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GE 70-Ton Switcher

Published: January 21, 2024

By: Adam Burns

General Electric's 70-ton switcher is considered by many locomotive historians and enthusiasts as one of GE's masterpieces in terms of both engineering excellence and versatility.

Designed in the late 1940s, this compact locomotive swiftly became a valuable asset across a broad range of applications, its impact evident in the numerous industries it serviced over the subsequent four decades.

The model did not enjoy the 44-tonner's sales numbers but nevertheless sold more than 200 examples between 1946-1957. Today, several are preserved.

Photos

7io0929761u9781908080.jpgBelfast & Moosehead Lake 70-tonner #51 is seen here in Belfast, Maine on October 23, 1973. Photographer unknown. American-Rails.com collection.

Background

In terms of design, the 70-tonner was constructed with a solid steel frame, meticulously engineered to cope with the heavy loads and turns often required in switching operations.

Unlike the earlier 44-tonner - intended for common-carrier service and specifically aimed to avoid the "90,000 Pound Rule" - the 70-tonner was engineered for light branch lines with restricted axle loadings where 100-120 ton conventional yard switchers could not roam.

It boasted an overall length of 37 feet, a width of 10 feet, and a height of 13 feet and 5 ½ inches, allowing the switcher to be nimble on tighter networks. With a fuel capacity of approximately 500 gallons and sporting GE's rugged model 748 traction motors, the switcher was a robust and enduring presence on the tracks.

The 70-tonners were equipped with a six-cylinder Cooper-Bessemer model FWL-6T prime mover, originally capable of 550 horsepower (later upgraded to 600 horsepower). 

As Bob Hayden notes in his book, "Diesel Locomotives: Cyclopedia - Volume 2," this engine was the direct descendent of the sixteen-cylinder model 7FDL16 utilized in GE's first production road-switcher, the U25B.

For the time, the power plant showcased impressive torque and response, matched by its four-wheel, direct drive traction motors that ensured efficiency in power delivery.

From an operational perspective, the  switcher demonstrated outstanding tractive effort due to its low axle load and high adhesion design. With a starting tractive effort of 41,700 lbs, it successfully catered to steep gradients and heavy loads without compromising performance.

The true value of the locomotive lay in its versatility. It was used primarily as a yard switcher in railroads across the United States and Canada, and in a variety of industries ranging from timber to mining, cement plants to steel mills.

Its reliability and resilient nature made it an ideal locomotive for these challenging environments and their demanding work schedules.  However, as Jay Reed notes in his book, "Critters, Dinkys & Centercabs," in many ways the 70-tonner was GE's first locomotive designed for general road service as it was quite capable of short freight consists as well.

The switcher was produced mainly at the famous Erie, Pennsylvania manufacturing plant - over a period spanning 11 years a total of 239 units were built there for North American and Mexican customers.

For railfans and enthusiasts, the 70-tonner also offered a unique aesthetic presence. With its lean and compact body, front and back platforms, and distinctive livery options, it stood out from the often-crowded switchyards. It presented a simplified, purposeful design that was a departure from the larger and more complex locomotive designs of the era.

As the need for high-horsepower locomotives became increasingly prevalent in the 1970s, the prominence of the switcher slowly began to fade and production eventually ceased. Nonetheless, its lasting impact on the North American rail industry cannot be underestimated. This classic switcher has since found a new lease of life in museums and heritage railways across the continent.

Center Cabs

While the end cab 70-tonner is most widely known by enthusiasts, GE also produced a center-cab version, primarily between 1940-1942.  These units sported a rather boxy appearance and lacked the beveled and rounded aesthetic touches the company would later apply to its switchers.

Reed notes the first unit built was powered by a Cummins HBIS engine capable of producing 400 horsepower.  The next three examples utilized four Cummins HBI engines, paired side-by-side, and could produce 600 horsepower.  The final seven units were equipped with two supercharged HBIS power plants and - once more - offered 400 horsepower.

Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Serial Number Completion Date
Ahnapee & Western 600, 601 2 31727, 31728 1/1953
Albany & Northern 70 1 28562 11/1946
American Agriculture Chemical Company (Agrico) 4 1 30018 11/1948
American Agriculture Chemical Company (Agrico) 5 1 31279 2/1952
Arkansas & Ozarks 800, 900 2 30380, 30381 11/1949, 1/1950
Ashley, Drew & Northern 170 1 30016 7/1948
Ashley, Drew & Northern 171, 172 2 30023, 30024 9/1948
Atlantic & Western 100 1 30452 9/1950
Baltimore & Annapolis 50 1 30437 1/1950
Barre & Chelsea 12 1 28514 1/1947
Barre & Chelsea 13, 14 2 29087, 29088 9/1947
Barre & Chelsea 15 1 29298 3/1948
Belfast & Moosehead Lake 50, 51 2 28567, 28568 12/1946
Belfast & Moosehead Lake 52 1 30846 5/1951
Berlin Mills 15, 16 2 30032, 30033 12/1948, 1/1949
Calumet & Hecla 210 1 28566 12/1946
Carolina Southern 201 1 30839 1/1951
Central California Traction 30 1 28512 1/1947
Central California Traction 31, 32 2 29082, 29083 8/1947
Cherry River Boom & Lumber 1, 2 2 32278, 32279 12/1954, 1/1955
Cherry River Boom & Lumber 3 1 32682 11/1956
Collins Pine Company (Amador Railroad) 166 1 32296 6/1955
Condon Kinzua & Southern 104 1 30845 3/1951
Detroit Steel 113 1 32680 10/1956
East Erie Commercial 17, 18 2 30445, 30450 9/1950
East Erie Commercial 19 1 30451 10/1950
East St. Louis Junction 70-72 3 29302-29304 3/1948
East St. Louis Junction 73 1 30029 2/1949
Fibreboard Products 2 1 30025 2/1948
Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern 401 1 32207 12/1953
Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern 402 1 32134 2/1954
Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern 403 1 32282 6/1955
Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern 404-406 3 32307, 32303, 32305 9/1955
Frankfort & Cincinnati 100 1 28507 12/1946
Frankfort & Cincinnati 101 1 28513 5/1947
Frankfort & Cincinnati 102 1 29086 7/1947
Georgia Northern 71 1 28565 12/1946
Georgia State Port Authority (Savannah State Docks) 102 1 31725 4/1953
General Electric (Demo) 1 1 30448 7/1950
General Electric (Demo) 7001 1 28238 10/1946
Grafton & Upton 12 1 30021 8/1948
Greenville & Northern 70 1 30020 8/1948
Greenville & Northern 75 1 31173 11/1951
Hampton & Branchville 70 1 30841 1951
Helena & Northwestern 70 1 30446 6/1950
High Point, Thomasville & Denton 201-203 3 29465-29467 1/1948
Humble Oil & Refining Company 998 1 32201 6/1954
Inspiration Consolidated Copper 19 1 31723 12/1952
Inspiration Consolidated Copper 20, 21 2 31164, 31165 9/1951
Jamestown, Westfield & Northwestern 600, 700 2 29084, 29085 9/1947
Kansas City Connecting 13 1 32262 10/1954
Kelly's Creek Railroad 500, 501 2 30182, 30183 7/1949
Kelly's Creek & Northwestern 5 1 30384 11/1949
Kelly's Creek & Northwestern 7 1 30388 4/1950
Kennecott Copper Corporation 61-66 6 30374-30379 10/1949
Kingan & Company 5 1 30180 7/1949
Klamath Northern 205 1 32304 6/1955
Lakeside & Marblehead 10, 11 2 30174, 30175 6/1949
Lancaster & Chester 60-62 3 30455, 30456, 30458 10/1950
Laurinburg & Southern 101 1 29089 9/1947
Laurinburg & Southern 103 1 30837 1/1951
Lehigh Portland Cement (Alsen, New York plant) 1 1 32420 11/1955
Lehigh Portland Cement (Security, Maryland plant) 1 1 32507 3/1956
Lehigh Portland Cement (Metaline Falls, Washington plant) 1 1 32679 12/1956
Live Oak Perry & Gulf 300, 301 2 28563, 28564 11/1946
