[N&W] Re: N&W's Longest Train

nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Thu May 6 22:43:03 EDT 2004

Regarding N&W's November 15, 1967, 500-car coal train ...

Cindy Bowers writes ...

 >>  What was the date on which the N&W ran the 500 car coal train, setting a
 >>  record for the world's longest freight train?
 >>  Wasn't there an article published about this in the "Arrow"?  Searching in
 >>  back issues I haven't been able to locate it.

Hi Cindy ... Here's the info on the 500-car coal train which I've collected
and assembled with the help of retired N&W mechanical bossman Clyde Taylor
(see TRAINS, March 1999, "N&W's Mr. Fixit"). There are obvious holes and gaps
in my work here and I hope some of you can fill them. I am not familiar with
an "Arrow" story, but there was an N&W company magazine story (have to check
the date).

Frankly ... I think N&W was in it for the glitz! N&W may have wondered how
long a train it could run every day, but after it ran a train of 200 or 300
cars the N&W long-train-powers-that-be realized they weren't going to make
long trains a habit. Had 300 cars worked, N&W would have run 300-car trains
ever after, but it didn't and I suspect N&W knew right then and there that
long trains were a bust. Those guys probably knew it even earlier, say, at
the 200-car level.

I bet they kept doing bigger trains for the record ... or even the fun of it
... bragging rights (like Southern always bragged about Saluda Grade). If in
fact N&W had been going for the biggest possible number of cars, why would it
have stopped at 500? The 500-car train ran pretty well with only minor
problems. Certainly N&W knew it could have done 550 or 600, probably more. I
think 500 was a magic number ... reach the magic number and no other railroad
will ever come close. N&W did it and the record belonged to N&W. Had N&W
known that at least two other railroads would break that record, perhaps 800
would have been the magic number. I think the N&W pros just were having a
good time. After all, how many 300-car trains did they run after November 15,

Thanks for any contributions to this base of information.

Bob Loehne
oezbob at aol.com
Winston-Salem, NC


N&W's 500-Car Coal Train

During the early fall of 1967, the Norfolk & Western had been experimenting
with longer and longer coal trains powered in part by mid-train, radio
controlled locomotives.  N&W previously had run several 250-car trains
carrying 24,000 tons of coal and they quickly upped the ante -- 280, 300,
420, 425 (3rd week), and 450 cars. Eventually, on a freezing morning at
Iaeger, WV, they patched together strings of 150, 150, and 200 loaded coal
cars and began setting world railroad records that lasted for almost 22 years.

As the test trains grew successively longer, so too did the length between
the lead locomotive and its remote locos (not helpers ... they were part of
the planned locomotive consist, just separated). Not only was the test to see
how many cars one train could handle, the RR also was looking at how far the
slave radio signals could travel, how reliable they would be if they made it
-- especially considering the several tunnels -- and would the radio control
system in total be as reliable a part of the train as the engines and cars
already had proven to be.

The 500-car train ran in the 4th and final week of testing and met with mixed
results. For sure, it proved that just six locomotives could handle the load
on that essentially flat course (but, of course, everybody with an abacus
could have figured out that). Expecting 500 cars to behave perfectly proved
surprisingly accurate -- 2 cars developed hot brake problems, 2 cars early on
sent false alarms that set off hot box detectors, and one coupler broke on
the restart at Williamson, WV. Except for the coupler, the cars worked great
and it was the support systems that proved frail.

Towards the end of the day, intermittent losses of slave radio signal had an
effect on brake line pressure, which was believed to be the cause of the two
hot brake car problems. The hot brakes in turn began setting off hot box
detectors, but crews were aware of the situation and they nursed it the
remaining short distance to Portsmouth. This train got away without major
incident, but had it been forced to stop in a track segment with road
crossings, the super long train would have tied up all cross traffic for more
than 4 miles.

The broken coupler occurred in the Williamson Yard and, thus, did not block
any streets. Clyde Taylor was the General Foreman - Mechanical at Williamson
and oversaw the hasty coupler change. Clyde shared this story along with many
other of his engrossing railroad experiences. One interesting aspect of the
500-car train was one of N&W's contingency measures.

