Oldest Locomotives Still In Service

Oldest Locomotives Still In Service

Locomotives have been around for over 2 centuries. In 1804, the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive was invented by the British mining engineer Richard Trevithick. The world has come a long way since. We travel in bullet trains and airplanes now. Transportation is super easy today.  But the first ever locomotive proved that long-distance travel can be made easier. 

Once just steam locomotives, today, railway engines can be seen as mechanical, hydraulic, and electric. In the second half of the 20th century, remote control locomotives were introduced. By that time, the operator didn’t even need to be inside the train. 

Today, we use Tier 4 locomotive, which was introduced in 2015, focussing on reduced emissions. So, from a mere focus on traveling from point A to point B to take a lot of factors into account, the locomotive industry has evolved a lot. 

Here are 8 of the oldest locomotives still in service. 

8. Union Pacific 4014 (1941)

Year Built: 1941
Location: Union Pacific heritage fleet (active)
Still Operational: Yes

Union Pacific 4014 (1941)Photo Source: Up

Not only one of the oldest locomotives in the world but also one of the largest locomotives in the world. The Union Pacific 4014, also called the Big Boy 4014, was recently restored. Built in 1941, the Union Pacific 4014 locomotive is one of 25 Big Boy 4884 locomotives in the series. 

This locomotive is 132 feet long and weighs 1.2 million pounds, with a tender attached for efficient freight handling. Big Boy 4014 was originally coal-powered but is powered by oil now and has a maximum capacity of over 6000 horsepower.  This has a unique 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement for smooth navigation on curved tracks. 

The Union Pacific 4014 retired in 1961 after traveling 1.6 million miles and donated to the museum. Later, in 2013, it was reacquired and went under years of restoration. In May 2019, the Union Pacific 4014 locomotive officially came back into service. 

Did you know?

Union Pacific 4014 handles the excursion trains and special events for the Union Pacific heritage fleet. Also, while this 82-year-old locomotive is active, its seven sisters, Big Boys, are on public display across the US.

7. Great Western 90 (1924)

Year Built: 1924
Location: Strasburg Rail Road (active)
Still Operational: Yes

Great Western 90 (1924)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Started in 1924, the Great Western 90 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It is a Baldwin 2-10-0 steam locomotive and is one of the last of its kind. Originally, this locomotive was delivered to the Great Western Railway of Colorado to haul the sugar beet trains. 

The Great Western 90 locomotive can easily pull 60 fully loaded beet cars uphill on steep 4% grades. In 1967, this locomotive retired after 4 decades of sugar beet harvest duty. Soon, by May 1967, Great Western 90 was purchased, restored, and made operational by the Strasburg Rail Road. In 1980, it went through a significant rebuild, doubling its horsepower to 13,500. 

Nearing almost 100 years of operation, the Great Western 90 locomotive continues to operate on the Strasburg Rail Road. 

Did you know?

The Great Western 90 locomotive has survived major accidents, including a roundhouse fire and a fatal truck collision.

6. IATR 50 and IATR 54 (1920, 1923)

Year Built: IATR 50 (1920), IATR 54 (1923)
Location: Iowa Traction Railway (active)
Still Operational: Yes

IATR 50 and IATR 54 (1920, 1923)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The IATR 50, built in 1920, and IATR 54, built in 1923, are some of the oldest locomotives still in service. This vintage locomotive of Iowa Traction Railway connects the towns of Mason City and Clear Lake in Iowa. These locomotives have open platform cabs, which are actually considered dangerous but give great visibility. 

While initially this was a passenger train, it became a freight operations train in 1937. In 1980, IATR acquired 75 freight cars to fulfill orders from online shippers. In 1987 the ownership was changed to Dave Johnso, and later was acquired by Progressive Rail in 2012. 

Around 100 years later, these two freight trains are still running the routes.

Did you know?

In the 1970s and the 1980s, the IATR 50 and the IATR 54 faced many operational challenges. They overcame fluctuating traffic patterns, customer diversions to trucks, disruptions from consolidations, and bankruptcies of connecting railroads.

5. Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal 15 (1917)

Year Built: 1917
Location: Strasburg Rail Road (active as Thomas replica)
Still Operational: Yes

Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal 15 (1917)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal 15 (BEDT 15) is a 0-60 tank locomotive. It was particularly built for industrial use, making it great for pushing heavy loads. The BEDT 15 operated on Brooklyn’s waterfront moving freight cars and barges for around 5 decades from 1917-1963. 

