New York Central 4-8-4 "Northern" Locomotives

Class S-1A/S-1B

The New York Central was in need of more motive power to handle its increasing passenger business in the years right after World War II. NYC's Paul Kiefer, Chief Mechanical Engineer of Motive Power and Rolling Stock wanted a new locomotive with a larger boiler capacity, more adhesive weight and greater tractive effort than the 4-6-4 Hudsons and more stamina than their recently built L-4 Class 4-8-2's.

The answer was a 4-8-4 with 30% more tractive effort and 25% more grate area, a 6000 HP rating, and roller bearings on all axles, coupling rods and connecting rods.

The American Locomotive Company was given the order. So confident of the design was the New York Central that before the prototype could be delivered, an additional order for 26 similar locomotives was again placed with Alco for delivery in late 1945 and early 1946, all with 79" drivers instead of the 75" drivers of that initial S-1A. Alco delivered that first Class S-1A 4-8-4 in 1945. In keeping with the design goal of 6000 HP, this new locomotive was given road number 6000.

Class S-2A

In 1946, The American Locomotive Company delivered the 26 locomotives of the second order. 25 of these were designated Class S-1B Niagaras. The 26th locomotive was an experimental unit with Franklin-Caprotti poppet valves instead of Baker valve gear and piston valves. Poppit valves operated much like the valves in an internal combustion engine. It carried number 5500 and was designated Class S-2A.

In tests, number 5500 quickly proved to be a "Super Niagara". The 4-8-4 was not only more powerful than the rest of the fleet, but was also more economical, burning 15% less fuel per horsepower than a piston valve sister. Testing continued for several years after delivery, and it is entirely possible that the S-1A and S-1B classes would have been converted to poppet valves had steam locomotive development continued. After testing, number 5500 was assigned to the same duties as the best of the 4-8-4's which included fast freight and premier passenger assignments. With its poppet valves, 5500 presented some unique maintenance problems. Considered an orphan, it was decided to retire 5500 in 1951 after a career of only 5 years. After retirement, 5500 was used as a "hanger queen", supplying parts to the rest of the 4-8-4 fleet. The remains of 5500 were sold for scrap in 1956.

Niagaras

The indicated (i.e. cylinder) HP of the Niagaras were 6680 at 85 mph. The maximum drawbar HP was 5070 for the S-1B at 62.5 mph (Niagara #6023 was tested). The complete dynomometer test report from this over-the-road testing, which was conducted per industry standards, and contains this documentation, is available from the New York Central System Historical society.

The NYC had 4-8-2's called "Mohawks" named after a river and 4-6-4's called "Hudsons" named after another river. It completed its passenger motive fleet with the new 4-8-4s which it called "Niagaras" after a third New York river.

On delivery, the S-1B fleet was immediately placed into service on the NYC's premier trains, including the 20th Century Limited, the Empire State Express, the Chicagoan, and the Commodore Vanderbilt over the four track main between Harmon, New York and Chicago. The 4-8-4's were capable of almost any preferred assignment, and exceeded all design expectations. The Niagara's were also used in fast freight service, such as the famed Pacemaker trains, when they could be spared from the "Great Steel Fleet". It was discovered that the huge boiler could generate steam faster than it could be used by the machinery. The experimental S-2A, with its poppet valves in the cylinders (operating much like the valves in an automobile engine) proved even more efficient and if steam development had continued, the S-1A and S-1B's would probably have received this improvement.

Other modern 4-8-4's may have exceeded the S-1B's in the categories of weight and tractive effort but it is doubtful that any exceeded this ultimate example of locomotive building in terms of steam generation, horsepower, speed and ability. A new boiler design eliminated the steam dome and allowed the boiler size to be increased to the very limits of the NYC loading gauge. The boiler was so large that the sandbox had to be recessed into the boiler top and the stack was unusually short. The air reservoirs were cast into the massive frame, the turbo generator had to be located below the enormous firebox and the bell was located on the pilot beam. The standard NYC appearance was altered with the use of an unusual smoke box front and a headlight placed above the boiler center line. These new 4-8-4's were also equipped huge PT tenders with a 4-10-0 (centipede) wheel arrangement.

There was an almost forgotten earlier 4-8-4 built in 1931 by ALCO. This three-cylinder experimental locomotive carried road number 800 and was designated Class HS-1a. It did not do well on its test runs and was put to work as a hump engine at Selkirk yard.

Unfortunately, EMD F-7 passenger diesels were being delivered at the same time as the 4-8-4's. The easier servicing and quick turn-around of the F-7's made them more economical and efficient. As additional diesels were purchased, the 4-8-4's were bumped from the preferred assignments, and by 1950 all were used for lesser duties. The NYC dieselized their easternmost divisions first, and by 1953 all of the remaining 4-8-4's were pushed into Ohio and Indiana where they saw some passenger service, but were primarily used for freight duties. Their great weight restricted them to a few routes on the former Big Four lines. The 4-8-4's were not really suitable for low speed duties, but they soldiered on until 1955-1956 when their equipment trusts expired and the road completely dieselized. Unfortunately, no examples of this magnificent locomotive were preserved and all were scrapped. This is especially disappointing because these 4-8-4's were head and shoulders above any other Northern in the areas of boiler and drawbar horsepower. They were also better than any steam locomotive in the areas of weight per HP, availability, monthly and annual mileage, and total life cycle cost.

