The EMD F Series, Defining a New Era of Motive Power

Along with the Electro-Motive Corporation’s E series, the later EMD F series, built primarily for freight service, would become the principal diesel-electric model to spell the end for steam. The Electro-Motive Corporation (EMC) has its beginnings in 1922 being based out of Cleveland, Ohio building inexpensive motorcars. With the purchase of the company in 1930 by General Motors, and more resources at its disposal the company began developing the precursor of the modern-day diesel-electric road unit (cabs and road-switchers), the streamlined trainset, which consisted of a powered car permanently attached to a few coaches (usually two or three cars). The most famous of these streamlined trainsets was the Burlington Zephyrs, a beautiful stainless steel creation (originally powered by Winton engines, which would also become a subsidiary of GM) that was extremely lightweight and fast. The original trainset, the Zephyr 9900, made headlines in 1934 when it completed a non-stop journey from Denver to Chicago in a little over 13 hours.

C&NW F7A #4080C leads a two-car bi-level commuter consist through Wheaton, Illinois bound for downtown Chicago on April 4, 1966.

Because the power cars with these trainsets were permanently attached to the coaches EMC sought to design a locomotive free of this articulated setup but designed in such a manner that a railroad could still attach it to any passenger train and obtain the same, smooth streamlined look. This it did with the unveiling of the EA model in 1937, the first in a long line of passenger diesel locomotive designs that would come to be known as the E series.  Not surprisingly, soon after the EA unveiling the company decided to take things a step further and develop the first true diesel locomotive road unit, capable of pulling long freights in main line service. In 1939 it came out with the FT model (perhaps the key difference between the EMD F series and Es was that Fs rode on B-B trucks whereas Es rode on A1As [which was a three-axle truck with the center axle unpowered] and carried a noticeably longer carbody), the first in EMC’s F series, and one of the most success diesel-electric designs of all time.

The FT design also employed the new dynamic braking system, which essentially was another means of braking that temporarily employed the traction motors as generators and used the resulting electromotive force to retard (or slow) the train (very efficient and effective).  The F series model would come to define American railroading for years and you can still catch Fs in regular use even today! The FT (which stood for Freight, Twenty-seven hundred horsepower) was a superb locomotive and although its 2,700 horsepower came from an A-B setup of a cab (A) plus booster (B), each rated at 1,350 horsepower, the model would be embraced by the rail industry for the efficiencies it held over steam power as well as being rugged and easy to maintain.

Chicago Great Western F3A #113-C and other power layover at the granger road's yard in Chicago on the afternoon of June 9, 1964.

Like with the EA model, the Santa Fe was the first to jump on the bandwagon with the FT and ordered a whopping 320 A and B units just by itself (it single-handedly purchased more FTs than Alco’s entire line of PAs), and it did not take long for other railroads to follow after seeing the locomotive’s capabilities. The FT became so successful that before 1950 EMC had sold over 1,000 units! The FT essentially became the standard by which all other similar cab models were designed by other manufacturers and it instantly made EMC the industry leader in diesel locomotives.

The FT’s success was only the beginning for the EMD F series. With the end of World War II wartime restrictions were lifted and EMC, by now known as General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD), was able to once again produce locomotives. The builder wasted no time ramping up production and soon unveiled the F3 (that followed the initial FT model) which sold some 1,111 units; the F7 followed next and sold 2,366 units; and last was the F9 which sold 87 units. Other than being upgraded to 1,500 horsepower (and 1,750 with the F9) over the FT’s 1,350 hp there were minor differences between the F3, F7 and F9 except for small overall changes and tweaks here and there. Amazingly all of these units were built in a time frame of a little over a decade, between 1945 and 1957.

Interestingly, later EMD F series designs included an FP model, the FP7 and FP9, which were essentially F7s and F9s except for an increased frame that allowed for a steam generator and added water capabilities for passenger service use. There were several built, over 400, but their numbers were far less when compared to the thousands of standard Fs manufactured.  The success of the EMD F series is still incredible, even today, as its sales only fell slightly below that of its later sister models; GP7s, GP9s and SD40-2s. Like those models, Fs continue to roam the rails and likely will continue to do so for many years to come; not only because of their rugged nature and ease of maintenance but also because of the unit's clean and timeless streamlined design, allowing it to be a good choice even today for freight and passenger service.

The EMD F Series Line

Model Type Units Built Date Built Horsepower
FT555 A Units/541 B Units1939-19451,350
F274 A Units/30 B Units19461,350
F31,111 A Units/696 B Units1945-19491,500
F72,366 A Units/1,483 B Units1949-19531,500
FP73241949-19531,500
F9100 A Units/154 B Units1954-19601,750
FP9901954-19591,750
FL9601956-19571,750-1,800
F40C1519743,200
F40PH4111976-19923,000-3,200
SDP40F1501973-19743,000
F45861968-19713,600
FP45141967-19683,600
F59PH831988-19943,000
F59PHIStill In Production1994-Present3,200
F69PH-AC219893,000



The conductor peers out of the window of Burlington F3A #160-C as the locomotive and a GP30 ease a local out of the siding at Milledgeville, Illinois during the early evening of August 13, 1964.

For more information on the EMD F series 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.

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A History Of Electro-Motive




A History Of General Motors Diesel


F Series Models



FT




F2




F3




F7




FP7




F9




FL9




F40PH




F45


E Series Models



EA/E1/E2




E3




E4




E5




E6




E7




E8




E9


Other Reading



C&NW's "Crandall Cabs"




Rock Island's AB6