NYC Hudson

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New York Central Hudson
Hudson locomotive for the New York Central.jpg
Promotional Image of a "Dreyfuss" streamlined New York Central Hudson Locomotive
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder Alco-Schenectady (265);
Lima Locomotive Works (10)
Build date 1927–1931 (J-1);
1928–1931 (J-2);
1937–1938 (J-3)
Total produced 275
Configuration 4-6-4
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Operators New York Central Railroad, Boston and Albany Railroad, Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway
Class J-1, J-2 and J-3
Number in class 205 (J-1),
20 (J-2),
50 (J-3)
Disposition All Scrapped by the Late 1950's

The New York Central Hudsons were a series of 4-6-4 "Hudson" type steam locomotives built by the American Locomotive Company and the Lima Locomotive Works from 1927 to 1938 for the New York Central Railroad. Named after the Hudson River, the 4-6-4 wheel arrangement came to be known as the "Hudson" type in the United States as these locomotives were the first examples built and used in North America. Built for high-speed passenger train work, the Hudson locomotives were famously known for hauling the New York Central's crack passenger trains, such as the 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express. With the onset of diesel locomotives in the mid 20th Century, all Hudson locomotives were retired, with none preserved.


Although the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) was the first to design such locomotives (naming them Baltics), they were not built until after the NYC's Hudsons. NYC President Patrick E. Crowley named the units Hudsons after the Hudson River, which was in clear view from his office window.[1]

Builders photograph of non-streamlined J1 class Hudson #5249

The Hudson came into being because the existing 4-6-2 Pacific power was not able to keep up with the demands of longer, heavier trains and higher speeds. Given NYC's axle load limits, Pacific could not be made any larger; a new locomotive type would be required to carry the larger boilers. Lima Locomotive Works' conception of superpower steam as realised in the 2-8-4 Berkshire type was the predecessor to the Hudson. The 2-8-4's 4-wheel trailing truck permitted a huge firebox to be located after the boiler. The resulting greater steaming rate ensured that such a locomotive would never run out of power at speed, a common failing of older locomotives. Applying the ideas of the freight-minded Berkshire type to the Pacific resulted in a 4-6-4 locomotive.

Streamlined Hudson at the 1939 New York World's Fair

NYC ordered prototype #5200 from Alco, and subjected it to intensive testing. A fleet of 205 J-1 class Hudsons were later built, including 30 for the Michigan Central Railroad and the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (“Big Four”) apiece. In addition, NYC subsidiary Boston & Albany Railroad ordered 20 J-2 class, 10 from Lima Locomotive Works (all other NYC Hudsons were built by Alco’s Schenectady works).[2] A later development were 50 J-3a class Super Hudsons in 1937–1938, with many modern appliances and innovations. Over their service life The NYC Hudson locomotives eventually had road numbers arranged from 5200 to 5474. The J1 road numbers were 5200-5404, the J2 road numbers were 5405-5424, and the J3 road numbers were 5425-5474.

J-3a "Dreyfuss" Hudson on display at the 1939 World's Fair

The Hudsons were of excellent quality. Locomotive #5344 had streamlining applied and named Commodore Vanderbilt.[3] The streamlining was later replaced to match the last ten J-3a locomotives that had been built with streamlining designed by Henry Dreyfuss. Two more J-3a locomotives had streamlining fitted in 1941 for Empire State Express service.[4] The streamlined locomotives featured prominently on NYC advertising.

The forte of all Hudsons was power at top speed. They were poor performers at low speed and the presence of a booster engine on the trailing truck was an absolute necessity for starting. For this reason, they were generally favored by railroads with flat terrain and straight routes. After the NYC, the Milwaukee Road was also fond of the Hudsons, acquiring 22 class F6 and six streamlined class F7s. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway also had 16, while the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad had 10 (#1400-1409) streamlined I-5 4-6-4s built by Baldwin in 1937 (nicknamed "Shoreliners"). Few railroads with hilly terrain acquired any.

