The NER '398' Class 0-6-0 Locomotives

Fletcher '398' No. 1404 (M.Peirson)

Edward Fletcher was noted for developing existing designs, rather than creating completely new designs. This resulted in large class designations that covered a wide range of similar locomotives. It also led to classes which were similar to their predecessors. This was true of the '398' class goods locomotives. These can be traced back to a series of double framed mineral locomotives built by Hawthorn & Co. and Wilson & Co.; and in use when the North Eastern Railway (NER) was formed in 1853. Fletcher continued to build a similar series of locomotives, and these would later be known as the '13' class. These were built over twenty years, and culminated in the substantial '708' class locomotives which were built between 1870 and 1873. Whilst the '708' class was being built, the NER Directors' Locomotive Committee recommended the building of thirty goods engines, similar to the '708' locomotives with 'necessary modifications' and following specifications supplied by Fletcher. The most significant modification, was the use of inside frames instead of double frames. The order was placed in October 1871, and was followed a month later by an order for twenty with Hawthorn & Co. November 1871.

A total of 325 Class '398' locomotives were built. 158 were built at NER workshops (Gateshead, Darlington, and York), 160 were built by contractors (Stephenson, Hawthorn, Neilson, Sharp Stewart, and Dübs), and 7 were rebuilt from older locomotives. Although the contractor locomotives were ordered and delivered in batches, construction by NER workshops was not as clearly defined.

As with most Fletcher types, the '398' locomotives were built with a number of small variations in boiler and frame dimensions. Contractors were also allowed a lot of freedom when choosing detail fittings. The earlier NER-built and all of the contractor-built engines tended to have smaller boilers and smaller tenders. Three of the Gateshead locomotives built in the early 1880s had experimental steel boilers (Nos. 1297 and 391), or experimental steel inner firebox (No. 6).

A variety of cab designs were fitted. Spectacles were often round or oblong. Later cabs tended to be larger, and often had side windows.

The first rebuilds were forced on the '398' locomotives after a series of boiler explosions involving similar boilers on the '398' and '708' locomotives. Initially, these rebuilds merely replaced destroyed boilers, but normal re-boilering started in 1882. These early rebuilds appear to have used Fletcher boilers. In 1883, McDonnell's re-organisation of the Gateshead Works resulted in a backlog of boiler construction. McDonnell solved this by ordering new boilers to his own design from Hawthorn & Co. These were steel boilers with slightly larger fireboxes and smaller water spaces. They were the first non-experimental steel boilers used by the NER.

After 1886, boiler rebuildings switched to a Worsdell steel boiler. With the exception of No. 590 which was destroyed in 1888 by a boiler explosion, all of the '398' locomotives would eventually receive the Worsdell steel boiler. After 1912, replacement boilers had slightly narrower fireboxes. This allowed them to be also used on the J25 (NER Class P1) locomotives. A further reduction in 1918 allowed them to be used as a substitute for the Diagram 67 boilers.

As would be expected by a locomotive type that was built in such large numbers, the '398' class was used throughout the NER system. Their introduction coincided with a period of rapid expansion of both population and industry in the North East. This resulted in a demand for extensive and fast freight services, and the '398's were ideally suited to this work. Although less glamorous than contemporary NER passenger locomotives, the '398's were at least as successful and deserve to receive more recognition. It has been suggested that the movement towards fast freight services during the 20th century (eg. traffic hauled by LNER V2 'Green Arrow' 2-6-2 and Mogul 2-6-0 types) started in the 1870s with the '398' locomotives.

Over time they were superceded from their main line and heaviest duties. By about 1900, they could be found hauling some mineral traffic, as well as working the coast line through Whitby. From about this time, the '398's were used on a lot of excursions and race specials. They became very popular on this type of work, and were capable of some fast timings with heavy loads.

With the exception of No. 590's boiler explosion, withdrawals did not start until 1903. Withdrawals were steady, but paused during World War 1 when many were loaned to other railways which were experiencing motive power shortages. The Highland Railway borrowed fifteen, and four were loaned to the Caledonian. Even the London North Western Railway (LNWR) borrowed two from 1917 to 1919.

Withdrawals continued after 1918, and 86 survived into LNER ownership (1923). The LNER continued the steady withdrawal programme, and the last '398' was withdrawn in 1928. No. 991 was considered for preservation at the new York Railway Museum, but Great Northern Stirling 'Single' No. 1 was chosen instead. Three '398s' were sold to collieries. Nos. 396, 1333, and 1453 were sold in 1925 to Harton Coal Co. in South Shields. No. 396 was renumbered as No. 5 and eventually scrapped in 1953. Harton Coal sold Nos. 1333 & 1453 to Boldon Colliery where they became Nos. 4 & 1 respectively. These were scrapped in 1952 and 1940.

Considering that so many '398's survived into LNER ownership and the fact that they survived for five years, it is strange that the LNER never allocated a class designation to the NER '398's.

Technical Details

The following details are from the NER's final drawings. No diagram number is given for the boiler. The LNER classified them as '398' boilers, but they were also included with the similar Diagram 67 boilers which had slightly different firebox dimensions.

Cylinders (x2): (inside) 17x24in.
Motion: Stephenson Slide Valves
Boiler: Max. Diameter: 4ft 3in
Pressure: 160psi
Heating Surface: Total: 1133 sq.ft.
Firebox: 107 sq.ft.
Tubes: 1026 sq.ft. (205x 1.75in)
Grate Area: 17 sq.ft.
Wheels: Coupled: 5ft
Tender: 3ft 6in
Tractive Effort: (@ 85% boiler pressure) 15,722lb
Wheelbase: Total: 37ft 3.5in
Engine: 16ft 6in
Tender: 12ft 3in
Weight (full): Total: 66 tons 4cwt
Engine: 37 tons 6cwt
Tender: 28 tons 18cwt
Max. Axle Load: 15 tons 4cwt


None of the '398' class locomotives have survived into preservation. No. 991 was earmarked for the new York Railway Museum, but Great Northern Stirling 'Single' No. 1 was chosen instead.


I am not aware of any models of any of the '398' class locomotives in any scale.


Thank you to Malcolm Peirson for the photograph of No. 1404.