EMD "GP38" Series Locomotives

Last revised: March 11, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The Electro-Motive Division's (EMD) GP38, GP38AC and GP38-2, the fourth entry of second-generation diesel locomotives, were extremely successful four-axle models that would only further establish EMD as the premier diesel locomotive builder of that era.

By the time the GP38/AC and later "Dash 2" models were released EMD was a veteran builder that knew what railroads were looking for, and it hit a home run yet again with the GP38/GP38-2.

There are only very minor differences with the GP38 and GP38AC while the GP38-2 carries an updated prime mover and newer electronics.

The locomotive looked almost identical to the GP35 thanks to that model's standard carbody and cab design that EMD stuck with through the 1980s. 

Because of the GP38's success, hundreds remain in widespread use all across the country, particularly on regionals and shortlines.

To date, there is only one GP38 known to be officially preserved, Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia #80 at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.


Missouri Pacific GP38-2 #2022 and SD40-2 #3277 at Taylor, Texas, circa 1982. Mike Bledsoe photo. American-Rails.com collection.


The original GP38 was actually no different from earlier second-generation models in terms of horsepower and was even de-rated a bit at only 2,000 hp (as compared to the GP30’s 2,250 and GP35’s 2,500 hp).

The original model was somewhat successful but not nearly so as the the later GP38-2. In any event, the GP38 carried the new 16-cylinder model 645 prime mover which replaced the 567 of the GP35 and had been EMD's standard diesel engine dating all of the way back to the original FT cab unit of 1939.

The locomotive featured General Motors' standard model D77 traction that could produce the same tractive effort of the earlier GP30 and GP35; 61,000 pounds starting tractive effort and 50,000 pounds continuous.

At an undisclosed location not listed on the slide, a recently delivered Penn Central GP38 lays over between assignments in early October of 1969. American-Rails.com collection.

The GP38, which debuted in 1966 and was built through 1971, and the later GP38-2 which was built between 1972 and 1984, followed the earlier GP30 and GP35.

The GP38 models were both tremendously successful with nearly 3,000 units sold (the GP38 sold around 730 and the GP38-2 sold over 2,100).

The GP38-2 model sold better, as did most "Dash 2" models, because of its further upgrades from the original which included things like a new type of traction motor blower duct, a modular electronic cabinet system and bolted battery box access doors.

A trio of new Lehigh Valley GP38-2's lead an eastbound general manifest past Steel Tower in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania during December of 1972. American-Rails.com collection.

Railroads to purchase the original GP38 included:

  • Detroit Toledo & Ironton (200-206)

  • Bangor & Aroostook (81-88)

  • Original Norfolk Southern (2001-2007)

  • Erie Mining (700-701)

  • Phelps Dodge Corporation (47-54)

  • Texas-Mexican Railway (857-860)

  • Missouri Pacific (572-577)

  • Maine Central (251-263)

  • Clinchfield Railroad (2000-2009)

  • Baltimore & Ohio (3800-3849, 4800-4819)

  • Chesapeake & Ohio (3850-3899, 4820-4829), 

  • Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (2000-2014), 

  • Tennessee Alabama & Georgia #80

  • Aberdeen & Rockfish #400

  • Monongahela Railway (2000-2004)

  • Gulf Mobile & Ohio (701-720)

  • Southern (2716-2822)

  • Penn Central (7675-7939)

  • Missouri-Kansas-Texas (300-303)

  • Burlington Northern (2072-2077)

  • Louisville & Nashville (4000-4019)

  • Santa Fe (3500-3560)

Also, the General Motors Diesel GP38 was built only for Canadian Pacific who purchased twenty-one (3000-3020).

Norfolk & Western GP38AC #4107, wearing the experimental "Skunk" paint scheme bearing a large white strip around the carbody; December, 1982. Location not recorded. American-Rails.com collection.

As for the GP38AC variant, it was essentially identical to the GP38 save for its model AR10 alternator in replace of the GM-built D32 generator allowing for increased tractive effort.

