The Alco C636 was the builder's final and most powerful six-axle, C-C model. While nearly 100 were built, less than 40 were sold to US railroads, as many systems found the model to be troublesome and unreliable, which certainly reflected American Locomotive's perception by the late 1960s.
During Alco's early years of its Century line the locomotives proved to be fairly reliable with substantial pulling power, particularly the four-axle models.
However, it can probably be accurately assumed that by the last few years of the company's operation as a locomotive builder it let much of its quality control measures slip. Unfortunately, Alco had not been a serious contender as a manufacturer since World War II.
The company continued to lose market share to GM's Electro-Motive Division and General Electric from the 1950s onward (GE began building its own diesel after 1959). Interestingly, despite few sales of the C636 (and sister M636) you can still find the locomotive in regular service on shortlines Delaware-Lackawanna and Livonia, Avon & Lakeville.
The Alco C636 began production in 1967 just a little over one year before the company would outshop its last locomotive. The most powerful standard model diesel Alco ever built, the C636 could produce 3,600 horsepower using the company's 251E model prime mover.
Likely due to Alco's haste to keep pace with GE and EMD the C636 was plagued with problems that this time was not due to the prime mover. Instead, railroads such as the Santa Fe found issues with the traction motor blower failing, which would cause the prime mover to likewise shutdown.
Ultimately, this issue and Alco's already shaky reliability in its earlier engine models (such as the 539 and 244) kept many railroads from purchasing the C636.
Additionally, the high horsepower, six-axle locomotive market had yet to take off although by the late 1960s railroads were beginning to understand the benefits of the setup.
For instance, the industry leader at the time, GM's Electro-Motive Division, sold more than 5,000 examples of its four-axle designs during the '60s including the GP35, GP38, GP40, and their variants. In contrast, similar six-axle versions sold just over 500.
However, before the decade ended EMD released the SD40 in 1966. It was cataloged about the same time as Alco's C636 and while the SD40 produced less horsepower the industry was impressed with everything it had to offer and would purchase nearly 1,200 of them before being replaced by the updated SD40-2 in the early 1970s that would sell even more.
As powerful as the six-axle Century line was, particularly the C636, railroads came to also dislike them as they caused significant wear to the track structure.
For instance, the C636 weighed in at 420,000 pounds while similar models built by EMD and GE weighed much less (the SD40/-2 weighed only 368,000 pounds and the U30C weighed only 363,000 pounds).
Unless a railroad used the C636s on a line that was equipped with heavy rail and a high degree of maintenance the infrastructure really took a beating from the locomotives.
Even then, most companies were turned away by the weight issues with the earlier C628 and C630. Additionally, with the industry being at its weakest point in its history during the late 1960s and through the 1970s few roads had the monetary resources or track to operate the C636.
In the end, only 83 units of the Alco C636 and M636 (built by the Montreal Locomotive Works) were sold, and of those only 31 were purchased by US railroads (Penn Central, Illinois Central, and Spokane, Portland & Seattle). Alco also built three demonstrators (#636-1, #636-2, #636-3) that were purchased by Québec Cartier Mining.
The M636s were purchased by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Ferrocaril del Pacfico, and Québec Cartier Mining also picked up a few more. Most of these locomotives were built by MLW after Alco had shuttered its Schenectady, New York plant.
The primary difference between the M636 and the C636 was that the former rode on Dofasco trucks while the latter featured high adhesion trucks. British Columbia Railway's M636's also came equipped with wide cabs.
Interestingly, for the early problems the C636 suffered a handful still operate around the country. Short line Delaware-Lackawanna operates an astounding three C636s and three M636s. Also, short line Western New York & Pennsylvania operates three M636s and uses a former C636 for parts.