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why couldn't Alco & Baldwin compete against GE and Fairbanks(?)

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why couldn't Alco & Baldwin compete against GE and Fairbanks(?)
Posted by gregc on Monday, January 13, 2020 4:38 PM

one of the stories I was told about understanding your business is how National Cash Register, at the time when they were still building mechanical cash registers recognized the capabilities of electronics in radios and calculators to transform themselves into an electronic point of sales company.   they understood that their business was point of sales, not mechanical devices

was the technology change between steam to diesel that significant that Alco/Baldwin couldn't adapt quickly enough, or did Fairbanks North (?) and GE just have that much more experience with the power technology that they were able to learn the other things about the locomotive industry?   Or were the differences in the drive train, big drivers vs. small wheel driven directly one too many straws?

greg - Philadelphia & Reading / Reading

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Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, January 13, 2020 5:33 PM

Alco was still thinking steam when railroads was plainly indorsing diesels while Baldwin was not developing diesels fast enough.. Lima was betting on "Super power" steam locomotives the last being NKPs 779 in 1947.. Lima was to far behind to catch up so they built a handful of locomotives. With the merger of Baldwin Lima Hamilton in 1950. Lima's small line of locomotives was dropped in favor of Baldwin locomotives but,EMD and Alco already dominated the market.Oddly  GE was still suppling electrical parts for Alco.GE did build some boxcabs and small switchers.GE's U25B would be their first road diesel in the domestic market.

Larry

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Posted by dknelson on Monday, January 13, 2020 5:39 PM

I am not sure I buy the premise that ALCo was unable to compete with Fairbanks Morse in the locomotive business.  Fairbanks Morse found it as difficult to compete with EMD as ALCo, Baldwin and Fairbanks Morse did, and ALCo lasted more years in the diesel electric locomotive business than F-M did.  Fairbanks Morse's problem is that the opposed piston engine that was (and is) so well suited to maritime use had less success with locomotives in their dirtier and less controled environments and more cramped servicing.  It is worth pointing out that ALCo and Baldwin were essentially locomotive companies and had no other business to fall back on.  Fairbanks Morse is still going strong in the diesel engine business and other lines, but not in railroading.     

GE had its initial challenges too, in competing with EMD, but eventually won out, perhaps because the deep corporate pockets behind it enabled it to keep improving and refining their products.

The general story line one reads is that Baldwin and ALCo, both coming at the diesel electric locomotive business from their long backgrounds in the steam locomotive business, never grasped the economies of scale and other product design and marketing innovations that EMD introduced as a result of its being owned by General Motors.  EMD had parts that were shared across its product line; Baldwin and ALCo tended to view each locomotive as a one-off, just as their steam locomotives for one railroad customer were going to be different than for another customer.  And EMD tended to keep parts in active inventory for a long time, decades.  This rewarded the railroad that decided to be an all-EMD line because their parts inventories could be rationalized across the system, versus keeping ALCo parts around mostly just for switchers.  

A modest example is multiple-unit diesels.  Baldwin had its own proprietary MU system that was not compatible with EMD, only with other Baldwins.  ALCo had the smarts to make theirs compatible for the most part.  I believe F-M did too.  But again their parts were not compatible and once EMD became dominant, that decided things for many railroads.  Why maintain three parallel parts inventories when you can maintain just one?

In general it would seem ALCo did pretty darn well in the yard switcher market but had problems translating that success into the passenger and freight diesel market.  Their prime mover designs had reliability issues, which matters more for a main line locomotive which breaks down hundreds of miles from a servicing area versus a switcher which never goes far from the diesel house.

General Motors, and in a sense EMD, were able to give their customers the illusion of choice while actually rather rigidly forcing them into a fairly limited range of choices.  It worked for automobiles and it worked for locomotives.

Dave Nelson  

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, January 13, 2020 6:57 PM

 Part of that is the influence of WWII. Alco had already built uard switchers, EMD had already built road locomotives, so the War Production Board allowed them to continue. That gace Alco a 4 year lkead on switchers, but it gave EMD a 4 year lead on road locos. That briefly changed when Alco came up with the road switcher, and EMD had no idea how to compete with it, witness the useless BL2. Then EMD got it together and produced the GP7 and it was basically over - Alco had issues with their prime movers, while the EMDs were pretty much bulletproof.

There are plenty of still running EMD prime movers. And their smaller but similarly built truck motors. 

