New steam train coming down the UK's tracks
The first mainline-ready steam locomotive to be built in the UK for almost 50 years is nearing completion. The founders of the A1 Trust - the volunteer project behind the rebirth of the 70ft-long A1 locomotive - plan to begin testing the train on the tracks within a matter of weeks.
It has taken the volunteer workforce 18 years to move the project from the planning stage to manufacturing the 170 tonnes of coal-powered metal that will be the finished LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163, named Tornado.
The assembly work has been carried out in Darlington, Co Durham, at a cost of £3m, which has been entirely raised by the Trust.
The A1 Trust was set up in 1990 and hundreds of volunteers from all over the UK have joined in, sharing their expertise to fashion an entirely new machine from scratch. The trust chose to revive the 1940s-designed Peppercorn A1 loco, all 49 previous examples of which were scrapped in the 1960s.
Many of the necessary engineering skills have been almost lost since Britain made its last commercial full-scale steam engine for mainline use in this country nearly 48 years ago.
Firms from around the country have made the components, which have been assembled at the Darlington works. Stringent boiler tests have been completed and the engine should be ready to move to test tracks outside the works in April.
The A1 will then be tested on the Great Central Railway Line in Leicestershire before being allowed on to mainline tracks later in the summer. The trust plans to run tours and also lease the engine to allow other steam enthusiasts the chance to enjoy the ride.
Trust chairman Mark Allatt, a 42-year-old London marketing expert, said: "No-one anticipated we would build a new steam locomotive all these years on. She will move for the first time at the beginning of April on a track laid outside the works and we will be able to spend some time making sure she works. It's so wonderfully British - I love it."
The A1 was the last steam loco built for British Rail. It was designed to be hard-wearing and in the 1960s the engine could easily break the 100mph limit. However, the 21st century version will be limited to around 60mph when it rolls out on to the mainline tracks in the summer.
Image: The brand-new LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163, aka Tornado