The GE U25B was the builder's entry, independently, into the main line diesel locomotive market.
Part of General Electric's "Universal" road switcher series the U25B
was a simple, no frills locomotive that provided ample pulling power and
was generally reliable and easy to maintain (both of which improved as
GE became a more adept locomotive builder).
The success of the U25B, although still far behind leader
Electro-Motive Division, proved to General Electric that it could
compete in the market and the
company would go on to develop an entire line of Universals. For the
American Locomotive Company (Alco), however, the release of the U25B was
a major blow that would eventually put the company out of the
locomotive market. Today the GE U25B has mostly been bumped out of freight service but at least seven locomotives remain preserved around the country.
Nearly new Milwaukee Road U25B #384 is at the fuel rack in Bensenville Yard on September 14, 1965 just a few months after arriving on the property. The CMStP&P purchased quite a bit of GE products in later years although it would only buy 12 U25Bs.
Alco, the company was somewhat abruptly surprised in 1954 when GE
decided to end its decades long partnership, which dated back to the
1918 development of the first diesel-electric boxcab locomotive. After
severing ties GE ramped up production at their Erie, Pennsylvania
facility to develop a reliable road switcher based from designs being
released at the time by Alco and EMD. The very first design it built
was the GE 750, an A-B-B-A set of cab units that somewhat resembled an
EMD F model (although with a less graceful carbody). The locomotives
used a 12-cylinder Cooper-Bessemer FVBL-12 prime mover
and each could produce 1,200 horsepower giving them the name of UM-12
(although GE never actually called the locomotive this). For a photo of
the GE 750 please click here.
In June, 1956 GE began selling a short batch of its first commercial
design, the UD18. The company built two demonstrators of this
locomotive, #1800 and #1801 (with an eye-catching red and white livery),
that looked somewhat like EMD's GP7 and GP9 designs with a high short
hood, offset cab, and long trailing hood. It could produce 1,800
horsepower using GE's own FDL12 prime mover. No American railroads ever found interest in the design although Mexican line Nacionales de Mexico did. After purchasing
GE's two demonstrators the company ordered eight more (altogether
numbered 8000-8009) receiving its entire batch by November, 1956. After
the release of the UD18, GE began manufacturing short batches of
similar designs for foreign lines through 1959 before releasing the U25B
such as the U4B, U5B, U9B/C, and the U12B/C. In April, 1959 it
released the U25B and again attempted to gain interest from U.S. lines for its latest road switchers.
Burlington Northern U25B #5412 and GP38-2 #2075 run light towards the engine terminal in Galesburg, Illinois during August of 1978.
The "U" was designated by GE as its Universal series and the U25B
was the first to be labeled as a "U-boat" by railfans. The company's
classification system was very straightforward; "U" of course, regarded
Universal; "25" designated the horsepower rating, 2,500; and "B"
referred to the unit being a four-axle, B-B truck design. The
locomotive utilized an updated version of the company's standard prime
mover, the 4-cycle FDL16 prime mover. Railroads quickly came to like
the model's simplicity, horsepower, and ease of maintenance as sales
quickly took off.
A relatively light locomotive for a road switcher, weighing just 126
tons, it could produce excellent tractive effort for its size; 75,000
pounds starting and 64,000 pounds continuous. By the time production
had ended on the U25B in February, 1966 GE had built some 478 units
(including two demonstrators that were never purchased) sold to numerous
Class I railroads (the Southern Pacific would come to own the most,
A trio of GN U25Bs including #2504-2506, along with GP30 #3010, are seen here in Minneapolis on June 8, 1964. The GN had acquired these U-boats just two months earlier in April, 24 in all.
Interestingly, the locomotive outsold the EMD model released at
the same, the GP20, which only sold about 260 examples. The U25B
jump-started GE's entry into the locomotive market and future models
sold just as well if not better (particularly their six-axle U-boats).
For Alco, of course, the U25B was the beginning of the end.
GE had done their homework and ever the reactionary, Alco slipped into
third place and would eventually exit the market altogether by 1969.
Today, at least seven GE U25Bs remain preserved around the country;
Louisville & Nashville #1616, Milwaukee Road #387-388, New Haven
#2525, New York Central #2500 and #2510, and Southern Pacific #7508.