A booster was prone to troubles, however, and gradually fell out of favor. Instead of a complicated booster, it was deemed preferential to have an extra pair of driving wheels, and thus better traction.

Trials of dual-purpose 4-8-2 Mohawks sealed the Hudson's fate. The Mohawk was nice, but it was still more suited to lower-speed hauling than high-speed power. In 1944, NYC received permission from the War Production Board to build a new, high-speed locomotive of the 4-8-4 type, combining all the advantages of the Hudson with those of the Mohawk. Many other railroads had taken to the 4-8-4 in the 1930s, generally calling them Northerns after the Northern Pacific Railway, which had first adopted them. By being a late adopter, the NYC had the chance to build on everyone else's experience. That locomotive proved to be exceptional, and the type on the NYC was named the Niagara. Since only 27 were built, however, they only took over the heaviest and most-prestigious trains; most Hudsons labored until the end of steam on NYC.

None of the NYC Hudson units survive; all were scrapped when the railroad dieselized.[4] Two J-1 class Hudsons, numbers 5311 and 5313, were sold to the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway in 1948 and were renumbered 501 and 502 respectively. Both locomotives were retired and scrapped in 1954. The tender from the 502 (formerly the 5313) was retained by the TH&B and converted to a steam generator car for use on passenger trains. The generator car still survives today and is part of the Steamtown National Historic Site collection.[5]

However, since the Peppercorn A1 60163 Tornado was completed in the UK in 2008, some volunteers known as The Hudson Steam Locomotive Revival Project[6] (HPR) are seeking to build a fully operable replica of a New York Central J-3a Hudson to be numbered 5475 in Buffalo, New York.

Popular culture[edit]

  • The character Connor from the Thomas & Friends television series is stylized after a streamlined NYC Hudson.
  • NYC Hudsons are featured on the covers of Van Halen's 2012 album A Different Kind of Truth and the Commodores 1975 album Movin' On.
  • In the "Courage the Cowardly Dog" episode, "The Mask", the "NYC J-3a Hudson" was seen pulling a passenger train that destroyed Mad Dog's car near the end of the episode.
  • In the movie "The Iron Giant", during the train scene, the "NYC J-3a Hudson" was pulling a freight train that crashed into the Giant while he was fixing the train tracks at the railroad crossing.
  • In season 5 episode 6 of The Big Bang Theory, "The Rhinitis Revelation", a "New Empire State Express" poster can be briefly seen on the back of Sheldon Cooper's door at the very end of episode when Leonard interrupts Mary Cooper singing Soft Kitty.
  • In The Grand Tour, the J-3 Hudson can be seen in the opening part of the show.

Toy trains[edit]

Lionel has issued the Hudson in 1937, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1964, 1984, 1990, and 2011. The first model issued, in 1937, was made for special 'T-Rail' track and numbered 5344. It was also the first mass-produced scale model train, numbered '700e' by Lionel, with 'e' designating it as having an electronic reversing unit, or 'e unit'. The hudson from 1946 and 1947, numbered 221 and made with Dreyfuss streamlining, was made in a grey paint scheme for the NYC railroad. It was the only grey steam locomotive produced by Lionel during the postwar years. The 1950 and 1964 version was for O-Gauge Tubular track and numbered 773. The 1987 Hudson was released for O-Gauge Tubular track and numbered 783. The 2011 'legacy' Hudson was numbered 5344 like the 1937 Hudson but made for O Gauge FasTrack, Tubular, or Atlas O Gauge track.

MTH has also issued the Hudson since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staufer, Alvin F.; Edward L. May (1975). Thoroughbreds: The Most Famous Class of Locomotive in the World, New York Central's Hudson. A. F. Staufer. ISBN 978-0944513033. 
  2. ^ Drury (1993). p. 279
  3. ^ Drury (1993). p. 271
  4. ^ a b Drury (1993). p. 273
  5. ^
  6. ^ Staff. "Hudson Revival Project". Retrieved 10 December 2013. 


  • Drury, George H. (1993). Guide to North American Steam Locomotives. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89024-206-2.