Norfolk and Western 1218

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Norfolk & Western 1218
Norfolk ^ Western 1218 steam locomotive in Richmond Virginia - panoramio (1).jpg
Norfolk and Western Class A No. 1218 in Richmond, Virginia, getting ready to pull a round-trip excursion train to Lynchburg, Virginia on October 13 or 14, 1990[1]
Type and origin
Power typeSteam
BuilderN&W's Roanoke Shops (East End Shops)
Serial number340
Build dateJune 2, 1943
 • Whyte2-6-6-4
 • UIC(1′C)C2′ h4
Gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm)
Leading dia.33 in (838 mm)
Driver dia.70 in (1,778 mm)[2]
Trailing dia.42 in (1,067 mm)
Length121 ft 9+14 in (37.1 m) including tender[2]
Width11 ft 2 in (3.4 m)
Height16 ft (4.88 m)
Axle load72,000 lb (32.7 tonnes)
Adhesive weight433,350 lb (196.6 tonnes)
Loco weight573,000 lb (259.9 tonnes)
Tender weight378,600 lb (171.7 tonnes)
Total weight951,600 lb (431.6 tonnes)[2]
Fuel typeCoal
Fuel capacity66,000 lb (29.9 tonnes)
Water cap22,000 US gal (83,000 l; 18,000 imp gal)
 • Firegrate area
122 sq ft (11.3 m2)
Boiler pressure300 lbf/in2 (2.07 MPa)
Heating surface:
 • Tubes and flues
6,052 sq ft (562.2 m2)
 • Firebox587 sq ft (54.5 m2)
 • Heating area2,703 sq ft (251.1 m2)
CylindersFour, simple articulated
Cylinder size24 in × 30 in (610 mm × 762 mm)
Valve gearBaker
Valve typePiston valves
Performance figures
Maximum speed70+ mph[2]
Power output5,400 hp (4,000 kW)
Tractive effort114,000 lbf (507.10 kN)[2]
Factor of adh.3.8
OperatorsNorfolk & Western RailwayNorfolk Southern Railway
Number in class19 of 43
  • 1218
  • "The Mercede of Steam"
LocaleUnited States, South and Midwest
RetiredJuly 1959 (revenue service)[2]
November 1991 (1st excursion service)
RestoredJanuary 13, 1987 (1st restoration)
Current ownerVirginia Museum of Transportation
DispositionOn static display, based in Roanoke, Virginia

Coordinates: 37°16′23″N 79°56′50″W / 37.272943°N 79.947231°W / 37.272943; -79.947231 Norfolk and Western 1218 is a preserved four-cylinder simple articulated 2-6-6-4 steam locomotive, built in June 1943 by the Norfolk and Western's (N&W) East End Shops in Roanoke, Virginia as part of the N&W's class "A" fleet of fast freight locomotives. It was retired from regular revenue service in 1959, and was later restored by Norfolk Southern for excursion service on their steam program, pulling excursions throughout the eastern United States from 1987 to 1991. It is currently on static display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia.

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 114,000 pounds-force (507.10 kN), well above Union Pacific 3985, the next-strongest-pulling operational steam locomotive, with a tractive effort of 97,350 lbf [433.0 kN]). Since May 2019, however, No. 1218 became the locomotive with the second highest tractive effort, after Union Pacific 4014, which has a tractive effort of 135,375 lbf (602.18 kN). 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.


Revenue service and first retirement (1943-1959)[edit]

No. 1218 was the ninth member of the second batches of fifteen class A locomotives (Nos. 1210-1224) built in June 1943 by the Norfolk and Western (N&W), hauling fast freight and heavy coal trains and even heavy passenger trains on the N&W's Scioto Division, between Williamson, West Virginia and Portsmouth and Columbus, Ohio, along with an occasional side trip to Cincinnati.[4] It was later moved to the Norfolk Division in the late 1950s, running between Roanoke and Norfolk, Virginia.[4]

In 1959, the 1218 was retired and purchased by the Union Carbide Co. in Charleston, West Virginia, where it was used as a stationary boiler at a chemical plant.[5] 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.[5] However, two years later, Blount died in an airplane crash,[6] resulting in the 1218 being retrieved by the Norfolk and Western and was cosmetically restored at the East End Shops in Roanoke, Virginia, the same place where the locomotive was built.[5] Afterwards, it was put on display at the Roanoke Transportation Museum in 1971.[5]

NS excursion career (1987-1991)[edit]

No. 1218 leads an excursion train in Brocton, New York on August 6, 1988

In 1982, the Norfolk and Western, and Southern Railways were both merged to form the new Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).[7] By the end of 1984, the NS steam program, which was started in 1966 by the Southern Railway, needed a stronger locomotive to pull the longer and heavier excursion trains by adding No. 1218 to the roster.[5] On May 10, 1985, the locomotive was towed out of the park and moved to the Norris Yard Steam Shop in Irondale, Alabama, where it would be restored to operating condition.[5] On January 13, 1987, the 1218 was moved under its power for the first time in 28 years and was ready for main line excursion service for the NS steam program.[8]

