Whyte notation

Whyte notation
A selection of early 20th century locomotive types according to their Whyte notation and their comparative size
Whyte notation as of 1906. From a handbook for railroad industry workers published in 1906.[1]

The Whyte notation for classifying steam locomotives by wheel arrangement was devised by Frederick Methvan Whyte[2] and came into use in the early twentieth century encouraged by an editorial in American Engineer and Railroad Journal (December 1900). Whyte's system counts the number of leading wheels, then the number of driving wheels, and finally the number of trailing wheels, groups of numbers being separated by dashes.[3] Other classification schemes, like UIC classification and the French, Turkish and Swiss systems for steam locomotives, count axles rather than wheels.

Thus, in the Whyte Notation a locomotive with two leading axles (and thus four wheels) in front, then three driving axles (six wheels) and then one trailing axle (two wheels) is classified as a 4-6-2.



Articulated locomotives

Articulated locomotives such as Garratts, which are effectively two locomotives joined by a common boiler, have a + between the arrangements of each engine. Thus, a "double Pacific" type Garratt is a 4-6-2+2-6-4.

Simpler articulated types such as Mallets, where there are no unpowered axles between powered axles, have extra groups of numbers in the middle. Thus a Union Pacific Big Boy is a 4-8-8-4; there are two leading axles, one group of four driving axles, another group of four driving axles, and then two trailing axles.

For Garratt locomotives the + sign is used even when there are no intermediate unpowered axles, e.g. the LMS Garratt 2-6-0+0-6-2. This is because the two engine units are more than just power bogies. They are complete engines, carrying fuel and water tanks. The + sign represents the bridge (carrying the boiler) which links the two engines.


The suffix T indicates a tank locomotive; otherwise, a tender locomotive is assumed. In British practice, this is sometimes extended to indicate the type of tank locomotive: T means side tank, PT pannier tank, ST saddle tank, WT well tank. T+T means a tank locomotive that has a tender for additional coal or water capacity.

In Europe, the suffix R can signify rack (0-6-0RT) or reversible (0-6-0TR), the latter case being the Bi-cabine locomotives used in France.

The suffix F indicates a fireless locomotive (0-4-0F). Note that this locomotive has no tender.

Other suffixes have been used at times, including ng for narrow-gauge locomotives (i.e., less than 56.5 in / 1435 mm) and CA or ca for compressed air (i.e. running on compressed air from a tank instead of steam from a boiler).

Internal combustion locomotives

In Britain, small diesel and petrol locomotives are usually classified in the same way as steam locomotives, e.g. 0-4-0, 0-6-0, 0-8-0. This may be followed by D for diesel or P for petrol, and another letter describing the transmission: E for electric, H hydraulic, M mechanical. Thus 0-6-0DE denotes a six-wheel diesel locomotive with electric transmission. Where the axles are coupled by chains or shafts (rather than side-rods), or are individually driven, the terms 4w, 6w or 8w are generally used. Thus 4wPE indicates a four-wheel petrol locomotive with electric transmission. For large diesel locomotives the UIC classification is used.


The main limitation of the Whyte Notation in classifying locomotives was that it did not cover non-standard steam locomotive typessuch as Shay locomotives, which use geared trucks rather than driving wheels. This led to the design of other forms of classification. The most commonly used system in Europe outside the United Kingdom is the UIC classification scheme, based on German practice, which can more completely define the exact layout of a locomotive.


In American (and to a lesser extent British) working practice, most wheel arrangements in common use were given individual names, often from the name of the first such locomotive built. For example the 2-2-0 type arrangement is named Planet, after the 1830 locomotive on which it was first used. (This naming convention is similar to the naming of warship classes.)

Common wheel arrangements

Here is a list of the most common wheel arrangements: in the illustration the front of the locomotive is to the left.

