Diesel Locomotives, Extinguishing The Fire Of Steam

Diesel locomotives, technically known as diesel-electrics, came into widespread use here in the United States with the development of the Electro-Motive Corporation’s (EMC, later to become the General Motors' Electro-Motive Division, or EMD) EA/EB design, first tested on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) in the late 1930s. The diesel-electric locomotive would also become a major milestone in technological development for North American railroads as it symbolized the end of the only motive power type (aside from electrics) to be used in the industry up until that time, the steam locomotive. 

Two Milwaukee Road SD40-2s, #134 and #154, lead a westbound freight through Oakdale, Wisconsin on September 18, 1982.

The mechanics of diesels are rather straightforward, although it is commonly mistaken that the diesel engine itself propels the locomotive, which is not the case. While the diesel engine is the prime mover the energy it creates drives an electrical generator, which in turn drives the traction motors found within the locomotive’s trucks that actually turns the wheels (or the mounts which sit over the axles) and propels unit forward. The diesel engine itself has no connection to the actual motion of the wheels and in essence the locomotive is an electric locomotive which carries its own power source on board. 

Common Designs

Switchers 

Cab Units 

Road-Switchers 

Transfer 

Below you can find each manufacturer and a number of their most popular first and second-generation diesel locomotive models. Simply click on their link to learn more about them. 

American Locomotive Company (Alco)

A History Of Alco 

Montreal Locomotive Works 

Century Series 

DL Series 

Black Maria 

FA 

PA 

RS-1 

RSD-1 

MRS-1 

RS-2 

RSC-2 

RS-3 

RSD-4 

RSD-5 

RSD-7 

RS-11 

RSD-12 

RSD-15 

RS-27 

RS-32 

RS-36 

C-415 

C-420 

C-424 

C-425 

C-430 

C-628 

C-630 

C-636 

C-643DH 

C-855 

S-1 

S-2 

S-3 

S-4 

S-6 

T-6 

GE/Alco Gas Turbine 

Erie Lackawanna RS-3 #1026 rests between assignments at the engine terminal in Akron, Ohio on June 24, 1975.

Diesel-electric locomotives have been around in one shape or form since 1918 when the American Locomotive Company (Alco) joined with General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand to produce a motor car design for the Jay Street Connecting Railroad, #4. Designated as model GM-50 it was essentially a diesel powered motor car, somewhat similar to an interurban car, and built in conjunction with Alco and Ingersoll-Rand. Later, in 1924 the three companies built a 300 hp, 60-ton boxcab design that would be purchased by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, followed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. 

Baldwin-Lima Locomotive Works (BLW)

A History Of Baldwin 

A History Of Lima 

A History Of Whitcomb 

VO-660 

DS-4-4-660 

VO-1000 

DS-4-4-750 

DS-4-4-1000 

S-8 

S-12 

DT-6-6-2000 

RT624 

DRS-4-4-1500 

DRS-6-4-1500 

DRS-6-6-1500 

AS16 

AS416 

AS616 

RS12 

DR-4-4-1500 

DR-6-4-1500 

DR-6-4-2000 

RF16 

"Centipede" 

"Sharknose" 

"Baby Face" 

Several Pittsburgh & Lake Erie U28Bs including #2811, #2804, #2813, and #2808 are far from home as they as they roll light through the Delaware & Hudson's SK Yard in Buffalo, New York (thanks to recently acquired trackage rights into the city) on November 19, 1983.

The B&O also has the distinction of being the first railroad in the country to purchase a diesel-electric passenger locomotive in 1935 from EMC (B&O #50). While these early designs were somewhat successful and new diesel switch engines were becoming quite popular from makers such as Alco, it would not be until the development of EMD’s legendary E and F models (which followed the EA/EB design they were nicknamed "covered-wagons") to pull heavy passenger and freight consists did the diesel-electric locomotive really come of age and overtake the steam locomotive as the dominant means of moving freight across America’s rails. 

Fairbanks-Morse (FM)

Locomotives of Fairbanks-Morse 

Canadian Locomotive Company 

H10-44 

H12-44 

H15-44 

H16-44 

H20-44 

H16-66, "Baby Train Master" 

H24-66, "Train Master" 

"Erie Builts" 

The Consolidated Line, "C-Liner" 

CSX Train #134 rolls along the Mountain Subdivision at Pinto, Maryland led by AC4400CW #5111 on October 5, 2009.