In 1989, it performed a rare doubleheader with Nickel Plate Road 2-8-2 587, which was very recently restored to operation by the Indiana Transportation Museum, for the Asheville National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) convention.[9]

In 1990, No. 1218 traveled to Saint Louis, Missouri, where it met up with locomotives Cotton Belt 4-8-4 No. 819, Frisco 4-8-2 No. 1522, and Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 to participate in another rare NRHS convention, which took place at the former Union Station.[10]

On November 3, 1991, during Norfolk Southern's 25th Anniversary of their Steam Program, No. 1218 joined Southern Railway MS Class 2-8-2 No. 4501 and Norfolk and Western J Class No. 611 to triple head a 28-car passenger excursion train from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia.[11] At Ooltewah, Tennessee, No. 4501 took a few coaches for a complete round trip, turning around at Cleveland, Tennessee.[11] Afterwards, No. 611 and No. 1218 completed the rest of the trip to Atlanta.[11]

Second retirement (1992-present)[edit]

No. 1218 being disassembled at the Norris Yard Steam Shop in 1993

At the end of the 1991 season, after completing a round-trip excursion from Huntsville, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee,[12] No. 1218 returned to Irondale, Alabama for an extensive overhaul to have its flues replaced and the portions of the firebox repaired.[11] Originally, the plan was to have the 1218 running again for the start of the 1996 operating season,[11] but 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, a yard switching accident with nine passenger cars in Lynchburg, Virginia, and decreasing rail network availability.[13][14][15]

No. 1218 on static display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in May 2017

After the Norfolk Southern steam program was concluded, the 1218 was partially reassembled and towed back to Roanoke to be stored at the East End Shops in 1996, the year its overhaul was supposed to be completed.[13] In 2001, the Norfolk Southern donated the 1218 to the City of Roanoke,[16] clearing the way for the locomotive to once again be put on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation, formerly known as the Roanoke Transportation Museum. 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 and Western 611.[17] In 2007, the 1218 and 611 were both temporarily put on display at the East End Shops to commemorate its 125th anniversary.[18] On April 2, 2012, the City of Roanoke officially donated both the 1218 and 611 to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.[19]

Today, No. 1218 continues to sit on display inside a shed, next to another former N&W steam locomotive, G-1 class No. 6, with the 611 restored to operating condition.


  1. ^ Wrinn (2000), p. 118.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "All Aboard - Steam locomotive to power day-long excursions from Greenville". Gaffney Leader. Gaffney, SC. March 20, 1987. p. 7 – via open access
  3. ^ "Mighty locomotive will steam to Fort Wayne". Battle Creek Enquirer. Battle Creek, MI. June 24, 1990. p. 20 – via open access
  4. ^ a b King Jr. (1987), p. 25.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wrinn (2000), pp. 73–74.
  6. ^ Lowther, Kevin (July 19, 2010). "SOME THINGS STAY SAME". The Keene Sentinel. Archived from the original on June 24, 2021. Retrieved June 25, 2021.
  7. ^ Wrinn (2000), p. 61.
  8. ^ Wrinn (2000), pp. 79–82.
  9. ^ Wrinn (2000), p. 85.
  10. ^ "National Railway Historical Society 1990 Annual Convention" (PDF). St. Louis Chapter, NRHS. June 14–17, 1990. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 14, 2016. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d e Wrinn (2000), pp. 90–91.
  12. ^ Wrinn (2000), pp. 118.
  13. ^ a b Wrinn (2000), pp. 102–109.
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ "Norfolk Southern ends excursions". Daily Press (main ed.). Newport News, VA. Associated Press. October 30, 1994. p. 22 – via open access
  16. ^ "Roanoke chugs away on museum honoring locomotive photographer". Daily Press (main ed.). Newport News, VA. Associated Press. August 18, 2001. p. 24 – via open access
  17. ^ Kirkman, Kenney (July–August 2003). "Memories of 1218" (PDF). Turntable Times. Roanoke Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. p. 5-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 12, 2021. Retrieved June 13, 2021.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  18. ^ McKinney (2014), p. 116.
  19. ^ "N&W 611 and 1218" (PDF). Turntable Times. Roanoke Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. April 2012. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 2, 2021. Retrieved July 2, 2021.


  • King Jr., E.W. (September 1987). "A locomotive that seduced an entire railway". Trains. Vol. 47 no. 11. Kalmbach Publishing. p. 25.
  • McKinney, Wayne (2014). Roanoke Locomotive Shops and the Norfolk & Western Railroad. Images of Rails (1st ed.). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4671-2111-8.
  • Withuhn, Bill (September 1987). "1218: Home to Roanoke". Trains. Vol. 47 no. 11. Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 26–33.
  • 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]

  • King, Ed (2009). The A: Norfolk and Western's Mercedes of Steam (2nd ed.). N&W Historical Society. ISBN 978-0970479464.
  • Rosenburg, Ron; Archer, Eric H. (1973). Norfolk & Western Steam (The Last 25 Years) (1st ed.). Quadrant Press Inc. ISBN 0-915276-00-3.

External links[edit]