Steam-Powered Blog

Remembering the Distance Record of Santa Fe 3461

This web article is a precursor to a more detailed CSR White Paper on the 3460-Class of locomotives, a paper which is set to come out early in the New Year.

When designed, the ATSF 3460-class of steam locomotives, of which locomotive 3463 is a member, were among the most modern locomotives in operation. With high pressure boilers, all roller bearing axles, large capacity tenders and significant pulling power, the class of locomotives set the stage for the last developments in traditional steam in the U.S. In fact, the locomotives were designed to operate over a 992 mile Chicago – La Junta passenger rail service, one of if not the longest steam locomotive runs to that time.

The locomotives were delivered to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) by road number throughout October, November and December of 1937 in consecutive order (except 3460 which, due to its streamlining, was delivered to the railroad last). Since 3461 was delivered to the ATSF first (October 15, 1937), it was the locomotive on which the railroad performed its detailed tests. A series of commissioning, clearance (note how close the locomotive comes to the "tell tales" in the picture above), performance and track stress tests were conducted on the 3461 from October through December of that year, and the culmination was a highly publicized, continuous run of the locomotive from Los Angeles to Chicago beginning December 9, 1937, some 77 years ago today.

Prior to beginning this historic run, locomotive 3461 made its way from Chicago to Los Angeles, leaving Dearborn Station on December 5 with train 7 – the Fast Mail Express. The engine ran from Chicago to Kansas City without issue, but it soon began experiencing loose fire bricks (used on an oil burning engine to maintain thermal mass and protect certain steel surfaces of the firebox). When the train got to La Junta, it was held for almost a day while crews repaired the firebrick issues. As a new locomotive to the railroad, and one of revolutionary design, 3461 experiencing "teething" issues at that time was not unexpected – in fact the ATSF had placed extra firebrick at La Junta prior to this run anticipating such an issue.

Once repaired, 3461 continued West, using pushers where required to make grades, and arrived in Los Angeles on time. Again, loosening fire brick was addressed in Los Angeles following the run, but this both marked the successful first major trip of advanced steam on the ATSF and proved that advanced steam could perform favorably in running time with the diesel-locomotives of the era (the EMC E-1s that had also been delivered to ATSF in 1937 - shown at RIGHT).

On December 9, 1937, locomotive 3461 took ATSF Train 8, the Fast Mail Express, out of La Grande Station in Los Angeles and headed east. The train consisted of 11 cars with a trailing weight of 757 tons. Assisted by various pusher engines through the mountainous West, the train made good time upgrade despite being involved in a grade crossing collision that delayed it by 57 minutes.

When the train reached Albuquerque, two additional cars were added, bringing the train to 13 cars and 917 tons. Again, a series of helper and pusher engines were added to the train to help it over the toughest grades on the railroad, including the 3.5% grade over Raton Pass. The helper and pusher locomotives that had aided Train 8 over Raton Pass were cut off at Wootton, and once the train reached La Junta, Colorado, one car was dropped, lowering the train to 12 cars and 830 tons.

Prior to La Junta, average speeds varied between 42.2 mph and 66.2 mph (67.9 kmh and 106.5 kmh), dependent upon ruling grade. From La Junta to Dodge City, Kansas, 3461 hauled its train at an average speed of 60.8 mph (97.8 kmh) over the 202 mi (325 km) run. At Newton, Kansas an additional car was added, bringing the train back to 13 cars and increasing its weight to 899 tons. Between Newton and Emporia, Kansas 3461 averaged 63.6 mph (102.4 kmh). From Emporia, through Topeka, and on to Kansas City, the train averaged 58.0 mph.

At Kansas City, a car was swapped off the train for another, increasing its weight to 939 tons. From Kansas City, Missouri to Shopton, Illinois, the train began to lose significant time, eventually departing Shopton some 69 minutes behind schedule. The last dash from Shopton to Chicago, however, had the train making up 47 minutes, arriving at Dearborn Station on December 12, 1937 53 hours and 40 minutes after departing Los Angeles.

The numbers of the run are quite impressive. Locomotive 3461 attained top speeds of 92 mph (148 kmh) on the Albuquerque Division and 90 mph (145 kmh) on the Colorado and Western Divisions. Total actual running time of the train was 43 hours, 17 minutes and 15 seconds, while the trip took 53 hours and 40 minutes (allowing adding / subtracting of cars, servicing of the train, stops at stations, and fueling / watering the locomotive).

Conclusively, this record breaking run was important in that it proved modern steam power on the ATSF could maintain similar performance as the diesel-electric power. Even with a heavier consist, 3461 was able to handle its train with comparable time to diesels on the lighter, streamlined Super Chief.

Following this historic run, no other steam-hauled trains have made such a distance without stopping for layover. The 3461 went on to be a "guinea pig" of sorts for the class of locomotives at the Santa Fe. In 1945, it was rebuilt at Topeka to include the addition of a 25" long combustion chamber that included the addition of one safety circulator and two duplex siphons, increasing the direct heating surface in the firebox from 280 to 325 ft2 (26.0 to 30.2 m2). Because of the location of the steam dome in the boiler, however, this addition had the unwanted consequence of lifting water into the dry pipe and down into the superheaters, causing issues with steaming and corrosion.

