Locomotives are huge and really heavy. The GE Genesis (used by Amtrak today) weighs 134 tons; the Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 "Big Boy", one of the largest steam locomotives, weighs 625 tons (including the tender).

How would you move a locomotive to a railroad if there's no rail connection from its current location to that railroad? Would trucks or other road vehicles be able to move it?


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    $\begingroup$ transporting by road is pretty common practice youtube.com/results?search_query=locomotive+transporting+ (do not know which may be your particular search results but as example this, this, this ) $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Dec 13 '16 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ The choice made depends greatly upon how important it is to deliver fully assembled, upon how far it has to be moved, and upon the terrain in the gap. If you have to get it across the Grand Canyon, the approach is different than if you have to get it from one rail yard to another separate by a mile of flat land with paved roads. Also what technology limits/time frame apply. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Dec 13 '16 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ Give it to a 4-year-old. $\endgroup$ – OldBunny2800 Dec 13 '16 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ First thought: Go to a locomotive museum or similar with locomotives being part of the exhibition and ask them how they got them there. Choose one that doesn't have tracks leading into the building. :^) $\endgroup$ – Num Lock Dec 13 '16 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ What does it have to do with building a new fictional world? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 13 '16 at 9:37

Built on the tracks

While uncommon, this is an easy solution. The light, individual pieces of train cars can be shipped to a commercial railway (not in use or shut down) by conventional means, then assembled on-site. This rail will then connect to the rails that are still in use.

Boats and trucks

Either for small pieces or small cars, conventional means of shipping - large vehicles - will work fine when assisted by other means.

Cranes and ramps

This applies at "crossroads" at which the other methods listed converge - perhaps cars need to be transferred from trucks to boats. Cranes are often used for the heavy lifting; ramps may provide additional support.

Service tracks

Some factories may have their own railways - "service tracks" - which train cars are constructed on. These can connect to the main ones; the difference between this and the first is that no shipment is involved.

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    $\begingroup$ In particular, I happen to know full well that locomotive assembly shops have tracks running into them. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 13 '16 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ IF we can ship a space shuttle to its launch pad , we can ship a locomotive. youtube.com/watch?v=gmfNko777fk $\endgroup$ – Ryan Dec 13 '16 at 17:04


The only thing better than trains are boats. Anything you can move any other way, you can move with a boat.

Find a location on your railroad where it crosses a navigable river (or goes to the ocean), move your locomotive there via barge, build a large single use crane to pick it up and move it to the tracks.


To be clear, this solution would almost never be used. Places that manufacture trains are on train tracks, that is just common sense.

The only circumstances that I personally know of where locomotives are shipped by barge is when nuclear cores are being installed. Often, cores will be built at a plant, and moved by barge to the closest point to the future installation site. Then, depending on proximity to the site, a rail might be constructed and special locomotive placed on those rails. The core will often be in the 1000+ ton range, so lots of special equipment is used for install. This method was specifically used for installing cores built in the US in plants in South Korea.



GE Transporation, maker of the GE Genesis, is right on a rail line.

Brookville Equipment Corporation is right on a rail line.

Bombardier Transportation GmbH is right on a rail line.

Note they're also clustered with other industrial concerns making the rail spur not just about them, but about all the other industries clustered there.


Historically if you want to get a locomotive from point A to point B and there's no rail link in between, like say to California in the mid 1800s, you put it on a ship. Ports already have rail links, so you drive it down the rail to a port, load it onto the ship using one of those enormous cranes, sail to the other port, and their crane drops it on the rail line.

Truck And Trailer

As @MolbOrg pointed out, 130 ton locomotives are regularly moved by truck via special trailers. The trailers have many, many, many wheels to spread the load out both on the trailer and on the road (and any bridges it might cross). Here's an example moving some C44aci locomotives which clock in at 140 tons.



They can carry far more cargo than any other form of transportation and need essentially nothing in terms of infrastructure between the launch and the landing.

Payloads were close (for example, 100 people and their cargo) in the 1930s.

Proto-type airships with 60-75 ton payloads are under serious investigation for military and commercial use today, and the technology scales well with 200 and 500 ton payload versions on the drawing boards.


The biggest load by a single helicopter at once is 105 tons. But, with several, very large helicopters going a fairly short distance, you could probably carry a bigger payload, although I don't know that anyone has ever done that with quite such a heavy load.


