Steam Locomotive Rail Wheel Dynamics Part 1 - Precedent Speed

The Coalition for Sustainable Rail (CSR) has received a few pointed questions about the feasibility of a modern steam locomotive to operate efficiently and safely at higher speeds since announcing "Project 130" in May 2012. That in mind, it has decided to formulate a two-part white paper on steam locomotive speed and rail dynamics: 1.) Precedent Speed and 2.) Primer on the Mechanical Balancing of Steam Locomotives. This paper focuses on the anecodotal history of traditional steam locomotives at speed, while the next paper will provide an in-depth engineering investigation of locomotive wheel balancing and engineering.

The current interest in the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) J Class steam locomotive, due to the the Virginia Museum of Transportation's Fire Up 611 committee and its restoration of locomotive 611 to operation, provides an ideal segway into a solid precedent on steam locomotives at high speed. In this white paper, the high-speed performance of the N&W Class J will be explored. While the 3460-class of locomotives, of which CSR's 3463 is a member, were well suited to running at 100+ miles per hour, it is valuable to take lessons learned from the Class J, which has 14" smaller diameter driving wheels and could attain similar operational speeds.