The team that built the UK’s youngest steam locomotive are seeking to usurp its title by building an even newer, and vastly more powerful steam train — and this evening was a chance to hear about the project.

Designed by railway legend, Sir Nigel Gresley, the P2 class trains were the most powerful steam locomotives to ever run on the UK railways. Designed for hauling heavy loads around Scotland’s often steep mountains, they are an unfinished project.

Only a few were ever made, then WW2 got in the way, and afterwards they were rather badly redesigned and were retired after a mere 15 years of service.

Rail Archive Stephenson

Rail Archive Stephenson

As such, the P2 is a railway “what if” moment. What if war hadn’t stopped development. What if they hadn’t been hacked to pieces afterwards by an indifferent engineer.

What if these lost giants had fulfilled the promise they offered and became truly the legend they could have been.

So, the team behind the recently built A1 Tornado have moved up the alphabet a bit and want to build a new and improved P2 class locomotive — and it will be the most powerful steam locomotive to ever have run on Britain’s railways.

It’s improved, only in that now known problems will be fixed, but otherwise it will be largely a P2 engine. Fortunately, many of the parts for the Tornado are going to be interchangeable with the P2 (to be called the Prince of Wales), so that reduces upfront costs, and long term maintenance headaches.

They also have to alter some of the specifications a bit to fit modern railways, which it turns out have an extra 2 inches of clearance space between train and station platform compared to days of old, so modern trains are narrower than they used to be.

The team have turned to the archives, and drawn on canvas in indian ink are many of the original blueprints for the locomotive, which have since been scanned, and now, converted into 3D renders for modern construction.

This is very much a modern locomotive, built using modern materials and methods, but to an old design.

That also means more accurate specifications for the materials, and “this bolt to be a good fit” wont quite do any more for the engineers. As to requiring that part of the locomotive “be of the best Yorkshire iron” sounds lovely, but doesn’t quite meet ISO standards.

Of course, they also have to work with modern signals, and while heritage steam engines sometimes make do with jerry-rigged set-ups run off batteries, both the Tornado, and future Prince of Wales were designed with electrics from the start.

Yes, a steam train has around 3.5 miles of electric wiring in it, based on a generator powered by the steam engine itself. If you want more details, then the Haynes Manual is the place to turn to.

In fact there’s loads of surplus energy in a steam locomotive.

They’ve even fitted electric lights underneath the train, which is purely to help with maintenance you understand, but by gosh the train does look good when the wheels are lit up at night while racing through the countryside.

As one comment put it this evening, the energy extracted from the coal means they are 6% work and 94% fun.

But to have the fun, they are still fundraising, and you can do anything from a donation to sponsoring a component.

In fact, the sponsorship angle means you can buy the perfect gift for Christmas, as the sponsor gets a copy of the engineering drawing of the object and a photo of it to hang on the wall.

Details of how you can support the project, are here.

All going well, the project to build the P2 Prince of Wales is aiming to start trials on the mainline railway in about 4 years time.

The first official painting of No. 2007 Prince of Wales by Jonathan Clay

The first official painting of No. 2007 Prince of Wales by Jonathan Clay

Images via the P2 Project

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19 comments
  1. Dave says:

    On another page, without a comment box, you refer to
    “youngest steam train, the 60163 Tornado”.
    Tornado is a LOCOMOTIVE not a TRAIN!
    It’s usually women who make that most basic of mistakes.

    • Ian Visits says:

      I write for a general audience, not the specialist, and frankly, most people DO call them steam trains (including most men).

      I am well aware that it infuriate the sorts of people who love obsessing over pedantic technicalities, but why not just accept that language changes, and yes, most people call them steam trains.

      After all, it’s not Big Ben, it’s not the Union Flag, and Westminster isn’t the Mother of Parliaments — so does it really matter if we call it a steam train?