Louisville & Nashville 125 1 30017 7/1948
Louisville & Nashville 126 1 30385 11/1949
Marianna & Blountstown 75 1 29090 9/1947
McCloud River Lumber 1 1 32302 8/1955
Meadow River Lumber 8, 9 2 32815, 32816 1/1957
Mississippi & Skuna Valley 3 1 30840 1/51
Mississippi Export 46 1 28509 12/1946
Mississippi Export 48 1 31168 10/1951
Mississippi Export 50 1 31724 2/1953
Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) 1651 1 30030 1/1949
Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) 1652-1654 3 30434-30436 2/1950
Modesto & Empire Traction 600 1 29093 10/1947
Modesto & Empire Traction 601 1 30031 2/1949
Modesto & Empire Traction 602 1 31278 2/1952
Muncie & Western 8 1 28505 12/1946
Norfolk Southern 701-703 3 30013-30015 6/1948
North Louisiana & Gulf 101, 102 2 30382, 30390 1/1950
North Louisiana & Gulf 103 1 30457 9/1950
North Louisiana & Gulf 104 1 32131 1/1954
Norwood & St. Lawrence 10, 11 2 32567, 32568 4/1956
Oliver Iron Mining 1003 1 30383 11/1949
Oliver Iron Mining 1004, 1005 2 30438, 30439 3/1950
Okmulgee Northern 7 1 30453 8/1950
Oregon Pacific & Eastern 10 1 31284 3/1952
Pecos Valley Southern 7 1 30181 7/1949
Pecos Valley Southern 8 1 31729 1/1953
Pere Marquette 20-22 3 28506, 28508, 28510 12/1946
Prescott & Northwestern 23 1 32200 6/1954
Rahway Valley 16 1 30838 1/1951
Rahway Valley 17 1 32130 1/1954
Rutland 500 1 31175 12/1951
Sacramento Northern 201 1 32297 6/1955
Sacramento Northern 202 1 32595 7/1956
St. Johnsbury & Lamoille County 46-48 3 29297-29299 3/1948
St. Johnsbury & Lamoille County 49 1 30022 7/1948
St. Johnsbury & Lamoille County 50 1 30184 8/1949
St. Johnsbury & Lamoille County 51 1 30844 2/1951
Sanford & Eastern 9 1 30185 7/1949
San Luis Central 71 1 32280 1/55
Santa Maria Valley 10 1 30019 7/1948
Santa Maria Valley 20 1 30176 7/1949
Santa Maria Valley 30 1 30447 8/1950
Santa Maria Valley 40, 50 2 31282, 31283 3/1952
Saratoga & Schuylerville 11 1 28239 10/1946
Sioux City Terminal 1, 2 2 31169, 31170 10/1951
Sioux City Terminal 3 1 32510 3/1956
South Georgia 202 1 28569 12/1946
Southern Pacific 5100-5102 3 30034-30036 3/1949-4/1949
Southern Pacific 5103-5107 5 30166-30170 5/1949
Southern Pacific 5108, 5109 2 30171, 30172 6/1949
Southern Pacific 5110-5113 4 30430-30433 2/1950-3/1950
Southern Pacific 5115 1 30842 2/1951
Southern Pacific 5116-5118 3 31161-31163 9/1951
Southern Pacific 5119 1 32284 5/1955
Southern Pacific 5120 1 32421 12/1955
Southwestern Portland Cement 5 1 28511 2/1947
Southwestern Portland Cement 6 1 29469 3/1948
Tallulah Falls 501, 502 2 29475, 29476 3/1948
Texas South-Eastern 22 1 32569 5/1956
Tidewater Southern 141, 142 2 29468, 29470 1/1948
Tidewater Southern 143 1 31726 6/1953
Timken Roller Bearing 1450 1 30028 1/1947
Timken Roller Bearing 6319 1 30459 12/1950
Unadilla Valley 100, 200 2 29091, 29092 10/1947
U.S. Gypsum 501 1 32204 7/1954
U.S. Potash (A1A-A1A Trucks, 36" Gauge) 4 1 29296 3/1948
U.S. Potash (A1A-A1A Trucks, 36" Gauge) 5 1 30874 7/1952
U.S. Potash (A1A-A1A Trucks, 36" Gauge) 6 1 32573 5/1956
Valdosta Southern 655 1 32299 6/1955
Valley & Siletz 5, 7 2 32132, 32133 2/1954
Valley & Siletz 11 1 32283 3/1955
Ventura County 1 1 30027 12/1948
Washington & Old Dominion 56 1 31174 11/1951
Washington & Old Dominion 57 1 32509 3/1956
Winchester & Western 1952 1 31166 10/1951
Winifrede 11 1 32681 1/1957

