End of an Erie

Posted by Steve Sweeney
on Thursday, July 27, 2017

The headline is an intended pun, but a sad one.

In case you didn't know or hadn't heard, GE will end locomotive production in Erie, Pa., by the end of 2018.  

As railfans and rail industry observers, we always kinda knew that was going to happen. I wrote about it four years ago on this blog.  

As an Erie-built myself (St. Vincent Hospital - 1981) I feel pride in Erie and locomotives, but I've become numb to the ups and downs in GE employment. In talking to people who still live in the area, they have too.

If we're honest with ourselves, GE in Erie is a last remnant of a time that has passed us by: mammoth workshops where thousands of women and men toil with big tools to make big machines. The erecting floor made famous in so many black-and-white photos is little changed today from when GE built Little Joes intended for the Soviet Union or the first U-boat for U.S. railroads. The place is an anachronism. I love it too, but that's what it is. And with China making as many locomotives and as much rolling stock as the rest of the world combined (or it sure seems that way), we should be grateful this lasted as long as it did.

So what's next?

The skilled labor force in Erie will shrink, for sure. Erie County, where the GE plant is located, will get a little poorer. And the Lake Shore Railway Museum should be the recipient of a trainload of artifacts. 

What remains at GE in Erie will be prototyping and research. This may or may not be for locomotives exclusively, as GE has a long-term commitment with Penn State Erie to study and promote advanced manufacturing. I suspect GE's push for smart manufacturing with 3-D printing is part of this. And if locals act smart, as I know they can, they'll grab this opportunity to spend money and brain power on being advanced manufacturing leaders before another Fort Worth comes along and surpasses them.

As for railfans, we'll survive. We did when Alco went under. We accepted Nippon-Sharyo and Siemens despite missing Pullman and Budd. And Caterpillar is firmly in charge of EMD, not General Motors and we accepted it as generally a good thing. As painful as it is to watch the end of this era in Erie with GE, it is only another page in railroad history.

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