Taylor and a few other RR officials drew up plans to cope with a variety of
emergencies, of which the response scenario to a drastically failed hopper
car was particularly swift and dramatic. On command, a car knocker was to
bang open the hopper doors. A front end tractor would then lift the emptying
car out of the way. A bulldozer was to push the coal off the track. The train
would back up, recouple, and be on its way as soon as possible. I figured N&W
felt the black diamonds were cheap -- on the other hand, a blocked mainline
and N&W pride were both expensive. The maneuver was expected to take less
than two minutes once equipment arrived at the scene. Clyde thought they
could do it in one minute if there was enough space to easily maneuver the
front end loader and bulldozer.

NOTE 1:   In August 26-27, 1989, the South African Transport Services ran a
train 7.3 KM long (4.53 miles), carrying 70,800 tons of iron ore, with 16
locomotives (9 electric and 7 diesel powered) pulling 660 cars. For what it
is worth, this probably was a test, because at most only 7 locomotives were
ever used at one time.

NOTE 2:    Then, on May 28, 1996, Australia got the tonnage record over 408
KM with ten GE Dash-8s pulling 540 wagonloads (Train Length: 5,892 meters or
3.7 miles) of ore an average 35 MPH. The load was 57,309 tons of ore and
72,191 tonnes of train. This train was a test of Harris Locotrol and had 3
locos, 135 cars, 2 locos, 135 cars, 2 locos, 135 cars, 2 locos, 135 cars, and
one loco on the rear.

COMMENT:    These long and heavy trains likewise appear to be railroad public
relations deals because even tho all three RRs called their long train tests
successful, none of them ran or planned to run such long trains in regular
service. The normal Australian trains will be 240 wagonloads.


Here's the rundown of facts and figures covering the N&W 500-car train:

Date:  November 15, 1967
Total Distance:  159 Miles
Train Number:  Extra 1737
Weather on Departure:  12 degrees Fahrenheit

Originating Location:  Iaeger, West Virginia
    Iaeger to Williamson approx 2+ hrs and 47 miles
Intermediate Stop:  Williamson, West Virginia for crew change
    Arrived Williamson at 1:53 pm
    Ready to depart Williamson at 2:18 PM
    Departed Williamson at 2:20 PM
    Williamson to Portsmouth approx ? and 112 miles
Destination Location:  Portsmouth, Ohio

NOTE: I do not have the Iaeger or Portsmouth times. Any help?

Locomotives:  6 new EMD SD45s
    3,600 HP per locomotive
    21,600 total horsepower

Number of Cars:  500 coal cars plus caboose
Train Consist:
     3 Locos # 1737-1740-1726
     300 coal cars
     3 Locos # 1738-1761-1759
     200 coal cars
     Caboose # 518263

Car Consist Stats:
         Cars         Quantity    Type    Segment Length in Feet
    Coal Hoppers     210       70-ton        9,135.00
        "        "            38       85-ton        1,833.00
        "        "            86     100-ton        4,192.50
        "        "              9       82.5-ton        366.75
        "        "           157       50-ton        5,468.83
    Caboose                1          ----               34.67
    Diesel Locos          6    EMD SD45       394.00
                              ===                       ========
    Totals:                507                       21,424.75

Length of Train over pulling face of couple knuckles:
     21,424 feet plus 9 inches
     4 miles, 304.75 feet
     6.5 kilometers
     71.4 Football Fields
     1.5 Saluda Grades

At the mention of Saluda Grade, let me regress a moment. A friend once asked
me if I thought NS could run a 500-car coal train over the 5% Saluda Grade.
Well, as the engineer of the last runaway train down the grade said after
checking with Southern before starting down, "They ran it thru one of their
computers and told me the train could make it down the hill. And ... they
were right!"

However, on further thought, a super long train might even make it down the
great grade easier than a regular coal train ... if the crew can keep it
together, that is.

Consider the 500-car train on Saluda Grade and note that at any given time
approximately half or more of the 500-car train will be OFF the grade (west
of the crest or east of the bottom) which most likely means the 6 SD45s could
handle this train by themselves. WOW! A 500-car coal train on our nation's
steepest Class-1 RR grade. Turning up and down retainers might throw a monkey
wrench in the deal as it would take three or four hours per retainer turning
sequence and more non-bridge, no-walkway right-of-way than is available on
either end of Saluda Grade.