(locomotive front is to the left)
Whyte classification Name
Non-articulated locomotives
WheelArrangement 0-2-2.svg 0-2-2 Northumbrian
WheelArrangement 2-2-0.svg 2-2-0 Planet
WheelArrangement 2-2-2.svg 2-2-2 Single,[2] Jenny Lind
WheelArrangement 2-2-4.svg 2-2-4  
WheelArrangement 4-2-0.svg 4-2-0 Jervis[4]
WheelArrangement 4-2-2.svg 4-2-2 Bicycle
WheelArrangement 4-2-4.svg 4-2-4  
WheelArrangement 6-2-0.svg 6-2-0 Crampton[5]
WheelArrangement 0-4-0.svg 0-4-0 Four-Coupled
WheelArrangement 0-4-2.svg 0-4-2  
WheelArrangement 0-4-4.svg 0-4-4 Forney[1]
WheelArrangement 2-4-0.svg 2-4-0 Porter, 'Old English'[6]
WheelArrangement 2-4-2.svg 2-4-2 Columbia[1]
WheelArrangement 2-4-4.svg 2-4-4  
WheelArrangement 4-4-0.svg 4-4-0 American,[1][7] Eight-wheeler
WheelArrangement 4-4-2.svg 4-4-2 Atlantic[1][8]
WheelArrangement 4-4-4.svg 4-4-4 Reading, Jubilee (Canada)[9]
WheelArrangement 0-6-0.svg 0-6-0 (one driving wheel per axle; used on Patiala State Monorail Trainways and also on the Listowel and Ballybunion Railway)
WheelArrangement 0-6-0.svg 0-6-0 Six-Coupled,[1] Bourbonnais (France), USRA 0-6-0 (United States)
WheelArrangement 0-6-2.svg 0-6-2  
WheelArrangement 0-6-4.svg 0-6-4 Forney six-coupled[1]
WheelArrangement 2-6-0.svg 2-6-0 Mogul[1][10]
WheelArrangement 2-6-2.svg 2-6-2 Prairie[1][2]
WheelArrangement 2-6-4.svg 2-6-4 Adriatic
WheelArrangement 2-6-6.svg 2-6-6
WheelArrangement 4-6-0.svg 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler[1][11] (not Britain)[12]
WheelArrangement 4-6-2.svg 4-6-2 Pacific[1][2][13][14]
WheelArrangement 4-6-4.svg 4-6-4 Hudson,[15] Baltic[2]
WheelArrangement 0-8-0.svg 0-8-0 Eight-Coupled,[1] USRA 0-8-0 (United States)
WheelArrangement 0-8-2.svg 0-8-2  [16]
WheelArrangement 0-8-4.svg 0-8-4  
WheelArrangement 2-8-0.svg 2-8-0 Consolidation[1][2][17]
WheelArrangement 2-8-2.svg 2-8-2 Mikado,[1][2] Mike, MacArthur[18][19]
WheelArrangement 2-8-4.svg 2-8-4 Berkshire, Kanawha[20][21]
WheelArrangement 2-8-6.svg 2-8-6 Used only on four Mason Bogie locomotives
WheelArrangement 4-8-0.svg 4-8-0 Mastodon, Twelve-Wheeler[1]
WheelArrangement 4-8-2.svg 4-8-2 Mountain,[2][22] Mohawk[23]
WheelArrangement 4-8-4.svg 4-8-4 Northern, Niagara, Confederation, Dixie, Greenbrier, Pocono, Potomac, Golden State, Western, General, Wyoming (Lehigh Valley[24]), Governor, Big Apple, GS Series "Daylight" (Southern Pacific)[25]
WheelArrangement 4-8-6.svg 4-8-6 Proposed by Lima, never built
WheelArrangement 6-8-6.svg 6-8-6 (PRR S2 steam turbine locomotive)[26]
