1927 Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road ‘E6s’ 4-4-2 No. 460

Steam Railway (UK) - - News -


The ma­chines, Penn­syl­va­nia some­times ‘E6s’ called class a ‘At­lantics’ “prod­uct wereof the very test pow­er­fulbed” by English me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers be­cause of the amount of ex­per­i­ments car­ried out on the class. The peak in­di­cated horse­power recorded on test for one of these lo­co­mo­tives was 2,520; a very high fig­ure for a lo­co­mo­tive built in the early 20th cen­tury.

On June 11 1927, Charles Lind­bergh re­turned to the US af­ter his mo­men­tous flight across the Atlantic. He re­turned to a hero’s wel­come. Mean­while, at Washington Union Sta­tion, Penn­syl­va­nia ‘E6s’ class ‘Atlantic’ No. 460 waited with a two-coach train for the news­reels of Lind­bergh’s tri­umphant re­turn. The short train had been char­tered by the In­ter­na­tional News­reel Com­pany to take the film to New York, and the driver had orders to run fast all the way.

What fol­lowed was an as­ton­ish­ingly fast run over the 216 miles to Man­hat­tan Trans­fer on the out­skirts of New York, where an elec­tric lo­co­mo­tive was to take over for the last few miles to Penn Sta­tion.

The 100-ton train ran the 216 miles be­hind No. 460 in 175 min­utes, an av­er­age of 74mph, in­clu­sive of stops and other slow­ings. The run led to claims that over 100mph was reached sev­eral times, with a max­i­mum of 115mph.


How were these speeds cal­cu­lated?

It is the dis­patch­ers’ times that re­main from that run: rail­way staff at sta­tions and sig­nal boxes tele­graphed the train’s pass­ing time to a cen­tral point, us­ing their lo­cal clocks.

That leaves two very large ar­eas of doubt. Were the clocks all syn­chro­nised? And were the meth­ods used to take the times at each point the same? It’s un­likely in both cases, even though ef­forts were made to keep all the clocks at the same time through­out.

Over very long dis­tances, er­rors within that sys­tem of time record­ing are small when trans­lated into av­er­age speeds. But over short dis­tances, even an er­ror of a few sec­onds can give a large vari­a­tion in av­er­age speed.

I have used a com­puter spread­sheet to view the run as it could have hap­pened, with smoother ac­cel­er­a­tions and slow­ings, and with­out wild swings in av­er­age speeds un­less in­flu­enced by known

speed re­stric­tions or stops. This is done with­out the ben­e­fit of a gra­di­ent profile and with­out full knowl­edge of the route. So they are only rough cal­cu­la­tions, and should be an­a­lysed as such.

spread­sheetI have addedto help ex­tra cal­cu­late­tim­ing points smootheron the ac­cel­er­a­tionscom­puter and slow­ings, but the times to con­sider are es­ti­mates at the same places where dis­patch­ers’ times were shown. Many of my times are the same, at the most they vary by only 40 sec­onds. Yet some of the av­er­age speeds change dra­mat­i­cally.

Lamok­in­with For ap­prox­i­mate­in­stance, Street, there­but times thatis a an­dis 144mphjust ex­acta prod­uct dis­tances. dis­patcherof whatBut av­er­age then­can hap­pen­speedthere areat also wild vari­a­tions in speed aris­ing from the dis­patch­ers’ times from SV Tower on­wards. A 108mph av­er­age, then 57mph! This is fol­lowed by 76mph and then the claimed 115mph, fol­lowed by 84mph and more vari­a­tions. Steam lo­co­mo­tives don’t run like that, and on this run it is fair to as­sume a con­sis­tent high speed was main­tained wher­ever pos­si­ble. My es­ti­mated times next to these dis­patcher times and av­er­age speeds give a far more con­sis­tent and pos­si­ble record of the progress of the train, with the fastest av­er­age be­ing un­der 90mph af­ter SV Tower.


My es­ti­mates give a 96mph av­er­age from Bowie to Sev­ern, a 10.5-mile stretch, eas­ily long enough to in­clude a 100mph max­i­mum. But my es­ti­mates are just that; not enough to say with cer­tainty that 100mph was reached, even though No. 460 had the ca­pa­bil­ity and op­por­tu­nity to do so. With more route knowl­edge, in­clud­ing gra­di­ents, I could re­fine my es­ti­mates, but maybe not to the ex­tent needed to prove the 100mph claim.

A six-year cos­metic restora­tion of the ‘Lind­bergh En­gine’, No. 460, was com­pleted in Novem­ber 2016 at the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road Mu­seum.

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