                                               --Randy

 


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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 13, 2020 6:57 PM

I'm going to throw this out there because it kind of makes sense to me. This was a story an old railroad manager told me about Alco and Baldwin.

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Be skeptical, but it could be true.

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Baldwin and Alco made steam locomotives, and when one was sold, it came with a book of instructions on how to make replacement parts in your own machine shop. The railroads rarely had to go back to the manufacturer for service parts.

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With diesel locomotives, most of the parts can not be made in house. You have a much more complicated engine that requires repairs, and you must purchase the parts from the manufacturer.

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EMD (GM) and GE both had extensive experience in manufacturing, warehousing, and supplying replacement parts.

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Basically, when an EMD or GE diesel locmotive went out of service, it could be returned to service more quickly because the railroads could get replacement parts.

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Frustrated with the low "available days" rating on Baldwin and Alco diesels, the railroads began to stop purchasing them.

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That is the story as I heard it, and given what I know about business, it does make sense to me.

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-Kevin

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, January 13, 2020 7:01 PM

rrinker
There are plenty of still running EMD prime movers. And their smaller but similarly built truck motors.

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Randy, I have repaired and rebuilt EMD engines and Detroit Diesel engines. There is very little similarity from one to the other, except for the basic two-cycle operation concept.

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An EMD 567 actually looks a lot more like a Cummins Signature 600 under the rocker covers than it looks like a Detroit Diesel 8V71.

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The cylinder head to block mating is so radically different beween an EMD and Detroit Diesel that it is hard to believe thay come from the same manufacturer.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by ndbprr on Monday, January 13, 2020 8:02 PM

SeeYou190

 Your NCR info is a little off. I was living in Dayton when the UAW was trying to unionize NCR.  They claimed they could obtain significant wage and benefits until finaly they suceeded in winning representation in spite of management saying it would result in massive layoffs. After the election results were announced NCR layed off thousands of workers and introduced digital products.

 
rrinker
There are plenty of still running EMD prime movers. And their smaller but similarly built truck motors.

 

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Randy, I have repaired and rebuilt EMD engines and Detroit Diesel engines. There is very little similarity from one to the other, except for the basic two-cycle operation concept.

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An EMD 567 actually looks a lot more like a Cummins Signature 600 under the rocker covers than it looks like a Detroit Diesel 8V71.

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The cylinder head to block mating is so radically different beween an EMD and Detroit Diesel that it is hard to believe thay come from the same manufacturer.

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-Kevin

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Posted by NittanyLion on Monday, January 13, 2020 9:17 PM

dknelson

And EMD tended to keep parts in active inventory for a long time, decades.  This rewarded the railroad that decided to be an all-EMD line because their parts inventories could be rationalized across the system, versus keeping ALCo parts around mostly just for switchers.

Around 2012-2015, my brother worked for a locomotive parts supplier.  He told me that he routinely pulled the drawings for components that were last revised in the 40s and they were still making those parts.

I'd be hard pressed to come up with any other complex device that has something similiar.  They've been building C-130s since 1956, for instance, but I'm certain there's no parts that haven't changed since 1959.

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Posted by OldEngineman on Monday, January 13, 2020 10:12 PM

In the early days, EMD had the better product. Actually, they had MORE THAN "a better" product -- they had a clearly SUPERIOR product. The other builders never got within a country mile.

And so it went through the decades.

And even today, Progress Rail (EMD) still has the better product. They just got hamstrung in recent times by clearly ridiculous "emissions rules" that the 2-cycle engine couldn't meet.

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Posted by SPSOT fan on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 12:27 AM

I think that all these locomotive builders (ALCo, Baldwin, FM) went out of business simply because there was not (and really still isn’t) enough demand for more than two or three locomotive manufacturers. Baldwin and FM left the market because EMD and ALCo simply dominated the market and there wasn’t enough demand for more manufacturers. EMD and ALCo where the best two manufacturers at the beginning of the 50s so all the others went out of business. Then after GE entered the market with it’s clearly superior U25B, ALCo struggled to compete and eventually left the business.

And we haven’t seen a third major locomotive builder in the US since! That’s likely because there isn’t the market for one, if there was I’m sure we would see one!

Regards, Isaac

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 6:08 AM

OldEngineman
ridiculous "emissions rules"

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There is nothing ridiculous about the emissions standards for any internal combustion engine. The technology to meet the standards is readily available, and compliance is very straightforward.

