EMD "F3" Diesel Locomotives

Last revised: December 29, 2022

By: Adam Burns

The F3 was one of the most successful cab units the builder ever produced with upwards of 2,000 A and B units constructed by the time production had ended.

The locomotive could be found in use on virtually all of the major railroads at the time and helped extinguished the use of steam in standard freight service.


Visually, the F3 varied little from the FT except that it offered slightly more horsepower and upgraded internal components.  Interestingly, there were a number of different design changes to the F3 over the years.

However, while Electro Motive did not change the name of the model during this time railfans have come to identify these changes with the term phases (and the "F5" variant). 

Despite the fact that more than 1,800 F3's were constructed, today only around a dozen remain preserved.  Notable locations where survivors can be found include the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad (built as Clinchfield #800), Canadian Railway Museum (built as Grand Trunk Western #9013), and the Red River Museum (built as Missouri-Kansas-Texas #66-C).

A company photo of Electro-Motive's F3 A-B-B-A demonstrator set, seen here in July of 1945.


The F3 began production directly after the FT in July of 1945.  The primary difference between the two was the F3's D17B traction motors, which allowed it to produce 55,000 pounds of starting tractive effort and 40,000 pounds continuous.

The model still featured General Motors' 16-cylinder, 567B prime mover. Because the F3 was built from the same frame as the FT it retained the same length of just over 50 feet and weight, 115 tons.

The locomotive also kept the same gear ratio allowing it a (rated) top speed of 65 mph.  Externally, the easiest way to identify the FT and F3 is the number of portholes; the former had four very closely together that were centered on the long hood while the latter featured just two spaced several feet apart.

Erie Lackawanna F3A #6561 (ex-Delaware, Lackawanna & Western #656-A), showing her age, at Marion, Ohio; summer, 1970. American-Rails.com collection.

At the time of the F3's production the industry did not yet fully understand the benefits offered by six-axle (C-C trucks) locomotives in terms of the added tractive effort and adhesion they provided.

As such, during that era four-axle power was the rage and with the success of the FT and early E series designs sales for the F3 quickly took off.

Being one of the most successful diesel locomotive designs of that era the F3 was purchased by most of the largest Class Is at the time as well as a number of smaller lines.

Over its four year production run the model saw slight changes to its carbody five different times. However, for the most part it was identical to the F2 with its most distinguishing feature being the F3's large number boards.

As mentioned above, these changes were not directly denoted by EMD who simply kept track of serial numbers as new models rolled off the line.

In this Western Pacific publicity scene, new F3's pose for a photo at Roper Yard in Salt Lake City, Utah during the summer of 1947. Author's collection.


For railfans there were five different phases; Phase I through Phase V (the latter is also referred to as the "F5"). All of these were extremely minor in nature, mostly involving slight changes to grill locations, radiator fans, portholes, etc. 

Specifically the variances include: 

  • Built from July of 1945 the Phase I variant was essentially an F2 with upgraded electrical equipment and different number boards.

  • The early Phase II model was manufactured from February of 1947 and including slight cosmetic changes including chicken wire used on the top-third of the carbody with wiring used between the two centered portholes

  • The later Phase II went into production that December and sported new radiator fans with a "pan-topped" look.
Missouri Pacific F3A #532 (sub-lettered for subsidiary St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico) and an FA-2 in St. Louis, circa 1955. American-Rails.com collection.

The "Flying F3"

The incident which made Santa Fe F3A #19-L a celebrity, and luckily no one was seriously injured. A

t approximately 8:45 AM on the morning of January 25, 1948 train #17, the combined westbound "El Capitan"/"Super Chief" had just arrived at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal.

Author Joe Lesser notes that four trains were scheduled to arrive at LAUPT that morning; Train #19 - "The Chief," Train #3 - "The California Limited," Train #1 - "The Scout," and Train #17 - listed only as "streamliner" on the timetable. 

