The Alco FA model was intended to be the builder's answer to EMD ever popular FT and following models. The FA was the road freight model of Alco's PA design, which was meant to be used in passenger service. The FA also replaced Alco's original main line model, the DL series, which used the builder's original 241 diesel engine that proved to be unreliable (the company, however, continued to use the DL markings for factor designations). Unfortunately, Alco's new engine, the 244, also had initial problems which likely sank the builder from ever making a serious run at EMD's F series. Despite the prime mover's flaws, the FA model and its variants would sell a little more than 1,000 units and they could be found spread out across the country hauling freight on the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio as well as the Spokane, Portland & Seattle and Great Northern.
The Alco FA model, with a beefier carbody than EMD's F series, was introduced by the builder in 1946 and initially produced 1,500 horsepower with a B-B wheel arrangement (four axles per truck). Alco also built a B unit, just like with EMD's F series, which was also capable of producing another 1,500 horsepower. Unfortunately, the initial FA-1 model and its new 244 model diesel engine proved troublesome. The 244 was used in several early Alco designs and while troublesome in main line applications, like the PA and FA models, it actually proved to quite reliable in some of the smaller models, such as early road switcher models like the RS-2 and RS-3.
Due to the onset of World War II in late 1941, the American Locomotive Company's diesel development was delayed. This would prove to be costly to Alco as the Electro-Motive Corporation (later General Motors' Electro-Motive Division) had already unveiled its FT and EA models between 1937 and 1939, years before the war had started. The FT was particularly noteworthy as it paraded around the country with much fanfare, convincing railroad after railroad that main line, heavy-haul diesel locomotives could truly match steam despite less horsepower. While EMC/EMD was also restricted by the U.S. government from continuing their diesel program during the war, they already had a model in production before the conflict began and one which was reliable and sought after by railroads.
With the war restriction, Alco was not able to release its FA model until January, 1946 with the Gulf Mobile & Ohio being the first railroad to receive its order (#700-#754 FAs and #B1-#B33 FBs). Around the same time, three demonstrators; two FA-1s and one FB-1 toured on the Delaware & Hudson Railway between January and mid-February that year. Unfortunately for Alco, however, a union strike at its Schenectady, New York plant delayed production on the GM&O's order and the railroad did not begin receiving its units until May, 1946.
Despite the FA-1 having reliability issues it provided incredible pulling power, an Alco trademark for many of its models and likely one reason so many were sold. The model's carbody was also very well designed, on par with EMC/EMD's now-classic design. It was developed by General Electric's own Ray Patten, as the company during this time was working right alongside Alco in producing diesel locomotives. Patten, who also designed the beautiful sister PA model, shortened the FA's length to just 51 feet, 6 inches (the PA was 65 feet, 8 inches) as well as giving it a shorter, somewhat blunter front nose. Still, the overall slanted front windshields and streamlined look was a hallmark of both models.
The Alco FA-1 model initially could produce 1,500 horsepower (later bumped up to 1,600 hp), or 3,000 horsepower with an FB booster. It used a B-B truck arrangement, which could produce a continuous 46,000 pounds of tractive effort and reach a top speed of around 65 mph. When production ended on the FA-1, Alco was able to sell around 672 A and B units to nearly twenty domestic railroads (including the units built the Montreal Locomotive Works for Canadian roads). In October 1950 the builder released its upgraded FA-2, which featured a slight increase in horsepower and increased length to 54 feet.
This pushed the radiator shutters slightly forward allowing the unit to receive a steam generator for passenger service (similar to what EMD would do with its FP7 design). The FA-2 also received an upgraded generator from GE (the model GT581, which replaced the GT564). Both the FA-1 and FA-2 featured turbocharging and dynamic brake capability (if ordered, it was not standard on the model). In the end, the FA-2 sold slightly better than its early cousin with 597 units being produced.
Finally, also as with EMD, Alco offered a passenger version of its FA, the FPA-2 and FPA-4 which sold modestly (it should be noted that the final model, FPA-4, used Alco's much improved 251 model engine although by the time it was released the builder had already lost a lot of confidence by railroads due to reliability issues). All told, Alco would sell over a thousand FA units (EMD's F series in comparison sold more than 4,800 units) although, again, it is interesting to wonder how well the model would have sold had the initial troubles with the 244 (and early 241) model engine had never occurred. The table below lists production totals for the Alco FA series. To learn more about the FA-1 please click here. And, more information about the FA-2 can be found here.Alco FA Series
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