Center Cab

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Serial Number Completion Date
Carnegie-Illinois Steel (Gary Works) 32-35 4 15673-15676 9/1942
New York Central 506 1 12592 7/1940
New York Central 507-513 7 15168-15174 10/1942-12/1942
Steelton & Highspire 30 1 13199 11/1941
Steelton & Highspire 35, 36 2 15017, 15018 10/1941
U. S. Steel - Duquesne Works (36" Gauge) 11 1 31052 1/1953

Canada

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Serial Number Completion Date
British Columbia Electric Railway 940-942 3 30371-30373 9/1949
British Columbia Electric Railway 943 1 30386 5/1950
Canadian National 7802-7819 18 30608-30625 3/1950-5/1950
Grand Falls Central (42" Gauge) 101-103 3 33257-33259 1/1958
Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting 1 1 32596 6/1956
Pacific Great Eastern 552, 553 2 30037, 30038 3/1949
Pacific Great Eastern 554, 555 2 30177, 30178 6/1949
Pacific Great Eastern 556, 557 2 30440, 30441 2/1950
Quebec, North Shore & Labrador 91 1 31171 10/1951
Quebec, North Shore & Labrador 92 1 31276 2/1952
Spruce Falls Power & Paper 106 1 30387 2/1950
Spruce Falls Power & Paper 107 1 32306 6/1955
Thurso & Nation Valley 5 1 28238 10/1946
Thurso & Nation Valley 7 1 30179 7/1949

Export

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Serial Number Completion Date
F.C. Machacamarca-Unica (Meter Gauge) - Bolivia 20, 21 2 29294, 29295 3/1948
Cia Mogiana Estrada de Perro (C-C Trucks, Meter Gauge) - Brazil 2000-2011 12 31233-31244 10/1952-12/1952
E Ferro Santos a Jundiai (63" Gauge) - Brazil 1-15 15 32742-32756 9/1956-10/1956
Estrada de Ferro Sorocabana (Meter Gauge) - Brazil 3101-3142 42 29140-29181 5/1947-11/1947
Rede Viacao Parana-Sta-Catarina (Meter Gauge) - Brazil 30 -33 4 29182-29185 6/1947
Rede Viacao Parana-Sta-Catarina (Meter Gauge) - Brazil 34-37 4 29290-29293 2/1948
Central Cunagua (Cuba) 4 1 33260 1/1958
Central Cunagua (Cuba) 4 (2nd) 1 33419 10/1958
Central Cunagua (Cuba) 6, 8 (2nd) 2 33417, 33418 9/1958-10/1958
Central Punta Allegre (Cuba) No Number 1 31167 10/1951
Central San Gorman (Cuba) No Number 1 31277 2/1952
Consolidated Railway of Cuba No Number 1 31285 3/1952
Consolidated Railway of Cuba 500, 501 2 31721, 31720 10/1952
Cuban Dominican Sales 2 1 30843 2/1951
Cuban Dominican Sales 12 1 30026 12/1948
Cuban Dominican Sales 9-11, 13-17 8 32792-32799 2/1957-5/1957
Cuban Dominican Sales 18, 19 2 33255, 33256 11/1957
Cubana, S.A. (Cuba) No Number 1 32422 2/1956
Dominican Sugar (Central Palma) - Cuba 3, 4 (2nd) 2 33251, 33252 11/1957
F.C. Cubano Hershey (Cuba) 14, 15 2 31280, 31281 2/1952
F.C. de Lumas (Cuba) No Number 1 32684 6/1957
F.C. de Lumas (Cuba) No Number 1 32800 5/1957
Francisco Sugar (Cuba) No Number 2 32677, 32678 10/1958
General Sugar Estates (Cuba) No Number 1 32423 2/1956
United Fruit Sugar Company (Central Boston) - Cuba 121, 122 2 29173, 29174 2/1948
United Fruit Sugar Company (Central Preston) - Cuba 22, 23 (2nd) 2 29471, 29472 1/1948
West Indies Fruit & Steamship (Cuba) No Number 2 32683, 32685 11/1956, 2/1957
Central Rio Haina - Dominican Republic 2, 3 2 30449, 30454 9/1950
Central Romana - Dominican Republic 17 1 32202 6/1954
Central Romana - Dominican Republic 18 1 32261 10/1954
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Rio Haina) - Dominican Republic 5 1 31722 10/1952
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Rio Haina) - Dominican Republic 7 1 32419 11/1955
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Rio Haina) - Dominican Republic 8 1 32506 2/1956
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Rio Haina) - Dominican Republic 9, 10 2 32593, 32594 6/1956
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Rio Haina) - Dominican Republic 10 (2nd) 1 33421 10/1958
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 15 1 29300 4/1948
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 16 1 30389 11/1949
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 17 - 19 3 32263 - 32265 10/1954-12/1954
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 20 1 32686 1/1957
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 21, 22 2 33253, 33254 12/1957
South Puerto Rico Sugar Company (Central Romana) - Dominican Republic 23 1 33422 11/1958
Cementos Portland Del Bajio (Mexico) 2 1 31172 11/1951
Ingenio de Cristobal y Anexas S.A. (Mexico) 302 1 32203 6/1954
Ingenio de Cristobal y Anexas S.A. (Mexico) 305 1 33423 12/1959
Ingenio de Cristobal y Anexas S.A. (Mexico) 306 1 33420 3/1959
Petroleos Mexicanos PEMEX (Mexico) 102 1 29301 4/1948
Petroleos Mexicanos PEMEX (Mexico) 107 1 30173 6/1949
Terminal de Vera Cruz, S.A. (Mexico) D50-D52 3 30010-30012 5/1949
Unidos Nacional de Productores de Azucar (Mexico) No Number 1 32298 6/1955
Unidos Nacional de Productores de Azucar (Mexico) No Number 1 32570 5/1956
Philippine National Railways (42" Gauge) 101-103 3 32288-32290 11-12/1954
Philippine National Railways (42" Gauge) 104 1 32801 4/1957

