GE "C44-9W" Locomotives

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).

Union Pacific C44-9W #9652 pops out of Tunnel #10 on Tehachapi Loop near Walong, California as it leads an intermodal freight eastbound on August 8, 2007. Wade Massie photo.

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).

Chicago & North Western C44-9W #8637 crosses the Boyer River near Dunlap, Iowa with a westbound train on June 18, 2000. Wade Massie photo.

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.

Chicago & North Western C44-9W #8637 is on home rails at Missouri Valley, Iowa with a westbound manifest on June 18, 2000. Wade Massie photo.

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).

CSX C44-9W #9014 and a Susquehanna unit lead autotrack train Q249 through Braddock, Pennsylvania on August 9, 1999. Wade Massie photo.

GE C44-9W Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
America Latina Logistica (Brazil)8300-8306 (BB40-9WM)72012
British Columbia Railway4645-4654102000
British Columbia Railway4641-46444 (C44-9WL)1995
Burlington Northern Santa Fe700-799, 960-1123, 4000-4199, 4300-553216971996-2004
Canadian National2200-2205, 2523-27262101997-2004
Canadian National2500-252223 (C44-9WL)1994
Chicago & North Western8601-87301301993-1994
Estrada de Ferro Carajás (Brazil)801-86767 (C44-9WM)1997-2008
Ferrovia Norte do Brasil (Brazil)9001-905050 (C44-9WM)1998-1999
Fortescue Metals Group (Australia)0001-0015152008
General Elecric (Test Unit)90512005
Hamersley Iron (Australia)7065-7096321994-2000
MRS Logística (Brazil)3956-397318 (C44MEi)2008
Pilbara Rail (Australia)7053-7064, 7097-7098, 9404-9409, 9428-9434, 9470-9472302001-2005
Quebec, North Shore & Labrador404-414111998
Santa Fe600-6991001994
Southern Pacific8100-82001011994
Vale Logística Integrada (Brazil)6020-6034 (BB40-9WM)152012
Vitória–Minas Railroad (Brazil)1113-1309 (BB40-9WM)1971997-2011
Union Pacific9700-9739401994

A beautiful panoramic view of Tehachapi Loop at Walong, California as BNSF C44-9W #5024 and a quartet of help work a stack train on August 7, 2007. Wade Massie photo.

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. 

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Wes Barris's is simply the best web resource in the study of steam locomotives. 

The amount of information found there is quite staggering; historical backgrounds of wheel arrangements, types used by virtually every railroad, preserved and operational examples, and even those used in other countries (North America and beyond). 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.  It is a must visit!

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!