford Steam Boiler & Inspection Co., and has been involved in projects for the Strasburg Rail Road, Union Pacific, Virginia & Truckee, and the Durango & Silverton. Griner helped draft the current steam locomotive code, and his role at The T1 Trust involves project management, boiler design, and code compliance.
  • Scott McGill is chief mechanical officer. He is a professional engineer working for an automotive frame manufacturer and was a fireman at the New Hope & Ivyland and a conductor at the Wilmington & Western.
  • Wayne York brings his experience as the only still active founding member of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, the keepers of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765. York serves The T1 Trust as a strategic planning advisor and assists with the networking required for such a complex and specialized project.
  • Jason Johnson, formerly of the Ohio Central Railroad, organizer of excursions and railroad festivals, and currently a management consultant. Johnson sits on the trust’s marketing and engineering committees.
  • Bob Menzies, president and owner of the Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway in Candor, N.C., and a principal financial supporter.
  • Gary Bensman, veteran steam locomotive rebuilder with more than 60 locomotives that have been repaired under his supervision. Bensman is a member of the trust’s engineering committee.

Question: Why a T1?

Answer: We're Pennsylvania Railroad fans in general, and T1 fans in particular. Personal preferences aside, we feel it should be recreated because:

  • The PRR didn't preserve one.
  • Of the PRR duplex locomotives, the T1 was the most widely produced with 52 units, and if we want to build a late PRR design, it would be the most representative.Of all the duplexes, it was the only class capable of running anywhere in system. The S1 was limited to between Crestline, Ohio, and Chicago, and the Q2 could only move light as far east as Altoona, Pa.
  • It’s distinct combination of features wasn't utilized anywhere else (Franklin Poppet valves, Duplex drive, and Raymond Loewy styling). The uniqueness of the design is the main reason we'd like to see it reproduced. Other large steam locomotive restoration projects are ongoing, and we need to do something different. If completed, the T1 would be the only poppet valve locomotive operating in the USA, and the only rigid frame duplex in the world.
  • Finally, there is so much conjecture on the T1's actual performance - whether it could actually attain the 141 mph speed which was attributed to it, or how difficult they were to operate and maintain.

Question: Did you consider any other locomotive and if so what got rejected?

Answer: The suggestion has been made, ‘Why not build something proven like an A, J, Berkshire, or a modern Hudson shrouded like the 20th Century Limited?’ As mentioned earlier, we can learn little from building a proven design. Moreover, most of the other classes suggested either still exist, or are similar enough to other extant locomotives that their configuration is already represented in the heritage fleet. There's no point in building another Berk or 4-8-4 when there are so many running or restorable examples already out there. There are 4-6-4 and 2-10-4 projects ongoing that we don't want to be in direct competition with for resources or public attention.

The United Kingdom built a replica of a lost class, a 4-6-2, named Tornado. This photo was made in Loughborough, England, just after the locomotive was completed in 2008. Jim Wrinn photo.
Question: What's the price tag?

Answer: The short answer is $10 million. There are several ways to approach the question. The most obvious way to estimate cost might be to consider inflation. The average cost of a T1 in 1945 was about $320,000. Using data from the Federal Reserve, and its Consumer Price Index, the cost of a new T1, based only on inflation should be an estimated $4.2 million. Unfortunately, that number does not take into account lost skills, knowledge, and tooling that will have to be relearned, rebuilt, or replaced with modern alternatives. In the worst-case scenario, the cost could be seven times as high. Consider for a moment the following example. An original A1 4-6-2 built in Darlington, U.K., cost £16,000 in 1948. The total rate of inflation in Britain over the time period 1948 to 2008 was 2,623 percent. At that rate, one would expect the final cost of the 2008 replica 4-6-2 Tornado to be £419,680. It was in fact more, seven times more. The final price tag for Tornado was in excess of £3 million. Why is that? In many instances batch production tends to spread cost, whereas the production of a single unit tends to add cost. There is however a silver lining. In the case of Tornado cost savings of up to 33 percent of the original cost were achieved during some stages of construction. For example, fabricating a disposable mold used for one part is less expensive than manufacturing a mold, which will be used repeatedly to produce 50 parts. In order to reduce expense, the No. 5550's construction will employ modern techniques. Smaller castings with specialized joints for welding may help to further reduce costs, especially in the case of the T1's large frame.