WheelArrangement 6-8-6.svg 8-8-8 (Breitspurbahn)
WheelArrangement 0-10-0.svg 0-10-0 Ten-Coupled,[1][27] (rarely) Decapod
WheelArrangement 0-10-2.svg 0-10-2 Union[27]
WheelArrangement 2-10-0.svg 2-10-0 Decapod,[1][28] Russian Decapod
WheelArrangement 2-10-2.svg 2-10-2 Santa Fe,[1] Central, Decapod (only on the Southern Pacific)
WheelArrangement 2-10-4.svg 2-10-4 Texas, Colorado (CB&Q), Selkirk (Canada)[29]
WheelArrangement 4-10-0.svg 4-10-0 Mastodon,[1] Gobernador (in honor of El Gobernador)
WheelArrangement 4-10-2.svg 4-10-2 Southern Pacific, Overland[30]
WheelArrangement 0-12-0.svg 0-12-0 Twelve-Coupled
WheelArrangement 2-12-0.svg 2-12-0 Centipede[1]
WheelArrangement 2-12-2.svg 2-12-2 Javanic
WheelArrangement 2-12-4.svg 2-12-4  
WheelArrangement 4-12-2.svg 4-12-2 Union Pacific[31]
WheelArrangement 4-14-4.svg 4-14-4 AA20[32]
Duplex locomotives
WheelArrangement 4-4-4-4.svg 4-4-4-4 (PRR T1)[33]
WheelArrangement 6-4-4-6.svg 6-4-4-6 (PRR S1)[34]
WheelArrangement 4-4-6-4.svg 4-4-6-4 (PRR Q2)[35]
WheelArrangement 4-6-4-4.svg 4-6-4-4 (PRR Q1)
Mallet[18] (simple and compound) articulated locomotives
WheelArrangement 0-4-4-0.svg 0-4-4-0 Bavarian BB II [36]
WheelArrangement 2-4-0.svgWheelArrangement 0-4-0.svg 2-4-4-0  
WheelArrangement 0-4-0.svgWheelArrangement 0-4-2.svg 0-4-4-2  
WheelArrangement 2-4-4-2.svg 2-4-4-2  
WheelArrangement 0-6-6-0.svg 0-6-6-0 Erie
WheelArrangement 2-6-6-0.svg 2-6-6-0 Denver & Salt Lake
WheelArrangement 2-6-6-2.svg 2-6-6-2  
WheelArrangement 2-6-6-4.svg 2-6-6-4 Norfolk & Western
WheelArrangement 2-6-6-6.svg 2-6-6-6 Allegheny,[37] Blue Ridge
WheelArrangement 4-6-6-2.svg 4-6-6-2 (Southern Pacific class MM-2)[38]
WheelArrangement 4-6-6-4.svg 4-6-6-4 Challenger[39]
WheelArrangement 2-6-8-0.svg 2-6-8-0 (Southern Railway, Great Northern Railway)[40]
WheelArrangement 0-8-8-0.svg 0-8-8-0 Angus
WheelArrangement 2-8-8-0.svg 2-8-8-0 Bull Moose
WheelArrangement 2-8-8-2.svg 2-8-8-2 Chesapeake
WheelArrangement 2-8-8-4.svg 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone[41]
WheelArrangement 4-8-8-2.svg 4-8-8-2 Southern Pacific cab forward classes AC-4 through AC-12 (except AC-9)[38]
WheelArrangement 4-8-8-4.svg 4-8-8-4 Big Boy[42]
WheelArrangement 2-10-10-2.svg 2-10-10-2 (Santa Fe and Virginian railroads)[40]
WheelArrangement 2-8-8-8-2.svg 2-8-8-8-2 Triplex (Erie RR)
WheelArrangement 2-8-8-8-4.svg 2-8-8-8-4 Triplex (Virginian RR)[43]
Garratt articulated locomotives
WheelArrangement 0-4-0+0-4-0.svg 0-4-0+0-4-0  
WheelArrangement 2-6-2+2-6-2.svg 2-6-2+2-6-2  


