How Much Does a Locomotive Weigh?

How Much Does a Locomotive Weigh?

A locomotive is a railroad vehicle that gives the train its remarkable power. Its primary purpose is to move the train along on its tracks. 

So, how much does a locomotive weigh? The average locomotive weighs 210 to 220 tons, which comes to be approximately 465,000 to 480,000 pounds. There are also various weights for different locomotives. The most common locomotives include steam, diesel, and electric, and they all weigh about the same.

The history of locomotives is a rich and compelling one. Make tracks to review this article and determine how much a locomotive weighs.  

What is a Locomotive? 

A locomotive is a self-propelled train car that gives off energy by burning fuel, electricity, magnetic levitation, or other means. Locomotives can be utilized to push or pull train cars. They transport passengers to their chosen destinations. 

A locomotive is the powerhouse of the train, and they pull long successions of heavy cars filled with people or goods. The development of the locomotive paved the way for the construction of railroads. Trains were the most common form of travel in the first half of the twentieth century. 

A locomotive can pull from the front or push from behind. Some railroads use what is referred to as the push-pull method. This technique is where the locomotive pulls the train in one direction and pushes it in the other, allowing it to move freely. 

locomotive weight
Bill Johnson

How Much Does a Locomotive Weigh?

The average locomotive weighs about 210 to 220 tons, which is about 465,000 pounds or more. The following chart displays locomotive weights for different types of locomotives. 


Penydarren1804Richard Trevithick11,023Steam
Puffing Billy1813William Headley20,371Steam
Allegheny1941Lima Locomotive Works771,000Steam
Little Joe1946General Electric545,600Electric
Jawn Henry1954Baldwin-Westinghouse818,000Steam
EL-C1956General Electric316,000Electric
Bi-Polar1957G.E. and ALCO480,000Electric
Colonel John Allan1973General Electric220,000Diesel
Union Pacific DDA40X1969General Motors545,000Diesel


As you can see, there have been different types of locomotives with various weights. The heaviest locomotive is the Jawn Henry, and the lightest is the Penydarren.   

Why Does a Locomotive Weigh So Much?

Conditions for the railcars and locomotives are a little rough. The cars and the locomotives are made mostly from steel and iron, which adds a lot of weight. The wheels are fashioned from steel and weigh about five tons each. 

The weight is required to improve traction and decrease wheel slip. If a locomotive were lightweight, it would just spin its wheels when pulling a train. Locomotives can also pull a lot of weight because steel wheels on steel rails provide little friction.  

 The locomotive is also quite large, which makes it weigh more. The equipment the train carries is also a factor. If the train is diesel, it carries fuel, which adds to the weight. A locomotive would not fit in the average living room. 

In length, a locomotive is about three times longer than the average size living room. Locomotives are also tall and wide, being about eleven feet wide. A modern diesel locomotive is less than sixteen feet tall, and locomotives are about seventy feet long.  

locomotive weight
Todd and Jack Humphrey

What Are the Different Types of Locomotives?

The three main types of locomotives operate differently. You only see steam locomotives now in museums. The following explains the different types of locomotives and how they work.   

How Do Steam Locomotives Operate?

Unlike modern trains, the steam locomotive openly displays its parts. The two main parts of the steam locomotives are the boiler and the engine. Steam-making begins with fire, as hot gases rise from the firebed to the combustion chamber. 

The gases move from the coal chamber to through the pipes in the boiler filled with water. The heat from the gases in the lines brings the water to a boil, and steam is the result. 

The Steam Does it All

The steam travels through the dry pipe and the superheater, where the temperature rises. The top of the coal chamber is needed to be covered with water, and if the level gets too low, the fire can diminish it, which could cause the boiler to explode.

Steam enters the valves and then the cylinders to push the pistons. Once the steam accomplishes its task, the valve moves to release it. Then the procedure is reversed and repeated in the opposite direction. Steam comes to the other side of the piston so that it remains under power. 

A lever in the cab allows the conductor to regulate the action of the piston valves, which controls the direction of locomotive movement. The pistons push or pull the rods attached to the drive wheels, which gives off the energy required to move the locomotive. 

The steam comes up through the smokebox into the stack. A draft occurs, which pulls the air through the firebox grates to stimulate the exhausted steam and coal smoke to move up through the stack and go into the air. 

locomotive weight
Todd and Jack Humphrey

How Do Diesel Locomotives Operate? 

A diesel engine is a combustion engine, and when the ignition of the fuel pushes the pistons connected to an electric generator. At the end of the process, the electricity created by the generator makes the wheels move. 

The engine uses heat generated from the compression of air during the cycle of the stroking engine that ignites the fuel. The fuel is stored in a tank and is sent to the engine by a fuel pump. Very much the way a car engine works.

The engine is the primary section of the diesel locomotive. As said before, it is an internal combustion engine with a crankshaft and cylinders connected. A spark is created, and the fuel ignites. The piston is forced down, and the crankshaft turns.

The engine is connected to the generator, which converts the power to electricity; however, the conductor has the actual power by controlling the throttle. The more he opens the throttle, the more fuel is introduced, the more power and speed. Diesel is the way to go.

How Do Electric Locomotives Operate? 

