The Alco PA series has often been regarded as the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing diesel ever built, even going so far as being designated an honorary steam
locomotive! There is no doubt that when one combs the library of diesel
designs over the years the PA at the very least ranks as one of the best ever purely on its aesthetics. The model
was designed for passenger service and meant to compete with the
Electro-Motive's highly successful E series that had debuted
some years earlier. Unfortunately, the PA never sold well for Alco as the original prime mover the builder employed was simply unreliable and problematic. Initial sales proved promising but after these issues cropped up most shied away from later variants. Today, Doyle McCormack has successful fully restored former Santa Fe PA-1 #62-L into Nickel Plate Road #190. Additionally, the shell of another former AT&SF PA is being cosmetically restored.
Delaware & Hudson PA-4 #19 mingles at the road's Colonie, New York shops during August of 1975.
The original Alco PA (the P stood for Passenger and A
referred to the unit having a cab) was built right after World War II in
1946 and was rated at 2,000 horsepower (later upgraded models were carried 2,250 horsepower). The model was also cataloged with cabless streamlined units known as
PBs (or just "Bs" as most referred to them), which
matched the PAs and increased the horsepower rating. When
the PA was released Alco was already in catchup mode racing to release a
competing model to EMD's revolutionary E series that had originally debuted before World
War II in 1937 beginning with the EA (Baltimore & Ohio, E1 (Santa Fe), and E2 (Union Pacific).
Wartime restrictions prevented Alco from any significant work during the war but worked feverishly to catch up after the conflict had ended. This,
unfortunately, hurt the builder immensely staying level with Electro-Motive. Working in conjunction with General
Electric on the model,
the company used GE's Ray Patten to give the locomotive a fine exterior
appearance (Patten also designed the PA's freight counterpart, the FA)
and he unveiled an incredibly stunning carbody. However, Alco rushed
the development of its new model 244 prime mover giving its engineers
just a year after the war ended to work out any issues with engine.
Initially, the problems of the 244 were masked by Alco's
then-excellent reputation as a locomotive builder. The company had also
used the 244, quite successfully, in the production of small switcher
and road-switcher designs although the prime mover simply wasn't ready
for heavy, main line applications. In June of1946 the PA began testing
on the Lehigh Valley clad in a beautiful demonstrator livery of
maroon with silver trim with the combined GE/Alco livery adorned on the nose
and carbody (the units were numbered 9077 and 9078). The Santa Fe was immediately pleased with the new model
and ordered twenty-eight PA-1s and sixteen PB-1s between September of 1946 and December
of1948. Other railroads soon followed and Alco would eventually sell 170
total PA-1s and PB-1s.
Santa Fe PA #74L and a mate have a passenger consist in the train shed at Chicago's Dearborn Station on December 26, 1967.
The Alco PA-1 could produce 2,000 horsepower and provide 30,500 pound of
continuous tractive effort using an A1A-A1A truck design (two outside powered axles with an unpowered center axle). The
locomotive was 65 feet, 8 inches long and its most stunning feature was
its sweeping, streamlined nose and raked front windshields
(the PA was nearly 10 feet longer than its FA counterpart). As problems
mounted with the PA-1 Alco rushed to correct the problem building an
entirely new prime mover in the process, the model 251. This new engine proved much more reliable but was not available in time for the PA series. After witnessing initial sales of 170 units with its first PA-1 design the later PA-2 and PA-3 upgraded models sold a combined total of 77 units by the time production had officially ended in December of 1953. These numbers were a mere fraction when compared to
EMD's E and F series, which together sold thousands by the
time the models were no longer cataloged in the 1950s and early 1960s.
While Alco’s PA was unpopular with most railroads it
gained instant celebrity status with the railfan community. A big reason for the model’s popularity, besides its good
looks was the fact that it went extinct. After the last PA ended its career
with the Delaware & Hudson (whose PAs were originally owned by the Santa Fe) in 1978 and left for Mexico none
remained on U.S. soil for nearly 25 years until two PAs made their way
back in 2002; one was acquired by
the Smithsonian for restoration and the other went to renowned locomotive
restorer Doyle McCormack which is nearing fully operational (it was started up for the first time during October of 2013) into Nickel Plate Road #190 adorned in the NKP's "Bluebird"
The restoration of NKP #190 (originally AT&SF #62-L) is a
near miracle; it took several years
just to negotiate the locomotives’ return to the United States and by that point nothing was left but the carbody shell. While #190 does not have all original PA equipment
since much of it no longer exists, many parts are of Alco origin. The Smithsonian's Alco PA, former AT&SF #59-L, has since been
donated to the Museum of the American Railroad in Texas. The goal now
of the museum is to fully, cosmetically restore the locomotive
(currently only an empty shell as well) back into its original AT&SF
"Warbonnet" livery as #59-L. Later restoration efforts may also
completely return the locomotive to operational status.
Santa Fe PAs #67 and #58 lead the "Last Run Of A PA" excursion through Port Chicago, California on March 6, 1968.
Like a lot of
folks, I have always had a soft spot for Alcos, especially their PA so
it will be great to see #190 and #59-L roll out of the shop for the
final time either fully or cosmetically restored. In any
event, more information about the PA series can be found above regarding which railroads purchased the model. Finally, while not listed there was also the Alco PA-4 model.
This was simply a rebuild (by Morrison-Knudsen) of four former
AT&SF PA-1s, all of which went to the Delaware & Hudson
in the 1970s. They were renumbered 16-18 and retrofitted with Alco's
much more reliable model 251 prime mover. They paraded around the
D&H system for years before being sold to a Mexican railway and are
the two that returned to the States in the early 2000s. To read more about other Alco models, such as the FA, please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.