One of the first of the American Locomotive Company's (Alco) new Century models
was the C420. It was a four-axle design that offered sufficient
horsepower. However, to some extent Alco continued to catalog custom models when a universal design would have sufficed, such as what EMD and General Electric
had been doing for years (particularly the former). For instance, the
C420 was meant to be a less powerful version of the C424, which was
being produced at the same time. The Alco C420 had modest sales but the
first design of the Century series did little to improve Alco's
standing in the locomotive manufacturer's race.
Interestingly, despite lukewarm sales numerous C420s are preserved
today and several remain in operation on shortlines, nearly 50 years
since the last was outshopped.
Delaware & Hudson C420s #405 and #407 along with a pair of RS11s and a GP39-2 head eastbound out of Buffalo, New York at William Street with train BM-4 on November 7, 1982.
The Alco C420 used the builder's new 261C prime mover that was much more reliable over its earlier designs. The model
began production in June of 1963 and as was the case with late RS
designs, the C420 featured a standard low nose (high nose units were
only built on request, and some were built on the C420 model), similar to the Standard Cab design first employed by EMD on its GP30 model.
As the designation suggests (which was a completely new system
unveiled by Alco whereby the "C" stood for Century, "4" regarded the
number of axles, and "20" referred to the horsepower), the C420 was
capable of producing 2,000 horsepower and found buyers among a number of
Class I railroads such as the
Lehigh Valley, Norfolk & Western, Louisville & Nashville, and
Monon. Interestingly, the largest buyer of C420s was the
Pennsylvania-owned Long Island Rail Road, which owned thirty.
Once again, the C420 was more of a reactionary model released by Alco in
an attempt to remain competitive with newcomer General Electric
and its U25B released in 1959. It's rather unfortunate that by the
early 1960s Alco was looked upon with resignation by the industry as the
Century series, particularly the four axle models, were quite adept
locomotives which were very reliable. Additionally, they continued to
offer incredible pulling power (an Alco trademark) and fuel efficiency.
Surprisingly, despite GE now being an Alco competitor, the Schenectady
manufacturer continued to purchase from its one-time ally internal
components as it always had such as traction motors and generators.
BC Rail C420 #631 and yard slug #S407 are seen here in North Vancouver, British Columbia on May 21, 1992.
From a technical standpoint the Alco C420 was meant to replaced the RS32 model
and while it offered less starting tractive effort (57,200 pounds)
provided more continuous effort (38,000 pounds). Interestingly, neither
Alco nor GE sold many models during the mid-1960s as EMD was once again
dominating the market with its 2,500 horsepower GP35 of 1963 (which
would go on to sell well over 1,000 examples). By the time production had ended in 1968 only a little over 100 Alco C420s had been built. However, aside from the large Class Is who purchased the model
several smaller lines did as well such as the Piedmont & Northern,
Tennessee Central, Lehigh & Hudson River, Erie Mining, Mississippi
Export, and even the Secratario de Communicaciones Y Transportes of
Norfolk & Western C420 #417 is seen here in Brewster, Ohio on June 24, 1975. The N&W tried out several of Alco's diesel models but ultimately only purchased eight of its own C420s new in 1964, #413-420.
Perhaps most fascinating with this model, in terms of its history, is how many continued to find usefulness in freight service
long after they were sold by their original owner. Today, close to 40
of this relics remain preserved with the most famous in operation on the
Apache Railway. Unfortunately, those in operation on short line Arkansas & Missouri (the fabled Alco line) have an uncertain future after the railroad announced in July it was acquiring three new EMD SD70ACes and would retiring much of its Alco fleet. To read more about other Alco Century models please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.