As it turns out Train #21, "The El Capitan," and Train #17, "The Super Chief," were combined as Train #17 at that time into LAUPT.

Upon cutting off from his train, engineer Fred Hurst was following instructions from the herder (a trackman assigned to work station jobs) with his A-B-B-A set of F3's to ease towards the bumping post, prepare to reverse through the crossover, head to the release track, and finally make his way to the roundhouse at nearby Redondo Junction.

As an investigation later discovered, Hurst accidentally turned the F3's MU2A valve, which released air-brake control from the engines. 

At this point the locomotives effectively had no brakes and they slowly rolled forward, clipped through the bumper, passed over a 12-foot wide paved road, jumped the curb and sidewalk, and finally smashed through a one-foot thick concrete wall.

Photo by Fletcher Swan, AT&SF employee at the time.

Lead locomotive #19-L finally came to rest on its battery case and fuel tank although its front truck dangled over Aliso Street with the unit's nose having snapped a utility pole.

Hurst had remained at the controls the entire time and gingerly made his way out of the back of the locomotive once it came to a stop. However, his fireman, Frank Rittenhouse, had bailed out as soon as he realized something was amiss.

Ultimately, Hurst was found at fault and permanently removed from service. Interestingly, #19-L's adventures did not end here.

It was later involved in a derailment on October 30, 1949; while leading train #22, the eastbound "El Capitan" it struck a broken rail at-speed (60-70 mph) near Azusa, California, rolled over and caught fire. Thankfully, only one crew member and seventeen passengers were slightly injured.

The locomotive was later repaired and returned to service. It was then rebuilt during the CF7 program in the early 1970s and became #2622. In the 1980s it was sold to short line Louisiana & Delta and finally retired in June of 1987.

Many thanks to Joe Lesser's article, "The Case Of Santa Fe's Flying F3" from the March, 2000 issue of Trains Magazine for the historical background concerning this incident.

823598230941274612467327852896038.jpgAn A-B set of Burlington F3s, led by #9960-C, along with an F7A have a long freight at Eola, Illinois, circa 1964. American-Rails.com collection.

In 1948 the last three phases of the F3 were produced:

  • In March, Phase III began rolling out of La Grange lacking the chicken wire between the centered port holes with louvres included on the four rectangular openings

  • Phase IV was manufactured later that year in August sporting a full-length, stainless-steel grille which replaced the chicken wire at the top of the carbody and made the locomotive closely resemble the later F7.  

  • Finally there was the "F5" (Phase V) which, again, was never cataloged as such by EMD; built between October of 1948 through February of 1949 the locomotive's notable feature was the new model D27C traction motor. While more rugged the F5 retained the same, overall tractive effort rating. 
26781598171718969730089.jpgMissouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) F3A's #64-C and #65-C at Parsons, Kansas, circa 1966. Mac Owen photo. American-Rails.com collection.

Data Sheet

Entered Production10/1946 (Santa Fe #16L)
Years Produced10/1946 - 2/1949
Engine BuilderGM
Length (F3A)50' 8"
Length (F3B)50' 0"
Height (Top Of Rail To Top Of Cab)15' 0"
Width10' 7"
Weight230,000 Lbs (A Units): 228,000 Lbs (B Units, Phase V only)
Fuel Capacity1,200 Gallons
Air CompressorGardner-Denver
Air Compressor ModelWBO
Air Brake ManufacturerWestinghouse
Air Brake Schedule24RL
Truck TypeBlomberg
Truck Wheelbase9'
Wheel Size40"
Traction MotorsD27C (4), GM
Primary GeneratorD12B, GM
Auxiliary GeneratorDelco (A8102)
MU (Multiple-Unit)Yes
Dynamic BrakesYes
Gear Ratio62:15
Tractive Effort (Starting)55,000 Lbs at 25%
Tractive Effort (Continuous)40,000 Lbs at 9.3 mph
Top Speed65 mph

* Steam generators were optional in the F3.  They were produced by Vapor Clarkson, model OK4616 (1,200 Lbs/Hr).

