From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere

In the Whyte notation, a 2-8-4 is a railroad steam locomotive that has one unpowered leading axle followed by four powered driving axles and two unpowered trailing axles. This locomotive type is most often referred to as a Berkshire, but they have also been referred to as a Kanawha. In Europe, the wheel arrangement was mostly seen in tank locomotives.

The equivalent UIC classification is 1'D2'.

History in United States

In the beginning of the 20th century, the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) was formed to manage American railroads during World War I. The USRA was a short-lived and expensive experiment in nationalization, but out of it came many standard steam locomotive designs that proved enormously successful long after the end of the war. The most successful of these types was the 2-8-2, but American railroads soon found that a locomotive with even greater steam heating capacity was necessary.

To produce more steam, one of the first experiments was to increase the size of the locomotive's firebox, but the 2-8-2 wheel arrangement left locomotive designers with a limitation. The single axle trailing truck could only support so much weight from the firebox and cab of the locomotive. It was only natural to add a second trailing axle to spread the increased weight of a larger firebox over a greater surface area on the rails.

Six years after the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway experimented with the first 2-10-4, the first 2-8-4s were built in 1925 by Lima for the Boston & Albany (B&A). The railroad's route over The Berkshires was a substantial test for the new locomotives, but the type proved its worth, outpacing the 2-8-2s already in use there. It is this mountain range that provided the name for the locomotive type, Berkshire. Buoyed by the success of the demonstrations on the B&A, Lima and ALCO both sold a few hundred of the new locomotive type.

The Berkshire's most substantial boost, however, came in 1934. It was that year that the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road) received its first Berkshires based on a new design from the Advisory Mechanical Committee (AMC) of the Van Sweringen empire. Under the Van Sweringen umbrella were the Nickel Plate Road, Erie Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and Pere Marquette Railroad. The AMC's design generated 64,100 lbf (285 kN) of tractive effort and almost immediately became the standard design for subsequent Berkshires. The Erie Railroad purchased the greatest number of 2-8-4s, in all rostering 105 of this locomotive type.

Swengel wrote that last USA Berkshire was built by Lima in 1949 for the Nickel Plate Road No.779 and it had the dubious honour of being the last steam locomotive built by Lima (p.224). In all there were a total of some 700 of the 2-8-4s built for US service which represented only 2% of the existing steam fleet prior to dieselization, but which delivered in excess of 5% of the nation's freight ton-miles (ibid.).


Many of America's larger railroads rostered 2-8-4s. The following table lists data on the locomotives as they were built:

2-8-4 construction roster
Railroad (quantity) Road numbers Builder Build year
Lima Locomotive Works (1) A1 (demonstrator) Lima 1924
Boston and Albany Railroad (55) 1400 – 1444 Lima 1926
1445 – 1454 Lima 1930
Illinois Central Railroad (50) 7000 – 7049 Lima 1926
Erie Railroad (105) 3300 – 3324 Alco 1927
3325 – 3349 Lima 1927
3350 – 3384 Baldwin 1928
3385 – 3404 Lima 1929
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (15) 4101 – 4115 Baldwin 1927
Chicago and North Western Railway (12) 2801 – 2812 Alco-Dunkirk 1927
Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (2) 201 – 202 Montreal 1928
Boston and Maine Railroad (25) 4000 – 4019 Lima 1928
4020 – 4024 Lima 1929
International Great Northern Railroad (5) 1121 – 1125 Alco 1928
Missouri Pacific Railroad (25) 1901 – 1925 Lima 1929
Nickel Plate Road (80) 700 – 714 Alco 1934
715 – 729 Lima 1942
730 – 739 Lima 1943
740 – 769 Lima 1944
770 – 779 Lima 1949
Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad (6) 700 – 703 Lima 1935
704 – 705 Lima 1939
Pere Marquette Railway (39) 1201 – 1215 Lima 1937
1216 – 1227 Lima 1941
1228 – 1234 Lima 1944
1235 – 1239 Lima 1942
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (32) 6401 – 6410 Alco 1937
6411 – 6415 Alco 1938
6416 – 6422 Alco 1942
6423 – 6432 Alco 1943
Norfolk Southern Railway (5) 600 – 604 Baldwin 1940
Louisville and Nashville Railroad (42) 1950 – 1963 Baldwin 1942
1964 – 1969 Baldwin 1944
1970 – 1991 Lima 1949
Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (10) 571 – 580 Lima 1943
Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (90) 2700 – 2739 Alco 1944
2740 – 2749 Lima 1945
2750 – 2759 Lima 1947
2760 – 2789 Alco 1947
Virginian Railway (5) 505 – 509 Lima 1946
Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (7) 9400 – 9406 Alco 1948


