1927 Pennsylvania Railroad ‘E6s’ 4-4-2 No. 460
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.
DID IT REACH 100MPH?
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.