The locomotive was built between February, 1970 and December, 1971 with 261 examples built for; Norfolk & Western (4100-4149), Illinois Central (9500-9519), Louisville & Nashville (4020-4049), Gulf Mobile & Ohio (721-733), DT&I (210-220), St Louis-San Francisco (633-662), Southern (2823-2878), Pacific Power & Light Company #11, Grand Trunk Western (5800-5811), Lehigh Valley (310-313).

A former Rock Island GP38-2, formerly named the "Fred McKim," is ahead of this Missouri Pacific freight at Austin, Texas in May, 1980. Following the Rock's shutdown, Missouri Pacific picked up the railroad's fleet of GP38-2's. Mike Bledsoe photo. American-Rails.com collection.

Except for the later GP40 and GP40-2 models, the GP38 and GP38-2 were EMD’s most successful second-generation Geeps and like the earlier GP35 fit exactly what railroads were looking for in terms of horsepower while also including the manufacturers’ excellence in quality and reliability.

Because of the model’s success, it comes as no surprise that the unit can still be widely seen across the country from short lines and Regionals to Class Is.

In any event, be on the lookout for them because there are still hundreds roaming around out there!  Also, of particular note about the GP38 series.

Data Sheet

Entered Production (GP38)1/1966 (Detroit, Toledo & Ironton #200)
Entered Production (GP38AC)5/1970 (Detroit, Toledo & Ironton #210)
Entered Production (GP38-2)1/1972 (Louisville & Nashville #4050)
Years Produced (GP38)1/1966 - 8/1971
Years Produced (GP38AC)5/1970 - 12/1971
Years Produced (GP38-2)1/1972 - 5/1985
Engine (GP38 and GP38AC)645
Engine (GP38-2)645E
Engine BuilderGM
Length59' 2"
Height (Top Of Rail To Top Of Cab)15' 5" (GP38 and GP38AC)
Height (Top Of Rail To Top Of Cab)15' 4" (GP38-2)
Width (GP38 and GP38AC)10' 4"
Width (GP38-2)10' 4 ½"
Weight (GP38 and GP38AC)245,000 Lbs
Weight (GP38-2)250,000 Lbs
Fuel Capacity1700 Gallons
Air CompressorGardner-Denver
Air Compressor ModelWBO
Air Brake ManufacturerWestinghouse
Air Brake Schedule24L
Truck TypeBlomberg
Truck Wheelbase9'
Wheel Size40"
Traction MotorsD77 (4), GM
Primary Generator (GP38 and GP38AC)D32, GM
Primary Generator (GP38-2)AR10, GM
Auxiliary GeneratorDelco (64-72)
MU (Multiple-Unit)Yes
Dynamic BrakesYes
Gear Ratio62:15
Tractive Effort (Starting)61,000 Lbs at 25%
Tractive Effort (Continuous)50,000 Lbs at 10.8 mph (GP38 and GP38AC)
Tractive Effort (Continuous)54,700 Lbs at 11.1 mph (GP38-2)
Top Speed65 mph
2859203094237562368398743809.jpgOne of the Katy's few GP38's it owned, #303, is seen here at the shops in Parsons, Kansas in 1969. American-Rails.com collection.

Production Rosters


Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad40011968
Baltimore & Ohio3800-3849, 3837 (2nd), 4800-4819711967-1971
Bangor & Aroostook81-8881966-1967
Burlington Northern2072-207761970
Chesapeake & Ohio3850-3899, 4820-4829601967-1970
Clinchfield Railroad2000-2009101967
Detroit, Toledo & Ironton200-20671966-1969
Erie Mining Company700-70121967
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio701-720201969
Louisville & Nashville4000-4019201970
Maine Central251-263131966-1967
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy)300-30341969
Missouri Pacific572-57761966-1967
Monongahela Railway2000-200451969
Norfolk Southern Railway (Original)2001-200771966-1967
Penn Central7675-793926519691-1971
Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines2000-2014151967-1970
Phelps Dodge Corporation47-5481966-1971
Santa Fe3500-3560611970
Southern Railway2716-28221071969-1970
Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railway (TAG)8011968
Texas-Mexican Railway (Tex-Mex)857-86041966-1971


Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Detroit, Toledo & Ironton207-220141970-1971
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio721-733131971
Illinois Central9500-9519201970
Lehigh Valley310-31341971
Louisville & Nashville4020-4049301970-1971
Norfolk & Western4100-4159601971
Pacific Power & Light Company1111971
Southern Railway2823-2878561971
St. Louis San Francisco Railway (Frisco)633-662301971


Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Angelina & Neches River Railroad200011980
Armco Steel CorporationB8411975
Atlanta & St. Andrews Bay Railroad508-51031973-1975
Atlanta & West Point6007-600821979
Belt Railway Of Chicago490-49561972
Boston & Maine201-212121973
Burlington Northern2078-2109321972-1974
Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railway108-10921977-1978
Chicago & North Western4600-4634351979
Chicago, SouthShore & South Bend2000-2009101981
Cleveland Electric Illumininating Company100-10891975
Clinchfield Railroad6000-6006, 604581978-1979
Colorado & Wyoming Railway2001-200221973
Curtis, Milburn & Eastern Railroad810, 817-81941981
Detroit, Toledo & Ironton221-22881975
Durham & Southern2000-200341972
Elgin, Joliet & Eastern700-70451972-1973
Florida East Coast501-511111977-1978
Fort Worth & Denver (BN)2150-215451980
Georgia Railroad6009-601021979
Grand Trunk Western5812-5836251978-1980
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio740-754151972
Illinois Central Gulf9600-9639401974
Illinois Terminal2001-200441977
Kansas City Southern4000-4011121974-1978
Lehigh Valley314-325121972
Long Island Rail Road250-277281976-1977
Louisville & Nashville4050-4144, 6011-60441291972-1979
Milwaukee Road350-365161973-1974
Mississippi Export Railroad65-6621975-1979
Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy)304-321181972-1976
Missouri Pacific858-959, 2111-2237, 2290-23342741972-1981
Penn Central7940-81622231972-1973
Phelps Dodge Corporation1-4, 9, 55-56, 5881973-1982
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie2051-205661977
Providence & Worcester2006-200941980-1982
Public Service Company Of IndianaWG1, WG221974
Rock Island4300-4355, 4368-4879661976-1978
San Manuel Arizona Railroad16-1721974
Seaboard Coast Line500-555, 6046-6065761973-1980
Soo Line790-799, 4410-4452531977-1983
South East Coal Company3821-382331979
Southern Pacific4800-4844451980
Southern Railway5000-52562571972-1979
St. Louis San Francisco Railway (Frisco)400-478, 663-6991171972-1976
Texas-Mexican Railway (Tex-Mex)861-86771974-1985
Toledo, Peoria & Western2001-2011111977-1978
Union Pacific2040-2059, 5139-5162441974-1975
Vermont Railway201-20221972-1974

A set of six, new Burlington Northern GP38's were photographed here with time freight #97 (formerly Great Northern's "West Coaster") near Minot, North Dakota on March 3, 1970. Harr, Hedrich-Blessing photo. Author's collection.

In 1982 Trains Magazine selected Baltimore & Ohio GP38 #3802 as its All American Diesel for the locomotive's performance, service, reliability and the fact that it was an extremely successful design found all across the country.   The unit ended its career on CSX as #9699.

Unfortunately, even after it was planned to be handed over to the B&O Railroad Museum upon retirement the famous Geep was initially in danger of being sold to a leasing firm. Thankfully the near-blunder was averted and as promised the museum received it as a donation from CSX.

Today it awaits restoration back into its original Chessie System colors (when it received its All American status) as well as the nameplates it originally received.  Today, the GP38, GP38-2, and GP38AC can still be regularly found on small and large railroads.  


  • Foster, Gerald. A Field Guide To Trains. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
  • Marre, Louis A. and Pinkepank, Jerry A. Contemporary Diesel Spotter's Guide, The: A Comprehensive Reference Manual To Locomotives Since 1972.  Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1989.
  • McDonnell, Greg. Locomotives: The Modern Diesel & Electric Reference, 2nd Edition. Buffalo: Boston Mills Press/Firefly Books, 2015.
  • Solomon, Brian.  EMD Locomotives.  Minneapolis: MBI Publishing Company, 2006.
  • Solomon, Brian.  GE and EMD Locomotives:  The Illustrated History.  Minneapolis:  Voyageur Press, 2014.
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