Production Rosters


Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad200-20121947-1948
Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railway150111947
Atlantic Coast Line336-347121948
Baltimore & Ohio82-88, 82A-86A (Evens), 113-171, 113A-171A (Odds)671947-1949
Bangor & Aroostook500A-507A81947-1948
Boston & Maine4227A-4228A21948
Burlington116A-128A, 116D-129D, 130A-138A, 130D-138D, 160A-162A, 9960A-9962A, 9960D-9962D541947-1949
Central Of Georgia901-90991947-1948
Central Railroad Of New Jersey50-59101947
Chicago & Eastern Illinois1200-1205, 1400-1409161948-1949
Chicago & North Western4051C-4055C, 4055A-4066A, 4056C-4066C281947
Chicago Great Western101A-115A, 101C-115C, 150-152331947-1949
Clinchfield Railroad800-80561948-1949
Denver & Rio Grande Western552A-554A, 552D-554D61946
Electro-Motive (Demo)291A1-291A2, 754A1-754A2, 95151945-1948
Erie Railroad706A-710A, 706D-710D, 800A-806A, 800D-806D241947-1949
Florida East Coast501-50881949
Georgia Railroad100111948
Grand Trunk Western9006-9027221948
Great Northern225-231, 259A-267A, 259B, 262B-265B, 275A, 275B-276B, 306A, 306C, 350A-358A, 350C-358C, 375C-376C, 430A-438A (Evens), 430D-438D (Evens)561946-1948
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio800A-811A, 800B-810B, 880A-885A, 880B-882B321946-1947
Kansas City Southern30A-31A, 50A-59A, 50D-58D211947-1948
Lackawanna605A-606A, 605C-606C, 621A-621C, 655A-662A, 801A-805A, 801C-805C221946- 1947
Lehigh Valley510-528 (Evens)101948
Louisville & Nashville2500-250121948
Maine Central671A-672A, 681-68681947-1948
Milwaukee Road80A-83A, 80D-83D81949
Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway248A, 248C, 348A, 348C, 448A, 448C61948
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy)201A-207A, 201C-207C141947-1949
Missouri Pacific (Including Subsidiaries)513-571, 576601947-1948
Monon Railroad51A-52A, 51B-52B, 61A-64A, 61B-64B, 81A-85A, 81B-85B221946-1948
Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis800-80891948-1949
New York, Ontario & Western501-503, 821-82251948
New York Central1606-1635, 3500-3503341947-1948
Northern Pacific6500A-6506A, 6503C-6506C, 6011A-6017A, 6011D-6017D251947-1948
Pennsylvania9500A-9567A, 9677A-9689A811947-1949
Santa Fe16L-36L, 16C-36C421946-1949
Seaboard Air Line4022-4032111948
Soo Line200A-204A, 200B-204B, 2200A-2200B (Wisconsin Central)121947-1948
Southern Pacific6100A-6139A, 6100D-6139D2801947-1949
Southern Railway (Including Subsidiaries)4128-4206, 6106-6113, 6702-6713, 6804- 68061001946-1949
Spokane, Portland & Seattle800A1-800A2, 80231947
St. Louis San Francisco Railway (Frisco)5000-5017181948
Toledo, Peoria & Western100A11945
Union Pacific905-910, 964A-968A, 1400A-1441A, 1442-1463, 1550-1563871947-1949
Western Maryland51-5221947
Western Pacific801A-803A31947
Western Railway Of Alabama50111948


Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Baltimore & Ohio82x-88x, 82Ax-86Ax (Evens)71947
Bangor & Aroostook600B-6003B41947-1948
Boston & Maine4227B-4228B21948
Burlington116B-138B, 116C-138C, 160B-162B, 160C-162C, 9960B-9962B551947-1949
Central Railroad Of New Jersey (CNJ)A-E51947
Chicago & Eastern Illinois1300-1301, 1500-150471948
Chicago & North Western4055B-4066B121947
Chicago Great Western101B-112B, 101D-104D161947-1949
Clinchfield Railroad850-85231948-1949
Denver & Rio Grande Western552B-554B, 552C-554C61946
Electro-Motive (Demo)291B1-291B221945
Erie Railroad706B-710B, 706C-710C, 800B-806B171947-1949
Florida East Coast551-55441949
Great Northern260B-261B, 267B, 306B, 350B-358B, 430B-438B (Evens), 430C-438C (Evens)231948
Gulf, Mobile & OhioB60-B64, B80-B8281947
Kansas City Southern30B-31B, 50B-58B, 50C-58C201947-1948
Lackawanna605B-606B, 621B, 655B-662B, 801B-805B151946-1947
Lehigh Valley511-529 (Odds)101948
Louisville & Nashville2550-255231948
Maine Central671B-672B21947
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy)201B-206B61949
Missouri Pacific513B-518B, 525B-526B, 553B-556B, 561B-570B221947-1948
Monon Railroad61C-65C, 64C (2nd)61946-1947
Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis900-911121948-1949
New York, Ontario & Western821B-822B21948
New York Central2404-2419, 3600-3601181947-1948
Northern Pacific6500B-6506B, 6500C-6506C, 6011B-6015B, 6011C-6015C241947
Pennsylvania9500B-9528B, 9540B-9554B441947-1949
Santa Fe16A-36A, 16B-36B421946-1949
Southern Pacific6100B-6139B, 6100C-6139C2801947-1949
Southern Railway (Including Subsidiaries)4320-4384, 6156-6159, 6750-6755, 6829761946- 1949
St. Louis San Francisco Railway (Frisco)65100-5117181948
Toledo, Peoria & Western100B11945
Union Pacific905B-909B (Odds), 905C-909C (Odds), 969B-978B, 1430B-1458B (Evens), 1430C-1458C (Evens), 1442B-1471B, 1550B-1562B (Evens), 1550C-1562C (Evens)921947-1949
Western Pacific801B-803B, 801C-803C61947

This Electro-Motive photo features a beautiful new set of Kansas City Southern F3's, #30-A and #30-B, in November, 1947. These units led the "Southern Belle" between Kansas City and Shreveport, Louisiana.

In the end, when production had closed on the F3 in early 1949 some 1,111 F3As and 696 F3Bs had been manufactured for dozens of railroads.

Many of these models remained in regular freight service for decades with some still in use through the 1990s.   Electro-Motive's F3 was the first to see buyers from Canada when the Canadian National purchased 4 As and 2 Bs.

Additionally, Grand Trunk Western bought 22 A units. American lines to purchase the F3 ranged widely from the Aberdeen & Rockfish, Atlantic Coast Line, Baltimore & Ohio, Boston & Maine, Milwaukee Road, Erie, and Great Northern to the Burlington, Union Pacific (who purchased the most, 89 As and 90 Bs), Western Maryland, Southern Pacific, Soo Line, Southern, Pennsylvania, Missouri Pacific, Katy, and Lehigh Valley. 


  • Foster, Gerald. A Field Guide To Trains. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
  • Hayden, Bob. Diesel Locomotives: Cyclopedia, Volume 2 (Model Railroader). Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1980.
  • Marre, Louis A. Diesel Locomotives: The First 50 Years, A Guide To Diesels Built Before 1972.  Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1995.
  • Pinkepank, Jerry A. Diesel Spotter's Guide.  Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1967.
  • Solomon, Brian.  EMD Locomotives.  Minneapolis: MBI Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Solomon, Brian.  Electro-Motive E-Units and F-Units: The Illustrated History of North America's Favorite Locomotives.  Minneapolis:  Voyageur Press, 2011.

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