Steam train enthusiasts roll out pounds 1m project: Christian Wolmar reports on plans to recreate an A1 Pacific, the height of locomotive design

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A GROUP of railway enthusiasts is seeking to raise pounds 1m to build a replica of a steam engine of which none were preserved.

The group, which is launching its appeal for the money early next month, wants to build an A1 Pacific, a class of engine which used to run on the East Coast mainline between BR nationalisation in 1948 and the mid 1960s.

It is the most ambitious project attempted by railway preservers. Although a team based at the Birmingham Railway Museum is in the process of building a Victorian 'Bloomer' engine, this is the first attempt to build from scratch a relatively modern, large, express engine. They say that the A1 represents the height of steam engine development and that a replica would be a major attraction.

The project was first revealed two years ago, but the organisers now feel so confident of being able to achieve their aim that they are launching an appeal based on the idea of 'An A1 for less than a pint', encouraging donors to covenant at least pounds 1.50 per week. One of the organisers, Mark Allatt, said: 'We only need 2,000 people to do that to enable us to raise the money.' It is expected to take at least until 1998 to build and quite possibly much longer.

He said it was a tragedy that none of the 49 A1s were preserved: 'They were too efficient at scrapping them. A lot of engines from Southern and the Great Western went to Barry scrapyard in south Wales where they stayed for up to a quarter of a century until they were rescued by preservation groups. The A1s were all scrapped very quickly after coming out of service in the mid 1960s.'

The team has already obtained the designs from the National Railway Museum in York which had preserved most of the working drawings. The team has scanned 1,100 drawings into a computer-aided design system which it believes represents 90 per cent of a full set of design drawings.

The team accepts that it cannot build an exact replica because of changes in safety regulations and in alloys available from the metals industry. Under safety regulations, the boiler will have to be welded rather than rivetted. A metallurgist is preparing a manual which will lay down suitable modern equivalents to the original materials.

The A1 Project also hopes to improve on certain 'well-documented defects' such as rough riding and various weaknesses which led to fractures. The engine may also have to be modified to ensure that it can fit under BR's overhead electrified lines. A tender chassis has already been acquired from the Flying Scotsman which closely approximates the A1 tender.

The organisers have promised that the locomotive will be built in Britain but has not said where, though one clue is that the launch is to be held in Doncaster.

'Our intention,' the prospectus says, 'is to build a locomotive that looks and sounds like an A1, goes better, is easy to maintain and better suited to operations into the 21st century'.

(Photograph omitted)