625 tons is no big deal for a cargo ship or barge, and also long as the origination point and destination both have connections to a port or even a navigable river, you are set.

Some Assembly Required

Just because it weighs 134-625 tons full assembled, doesn't mean that you can't take it apart into manageable sized pieces and put it back together at its destination. A semi-truck load or C-5 Galaxy transport can probably manage 70 ton loads, which could be as little as two or three loads for the Amtrak and perhaps 10 loads for your Big Boy.

Whole castles and towers have been shipped across the Atlantic in this manner.

Build A Temporary Rail Line To Connect The Lines

Build a one time use rail line to connect the points and then tear it out.

Adapt It For Road Use

Build an adapter (or an oversized flatbed truck) that allows the train wheels to be used on a road temporarily that can be removed once the destination is reached. The adapter doesn't have to be fast, fuel efficient when used, or durable and can be built so that it only operates at optimal temperatures and/or weather conditions.

This (together with barges) is basically how large blocks of stones were put in place for the pyramids.

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    $\begingroup$ Driving the train isn't going to work. Aside from the extreme engineering challenges of adapting a train to be a truck (How does it turn? How do road tires hold up 134 tons?) 134 tons is well above the 40 to 50 ton maximum weight limit of US highways, not to mention bridges. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Dec 12 '16 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ I based 70 tons on the M1A Abrams tank which sometimes goes on highways. A crawler-transporter can carry 6,000 tons, albeit slowly. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crawler-transporter Structure relocator set-ups move 7,000 ton plus buildings. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_relocation 80 ton blocks were moved to build the pyramids with primitive technologies discussed at the link. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_pyramid_construction_techniques and 40 tons blocks at Stonehenge. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Dec 13 '16 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ The trick to overcoming weight limits on what a highway or bridge can normally handle is to spread out the weight over more surface area. The real limits are in the form of weight per area. If you arrange for something like tank tracks, or perhaps use the train as a power source for a very large mover machine taking the surface area of many trucks at once, it ought to be possible. $\endgroup$ – ohwilleke Dec 13 '16 at 0:19
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    $\begingroup$ I agree about reducing the ground pressure, but the idea of adapting the locomotive to itself be driven is needlessly complex when you can put it on a trailer hauled by a truck. (Thanks @MolbOrg) $\endgroup$ – Schwern Dec 13 '16 at 0:24
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    $\begingroup$ You haven't a chance with helicopters - 105T was the maximum take-off weight, not the payload. I'm not sure about records, but in terms of actual, regular helicopter lifts the biggest is the Mi-26 at around 20 tonnes - an order of magnitude less than a locomotive. As for multiple helicopters, despite being a movie favourite there is precious little evidence of its happening in real life (mostly due to its being horrendously dangerous) - although I have seen a suggestion that it's at least been tried. Other aircraft can carry locomotives though - such as the AN-225. $\endgroup$ – Matt Bowyer Dec 13 '16 at 2:37

The classic method is to disassemble the locomotive, transport the pieces, and reassemble it where you want it. One case where this was actually done was the eatly V&T railroad, serving the Comstock Lode mines in Virginia City, Nevada. The locomotives (and everything else) were transported by rail to Reno, hauled up the mountain in pieces, and reassembled.

Wikipedia has a brief article on it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_and_Truckee_Railroad#Comstock_Lode More info could probably be found at various historical sites, or the current V&T tourist railroad site.


Circular Rail - Train Wheel

The other answerers have done the more practical answers. The first thing that came to my mind was (as usual) something more impractical than these.

You take the locomotive. You get approximately 50 times its length (making this up as I go along, don't try this at home) in rail. You put the locomotive onto the start of the rail length, and then bend it in into a large circle, so that the end meets the start. Think hamster wheel. The locomotive is trapped inside it, like the hamster. But this wheel isn't attached to a cage - so when the locomotive moves forward, the wheel rolls!

Now you've got what you needed, a 200ft tall rolling wheel with a train inside it. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to steer this monstrous contraption. Maybe a huge rod from the centre of the train could move the frontmost part of the wheel? Or maybe it could use rods to push against the ground like ski poles? Maybe you just have to be really careful and point it in the right direction to start with?


Here's a video of a team trying (and spectacularly failing) to unload a locomotive from a cargo ship with a crane. That demonstrates that locomotive transport by train is plausible, and also that a such a locomotive can probably be lifted and carried by a crane if the ropes were made slightly sturdier.


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