Just a year after it completed one of the most improbable restorations in preservation history, Union Pacific announced Wednesday that the world’s largest operating steam locomotive will not be running in 2020.
In a video posted online, UP Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Scott Moore announced the railroad would not be running either of its two operating steam locomotives — “Big Boy” 4-8-8-4 4014 and 4-8-4 844 — this year because of the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, Moore said that railroad enthusiasts and history buffs have not seen the last of UP’s massive steam-powered ambassador. “In the interest of safety, we are canceling the 2020 excursion,” Moore said. “But I’m here to tell you that we are committed (to running the locomotive) in 2021.”
While it had not yet announced plans for 4014 in 2020, sources close to the railroad said that UP was planning on bringing the locomotive to the Pacific Northwest, an area it did not visit during its 2019 tour. Last year, the locomotive visited 17 states during three different trips to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad. UP estimates more than 1 million people saw the locomotive run during its inaugural season as part of the UP’s historic steam fleet.
UP Steam Manager Ed Dickens said in the video posted online that the steam crew had recently completed the Big Boy’s annual inspection and that it’s ready to roll next year. “We can’t wait to see everyone in 2021,” Dickens said.
While Wednesday’s news was disappointing it was not surprising. Last week, UP President Lance Fritz announced the railroad would be making drastic cuts in response to what he called an “unprecedented drop” in traffic due to the pandemic. Among the cuts announced was the elimination of all nonessential spending through the end of the year.
—Justin Franz, Railfan & Railroad Magazine