A New York Central 4-6-4 Hudson Slideshow.

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J3 Hudson No. 5429.
A J-3a Dreyfuss Hudson on display at the 1939 World's Fair.
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A J-3a "Dreyfuss" Hudson on display at the 1939 World's Fair.

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Promotional Image of a Dreyfuss streamlined New York Central Hudson Locomotive.

Promotional Image of a "Dreyfuss" streamlined New York Central Hudson Locomotive.

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Two class J3 Hudsons  No. 5426 and 5429 received an impressive streamlining in plated steel, and stainless steel in 1941 for the "'Empire State Express", which was one of the most prestigious trains of the New York Central Railroad.

New York Central No. 5344, the "Commodore Vanderbilt", was the the last J-1e built and featured Art Deco streamlining designed by Henry Dreyfuss.

New York Central 4-6-4 Hudson Streamlined Steam Locomotive

The New York Central Hudson's were a series of 4-6-4 "Hudson" type steam locomotives built by the American Locomotive Company and the Lima Locomotive Works from 1927 to 1938 for the New York Central Railroad. Named after the Hudson River, the 4-6-4 wheel arrangement came to be known as the "Hudson" type in the United States as these locomotives were the first examples built and used in North America. Built for high-speed passenger train work, the Hudson locomotives were famously known for hauling the New York Central's crack passenger trains, such as the 20th Century Limited and the Empire State Express. With the onset of diesel locomotives in the mid 20th Century, all Hudson locomotives were retired and scrapped by the late 1950's. None of the New York Central Hudson's survived into preservation.


Although the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) was the first to design such locomotives (naming them Baltics), they were not built until after the NYC's Hudsons. NYC President Patrick E. Crowley named the units Hudsons after the Hudson River, which was in clear view from his office window.

The Hudson came into being because the existing 4-6-2 Pacific power was not able to keep up with the demands of longer, heavier trains and higher speeds. Given NYC's axle load limits, Pacific could not be made any larger; a new locomotive type would be required to carry the larger boilers. Lima Locomotive Works' conception of superpower steam as realized in the 2-8-4 Berkshire type was the predecessor to the Hudson. The 2-8-4's 4-wheel trailing truck permitted a huge firebox to be located after the boiler. The resulting greater steaming rate ensured that such a locomotive would never run out of power at speed, a common failing of older locomotives. Applying the ideas of the freight-minded Berkshire type to the Pacific resulted in a 4-6-4 locomotive.

NYC ordered prototype No. 5200 from Alco, and subjected it to intensive testing. A fleet of 205 J-1 class Hudsons were later built, including 30 for the Michigan Central Railroad and the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (“Big Four”) apiece. In addition, NYC subsidiary Boston & Albany Railroad ordered 20 J-2 class, 10 from Lima Locomotive Works (all other NYC Hudsons were built by Alco’s Schenectady works). A later development were 50 J-3a class Super Hudsons in 1937–1938, with many modern appliances and innovations. Over their service life The NYC Hudson locomotives eventually had road numbers arranged from 5200 to 5474. The J1 road numbers were 5200-5404, the J2 road numbers were 5405-5424, and the J3 road numbers were 5425-5474.

The Hudsons were of excellent quality. Locomotive No. 5344 had streamlining applied and named Commodore Vanderbilt. The streamlining was later replaced to match the last ten J-3a locomotives that had been built with streamlining designed by Henry Dreyfuss. Two more J-3a locomotives had streamlining fitted in 1941 for Empire State Express service. The streamlined locomotives featured prominently on NYC advertising.

The forte of all Hudsons was power at top speed. They were poor performers at low speed and the presence of a booster engine on the trailing truck was an absolute necessity for starting. For this reason, they were generally favored by railroads with flat terrain and straight routes. After the NYC, the Milwaukee Road was also fond of the Hudsons, acquiring 22 class F6 and six streamlined class F7s. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway also had 16, while the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad had 10 (No. 1400-1409) streamlined I-5 4-6-4s built by Baldwin in 1937 (nicknamed "Shoreliners"). Few railroads with hilly terrain acquired any.

A booster was prone to troubles, however, and gradually fell out of favor. Instead of a complicated booster, it was deemed preferential to have an extra pair of driving wheels, and thus better traction.

Trials of dual-purpose 4-8-2 Mohawks sealed the Hudson's fate. The Mohawk was nice, but it was still more suited to lower-speed hauling than high-speed power. In 1944, NYC received permission from the War Production Board to build a new, high-speed locomotive of the 4-8-4 type, combining all the advantages of the Hudson with those of the Mohawk. Many other railroads had taken to the 4-8-4 in the 1930s, generally calling them Northerns after the Northern Pacific Railway, which had first adopted them. By being a late adopter, the NYC had the chance to build on everyone else's experience. That locomotive proved to be exceptional, and the type on the NYC was named the Niagara. Since only 27 were built, however, they only took over the heaviest and most-prestigious trains; most Hudsons labored until the end of steam on NYC.

None of the NYC Hudson units survive; all were scrapped when the railroad dieselized. Two J-1 class Hudsons, numbers 5311 and 5313, were sold to the Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway in 1948 and were renumbered 501 and 502 respectively. Both locomotives were retired and scrapped in 1954. The tender from the 502 (formerly the 5313) was retained by the TH&B and converted to a steam generator car for use on passenger trains. The generator car still survives today and is part of the Steamtown National Historic Site collection.

However, since the Peppercorn A1 60163 Tornado was completed in the UK in 2008, some volunteers known as The Hudson Steam Locomotive Revival Project (HPR) are seeking on building a live replica of the NYC J-3 Hudson to be numbered 5475 in Buffalo, New York.

Popular culture
The character Connor from the Thomas & Friends television series is stylized after a streamlined NYC Hudson. NYC Hudsons are featured on the cover of Van Halen's 2012 album A Different Kind of Truth and the Commodores 1975's album Movin' On.

Toy Trains
Lionel has issued the Hudson in the 1930s, 1946, 1947, 1960s, 1980s, and 2010s. The first one in the 1930s was used for T-Rail track and numbered 5344. The hudson from 1946, numbered 221 was made in a grey paint scheme for NYC railroad and was the only grey engine produced by Lionel during the postwar years. Also the hudson from 1947 is the same engine as the hudson from 1946 but in a black paint scheme with NYC railroad logos also numbered 221 as well. The 1960s version was for O-Gauge Tubular track and numbered 773. The 1980s Hudson was released for O-Gauge Tubular track and numbered 783. The 2010s legacy Hudson was numbered 5344 like the 1930s Hudson but used for O Gauge FasTrack, Tubular, or Atlas O Gauge track. MTH has also issued the Hudson since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

New York Central 4-6-4 Hudson Overview

Type and origin
Power type: Steam
Builder(s): Alco-Schenectady (265); Lima Locomotive Works (10)
Build date: 1927–1931 (J-1); 1928–1931 (J-2);  1937–1938 (J-3)
Total produced: 275
Configuration: 4-6-4
Gauge: 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in standard gauge
Operators: New York Central Railroad, Boston and Albany Railroad, Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway
Class: J-1, J-2 and J-3
Number in class: 205 (J-1), 20 (J-2), 50 (J-3)
Disposition: All scrapped

See also:

New York Central Railroad

20th Century Limited Passenger Train

Empire State Express Passenger Train

Commodore Vanderbilt Locomotive

4-6-4 Locomotives

Streamlined Steam Locomotives

Steam Locomotives