The Alco RS3 was the builder's pinnacle in its early road switcher
designs. While the American Locomotive Company would have some
success in later Road Switcher (RS) series models,
like the RS11 and RSD5, nothing would compare to the amazing success
of the RS3. When it was released Alco had already
cataloged two previous versions, the RS1 and RS2, both of which had seen
modest success as the first true road-switchers ever produced. Unfortunately, overall the Schenectady manufacturer
had considerable trouble seriously competing with Electro-Motive whose cab designs were far outpacing anything in its catalog.
In any event, the RS3 would go on to be the most commonly seen Alco
model across the country and remained in the company's catalog for
more than six years. Today, numerous examples of this locomotive remain
preserved, several of which are still operational.
Rock Island RS3 #488 is seen here at the Joliet, Illinois terminal by itself on August 23, 1964.
The Alco RS3 entered production
in 1950 replacing its predecessor the RS2. The new model produced
slightly more horsepower than the earlier design at 1,600 hp using Alco's commonly problematic 12-cylinder, model
244 prime mover. From a visual standpoint the RS3 looked almost
identical to the RS2. Both had much improved styling over the RS1
albeit it was quite subtle with heavy beveling to corners and edges
giving the unit a much more streamlined appearance (because of its good looks some railroads elected to employ theirs in passenger/commuter
service). Instantly beloved by railroads for its versatility and
reliability, RS3s began rolling out of Alco's Schenectady shops in the masses.
Erie Lackawanna RS3 #1008 brightens up a rather overcast day in Hammond, Indiana on Apirl 2, 1971. This unit was built as Erie #1008 in 1950 and later went on to Conrail.
Perhaps more than any other locomotive the RS3 defined Alco as a
locomotive manufacturer offering eye-appealing, classy designs with their trademark belching black smoke.
While the RS1 and RS2 had sold relatively well perhaps it
was the RS3's extra 100 horsepower over its predecessor that really
appealed to railroads. While the model 244
proved generally reliable and rugged in its smaller switcher and light road switcher
designs (like the RS3) the prime mover simply not been properly researched and developed for
heavy-haul use. As such, the FA and PA models in production at
the time experienced significant mechanical issues. This allowed Electro-Motive to gain a notable edge and these problems ultimately resulted in Alco's exit from the market.
Amtrak RS3 #129 switches a pair of E8As in Chicago on June 16, 1977. This unit began its career as New York Central #8268 in June of 1951.
Interestingly, a year prior to the RS3's release EMD was finally
cataloging a competitor, the GP7. Unfortunately for EMD their initial
design, the BL2, proved unsuccessful although the industry leader
quickly learned from their mistake. The model used the
same road switcher design setup pioneered by Alco in its 1941 RS1 with a
long trailing hood, offset cab, and short front hood. Both as the time as well as from a historical stance the RS3 has been deemed an incredible success for
Alco. However, had the builder acquired the reputation of EMD it may
have sold even more. The GP7 went on to sell more than 2,700 examples
before its production run ended in 1954 and its successor, the GP9, was even more successful.
When the RS3 was produced Alco was still working
in conjunction with General Electric and Westinghouse to supply
internal components for its locomotives. As such the model
contained air brakes and
compressors from the latter while the former provided its model 752
traction motors that gave the RS3 around 60,000 pounds of initial
tractive effort (more than 2,000 more than the RS2). The model weighed
around 114.5 tons, was 55 feet/5 inches in length and equipped with
dynamic braking. This latter ability allowed railroads to use the RS3
in heavy-haul service, such as moving coal drags up
steep grades and many did not shy away from doing so; for instance the Reading, Lehigh
Valley, Louisville & Nashville, Southern and others beat theirs to
pieces in this capacity.
Erie Lackawanna RS3 #1042 leads a freight through Hammond, Indiana during March of 1964.
It was the model's ability to take
this abuse regularly and continue operating on a daily basis that so endeared them to railroads and resulted in many
returning to Alco for more. It's a shame that the company could not have produced other locomotives that emulated the success of the RS3.
By the time production ended in 1956 Alco would sell more than 1,300 and even today you can still find these venerable locomotives
operating on short lines and tourist trains all across the country. Most
interesting is that when Alco introduced its RS line in 1941and found
success with a locomotive that could be used in multiple roles EMD was
convinced to begin manufacturing its own line of road switcher that would eventually help put Alco out of business one day.
Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (Southern)
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha (C&NW)
Danville & Western
Delaware & Hudson
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (Lackawanna)
Denver & Rio Grande Western
Federal Barge Lines
Grand Trunk Western
197-199, 220-224, 228-232
Green Bay & Western
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio
Lake Superior & Ishpeming
Lehigh & Hudson River
Litchfield & Madison
Long Island Rail Road
Louisville & Nashville
100-154, 170-179, 214-255
Macon, Dublin & Savannah
New Orleans & Northeastern (Southern)
New York Central
Nickel Plate Road
Norfolk & Western
Oliver Iron Mining
8435-8484, 8590-8605, 8817-8856, 8902-8916
Piedmont & Northern
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie (NYC)
St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt)
308-310, 311 (1st/2nd), 312-318, 356-360
St. Marys Railroad
San Manuel Copper
Seaboard Air Line
Spokane, Portland & Seattle
Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA)
Texas Pacific-Missouri Pacific Terminal
Toledo, Peoria & Western
Northern Pacific RS3 #863 is seen here near the road's northern terminus of International Falls, Minnesota during early August of 1966.
Of note, Alco's Canadian arm, the Montreal Locomotive Works, was not
nearly as successful with the RS3 selling just 98 to the Canadian
National, Canadian Pacific, Ontario Northland, Pacific Great Eastern,
Quebec, North Shore & Labrador, and the Roberval & Saguenay.
Additionally, Alco built another 69 units for foreign sale
including the Algerian Railways, Central do Brazil, Consolidated
Railways of Cuba (before trade bans with Cuba were enacted), Ferrocaril
del Pacifico, and National de Mexico (the above production roster includes only domestically sold RS3s). From the historical narrative it is fascinating that it was Alco, not EMD, which pioneered the endearing locomotive design still regularly used in freight service today; the common road-switcher. To read more about other Alco Road-Switcher (RS) models please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.