Norfolk and Western 1218

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Norfolk & Western No. 1218
N&W 1218 Brocton, OH on August 6, 1988 (22541514277).jpg
1218 leads an excursion train at Brocton, Ohio, on August 6, 1988
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder N&W's Roanoke Shops
Serial number 340
Build date June 1943
 • Whyte 2-6-6-4
 • UIC (1′C)C2′ h4
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Leading dia. 33 in (838 mm)
Driver dia. 70 in (1,778 mm)[1]
Trailing dia. 42 in (1,067 mm)
Length 121 ft 9 14 in (37.1 m) including tender[1]
Height 16 ft (4.88 m)
Axle load 72,000 lb (32.7 tonnes)
Adhesive weight 433,350 lb (196.6 tonnes)
Loco weight 573,000 lb (259.9 tonnes)
Total weight 951,600 lb (431.6 tonnes)[1]
Fuel type Coal
Fuel capacity 60,000 lb (27.2 tonnes)
Water cap 22,000 US gal (83,000 l; 18,000 imp gal)
 • Firegrate area
122 sq ft (11.3 m2)
Boiler pressure 300 lbf/in2 (2.07 MPa)
Heating surface:
 • Tubes and flues
6,052 sq ft (562.2 m2)
 • Firebox 587 sq ft (54.5 m2)
 • Heating area 2,703 sq ft (251.1 m2)
Cylinders Four, simple articulated
Cylinder size 24 in × 30 in (610 mm × 762 mm)
Valve gear Baker
Valve type Piston valves
Performance figures
Maximum speed 70+ mph[1]
Power output 5,400 hp (4,000 kW)
Tractive effort Starting: 125,897 lbf (560.02 kN) Continuous: 114,000 lbf (507.10 kN)[1]
Factor of adh. 3.44
Operators Norfolk & Western RailwayNorfolk Southern
Class A
Number in class 19 of 43
Locale United States, South and Midwest
Retired 1959 (revenue)[1]
1991 (excursion)
Restored April 1987[1]
Current owner Virginia Museum of Transportation
Disposition On display

Norfolk and Western No. 1218 is a steam locomotive that at one time was the strongest-pulling operational steam locomotive in the world. It is a four-cylinder simple articulated locomotive with a 2-6-6-4 (Whyte system) wheel arrangement. The Norfolk & Western Railway built it in 1943 at its Roanoke Shops in Roanoke, Virginia, and was part of the Norfolk & Western's class A fleet of fast freight locomotives.[2] It was retired from regular revenue service in 1959, but Norfolk & Western successor Norfolk Southern Railway operated it in excursion service from 1987 to 1991. Today it is on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.

Historic significance[edit]

No. 1218 is the sole survivor of the Norfolk and Western's class A locomotives, and the only surviving 2-6-6-4 steam locomotive in the world. While smaller than Union Pacific's famous and more numerous "Challenger" Class of 4-6-6-4 locomotives, Norfolk and Western's design racked up unmatched records of performance in service.

During 1218's excursion career, it was the most powerful operational steam locomotive in the world,[3] with a tractive effort of 125,897 pounds-force (560.02 kN), well above the next-strongest-pulling operational steam locomotive (Union Pacific 3985, with a tractive effort of 97,350 lbf [433.0 kN]). However, when Union Pacific 4014 finishes its restoration, 1218 will become the locomotive with the second highest tractive effort. Unlike diesel-electric locomotives of similar high tractive effort (for starting heavy trains) but typical for a steam locomotive, it could easily run at 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) and more.

Operational history[edit]

Norfolk and Western used No. 1218 and the other class A locomotives primarily for fast freight trains, but they also pulled heavy coal trains on the flatter districts of the Norfolk & Western system, and reportedly even pulled heavy passenger trains at times.

In 1959, the 1218 was purchased by the Union Carbide Co. in Charleston, West Virginia, where it was used as a stationary boiler at a chemical plant.[4] In 1965, No. 1218 was repurchased by New England millionaire F. Nelson Blount for his locomotive collection at Steamtown, U.S.A. in Bellows Falls, Vermont.[4] Three years later, its former owner Norfolk & Western did a cosmetic restoration on 1218 at their East End Shops in Roanoke, Virginia (the same place where it was built).[4] After that, it was put on display at Wasena Park in 1971.[4]

Norfolk and Western Railway 1218 in railfan service in 1987

In 1982, Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway were both merged to form the new Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).[5] On May 10, 1985, No. 1218 was moved out of the park by a pair of NS diesels to be overhauled at the Irondale Steam Shop in Irondale, Alabama.[4] In 1987, No. 1218 was moved under its power for the first time in 28 years and operated for main-line excursion service on Norfolk Southern's steam program.[6]

