Alco "RSD-7" Locomotives

The Alco RSD7 was a much more powerful six-axle locomotive than anything the company had previously produced. Interestingly enough, the model wasn't even meant to compete with anything Electro-Motive, the industry leader, was then cataloging.  Instead, it was produced to run against Fairbanks Morse's incredibly powerful and widely heralded H24-66 "Train Master."  Unfortunately, this was one reason for Alco's downfall.  Instead of anticipating market demands and releasing reliable models railroads sought Alco tended to be reactionary and built competing locomotives.  Ironically, the company is credited with the road-switcher's invention, still used today.  Alas, management failed to recognize its own achievement for sustained, long-term success.


At the time of the RSD7's development railroads were still not embracing six axle diesels, let alone high horsepower models.   As such, the design proved to be just another setback for the American Locomotive Company (Alco), something that unfortunately was becoming more and more than norm. With so few RSD7s produced, barely two dozen, sadly none have been preserved for posterity.

Alco RSD7 demonstrator #DL-600 seen here in 1954.

The Fairbanks Morse Company dated back to the 1830s and became highly regarded in later years for its durable marine diesel engines. However, in the mid-1940s it decided to enter the highly competitive diesel locomotive market, making a name for itself via its opposed-piston prime movers. Interestingly, when FM decided to release the H24-66 model it had been building locomotives for less than 10 years. The design was nearly a decade ahead of itself as high horsepower, six-axle locomotives had yet to catch on with railroads. However, for some reason Alco decided that it needed to offer its own version of FM's Train Master. Oddly, the company should have known the design was unpopular as its previous five other six-axle models had sold a combined 666 units (the RSD1, RSC2, RSC3, RSD4, and RSD5).

While the RSD5 (a modestly successful model, in comparison to how six-axle locomotives were selling at the time) was still in production, Alco released the RSD7. The locomotive began production in 1955 and used the builder's standard prime mover of the time, the trouble-prone 244 model. The RSD7 was the last Alco model to use this engine as the RS11 (and later versions of the FA and PA) would use the company's newer, and much more reliable model 251B. The RSD7 could originally produce 2,250 horsepower although  after initial sales proved quite poor it increased this to 2,400 horsepower, which directly matched the FM's H24-66. The locomotive saw a major change in how Alco produced road switchers. Despite having originally pioneered the design, the Schenectady builder took a cue from EMD and began producing its later road switchers, beginning with the RSD7, with hoods that ran flush with the top of the cab.

An American Locomotive builder's photo of new RSD-7 demonstrator #DL-600 circa 1954.

Savvy diesel spotters can easily identify Alco's version, however, by the notched corners. The RSD7 proved one of the most powerful RS series designs Alco produced and also offered some of the highest tractive efforts; 95,600 pounds starting and 69,800 continuous, which also included dynamic braking. These later models released by Alco were some of the last to work in conjunction with GE, as by 1959 the electric giant began producing its own line of diesels, the Universal series. Unfortunately, the RSD7 saw little success, selling only 29 units to three Class I railroads; Chesapeake & Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Santa Fe (along with Alco's two demonstrators, #DL600 and #DL601). Even more unfortunate, the H24-66, also considered a failure by FM, sold some 127 TMs nearly five times more than the RSD7.  For more information regarding the RSD7 line please click here.   

Production Roster Of Alco RSD7s

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Alco DemonstratorDL600, DL60121954
Chesapeake & Ohio6800-6811121956
Santa Fe602-611101955

A former Pennsylvania RSD7, now numbered for the Penn Central, seen here probably during the late 1960s.

Alco's six axle models were meant to provide a sizable increase in traction; for instance, the ten purchased by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe were used exclusively in helper service along the railroad's high grades in New Mexico and Colorado, such as Raton Pass.  Despite this now obvious economic advantage, railroads had yet to bite on six-axle locomotives.  Ironically, FM and Alco were both just a few years away from missing the market; EMD began selling increasingly more six-axle designs during the transition decade of the 1960s such as the SD35, SD38, and the incredibly popular SD40 series.  To read more about other Alco Road-Switcher (RS) 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!

Studying Diesels

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.