After ending operations in 1963, the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal 15 underwent restorations from 1965 to 1968. Later, in 1998, it was taken by Strasburg Rain Road, where it was attached to the replica of Tomas the Tank Engine. 

Now, as the Thomas replica, the BEDT 15 participates in the popular  “Day Out with Thomas” events. A hundred years later, the BECT 15 continues to be a popular ambassador of steam trains. 

Did you know?

The BEDT 15 spent 23 years on static display while acquired by the Toledo, Lake Erie, and Western Railway in 1975. It resumed operations when it was acquired by the Strasburg Rail Road in 1998.

4. Canadian National 89 (1910)

Year Built: 1910
Location: Strasburg Rail Road (active)
Still Operational: Yes

Canadian National 89 (1910)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Canadian National 89 locomotive was built by the Canadian Locomotive Company for the Grand Trunk Railway. It served the Canadian National after the 1919 corporate merger. Later, in 1961, the Canadian National 89 was sold to a collector and operated on the Vermont railway. 

In 1972, the locomotive was moved to the Strasburg Rail Road, where it underwent rebuilding. It returned to service in 1988 and is still running after 100 years. The Canadian National 89 made appearances in TV shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood. 

The Canadian National 89 spent its entire working life in railroad service, even after 113 years. 

Did you know?

The Canadian National 89 locomotive has all original components except the boiler. It is now artfully well-preserved.

3. Norfolk and Western 475 (1906)

Year Built: 1906
Location: Strasburg, Pennsylvania (active)
Still Operational: Yes

Norfolk and Western 475 (1906)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Norfolk and Western 475 is a Baldwin 4-8-0 steam locomotive manufactured in Philadelphia. It was originally delivered to Northfolk and Western Railway for freight trains. Later, it was used as a helper engine on the railroad’s steep Blacksburg Branch. It was retired in 1959 and sold to several private owners before its operational restoration. 

The Norfolk and Western 475 currently haul tourist excursions in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. It was also featured in many featured films including Thomas and the Magic Railroad. 

Did you know? 

Today, the Norfolk and Western 475 locomotive pulls vintage passenger cars.

2. GKB 671 (1860)

Year Built: 1860
Location: Graz-Köflach railway, Styria (active)
Still Operational: Yes

GKB 671 (1860)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The GKB 671 locomotive was built in Austria and has operated in various European countries. This locomotive is a surviving unit from the original series of 205 freight locomotives. It was purchased by the Graz-Köflacher Bahn (GKB) railway in the 1920s.

Originally, GKB 671 was used for light-duty hauling passenger cars on steam specials. This locomotive is one of the world’s longest-serving steam locomotives. GKB 671 is fueled by coal and retrofitted with compressed air brakes.

GKB 671 is over 163 years old and still runs in the Graz-Köflach railway in the province of Styria.

Did you know?

GKB 671’s 4 sister engines from the 1860s are also preserved in museums.

1. The Fairy Queen (1855)

Year Built: 1855
Location: Rewari Railway Heritage Museum (active for special tours)
Still Operational: Yes

The Fairy Queen (1855)Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

The famous Fairy Queen locomotive was built for the Indian Railways in 1855. It was assembled in Leeds, England. This locomotive hauled passenger trains in India until 1909 and then went on display. Decades later, it was restored to operation in 1997 and was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest working steam locomotive.

After restoration also, it was named after the train it hauled between Delhi and Alwar called the Fairy Queen Express This locomotive features carriages with large glass windows for sightseeing along the route.  Fueled by coal, this locomotive is 1.5 meter gauge and weighs 26 tons.

During retirement time, the Fairy Queen locomotive was also housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum, which had 10+ of the oldest steam engines in India, along with a lot of vintage railway displays.

However, came back to operation and now has 165 years of reliable service, making it the oldest locomotive still in service.

Did you know?

Mostly used for special tours and excursions 2 days every month, the Fairy Queen goes at a moderate yet top speed of 40 km/hour.


Think about locomotives continuing service even after 100 and 150 years since it was built! It is a pure example of the quality of engineering of that time. Most of these locomotives have survived accidents and yet managed to last over decades and centuries.

Some of these still run as part of a vintage experience. So, if you want to experience some of these, get there before they hide away in a museum corner. Hopefully, they’ll all run for a very long time.

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