General Electric (GE) Locomotives

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GE was long noted in the rail industry as a supplier of electric traction components for street railways, inter-urbans, and other electrically powered equipment. The company originally entered the internal combustion traction business by supplying transmissions for gas-electric cars. The first American diesel locomotives were produced by GE in 1918. Three light switchers, including one armor-plated unit for the U.S. Army, powered by 200-hp V-8 engines were apparently not successful. A 1924 demonstrator, jointly produced with Ingersoll-Rand, operated on eleven eastern railroads and in two industrial plants, but was not sold.


above: GE Manufacturing Solutions in Fort Worth (new, huge 2013 GE locomotive plant! Proof of U.S.A's massive continued investment in railroads.)
above: The Evolution Series Locomotive - GE
above: Behold the Locomotive (GE Flyovers)
above: GE Transportation announced May 18, 2009 that it has introduced the newest line of fuel-efficient and ...

From 1925 to 1928, GE furnished the electrical expertise in a partnership with engine builder Ingersoll-Rand and locomotive builder Alco, producing 300-hp and 600-hp box cab switchers. Alco dropped out of the consortium in 1929, when they acquired the McIntosh and Seymour engine works. A new line of its own loco motives was produced, continuing to use GE electrical components, but GE and Ingersoll-Rand marketed a separate line.

During the 1930s, GE sold a variety of small switching and industrial locomotives, using engines made by several suppliers. The earliest marketing successes were the 300-hp oil-battery and oil-electric-battery box cab switchers of 1930. The oil-battery (two-power) loco used a diesel engine and generator set, running at constant speed, to charge batteries that supplied the electricity for the traction motors. The oil-electric-battery (three-power) version included third-rail shoes or pantographs for current pickup in electrified territory, so that more efficient outside power could be used to charge the batteries. Only five of the two-power units were produced, as the underpowered generators would barely keep the batteries charged for two hours of heavy work. These units were used by New York Central, Michigan Central, and Rock Island for light passenger switching in Chicago’s La Salle Street and Central stations. The three-power units were used by Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, and the New York Central in electrified areas.


Many U. S. locomotives extended their initial service lives outside the country. Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico purchased large numbers of used locomotives, both steam and diesel, including General Electric U25B No. 7601. Its reprieve eventually ended, however, and No. 7601 was off the roster by 1992.


In 1978, when this photograph was taken, the Autotrain Corporation was still offering its rather unique services to the U.S. public. Here, two powerful General Electric U3 6B diesel electrics can be seen hauling automobiles through Lorton, Virginia.

More conventional locomotives were produced during this time as well, and included units from 300 hp to 1,500 hp, in conventional rear-cab, box-cab, and center cab designs. In 1954, an experimental 6,000-hp four-unit A-B-B-A test set was produced and numbered 750. The car- body units operated on the Erie Railroad as a test bed until 1959, when they were sold to the Union Pacific.

In 1940, GE once again joined with Alco in actively marketing large freight locomotives, this time under the label Alco-GE. This partnership ended in 1953, and Alco assumed full responsibility for locomotive sales, with General Electric continuing as an electrical supplier. GE, however, began to develop its own line of heavy freight locomotives, incorporating significant design improvements, and introduced a 2,500-hp road switcher, designated U25B (Universal-2500 hp-B or four-wheel trucks), in 1960. Quickly dubbed “U-Boats” by rail fans, the design became the backbone of the GE fleet, slowly evolving to meet market needs; it constantly improved in reliability and fuel efficiency, and was occasionally modified for special needs, such as passenger service.

The excellence of these locomotives quickly propelled GE into the number two market position, surpassing Alco itself in just three years, and behind only General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD). In 1983, General Electric’s locomotive production exceeded GM’s EMD, and GE became the world’s sales leader. The sixteen-cylinder U series was superseded by the twelve-cylinder Dash 7 series (first unit designated B2 3-7) in 1984, as fuel efficiency gained in importance. The continuing horsepower race led to the Dash 8 series, with the 4,000-hp Dash 8-40C of 1987.

