The Virginian Railway’s EL-C rectifiers were the most advance electric locomotives the railroad ever owned. Built in the late 1950s by General Electric
they produced over 3,000 hp and were quite adept at hauling coal out of
the southern West Virginia mountains. Interestingly, however, they
lasted but a mere year under VGN ownership before the railroad was
purchased by the Norfolk & Western and all were sold by 1962 when
the N&W shutdown the Virginian’s electrification. Practically new at that point the freight motors caught the eye of the New Haven, which used the locomotives along its southern electrified territory. After the Penn Central merger in 1968, which swallowed the New Haven the units roamed all over New England on former Pennsylvania Railroad trackage such as the Northeast Corridor. Finally, with the formation of Conrail in the mid-1970s the electrics saw use for just a few more years before being retired in the early 1980s.
It's the early Conrail era although this pair of E33s, originally Virginian EL-C rectifiers, has hardly seen their Penn Central paint patched over as they hustle a merchandise freight through Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania during October of 1978.
The Virginian Railway electrification project was one of the most unique
operational practices in eastern Appalachian railroading until it was
shutdown in 1962. In terms of the railroad industry’s history the
Virginian Railway was a very late entry, as its original main line was
not completed until 1909 connecting Deepwater, West Virginia in the
heart of Appalachian coal country with Norfolk, Virginia and the
tidewater ports. The railroad was the dream of Henry Rogers and William
Page, and while they were harassed and hassled by the larger railroads
that did not want more competition, particularly for the rich coal
traffic the region provided, they completed their railroad nonetheless. While never anywhere near as large as nearby competitor Norfolk & Western the Virginian proved its worth through a superbly engineered main line and non-stop belt line of coal.
By the 1950s the Virginian's current class of electrics were either worn out or could not keep up with the growing coal tonnage moving from mines in southern West Virginia to the tidewater ports around Norfolk, Virginia. At the time, the railroad's newest motors were the streamlined Class EL-2B purchased from General Electric in 1948. While powerful at 6,800 horsepower per set, the Virginian owned just four sets of the motors. So, to complement and update its fleet in 1958 the VGN would take delivery of its final motors; twelve ignitron rectifiers (also from GE) designated class EL-C. Even more
contemporary than the EL-2B design the EL-Cs featured the now-classic
diesel road-switcher design (and accompanying cab design) with a C-C wheel
arrangement (i.e., six powered axles in total). The EL-Cs were rated at
3,300 horsepower and delivered 98,500 pounds of tractive effort.
Penn Central E33s #4603 and #4609 speed through Trenton, New Jersey with a piggyback train during January of 1977 during the early years of Conrail.
As a side note, the EL-Cs had a very interesting history. They lasted
a mere year under Virginian ownership as the Norfolk & Western purchased
the railroad in 1959. The N&W saw no need to continue operating its former competitor's electrified operations and so shut off the electricity and ripping down the wires in 1961. Additionally, since the N&W already served the same regions it had no use for the Virginian's double-track main line and pulled up one of the two and used the VGN’s route in
conjunction with its own for a double-track, eastbound-westbound
configuration. The EL-Cs thus went on to be purchased by the New Haven
which reclassified them as EF-4s for use in freight service. Overall, it was quite a deal since the electrics were just a few years old at the time.
The New Haven went on to be folded into the Penn Central, where
they were again reclassified as E33s. Of course, the ill-fated Penn
Central lasted not even a decade before its monumental collapse and bankruptcy
forced the government to create the Consolidated Rail Corporation
(Conrail), which began operations in the spring of 1976. The few that
remained in service under Conrail remained classified as E33s until the carrier shutdown electrified operations in the early 1980s, earning the EL-Cs a unique status of being owned and operated by five different Class Is!
Under its fourth owner by the time of this photo a former Virginian EL-C motor, now classified as an E33 model with the Penn Central, is seen here as it leads a freight through Rahway, New Jersey on June 19, 1972.
While the Virginian was never a large railroad and lasted a mere
50 years as an independent company it was an extremely well managed and
profitable carrier that gains its distinctiveness from operating an
almost entirely electrified system. Most of the VGN’s electric
locomotives have since been scrapped (including most of its locomotive
fleet in general) but at least two EL-Cs survives, #135 which is on
display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke adorned in
its original Virginian livery and #131 currently residing at the
Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston, Connecticut.
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