General Electric Locomotives (GE)

The General Electric Company has a history that dates back to the late 1870s.  Despite some bumps in the road over the years it remains one of the largest corporations in the world, building everything from jet engines to kitchen appliances.

GE's introduction into the locomotive manufacturing market began as early as 1918 and they built modest diesel switchers during the 1930s and 1940s.

The company also manufactured locomotives in conjunction with the American Locomotive Company (Alco) for many years.

However, this partnership cratered in the mid-1950s when GE recognized Alco was increasingly lagging behind industry leader Electro-Motive.

Over time, General Electric's locomotives became evermore reliable to the point that the company eclipsed EMD in the 1980's.

In November, 2017 GE reported its intentions to sell its locomotive division, GE Transportation.  

This was made official in a press release made public at 7 AM on May 21, 2018 when it was announced that the Wabtec Corporation and GE Transportation would merge. 

The marriage took place on February 25, 2019.  The company is now known as Wabtec Freight.

Missouri Pacific U23B #4532 was photographed here in North Little Rock, Arkansas on March 18, 1985. Author's collection.

A Brief History Of General Electric Locomotives

GE is credited with commercially producing the very first diesel-electric locomotive in 1918, a motor car design built for the Jay Street Connecting Railroad, #4.  

Designated as model GM-50 it was essentially a diesel powered motor car, somewhat similar to an interurban car, and built in conjunction with Alco and Ingersoll-Rand. 

Later, in 1924 the three companies built a 300 horsepower, 60-ton boxcab design.  This variant was purchased by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and later the Baltimore & Ohio.

In the following years, General Electric remained an insignificant player in the diesel-electric market, even as Electro-Motive exploded in the late 1930's. 

During this time, GE's models remained small in nature, designed primarily for light branch, yard, and industrial duty. From 1928 through 1930, GE built box and some center-cab designs ranging from 300-600 horsepower.

By 1940 the company would introduce its most successful switcher to date, the ubiquitous 380-horsepower, 44-tonner.

This little switcher was beloved by industries for its lightweight design and ability to navigate tight curves.  When production ended in 1956, GE had manufactured 373 44-tonners.

CSX ES44AC #3154 sits in heavy snow at Alderson, West Virginia on January 22, 2016. Loyd Lowry photo.

After the end of World War II, GE followed up its successful 44-tonner with heavier models like the 70, 95, and even 125 tonners.

In 1954, GE ended its partnership with Alco and for the rest that decade the company experimented with different road unit designs. 

It sold a few examples of its first commercial variant, the UD18, in 1956.  This led to the release of its first main line road-switcher in 1959, the U25B.

A pair of Chessie System/Chesapeake & Ohio B30-7's run light through the yard at Clifton Forge, Virginia on an overcast day in October of 1982. Rob Kitchen photo.

The model was later dubbed the "U-boat" by railfans.  Its designation was broken down as follows:

  • "U" stood for the Universal series

  • "25" for the unit’s overall horsepower (2,500)

  • "B" for the number of overall axles (4)

There was nothing fancy about the U25B, especially its carbody, which carried straight lines and a short, stubby square nose.

However, the unit was durable and easy to maintain, which the railroads loved, especially the maintenance crews.

Before entering the main line locomotive market, General Electric cataloged a successful line of switchers. Seen here is Ford Motor Company 125-tonner #1001 circa 1937.

General Electric's Universal series would ultimately span a total of six different designs in comparable B-B and C-C setups.

Ranging between 2,500 and 3,500 horsepower, all models only saw a few hundred bulit.

However, beginning with its "Dash 7" series in the late 1970s, and following with the "Dash 8" and "Dash 9" series, GE propelled itself past Electro-Motive in the locomotive market.

In the 1990s, and into the 2000s, GE further solidified itself as the leading locomotive builder by producing the successful AC series (AC4400CW and AC6000CW) that sold thousands of units.

General Electric Diesel Locomotives

GE Diesel Switchers

Model Type Units Built Date Built Horsepower

GE Road Switchers

Model Type Units Built Date Built Horsepower
BQ23-710 (Built For SCL)1978-19792,250-2,300
Super-7N/R Series2511989-19942,250-3,000
B32-8W1 (Demonstrator)19893,150
B36-81 (Demonstrator)19823,600
C44-8W53 (Built for CSX)1993-19944,400
C40-9125 (Built for NS)19954,000
C40-9W (Built for NS)1,0901996-20044,000
C44-9WM (Built for Brazilian Railroads)841997-20054,400
BB40-9WM (Built for Brazilian Railroads)1411997-20064,000
ES40DCStill In Production2004-Present4,000
ES44DCStill In Production2004-Present4,400
ES44ACStill In Production2004-Present4,400

Southern Pacific AC4400CW #232 and a mate power a westbound freight through Alta, California at Rocky Point during May of 1996. Drew Jacksich photo.

The ES40DC, ES44DC, and ES44AC are part of the newest General Electric locomotives known as Evolution Series.  

Not included in the above tables are the variants and foreign examples of these designs such as the ES40ACi, ES44AC-H, ES44C4, ES44DCi,  and ES58ACi.  

The Evolution Series followed the builder’s Dash 9 models and is designed to offer just as much horsepower as conventional diesels but by burning much less fuel and in turn producing fewer emissions.

The series was designed to meet the EPA’s Tier 2 requirement of emissions standards and is powered by a GEVO 12-cylinder prime mover. So far these new series continues to sell well for GE, sustaining it as the premier locomotive builder nationwide. 

With the marriage of GE Transportation and Wabtec, made official on February 25, 2019, the new corporation was referred to as Wabtec Freight. 

Their production includes locomotives and parts, mining equipment, heavy-duty diesel engines, railroad components, information services, and transit systems.

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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!