The E44s, PRR's Last Freight Electrics
Perhaps the last and most advanced freight electric locomotives to ever operate in the U.S. were built for the Pennsylvania Railroad by General Electric.
Dubbed E44s the electrics featured the latest technologies available
and were quite efficient workhorses. The E44s began arriving on the
Pennsy in the late 1950s and eventually the motors wound up with three different
owners after the Penn Central collapse of the 1970s handed them over to
Conrail in 1976. Conrail was never particularly interested in electric freight operations, especially after the North East Corridor was given to Amtrak, which resulted in high fees to use the line for freight service that was only available during the overnight hours. Because of this, and other factors, Conrail gave up on electric operation in the mid-1980s. Today, one E44 stands preserved, #4465 on display inside the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg.
The E44 freight electric locomotive was an Ignitron-rectifier built by GE in 1959 as the PRR needed a new freight locomotive to replace its aging fleet of P5s and supplement its GG1s (which by the late 1950s were used in both freight and passenger service). The new E44s employed a C-C wheel arrangement and were capable of producing 4,400 hp (thus their name E44; Electric, 4400 hp). In total the Pennsylvania would come to own a fleet of 66 E44s, that were quite similar to the Virginian’s EL-C rectifiers, later known as E33s, albeit a bit more powerful. Interestingly, the E44 model resembled the E33s for a very good reason,
the PRR used the design as a template for its own freight motor. By the
time the Pennsylvania began testing them they had been purchased by the
New York, New Haven & Hartford as the Virginian had been purchased
by the Norfolk & Western who no longer saw a need from them (they
soon after shutdown all of the Virginian's electrified operations).
Still practically brand new the PRR was quite impressed with the E33s
and contracted with General Electric to use the design as a basis for
its own new model. From a technical standpoint the E44 used six GE Model
752 E5 traction motors. The primary difference, internally, of the E44
was its means of converting AC current to DC. The first E44s the
Pennsy received used Ignitron tubes to convert the current. However,
the last batch of locomotives used newer and less maintenance intensive,
air-cooled silicon diode rectifiers. These upgraded locomotives were dubbed E44As to distinguish them from the original models.
The model became the face of the Pennsylvania's late electrified
operations prior to the transition to Penn Central in the late 1960s.
With such a large fleet the railroad used the E44s all over its
electrified lines, particularly along the Northeast Corridor. If you
were lucky at the time you could occasionally even catch the freight
locomotives in passenger services, used as needed, usually zooming along in commuter
service despite the fact they were not really intended for use in
such a capacity. Overall, the E44s proved to be quite reliable freight motors and
while they were geared for speeds of up to 70 mph they usually operated
somewhere below this threshold.
Extremely quiet in service, they
effortlessly lugged freight trains down the line with relative ease.
The model was delivered to the Pennsylvania in a very standard all-black
with the company's classic keystone logo in crimson red and yellow
featuring the interconnected "PRR". All 66 units were delivered between
1960 and 1963, which by that time was the railroad's final days as an
independent carrier. Too rigidly managed during times that called for
change to survive in the industry, the PRR was out of money
and running on borrowed time. During early days, such as prior to
World War II, the railroad would likely have purchased many more new
electrics of various designs, notably for passenger service, instead of
relying on its worn out fleet of GG1s.
In any event, after the collapse of the Penn Central in 1970 and the creation of Conrail in the spring of 1976 the locomotives were used sporadically until 1981 when most were stored at the PRR’s old Enola Yard. By the mid-1980s all had been sold by Conrail, interestingly two buyers of which were Amtrak and NJ Transit, which intended to use them in passenger service. Dissatisfied with their performance both passenger carriers elected to sell them either outright or for scrap. Unfortunately, the E44 was similar to late model steam locomotives that despite being well conceived and designed, was retired well too early. The youngest units were barely 20 years of age before being parked. Today, at last one E44 has been preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania near Strasburg.
For more reading on the Pennsylvania Railroad's electric locomotives and operations The Pennsylvania Railroad Under Wire by author William Middleton (and released through Kalmbach Publishing, the same company which prints the popular Trains Magazine, among others) provides a nice retrospective on the subject, beginning when the system first entered service. Also, Trackside Under Pennsy Wires With James P. Shuman by author Jeremy Plant is a coffee table title featuring a fine series of images, many of which in color, depicting the PRR's expansive electrified operations from the 1950s through the 1960s.