Strange Bedfellows

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, February 16, 2022

By the time of this photo on November 14, 1976, the former Pennsylvania Meadows Yard in Kearney, New Jersey now was also the former Penn Central yard, following the formation of Conrail on April 1 of that year.

Some things remained largely the same, however:  this was still a place where you could see, and photograph, both diesel and electric locomotives, at least those designated for freight service.  And because electrics were included, that meant that GG1s were almost certain to be available for their closeups.

Thus, the presence of GG1 4855 at the left side of this photo (along with the 4867 behind it) was hardly unexpected.  However, the large “two worms in love” Penn Central emblem on the side of the locomotive had been replaced by a very-modestly-sized “CR”, albeit still in relatively fresh paint, as opposed to the version on the nose, which of course was subject to a greater amount of grime when the locomotive was leading.

In any case, the 4855 had been around for quite a while now, having been acquired by the PRR in June of 1935.  And after going through the debacle of working for the Penn Central, I’m sure that it was able to adapt to its new markings with aplomb.  In reality, given its forty-one years of service, it didn’t look bad from a cosmetic standpoint, although it probably could have used about a weeks-worth of baths.

But what’s that thing with the pantograph to the right of the Gs?  It’s number, selected to commemorate the year of its birth, 1975, indicates that it’s a recent arrival.  Judging by its underframe, the SD40-2 comes to mind, which is a fair conclusion since this beast does ride on the popular diesel’s running gear.  However, a prime mover it lacks, because it is a GM6 electric locomotive. And with regard to SD40 comparisons, at 6,000 horsepower, it doubles the diesel’s capability.

So what is it doing in Meadows Yard, looking like it’s waiting for a call to take a train out on the road?  Following the 1973-74 “fuel crisis” in the U.S., there was renewed interest in possible electrification of heavily trafficked freight routes, a logical candidate being the extension of the former Pennsylvania electrification west from Harrisburg over the Allegheny Mountains to Pittsburgh. 

Conrail in fact did take a look at this possibility; EMD wanted to get ahead of the game and have something ready if this came to realty.  To gain experience and data, the 1975 was produced as a demonstrator.  In any event, the railroad decided not to pursue this opportunity, and in addition to not extending the former-PRR electrification for freight service, Conrail opted to eliminate electric freight service entirely.

While I never saw it, the 1975 had a companion, in the form of the 1976 (guess when it was built).  This B-B-B wheel arrangement creature was almost eight feet longer than the 1975 and was rated at 10,000 horsepower.  EMD quietly folded, as there was no more use for the demonstrators.  However, although it would be in passenger service, GG1s would continue to operate in New Jersey (although not at Meadows) into late 1983, still, for the most part, in Penn Central black.

Photo: George W. Hamlin

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