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July 3, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Seventy years ago today a world land speed record was set that has never been broken... on July 3, 1938 LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard reached the giddy speed of 126mph.

The Mallard was built by Sir Nigel Gresley (designer of the famous Flying Scotsman) to snatch back the record from Nazi Germany. The train itself is now retired at the National Railway Museum. Here's a simulation of the famous event.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (22 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A record for a steam locomotive, right?
posted by intermod at 12:17 PM on July 3, 2008

The current steel-wheel record is held by a TGV variant (awesome video)
posted by anthill at 12:29 PM on July 3, 2008

I was just watching something on Discovery or the History channel, I believe it was about the test center at Aberdeen, where they did all the ejection seat and deceleration tests, they now have a narrow gauge rail that they can run objects supersonic. I can't be absolutely certain, but if I'm recalling correctly, they were talking about sending something down the rail at eight times the speed of sound.

I am sometime amazed at how far we have come in just 70 years.
posted by quin at 12:46 PM on July 3, 2008

Turns out it was Holloman, not Aberdeen. And there's a video.
posted by quin at 1:00 PM on July 3, 2008

But quin, if you were the engineer driving that thing, you'd now be powder.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:30 PM on July 3, 2008

The Mallard, in full flight: 165 tons at 126mph (203kph) = 262.3 megajoules of kinetic energy; that's monstrously impressive for a steam engine, but bear in mind it's still only equivalent to the energy released by 0.063 of a ton of TNT.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2008

So, 5MeoCMP, where's this TNT locomotive of yours?
posted by yeti at 3:47 PM on July 3, 2008

As long as it can go 88 miles an hour that's all I need.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:01 PM on July 3, 2008

So, 5MeoCMP, where's this TNT locomotive of yours?

I'll go you one better: Project Orion
posted by 5MeoCMP at 4:19 PM on July 3, 2008

I think that's what happened in quin's video
posted by xorry at 4:35 PM on July 3, 2008

The Taggart Comet once reached 135 mph with a 15 mile an hour headwind.
posted by clearly at 5:07 PM on July 3, 2008

I googled for a nice screen cap of a speed record from Sid Meier's Railroads!, but alas, came up short.

Shitty game. Great trains.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:14 PM on July 3, 2008

Damn kids and their steampunk nonsense!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:16 PM on July 3, 2008

Sadly the record comes with an asterisk, as engine driver Casey Jones later tested positive for cocaine use.
posted by Tube at 5:34 PM on July 3, 2008

Your above-the-fold video is no longer available, and your below-the-fold-video is agony to watch.
posted by popechunk at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2008

anthill writes "The current steel-wheel record is held by a TGV variant (awesome video)"

The US record is held by a jet powered RDC at 183.681 mph set back in 1966.

The Russians also experimented with a jet powered train.
posted by Mitheral at 10:32 PM on July 3, 2008

I have always wondered if a CB&Q S-4 (4-6-4 Hudson) could not have equaled or bettered this. S-4's were regularly run in triple digits across Iowa during WWII. These brute were all horsepower and speed, and surely might have had a chance- especially the two that were streamlined . (BTW, those two links are to pictures of the same locomotive- one when she (originally #3002, was renumbered #4000 with the stainless skirts).

My dad used to tell me stories of "Big Alice the Goon" including being told by the conductor that they had touched 120 mph on a tangent west of Burlington, IA. in 1944. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy was a fairly conservative railroad in the last years of steam, and was trying to sell the public on riding in diesel powered streamliners. Setting a steam speed record probably would have been anathema to the marketing department at that point.

posted by pjern at 12:17 AM on July 4, 2008

What is it about steam locomotives... I am not a train geek (although I am a tech geek in general), but steam locomotives, they just evoke some kind of emotional reaction -- they seem so alive somehow... Is it the noise, or the fact that there are loads of visible moving parts...

Microsoft train simulator... WTF?!
posted by nielm at 12:26 AM on July 4, 2008

But they are alive...
posted by pjern at 1:03 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Mallard may be retired, but if you would like to experience one of Gresley's streamlined beauties in action there is another A4 Pacific the 'Sir Nigel Gresley' that still runs, usually on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and occasionally on the main line.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:46 PM on July 4, 2008

Another variant on steam trains: I was at the Northwest Train Museum the other day (or the outdoor part of it that consists of a bunch of decaying old steamtrains on a track) and saw soem very weird looking trains: Geared Steam Locomotives. Designed for steeper track and poorer conditions they work on a different priciple to the conventional steam trains and come in a bunch of weird designs, like this v cylinder one or this one with side mounted drive shafts.

I felt a bit like I'd stumbled upon the Burgess shale of steam trains.
posted by Artw at 3:47 PM on July 4, 2008

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