      So long as everyone knows what we are talking about — a wonderful steaming marvel racing along the tracks. Enjoy it, revel in it, laugh with joy at the sight of it. Don’t engage in a bit of linguistic pedantry that just sours the happiness.

    • Ian Nicholls says:

      Why build yet another new Locomotive. THis means once again that old Locos are not being used so much. Money would be much better spent on restoring older locos. The P2 was basically a failure, so was the original A1 which was easily outperformed by a Great WEstern Castle. If I had the choice of clas of old being resurected it would be the Great WEstern ”Great Bear ” which was the forst Pacific to be built.

  2. GT says:

    No, we don’t know what you are talking about & it isn’t pedantic.
    A Locomotive refers to a separate source of motive power for a Train. The Train is the whole consist, – locomotive & carriages or wagons.
    A Multiple-Unit is a train, of course, but that does not have a separate motive source, does it?

  3. Graham Muz Muspratt says:

    Firstly a great article, I agree it should be Locomotive not Train and you are inconsistent as use locomotive in your first sentence. Is using the correct terminology really being pedantic? Surely it is just as easy to be correct rather than perpetuate a mistake, I accept language evolves, but if that is your view then you could added one more sentence to state why its a locomotive rather than a train to suit all readers.

  4. Ray James says:

    Some people have nothing better to do than nit pick! To most of the world it is and will be called a steam train! Thank you Ian for all you do, ignore those comments please.

  5. Dominic says:

    Sod the pedants, it’s a good article, Ian.

  6. Christ, I thought the pedants were bad on my site. I once got chastised for calling something a railroad station instead of a railway station (railroad is an Americanism apparently). Enthusiasts don’t realize that it’s this type of attitude that puts off people with interest in trains, railways, etc.

    That being said, thank you for bringing this to our attention. I was amazed at what these folks did with the first one they built – will be watching the new one with great interest.

  7. Rowan says:

    How about thanking the author for writing the article instead of nit picking? Keep writing, Ian.

  8. Nic Maennling says:

    Wonderful news. My Father started to build a Gauge 0 working electric model of this locomotive in the late 1940s. Alas it was not “quite right” and he did not finish it. Instead, he built a West Country class locomotive.

    When this P2 locomotive is finished I will travel to the UK from here in Canada to see it. I hope they attach it to some good looking coaches and then will it become a train.

    I very much enjoy your weekly newsletter. Thank you.

  9. Rodney Maennling says:

    An excellent article Ian, but certainly lacking professionalism when you have to admit to being a generalist. More so, when dealing with a subject requiring precision of text.
    In this modern age of sloppy language lets attempt to raise the bar, and I encourage Ian to recognise this.
    Your remarks Ian,about the engineering is enlightening,
    and to learn the work completed so successfully for the P1 will provide assured quality for the new P2
    locomotive.

  10. Phil ye Pherret says:

    I was at this talk and can confirm that it was interesting and informative. As the (part) owner of a train (I think that an EMU of three carriages counts as a train), I can also confirm that for many people “train”and”engine/locomotive” are interchangeable.

    Arguably, Ian is correct in that Tornado consists of a locomotive and a tender. Not to mention that on the page referred to he was bringing attention to an appearance of Tornado dragging a rake of carriages.

    Ian, I wish I had known that you were at the IME that night. I would have sought you out to thank you in person for your interesting blog and the highly useful list of events that you send each week. Thanks for the effort you put into both.

  11. Chris H says:

    Confucius is supposed to have said that “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name”, but that’s a simplified mis-quote and in any case in the absence of an enforced standardised language the proper name for something in English is the name in current usage at any given time that people recognise as meaning that thing.

    Just because in North London where and when I grew up everyone called a train a train and called a locomotive a locomotive, loco, or engine, and used “steam train” to refer to a train hailed by a steam engine, it doesn’t mean that has to be the case everywhere else in the English-speaking world and for all time.

