Norfolk and Western 1218
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|Norfolk & Western No. 1218|
1218 leads an excursion train at Brocton, Ohio, on August 6, 1988
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. 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.
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, 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.
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. 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. 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). After that, it was put on display at the Roanoke Transportation Museum in 1971.
In 1982, Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway were both merged to form the new Norfolk Southern Railway (NS). 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. 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.
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. At Ooltewah, Tennessee, No. 4501 took a few coaches for a complete round trip, turning around at Cleveland, Tennessee. Afterwards, No. 611 and No. 1218 completed the rest of the trip to Atlanta.
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. The plan was to have the 1218 ready to run for the 1996 operating season, but to no avail. 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, a yard switching accident with nine passenger cars in Lynchburg, Virginia, and decreasing rail network availability due to a surge in freight traffic.
After the Norfolk Southern steam program was concluded in 1994, 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. In 2001, the Norfolk Southern donated the 1218 to the City of Roanoke, 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.
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, Missouri) 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.
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.
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