Southern Railway Ps4 4-6-2

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

The Southern Railway's Ps4 class of 4-6-2s have often been called one of the most beautiful Pacifics ever constructed featuring a long, graceful boiler, large drivers, and handsome livery of Virginia green (a color that the railroad continued to use until it merged with the Norfolk & Western in 1982) with white and gold trim adorning various aspects of the locomotives. This was all accomplished years before the idea of streamlining became a popular concept and with the steamers matching their consists of passenger cars the trains were very eye-catching (especially in an era when equipment was not particularly colorful). Thankfully, for history’s sake and that of the railfan community, the Southern recognized the significance of its Ps4 class and donated one to the Smithsonian Institution in 1961 where it continues to be displayed to this day.

Just as with the Pennsylvania Railroad's famous Class K-4s Pacifics, the Southern's Ps4 design was not the company's only roster of 4-6-2s, actually very far from it. After the Chesapeake & Ohio put into service the first standard Pacific in 1902 the Southern was not far behind. Just a few years later in 1905 it began operating its own design, listed as Class P. These locomotives were built specifically for passenger service with relatively large drivers. Interestingly, however, when the railroad went back for more 4-6-2s in 1906 they were equipped for freight service. In the end the Southern purchased there different batches of Class P built through 1910, six of which were stenciled for subsidiary Georgia, Southern & Florida Railway.

These early Pacifics were built by a combination of manufacturers including Baldwin and the American Locomotive Company's (Alco) Richmond plant, totaling 72 units in all. Between 1911 and 1914 the locomotives were rebuilt with superheaters and other upgrades, and were reclassified as Ps-2. Interestingly, the Ps4 class was the final batch of Pacifics the Southern owned and spanned nearly 10 years from the railroad's last order of 4-6-2s. For instance, between 1905 and 1914 the company purchased or reclassified a total of seven different batches of Pacifics which included Class P, P-1, Ps-2, H/H1, H-1/Ps, H/H-2, and H/Ps-3. The Ps4 was not built until 1923 with most manufactured by Alco's Schenectady and Richmond plants. These totaled 23 units (#1366-1392) and three years later in 1926 the railroad ordered 20 additional examples, which also came from Alco.

It was the arrival of the first batch that the world was exposed to the Southern's unveiling of elegant Virginia green. The livery was inspired from British railways, which were well-known for very elegant schemes adorning their locomotives. While the Pacifics were draped mostly in deep green they also received gold and white pinstriping with white-wall wheels. Like the Baltimore & Ohio’s magnificent EM-1 locomotive class the Ps4s did not have a considerably long lifespan for a steam locomotive. These were the only 4-6-2s, and only steamers within the Southern's entire fleet, to receive this special livery to haul the company's premier passenger runs of the period such as the Crescent.

Southern Railway Ps4 4-6-2 Specifications

Wheel Arrangement - 4-6-2

Builder - American Locomotive Company (Alco)

Original Year of Construction - 1926

Cylinders(2) - 27" x 28"

Boiler Pressure - 200 PSI

Driver Diameter - 73 Inches

Tractive Effort - 47,535 Pounds

Weight on Drivers - 182,000 Pounds

Locomotive Weight - 304,000 Pounds

After Alco delivered the last Ps4s in the late 1920s they survived less than thirty years before being retired in 1952 and replaced by the Electro-Motive Division’s (EMD) E7 diesel-electrics to pull the Southern’s premier passenger trains. In regular service the Pacifics performed admirably with the job they were tasked. Sporting driving wheels of 73 inches they were capable of speeds approaching 80 mph with nearly 1,000 tons in tow on level track and regularly cruised the Southern’s Charlotte Division (between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta) main line at nearly 60 mph. 

Finally, one Ps4, #1380, received streamlining and a special version of the Virginia green livery to power its new Southerner in 1941 between New York and New Orleans.   Thanks to the Southern's recognition of its history the railroad not only spared #1401 (among the last it purchased) but gave the locomotive a full cosmetic restoration in the late fall of 1961 before donating it to the Smithsonian. The new museum, where the Pacific is now on display, was completed and opened to the public in January of 1964.

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