Alco "RS-11" Locomotives

The RS11 began a new class of road switcher for Alco. The model was the first offered with a low, short hood and came equipped with the manufacturer's newest prime mover. Unfortunately, it could not recapture the market from similar designs soon offered by Electro-Motive. The model was designed to compete directly with the GP9 although EMD's GP18, GP20, and GP30 all entered production when the RS11 was still being cataloged by Alco.  By the time the RS11 debuted EMD was so backlogged with orders for the GP9, along with the fact that railroads had become somewhat distrustful of Alco due to its problematic prime movers, the model had little chance to offer strong competition.  


Despite these issues the RS11 proved became Alco's best-selling late model Road Switcher (RS) design.  It could be found in service far and wide, from the Great Northern and Missouri Pacific to New Haven and Chicago & North Western.  Today, several examples remain preserved.

American Locomotive's two RS11 demonstrators, #701-A and #701-B, are seen here circa 1956.

Alco was seemingly always racing to catch EMD in an attempt to remain competitive with the industry's leading locomotive manufacturer.   Ironically, it had pioneered the road switcher design with its initial RS1 in 1941. However, by the time EMD released the GP9 in 1954 Alco had fallen far behind in the market as the General Motors company was simply offering far superior products that were more rugged, reliable, and efficient.  In 1956 the Schenectady builder released the RS11 model, listed by Alco as its DL701.  In many ways, perhaps the RS11 best described Alco's losing battle against EMD, and very soon against General Electric as well.  Of course, releasing the model when it did nearly two years after the GP9 went on sale Alco was once again trying to catch up. 

Chicago & North Western RS11 #4251 lays over in Escanaba, Michigan in July, 1982. This unit began its career as Carolina & Northwestern #4251 in 1956; it later worked on the Southern. Roger Puta photo.

Some of its sales for the RS11 was the result of EMD being so backlogged with orders for the GP9 that some railroads went elsewhere to fill their locomotive shortage.  Interestingly, Alco's product in this case was actually a better locomotive than the GP9 in terms of specifications: whereas the GP9 featured 1,750 horsepower the RS11, using Alco's new model 251B engine, could produce 1,800 horsepower; it offered a continuous tractive effort rating of 47,000 pounds compared to the GP9's 40,000 pounds; and finally the model could accelerate faster while spending less fuel than the GP9 thanks to its 12-cylinder prime mover (EMD's 567C used 16 cylinders).  This last feature was a trademark of Alco engineering but unfortunately was not a considerable sales advantage in those days.

A new Missouri Pacific RS11 is seen here in November of 1959. George Hockaday photo.

Despite these improvements the RS11 really never offered serious competition for EMD, despite Alco's best attempts.  The new 251B prime mover did, at least, give railroads more reason to trust the builder's reliability as the engine was not nearly as trouble-prone as the earlier model 244. For the first time Alco began giving railroads the option to purchase road switchers with either low or high, short hoods (it was always an option before, but only via special request). Still, most continued to purchase them with high hoods although some like the Delaware & Hudson and Southern Pacific did order a few with low hoods.

Beginning with the RSD7, Alco changed the appearance of its road switcher, making it truly a Schenectady product. The builder's RS1s, RS2s, RS3s, and their variants all featured cabs protruding well above both long and short hoods. However, Alco changed its design so as the hood (particularly the long hood) mounted flush with the top of the cab. While radiator housings, vents, and other minor various exterior elements could denote an EMD from Alco perhaps what truly set the latter apart was the notched corners housing number boards.  This very small, yet classy touch makes for an easy spotting feature of Alco locomotives.  For more information about the RS11 please click here.  

An aging New Haven RS11 (#1413) and an RDC (#25) are on the storage tracks in New London, Connecticut in September, 1964. Roger Puta photo.

Production Roster Of Alco RS11's

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Alco Demonstrator701/A/B31956
Carolina & North-Western1111956
Delaware & Hudson5000-5011121960-1961
Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific3600-3614151956
Erie Mining300-314151956
Green Bay & Western30911956
Lehigh Valley400-40341960
Maine Central80111956
Missouri Pacific4601-4612121959
Monongahela Connecting Railroad70011957
New Haven1400-1414151956
New York Central8000-800891957
Nickel Plate Road558-577, 850-864351956-1960
Norfolk & Western308-406991956-1961
Northern Pacific900-917181958-1960
Portland Terminal108211956
Seaboard Air Line100-109101960
Southern Pacific5723-5729, 5845-5871341956-1959
Toledo, Peoria & Western400-40231958-1959

It is the early Burlington Northern era as a former Northern Pacific RS11 is seen here tied down at an unknown location in August, 1974. Earl Johnson photo.

In the end, despite the Alco RS11's smaller sales volume it could be found on a number or railroads across the US from the Nofolk & Western and Pennsylvania to the Northern Pacific and Southern Pacific. Production of the Alco RS11 ended in May of 1964 with a total of 462 units produced in the US and Canada. Several foreign lines picked up examples of the locomotive including the Ferrocaril del Pacifico, National de Mexico, Secretarias Communicaciones de Obras Publicas, and Southern Peru Copper.  Unfortunately, the rest of Alco's road-switcher series cataloged at the time would not see sales reach numbers anywhere near the RS11.  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.