Locomotive Wiki

A steam locomotive, or steam engine, is a steam-powered traction engine which pulls or pushes wagons or "cars" on a "road" or "way of two parallel steel tracks. Wagons carry all manner of cargo including people. The main components of the steam locomotive are tender (carrying fuel), smokestack (or funnel), boiler, wheels, pistons, firebox, and domes for steam and sand and a cab- which may be forward or rear-mounted (in relation to the boiler).

Early History[]

Locomotion No. 1, one of the very first locomotives ever built. As well as being one of the very first steam locomotives. It was built by George Stephenson.

Prior to steam locomotive and the Industrial Revolution, animal and human power had been engaged to haul carts in tramways or trackways in mines throughout Europe since at least 1556 as noted in Georgius Agricola's work "De re metallica".

James Watt's enormous improvement of Thomas Newcomen's reciprocating steam engine in 1769, lead to widespread adoption of Watt's steam pumps and stationary engines. Boiler technology and construction in Watt's time allowed only for steam engines operating on the principle of low pressure boilers acting upon this pressure differential to a vacuum within a cylinder sealed by a moving piston, which caused piston to reciprocate within the cylinder, effecting a connected piston rod, which caused a lever to reciprocate and thus effect pumping via a bellows action (and relevant one-way flap-valves) or instead cause a crank to rotate continuously in one direction thus creating useful kinetic energy- transferred to factory, especially textile machinery, via belts.

As time progressed, boiler design and construction improved markedly and Watt investigated the use of high-pressure steam acting directly upon a piston- creating possibly smaller engines, even one small enough to power a vehicle. In 1784, Watt patented a design for a steam locomotive. In 1784, Watt's employee William Murdoch produced a working model of a self-propelled steam carriage.

Robert Trevithick created the world's first steam locomotive journey on 21 February 1804, when Trevithick's unnamed steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, United Kingdom. It carried 10 ton of ore and 70 men in 5 wagons, traveling 10 miles (16 km) in 4 hours and five minutes, averaging a speed of 3 mph (4 km/h). Trevithick's single-stroke locomotive had its piston rod action evened out by a large flywheel. Trevithick later demonstrated a locomotive operating upon a piece of circular rail track in Bloomsbury, London, the "Catch Me Who Can," Trevithick never got beyond the experimental stages of steam locomotion in the main due to his engines being too heavy for the common cast-iron "plateway" track then in use.

Matthew Murray's rack locomotive, the "Salamanca" built for the Middleton Railway (Leeds) was the first commercially successful steam locomotive, with a twin-cylinder locomotive light enough to not damage the cast iron tracks and simultaneously solved the problem of wheel slippage (adhesion) via using a driven cog wheel that engaged cast track teeth on one side of the rails- thus Salamanca was also the first commercial track locomotive.

In 1813, Christopher Blackett and William Hedley inaugurated the "Puffing Billy", the first successful steam locomotive operating via adhesion only, through distributing weight through a number of wheels, carrying for the Wylam Colliery Railway.

In 1814 George Stephenson, enthused by Trevithick, Murray and Hedley, persuaded his employer, the manager of Killingsworth Colliery mine, to allow Stephenson to build a locomotive for the colliery, which Stepheons undertook successfully, innovating with flanged-wheels. Stephenson's designs improved considerably on prior works and were singularly pivotal in the widespread adoption of steam locomotive power. Stephenson went on to build the successful locomotive the "Blucher, another flanged-wheel locomotive.

In 1825, the Stockton and Darlington Railway in north-east England, became the first public railway in the world, operating Stephensons "Locomotion No 1", although horses and steam locomotives were both used on different runs. In 1829, Stephenson built the locomotive "Rocket". Rocket's spectacular victory in the Rainhill Trials lead to Stephenson's company built with his son Robert, to be the pre-eminent locomotive builder for the UK, USA and much of Europe.

George Stephenson's "Rocket". Public Domain via Wikipedia.

In 1830, the first all-steam locomotion public railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was built. Steam technology spread, improved markedly and become the dominant form of energy production, propulsive and locomotive power for the majority of the 19th century.

By 1840 Stephenson had introduced the "2-2-2" Patentee which was a pivotal rationalization of the light fast passenger locomotives and the slow, powerful goods locomotives into one machine.


The 4-4-0 "American Standard" was the first major type of steam locomotive built in the U.S, which sprung an economic growth in the Western States during the Wild-West Era, when they very last states to be established on the mainland of the US. But because of having the states being newly established,

A 4-4-0 "American Standard".

and having settlers migrate from other states (pioneers) caused lack of law-enforcement, which led to train robberies, as well as leading to the famous train-robbers such as Jessie James. But after the states became established, law enforcement was established, and the population grew; thus the American Standard began to see replacements. Like the 2-6-0 "Mogul", 4-6-0 "Ten-Wheeler", 2-8-0 "Consolidation", 2-8-2 "Mikado", the 2-6-2 "Prairie", and the 4-6-2 "Pacific". The 4-4-0 was also one of the very first major wheel-arrangements used on some of the very first major types of steam locomotives built in Britain. As well as Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.

GWR "City of Truro"; a GWR "City" Class of steam locomotive.

GWR (Great Western Railway) "City" Class of steam locomotives are an example of some of the first major types of steam locomotives built in Britain. As well as No. 3440 "City of Truro" being the first locomotive to ever travel at a speed of 100 mph. NYC No. 999 set a record of traveling at a speed of 100 mph.