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I need to be careful not to violate my NDA, so I will be brief.

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The stack emissions from all diesel engines is now very similar (funcionally identical) across all platforms whether the machine rides on rubber tires with a license plate, steel tracks, or rails. Whether it operates in Southern California, Northern Japan, or just outside of Vienna, the emissions technology is similar and functions the same.

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Any difficulty the manufacturers have with meeting these standards and being compliant is entirely their own fault, and there are plenty of skilled suppliers ready to help them.

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Emissions regulations benefit every living creature on Earth.

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SPSOT fan
And we haven’t seen a third major locomotive builder in the US since! That’s likely because there isn’t the market for one, if there was I’m sure we would see one!

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Keep your eyes open. There are changes coming, and you will see it in your lifetime. There are serious competitors coming into the game, and an old rivalry has come to the surface.

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Beyond that... NDA Zip it!.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by BigJim on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 8:46 AM

SPSOT fan
Then after GE entered the market with it’s clearly superior U25B,


What a laugh that is! It's obvious that you have never run a GE unit. Give me an RS11 over a piece of junk U-Boat any day!!!
GE didn't start making anywhere near a decent locomotive until they made the Dash-9!
ALCo struggled to compete and eventually left the business.

Yet no one has mentioned that GE made the electrical components for the ALCOs.
 

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 9:14 AM

IIRC, GE had been selling electrical components to Alco all the way back to the earliest "oil-electric" engines c.1910. When GE decided to make their own locomotives and quit selling to Alco, Alco had to scramble to come up with it's own electrical parts.

Also, I believe Alco had some problems with it's early diesel motors. Even though the problems were resolved fairly quickly, it made some railroads shy away from buying more Alcos.

GM, with it's automobile experience, had a great program of customer service. It had field reps who would work with a railroad to make sure everything was working correctly, and could get parts quickly if needed.

Fairbanks-Morse motors worked great in the stable marine uses they were built for, but weren't that well suited for locomotives. They were very large / tall engines, requiring a very high body, and were as I understand it not well suited for the dirt, grime and such of locomotive service.

Stix
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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 9:36 AM

Really? All the teardowns of various Detroits I've ben watching (Bus Grease Monkey on YouTube), they look an awful lot like th 567 in the museum's GP7. Yes, there is a huge scale difference, so it's not a single head casting, it couldn't be, but each indovidual one, with the triple rockers, two for exhaust, one for the injector, and the oil feed pipes arcing up over. Very similar. Roots blower to pressurize the air galleries. I think it's various obvious they came fromt he same school of design, just one is greatly scaled up and far exceeded the ability to make (at the time) in a single casting. Functionally the same, and vastly different from all the others which were all 4 stroke. 

 It's a shame they are disappearing, they are super simple and reliable. No electronics or even electrical junk needed other than to turn the starter motor. Mechanical fuel pump, mechanical injectors. The only electrics on the 71 series really are the various gauge senders and monitors, most everything else is a direct mechanical linkage or air driven. 

 In fact - they DID come from the exact same source - Cleveland Diesel Engine Division, which was renamed from Winton when GM bought them, and then later folded into EMD and the DD division went its own way, first absorbed in GM and then spun off again.

                                           --Randy


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Posted by dknelson on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 11:33 AM

 

I should have mentioned this in my posting above.  

A few years ago I had the opportunity to tour part of the Fairbanks Morse factory in Beloit Wisconsin, along with other members of the Chicago & North Western Historical Society.  Although no longer in the railroad business, F-M has corporate pride in their railroad heritage and has some interesting displays and photos on exhibit.  Not irrelevant to the railfan they also had displays of their history of making large scales, including their railroad scales.

The reason I bring this up is that the other interesting thing we learned on our tour is that Fairbanks Morse, in addition to still making and selling their opposed piston diesel engine (and their display area had a very useful cut-away version of such an engine showing how the opposed piston system works), is also actively making and marketing the ALCo 251F prime mover!  

It was a very interesting tour.  Not the least of the fascinations is that the factory has some very old sections that are marvelous examples of the brick-layer's art.  

Dave Nelson

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 1:12 PM

 The Alco 251 ended up being pretty bulletproof, but unfortunately for Alco, by the time it was in widespread production, railroads had already turned away from Alco due to issues with their prior prime movers. 

                           --Randy

 


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Posted by SeeYou190 on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 1:42 PM

rrinker
All the teardowns of various Detroits I've ben watching (Bus Grease Monkey on YouTube), they look an awful lot like th 567 in the museum's GP7.