With the success of AMCs design, the Nickel Plate Road (NKP) became synonymous with the Berkshire locomotive type. One of this class, number 765[1], is preserved in operating condition and is operated occasionally on the mainlines of Class I railroads around the United States. NKP #779 is preserved as a static display in Lincoln Park, in Lima, Ohio.[2] Parts from the 779 were used in the general overhaul of the 765, which was completed in 2006.

In January 2007, the Ohio Central Railroad purchased NKP 763 from the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Ohio Central intends to bring the 763 back to operating status.

Another 2-8-4, Pere Marquette Railroad number 1225, which occasionally runs in the upper Midwestern US, was used as the basis for the locomotive sounds in the 2004 movie The Polar Express. A sister engine, Pere Marquette 1223, is on display in Grand Haven, Michigan. Because 1223 provided parts in the restoration of 1225, 1223 is no longer operable.

Chesapeake and Ohio's 2-8-4 #2789 is being restored at the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum.

European 2-8-4s

The heavy express locomotive class 214 (numbered as class 12 from 1938 on) was developed in Austria in 1928 and built in 13 units. It was the largest Austrian steam locomotive. In 1936 the 214.13 reached 155 km/h, the highest speed ever attained by an Austrian steam locomotive - regular speed limit was 120 km/h. 79 units of the same type were built as class 214 in Romania.

Many European railways rostered 2-8-4T large tank locomotives. In Germany, there were two classes of passenger locomotives, both built in the 1950s. Class BR65 was built in West Germany, while class BR6510 was built in East Germany.

Australian 2-8-4s

In Australia, only one state system (South Australia) operated 2-8-4s. Fleet construction commenced in 1930 and by the end of 1943 seventeen locomotives were in service, on the broad gauge (5ft 3 ins)system. These engines were all based on the American practices. Withdrawn from service by 1958, they were all destroyed. (Oberg, p. 157)

South Africa

South Africa operated one hundred engines of 2-8-4 layout, the Class 24. Designed in South Africa by the SAR by Dr. Loubster and purchased from North British Locomotive Company in 1949, these locomotives originally saw service in South West Africa until 1961. In South Africa the engines became famous on the Kynsa-George senic route. Following the demise of steam in 1990, several of these engines are kept in operating condition and still work the tourist route from George to Kynsa (citations to follow)

Soviet Union

2-8-4 were relatively common in the former Soviet Union from the latter thirties until their replacement by diesel locomotives. These locomotives were named IS (for Iosif Stalin) and were used as express passenger locomotives on the main lines. One prototype (IS20-16) was streamlined. The IS locomotive was the passenger derivative of FD freight locomotive. Only one such locomotive was preserved- IS20-578.

2-8-4s in fiction

In the movie "The Polar Express" the engine is a Baldwin 2-8-4.

In the movie Digimon: Runaway Locomon Locomon is a 2-8-4 type locomotive.


  • Farrell, Jack W. (1989). North American steam locomotives: The Berkshire and Texas types. Edmonds, WA: Pacific Fast Mail. ISBN 0-915713-15-2. 
  • Oberg, Leon. Locomotives of Australia, Reed, London, 1975. (plus reprints)
  • Swengel, F.M. The American Steam Locomotive, Vol .1, the evolution of the steam locomotive, Midwest Rail Publication, Iowa, 1967.

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