Another method of calculating cost is to do so by weight. Tornado weighs 167 tons and had a price tag of $5 million. That's a cost of $30,000 per ton for Tornado, and we'll use that to calculate the T1's cost based on its weight. Depending on who you read, production model T1 weight is reported from 318 to 346 tons. The average is 332 tons, almost exactly twice the weight of Tornado. So that should be just about twice the cost, or $9.9 million. Let's call it $10 million. Next, we consider total heating surface, and grate area. Total heating surface for Tornado is 2,461 square feet, and at a total cost of $5 million, that's $2,031 per square feet. Total heating surface for the T1 is 5,639 square feet, at $2,031 per square fee or $11.4 million. Turning to grate area, Tornado has a grate area of 50 square feet, and that's pricey real estate at $100,000 per square foot. Grate area for a T1 is 92 square feet, so it works out to $9.2 millions.

Finally, we look at length. Tornado measures 73 feet buffer to buffer. That's $68,500 per foot. The T1's length is 122 feet, which gives us $8,412,656. That helps take the edge off the earlier 11.45 million dollar figure. In the end, it's going to come in really close to $10 million.

Question: Timetable?

Answer: Our current estimated completion date is 2030. This was based on our own internal estimates of the number of hours required to complete certain tasks, as well as the duration of the A1 Tornado project in the UK. In reality, the program timing will likely be dependent on manpower and funding. If we don't get the volunteers needed to complete the engineering, or the funds to produce the parts, it could take much longer. Conversely, if we received a donation of $10 million tomorrow, we could hire a full time professional engineering and fabrication staff, and the project could be completed in as little as 5-6 years.

Question: You’ve obviously talked to the folks in England who did the Tornado? What was the most important piece of advice they gave you in pursuing a project like this one?

Answer: Up to this point, most of the pearls we have received from the A1 Trust have centered on how best to structure our organization's fundraising and marketing efforts. David Elliott, the director of engineering at the A1 Trust, provided us with information regarding the alloys used on the Tornado, which will aid us in selecting appropriate alloys for No. 5550, where the original material can't be positively identified.

Question: What initial parts are you starting with?

Answer: The symbolic No. 5550 Keystone number plate was the first part we produced. The number plate was made by Chuck Blardone, a member of The T1 Trust, and editor of the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society’s Keystone magazine. Chuck used mechanical drawings we extracted from the Pennsylvania State Archives to create a casting pattern for the number plate. Using that pattern, the plate was cast in bronze at an Amish forge in Lancaster County, Pa. in April 2014.

The next part was a driving spring link pin. These pins are historically significant parts since their modified arrangement in the production fleet was important in reducing the T1's tendency to slip. One of the Trust's finest machinists, Andy Pullen, has produced the first of eight driving spring link pins for No. 5550. To make the part, Andy worked from scans of original PRR mechanical drawings. Andy has more than 30 years of experience as a machinist, including two years spent working for the Norfolk Southern steam program. Andy is producing the pins in his home machine shop under the Trust’s “Sponsor a Part” program.

Looking forward, The T1 Trust plans to make four major components over the next three years in the following order: the No. 4 wheel set, a side rod, the prow, and the cab.

Question: If you get it built, where will it be based?

Answer: Our business plan includes a locomotive maintenance and storage facility. At this point in time, rather than asking ourselves, "where will the storage facility be located?" a more pertinent question might be, "Where will the many parts be stored after they are produced?" Thankfully, we've got that covered. One of our members owns a metal fabrication company with a 40,000 square foot building, a pair of 20-ton overhead cranes, as well as ample storage space for just about anything we can produce.

Question: Where would it run?

