CP Royal Hudson (4-6-4)


The Canadian Pacific (CP) Royal Hudson locomotives were the pinnacle of Canadian steam power. These 4-6-4 type locomotives are known for their striking demeanor and unmatched reliability. Prior to the Hudsons, train length and weight were growing rapidly, and there was an immediate requirement for a more powerful locomotive, that could retain high speed performance. This type of power was particularly prevalent for the transcontinental routes, as they were previous worked by the lighter 4-6-2 “Pacific” type of locomotives. The Pacifics, although capable of high speeds, began to struggle with longer, transcontinental runs.

The inspiration behind the locomotive class was Canadian Pacific’s Chief of Motive Power and Rolling Stock, H.B. Bowen, who realized a need to devise a locomotive that was both powerful and quick. Bowen, who had previously engineered CP’s 2-10-0 “Selkirk” locomotives, began experimenting with 4-8-4 “Northern” types, however, it was soon realized that these units would not perform satisfactorily, due to their lack of constant high speeds. Canadian National had been utilizing 2-10-0 type locomotives, however, the CP “Selkirks” were substantially heavier, thus hindering the complacency of high speed running.

Bill Hooper

Bowen then turned towards the 4-6-4 “Hudson” design, known for its imminent success with the New York Central, and coined Hudson for NYC’s route along the Hudson River. These locomotives were light enough to travel at high speeds, and powerful enough to haul both passenger and freight trains alike. Built at Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW), the units began delivery in 1937, beginning with the H1-c class, numbered 2820-2849, H1-d class in 1938 numbered 2850-2859, and the H1-e class numbered 2860-2864 in 1940. The Hudsons were known particularly for their reliability and performance over long distances, traveling for thousands of miles without any mechanical issues. With their stunning semi-streamlined facet, they were quite the sight on the head end of a passenger train.


Built by the Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW), the Royal Hudson class of locomotives brought a new era of efficiency and reliability to the Canadian Pacific fleet. Weighing in at a colossal 324,000 lbs, the locomotives produced 45,300 lbs of tractive effort. Power was put down to the rails with massive 75″ drivers, with the assistance of 33″ pilot trucks, additionally, the locomotives had a wheelbase of 90′ 10″. These locomotives were increasingly fuel efficient due to their Elesco feed water heaters. These devices are designed to extract unused exhaust energy, and increased the temperature of the water prior to being fed into the boiler. In effect, steam raised higher, which increased the reliability of the locomotives by 8%.

Greg Kenmuir

The locomotives were built semi-streamlined, with a boiler jacket hiding many components such as the air pump and the Type E superheater. Many components were joined together in a single steel casting, including the frame, valve gear, valve chests, steam pipes, and smoke box saddle. The locomotive featured a cast iron pilot, a recessed headlight, and a tear drop exhaust stack with number boards adorning either side of the stack. Throughout the years,modifications were made to the exhaust stack, as the numbers boards were removed, however, this type of exhaust was hindering the engineers view, thus, all members of the class were fitted with bathtub type double stacks, of which, one of the stacks housed the bell. For crew comfort, the locomotives included a fully enclosed cab. Upon delivery, the locomotives were painted in the standard CP passenger paint scheme, consisting of glossy black and Tuscan red. After #2850 hauled the Royal Train in 1939, the locomotives were adorned with the Imperial Crown, on the running boards towards the front of the locomotive.

Interestingly, because of the sheer size of the firebox grate of 80 square feet, which would prove difficult for a single fireman to fire the locomotive, the locomotives were equipped with BK Mechanical Stokers, manufactured by the Standard Stoker Company. These stokers conveyed the coal from the tender to the firebox, via a horizontal screw conveyor. These kind of operations were commonplace on many steam powered vehicles post 1900.

Greg Kenmuir

Although only the H1-e class was built oil fired, sixteen locomotives of the H1-c class were rebuilt to burn bunker C oil. These conversions took place due to the flourishing oil industry in Canada during this time, as oil was readily available in surplus quantities. The locomotives had two variations of tender trucks, as forty had the standard commonwealth style, while the final four oil burning members of the H1e class were fitted”buckeye” trucks.

BuilderMontreal Locomotive Works (MLW)
Built Date1937-1940
Whyte Classification4-6-4
Driver Diameter75 in
Wheelbase90’ 10”
Pilot Trucks33”
WeightH1c-H1d (366,000 lbs)

H1e (354,000 lbs) (oil fired)

Boiler Pressure275 lbf
Cylinders-Number/ SizeTwo

22 in x 30 in

Tractive Effort45,254
Water HeatersElesco Feed water heaters
ClassesH1c(30) H1d(10) H1e(5)

Royal Train- State Visit of Queen Elizabeth and King Henry VI

In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth embarked on a rail tour of Canada, a first for a reigning monarch. The Royals were to travel westbound on CP, and eastbound on CN. H1-c #2850 and twelve passenger cars were given the honor of transporting the monarch. In preparation, 2850 was painted in Royal blue and silver, with the addition of the Royal Coat of Arms adorning the front and sides of the tender. Imperial Crowns adorned the side running boards of the locomotive as well. Number 2851 headed a pilot train preceding the Royal Train, however, it was in the standard Tuscan and gloss black paint scheme, with Imperial Crowns adorning the running boards.