Details of the 3461's modifications, and the historic 3460 class as a whole, will be included in an upcoming CSR White Paper on the locomotives.

The 3460 class of locomotives served the Santa Fe for nearly two decades, eventually being retired between 1954 and 1956. The engines reliably hauled passenger trains at speeds of between 90 and 100 mph over the ATSF, handling trains in excess of 2,000 tons without issue.

Stay tuned to CSR for more information on the class. As always, if you enjoy what you read, consider making a tax deductible donation to our organization to support our research, preservation and innovation.


Thanks is due to the Center for Railroad Photography & Art who has graciously provided CSR with rare images of the 3460 Class of locomotives taken by Wallace W. Abbey, including the cover photograph.

Sources for this article include:

  • Brasher, Larry E. Santa Fe Locomotive Development. Wilton, CA: Signature Press, 2006.
  • Farrington, Jr., S. Kip. The Santa Fe's Big Three. New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1972.
  • Smith, Vernon L. One Man's Locomotives. Glendale, CA: Trans-Anglo Books, 1987.

Book Review: Camels and Cadillacs: A History of the South African Railways 25 Class Condensers and 25NC 4-8-4’s

Author Phil Girdlestone
Stenvalls Publishing - 2014
ISBN: 978-91-7266-185-1

Renowned steam locomotive mechanical engineer Phil Girdlestone, a contemporary of David Wardale, Nigel Day and Shaun McMahon, has written an outstanding history of the most advanced locomotives to operate over the 3'6" gauge South African Railways (SAR). The twin-class of 4-8-4 steam locomotives were unique in the rail industry worldwide – the Class 25 condensing locomotives, nicknamed "Camels" by crewmembers due to their prodigious water range, were the most successful condensing steam locomotives ever produced. Identical in nearly every measure except condensing equipment were the 25 NC ("non-condensing") locomotives, likewise nicknamed "Cadillacs" due to their exceptional ride quality.

cc coverGirdlestone provides a technical perspective on the locomotive classes only an engineer familiar with steam locomotive design, and these classes in particular, could account. The book is structured chronologically, beginning with a detailed history of 20th Century SAR locomotive development, up until the procurement, design, and production of the 4-8-4 locomotives. The construction of the classes, which took place between 1952 and 1955, included the provision of a total of 90 Class 25 Condensing and 50 Class 25NC locomotives.

The detailed look provided by Girdlestone outlines both the strengths and weaknesses of these classes of locomotives. The locomotives were unique in that they incorporated the most advanced of mechanical improvements available at the time, a melding of European locomotive design and manufacture (in the UK and Germany) and important U.S. components. A one-piece cast frame, cast water bottom tender, tender trucks and roller bearing side rods were furnished by U.S. firms General Steel Castings and Timken (side rods). Germany's Henschel manufactured the majority of the 25 NC locomotives and North British Locomotive Company produced all but one of the condensers.

For the inquisitive student of steam locomotive history, this pragmatic view of their development points out areas of improvement, details the struggles of getting locomotives commissioned and associated "trouble shooting," and outlines the nuances of condensing appurtenances and roller bearing side rods. High quality technical illustrations augment the text. The performance of both condensing and free exhausting locomotives is also compared.

Of specific interest to CSR is the penultimate chapter of the book, preceding a phenomenal color image gallery outlining the class, which discusses in brief detail the developments associated with 25 NC 3450, otherwise known as the "Red Devil."

The following quote stands out to the reviewer:

...the trials were undertaken on freight trains over the 70-mile-long electrified line to Witbank, which with its 1 in 50 [2%] ruling gradients in both directions was a severe testing ground.... By November 1981 it was considered that the tuning up had reached a point where comparative dynamometer car tests could be carried out between No. 3450 ["Red Devil"] and a standard 25NC No. 3438.... These tests were carried out mostly in the upper part of the locomotives respective power ranges and under these conditions No. 3450 gave very high coal and water savings. Up to 60% coal savings per drawbar hp was achieved compared with No. 3428, equating to a 150% increase in drawbar thermal efficiency, and additionally No. 3450 was capable of developing significantly higher power.

While under less strenuous passenger service savings were slightly lower, it was evident to SAR staff that the 25 NC and, specifically, the Red Devil, were the most economic locomotives operating on the railroad. A railroad Traction Committee was tasked: "to consider the relative costs of steam, diesel and electric traction... [found] that steam locomotives, particularly No. 3450, were the cheapest form of traction to operate between Kimberly and De Aar and, by implication, on other sections as well."

In an era when the majority of steam-related books often belong on coffee tables, it is nice to see something with a similar level of "meat" as The Red Devil and Other Tales from the Age of Steam.