Answer: We do not have an agreement in place to operate the locomotive on a Class I railroad. We will be attempting to secure support from a Class I carrier once the project is further along. However, a more relevant question would be “where could it run?” The answer to that is: just about anywhere. Unlike the S1, the T1 was designed to operate anywhere on the PRR mainline circa 1942. With the original lateral motion configuration, the T1 could negotiate 16 degree curves, and according to the timetable, could operate in areas where even the PRR M1 4-8-2 was restricted. A specific problem with 130 pound rail No.8 switches prevented them operating through Pittsburgh, but an increase in lateral motion in 1946, and track realignments in the modern era mean that this particular issue has been resolved. Based on the revised lateral motion, and the overall dimensions, we're confident that the T1 can operate anywhere on the current mainline network that a Norfolk & Western Class J 4-8-4, like No. 611 under restoration now, can go. As part of our project, we will investigate a further increase in lateral motion to allow negotiation of 20 degree curves, which would let the T1 operate on any track currently accessible to a Nickel Plate Road Berkshire, like 2-8-4 No. 765.

Question: What questions does your group get asked most often that we haven’t covered?

1. The money spent on building a T1 would go a long way toward restoring the PRR engines at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. Why don't you restore one of the other existing PRR locomotive classes to operation, or build a replica of one of them?

We don't own any of the existing locomotives, nor are we likely to encounter one that is available for sale. The bulk of the PRR historic collection, now in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, is owned by the State of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission regards these locomotives as artifacts, and presently will not allow the sort of "alterations to the historic fabric" necessary to restore them to operation. Unless this policy changes, that leaves the two Long Island G5s, Nos. 35 and 39; an I1, No. 4483, and the K4 owned by the Railroader's Memorial Museum in Altoona, No. 1361, as the only potential restoration candidates. Nos. 39, 1361, and 4483 are already being restored, or considered for restoration by their respective owners, so we wouldn't want to duplicate their efforts, or compete directly with a similar design. That leaves smaller engines as candidates for duplication, which would be great for a short line, but not so much for mainline service. Besides, there are plenty of 4-4-0s, 2-6-0s and 2-8-0s already running.

2. Does anyone know where this group can find someone to make a cast engine bed or frame for this project?

So far, we've identified one foundry that is capable of making a casting that large, and has expressed interest in participating,  Bradken-Engineered Products in Atchison, Kansas. They have the ability to pour up to 120,000 pounds of steel in a single part, and have experience in casting parts for the railroad industry. Unfortunately, a 60-ton pour will typically yield a part of about half that weight after gates and risers are removed, and we estimate that the T1 frame is somewhere between 37 and 44 tons. Because of the weight and complexity of the T1 engine bed, we may be forced to fabricate the frame from several smaller castings, or from welded plate. The exact details of the revised frame design are still being evaluated.

3. What caused the wheel slippage issues the locomotive had and what if anything could be done to rectify this if you were to build another one today?

The wheel slip issue had two root causes. The first was ineffective spring equalization. As originally designed (engines 6110 and 6111), the engine truck was not equalized with the drivers, and all four pairs of drivers were equalized together. When entering curves or moving over track that was less than perfectly level, weight was transferred off the front engine, causing the front pairs of drivers to slip. This condition was observed at all speeds, and we believe is the basis for the "uncontrollable" reputation the T1 has. The PRR addressed this in the production fleet by splitting the spring rigging in two - the front engine was equalized with the engine truck, and the rear engine was equalized with the trailing truck. The other root cause was improper handling. Engineers assigned to T1s were given no formal training on how to operate them, and their performance was very different than the K4s most of them were accustomed to. The front end throttle, high boiler pressure, very large diameter steam delivery pipes, and poppet valves combined to make the T1's very responsive to throttle application compared to a K4. Too much power applied too quickly resulted in wheel slip, especially at speeds around 15-25 mph. We will be performing kinematic and compliance simulations of the spring rigging and equalization to determine whether further improvements in adhesion are possible. We will be applying a wheel slip alarm, so the engineer would be made aware of a wheel slip more quickly should it occur, and reduce power manually. We will also investigate fitting an electro-mechanical anti-slip device similar in concept to that fitted to the Q2, but with more reliable valves and modern electronics, so no involvement from the engineer would be required.

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