The Electro-Motive Division's (EMD) BL2 would be the stepping-stone for the company’s legendary early GP series, the GP7 and GP9 (two of the most success diesel locomotives ever built). The BL2 was a mix between the cab units of the E and F series and a standard road-switcher, which gave crews much better visibility during switching operations or simply shuffling cars around. The road-switcher was not something new, and was not even invented by EMD, as it had been around since 1941, nearly a decade before the unveiling of the BL2. However, the company knew that it not only needed to compete in the market but also that the potential and demand was there to make quite a profit if the properly designed locomotive was manufactured. While the BL2 was not exactly what railroads had in mind it paved the way for the highly successful General Purpose series of 1949. Today, at least a half-dozen BL2s remain preserved around the country with a few that are still operational.
Following the success of its cab units, EMD realized that there was a market to be made in road-switchers, which at the time was mostly dominated by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) with its popular RS series that dated back to the RS1 of 1941. Obviously, with the BL2 not released until 1949, the builder was late to the game and its first attempt at this type of locomotive was the BL2 (or "Branch Line"). Up until that time, Alco had sold more than 1,200 examples of its RS1 and RS2 lines (along their variants). Additionally, both the Baldwin Locomotive Works and Fairbanks Morse also were already offering road switcher model; the former its "DRS" line (DRS-4-4-1000, DRS-4-4-1500, DRS-6-4-1500, and DRS-6-6-1500) and the latter the H15-44 and H20-44.
Naturally, EMD needed an answer and was not particularly happy by the fact that Alco, especially, was quickly becoming the industry leader in a market it had wanted to dominate (road switchers). Intending to give crews increased visibility by cutting down the width of the long trailing hood and adding windows to the rear of the cab EMD believed that this would correct sight problems inherent with the E and F models. The Bl2 did allow crews to see better visibility and was quite reliable. However, it still lacked exterior walkways, which the locomotive more utilitarian. Although unsuccessful from a sales standpoint the BL2 was really a mere stepping-stone for its next model, the GP series (meaning General Purpose).
For power, EMD used its tried and proven 16-cylinder model 567B prime mover that was capable of providing the locomotive 1,500 horsepower. Additionally, using four General Motors model D27B traction motors the B-B model could produce 55,000 pounds of starting tractive effort and 40,000 continuous. While the BL2 offered multiple-unit capability its extremely rare predecessor, the BL1 did not. This was the only difference between the two as the BL1 was actually EMD demonstrator #499 that used an air-powered throttle while the BL2 featured an electrically powered throttle making it MU-capable (as such, EMD renamed the variant, "BL2").
Built only between 1948 and 1949, a total of 59 BL2s were built for ten different railroads; Monon Railroad (9), Chesapeake & Ohio (14), Boston & Maine (4), Missouri Pacific (8), Florida East Coast (6), Western Maryland (2), Chicago & Eastern Illinois (3), Rock Island (5), Bangor & Aroostook (8). Despite the few number built, there are actually more BL2s preserved than one might think. Additionally, at least three are still operational; WM #82 operates on the West Virginia Central, Monon #32 is operated by the Kentucky Railway Museum, the Stourbridge Line in Pennsylvania operates BAR #54, and Saratoga & North Creek Railway operates BAR #52. Others preserved include WM #81 at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, BAR #56 at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, and BAR #57 at the Cole Transportation Museum in Maine.
A particular reason why so many Bangor & Aroostook BL2s remain preserved is the fact that the railroad continued to operate them into the early 1980s. In any event, after testing the market with the BL2, EMD went on to unveil the widely popular GP series (beginning with the GP7 of 1949), which vaulted the builder as the top locomotive manufacturer and helped keep it there for decades. Also, for information about EMD's GP series please refer to the chart below.
Electro-Motive Division's "General Purpose" Road Switchers
|Model Type||Units Built||Date Built||Horsepower|
|GP9||4,115 A Units/165 B Units (Calfs)||1954-1963||1,750|
|GP38-2W||51 (Built For CN)||1973-1974||2,000|
|GP40P||13 (Built For NJ Transit)||1968||3,000|
|GP40-2W||275 (Built For CN)||1972-1986||3,000|
For more information on the BL2 model consider Mike Schafer’s Vintage Diesel Locomotives which looks at virtually all of the classic builders and models from Alco PAs to early EMD Geeps. If you’re interested in classic EMDs, or diesels in general, this book gives an excellent general history of both. You might want to also consider the book EMD Locomotives from author Brian Solomon. Solomon's book highlights the history of EMD from its earliest beginnings in the 1920s, to its phenomenal successes in the mid-20th century, and finally its decline into second spot behind General Electric in the late 20th century and eventual sale by General Motors in 2005. The book features 176 pages of EMD history and is filled with excellent photography and illustrations. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.