When it comes to size, “it’s bigger in America”! While Texas cows may be huge, certainly the steaks are, when it comes to operational steam locomotives, is the US still leading the way?
Update: I stand corrected. According to the Virgina Museum of Transportation, J611 has a tractive effort of 80,000 flb and is well and truly running since last year. All the more reason to ride behind this powerful engine.
Determining the most powerful steam locomotive is not easy, with many ways to measure this including size, length, wheel arrangement and tractive effort.
What is not in dispute is that the USA, with its super large loading gauge, has (or had) the most powerful steam locomotives ever built. Depending on where you look, quite a few claim to be the largest, for this discussion, we are looking at the most powerful still in operation.
The Norfolk and Western Y6a comes in at a credible 166,000 flb tractive effort making it a serious contender. One is still on display at the Virginia Museum Of Transportation.
An engine which didn’t really work that well was rated at 170,000 flbs. The Virginia Tripplex had an interesting history. This was a ridiculous 2-8-8-8-4 loco and suffered from simply using so much steam, the boiler couldn’t produce enough. Only one was ever built, and this was eventually split into two separate locos.
A surviving locomotive thought to be the largest ever built was the Allegheney 2-6-6-6 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, built in the 1940s. It was rated at 110,000 flb tractve effort. Two survive and are on plinths in museums. One is at the Henry Ford Museum near Dearborn Michigan, and the other at the B & O Railroad museum in Baltimore.
Big Boy not the largest!
Coming down in size, we have the Union Pacific Big Boy (135,375 flb), thought by many to be the largest steam locomotive of all time. This 4-8-8-4 together with the UP Challenger 4-6-6-4 (97,352 flb) are still around in the UP workshops in Cheyenne Wyoming. 3985 (Challenger) and 4014 (Big Boy) are still classified as operating locomotives for UP. Feedback I have received is that with the current management, we will be lucky to see either of these two in steam again and 3985 hasn’t operated since 2010. Fact is that these two giants are not working at the moment. Six years is a long time between drinks!
Other powerful steam locos include the 59 class Garratts of the East African Railway in Kenya, weighing in at 83,350 lbf and the South African GL class at 78,650 lbf.
Kenya is now changing its track to standard gauge, meaning their steam fleet will no longer be able to operate, and the remaining GL is stored at the Outeniqua Transport Museum on George South Africa.
Europe Doesn’t Rate
When it comes to Europe, there weren’t that many articulated locos used there. Nothing really rates a mention when it comes to tractive effort.
Who would have guessed. When it was restored last year, one of the world’s most powerful operating locomotives at 63,490 flb tractive effort was the NSW AD60 class Garratt. 6029 now regularly runs excursions.
Australia Can Stand Proud!
This means that Australia and my home state now have the honour of having one the world’s most powerful locomotive currently in operation!
Now, I know that this engine is nothing compared to some of the US monsters, but our loading gauge restricts the height and width of the engine. We also have a lot of relatively sharp curves I suspect the larger compounds couldn’t negotiate. In any case having seen these regularly back in steam days, it is good to know that we have some significant steam power down under. Maybe one day I will get to ride behind a Big Boy!
Watch the video at the end of this post to see 6029 in action this weekend.
The next cab off the rank might be 1309, scheduled to run on the West Maryland Scenic Railroad this summer. This engine has a tractive effort of 98,700 flb.
For now, NSW Australia has the honour. Stay tuned for news on 1309 and the UP giants. Who knows when the mantle will be handed back to the USA for the most powerful locomotive currently in operation.
The following list was taken from steamlocomotive.com website.