The Largest Wheels On Steam Locos

Which Has The Largest Diameter Driving Wheels?

When I read that the Union Pacific 8444 had 80 inch driving wheels, it made me wonder which steam loco had the largest wheels.

While we all know it is bigger in the USA, I discovered that some European Locos had even larger wheels!

Coming in at number 3 is the SNCB 12004.

Photo and scan Guy Demeulder (

This loco has 2.1 meter driving wheels.

It seems that around the 1930s, various countries were keen to produce faster, streamlined steam locos. The largest driving wheels of all (though hidden by cowling) are on the German 05.

I don’t find this loco particularly attractive, but it does have larger driving wheels at 2.3 meters!

Researching further, I discovered the Stirling, a 4-2-2 British loco with a wheel diameter of 2.461 meters. This was a Great Western Railway loco and is now in the National Railway Museum in Britain.

Stirling number 1

In Australia, the largest diameter wheels belonged to the Victorian “R” Class at 73″.

The Victorian “S” Class, which were all scrapped, had similar driving wheel sizes.

As for my beloved 38 Class Pacifics, which used to run in NSW Australia, they had 69″ drivers.

3806 leaving Gosford in September 1967.

My fastest run behind a 38 was 90 mph travelling into Yass in southern NSW.

In South Africa, which was only 3′ 6″ gauge, they had the largest wheel size of any loco on rails lower than standard gauge.

This was the 16E that I never saw running. This one in Bloemfontein was restored to operating condition not long after I took this photo.

While on the subject of Pacifics, some of the English and German locos had impressive driving wheels.

I know the German 012’s were endowed with driving wheels around 6′ 6″.

West German 012 on the Rheine Nordeich line in 1974. Photo John Gaydon

I know these were fast. We rode behind them several times. Normally top speed would be 120kph or 75 mph, but one night the train accelerated and kept going to around 100 mph. Two of us clocked that speed, in my case with a stopwatch using kms posts for approx 1.5 kms.

The question is, do you know of any locos with an even larger driving wheel height?


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