A 2-8-0 steam locomotive has a single-axle leading truck followed by four powered driving axles. This type of locomotive is commonly called a Consolidation.
Of all the locomotive types that were created and experimented with in the early part of the 19th century, the 2-8-0 was a relative latecomer. More than 33,000 2-8-0 locomotives — including 12,000 export versions — were built in the United States.
The 2-6-0 is often considered the logical forerunner to the 2-8-0, which was first appeared in the early 1860s.
The first locomotive of this wheel arrangement was likely built by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), but like the first 2-6-0s, this first 2-8-0 had a leading axle that was rigidly attached to the locomotive’s frame. To create this 2-8-0, the PRR’s master mechanic John P. Laird modified an existing 0-8-0, the Bedford between 1864 and 1865.
Only a few railroads purchased this locomotive type upon its introduction by Baldwin. Even the Baltimore & Ohio, which had nearly 180 of this locomotive type in regular service by 1885, didn’t purchase any of this type until 1873.
The 2-8-0 design was given a major boost in 1875 when the PRR made it the railroad’s standard freight locomotive. In 1875, the Erie Railroad began replacing its 4-4-0s in freight service with 2-8-0s.
The railroads found that the 2-8-0 could move trains twice as heavy for half the cost of their earlier brethren. From a financial standpoint, the choice of freight locomotives was clear.