The GE U33C

The GE U33C was one of the company's most powerful six-axle models, and one of the last it would build before introducing the upgraded "Dash 7" line. Once GE had gotten its foot in the door, so to speak, with the popular U30C model, its sales began to take off for future models like the U33C. While GE still had issues of reliability with its Universal line it worked to improve these and by the time it introduced the "Dash 7" line most mechanical and electrical issues with its locomotives had been worked out (the company already had earned high praise for its traction motors, which is a big reason why it sold so many late model U-boats). For most Class Is who purchased the large and powerful U33Cs they remained in revenue service through the 1980s. However, as General Electric continued to catalog new and more reliable designs, particularly the Dash 8 line being built at that time railroads began retiring their older U33C fleets. Most were gone by the early 1990s.

While difficult to tell it is the early Burlington Northern era as a U33C and SD45, both still in Northern Pacific paint, lead a freight through Clarendon Hills, Illinois in early April of 1971.

The GE U33C began production in January, 1968, a few years after the U30C. The model featured a slight increase in power to 3,300 horsepower using the company's standard 4-cycle model FDL16 prime mover. With a tractive effort rating of 91,650 pounds starting and 92,500 pounds continuous this was on par with earlier models like the U30C and U28C. Perhaps the biggest difference of the U33C from earlier models was the addition of a flared rear radiator. It first appeared on the sister U33B model as well and gave the units the appearance of wings. The purpose of this design was for the increase in horsepower and the feature became a trademark of GE's locomotives, which remains to this day.

While sales for the U33C were not as brisk as that of the U30C it still sold relatively well, 375 units to 11 different Class Is by the time production had ended in January, 1975. Overall the roads to purchase the model included the Santa Fe (25), Burlington Northern (39), Delaware & Hudson (9), Erie Lackawanna (55), Great Northern (15), Illinois Central (10), Milwaukee Road (4), Northern Pacific (10), Penn Central (34), Southern (6), and Southern Pacific (194). Some lines like the Milwaukee and Santa Fe had become regular buyers of GE products by the 1970s. This time, however, the AT&SF did not purchase a variant of the U33C for use in passenger service given the reliability issues that plagued the earlier U30CG and U28CG. In terms of history the success of GE's late model U-boats essentially put Alco out of business as it closed its plant in Schenectady, New York in early 1969.

In this scene of BN #5716 the U-boat hurries a mixed freight through Westmont, Illinois on August 29, 1970.

As with the U30C, early built models of the U33C were not particularly reliable from an overall standpoint as railroads complained of regular maintenance issues. However, General Electric vowed to correct these problems and in the company's favor it offered a very reliable traction motor, the model 752A that kept roads coming back to buy the late series Universals. By the last few years of production on the locomotive GE had corrected most of the early problems and the U33C by that point was nearly a "Dash 7" model, the first of which the company released in 1976 with the C30-7 (issues had certainly been corrected by then as GE sold more than 1,100 examples of the C30-7).  Today, there are no known GE U33Cs known to be either in operation or preserved.

GE U33C Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Burlington5725-5763391971
Delaware & Hudson754-76291970
Erie Lackawanna3301-3315151968-1969
Great Northern2530-2544151968-1969
Illinois Central5050-5059101968
Milwaukee Road8000-800341968
Northern Pacific3300-3309101969
Penn Central6540-6563241968
S.J. Groves & Sons Company507-50821969
Santa Fe8500-8524251969
Southern Pacific8585-87962121969-1975
Southern Railway3805-3814101970-1972


Southern Pacific U33C #8712 lays over at Burlington Northern's 23rd Street shops in Denver on May 20, 1977.

For more information on the General Electric Universal 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 GEs, or diesels in general, this book gives an excellent general history of both.  You may also want to consider the book Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive by author J. Parker Lamb. As the title implies the book looks at the history and development of the diesel locomotives, covering 200 pages, from its earliest beginnings to the newest designs and models operated today. 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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