World’s Most Powerful Operating Steam Locomotive

Clue it is not in the USA!

 

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?

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 q few claim to be the largest, for this discussion, we are looking at the most powerful still in operation.

USA Giants

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.

N & W Y6a

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.

Virginia 2-8-8-8-4 Number 700 Source Wikimedia

 

A surviving locomotive thought to be the largest ever built was the Allegheney 2-6-6-6of the Virginian Railway, 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.

Allegheney number 902

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 2-6-6-2 (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 2007. Fact is that these two giants are not working at the moment. Nine years is a long time between drinks!

Big Boy in better days

There was one other massive engine in size between the two UP giants. That was the Virginia Railway Triplex. 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.

Virginia 2-8-8-8-4 Number 700 Source Wikimedia

Africa

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.

East African Railways 59 Class on a freight between Nairobi and Mombassa Kenya 1974, Photo John Gaydon

Kenya is now regauging its track, 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.

Australia

Who would have guessed. When it was restored last year, the world’s most powerful operating locomotive at 63,490 flb tractive effort was the NSW AD60 class Garratt. 6029 now regularly runs excursions.

6029 with another 60 class on a coal train starting on a 1 in 40 grade at Fassifern NSW. Photo John Gaydon

Australia Wins!

This means that Australia and my home state now have the honour of having 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 none of them are hauling trains right now.

Watch the video at the end of this post to see 6029 in action this weekend.

The Future

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.

1309 leads a double header back in regular steam days. Source Unknown

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.

Most Pulling Force (Articulated)

Road

Class

Wheel Arrangement

Tractive Effort

N&W

Jawn Henry

C+C+C+C

180,000

Virginian

X-A

2-8-8-8-4

166,300 (compound) 199,560 (simple)

Virginian

AE

2-10-10-2

147,200 (compound) 176,600 (simple)

N&W

Y6b

2-8-8-2

170,000 (simple expansion mode, with booster)

Pennsylvania

HC1s

2-8-8-0

167,325

GN

R-2

2-8-8-2

162,475

Erie

P-1

2-8-8-8-2

160,000

NP

Z-5

2-8-8-4

159,330 (145,930 + 13,400 booster)

GN

R-2

2-8-8-2

153,000

N&W

Y6b

2-8-8-2

152,206 (simple expansion mode, before mid-1950 modifications)

WP

M-137/151

2-8-8-2

151,000 (with Franklin trailing truck booster) 137,000 (without booster)

NP

Z-5

2-8-8-4

145,930

GN

R-1s

2-8-8-2

142,165

D&RGW

L-131

2-8-8-2

140,093

DM&IR

M-4

2-8-8-4

140,093

WP

M-137

2-8-8-2

137,174

UP

  

4-8-8-4

135,375

 

 

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