The Alco C415, An Innovative But Failed Design

The one and only switcher model of the Century series was the Alco C415, a bulky and boxy design that seemed massive for a switcher (it also produced a hefty amount of horsepower), much larger than EMD's sleeker SW line. The C415 was produced in the mid-1960s but by this time the American Locomotive Company's (Alco) credibility as a locomotive builder was dwindling and the model found little success. Additionally, the idea behind the model was somewhat perplexing; Alco attempted to market it as a combination switcher/road switcher. However, railroads were losing interest in switchers by the mid-1960s opting to save their money (and rightfully so) to employ first generation diesels in secondary, branch, and yard services. Due to the C415's poor sales it's amazing that any of these locomotives survive today. However, six can still be found in the United States as well as one in Australia.

Burlington Junction C415 #702 switches the BNSF interchange in downtown Burlington, Iowa on August 22, 2008. This Alco started out on the Southern Pacific as #2407 in December of 1966.

The Alco C415, a center-cab design, began production in June, 1966 and offered a staggering 1,500 horsepower for a switcher using Alco's 251F prime mover (the builder's latest, and final, engine design). While Alco by this point typically sold its locomotives in a standard model, as EMD had been doing for years, the C415 did come with a few options such as differing cab heights for either clearance or increased visibility and two various truck setups (AAR or Alco's Hi-Ad). Built through the end of Alco's time as a locomotive builder the C415 seemed to epitomize the company's troubles. Just 26 units of the model were sold with the Rock Island and Southern Pacific accounting for 20 of those orders (ten apiece).

For whatever reason, Alco decided that there was still a demand for a switcher model in the latter 1960s even though by that time both General Electric and the Electro-Motive Division were concentrating most of their resources to new road switcher models. Of course, Alco intended the locomotive to be a dual purpose unit used in yard and main line freight service. Unfortunately, despite its rugged horsepower rating, improved prime mover, and hefty tractive effort (60,000 pounds starting, 42,000 pounds continuous) railroads were simply no longer interested in such a model considering they had entire fleets of first generation units to perform the very same functions.

Rock Island C415 #417 mingles with other power at the terminal in Joliet, Illinois during September of 1969.

Remaining loyal to Alco through the end, the SP and Rock both found multiple uses for their C415s and employed them in a wide range of various tasks. Additionally, the Chehalis Western, Columbia & Cowlitz, and Monongahela Connecting Railroad all picked up one apiece with the Spokane, Portland & Seattle picking up two (Alco also built one demonstrator, #415, which was eventually sold and shipped to Australian firm Hamersley Iron; the unit remains operational today in that country). Alco removed the C415 from its catalog by December, 1966 as the builder was simply having no success in remaining competitive with either GE or EMD.

Total Production Roster Of Alco C415s

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Alco (Demo)41511966
Chehlais Western Railroad68411968
Columbia & Cowlitz Railway70111968
Monongahela Connecting70111968
Rock Island415-424101966
Spokane, Portland & Seattle100-10121968
Southern Pacific2400-2409101966


Rock Island C415 #423 goes for a ride on the turntable at Burr Oak Yard in Blue Island, Illinois on April 2, 1977. The CRI&P purchased ten of these units from Alco in 1966, #415-424.

By that date the company had fixed most of its reliability issues but simply could not earn back the respect of much of the industry. Additionally, Alco wasn't offering anything innovative or revolutionary, merely reacting to models being introduced by EMD and GE. Today, at least six Alco C415s remain in the United States; the Monongahela Connecting's #701 is located at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania while the Chehalis Western #684 is preserved at the Fife History Museum in Fife, Washington.  Additionally, three others operate on short line Burlington Junction, as noted in the above picture; #21 (SP #2409), #701 (Columbia & Cowlitz #701), and #702 (SP #2407).  Finally, former Rock Island #424 (once operated as PLM Railcar Maintenance #421) sits derelict on a siding near BNSF Railway's Argentine Yard outside of Kansas City, Kansas.  For more information about the C415 regarding a complete production roster please refer to the above chart.

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The C628




The C630




The C636




The C643DH (Experimental)




The C855 (Experimental)


Alco's Notable Prime Movers



The Model 244




The Model 251