Not Quite as Green

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, March 16, 2023

During the 1970s one significant railfan photography draw in Chicagoland was the presence of the Burlington Northern’s fleet of green E units (8s and 9s) utilized for the railroad’s commuter service to the western suburbs between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois.  In a world where EMD cab units on passenger trains were becoming steadily less common, the fact that a fan could see, and photograph, multiple consists with this equipment was certainly welcome.

In addition, following the advent of Amtrak in May 1971, E units in railroad colors, as opposed to Amtrak paint schemes, were also becoming far less common, although there were exceptions including the Southern Railway’s green beauties assigned to the Southern Crescent. Closer to home in the Midwest, the Rock Island’s fleet of EMD’s A1A-A1A-trucked cab units continued to labor on in both suburban service, and the modest pair of intercity trains that The Rock was obligated to continue after it elected not to join Amtrak (and occasionally, freight service, as well).

An oddity about the BN’s E units was the fact that this paint scheme was essentially a newcomer, since the Burlington Northern merger became effective in March 1970, slightly more than a year before Amtrak’s inception.  It was generally considered pleasant, if not classic; in reality, it was more colorful than what it replaced on the fleet of former Burlington (CB&Q) passenger cab units. 

The “Q’s” E units featured either stainless steel side panels (harkening back to the railroad’s fluted stainless Zephyr equipment of the 1930s and 40s), or later, simply gray paint.  In both cases, dignified and classic, but not particularly ‘colorful’.  Obviously, the latter (painted gray) livery was replaced by a full-length application of the BN’s new “Cascade Green”, including a white stripe behind the cab.

Those with stainless side panels?  I’ve seen numerous pictures of  later Es with black BN emblems on their sides,  and a number of E's remained in CB&Q livery, at least initially.  But what about the E7s, of which the BN inherited 32 units from the Burlington, Great Northern, and a sole example from the Spokane, Portland & Seattle?

As shown above, Burlington Northern 9920, formerly  CB&Q 9935B, seen here at the “Zephyr Pit” servicing area south of Chicago Union Station on October 31, 1970 had Cascade Green applied to the nose and cab area, with its stainless body panels remaining au naturel except for the green BN emblem and unit number.

To the best of my knowledge, this was the only locomotive in this paint scheme, and it didn’t last long.  According to the website (, all of the BN’s E7s were off the roster by April 1972, since the arrival of Amtrak, accompanied by the elimination of a number of passenger trains, no longer required as many E units as previously, and the obvious choice was to retain the newer E8s/E9s.

I’m glad that I happened to see it in its new garb that now long-ago Halloween; I wonder what its next assignment was?

Photo by George W. Hamlin

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