GE "B32-8" Locomotives

The GE B32-8 (also referred to as an 8-32B) marked the start of a new line of locomotives for the builder. The new line did feature some improved mechanics and components but mostly its upgrades were of the unseen variety, such as computer systems and microprocessors. Unfortunately, GE's early "Dash 8" models sold very poorly as it was not until the C40-8 and C40-8W models did the series really take off, and continued with the phenomenally successful "Dash 9" series. Today, you can still find a few examples of this standard cab design in use on Norfolk Southern, although the railroad is in the process of siphoning off its fleet (they could also possibly enter the Class I's rebuild program given NS's propensity in recent years to upgrade older locomotives rather than purchase new). Additionally, Amtrak continues to operate a small fleet of wide cab variants of the locomotive.  


These locomotives, built in 1991 (a photo of new unit can be found below) and equipped with Head-End Power or HEP, go by various names including 8-32BWH, P32-8BWH, B32-8WH, or P32 DASH-8. Today, one example has been preserved; #3563 was donated to the Lake Shore Railway Historical Society (North East, Pennsylvania) after the locomotive suffered an engine failure in 2013.  

A pair of Norfolk Southern B32-8's at right are awaiting further instructions at Harrisburg Yard in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as an eastbound freight passes to the left on October 14, 2006. Rob Kitchen photo.

The GE B32-8 saw a bit of change to the builder's carbody designs. While the boxy look remained the "Dash 8s" saw sharper lines to the cab and rear flared radiator (which now looks very much like a wing), doing away with the more beveled look of the "Dash 7" and Universal series. The reasons for such likely had to do with improved visibility as the "Dash 8's" featured a taller cab and wider windows, improving sight lines for the crew.  These standard cabs were soon to become a thing of the past; while later "Dash 9's" also offered the option (Norfolk Southern was a major proponent), federal regulations required all new locomotives be equipped with wide cabs by the latter 1990's.  The "Dash 8s" also have slightly longer nose than earlier models. Perhaps the most noticeable exterior difference (and all "Dash 8s") was the, roughly 10-foot "bulge" directly behind the cab that gave the roof-line a very irregular shape. This new featured simply housed the dynamic brakes.

Norfolk Southern B32-8 #3541 receives assistance from a few mates as the units work a coal drag through Matewan, West Virginia on August 7, 1991. Wade Massie photo.

The GE B32-8 held the same meaning behind its designation as earlier models. For instance, the "B" referred to the unit having a B-B truck setup (two axles per truck) while the "32" referred to it having 3,200 horsepower (although it was officially listed as only having 3,150 horsepower). The "8" reference simply meant it was a model of GE's "Dash 8" series. Using General Electric's then lastest traction motor, the model 752AF, the very light B32-8 (just 131.45 tons) could produce tractive effort ratings of 65,275 pounds starting and 64,700 pounds continuous. Part of the reason for the unit's lackluster success was likely due to its four-axle design, as by 1984, when the model debuted, railroads were shying away from such setups for main line freight locomotives instead opting for six-axles which allowed for better tractive effort and distribution of weight (thus allowing for decreased track wear).

A variant of the B32-8 was Amtrak's B32-8WH which featured a wide cab ("W") and head-end power or HEP ("H"). Seen here are two units in the original "Pepsi Can" livery at Portland, Oregon in August, 1994. The units are still in service today. Warren Calloway photo.

By the time production had ended on the GE B32-8 in 1989 only 49 units had been built; 45 to NS, 3 to Burlington Northern, and a GE demonstrator. Interestingly, despite these poor sales numbers one can still find these units roaming on NS, who still rosters its original fleet of 45 (numbered 3522-3566). Of note, Amtrak also purchased 20 examples of a variant known as the B32-8WH. Equipped with head-end power (HEP) and appearing as a main line freight locomotive it featuring a wide cab design.

A freshly delivered Amtrak P32BWH (also known as the B32-8WH or Dash 8-32BWH) sits inside Amtrak's Ivy City Shops in Washington, D.C. for its initial inspection on December 2, 1991. Wade Massie photo.

GE B32-8 Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Amtrak500-519 (B32-8WH)201991
Burlington Northern5497-54993 (Leased From GE.)1984
General Electric (Demo)832 (B32-8W)11989
Norfolk Southern3522-3566451989

Led by B32-8 #3543 NS freight C32 crosses Pittsburgh's OC Bridge as it heads back to Wheeling Pitt Steel located in Mingo Junction for another load of slabs. Wade Massie photo.

The passenger carrier received its order in 1991 and was called into service wherever needed due to its extra tractive effort.   Amtrak had the fleet numbered 500-519 but the California Department of Transportation has since purchased 501 and 502, renumbering them 2051 and 2052 for use in Amtrak California service. Today, they still remain in regular use with the rest of Amtrak's original fleet relegated to yard and switching duties as newer models have since bumped them from main line service.   Lastly, for more information about the B32-8 and a complete production roster, including variants, please refer to the chart above.

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

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