5at Train

The 5AT Group - Steaming Ahead with Advanced Technology

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The slow rate of progress gives the impression that the Project is no more than an academic exercise. Why not give the Project momentum by getting some metal cut?

The questions arose from three sources in response to the Dec 2009 Newsletter after a 12 month haitus in news output about the Project:  Why is the project so slow?  Why not start cutting metal to show commitment and progress? and Is the Project nothing more than an intellectual exercise going nowhere?

The answers offered were along the following lines:

Given its slow progress, it is understandable that people see the project as an "idea going nowhere" and/or as no more than an academic or paper exercise.  In fact the project team is focussed very strongly on bringing the project to reality, and are engaged in a lot of hard graft pressing the concept into a realistic and (hopefully) marketable form.  However before any metal can be cut, drawings have to be completed and this in itself is not such an easy task as might appear. The following comments may help to illustrate the point:

(1)    Cutting Metal: The reality is that a huge amount of work needs to be done before any metal gets cut.  The FDCs were a big undertaking and spell out the overall size and shape of the locomotive and its critical components, but they do not represent a “detail design” from which metal cutting can commence.  A huge amount of detail design work needs to be done to size, stress-check and accurately position each one of two or three thousand individual components that will go into making the locomotive.  More than that, the positioning and installation of each component has to be carefully considered in relation to access and removability for maintenance and repair.  Our current estimate (based on detailed evaluation) is that the detail design will involve some 500 man-months of engineering spread out over a three year period, and that it would take almost two years to advance the work far enough to allow a start to be made in cutting metal.  It is very different to a resurrection project like the A1 or 82XXX where drawings can be found to allow an impressive  demonstration of progress and determination by making an immediate start on the cutting of a few recognizable components.

(2)    Finance:  For the above reasons, a huge amount of finance needs to be procured before any metal cutting can start.  Our current estimate of total cost including design, manufacture, assembly, testing, rail authority approvals etc, is slightly more than £10 million or around four times the cost of the A1 project.  We will have an uphill task convincing investors to commit to such funding without a very well presented Feasibility Study, towards which our recent efforts have been directed.

(3)    Manning:  For the same reasons, it would likely prove difficult to attract the caliber and number of engineers that will be needed if there is no certainty of work continuity or project completion.

(4)    Fund-Raising:  For the above reasons, there is no point in seeking “seed-funding” to make a start on the work.  No-one in their right minds would put up £100,000 or £500,000 to begin the design process unless they were confident that the work would be completed and they could anticipate some sort of return on their investment.  Similarly no-one with career prospects would take the risk of joining the project if there was only a few months’ funding in place.   Similarly, there is no point in chasing piecemeal funding from enthusiasts as the A1 people did.  Most enthusiasts aren’t interested in “modern steam”, and anyway the process of handling and accounting for people’s contributions, and reporting on its expenditure would be a big distraction from our main task.  A few years ago I went some way towards forming a support group “The Friends of the 5AT” to raise funds to cover the out-of-pocket expenses that all of us have to make to progress the work, but I dropped the idea when I realized the amount of unproductive work that it would entail someone (me) in.

Unfortunately it rather scuppers your second comment that “at least someone is laying the groundwork so that it could quickly be translated into building, given the finance.”  What we have done is establish (through Wardale’s FDCs) a set of principles and guidelines that can be followed by others who might want to take up the challenge either now or later. But they won’t translate into quick building.

Incidentally, the Project will not quietly drift away if Dave Wardale pegs out.  Since completing the FDCs he has had little direct involvement in the work and offers advice only when asked for it.  If funding is found, then we will certainly hope to tap into his experience and knowledge, but he has made it clear that he doesn’t want to take a leading role as he is now focussing on other unrelated interests.