The GE C44-9W is one of the most successful present-day diesel locomotive ever built. Before General Electric unveiled their Evolution Series in 2005, the design had sold nearly 2,500 units to Class Is in the United States and more than 200 additional models to foreign roads! Much of this model's high sales numbers hinged on one railroad in particular, the BNSF who bought well over 1,500 examples (although other Class Is also purchased 100 or more). The success of the model, which replaced the earlier "Dash 8" line, was due to its reliability, simplicity, and powerful prime mover all traits which by the 1990s GE was well known for. Today, just as with EMD's ultra-successful SD40-2 model, nearly every other locomotive you will see pulling a Class I freight train is either a C44-9W or similar model (i.e., ES44AC, C40-9W, etc.).
However, with many now 10, 20, or more years of age this particular model is beginning to show its age. As main line, Class I power most take a back seat to newer types like Evolution Series variants and even rebuilds (Norfolk Southern has been aggressive on this front).
The GE C44-9W, which began production in 1993 was essentially the only "Dash 9" model produced, the other being the C40-9/W variant built exclusively for NS (other variants were also built for foreign lines). However, despite having a smaller locomotive catalog GE hit a home run with this particular design. The model followed the earlier "Dash 8" series in the mid-1990s and outwardly, the two models' carbodies were virtually identical. The locomotive featured the builder's four-cycle model 7FDL16 prime mover, which could produce 4,400 horsepower (although it was listed at only 4,390 hp) with a tractive effort of 105,640 pounds at slow speeds (and 142,000 pounds starting).
The model was also one of the first to be equipped with the relatively new high-adhesion (or HT-C) truck, which helped to improve wheel-to-rail contact. The GE C44-9W held the same meaning behind its designation as earlier models. For instance, the "C" referred to the unit having a C-C truck setup (three axles per truck) while the "44" referred to it having 4,400 horsepower. Of note, the horsepower rating of between 4,000 to 4,400 has since become the operating norm for railroads. The high horsepower competition between GE and Electro-Motive Division during this time proved to be unsuccessful as many came to realize that 6,000 horsepower locomotives were just not very economic. In any even, the "9" reference simply meant it was a model of GE's "Dash 9" series and the "W" designation meant it was equipped with the wide, safety cab.
By the latter 1990s General Electric was a renowned and reliable locomotive builder although arguments remain at which company produces a better locomotive, GE or EMD (currently, GE's models are hailed as being more reliable while EMD's have always been regarded for their ruggedness and longevity). In any event, most roads loved the C44-9W and from their introduction in late 1993 GE continued to produce them until late 2004 when they were replaced by the newer Evolution Series (ES). At this time, GE had sold nearly 2,500 units to nearly every major Class I which at the time included the Santa Fe (100), later BNSF (1,697), CN (228), Chicago & North Western (130), SP (101), BC Rail (14), Quebec North Shore & Labrador Railway (11), and UP (40).
Additionally, foreign lines to purchase the model included Estrada de Ferro Carajás and Ferrovia Norte do Brasil S/A of Brazil (both of which bought 84), as well as Fortescue Metals Group and Hamersley Iron/Pilbara Iron of Australia (which purchased 77 combined). As you can, the model's top buyer was BNSF. However, some Class Is were more interested in GE's alternating current AC4400CW model being cataloged at the same time. This locomotive was purchase by far more lines and sold much better than the C44-9W. Its success lay in its AC traction motors that were much more efficient offering far superior tractive effort making them ideal for use in heavy drag service. In any event, today almost all of these locomotives produced by GE remain in revenue service on the major systems.