Norfolk Southern 2-8-4 "Berkshire" Locomotives in the USA

The Norfolk Southern Railroad took delivery of its entire fleet of five "Berkshire" type locomotives from the Baldwin Locomotives Works in early 1940. These locomotives were designated as Class F-1 and were assigned road numbers 600 through 604.

These five locomotives were designed specifically for use on the Norfolk Southern trackage, which could only handle a maximum axle weight of 50,000 pounds. These "Berkshires" had 63" diameter drivers, 23.5" x 30" cylinders, a 250 psi boiler pressure, they exerted 49,300 pounds of tractive effort and each weighed 335,400 pounds.

These very special 2-8-4s proved their worth during the heavy traffic days of the second world war and were retired early and sold on 12/28/50 to the Domestic and Foreign Commerce Company. This company resold them and through a series of transactions all five of these locomotives made their way onto the Ferrocarri Nationale de Mexico (NdeM) and there they were converted to oil burners and later scrapped them.

There are no surviving NS 2-8-4 "Berkshire" type locomotives


ClassQty.Road NumbersYear BuiltBuilderBuilder NumbersNotes
F-1 5600-6041940Baldwin62322-62326Numbers 600-604 sold to a broker in 1950. These locomotives were in turn sold to the NdeM and became NdeM numbers 3350-3354 and were later scrapped.

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class F (Locobase 53)

Data from "More Power for the Norfolk Southern", Baldwin Locomotive, Volume 19, No 1 (June 1940), pp.20-23; and tables in 1947 Locomotive Cyclopedia. See also Bill Sellers, "Growing up on the old Norfolk Southern: Big Railroads are not always better" archived at, last accessed on 14 December 2011. (Many thanks to Chris Hohl for his 22 September 2017 email reporting unlikely boiler pressure values for 177 entries. A Locobase macro caused the error .) Works numbers were 62322-62326 in February 1940.

Firebox had three syphons equalling 86 sq ft (7.99 sq m) of heating surface. One of the smallest "Berks" built, but still larger than most 2-8-2s. At the time these Berkshires were ordered, NS was in receivership after having built a network of railroads in Virginia and North Carolina.

According to Baldwin's 1940 account, increasing traffic demands and a varied profile over the 380 miles (612 km) between Norfolk and Charlotte, NC dictated the design. The engine had to "operate at moderately fast speed on level track and large tractive power on the hilles, all within the weight and length restrictions obtaining on this railroad."

The result was a Mikado-sized boiler and large firebox riding on a cast-steel locomotive bed, relatively high steam pressure, and lots of superheater area. Initial reports showed a 50-75% increase in tonnage per train over the Consolidations they replaced and run at higher speeds.

As the locomotives departed from Norfolk, their first crew handled the train to Marsden, Va (125 miles/201 km). The second crew ran the Fs from Marsden to Raleigh (99 miles/161 km), and the last crew on each trip took the train 156 miles (251 km) from Raleigh to Charlotte. Fuel economy over the demanding Raleigh-Charlotte section averaged 96.13 lb/thousand gross ton miles (65.85 kg/1,000 gross tonne km) vs 114.4 lb for the Consolidations and hopes for reducing that figure to 85 lb (58.23 kg/1.000 gross tonne km). Running time decreased by two hours.

Bill Sellers, who grew up in Wilson, NC, describes the 1940 arrival of the 600 and their differences: "Those were the fIrst and only stoker fired steam engines the Norfolk Southern ever had, a fact reflected in the smiling face of the fireman." He also adds a nice atmospheric touch: "The little 2-8-4s also came equipped with a throaty steamboat whistle which would send chills down the back of most mortals."

In the late 1950s, the N & S disposed of its Berks by selling them to the Nacional de Mexico as class UR-1 (road numbers 3350-3354) in 1957 and 1962.

Principal Dimensions by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
Locobase ID53
RailroadNorfolk Southern (NS)
Number in Class5
Road Numbers600-604
Number Built5
Valve GearWalschaert
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase (ft / m)16.50 / 5.03
Engine Wheelbase (ft / m)39 / 11.89
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheebase 0.42
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender) (ft / m)80.60 / 24.57
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle) (lbs / kg)
Weight on Drivers (lbs / kg)202,900 / 92,034
Engine Weight (lbs / kg)335,400 / 152,135
Tender Loaded Weight (lbs / kg)200,000 / 90,719
Total Engine and Tender Weight (lbs / kg)535,400 / 242,854
Tender Water Capacity (gals / ML)14,000 / 53.03
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal) (gals/tons / ML/MT)16 / 14.50
Minimum weight of rail (calculated) (lb/yd / kg/m)85 / 42.50
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter (in / mm)63 / 1600
Boiler Pressure (psi / kPa)250 / 17.20
High Pressure Cylinders (dia x stroke) (in / mm)23.5" x 30" / 597x762
Tractive Effort (lbs / kg)55,882 / 25347.68
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 3.63
Heating Ability
Firebox Area (sq ft / m2)382 / 35.49
Grate Area (sq ft / m2)80.30 / 7.46
Evaporative Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)3418 / 317.66
Superheating Surface (sq ft / m2)1350 / 125.46
Combined Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)4768 / 443.12
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume226.95
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation20,075
Same as above plus superheater percentage25,696
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area122,240
Power L130,464
Power MT1324.03

  • 602 (Redden Archives Collection)
  • 602 (Howard Davis Photo)
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Wes Barris