Data Sheet and Specifications

Entered Production10/1946 (Demonstrator #7001)
Years Produced10/1946 - 12/1957
EngineFWL-6T
Engine BuilderCooper-Bessemer
Horsepower550-600
RPM1000
Bore and Stroke9" x 10 ½"
Cylinders6
Length37' 0"
Height (Top Of Rail To Top Of Cab)13' 5 ½"
Width10' 0"
Weight139,000 Lbs
Fuel Capacity500 Gallons
Air Brake ManufacturerWestinghouse
Air Brake Schedule14EL
TrucksB-B
Truck TypeWelded
Truck Wheelbase6'48 10"
Wheel Size36"
Traction Motors733 (4), GE
Primary GeneratorGT-571 (2)
Auxiliary GeneratorGMG-146
MU (Multiple-Unit)Yes
Dynamic BrakesNo
Gear Ratio105:15
Tractive Effort (Starting)41,700 Lbs at 30%
Tractive Effort (Continuous)23,600 Lbs at 7 mph
Top Speed55 mph

Conclusion

In conclusion, the story of the 70-tonner is one of uncomplicated but highly effective engineering, meeting the specific demands of the rail industry during a pivotal time in its history. It is a testament to the prowess of General Electric's locomotive division, a machine that was not just a product of its era, but one that actually helped to define it.

Balancing power, versatility, and simplicity, the switcher might not have been the flashiest locomotive of its time, but it certainly was one of the most important. Its enduring respect amongst the industry and enthusiasts alike is a testament to its significant legacy within the annals of North American railroading.

Sources

  • Hayden, Bob. Diesel Locomotives: Cyclopedia, Volume 2 (Model Railroader). Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1980.
  • General Electric, Apparatus Department. 380-HP, 44-Ton Diesel Electric Railroad Locomotive: For Yard Switching and Road Service. Schenectady: 1947.
  • Marre, Louis A. Diesel Locomotives: The First 50 Years, A Guide To Diesels Built Before 1972. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1995.
  • Rail Heritage Publications. Early Diesel-Electric and Electric Locomotives. Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1983.
  • Reed, Jay. Critters, Dinkys & Centercabs. Whittier: Rio Hondo, 2000.
  • Solomon, Brian. GE Locomotives: 110 Years Of General Electric Motive Power. St. Paul: MBI Publishing, 2003.

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