Alco C420

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

One of the first of the American Locomotive Company's (Alco) new Century models was the C420. It was a four-axle design that offered sufficient horsepower. However, to some extent Alco continued to catalog custom models when a universal design would have sufficed, such as what EMD and General Electric had been doing for years (particularly the former). For instance, the C420 was meant to be a less powerful version of the C424, which was being produced at the same time. The Alco C420 had modest sales but the first design of the Century series did little to improve Alco's standing in the locomotive manufacturer's race. Interestingly, despite lukewarm sales numerous C420s are preserved today and several remain in operation on shortlines, nearly 50 years since the last was outshopped.

The Alco C420 used the builder's new 261C prime mover that was much more reliable over its earlier designs. The model began production in June of 1963 and as was the case with late RS designs, the C420 featured a standard low nose (high nose units were only built on request, and some were built on the C420 model), similar to the Standard Cab design first employed by EMD on its GP30 model. As the designation suggests (which was a completely new system unveiled by Alco whereby the "C" stood for Century, "4" regarded the number of axles, and "20" referred to the horsepower), the C420 was capable of producing 2,000 horsepower and found buyers among a number of Class I railroads such as the Lehigh Valley, Norfolk & Western, Louisville & Nashville, and Monon. Interestingly, the largest buyer of C420s was the Pennsylvania-owned Long Island Rail Road, which owned thirty.

Recently-outshopped Monon C420's are seen here in Schenectady, awaiting delivery to their new owner during August of 1967. Jim Shaughnessy photo.

Once again, the C420 was more of a reactionary release by Alco in an attempt to remain competitive with newcomer General Electric and its U25B which debuted in 1959. It's rather unfortunate that by the early 1960s Alco was generally looked upon with resignation by the industry as the Century series, particularly the four axle models, were quite adept locomotives which were very reliable. Additionally, they continued to offer incredible pulling power (an Alco trademark) and fuel efficiency. Surprisingly, despite GE now being an Alco competitor, the Schenectady manufacturer continued to purchase from its one-time ally internal components as it always had such as traction motors and generators.

From a technical standpoint the Alco C420 was meant to replaced the RS32 model and while it offered less starting tractive effort (57,200 pounds) provided more continuous effort (38,000 pounds). Interestingly, neither Alco nor GE sold many models during the mid-1960s as EMD was once again dominating the market with its 2,500 horsepower GP35 of 1963 (which would go on to sell well over 1,000 examples).  By the time production had ended in 1968 only a little over 100 Alco C420s had been built. However, aside from the large Class Is who purchased the model several smaller lines did as well such as the Piedmont & Northern, Tennessee Central, Lehigh & Hudson River, Erie Mining, Mississippi Export, and even the Secratario de Communicaciones Y Transportes of Mexico.  For more information regarding the C420 model please click here.  

Alco C420 Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Erie Mining600-60231965
Lehigh & Hudson River21-2991963-1966
Lehigh Valley404-415121964
Long Island Rail Road200-229301963-1968
Louisville & Nashville1300-1315161964-1966
Mississippi Export6311965
Nickel Plate Road57811964
Norfolk & Western413-42081964
Piedmont & Northern2000-200121965
Seaboard Air Line110-136271965
Secratario de Communicaciones Y Transportes7123-10, 7123-1121965
Tennessee Central400-40121966

Perhaps most fascinating with this model, in terms of its history, is how many continued to find usefulness in freight service long after they were sold by their original owner. Today, close to 40 of this relics remain preserved with the most famous in operation on the Apache Railway.  Unfortunately, those in operation on short line Arkansas & Missouri (the fabled Alco line) have an uncertain future after the railroad announced in July it was acquiring three new EMD SD70ACes and would retiring much of its Alco fleet.   To read more about other Alco Century models please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.

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