K. P. Harrier
South of the equator operations with Alco’s tells me that you are talking about niche operations, that became adept at doing what the majority was unable to do. But, BNSF, CSX, and FEC’s track record with contemporary EMD’s is for all to see.
Personally, I am an EMD man. But when sources tell me EMD’s are junk, it has to make one wonder. One source has repeatedly said UP’s SD70M’s (all 1400 plus of them) “creek” and that kind of burst’s an EMD man’s bubble. In 2008 the famous UP-Metrolink Chatsworth head-on took place. The UP was a local, with SD70ACe’s! At the time they had been regulated off hotshots. Apparently, whatever issues UP had with them has been resolved, because they again are seen on hotshots system wide.
That was just an interesting perspective, M636C. One has to accept what those that run the power have to say about that power!
Of course, Australia is not the United States. The land mass is similar to the Continental USA less Alaska, but the population is much less, around one tenth or less of the population of the USA. The low population is due to the much smaller percentage of land capable of agriculture due to the relative lack of water.
However, until the 1990s, most Australian locomotives were built in Australia, by licensees of EMD, Alco and by English Electric, who had their own factory. I worked in the EE factory building locomotives during my University vacation.
In Australia, Alco locomotives were more or less as numerous as EMDs and were not thought of as a minority in any way. Alcos had better fuel consumption than blower EMDs, and in the hands of crews and maintainers familiar with them could turn in higher mileages in traffic on the fastest trains.
In 1980 I was working for the Australian Federal Government when the government owned Australian National Railways made a request to buy eight EMDs, model JT26C-2SS (basically an early SD50 with a 3000HP engine, AR 16 alternator and Super Series control). They were rejecting an offer for similar powered Alco engined locomotives at a lower price. The reason being given to the Minister for Transport was that the majority of their locomotives were EMDs and this made the buy more efficient overall.
I counted up their locomotives and found they had more Alcos than EMDs, and suggested that they reword their justification, since I couldn't pass incorrect advice to the Minister.... Fairly soon a justification based on lower anticipated maintenance costs arrived, and the locomotives were ordered.
(I'm sure some of you have seen the British TV series "Yes Minister". That is used locally as a training video, because, despite the comedy, it is largely true to life).
But to return to the Pilbara, all three major mining companies used C636 and M636 locomotives, most built in Australia from 1968. Nearly as many C636s were built in Australia as were built in the USA (26 compared to 34, off the top of my head) and these were followed by 87 M636s giving more than 100 3600 HP Alcos hauling all trains in the area. These were joined by three C36-7s and five SD50S units (the latter eventually moving to the Utah Railway).
But the three operations ran for more than ten years exclusively with Alcos, mainly 3600HP but with five C628s, four C630s and one more C636 all imported from the USA.
There was no interchange of locomotives and all the maintainers were familiar with the one type of unit. The problems Alco suffered in the USA were at least partly due to their units being in a minority, and this was not a problem in Australia.
The national network continued to buy Alco power into the 1980s, and a few of these units are still in traffic, not in small operations but out there in the real world. I saw two 2000 HP units on a long train of 40' containers loaded with logs only a week ago, both of these being from the last order placed in the 1980s. The same operator has EMDs and some Chinese built MTUs, but is happy to rely on Alcos where it is within their capability.
However to get back to GE. I was in the Pilbara when the C36-7s arrived. The first thing noticed was that the cab roof was a few inches lower than that of the M636. This was a problem because the air conditioning unit only just cleared my head in an M636, so padding was provided around the edge of the air conditioning box to reduce injuries. Not a good start.
The GE was clearly designed for a cold climate. The dynamic brakes were under the radiator, which had to be drained when dynamics were used since the radiator fan cooled the grids. So a separate radiator was mounted just behind the cab to cool the engine when dynamics were used. I'm sure the cab heaters were good too, but we didn't use them much in the desert in summer.
The M636s from ten years earlier had dynamic brakes cooled by a separate blower and contra-flow radiators to keep the engine and intercooler water cool. We couldn't believe that GE hadn't even looked at the MLW design.
The Dash 8s and Dash 9s took care of these obvious problems. The Dash 9s were helped by GE having purchaased MLW and adopting important features of their truck design (the rubber secondary suspension, later taken up by EMD as well)
But EMD managed to convince BHP Billton management to go with the SD70ACe, and they bought fourteen, one for major spares since it cost less than buying the spares. 4300 made one or two trips in the yard before being taken apart.
The other 13 ran quite successfully but the crews didn't like the cabs, and subsequent units had isolated cabs. The first 13 are back in the USA awaiting a buyer, still. They were reported as being rusty, but this wasn't the case. The iron oxide was just dust from the trains and stockpiles on top of the paint.
But they kept buying them, nearly 200 counting the early units they disposed of.
I'm sure the failure of the AC6000s on BHP counted against GE, but the trouble free running of the EMDs compared to the failures of the ES44DCi units on Rio Tinto, where rather too many turbochargers failed, reinforced the decision to go with EMD. GE introduced a new turbo with the bearings further apart which I guess solved the problem, but it isn't clear that GE ever admitted there was a design problem.
It was said that a hurried purchase of rebuilt 40 year old SD40s (from GE) as a stop gap while SD70 ACes were built reinforced BHPs decision to go with EMD. These old units came off the ship, were fuelled up and went straight into traffic. They used more fuel than the GE Dash 8s and being only 3000 HP meant you had to use two to replace a Dash 8 but theold EMDs ran well and although they were intended as trailing units only, a few were modified to be able to lead on work trains.
The SD40s and the AC6000s were all scrapped as were all but one Dash 8 to be kept as a display.