Trains.com

Why were E units not suitable for freight?

4536 views
65 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,463 posts
Why were E units not suitable for freight?
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, June 10, 2022 1:03 PM

The F series locomotives were used for both freight and passenger interchangably... why were the Es used almost exclusively for passenger? 

  • Member since
    November 2008
  • 1,750 posts
Posted by Leo_Ames on Friday, June 10, 2022 1:48 PM

Later in their lives some were used successfully for freight service. Perhaps the most notable were the Bangor and Aroostook's pair of E7's that were rebuilt for freight service with EMD assistance.

I'll leave most of the reasons why they weren't desireable for freight service and why their limitations had to be respected when put to use in those duties, to others to explain better than I can. But reason #1 in my eyes comes down to the limitations of their gearing.

The BAR had to modify the trucks to enable the use of 38" wheels (Edit: Some references say 40"), enabling re-gearing to 62:15. With the factory 36" wheels the minimum gearing possible was 57:20 with a maximum speed of 85 mph, which obviously isn't too well suited for freight service (and one reason why some of the notable users of them in freight service put them at the head end of short, fast, and relatively light trains that often looked overpowered in order to protect the motors).

The results as publicized by the road were very successful. It gave them a unit that performed as well as a F3 at speeds below 25 mph (albeit more expensively than a F3, such as 24 cylinders to maintain versus 16). And at speeds above, the full 2,000 horsepower could be put to use to outpace a F3. 

For a cost of less than the half the trade-in allowance that they would've got for them from La Grange, they were able to get half a decade more out of them before going in trade for new GP38's in I think 1966.

  • Member since
    March 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 12,812 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Friday, June 10, 2022 1:56 PM

After the "Lake Cities" was discontinued and the Jersey suburban service was re-equipped, EL made regular use of their E's in general freight service.  Admittedly, they used 3 or 4 at a time on the front end.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    February 2005
  • 2,093 posts
Posted by timz on Saturday, June 11, 2022 4:33 PM

If a RR is looking for new units to pull its freights, why would they even consider E-units? What advantage would they have over Fs or GPs?

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 22,728 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Saturday, June 11, 2022 4:49 PM

E units 'short time ratings' would kick in in the neighborhood of 25-27 MPH, versus freight units getting into their short time rating at approximately 11 MPH.

Short time ratings are the denote speed at which Maximum Amperage can be fed to traction motors continuously without damage.  If speeds drop below the Short Time rating speed, then the resulting INCREASING AMPERAGE being sent to the traction motors can only be withstood for increasingly shorter times.

In the late 1950's the B&O assigned all their F3 passenger geared engines to the Chicago Division to operate between Willard and Chicago, with the passenger gearing intact.  The maximum grade on this route was 3 tenths of one percent - ie. 4 inches of elevation change over a 100 foot span.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    March 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 12,812 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Sunday, June 12, 2022 10:01 AM

Rock Island also used some of its E's in freight service.  RI had few major grades so that minimized the issues with short term ratings.

In the cases of Erie Lackawanna and Rock Island, financial considerations may have also been a factor.  With the decline of passenger service, E's became surplus power, using them in freight service may have postponed the need for new power.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 18,954 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, June 12, 2022 10:32 AM

Speed for short-tie ratins depends on gear-ratio.  E-units were geared  for higher speed and  less starting tracteve effort than freight units in general.

  • Member since
    April 2016
  • 1,346 posts
Posted by Shadow the Cats owner on Sunday, June 12, 2022 7:16 PM

Now on the Erie and later the Erie Lackawanna the E units were used primarily on fast intermodal traffic that was interchanged with the Santa Fe IIRC from all the books I have read in my hubbies library.  They were used primarily because faster speeds and well tofc trains aren't exactly the heaviest things on the railroad.  

  • Member since
    June 2003
  • From: South Central,Ks
  • 6,897 posts
Posted by samfp1943 on Sunday, June 12, 2022 9:30 PM

daveklepper

Speed for short-tie ratins depends on gear-ratio.  E-units were geared  for higher speed and  less starting tracteve effort than freight units in general.

 

 
Having had some 'limited' experiences with 'E' Units. As an interested, observer; I  noted that if utilized in a switching capacity, they were very difficult to use in that process.  
The difficulties were issues of visibility from the cab positions; no operational controls  were installed at the area of rear entrance of units; inabilities of engineer or fireman(?) to give clear, operational, hand-signals out of unit...problematic for employees on the ground.   And so-on; they were not an easy unit to use to switch cars out of, or into a train.     