Mallets and Streamlining[]

The decade of the "roaring" 1920's was when the need for much more powerful and faster steam locomotives was needed for the growth of railroads throughout North America and Europe. Anatole Mallet (name of French origin; pronounced: "Mallay") of Switzerland, designed the "Mallet" type or arrangement of steam locomotives, which helped improve railroads to deliver long and heavy loads of freight over long distances, as well as streamlining, to help improve the speed of steam locomotives for passenger trains.


The true decline for steam locomotives began in the 1930s, known as the Great Depression. EMD had introduced numerous four-axle and six-axle diesel locomotives, and since they required fewer man-hours to operate, were simpler to maintain, were faster, and were more fuel efficient, steam technology lost out. However, due to World War 2 regulations, most railroads purchased steam locomotives instead despite the diesel's benefits, so by the time the war ended, may railroads chose to "dieselize (converting from a steam locomotive fleet to a diesel locomotive fleet). By the 1950s there were only a handful of steam locomotives operating around the United States and Canada. The final steam locomotive to retire from a Class 1 railroad in the USA was on the Climax Branch of the Colorado & Southern Railroad (a CB&Q subsidiary) when 2-8-0 #641 (built by ALCo in 1906) ran her last train on Thursday, October 11th, 1962.


There are several different types and, or, forms of steam locomotives:

  • Single/Standard/Prime Mover - Which is the main form of a steam locomotive, which includes various sizes and having a tender.
  • Tank Engine - Which is a smaller, tenderless, steam locomotive.
  • Mallet - (French word pronounced: Mallay) Which is a large steam locomotive consisting of a separate section, and set, of the wheels. These wheels are joined to the locomotive via a vertical articulated pivot, or "hinge" in the center of the loco. These Mallet locomotives were superseded by the Garratt type.

Note that the forward tender contains the water, and the rear contains the coal.

  • Garratt or Beyer - Garratt - This type of steam locomotive is similar to the Mallet type, but has a pivot point at each end of the boiler's chassis (frame), which has no wheels and rest on the pivots. The detached chassis (frames) are tenders which hold the water, the front one, and coal, the rear one. (See photo of G Class.)
  • Fireless - A steam locomotive without a firebox, and is powered by heated or pressurized steam.
  • Gas Turbine - A locomotive that is powered by compressing air and fuel, the fuel being either oil or gasoline, in a compressor, much like a jet engine.
  • Geared - A steam locomotive powered by gears to have it move as opposed to pistons with siderods connected to the wheels. (Such examples are: the Shay type, the Heisler type, and the Climax type.)

Cylinder layouts[]

There are two main forms of cylinder layouts: The "inside-cylinders"; and the "outside-cylinders" -layouts. The inside-cylinders layout, which was very popular on locomotives built between 1900 and 1920, has the cylinders between the chassis rails. In other words: between the wheels inline with the boiler. The outside-cylinders layout, which was very popular post-1920, has the cylinders hanging on the outside of the chassis/wheels. The latter design allows larger cylinders. In many express passenger locomotives, there are cylinders outside the line of the wheels, and a cylinder (or cylinders) inside the line of the wheels. This layout is commonly referred to as a "inside-outside" cylinder layout.

An example of a inside-cylinder locomotive is the Jinty, an example of a outside-cylinder locomotive is the Victorian Railways K Class and an example of an inside-outside cylinder arrangement is the LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard.


The LNER Mallard, claimed to be the fastest steam locomotive in the world.

  • There are three major locomotive designation systems- by axle: the UIC (Germany and EU): by wheel: Whyte (UK, Commonwealth, & USA) and by name (USA & Canada).
  • Most British steam locomotives are named and referred to as a "he" or "she" like with most American cars and automobiles.
  • As shown in the article, the GWR "City of Truro" was the first ever locomotive (in history) to ever travel at a speed of 100 mph. (Aside from NYC No. 999, which set the same record close to the same time.)
  • The LNER (London, and North-eastern Railway) Mallard claims to have been the fastest steam locomotive in the world exceeding 125mph, claimed on a 40 mile run on a 1/200 downward gradient (Granthan to Peterborough).
  • German Henschel-Borsig "Stromlinie" BR05 002 holds equal claim to fastest steam locomotive- exceeded nine times over 110 mph, five times over 115 mph and twice over 120 mph repeatedly over the 165 mile Hamburg-Berlin line.
  • US Milwaukee oil-fired A Class Atlantics and F7 Hudsons Hiawatha also holds possible claims to world's fastest steam locomotive able to cruise at 100mph (450 tons), with dynanometer car readings of 112 mph and numerous clai

    This steam locomotive is the first steam locomotive to ever operate, and it was built in 1804 by Richard Trevithick. (This is a replica.)

    ms of regular 115mph+ runs.
  • The fastest current operational steam locomotive is the German 18 021 attaining 180kmh between Halle and Witenberge as a light engine, highest verified speed 1972 of 184 km/h.
  • The LNER Flying Scotsman has traveled further than any other steam locomotive without stopping.
  • The Union Pacific ALCO 4000 Class "Big Boy" type, is largest type of steam locomotive ever built.
  • The C&O (Cheasapeke and Ohio railroad) "Allegheny" type of steam locomotive, is the heaviest type of steam locomotive ever built.
  • "Rishra" is the smallest steam locomotive ever built, beating all the Talyllyn Railway and the Ffestiniog Railway's small steam locomotives, all of which are narrow-gauge.
  • The newest ever from scratch train created was 60163 Tornado, an LNER Peppercorn Pacific (A1) built from scratch by the A1 Steam Trust, Darlington in 2008.
  • The last steam locomotive built for U.S. commercial use was Norfolk & Western Railroad 0-8-0 #244 (built by Roanoke Shops in December 1953). The last U.S. built steam locomotive was built by Baldwin in 1955 for use in India, they were 2-8-2 Mikados.

See Also[]