Powerful ‘Big Boy’ Locomotive Reflects Developments in Rail Technology


What’s the best part about operating the world’s largest steam locomotive? See him make friends wherever he travels. How could he not? It’s impossible not to smile when you see such an impressive machine from a bygone era working in today’s modern world.

In fact, “Thank you” was the two words most frequently heard by the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the UP 4014 locomotive – the Big Boy – on its tour of the Midwest and South in August and September.

Everywhere we went, people reached out to thank Union Pacific for restoring and bringing this locomotive to their city. And we thanked them back, with a whistle, a bell or a smile and a wave.

It was before the pandemic – on the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike’s ride in May 2019 – that we first unveiled the fully restored Big Boy. To grasp the enormity of this historic enterprise, one must understand the history of the Big Boy Class 4000 steam locomotives.

Big Boy UP 4014 has completed its 2021 Big Boy tour of 10 states, celebrating rail heritage and the communities served by Union Pacific. The world’s largest operating steam locomotive has covered more than 4,000 miles in 34 days.

It started just before the dawn of diesel-electric technology, at a critical time before World War II, when Union Pacific was faced with the challenge of too much traffic on its existing infrastructure. Much like a busy interstate highway at rush hour, there simply weren’t enough lanes of traffic to accommodate all the traffic.

The Solution: Design and build a locomotive that could carry more cars, resulting in longer trains – a strategy similar to how Union Pacific efficiently handles large volumes of rail traffic today. As we used the Big Boy around the system, we got a better understanding of just how big and powerful the locomotive is and the huge UP grid that makes it happen.

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The hundreds of thousands of people who fell in love with the Big Boy are in awe, as are those in the 1940s who first saw this giant locomotive. The Big Boy weighs 610 tons and produces an enormous power of 7,000 horsepower. A typical modern locomotive weighs about a third of the weight. While these numbers are impressive, they don’t reflect the locomotive’s true enormity. To do this, observers must keep a distance from the edge of the runway.

Whether casual observers or avid trainers, they can’t help but notice how this machine dominates modern diesel-electric locomotives. Railroad fans see the length of 135 feet – about double that of a modern locomotive – and are moved by the warmth, sights and sounds of such a magnificent machine, and ultimately understand the important role it plays. ‘she played in the evolution of railway technology.

The Big Boy Locomotive and the exhibits set up along the way are a valuable tool not only for sharing our story, but also for telling the story of modern Union Pacific and how we still play a role every day to help build the America, moving the raw materials and finished consumer goods that this country needs.

Inside Track: Dickens Insights Big Boy manuscript

It is only fitting that the locomotive’s “Big Boy” nickname be handwritten in chalk on the front of its boiler, considering how the locomotive was designed long before the dawn of the century. computer age – by hand with pen and paper.

As we look back on the Big Boy 2021 Tour, a big “thank you” goes to a network of colleagues who have come together to see the plan executed. Running a large locomotive like this takes patience and a lot of detailed planning. We enjoyed almost 100% on-time execution on this tour. The power of this team effort was evident to anyone who watched the steam rise in the morning light.


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