 

 


 

  • Member since
    March 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 12,812 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Monday, June 13, 2022 9:55 AM

The same thing could be said of F's, FA's, etc.  Road switchers were developed in response to most of those issues.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 22,728 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Monday, June 13, 2022 1:17 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
The same thing could be said of F's, FA's, etc.  Road switchers were developed in response to most of those issues.

One time, when I was a kid, I observed a Work Train being operated with a F-7 B unit - using the hostler controls that those units had to operate them in and around locomotive service facilities.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    September 2002
  • From: Harrison Township, Michigan
  • 1,455 posts
Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Monday, June 13, 2022 3:06 PM
 

CSSHEGEWISCH

The same thing could be said of F's, FA's, etc.  Road switchers were developed in response to most of those issues.

 

Thank goodness for Alco in that regard. 

 
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 912 posts
Posted by BEAUSABRE on Monday, June 13, 2022 11:14 PM

Except EMD got there first - NW3 (1939) and NW4 (1938) vs RS1 (1941). In particular the NW3 used the NW2 switcher's engine, had a steam generator and rode on road trucks. The RS1 used the S2 switcher's engine, had a steam generator and rode on road trucks. The NW4 used parts salvaged from the EMD's B-B passenger demonstrators which meant it had the NC1/NW1 switcher's 201 engine, AAR-type B road trucks instead of Blombergs and had a steam generator. If you want to call the RS1 a roadswitcher, the EMD units have to take pride of place. BTW, Jerry Pinkepank in the Diesel Spotters Guide of 1967 coined the term "Light Road Switcher" for a unit using the manufaturer's contemporary switcher powerplant. I've got my faded, dog eared copy on my bookshelf

 

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,015 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 4:17 PM

Of course, after the promising start EMD dropped the ball entirely, with nothing in the line comparable to an RS1 and in fact trying to pass off the ridiculous BL2 for the 'branch line' service the RS1 did so well.

They redeemed themselves many times over by inventing the Geep, of course... but in terms of design precedence that was a recognition of the RS1 'package', not original thinking.

  • Member since
    March 2003
  • From: Central Iowa
  • 6,308 posts
Posted by jeffhergert on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 4:24 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH

Rock Island also used some of its E's in freight service.  RI had few major grades so that minimized the issues with short term ratings.

In the cases of Erie Lackawanna and Rock Island, financial considerations may have also been a factor.  With the decline of passenger service, E's became surplus power, using them in freight service may have postponed the need for new power.

 

The RI used E units out of the suburban commuter pool over the weekends when there weren't as many commuter trains being operated.  They would make a turn from Chicago to Silvis and back on freight.

After the RTA F40's showed up they may have tried running some of the released E units on more Chicago - Silvis trains.  If they did, it didn't last long and most surplus E's went to the dead line.

Jeff   

  • Member since
    December 2017
  • From: I've been everywhere, man
  • 4,017 posts
Posted by SD70Dude on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 4:38 PM

E's didn't have all their weight on powered axles, so had relatively low starting tractive effort relative to their horsepower.  Being geared for the higher speeds then desired for passenger service made this even worse. 

Tonnage is tonnage, doesn't matter if it's freight or passengers on the drawbar.  I'm sure E's did just fine with lighter, shorter freights, especially if re-geared for a lower maximum speed. 

Passenger geared four axle units also have relatively low starting tractive effort compared to their freight counterparts, but CN still used them on express and other short freight trains into the 1980s, often at night when fewer passenger trains were operated. 

Perenially power short CP continued leasing VIA units as late as the mid 1990s, and had previously had a similar arrangment with GO Transit. 

http://tracksidetreasure.blogspot.com/2015/09/cp-leases-via-locomotives-1994-1995.html

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 912 posts
Posted by BEAUSABRE on Friday, June 17, 2022 1:23 AM

Simple economics. EMD had limited capacity (about 5 1/2 units a day) until Plant 3 in Cleveland came on line, which brought capacity to 10 unis a day. Plant 3 built switchers, then switchers and Geeps. EMD caculated that it made more money from building E and F units than it would make from roadswitchers (which turned out to be true comparing the F7 with the GP7). So, as long as cab unit demand held up and available capacity was filled with E and F unit orders, it was willing to concede the roadswitcher market to its competitors, and stay where the money was. The BL was an attempt to have your cake and eat it too, by using a cab unit style truss body in a faux roadswitcher. Of, course, once Plant 3 began operations, EMD had space to build roadswitchers as well as cab units and the GP7 and GP9 were roaring successes. 

