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Railroad Locomotive Records

This page presents a series of railroad locomotive records including steam, diesel, and electric engines.

More railroad records:  Early Railroads,  Bridges & Tunnels,  Routes & Track,  Train Records,  Train Wrecks

Note: This page was written by Christopher Muller and is copyright RailServe.com. Content may not be reproduced in whole or in part on any website, message board, or other medium. Please contact us with any questions, suggestions, or corrections.


What was the world's first steam locomotive?

Richard Trevithick built the world's first steam locomotive to run on rails. The locomotive was constructed for Penydarren Ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. The locomotive had no official name but was often referred to as the Penydarren Locomotive. The Penydarren Tramroad opened on February 21, 1804, and the locomotive traveled nine miles from Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Shipping Canal at speeds of up to 5mph. Although weighing just eight tons, the locomotive continually broke the cast iron rails. After making several trips, the locomotive was converted to stationary use.

What was the world's first steam locomotive used in revenue service?

The first steam locomotive successfully used in revenue service was the Salamanca, a cog/rack locomotive built by Matthew Murray (of Fenton, Murray & Wood) in 1812. The locomotive hauled wagons of coal from the pits to the town of Leeds, UK, on the Middleton Railway. Steam replaced horse-drawn vehicles which began operating on the railway in 1758. The Salamanca locomotive operated from August 12, 1812 until February 28, 1818 when its boiler exploded, killing the driver.

What was the first steam locomotive to operate in the USA?

The first steam locomotive in the U.S. was the Stourbridge Lion, tested on August 8, 1829, in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. The locomotive was named for its origin city (manufactured in Stourbridge, UK) and lion's face painted on its front by builder Foster, Rastrick & Company. The locomotive was intended to carry coal for the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. However, as was the case with England's first steam locomotive trial 25 years earlier, the 7-1/2 ton locomotive was too heavy for the track and never used in revenue service.

What was the first American-built steam locomotive?

The Tom Thumb, built by Peter Cooper for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, was the first operable steam locomotive built in the USA. It first ran on August 25, 1830, between Baltimore and Ellicott Mills, Maryland. A race was staged three days later using the Tom Thumb and a horse-drawn car on parallel tracks. The Tomb Thumb quickly pulled away from the horse until a belt slipped off its blower pulley. Although the horse won, the race indicated the potential of steam locomotive technology. The Tom Thumb was never used in revenue service and served only in trials.

What was the first steam locomotive used in revenue service in the USA?

The West Point Foundry of New York built a steam locomotive for the South Carolina Railroad in Chareston. The locomotive, unofficially named the Best Friend of Charleston, made a test run on December 14, 1830. The locomotive reached solo speeds of 30mph, an amazing achievement for its time, though loaded trains would be limited to approximately 12mph. The Best Friend was placed into revenue service on Christmas Day 1830, hauling passengers along six miles of track in Charleston, South Carolina. The locomotive operated for six months until its boiler exploded on June 17, 1831, seriously injuring the engine crew.

What was the heaviest steam locomotive?

Locomotive weights vary based on water and fuel levels, meaning published weight specifications are not always comparable. However, the two classes contending for the heaviest locomotive title are Union Pacific's 4-8-8-4 4000 class "Big Boy" and Chesapeake & Ohio's 2-6-6-6 H-8 class "Allegheny" locomotives. Note that the C&O's Alleghenies were copied by the Virginian Railway as their AG class "Blue Ridge" locomotives. The Big Boys, Alleghenies, and Blue Ridge locomotives all weighed in at approximately 1,200,000 pounds (600 tons), full tenders included.

What was the largest (longest) steam locomotive?

The largest (longest) steam locomotives were the Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 4000 class "Big Boys." These engines measured 85'-3" plus a tender at 47'-6" for a total length of 132'-9".

What was the most powerful steam locomotive in terms of tractive effort?

Baldwin built four "triplex" locomotives, named for their three sets of driving wheels. Three 2-8-8-8-2's went to the Erie Railroad as Class P-1 locomotives (built 1914-15), while one 2-8-8-8-4 went to the Virginian Railway as class XA (built 1916). These locomotive designs were attempts to maximize tractive effort and set a record 199,560 lbf with the Virginian XA. However, the boilers were undersized for these six-cylinder locomotives, resulting in a maximum speed of approximately 10mph for the Erie and even less for the Virginian. All were short-lived and relegated to pusher (helper) service where maximum power was required at low speeds.

