Norfolk & Western 1218

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Norfolk & Western 1218
USA RD0 184 NS 1218 THE TOP2.jpg
Norfolk and Western Railway 1218 in railfan service in 1987
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Builder N&W's Roanoke Shops
Serial number 340
Build date 1943
Configuration 2-6-6-4
UIC class (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)
Trailing dia. 42 in (1,067 mm)
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)
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
Power output 5,400 hp (4,000 kW)
Tractive effort Starting: 125,897 lbf (560.02 kN) Continuous: 114,000 lbf (507.10 kN)
Factor of adh. 3.44
Operators Norfolk & Western Railway
Class A
Number in class 19 of 43
Locale United States, South and Midwest
Retired 1959 (revenue)
1991 (excursion)
Restored 1987
Current owner Virginia Museum of Transportation
Disposition On display

Norfolk & Western 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.

Historic significance[edit]

Norfolk & Western 1218 is the sole survivor of the railroad'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)). 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 & Western used 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.[1] In 1965, the 1218 was repurchased by New England millionaire F. Nelson Blount for his locomotive collection at Steamtown, U.S.A. in Bellows Falls, Vermont.[1] Three years later, it's 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).[1] After that, it was put on display at Wasena Park in 1971.[1]

In 1982, Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway were both merged to form the new Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).[2] On May 10, 1985, the 1218 was moved out of the park by a pair of NS diesels to be overhauled at the Irondale Steam Shop in Irondale, Alabama.[1] In 1987, the 1218 was moved under its power for the first time in 22 years and operated NS' steam program.[3]

On November 3, 1991, the 1218 teamed up with N&W J Class 611 and Southern Railway 4501 to triple head a 30-car passenger train excursion from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia during Norfolk Southern's 25th anniversary steam program.[4] But at Ooltewah, TN, 4501 took a handful of coaches for a complete round trip, turning around at Cleveland, TN. After that 1218 and 611 would complete the rest of the trip to Atlanta.[4]

At the end of the 1991 season, the 1218 returned to Irondale, Alabama for an extensive overhaul to get its flues replaced and repairs on the engine's firebox.[4] The plan to have the 1218 running again would be the start of the 1996 operating season, but to no avail.[4] Because in 1992, Norfolk Southern received a new chairman named David R. Goode and he plans to cancel the steam program in 1994.[4][5]

After the cancellation of the Norfolk Southern steam program in 1994, the 1218 was reassembled and towed back to Roanoke to be stored at the East End Shops in 1996.[5] 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 her 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 alongside former stable-mate Norfolk & Western 611 (now running excursions for Norfolk Southern's 21st Century Steam Program) where they are the star attractions in the museum's Claytor Pavilion. It has been cosmetically restored, though not operational, since the overhaul started in 1991 was never completed. Although the undertaking would be considerable, she is very capable of being returned to operation, with the uncompleted boiler and firebox repairs being the primary scope of work remaining from her aborted overhaul. The 1218 is, on rare occasions, moved outside the museum grounds for special events. In 2007, Norfolk Southern pulled it (cold), with 611, to its Roanoke Shops for the shops' 125th anniversary celebration.


  1. ^ a b c d e Wrinn 2000, pp. 73-74.
  2. ^ Wrinn 2000, p. 61.
  3. ^ Wrinn 2000, pp. 79-82.
  4. ^ a b c d e Wrinn 2000, pp. 90-91.
  5. ^ a b Wrinn 2000, pp. 102-109.


  • Wrinn, Jim (2000), Steam's Camelot: Southern and Norfolk Southern Excursions in Color (1st ed.), TLC Publishing, ISBN 1-883089-56-5 
  • Jeffries, Lewis I. (2005). N&W: Giant of Steam (revised ed.). 
  • Chappell, Gordon (1991). Steam Over Scranton: The Locomotives of Steamtown. 

External links[edit]