The GE U36B was the last and most powerful 4-axle Universal model the
company produced. By the time of its production in the late 1960s GE
must have realized that interest for powerful 4-axle road switchers was
rapidly declining, as the final sales numbers bore out, with only three roads purchasing the U36B (and only two ultimately used the
locomotive in revenue service). With the relative unsuccessful sales
numbers of the U36B, GE instead began focusing its efforts on six axle
models. Despite the model's poor sales performance it actually became
quite famous, particularly among railfans, for its use as power for
Amtrak's initial Auto Train
that debuted in the early 1970s. Today, despite these units being
rather rare there are still a handful in operation; Nashville &
Eastern #5772 is originally Seaboard Coast Line #1820 while
Transkentucky Transportation operates nine former SCL units.
Seaboard Coast Line U36B #1799 lays over with other power at the Byran Park Shops in Richmond, Virginia on May 13, 1972. The SCL purchased these U-boats between 1970 and 1972.
The GE U36B began production in January, 1969 offering a hefty 3,600
horsepower (utilizing the builder's 4-cycle model FDL16 prime mover), one of the most powerful 4-axle road switchers any locomotive builder
ever produced. As GE advanced its locomotive development the U36B,
outwardly, began to resemble what would become newer locomotives like
the "Dash 7" series, particularly with the flared rear radiator design
which first appeared on the U33B. Today, this feature remains a classic
GE trademark. In any event, the U36B was the second-to-last Universal
series model to enter the company's catalog, as only the U36C was
cataloged later in 1971. It was certainly the final four-axle U-boat to
enter production as General Electric looked to only focus on six-axle designs, as its late model C-C U-boats sold very well (more than 1,000 were outshopped).
While the flared radiator was a new feature on GE locomotives the U36B
mostly still resembled earlier 4-axle road switchers with boxy carbody designs
and straightforward engineering that allowed for generally ease of
maintenance. As GE's last 4-axle Universal model the U36B sold
relatively poorly with just 125 units built by the time production had
ended in December, 1974. The Seaboard Coast Line purchased the most,
108, and the Auto-Train Corporation ordered another 13 (Conrail ordered 4
for use by Auto-Train but these were never delivered). One interesting
note about the U36B, and all of GE's four-axle U-boats is that the
company never elected to increase the tractive effort rating of the
models even as it continued to build more powerful models.
Seaboard U36B #5736 is seen here in Knoxville, Tennessee during the early CSX era on May 23, 1987. The unit began its career as SCL #1784 in 1971.
The Seaboard Coast Line's 103 models remained in use through the CSX
Transportation merger of the 1980s. The company had mostly retired
the fleet by the early 1990s and sold the units to various short lines
(like those mentioned above). Interestingly, the Transkentucky, which
owns the most U36Bs, also operates several units of GE's U28B design,
one of the railroads to still employ the locomotive in freight service.
In any event, as the remaining U36Bs continue to age some will
probably find their way into museum collections for preservation. Lastly, for more information about the GE U36B and total production numbers of units built please refer to the chart below.
Auto Train Corporation U36B #4002 runs light through Lorton, Virginia during March of 1972. The company purchased 17 examples of the model for use on its service numbered, 4000-4016, between 1971 and 1974.
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.