Back to the 500-car coal train ...

Weight of Coal:  48,584 tons
     Perhaps 42,600 international tons???

Time for Full Train to Pass a Single Point:
   48 min 40 sec   at   5     MPH  (leaving/entering yards?)
   30 minutes       at   8.1   MPH  (leaving/entering yards?)
   24 min 20 sec  at   10    MPH  (leaving/entering yards?)
   20 minutes       at   12.2 MPH
   16 min 14 sec  at   15    MPH
   12 min 10 sec  at   20    MPH
   10 minutes       at   24.3 MPH

Speed for First Few Miles:  10 MPH
Maximum Speed Full Trip:  20 MPH

Total Slack:  12 car lengths, about 500 feet (per N&W story)

I'm curious ... is there approximately one foot of slack per car?

Slack Time:     There are lots of differing opinions on starting slack time,
but most say it took 2 to 3 minutes from the moment the first loco moved to
the moment the caboose moved. I question whether anyone actually timed it;
maybe someone in the caboose did. In any case, because there are so many
variables I don't think you can figure it out with math. With a set of mid
train locos, I think you actually had to time it. Here are the possibilities:

Differing opinions on the time and rate of slack:
         1 min 0.0 sec   =   8.43 knuckles per second
         1 min 41.2 sec  =  5 knuckles per second
         2 min 0.0 sec   =   4.22 knuckles per second
         2 min 6.5 sec   =   4 knuckles per second
         2 min 48.6 sec =   3 knuckles per second
         3 min 0.0 sec   =   2.81 knuckles per second
         4 min 0.0 sec   =   2.11 knuckles per second
         4 min 13.0 sec =   2 knuckles per second

    NOTE: The slack time here is figured on 500 cars and 6 locomotives with
each locomotive beginning movement just like any freight car in the train
(Unreal? The locos may have slack, but shouldn't they start together and
their slack come out during the time the car slack comes out?). Of course, we
are supposing the slack totally had been run in prior to final forward
movement. While there are 507 units on the train, I counted only 506 in
considering slack because the caboose has no slack behind it. To further
confuse the issue, I presume that ALL 6 locos started at the same time
creating an aspect of double or simultaneous slack on that one train behind
each set of locos. In fact, if the second set of locos did begin at the same
time as the lead set and at the same power setting, the second set would have
a slower slack-out rate because while pulling the slack out of the 200 cars
behind it, at the same time those locos momentarily would be pushing hard
against the 300 cars in front of them. And remember, those cars (we presumed
above) like all the others have the slack run in already.

Much ado about nothing? The matter of official slack time is no simple or
provable matter, but it is great bar conversation.

Train Crew Departing Iaeger:
       E T Hagy, Conductor
       R E Bailey, Engineer
    At controls departing Iaeger:
       Q A Goff, Jr., Pocahontas Division Road Foreman of Engines
    Also in cab departing Iaeger:
       W O Tracy, Jr., Superintendent Pocahontas Division

Hummm ... looks like they were using a 2-man crew back then. I suppose there
are at least two others in the caboose.

Train crew departing Williamson:
    At controls departing Williamson:
          J F Litz, N&W General Road Foreman of Engines

Problems experienced along entire route:

Prob 1 = Cars # 55 and # 181 were checked for journal defects -- no problem
was found. Report came from Sprigg Hot Box Detector (Iaeger-Williamson leg)

Prob 2  = A broken coupler on N&W car # 20596 on A or west end of car. The
broken coupler occurred on restart at Williamson Yard and was a totally new
break. Delayed 1 hr 41 min.

Prob 3 = Cars # 35 and # 36 aft of the loco slaves were reported with
dragging brakes. Solution was slow to 5 MPH so trackside crews could handle
by walking along side the train as it approached Portsmouth.

Prob 4 = Intermittent loss of radio signals to the slave locos. It is
believed that communication loss caused the air line brake problems reported
in Problem #3 above. The intermittent  signals would cause the last 200 cars
to apply brakes to an intermediate setting. Running with brakes caused the
wheels to heat and caused the hot box detectors to go off.

That's all I know about the great 500-car coal train. Any corrections or
additions will be considerably appreciated.

Bob Loehne
oezbob at aol.com
Winston-Salem, NC

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