    This is a language that, depending on where you are and who you are talking to, has the work “dyke” meaning either a ditch, a drainage channel, a sea wall, an earth bank or a turf-faced boundary with or without a hedge on top, a dry-stone wall, a defensive trench with a bank parallel to it and various other usages all of which are “correct”.

    And as a nation we seem to cope with “pants” now meaning underpants to the confusion of Americans who know that pants are obviously the item on top of the underpants

    However – for this one, although I am perfectly happy if people call a locomotive a train, I do think such usage can get confusing… Consider the train “Flying Scotsman” – would that mean the Flying Scotsman locomotive – perhaps the current Class 91 with that name or the preserved steam locomotive with the same name, or would it mean the named train Flying Scotsman that ran between Kings Cross and Edinburgh with a variety of locomotives pulling it? Would the train “Royal Scot” mean the locomotive Royal Scot or the named train Royal Scot out of Euston?

    Not that it matters – I will still call a sea star a starfish even though it’s not a fish by any stretch of the imagination, it’s what makes the English language fun.

    And on a vaguely related matter (English and trains) – isn’t it nice that in London on the Underground you can still occasionally hear staff say “pass right down inside the CARS please”. American usage for carriages because over a hundred years ago it was an American who was involved in modernising the District and getting 3 of the new tube lines finished and operational. (And until the desire to have a gender-neutral term, the Underground had “motormen”, not drivers, for the same reason)

  12. Nick Ratnieks says:

    The P2 class engines were designed by Nigel Gresley specifically for the very tough Edinburgh to Aberdeen mainline and were able to handle 550 ton trains with ease.His smaller pacific locomotives were limited to 450 tons and thus the P2 was Britain’s most powerful steam engine of the era- possibly ever, in Britain.

    All the six engines were given names that were redolent of Scotland- and this was done for obvious reasons given their chosen work. On this basis, I am completely baffled why this new-build engine should be called Prince of Wales. I have no particular objection to the engine being named after Prince Charles, but would have expected it to be given the official name that he uses in Scotland- HRH The Duke of Rothesay. The first engine of the class- Cock o’the North (named after the 4th Duke of Gordon) was sent to Vitry in France to be run on the new stationary testing station that had opened there as Gresley took this engine design most seriously. Sadly, maintenance and mechanical issues in the difficult conditions of World War II led to Gresley’s successor rebuilding the whole class as ungainly and fairly lacklustre pacific engines.

    I have been careful to use the words, engine, locomotive and train in their correct context for my contribution. I do not think getting it right is necessarily nit-picking and it is fair to say that “steam train” is accepted usage but precision makes for clarity and is preferable to potential confusion.

  13. Steve says:

    Nice article. Some people need to get a life. You don’t like the term train for a locomotive? Open your own site, write your own article and hope you use all the right terminology.

  14. G says:

    The language is fluid and does change that’s true of course.
    Sometimes the changes help the language to be a better tool for communicating, while other times they make it worse.
    “Disinterested” used to mean something different from “uninterested”. One can’t understand the books of Jane Austen without understanding the difference. And the difference was a useful one. Mostly now, that distinction has sadly been lost, and IMHO that is a loss to the language. A useful word has in effect been killed off.
    Similarly, the distinction between a train and a loco is a useful one, and if I say I’ve seen a steam train today, ideally people would be able to assime that I mean there was more than a locomotive involved.
    Some of this is about context too of course, and that distinction might not be important in casual conversation, but I think it is relevant in an article like this.
    In my view, pointing that out is constructive criticism, not picking, and the benefit of these discussions happening from time to time, is that there is a chance to help people understand each other, and our English language, better.
    So even though this is irritating and uninteresting to some, it is important to others for good reasons and I ask people to respect that.

    • G says:

      Apologies for typos. Should read “assume” not “assime”, and “not nit picking”, rather than “not picking”

  15. Andrew Spencer says:

    Why wasn’t it called Cock O’ The North because that’s what a P2’s were!

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