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Vicsteam.com | To build and operate a Victorian Railways, Vauclain compound cylinder, V class, 2-8-0.

New Build Steam

The move to build new, full size locomotives – that could haul trains on preserved lines, and/or even the main line – commenced in the UK during the late 1980s. As preservationists had overcome almost every type of challenge of restoration, the boundaries of what was possible seemed to recede. In Australia this was also taking place; G42 on the Puffing Billy Railway received new frames for the engine units as well as many other brand new major components.

In 2013 the Puffing Billy Railway had new cylinder patterns and castings produced for their fleet of NA Class locomotives, machining commencing in mid-2014. The NGG16 project at the railway was also producing many brand new parts, such as the boiler, motion gear and conversion from 2ft gauge to 2ft 6in. If major components like new cylinders could be cast, why couldn’t all the parts needed to make an entirely brand new locomotive be made, and some of the gaps in the remaining Victorian Railways steam fleet be filled?

In the UK, the project to build a brand new A1 pacific, later named Tornado, was established in 1990. The ambitious project took 18 years and 3 million pounds to make the dream a reality, however Tornado is now a well-known performer on railways across Britain and a celebrity in its own right.

Many more groups have come into existence since 1990: some dedicated to building new engines from scratch, others planning to use existing components to recreate lost classes. In all there are over 20 such projects currently underway in the UK alone. In the USA a project to build a new T1 4-4-4-4 has been launched, while here in Australia a single man is building a 3ft 6in gauge South Australian Railway’s Z Class 4-4-0.

The remaining preserved locomotives in Victoria are already quite old (some over 115 years), and increasingly facing the dilemma of how they can be kept running without replacing so many components that they could be argued not to be the original locomotives in any meaningful sense (a big debate in preservation). This is not to say there is a firm business case for new build steam locomotives – they are unlikely to be profitable, and like all aspects of rail preservation are built for no reason other than enthusiasm. New build steam locomotive projects not only help to keep the older, original, locomotives in good historical condition, they offer modern and reliable service, a change to fill a gap in missing locomotive classes and they can be seen by many around the world as the way of the future of steam preservation.