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Record Breakers

Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN looks at the fastest, the longest, and the biggest.

Sadly we don't have Roy Castle or Norris McWhirter on hand with a tape measure, but in this article I am going to look trains and railways that have broken records. Im going to specifically exclude things like Maglev trains and rocket sleds, because although they hold records they are not locomotives/trains in the traditional sense, there has to be some rules!

Fastest Steam Locomotive

Mallard Locomotive

Mallard at the National Railway Museum.

Well start off with an easy one the fastest run by a steam locomotive was by LNER A4 4468 Mallard, on 3rd July 1938. It was driven by 61 year old driver Joseph Duddington, an LNER veteran, with fireman Thomas Bray. Mallard pulled three coaches and a dynamometer car down the slight downwards grade at Stoke Bank on the East Coast Mainline, and reached a speed of 126mph The official record that it still holds to this day. Although it has been the fastest, it is now a static exhibition at the National Railway Museum in York.

Fastest Electric Locomotive

TGV Record Breaker By Alain Stoll - IMGP0492, CC BY-SA 2.0,

April 3, 2007 near Le Chemin, Meuse, France.

The record for the fastest electric locomotive, which is also the fastest speed for any type of conventional wheeled locomotive, is 357.2mph. This was achieved in France by a TGV train, number 4402, on 3rd April 2007. It was a bit of a cheat, because the train was reduced to three cars which were modified with larger wheels and stronger pantograph wires, but the record still stands.

Fastest Diesel Locomotive

Intercity 125

HST in Intercity Swallow livery at St Pancras.

The fastest diesel locomotive is the BR Class 43, known for pulling the Intercity 125 High Speed Train in the United Kingdom. Introduced in 1975 and still in use today, they have a regular service speed of up to 125mph, with the record top speed at 148mph. The HST is a Diesel-Electric, which means the diesel engine is not connected to the wheels and generates electricity to power the traction motors. The fastest locomotive with a 'true' diesel engine is the DRG Class SVT 137, a high speed train that reached 134mph in Germany during the 1930s.

Ed's Note - orignally this list stated the SVT 137 was the fastest diesel, which it is if you define it as a diesel engine running the wheels. The BR Class 43 runs on electric motors driven by power generated by diesel generators. However, due to public demand I have amended the article.

Longest Steam Locomotive

Union Pacific Big Boy

Union Pacific "Big Boy" #4019 in Echo Canyon, Utah.

The longest steam locomotive ever built is the Union Pacific 4000 Class, built by the American Locomotive Company. Nicknamed 'Big Boy', this locomotive has an overall length of 132' 9 1/4" including the tender. The wheel configuration is 4-8-8-4, and they were used between 1941 and 1959 to haul freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains in Wyoming, USA. Of the twenty-five built, eight still exist in preservation in one form or another. Their relatively short time in service was due to the post-war emergence of more powerful diesel and electric locomotives.

Longest Passenger Journey

Trans-Siberian Railway

Now we're going to look at the longest journey that you can take. By 'longest' I mean distance, not time. That would be trying to travel between Worthing and Barnham by Southern trains on a wet Sunday afternoon. The longest passenger service by distance, which does not involve changing trains, is the Trans-Siberian Railway. This line runs for 5772 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok, and crosses seven time zones. It was built over seventeen years, and opened in 1916. As well as passenger traffic, the Trans-Siberian carries about 200,000 containers to Europe every year. A container can be carried from Beijing to Hamburg via the line in as little as fifteen days.

Shortest Railway

Vatican City

The smallest rail network in the world is in the Vatican City, and comprises of one station and 300m of track. There are no regular services though (apart from in the Cistine Chapel). The shortest branch line in Europe is the Stourbridge Town Branch Line between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town. The line is less than a mile long and takes three minutes.

Longest Underwater Tunnel

Channel Tunnel

The longest underwater railway tunnel is the Channel Tunnel, which runs from Kent, England to Pas-de-Calais in Northern France. As you will no doubt know, this connects London by rail to the continent. It is 31 miles long, and was opened in 1994 to passenger and freight traffic. There is also a vehicle shuttle in operation.

Longest Railway Tunnel

Gotthard Base Tunnel

One of the cutting heads used in the new Base Tunnel.

The longest railway tunnel in the world is the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland, that runs through the Alps from Erstfeld to Bodio. The main purpose of its construction was to shift freight traffic through the Alps from vehicles to rail. Construction of the thirty-five mile length took around seventeen years, and the tunnel was opened in 2016. You can read John's article about the Gotthard Tunnel here.

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