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FM's "H15-44": The Builder's First, True Road-Switcher

Last revised: January 16, 2024

By: Adam Burns

The H15-44 was Fairbanks-Morse's first, true road-switcher. This locomotive simply followed Fairbanks Morse "Hood" line.

The notable exterior differences between switchers and road-switchers was the cab location; the former was always set to one end of the carbody while the latter was off-set allowing for a short, high hood.

While the H15-44 did not sell well, future designs had somewhat better success.  Alas, given the few number of H15-44s ultimately built, none were preserved. It is one of the few FM models that does not survive.


Rock Island's only two H15-44's, #400 and #401, after they were reengined with Electro-Motive 567C's (May, 1958), layover at the engine house in Peoria, Illinois, circa 1959. They were later traded in to General Electric in September, 1966. American-Rails.com collection.


The H15-44, designed to compete against similar models then in production by Baldwin and American Locomotive, entered FM's catalog in August, 1947 when the company completed demonstrator #1500 for the Association of American Railroads' (AAR) Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey that year.

The locomotive utilized the builder's unique 2-cycle, 38D8 1/8 opposed piston prime mover, which could produce 1,500 horsepower.

This diesel engine became the company's standard for all of its locomotives. The H15-44 was quite similar to Electro-Motive's GP7 released a few years later; it was about the same length at 54 feet and offered the exact same horsepower. 

Because Fairbanks Morse was not heavily involved with the railroad industry prior to releasing its diesel line the company had little knowledge on styling and overall design. 

To compensate for this lack of aesthetics, FM hired famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy to mold the H15-44 into a pleasing carbody that offered crews good visibility and versatility.

Loewy's recommendations were subtle, and while some were more cosmetic in nature than utilitarian they were effective in giving the locomotive a nice look with clean lines and a flush roof.

In truth, the H15-44 (and all of FM's switchers and road switchers) carried an appearance similar to Baldwin's designs.

FM's model classification system also followed Baldwin's to some extent although they were not quite as complex.  In the H15-44's case:

  • "H" stood for Hood unit
  • "15" was for 1,500 horsepower
  • Each 4 meant four axles and four traction motors
91871247263452327858923698378.jpgKansas City Southern H15-44 #45 (built as Louisiana & Arkansas #41) is seen here in Pittsburg, Kansas, circa 1965. Robert Eastwood, Jr. photo. American-Rails.com collection.

In the end FM constructed only 36 units when the last was out-shopped in June of 1949. The railroads that went on to purchase the locomotive included:

  • Akron, Canton & Youngstown (1)
  • Central of Georgia (5)
  • Demonstrators (3)
  • Jersey Central (13)
  • Monon (2)
  • Denver & Rio Grande Western (3)
  • Kansas City Southern (2)
  • Rock Island (2)
  • Union Pacific (5) 

Interestingly, Fairbanks-Morse's succeeding H16-44 design proved to be one of the company's best selling models.  

Data Sheet and Specifications

Entered Production8/1947 (Fairbanks-Morse #1500)
Years Produced8/1947 - 6/1949
Fairbanks-Morse ClassH15-44
Engine38D8 1/8, 8-cylinder Opposed-Piston
Engine BuilderFairbanks-Morse
Carbody StylingRaymond Loewy
Length (Inside Couplers)54'
Height (Top Of Rail To Top Of Cab)14' 6"
Width10' 4"
Weight240,000 Lbs
Truck TypeGSC Swing Bolster, Drop-Side Equalizer
Truck Wheelbase9' 4"
Wheel Size42"
Traction Motors362F (4), Westinghouse
Traction Generator472A, Westinghouse
Auxiliary GeneratorYG45D, Westinghouse
MU (Multiple-Unit)Yes
Gear Ratio15:63, 17:62, 19:60
Tractive Effort42,800 Lbs at 10.5 mph (15:63); 37,200 Lbs at 12.2 mph (17:62); 32,200 Lbs at 14.0 mph (19:60)
Top Speed65 mph (15:63), 75 mph (17:62), 82 mph (19:60)

Production Roster

Total Built = 36

Owner Road Number Construction Number Contract Number Completion Date Quantity
Fairbanks-Morse (Demo)1500*15L6LD668/19471
Fairbanks-Morse (Demo)1502**15L16LD668/19471
Fairbanks-Morse (Demo)1503***15L14LD1062/19491
Rio Grande15015L3LD361/19481
Rio Grande151-15215L4-15L5LD362/19482
Union PacificDS1325-DS132615L7-15L8LD384/19482
Union PacificDS1327-DS132915L9-15L11LD385/19483
Rock Island400-40115L12-15L13LD3112/19482
Central Railroad Of New Jersey150115L15LD661/19491
Central Railroad Of New Jersey1503-150415L17-15L18LD661/19492
Central Railroad Of New Jersey1505-150815L19-15L22LD662/19494
Central Railroad Of New Jersey1509-151215L23-15L26LD663/19494
Central Railroad Of New Jersey151315L27LD664/19491
Kansas City Southern (Louisiana & Arkansas)40-4115L28-15L29LD745/19492
Central Of Georgia Railway101-10515L30-15L34LD826/19495
Akron, Canton & Youngstown20015L36LD806/19491

* Became Jersey Central #1500 in September, 1948.  Following its completion the unit was showcased at the AAR Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey in August, 1947.

** Became Jersey Central #1502.

Other FM equipment featured at this event included a pair of Erie-Built "A" units (which became Union Pacific #984A-985A) along with H20-44 demonstrator #2000.

*** This unit was originally completed as demonstrator #1503 in February, 1949.  It was sold to the Long Island Rail Road in June, 1950 and uprated to 1,600 horsepower.


  • Kirkland, John F. Diesel Builders, The:  Fairbanks-Morse And Lima-Hamilton. Glendale: Interurban Press, 1985.
  • Pinkepank, Jerry A. Diesel Spotter's Guide.  Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1967.
  • Schafer, Mike. Vintage Diesel Locomotives. Osceola: MBI Publishing, 1998.

While the H15-44 was only marginally successful from a sales standpoint it is not necessarily because Fairbanks Morse's models in general were unreliable, as was usually the case with Alco (early on anyway) and particularly Baldwin.

Reliability with FM's diesel locomotives has often been questioned but I believe the issue was mostly due to the fact that FM's opposed-piston prime mover was difficult to maintain and far different from the standard designs being offered by the other builders.

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