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Well, I don't know about YouTube.

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The camshafts in a 567 are mounted high resulting in a massively different valve train from EMD to Detroit Diesel.

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Detroit Diesel has the followers built into and captive from parent bores in the head castings. EMD has the followers integral to the rocker arms.

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Valve adjustment on detroit diesel is done by an unusual (possibly unique) arrangement where the push rod threads into the rocker arm assembly. On EMD engines there is a more traditional, but still awkward, adjuster for lash.

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Detroit Diesel injectors are adjusted by setting a specific height of the injector plunger off of the cup seat. EMD injectors are adjusted much more like Cummins PT series injectors.

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The governors on Detroits are drive off of the blower rotors and control fueling through a fascinating linkage set-up under the rocker covers. Only idle speed and high governor cut off are adjustable. EMD governors are hydraulic using crankcase oil with its own pressurization system similar to later Woodward governors. These can control crankshaft speed at any set point between low idle and high speed break. I would assume locomotive engines use the same governor system as the power generation EMDs, but I am not 100% certain.

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Detroit diesel cylinder head do not have traditional gaskets. They use fire rings around the liner tops and have seperate o rings for oil and coolant as well as a full perimiter seal (which is a nightmare). EMD cylinder heads go into a counterbore machined into the cylinder block parent casting and are sealed by a perimeter fire ring that does not contact the power cylinder components.

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The gear trains are radically different mostly because of the application options that were designed into Detroit Diesels that were not incorporated into the EMD engines.

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Yes they are both 2-stroke reciprocating piston engines.

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For whatever its worth, I am the youngest person ever that passed all three "Craftsman Guild" tests for Allison, Detroit Diesel, and EMD service qualification for General Motors. Then, three year later, I passed the entrance test for the Cummins Society of Technicians.

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-Kevin

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Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by Renegade1c on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 5:31 PM

As part of the new Teir 4 emission standards, I know that progress rail or whatever EMD is called now has switched to 4 stroke diesel engines made by Caterpillar. They could not get the 2 stroke engines particulate levels low enough, even with filtering to match what they could do with the 4 stroke engines. I believe its called the 12-1010 engine. That's what all the SD-70ACe-T4 have in them.


Colorado Front Range Railroad: 
http://www.coloradofrontrangerr.com/

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Posted by BRAKIE on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 7:40 PM

wjstix
Also, I believe Alco had some problems with it's early diesel motors. Even though the problems were resolved fairly quickly, it made some railroads shy away from buying more Alcos.

Indeed Alco suffered a high road failure rate. The railroads not only called Alco about this problem but,GE has well.

Larry

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Posted by jeffhergert on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 9:47 PM

EMD still the best?  Not in my opinion.  They were tops once, but if I never see another SD70ACe variant, i'd be happy.  I wish at the very least my employer would ban them from being used as a single DP remote unit.

Jeff 

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Posted by BRAKIE on Thursday, January 16, 2020 6:59 AM

jeffhergert

EMD still the best?  Not in my opinion.  They were tops once, but if I never see another SD70ACe variant, i'd be happy.  I wish at the very least my employer would ban them from being used as a single DP remote unit.

Jeff 

 

Jeff, On the PRR as a brakeman I rode in the cabs of EMD switchers GP7/9s and SD7/9s.. The best riders was the SDs.. We hated Alcos because of their road failure rate.  The FM H24-66 would wear your legs out riding the steps while the FM10-44s was much better. On the Chessie(C&O) I rode EMDs and GEs and like most C&O men I would rather have GP9 as motive power. They was old but,still got the job done.  I also like the GP38 and GP40/40-2s.

On the PRR those former old head steam engineers would work 'em for all they was worth. I'm sure that would have cause EMD's and PRR's mechanical departments to eat Tums by the pound.

Larry

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Posted by MJ4562 on Sunday, January 19, 2020 12:28 PM

SPSOT fan

I think that all these locomotive builders (ALCo, Baldwin, FM) went out of business simply because there was not (and really still isn’t) enough demand for more than two or three locomotive manufacturers. Baldwin and FM left the market because EMD and ALCo simply dominated the market and there wasn’t enough demand for more manufacturers. EMD and ALCo where the best two manufacturers at the beginning of the 50s so all the others went out of business. Then after GE entered the market with it’s clearly superior U25B, ALCo struggled to compete and eventually left the business.