With war inevitably on the horizon, the Monarch and King Henry VI decided to strengthen transatlantic friendships in a form of solidarity between Canada, the U.S., and Britain. The Royals toured throughout Canada, giving speeches to crowds of thousands, promoting solidarity between Britain and its North American counterparts. The two Canadian railroad competitors sought to leave a lasting impression on the Royals, and gave them a state-of-the-art journey, all hauled by modern motive power.

Bill Hooper

Although most of the journey was undertaken in Canada, once the excursion returned eastbound it passed through Niagara Falls and crossed into the U.S., eventually arriving in Washington D.C., where a reception was held at the White House with President Roosevelt. It is believed that the Royals had gotten their point across that they sought to be allies with the U.S. and Canada, and stood in solidarity with them in the upcoming conflict.

While hauling the Royal Train, both 2850 and 2851 operated smoothly, traveling 3,224 miles across Canada without a mechanical failure. This feat impressed the Royals on board, as even King Henry VI took a cab ride for a small portion of the lengthy trip. Because the Royals were so impressed, they allowed the Royal Family Crown to be present on each semi-streamlined Hudson locomotive. This accomplishment, headed by Bowen, marked the first instance of a locomotive outside the UK to be given Royal status.

Greg Kenmuir

Operating Areas

Due to their renowned reliability, the Royal Hudsons were found throughout the entire CP network, working both transcontinental passenger trains, additionally, later in their operating life, it was commonplace to see them working freight trains. Royal Hudsons would regularly be seen on the “Dominion”, CP’s flagship transcontinental train prior to the Canadian. Three Hudson’s would be utilized for this trip, with a 2-10-4 “Selkirk” operating between Revelstoke and Calgary due to the mountainous topography of the region.

By the mid-fifties, with dieselization in full effect, the Royal Hudsons began being displaced from the transcontinental passenger duties, and were relegated to hauling freight throughout the network. Because of the speed and high tractive effort of the class, they spent many of their final years hauling fast, high priority freight trains.

Below is a list of the Royal Hudson’s original assignments. Information courtesy Rapido Trains Inc. and Exporail

Original Royal Hudson Assignments
Toronto2838-2842, 2855-2856
Fort William2850-2851, 2853-2854
Winnipeg2829-2837, 2843-2949, 2852


By 1958, diesel locomotives had become commonplace throughout the CP network, displacing steam to freight and commuter service. Most of the Royal Hudsons were scrapped between 1958-1966, with 2850, 2858, 2860, and 2839 being preserved. These four are currently on display throughout Canada and the U.S., with a couple in operating condition.

2850: Exporail-Quebec

2858:Canadian Science and Technology Museum-Ottawa

2860: West Coast Railway Heritage Park-Squamish, B.C.

2839: Nethercutt Collection and Museum-Sylmar, California

The first oil fired locomotive, H1-e #2960 was retired in 1956, and was purchased by the Vancouver Railway Museum in 1964, after eight years of inactivity. However, due to circumstances beyond their control, preservation efforts were halted, and the locomotive was purchased by the government of British Columbia. By 1974, the locomotive was fully  operational after an extensive overhaul at B.C. Rail’s Drake Street Shops in Vancouver, and was decorated to resemble #2850, the Royal Train locomotive. The locomotive hauled summer excursions between Vancouver and Squamish until 1999, and is currently housed at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, B.C.

Excursion on the Southern Railway

H1-c #2839 was decommissioned from the Canadian Pacific in 1963, and headed south to the United States after being leased by the Southern Railway, who restored the Canadian icon to steam. Tours began on Southern metals in 1979, and ended in late 1980. The locomotive retained its CP passenger scheme, however, “Southern” was emblazoned on the tender and the front nameplate. After being decommissioned from the Southern, the locomotive was acquired by the Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern (RBMN), where it remained in storage before being purchased by the Nethercutt Museum in California. Upon arrival on the west coast, the locomotive was once again given its original Canadian Pacific characters.

Greg Kenmuir

Icon of Steam

The Royal Hudson was one of the most impressionable locomotives in North America, with its sleek semi-streamlined design, it caught the eyes of many as it whisked through towns and cities across Canada. With its spectacular reliability and speed, the locomotive soon became a favorite among train crews. The Royal Hudsons were the last chapter in a storied history of Canadian Pacific steam, commencing the end of an era. Although the final run of the Royal Hudson was in 1960, its history lives on in the form of the four preserved locomotives, which will tell the tale of the Royal Hudson for future generations.


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