General Electric seemed always ready to innovate, but perhaps never as spectacularly as their experiments with turbine power. Two 2,500-hp steam-turbine cab units were built in 1939 and were tested on the Union Pacific, New York Central, and Northern Pacific before being scrapped in 1942. Westinghouse Electric was left to further steam-turbine technology, while GE moved on to gas turbines after World War H. The first unit was twin-cabbed demonstrator 101, producing 4,500 gross hp (3,900 at the rail) and operating on the Nickel Plate and the Pennsylvania before going to the Union Pacific.

Ten production turbines mechanically identical to the demonstrator, but with just one cab, were delivered to the Union Pacific in 1952. Fifteen additional units were produced in 1954, differing only in the open “gallery” walkways along the sides. Thirty additional massive turbines of 8,500 hp were delivered between 1958 and 1961. The turbines were dependable, but could only be used on through trains since they used almost as much fuel at idle as they did at full throttle.

The development of high-horsepower diesels doomed the turbines, the final run being in December 1969. As they were retired, GE accepted them as trade-ins, and the running gear was used under the equally amazing 5,000-hp U50, basically two sixteen-cylinder U25 machinery sets mounted on a single chassis and riding on four four-wheel trucks with each pair connected by a span bolster. True to its well-earned reputation for buying any thing with high horsepower, Union Pacific bought twenty-three U50s, while Southern Pacific had three. The U5OC followed, still at 5,000 hp but derived from two twelve-cylinder engines riding on a pair of six-wheel trucks, and Union Pacific was again the purchaser.

Heavy electric locomotives remained a source of business for GE during this entire time. The company supplied both compo nents and complete locomotives, and participated in development and construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s legendary GG1s and the Virginian’s “Rectifiers” as well as other significant early developments. The growth of coal mining in the American West inspired a number of mine-to-power-plant railroads that were appropriately electric powered. Seven 2,500-hp E25Bs were built for Texas Utilities, two 5,000-hp E50Cs for the Muskingum Electric, and six 6,000-hp E60s for several mining roads.

The Pennsy looked to GE for replacement of its 1930s-era electric units and bought sixty-six 5,000-hp E44s in the early l960s, followed by Amtrak’s order for twenty-six 6,000-hp E60CHs, in two variations, for their high-speed Northeast Corridor. Tracking problems limited the E60s to 90 mph (144 kph), which Amtrak found unacceptable on this 120 mph (192 kph) line, so a number were sold to New Jersey Transit and Navajo Mines. Other E60s went to the Deseret Western, another power plant line, and the National Railways of Mexico.

Locomotive production has always been based in GE’s plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, with some of the smaller units having been built in the company’s plant in Schenectady, New York. Over the years, the light locomotives were powered by engines from numerous outside suppliers, including Caterpillar, Cummins, and Cooper-Bessemer. The U2 SB, their first heavy locomotive, used the Cooper-Bessemer FDL-16 engine, and the rights to the design were ultimately purchased by GE. The FDL design was put into production at Erie, and it has been used in all subsequent large locos, having been upgraded from 2,500 hp to 4,000 hp in twenty-eight years, often while reducing the number of cylinders and increasing fuel efficiency.

General Electric was always interested in the export market and developed small, light locomotives in a variety of gauges suited to the needs of many foreign railroads and opened foreign plants to better serve these markets. GE came to dominate the world’s locomotive industry through careful marketing strategy, reliability, and the introduction of a more fuel-efficient unit at the precise time that railroads were reacting to the worldwide oil shortages of the 1980s. From those first tentative steps in 1918, through the various alliances of the 1930s and the spectacular experiments with turbines in the 1950s, to the current crop of high-tech Dash 8 locomotives, the company has dependably contributed to improved operations of the world’s railroads.


General Electric came to dominate locomotive sales during the 1980s, with the Dash B series of high-tech, fuel-efficient diesels, such as GE 809, seen here in Council Bluffs, Iowa.


New York, Susquehanna & Western No. 4004, a 4,000-hp Dash 8 40B of 1987, and a pair of CF Rail diesels lead a mixed freight southbound at East Binghamton, New York.

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