Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 "Northern" Locomotives in the USA

The Norfolk & Western Railway built a fleet of fourteen (road numbers 600 through 613) 4-8-4s that were an excellent balance of strength and speed. They were built by the N&W's own forces in its shops in Roanoke, VA.

In 1941, the first five, (road numbers 600 through 604) were designated Class J and were of a streamlined design and had 70" drivers, 27 x 32 cylinders and a boiler pressure of 275 psi. They weighed 494,000 lbs and had a tractive effort of 73,000 pounds. The Class Js could achieve speeds that exceeded the steam locomotives rule of driver diameter plus 10 and could cruise at speeds well into the 90 mile an hour range.

In 1944, six more, (road numbers 605 through 611), this time designated Class J-1, were built without streamlining because of wartime shortages of materials. They were otherwise identical to the Class Js. After World War II, they were refitted with streamlining and with light weight rods. Number 610 was loaned to the PRR for testing and during tests was able to hold a steady speed of 110 miles per hour.

In 1950, after the big three steam locomotive builders had stopped building steam locomotives, the Norfolk & Western Railway built three more Class J-1s (road numbers 611 through 613). These last three were the last steam passenger locomotives built for an American railroad and were identical to the other eleven. By 1950, all of the Class Js and J-1s had their boiler pressure raised to 300 psi which increased the tractive effort to 80,000 pounds.

During the 1940s and 1950s on the Norfolk & Western, locomotives were kept in top shape in facilities that were modern, clean and well-equipped. The Js could be fully serviced in just about one hour. With this efficiency, this small group of locomotives could handle 80% of the N&W's passenger trains. They operated daily between Cincinnati and Norfolk, pulling such trains as "The Powhatan Arrow", "The Pocahontas" and "The Cavalier".

There is one survivor, number 611, which is now at the Virginia Museum Of Transportation in Roanoke, VA.


Qty.ClassRoad NumbersYear BuiltBuilder

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class J (Locobase 271)

Data from 1955 Norfolk & Western locomotive diagram book supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Rail Data Exchange. See also John T Rhodes and David Stephenson, "Steam Locomotive Rail Wheel Dynamics Part 1: Precedent Speed of Steam Locomotives", Coalition for Sustainable Rail (2013), last accessed 12 February 2018 at Thanks to Chris Hohl for his March 2013 inquiry about the trailing truck booster.)

Firebox heating surface included five arch tubes with a total of 60 sq ft (5.6 sq m) of area. Boiler water temperature was raised by a Worthington Type G5-A feedwater heater, and and a Standard Type HT stoker supplied the coal to the firebox.

The most powerful 4-8-4s to run for any railroad, and one of the finest steam locomotive designs ever produced, the Js combined large cylinders, high steam pressure, and low drivers to generate a high tractive effort. Available power increased when boiler pressure was raised later to 300 psi (20.7 bar), yielding an indicated tractive effort of 80,000 lb. J-class engines 605-610, built in 1943, had to forego the lightweight side rods and roller bearings that had graced the first five engines, but they were refitted with both after World War II. 611-613 emerged from Roanoke in 1950.

Wes Barris of reports: "602 was unique in that it was fitted with a Franklin high speed trailing truck booster which added 12,500 lbs. TE." According to a 12 March 2005 post to Railroad.Net's forum ([]) by "Lehigh Valley Railroad" and signed "Chris", the booster was "removed at a subsequent major shopping as problematical and unnecessary."

Chris adds: "From N&W magazine, June 1950, talking about the 611, 612, 613: 'At normal passenger train operating speeds of from 40 to 60 miles an hour, these coal-burning, steam locomotives develop more tractive power than even giant 6,000 horsepower diesels, a great advantage on the Norfolk and Western which traverses mountainous territory.'A shiny new #611 is shown. Is it possible these locos were dynoed against passenger diesels while testing on the Pennsy? Is "tractive power" really "TE at speed" or "DBHP at speed"? "

Rhodes and Stephenson described in detail the conclusions drawn by the Pennsylvania Railroad after running the 610 at the point of a month of revenue trains between Crestline, Ohio and Chicago, Ill from 5 December 1944 and 3 January 1945. The first big surprise for the Pennsy was how readily the J ran for dozens of miles at speeds over 90 mph (145 kph). Three runs pulling between 11 and 15 cars each hit speeds of 110-111 mph (177-.179 kph).

Other PRR impressions: The J rode more smoothly than any of the PRR's locomotives save the unique S1 6-4-4-6. Relatively low drivers meant less slipping on starts and higher acceleration. Its larger grate allowed it to steamed better, even on poor coal, than the T1. Together with large valves and long travel, the engine's design made it possible "to maintain a uniform steam pressure at high speed."

The Js were famed for their dual-service capability, pulling long freights and running passenger trains at 90 mph. Automatic lubrication at over 200 points and Timken roller bearings everywhere (axles, main & side rods, valve gear, wrist pins) permitted 15,000-mile/month usage and 1 1/2 year intervals between shop visits.

After the Norfolk & Western finally turned to diesels in the late 1950s, the J class was retired. The 611 wound up in the Virginia Museum of Transportation in 1962. In 1982, the N&W returned it to excursion service on which it operated until 1994. In June 2013 the VMT began its Fire Up 611! campaign,which successfully raised enough money to begin the restoration. Undertaken by the North Carolina Museum of Transportation, the target date was mid-2015.

Fundraising continued to provide a maintenance facility to care for the engine for "decades".

Principal Dimensions by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
Locobase ID271
RailroadNorfolk & Western (N&W)
Number in Class14
Road Numbers600-613
Number Built14
Valve GearBaker
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase (ft / m)18.75 / 5.71
Engine Wheelbase (ft / m)47.30 / 14.42
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheelbase 0.40
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender) (ft / m)95.40 / 29.08
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle) (lbs / kg)
Weight on Drivers (lbs / kg)288,000 / 130,635
Engine Weight (lbs / kg)494,000 / 224,075
Tender Loaded Weight (lbs / kg)378,600 / 171,730
Total Engine and Tender Weight (lbs / kg)872,600 / 395,805
Tender Water Capacity (gals / ML)22,000 / 83.33
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal) (gals/tons / Liters/MT)26 / 24
Minimum weight of rail (calculated) (lb/yd / kg/m)120 / 60
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter (in / mm)70 / 1778
Boiler Pressure (psi / kPa)275 / 19
High Pressure Cylinders (dia x stroke) (in / mm)27" x 32" / 686x813
Tractive Effort (lbs / kg)77,899 / 35334.43
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 3.70
Heating Ability
Tubes (number - dia) (in / mm)63 - 2.25" / 57
Flues (number - dia) (in / mm)227 - 3.5" / 89
Flue/Tube length (ft / m)19.20 / 5.85
Firebox Area (sq ft / m2)578 / 53.72
Grate Area (sq ft / m2)107.70 / 10.01
Evaporative Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)5271 / 489.87
Superheating Surface (sq ft / m2)2177 / 202.32
Combined Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)7448 / 692.19
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume248.51
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation29,618
Same as above plus superheater percentage38,207
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area205,046
Power L141,982
Power MT1285.48

All material Copyright ©
Wes Barris