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.
Southern Pacific U33C #8712 lays over at Burlington Northern's 23rd Street shops in Denver on May 20, 1977.
For more reading about GE's U-boat line the bookU-Boats: General Electric's Diesel Locomotive by author Greg McDonnell provides a complete history of the company's first production diesel models. Also, noted historian Brian Solomon has authored a number of books covering the history and background of GE's locomotives. Two, which provide a general but thorough coverage include GE Locomotives and GE And EMD Locomotives: The Illustrated History. As with virtually all of Mr. Solomon's you can expect a well-written title with large, crisp, and sharp photographs.