And we haven’t seen a third major locomotive builder in the US since! That’s likely because there isn’t the market for one, if there was I’m sure we would see one

This is basically it.  It's far more efficient to standardize with a single manufacturer.  A second competing source is important to keep a cap on prices and maintain quality as was seen historically with first EMD and ALCo and then EMD and GE.  EMD and ALCo got that initial lead due to WWII production restrictions and regulation of what products each builder could manufacture.  It is my understanding that during the initial post-war (WWII) dieselization boom EMD was maxed out on production capacity which is what led some railroads to give Baldwin and FM a try;  that and existing business relationships with the legacy builders.  We see the same processes happening in all business fields a couple of the most high profile being the aviation and automobile businesses.

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, January 24, 2020 10:48 AM

Some additional points that could be made:

Baldwin was notorious for continuing the steam-locomotive mentality on 'custom building' - each individual locomotive had its own manuals, and support, and included any running changes in equipment and specifications.  One thing this meant was that 'resale' of the unit (for instance following default on an equipment trust) would not involve the standardization inherent in a particular EMD model ... to say nothing of the possible special support and parts that might be involved.

Baldwin also had trouble with detail design -- many of their lubrication connections were made with hoses, not hardlines, and they were fond of running electrical cabling in channels under the floor that were virtual magnets for coolant, oil, and fuel leaks...  I remember a story about a NYC crew on one of the babyface units that stopped on a bridge to fish ... and could hear the drip, drip, drip of various fluid leaks down into the water.  I remember being particularly struck by the water-pump drive of one of the PRSL RS-12s -- about 20 little V fan-belts in parallel on enormous multiply-grooved pulleys...

In addition, Baldwin tried to maintain the large, low-speed, reliable tugboat-engine school of motive power far too long, thinking it a competitive advantage over thin lightweight two-stroke power.  This was in part a reaction from the very revolutionary Essl design of the late Thirties, which was 6000hp out of eight axles in a comparatively short high-speed chassis, modular by 750hp increments while running (!) -- that wound up being uncompetitive on cost, and Baldwin did not continue the multiple-small-genset approach.  There was no particular high-end enhancement possible with the 606/8 engine family, as there proved to be with the Cooper-Bessemer 'articulated-rod' design after the Fifties) so Baldwin would have been badly behind the eight-ball in the second-generation high-horsepower market even if they had 'scored' the large order for general-service B-B power on PRR that went to GPs.

I have argued that Hamilton, and then Lima-Hamilton, and then Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, were all hedging their bets on commercialization of the free-piston engine rather than conventional high-power diesel engines.  Not even GM-EMD could make that dog hunt well enough, in the end.  

Alco was hamstrung by GE pulling out of supplying their electrical components.  It didn't help that some parts of their detail design were not optimized for 'conditions' on contemporary railroads, the Hi-Ad trucks being a case in point.  Any idea that the 251 engine was unworkable can be dismissed by looking at what Indian Railways has done over the years with its development ... 

FM above all had the bad luck to suffer an extended strike just as the market for TrainMaster-sized locomotives began to take off, and during the time that the maintenance concerns over 'mobile' versions of the OP engine were manifesting themselves.  There have been discussions over the years on whether the particular maintenance issues could be addressed sensibly (particularly the issues with oil control during extended idling), and some of the more common 'problems' like raising the upper crank for liner replacement were addressable with care.  But as far as I know FM never made the effort EMD did into assuring parts and methods support ... or 'designing for maintenance' even if the costs of the replacement parts were artificially supported for a while.

The great blindsided builder was probably Ingalls, which surely had the staff and the motivation to become a diesel builder in the '40s, and which came up with by far the most interesting passenger power in that era.  Their "PA competitor" 2000hp passenger unit combined a relatively robust slow-speed diesel engine (Superior) with a true variable-speed transmission via Bowes drive to low-unsprung-mass gearsets and shafts to the wheels (as in '50s diesel-hydrokinetics).  Of course, not one was sold, probably as much due to the effect of ICC order 29543 -- which made its practical high top speed essentially worth much less for practical train service -- and then the rapid decline of interest in remaining streamliner services.

Incidentally, Alco spent quite a bit of time designing competition for the BL2; you can see a number of the design approaches in the book on Howard Fogg's "diesel images".  And these are just as 'hampered' in practical utility vs. the GP series as the BL2 was.

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