More information about the book can be found on the Camden Miniature Steam Services Site.

Accounts of U.S. Travelers in Argentina


CSR will be releasing its next White Paper, The Development of Modern Steam 3: The "Rio Turbio Railway" and GPCS, to the public in the coming few weeks. In anticipation of that release, CSR is making available a section of the White Paper - an account of a trip by two U.S. railroad aficianados to Rio Turbio in March 1991.  The following is a brief essay and corresponding photographs provided to CSR by supporters Jim Hebson and Ben Anderson (shown on board the RFIRT below center). Their story depicts an adventure from a different time and place. Enjoy.


Personal Reflections on the Ferrocarril Industrial Rio Turbio

Ben Anderson and Jim Hebson

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires from the United States in March 1991 for an extended exploration of Ferrocarriles Argentinos, we learned that the Argentinian railroad workers had gone on strike, shutting down the entire system with little prospect of an early resolution. Stunned by this setback at the very beginning of our trip, we began to consider alternative railway subjects to explore.

During these deliberations, we recalled hearing about an obscure coal-hauling railroad known as the Ferrocarril Industrial Rio Turbio (the “FIRT”), which ran between the Argentinian port of Rio Gallegos (the capital of Santa Cruz, the southernmost province of Argentina) and the coal mines at Rio Turbio, near the border with Chile. Both the railroad and the mines were operated by Yacimientos Carboniferos Fiscales (“YCF”), the Argentine state coal company.

The special purpose, point-to-point railroad was totally isolated, far from the southernmost extreme of the integrated Argentinian system. We further recalled that the FIRT was a 2-1/2 foot (750 mm) gauge, 100% steam powered railroad featuring large 2-10-2 Santa Fe-type locomotives, certainly an exotic railroad in an exotic location.

The two of us speculated that because the FIRT, located in the southernmost part of Patagonia, was isolated from the Argentinian railroad system, its operation might not have been affected by the strike, but we needed to confirm that fact. We obtained the address of the YCF headquarters in Buenos Aires and set out to obtain whatever information we could.


Read more: Accounts of U.S. Travelers in Argentina

A 1938 Perspective on the 3460 Class

3460 newsroom

On this "throwback Thursday," enjoy a detailed article from the March 12, 1938 pages of Railway Age.  From the archives of a CSR Board Member comes this detailed look at the 3460-class of locomotives, of which 3463 is a member.  At the time, railroads tended to work with locomotive manufacturers to design locomotives to suit their needs, a uniqueness that was both beneficial in providing route-specific designs but detrimental in that it lead to a lack of standardization across companies and parts manufacuturers.

It is interesting to note the level of detail provided by the article, from detailing the camber of the driving axle springs to the specific type of staybolts employed.  It is worth highlighting that the designers were conscious of the potential need to change fuel types:

"The oil tank is integral with the water-tank structure. Conversion for coal can be made by removing the top of the oil tank over the coal space and substituting coal gates for the front oil-tank closure."

Read the entire article here or by clicking on the image above.

Locomotive Preservation Redefined

adaptive reuse web

The architectural concept of "Adaptive Reuse" has been used across the U.S. to preserve through modification countless structures of historic significance that otherwise would have been left neglected or razed to make room for new, more modern structures.  In the modification and testing of locomotive 3463 as part of Project 130, CSR will employ the same standards as those championed by historically-sensitive architecture firms.  

As outlined elsewhere on this website, CSR is pursuing the refinement of technologies that can lead to development of a new-build passenger steam locomotive. To develop those technologies, CSR has proposed a series of modifications to former A.T. & S.F. Railway steam locomotive 3463 to bring it up-to 21st century standards in power, maintenance and performance.  

As part of its tests, CSR will need to streamline the locomotive and, in a nod to history, it intends to use the streamlining of "sister locomotive" 3460 as the baseline.

Read more about Research and Preservation here.

New CSR Board Member: Dr. John Betak

The CSR team is pleased to announce John F. Betak, Ph.D. as the newest member of its Board of Directors.  Rounding out the qualifications of the other CSR board members, Dr. Betak brings an unparalleled level of experience in the field of transportation and technology research. 

Dr. Betak is a senior consultant with 40+ years of diversified, international experience in management, consulting, administration and research in corporations, non-profits and major North American universities.  John was an AVP at Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) where he developed/managed the corporate industrial development, plant rationalization and line sales, short line marketing, non-hazardous solid waste business group, real estate portfolio and Geographic Information System prior to his retirement in 1995.

John was part of the team that developed the plan that led to the restructuring of Conrail and its return to profitability. Key elements of that plan led to the passage of NERSA and a fundamental shift in the rail industry's ability to restructure their operations. It also led to the development of the modern short line and regional railroad industry.

In addition to extensive industry leadership, Dr. Betak has been involved heavily in railroad and industry risk resaerch at the University of Texas at Austin and at the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation at Rutgers University. His insight into issues relating to all facets of the railroad and energy industries will be of specific importance as research in these fields continue to develop.