The Electro-Motive's 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 locomotive was a mix between
the cab models and a standard road-switcher, a design that 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. However, the company knew there was a demand for such a design after seeing the success with Alco's pioneering RS1 of 1941. While the BL2
was not exactly what railroads had in mind it paved the way for the
highly successful General Purpose series. Today, at least a
half-dozen BL2s remain preserved around the country with a few
A color photo of BL2 demonstrator #499 at Electro-Motive's La Grange plant in 1947.
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. Since the BL2 not released
until 1949 EMD was late to the game , nearly ten years behind Alco, which had sold more than 1,200 examples of its early RS1 and RS2 models
(along their variants) by then. Additionally, both the Baldwin Locomotive Works
and Fairbanks Morse were also offering their version of the road switcher; 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, its direct competitor, was quickly becoming the industry leader in a
market it wanted to dominate itself (road switchers). Intending to give
crews increased visibility by cutting down the width of the long
trailing hood and adding windows to behind the cab EMD believed
that this would correct sight problems inherent with the E and F models.
The BL2 ("BL" meant Branch Line) did allow crews better sight lines and was quite
reliable. However, it still lacked exterior walkways, which made the
locomotive more utilitarian and was available on Alco's models. Although unsuccessful from a sales
standpoint the BL2 was really a mere stepping-stone for its next model, the GP series (meaning General Purpose).
A common sight at Western Maryland's yard in Hagerstown, Maryland was BL2 #82 and slug #139-T as they went about their daily switching assignments. The pair is seen here on December 29, 1970.
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. Essentially, the BL2 was an F3 on a different carbody. While the locomotive 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-compatible (this variation led to the slight name change as the "BL2"). Built only between 1948 and 1949, a total of 60 BL2s were constructed for a handful of railroads.
Rock Island's BL2s spent most of their later years in commuter service as witnessed here with #426 leading a consist near Chicago's Englewood Union Station during April of 1965.
Despite the few number
built, there are actually more BL2s preserved than one might think.
Additionally, at least four are still operational; Western Maryland #82 at
the West Virginia Central, Monon #32 at the Kentucky Railway
Museum, the Stourbridge Line in Pennsylvania operates Bangor & Aroostook (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 of Bangor & Aroostook's BL2s are preserved is that the railroad continued operating them
into the early 1980s.