Excluding the experimental triplex engines, Virginian Railway's 2-10-10-2 AE class locomotives were the most powerful ever built, generating 176,600 lbf in simple-expansion mode. Alco produced 10 of these locomotives for the Virginian in 1918.

What was the highest horsepower steam locomotive?

Pennsylvania Railroad's 4-4-6-4 Q2 class locomotives were the highest horsepower steam locomotives produced, generating 7,987 horsepower as measured by a PRR static test.

What is the world's oldest steam locomotive still in operation?

East Indian Railway's 2-2-2T #22 'Fairy Queen' was built in 1855 and is the world's oldest operating steam locomotive. Since restoration in 1997, the Fairy Queen leads two-day excursions between New Delhi and Alwar, India.

What is the oldest American steam locomotive still in operation?

Baltimore & Ohio 4-4-0 #25 'William Mason' was built in 1856 and still operates on select weekends at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. The locomotive was restored to operating condition by the Strasburg Rail Road in 1998 for use in the movie Wild Wild West.

What is the world's largest locomotive currently in operation?

Union Pacific's 4-6-6-4 Challenger steam locomotive #3985 is the largest operating locomotive in the world. Built in July 1943 and still used by UP for occasional excursion throughout the western United States, the 3985 weighs 1,073,900 pounds (537 tons).


What was the world's first diesel locomotive?

The world’s first diesel locomotive was built by Diesel-Sulzer-Klose in Germany and tested in 1912 on the Winterthur-Romanshorn Railroad in Switzerland. The locomotive ran for just several months and was not commercially successful.

What was the first diesel locomotive used in revenue service in the USA?

The first diesel locomotive to be used commercially in the U.S. was a 200 horsepower General Electric GM50 used by the Jay Street Connecting Railroad for switching duties in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. The locomotive was not a commercial success, however, and was returned to GE a few months later.

What was the first commercially successful diesel locomotive?

Alco, GE, and Ingersoll Rand formed a consortium to build diesel-electric locomotives.  In October 1925, Central Railroad of New Jersey took delivery of a 300 horsepower boxcab diesel locomotive (#1000) for use at its Bronx Terminal in New York. This was the first diesel to experience a long career, operating for 32 years before retirement in 1957.

What was the most powerful diesel locomotive ever built?

The EMD DDA40X was the most powerful single-unit diesel locomotive ever built. A total of 47 of these 6600 horsepower "Centennial" diesels were built by General Motors from 1969 through 1971 for Union Pacific. Most were retired during the 1980s due to high maintenance costs. One unit, no. 6936, remains in service for UP business and excursion trains.


What was the world's first electric locomotive?

The world's first electric locomotive was a battery-powered locomotive built in 1837 by chemist Robert Davidson of Aberdeen, Scotland. The first serious test didn't come until 1841, however, when Davidson built a larger model and operated it at the Royal Scottish Society of Arts Exhibition. The locomotive could run 1.5 miles at a speed of 4mph. It was further tested in 1842 on the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway but limited battery power prevented commercial use.

What was the world's first generator-powered (non-battery) electric locomotive?

Werner von Siemens (founder of today's multinational Siemens AG) demonstrated an electric locomotive at the Berlin industrial Exposition in 1879. The locomotive was driven using a 150 volt direct current (DC) third rail and 2.2 kW motor delivering five horsepower. The locomotive pulled three cars at a maximum speed of 8mph on a 1,000-foot loop track, carrying nearly 100,000 passengers during the four month event.

What was the first electric locomotive used in revenue service in the USA?

In the spring of 1880, inventor Thomas Edison laid 1400 feet of track at his New Jersey laboratory and operated an electric locomotive as fast as 40mph. The Northern Pacific Railway contracted with Edison to build and test larger locomotives with a plan to electrify NP track in Minnesota. Two prototypes were built in 1882 but the Northern Pacific filed for bankruptcy the following year and electrification was never pursued.

Meanwhile, inventor Leo Daft was also testing electric locomotives in New Jersey and New York in 1881-1883. Then, on August 10, 1885, Daft completed the first commercial electric railway in the USA. The Baltimore and Hampden streetcar, previously powered by horses, was converted to third rail electric power and would operate successfully for several years.

What was the most powerful electric locomotive ever built?

The China Railways HXD3B is the most powerful single-unit electric locomotive ever built. China Railways ordered 500 of these 12,870 horsepower locomotives for heavy freight service, delivered from Dalian Locomotives and Bombardier between 2008 and 2011.


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