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  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Steam Locomotive Glossary". Railway Technical Web Pages. 2007-06-28. http://www.railway-technical.com/st-glos.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  3. ^ Thompson, Keith (2006-05-01). "Builder's plates: A locomotive's birth certificate". Kalmbach Publishing. http://www.trains.com/trn/default.aspx?c=a&id=201. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  4. ^ White, John H., Jr. (1968). A History of the American Locomotive - Its Development: 1830-1880. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-23818-0. , p. 33.
  5. ^ Adams, Bob (December 1968). "The Crampton Type Locomotive on the Camden & Amboy Railroad". NMRA Bulletin (National Model Railroad Association). 
  6. ^ Ellis, C Hamilton, Some Classic Locomotives, Allen & Unwin, 1949.173 p.
  7. ^ White (1968), p. 46.
  8. ^ Marsden, Richard (2008). "The LNER 4-4-2 Atlantic Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) Encyclopedia. http://www.lner.info/locos/C/c.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  9. ^ "Canadian Pacific Railway No. 2929". Steamtown NHS Special History Study. United States National Park Service. 2002-02-14. http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/steamtown/shs3h.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  10. ^ White (1968), p 62-65.
  11. ^ White (1968), p. 57.
  12. ^ Marsden, Richard (2008). "LNER 4-6-0 Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) Encyclopedia. http://www.lner.info/locos/B/b.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  13. ^ Marsden, Richard (2008). "LNER 4-6-2 Pacific Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) Encyclopedia. http://www.lner.info/locos/A/a.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  14. ^ "Pacifics". SteamLocomotive.com accessdate=2008-02-08. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/pacific/. 
  15. ^ "Hudsons". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/hudson/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  16. ^ Marsden, Richard (2008). "The Ivatt R1 0-8-2 Tank Locomotives". The London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. http://web.archive.org/web/20070927192437/http://www.winwaed.com/rail/LNER/locos/R/r1.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  17. ^ White (1968), p. 65.
  18. ^ a b "Glossary Of Common Railroad Terms: M". Kalmbach Publishing. http://trains.com/trn/glossary/default.aspx?list=4&fl=m. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  19. ^ "The Mikado Type Locomotive". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/mikado/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  20. ^ Farrell, Jack W. (1989). North American steam locomotives: The Berkshire and Texas types. Edmonds, WA: Pacific Fast Mail. ISBN 0-915713-15-2. 
  21. ^ "Berkshires & Kanawhas". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/berkshire/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  22. ^ "Mountains". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/mountain/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  23. ^ Taylor, Frank (January 1941). "New York Central Dual-service Mohawk". Model Railroader (Kalmbach Publishing). 
  24. ^ http://www.steamlocomotive.com/northern/lv.shtml
  25. ^ "Northerns". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/northern/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  26. ^ Staufer, Alvin F. (1962). Pennsy Power: Steam and Electric Locomotives of the Pennsylvania Railroad 1900-1957. Wayner Publications. ISBN 0-944513-04-2. 
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  28. ^ "Glossary Of Common Railroad Terms: D". Kalmbach Publishing. http://trains.com/trn/glossary/default.aspx?list=4&fl=d. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  29. ^ "The Texas Type Locomotive". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/texas/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  30. ^ Westing, Frederick (April 1954). "Baldwin's barnstorming behemoth". Trains. 
  31. ^ Westcott, Linn H. (1960). Model Railroader Cyclopedia - Volume 1: Steam Locomotives. Kalmbach Books. ISBN 0-89024-001-9. 
  32. ^ "Russian Reforms". 2001-10-06. http://www.aqpl43.dsl.pipex.com/MUSEUM/LOCOLOCO/russ/russrefr.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  33. ^ Russ, David (July 1943). "Riding the Pennsy T1". Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). 
  34. ^ Morgan, David P. (May 1965). "They called her the big engine". Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). 
  35. ^ Herring, S. E. and Morgan, David P. (June 1966). "Instead of a 4-10-4". Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). 
  36. ^ Barry, Frank (June 1963). "Mexico's inside-and-outside-framed 0-4-4-0s". Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). 
  37. ^ "The Allegheny Type Locomotive". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/allegheny/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  38. ^ a b Diebert, Timothy S. and Strapac, Joseph A. (1987). Southern Pacific Company Steam Locomotive Conpendium. Shade Tree Books. ISBN 0-930742-12-5. 
  39. ^ "The Challenger Type Locomotive". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/challenger/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  40. ^ a b Carlson, Neil (2006-06-15). "Steam locomotive profile: 2-8-8-2". Classic Trains (Kalmbach Publishing). http://trains.com/ctr/default.aspx?c=a&id=151. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  41. ^ "The Yellowstone Type Locomotive". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/yellowstone/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  42. ^ "Union Pacific Big Boys". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/bigboy/. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  43. ^ "Virginian Class XA Locomotives". SteamLocomotive.com. http://www.steamlocomotive.com/articulated/virginianxa.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 

Further reading

See also

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