An electric locomotive is a train that travels on a railway. It can push or pull train cars attached to it as it moves. This locomotive uses electric power that is gathered from an outside source. The external sources include overhead cables or a third rail on the tracks. 

The locomotive does not have an engine like diesel locomotives do. It uses the electricity garnered from other sources to power traction motors that turn the wheels. 

There are three kinds of electric locomotives. These can work on the following: 

  • AC
  • AC/DC
  • DC

Electric locomotives take power that has not been processed and convert it into the energy required to run the machine. No matter which current is used, the end product is the same.

The equipment inside of the locomotive collects the raw power, runs it through several electrical processors the following:

  • Capacitors
  • Circuit breakers
  • Generators
  • Transformers

The above is a selection of the instrumentation necessary to process the electricity and turn it into energy to move the locomotive. 

There is one drawback to the electric locomotive. It relies on electrical power, which is supplied for it to run. If the power should go out, the train will sit there. 

Diesel locomotives are stationed on standby on electric train routes if the electricity fails.  

Todd and Jack Humphrey

What is the History of Each Type of Locomotive?

Locomotive history is an intricate one, and it all began with the presentation of the steam locomotive. The following explains the history behind the steam, diesel, and electric locomotives. 

What is the History of the Steam Locomotive?

The chronicle of trains commences with the launch of the steam locomotive. These trains could transport cargo, goods, and travellers quickly and safely. It signaled the beginning of the industrial revolution and breathed life into the global economy. 

Steam engines came into societal use during the 1770s. A man named James Watts was the inventor. His patent expired in the 1800s, which permitted steam trains to grow to be available to the public. 

Richard Trevithick was the man who expanded on Watt’s vision and incited the concept of the high-pressure steam engine. He took his model to a mine owner who was tasked with hauling the weight of ten tons over a ten-mile-long route. 

The creation of the steam locomotive was further modernized by a man named Matthew Murray. In 1804, he created the initial moving steam locomotive and the legendary twin cylinder Salamanca locomotive employed by the public in 1812. 

Progression of The Steam Locomotive

George Stephenson is credited for designing “Locomotion” in 1825, the official designer of the steam locomotive used on the first municipal railway system. He introduced “The Rocket,” which could go up to the speed of 45 km per hour with commuters on it. 

There were many innovations regarding steam locomotives. By the year 1918, the diesel locomotive was born, and four cylinders were an upgrade to the two-cylinder steam engine.

sp 4449
Drew Jacksich

What is the History of the Diesel Locomotive?

There was a demand for technology to push past the steam locomotive. By 1918, the notion of the diesel locomotive came to fruition. The American Locomotive Company joined with Ingersoll-Rand and General Electric to create a diesel-powered motor car.

The GM-50 was the initial diesel electric-powered locomotive on the railroad tracks. In 1924, the three companies teamed up to construct a more advanced diesel motor powered a sixty-ton boxcar. The New Jersey Central Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad acquired the engine.

The diesel-electric locomotives were newly designed in the 1930s, and B&O, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, began operating the engines on the North American Railroads. 

By 1935, the B&O was running its smaller passenger trains by employing diesel-electric locomotives, and over the next fifty years, the technology evolved.

Why is the Diesel-Electric so Popular 

A significant reason why they became so prevalent was that they ran with a lesser amount of fuel than steam locomotives, which kept the trains running on the tracks as an alternative of stopping to replenish with water and oil constantly. 

Diesel-electric locomotives also did not need as much upkeep as steam-powered engines. These locomotives kicked the steam-powered engines to the curb as technology continued to expand. Today, electronic locomotives are more straightforward, less expensive, and easier to manage.

diesel electric locomotive
Ian. A McCord

What is the History of the Electric Locomotive?

While electric locomotives are the most modern locomotive form, they have a rich history. The first-ever attempt at an electric locomotive was way back in 1837 by Robert Davidson, and batteries powered it 

The first electric passenger train was introduced in Berlin in 1879. It was electrically charged by a third insulated rail between the tracks, and a contact roller was utilized to accumulate the electricity. Electric locomotives began operation on the New York Central Railroad in 1904. 

ALCO-Westinghouse built the electric locomotive 100 in 1926. In the 1930s, the Pennsylvania Railroad made the entire Harrisburg Pennsylvania territory electric. 

George Westinghouse introduced alternating currency as an alternative to General Electric’s direct current technology. Alternating current offers several advantages over direct current. These include the following:

  • Availability of more robust induction motors operating at a continuous speed and torque
  • No substations to sustain an adequate supply
  • The voltage could be carried over long gaps with no power loss

At first, alternating currency was complicated, but it was better understood over time. As alternating current became more common, mighty locomotives were developed. 

Current Use of Electric Trains

Today, electric power trains are still used for urban commuter services. Amtrak operates them on their Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and Boston, with an offshoot to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and customer rail lines. 

Mass transit units and other electric commuter lines use various units in which each car is powered. 

For Americans, diesel locomotives are cost-effective and more flexible. They are more prevalent, except in a situation where legal or operational limitations require electricity. 


The weight of the locomotive depends on what type of locomotive it is. There is a complex and fascinating history behind the locomotive. 


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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