Alco "C-424" Locomotives

The Alco C424 was the manufacturer's second B-B, four-axle road switcher in the series debuting in 1963 along with its sister model, the C420. While sales were modest for the C424, it proved to be the American Locomotive Company's (Alco) best selling Century design offering comparable horsepower, was reliable, and could out pull anything in its class (a hallmark the builder was now quite well known for). While the less powerful C420 design featured an exterior carbody more similar to late Road Switcher (RS) series the C424 employed a setup that was first used on the RS27 and which Centuries in general are now classically remembered.  Today, the ruggedness and reliability of these locomotives continues to show through as numerous examples of the C424 not only remained preserved but also are still used in freight service across the country.

Some locations where they can still be found hauling freight include the Western New York & Pennsylvania, Morristown & Erie, Buffalo Southern, and the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad.   On the Belt Railway of Chicago the locomotives became a railfan favorite.  The terminal road used its small fleet of six (#600-605) from the time they were purchased new from Alco in 1965-1966 until the early 2000's. 

One of Canadian National's C424's sits on the fuel rack at Winnipeg, Manitoba in October, 1971. Roger Puta photo.

The Alco C424 (listed by the builder as its DL640A) began production in 1963 as a replacement for its RS27 line, which had stopped production a year earlier and sold poorly at just 27 units. Very similar to the RS27 the C424 offered the same horsepower (2,400) and prime mover, Alco's 251B model. The design also closely resembled the RS27 with a flush, long hood and very short front, low hood (giving the unit a somewhat "stubby" appearance). Alco did away with the notched corners on the C424's carbody, instead giving the nose a simple rounded look and the trailing long hood a raised edge for the number boards. Once again, Alco returned to General Electric for internal components such as traction motors and generators.

Fortunately the C424 sold better than its predecessor as a number of Class I railroads around the country picked up the model such as the Pennsylvania, Reading, Wabash, Erie Lackawanna, Belt Railway of Chicago, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle. Additionally, smaller lines also purchased the design including Alco loyalists Green Bay & Western and Erie Mining while the Toledo, Peoria & Western also picked up a few units. Unfortunately, while Alco sold nearly 200 C424s, 99 were built by the Montreal Locomotive Works for the Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, and Mexican line National de Mexico purchased another 45.

For more information about the C424 model please click here.  While the C424 did not offer as much starting tractive effort as its RS27 predecessor (just 54,100 pounds), it did offer more continuous effort (47,000 pounds). In general, most of the roads that bought the Alco C424 were returning customers, as the company could simply no longer attract new buyers and interest (which was mostly due to the fact that Alco still had a reputation for reliability issues despite having mostly corrected this problem years before). Production ended on the model in early 1967 and despite the slow sales numbers (in comparison to models being produced by EMD who was selling thousands of GP35s and GP38s) the lines that purchased the C424 were generally quite happy with the models.

The Belt Railway of Chicago utilized C424's from the time they purchased new (1965) until the early 2000's. Here, #602 and #604 layover at Clearing Yard in July, 1986. Roger Puta photo.

For instance, the Reading used theirs in regular freight service until Conrail's creation in the spring of 1976 and the Green Bay & Western and Belt Railway of Chicago both employed theirs for decades before retirement or selling the units. Additionally, the Canadian Pacific was still finding uses for their MLW M424s in the early 1990s. Today, along with preserved C424s you can still find them being used in freight service on short lines like the Apache Railway and Livonia, Avon & Lakeville.   Unfortunately, the future of those in service on the Arkansas & Missouri is in doubt as the railroad announced in July of 2013 it would be retiring much of its fleet by September after it had purchased three new SD70ACes from EMD.

Canada's largest railroads, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, both maintained sizable fleets of C424's (all manufactured by Alco's northern arm, the Montreal Locomotive Works). Here, CP Rail C424 #4239 lays over at Ste. Luc Yard in Montreal, Quebec on March 22, 1970. Roger Puta photo.

Alco C424 Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Belt Railway Of Chicago600-60561965-1966
Canadian National3200-324041 (MLW)1964-1967
Canadian Pacific8300-8332, 4233-425051 (MLW)1963-1966
Erie Lackawanna2401-2415151963
Erie Mining50011964
Green Bay & Western311-31441963-1965
National de Mexico8100-8144451964-1965
Spokane, Portland & Seattle300-30671964
Toleda, Peoria & Western800-80121964
WabashB900-B902, B903-B90671964

A nice, side-profile view of Green Bay & Western C424 #313 at Norwood Yard in Green Bay, Wisconsin during the spring of 1979. Doug Kroll photo.

Interestingly, it should be noted that during the 1960s General Electric was not selling considerably more locomotives than Alco. Practically from the start of the diesel locomotive era in the late 1930s through the early 1980s the Electro-Motive Division was a juggernaut company producing a seemingly endless array of reliable and proficient diesel models during this time, which left little room for the competition. GE, particularly, because it did not have a long-standing name in the business, like Alco, in some ways found selling locomotives even harder as its early Universal models achieved part of their sales due to the fact that EMD was so backlogged it could not keep up with demand (and so, railroads went elsewhere to fill their power needs).  To read more about other 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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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way.  Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that.  If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer.  It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!

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You will be hard pressed at finding a better online resource regarding diesel locomotives than Craig Rutherford's  The website contains everything from historic (fallen flags) to contemporary (Class I's, regionals, short lines, and even some museums/tourist lines) rosters, locomotive production information, technical data, all notable models cataloged by the five major builders (American Locomotive, Electro-Motive, General Electric, Fairbanks-Morse, and Baldwin), and much more.  A highly recommended database!

Electro-Motive Database

In 1998 a gentleman by the name of Andre Kristopans put together a web page highlighting virtually every unit every out-shopped by General Motors' Electro-Motive Division.  Alas, in 2013 the site closed by thankfully Don Strack rescued the data and transferred it over to his site (another fine resource).  If you are researching anything EMD related please visit this page first.  The information includes original numbers, serials, and order numbers.