Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 2903
Santa Fe 2903 is the largest steam locomotive, by both weight and length, in the IRM collection. It is also one of the fastest, designed for top speeds exceeding 100mph. This type of locomotive was built for mixed passenger and express freight use and ran for some 15 years before retirement in the late 1950s. For more than 30 years the engine was on display outside of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry until it was moved to IRM in 1993.
COMPARE ME WITH: Grand Trunk Western 6323, another 4-8-4 Northern in the museum’s collection. Although of the same wheel arrangement, the GTW engine is much smaller than Santa Fe 2903 – in fact it weighs less than half as much.
Santa Fe 2903 Details
Builder: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Year Built: 1943
Builder Number: 69791
Wheel Arrangement: 4-8-4
Length: 121ft 7in
Width: 10ft 9in
Weight: 882365 lbs
Tractive Effort: 66000
Boiler Pressure: 300 psi
Description: Class 2900
Condition: Complete / cosmetically restored / not operational
Santa Fe 2903 Ownership History
1943-1961 – Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe
1961-1995 – Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago, IL
1995-present – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, IL
Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 2903 is one of the largest artifacts at the museum. It weighs 975,000 pounds – the heaviest steam engine at the museum, and the heaviest passenger locomotive ever built – and stretches over 120’ in length. It is also, as designed, one of the fastest artifacts at the museum.
The Santa Fe 2900-series had a top speed of nearly 100mph and accounts survive of locomotives of this type going 110mph or more. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, steam locomotives – sometimes viewed as archaic relics nowadays – achieved remarkably high speeds through a steady progression of technological advancement. Trains at the time of the Civil War rarely went faster than 50-60mph. By the 1890s, though, there were locomotives that could run faster than 90mph in service. In 1904 a British steam engine called “City of Truro” broke the 100mph mark. During the 1920s and 1930s, advances in locomotive power made it more and more common for fast passenger locomotives to operate over 100mph on a regular basis.
Speed was a point of pride with railroads, and different lines vied for speed records and held competing publicity stunts. The New York Central’s “Empire State Express” of the 1890s boasted of average speeds of more than 60mph over its entire route. In 1927, a Pennsylvania Railroad train raced from Washington to New York at speeds of up to 115mph carrying newsreel footage of Charles Lindbergh. The film was developed in the baggage car en route. In 1938, the official speed record for a steam engine was set by a British engine called “Mallard” at 126mph. It still stands.
Among the most famous of all speedsters, however, was “Death Valley Scotty.” In 1905 Walter Scott, a prospector and self-promoter, hired a fast train from the Santa Fe Railroad to try and break the Los Angeles-to-Chicago speed record. The “Coyote Special” made the run in less than 45 hours, shattering the previous record and establishing the Santa Fe as a railroad known for speed. Santa Fe 2903, one of the last of the high-speed steam engines on the Santa Fe, was retired to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where it remained on display until it was moved to IRM in 1995.