It would take the diesel-electric locomotive nearly fifty years to equal the horsepower output of the steam locomotive during its technological height. However, diesels offered an advantage that far surpassed steamers and it was the deciding factor in them becoming the prime choice of motive power, efficiency. Diesels required far less maintenance in terms of overhauls (scheduled time in the shops for routine maintenance) and refueling (no longer were there frequent stops requiring water and coal/oil), which allowed them to be spending much more time moving freight and paying the bills. 

General Electric (GE)

A History Of General Electric 

"U-Boats" 

U18B 

U25B 

U28B 

U30B 

U33B 

U36B 

U23C 

U25C 

U28C 

U30C 

U33C 

U36C 

U50 

U50C 

GE/Alco Gas Turbine 

B23-7 

B30-7 

B36-7 

C30-7 

C36-7 

"Super 7" Series 

B32-8 

B39-8 

B40-8/W 

C39-8 

C40-8/W 

C40-9/W 

C44-9W 

AC4400CW 

AC6000CW 

Evolution Series 

Westbound CSX Train #N626-27 departs Clifton Forge, Virginia with an empty string of coal hoppers led by SD70ACe #4844 on March 25, 2007.

General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD)/Electro-Motive Diesel

A History of Electro-Motive Diesel, EMD 

General Motors Diesel 

Early EMC Switchers: SW, SC, NW, NC 

The "Cow-Calf" 

NW2 

SW1 

SW7 

SW8 

SW9 

SW900 

SW1000 

SW1001 

SW1200 

SW1500 

MP15DC/AC/T 

E Series 

EA/E1/E2 

E3

E4 

E5 

E6 

E7 

E8 

E9 

F Series 

FT 

F2 

F3 

F7 

FP7 

F9 

FL9 

F40PH 

F45 

SDP40F 

BL2 

GP7 

GP9 

GP15 

GP18 

RS1325 

GP20 

GP30 

GP35 

GP38 

GP40 

GP50 

MRS-1 

SD7 

SD9 

SD18 

SD24 

SD35 

SD38 

SD40/SD40-2 

SD45 Series 

SD50 

SD60 

SD70 

SD75M/I 

SD80MAC 

SD90MAC 

SD70ACe 

Odd/Unique Designs


B Units 

C&NW's Crandall Cabs 

DD35/A 

DDA40X, "Centennial" 

Draper Taper 

Great Northern's GP5 

Krauss-Maffei ML-4000 

MK5000C 

Rock Island's AB6 

Slugs 

Tunnel Motors 

SP H24-66 Train Master #3028 heads up local commuter train #128 as it pulls away from the 3rd & Townsend station in San Francisco during August of 1973. Today, the depot and tracks are no more.

Notable Prime Movers

Alco's Model 244 

Alco's Model 251 

EMD's Model 567 

EMD's Model 645 

EMD's Model 710 

Truck Types

AAR Type A/B 

Blomberg Type A/M 

Blunt 

Flexicoil 

Related Companies/Designs

Davenport Locomotive Works 

Truck Types

Doodlebugs 

Gensets/Green Goats 

Rail Diesel Car, RDCs 

Morrison-Knudsen 

Notable Events/Programs

Norfolk Southern's Heritage Program 

Streamliners At Spencer 

Union Pacific's Commemorative Series 

Two Sierra Railroad Baldwin S12s, led by #40, heads eastbound with a freight through Jamestown, California during a cold and overcast December day in 1964.

Diesels have come a long way from the early designs by EMC and Alco-GE-IR, with comfort cabs and electronic equipment the norm on new units now being built by Electro-Motive Diesel (now an independent company having been spun-off by EMD in 2005) and GE. However, when the diesel was first coming of age there were still several builders, many of whom were legendary steam locomotive manufacturers (such as Baldwin, Lima, and Alco) that began switching to diesel-electric development when the writing on the wall became apparent that steam's days were numbered. 



B&O GP9 #6533 is awaiting its next assignment as it sits at LeRoy, New York on March 15, 1981.

While a few of the steam locomotive manufacturers were marginally successful, most notably Alco, all of these once mighty companies would be gone before 1970 (mostly the result of management never able to truly see that steam was in its twilight and diesels were the future). While many of these companies no longer manufacture locomotives, their legacies will forever live on and many of both their steam and diesel locomotive models still survive, some even continuing to haul freight. Also, while diesels may have replaced the mighty steam locomotives, nothing can quite compare to seeing steam power at work! 

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