Roster by Richard Duley

Class Road Numbers Year Built Builder
HS-1a 800 1931 ALCO
S-1a 6000 1945 ALCO
S-1b 6001-6019 October-December 1945 ALCO
S-1b 6020-6022 January 1946 ALCO
S-1b 6023-6025 April 1946 ALCO
S-2a 5500 June 1946 ALCO

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class S-1a (Locobase 270)

Data from the 1946 guide to Dimensions and Classifications of Locomotives seen on http://www.rr-fallenflags.org/nyc/nyc-lb46.pdf (May 2003). Works number was 71454 in March 1945.

Firebox heating surface included 57 sq ft (5.3 sq m) of arch tubes. Don't look in the specifications for this engine's widely touted abilities. This class had a high adhesive weight, roller bearings all around, Baker valve gear, a large grate area, and valve ports designed to help the engine draw air evenly across the fire and through the tubes. They are easily recognized by their long, almost straight boiler line and "elephant ear" exhaust lifters. Note the enormous tender capacity.

This was the prototype; see Locobase 5583 for the production version S-1b. The S-1a's 75" drivers were soon replaced by the 79" drivers of the S-1b.

Class S-1b (Locobase 5582)

Data from the 1946 guide to Dimensions and Classifications of Locomotives seen on http://www.rr-fallenflags.org/nyc/nyc-lb46.pdf (May 2003). Works numbers were 73779-73783 in October 1945, 73784-73793 in November, 73794-73797 in December, 73798-73800 in January 1946; 73801-73803 in April.

Firebox heating surface included 57 sq ft of arch tubes. This is the production version of this remarkable Niagara design; see Locobase 207 for the prototype. Paul Kiefer, Chief of Motive Power for the NYC, is credited for the scale and quality of this design.

Tests with the prototype had shown that pulling power didn't suffer much when 79" drivers were fitted. The result was one of the finest steam passenger locomotives ever built. Integrally cast, one-piece frame and cylinders, roller bearings on all axles and on the side rod ... all the mod cons. Brian Hollingsworth (1982) notes that Baker valve gear had no sliding surfaces, so they could be fitted with needle bearings. These must have been exceptionally smooth-riding locomotives. Moreover, says Hollingsworth, the valve ports were "...sharp on the steam side, but slightly rounded on the exhaust side ... [easing] the sharpness of the blast beats, thereby evening out the draft on the fire."

And in addition to having that immense 7-axle pedestal tender to carry 92,000 lb of coal, the S-1s made use of an extensive network of trackpans to fill the tenders on the fly. As a result, the class had to make only one fuel stop during the New York-Chicago run. One of these -- 6024 -- accumulated 288,849 miles in only 11 months.

One S-1b was fitted with Caprotti poppet-valve gear and redesignated S-2a.

David R Stephenson, writing in the May 2005 Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine (reproduced online at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3943/is_200505/ai_n1342634, accessed 24 Oct 2005), puts the S-1b in clear perspective when he compares it to the Pennsy's classic T-1 duplex 4-4-4-4 (Locobase 348). After noting that the duplex solution was conceived to redress a potential problem that never quite materialized, he offers the S-1b as trump:

"Here was a locomotive," Stephenson 's verdict concludes, "that could match the T-1 at all but the highest speeds, and do it day-in and day-out without special treatment. It was moderately sized and could go almost anywhere. It didn't require particularly deft handling, was very reliable, could operate in most types of service, and didn't require specialized maintenance."

Specifications by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
Class S-1a S-1b
Locobase ID 270 5582
Railroad New York Central (NYC) New York Central (NYC)
Country USA USA
Whyte 4-8-4 4-8-4
Road Numbers 6000 6002-6025
Gauge Std Std
Builder Alco Alco
Year 1945 1945
Valve Gear Baker Baker
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase 20.50' 20.50'
Engine Wheelbase 48.75' 48.42'
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheebase 0.42 0.42
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender) 97.21' 97.21'
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle)
Weight on Drivers 275000 lbs 275000 lbs
Engine Weight 471000 lbs 471000 lbs
Tender Light Weight 337000 lbs 337000 lbs
Total Engine and Tender Weight 808000 lbs 808000 lbs
Tender Water Capacity 18000 gals 18000 gals
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal) 46 tons 46 tons
Minimum weight of rail (calculated) on which locomotive could run 115 lb/yard 115 lb/yard
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter 75" 79"
Boiler Pressure 275 psi 275 psi
Cylinders (dia x stroke) 25" x 32" 25.5" x 32"
Tractive Effort 62333 lbs 61568 lbs
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 4.41 4.47
Heating Ability
Firebox Area 517 sq. ft 517 sq. ft
Grate Area 100.10 sq. ft 101 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface 4632 sq. ft 4819 sq. ft
Superheating Surface 1977 sq. ft 2073 sq. ft
Combined Heating Surface 6609 sq. ft 6892 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume 254.78 254.77
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation 27528 27775
Same as above plus superheater percentage 35786 36108
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area 184828 184828
Power L1 47288 49888
Power MT 1516.39 1599.77

Photos

Reference

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