On November 3, 1991, during Norfolk Southern's 25th Anniversary of their Steam Program, No. 1218 joined Southern Railway MS Class No. 4501 and Norfolk and Western J Class No. 611 to triple head a 28-car passenger excursion train from Chattanooga to Atlanta.[7] At Ooltewah, Tennessee, No. 4501 took a few coaches for a complete round trip, turning around at Cleveland, Tennessee.[7] Afterwards, No. 611 and No. 1218 completed the rest of the trip to Atlanta.[7]

At the end of the 1991 season, No. 1218 returned to Irondale, Alabama for an extensive overhaul to have its flues replaced and repairs on the locomotive's firebox.[7] The plan was to have the 1218 running again would be the start of the 1996 operating season, but to no avail.[7] Because of this, Norfolk Southern chairman David R. Goode cancelled the steam program in 1994 due to serious safety concerns, rising insurance costs, the expense of maintaining steam locomotives, and decreasing rail network availability due to a surge in freight traffic.[7][8][9][10]

After the Norfolk Southern steam program was concluded in 1994, the 1218 was reassembled and towed back to Roanoke to be stored at the East End Shops in 1996.[8] In 2001, the Norfolk Southern donated the 1218 to the City of Roanoke,[11] clearing the way for the engine to once again be put on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. In June 2003, the museum completed its new Claytor Pavilion and along with it, the 1218 was ready to put back on display. After a cosmetic restoration by Norfolk Southern, the 1218 was towed to the Virginia Museum of Transportation on June 11, 2003, and pushed into place in its new home next to Norfolk & Western 611. On April 2, 2012, the City of Roanoke officially donated both the 1218 & 611 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.

Current status[edit]

Today, 1218 is owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia, and is displayed along with N&W 2156, a Y6a Class 2-8-8-2, (on loan from the National Transportation Museum in St. Louis) where they are the star attractions in the museum's Claytor Pavilion. 1218 has been cosmetically restored, though not operational since the overhaul started in 1991 was never completed. Although the undertaking would be considerable, fans believe it to be capable of being returned to operation, with the uncompleted boiler and firebox repairs being the primary scope of work remaining from the aborted overhaul. In 2007, Norfolk Southern pulled it (cold), with 611, to its Roanoke Shops for the shops' 125th Anniversary celebration.[12]

N&W Class J 611 resides at the Museum when it is not running excursions or at the NC Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC, where it was restored to operating condition in 2015. The Virginia Transportation Museum owns the 611 and operates the excursions as Norfolk Southern no longer operates a steam program, but they recognize the excellent corporate public relations the derive from the excursions and have been very cooperative in coordinating the excursions.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "All Aboard - Steam locomotive to power day-long excursions from Greenville". Gaffney Leader. Gaffney, SC. March 20, 1987. p. 7 – via  open access publication – free to read
  2. ^ Ball, Ellen (August 13, 1987). "Travel Talk". Muncie Evening Press. Muncie, IN. p. 26 – via  open access publication – free to read
  3. ^ "Mighty locomotive will steam to Fort Wayne". Battle Creek Enquirer. Battle Creek, MI. June 24, 1990. p. 20 – via  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ a b c d e Wrinn (2000), pp. 73-74.
  5. ^ Wrinn (2000), p. 61.
  6. ^ Wrinn (2000), pp. 79-82.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Wrinn (2000), pp. 90–91.
  8. ^ a b Wrinn (2000), pp. 102-109.
  9. ^ Phillips, Don (November 6, 1994). "Rail Service - Popular steam engines will take last journeys". Indianapolis Star (first ed.). Indianapolis, IN. p. 192 – via  open access publication – free to read
  10. ^ Associated Press (October 30, 1994). "Norfolk Southern ends excursions". Daily Press (main ed.). Newport News, VA. p. 22 – via  open access publication – free to read
  11. ^ Associated Press (August 18, 2001). "Roanoke chugs away on museum honoring locomotive photographer". Daily Press (main ed.). Newport News, VA. p. 24 – via  open access publication – free to read
  12. ^ McKinney, Wayne (2014). Roanoke Locomotive Shops and the Norfolk & Western Railroad. Images of Rail. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publications. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-4671-2111-8. LCCN 2013946232 – via Google Books. 
  • Wrinn, Jim (2000), Steam's Camelot: Southern and Norfolk Southern Excursions in Color (1st ed.), TLC Publishing, ISBN 1-883089-56-5 

Further reading[edit]

  • Warden, William (1987), Norfolk and Western Railway A and J Class Locomotives (1st ed.), Andover Junction Publications, ISBN 978-0944119020 

External links[edit]