This was to be repeated. EMD had cut its capacity back significantly after dieselization was finished and cut back further due to the early Eighties recession, and when, in the Late Eighties, several lines approached it with switcher orders, they were politely (or maybe not so politely) refused. They then went to GE and got the same answer. Both major builders had limited production capacity and it just didn't make sense to replace profitable road units on the erecting floor with less profitable switchers. If you can build 1000 units a year, why build 50 switchers at $1M per and 950 road units at $2M a piece when you can build (and sell) 1000 road locos at $2M each?

  • Member since
    November 2008
  • 1,750 posts
Posted by Leo_Ames on Friday, June 17, 2022 2:31 AM

Profit rather than the sale price of a locomotive is more important in my opinion.

A switcher is a lot cheaper to purchase than a big road locomotive and at least in the pages of Trains, they've taken that tidbit through the years and extrapolated that a road locomotive automatically is more remunerative for EMD than a switcher simply because of the higher sale price. But the data is incomplete and doesn't actually tell us that with any sort of certainty.

While it quite possibly was more profitible, that logic ignores that it's cheaper because it doesn't cost as much for EMD to construct it. That small and relatively simple switcher that can be built quicker and which sells for $1 million, might yield $200k in profit for La Grange. At the same time the complex and expensive to produce $2 million road switcher might also only yield $200k in profit.

I don't think we've ever had access to the data that could actually confirm that a SW1500 for instance was less profitable for EMD to build than a SD40 (An era when EMD's switcher business was still a big deal worth courting rather than the distraction it later became before being killed off).

Same deal in the early 1950's. We know the list prices for EMD models of that era. A F7A indeed was more expensive to purchase than a GP7, but that doesn't mean the former necessarily was more profitible for EMD. All it really does is confirm the obvious. A F7 was more expensive for EMD to build than a GP7 and thus was priced higher.

It doesn't tell us a lick about which one was actually more lucrative for the builder since we simply don't know what they cost to build, only what they were sold for. Thus we can't detirmine how their profit margins compared.

  • Member since
    May 2011
  • 166 posts
Posted by IA and eastern on Friday, June 17, 2022 3:34 AM

What railroads in the  80s wanted switchers? Gary

  • Member since
    April 2007
  • From: Bridgman, MI
  • 202 posts
Posted by bogie_engineer on Friday, June 17, 2022 10:48 AM

A very significant factor in the cost to build a locomotive is the size of the order - orders for switchers could be only a few or even one loco, where orders for road power were nearly always larger. At EMD, we budgeted 10,000 engineering hours for every order, regardless of number of units, to cover all the basic design and processing hours to turn the sales spec into drawings and docs for purchasing and production. This was things like painting and styling drawings, ongoing changes to basic components requiring drawing revisions and updates, general customer requests for cab appertenances, wiring diagrams, shop assembly instructions, parts catalogs, etc. Special features beyond what we consider normal added hours to that total. When it got to the shop floor, there was a learning curve figured in - the first unit of an order always takes twice the hours to build as the 10th unit. Then there is the cost to purchase the material for a small quantity versus large. With switchers weighing about 260K lbs versus a GP40-2 at 272K lbs, the basic raw material cost is not much different. We also looked at how many different models we were building each month to try to keep it as low as practical for shop efficiency, sometimes with exports included we were doing 8-10 different orders per month in the 70's when the factory was running at capacity which was a killer for efficiency. Just changing over shop tooling fixtures as the model mix changes adds cost.

Even though switchers couldn't command a greater price than a road loco just based on HP, they could have cost more to build especially based on size of order.

Dave

  • Member since
    November 2008
  • 1,750 posts
Posted by Leo_Ames on Friday, June 17, 2022 3:13 PM

Bogie Engineer, did EMD ever migrate in later years to only opening up switcher production once or twice a year and constructing their backlog of orders all at once, rather than having to retool every single time just because an industry for instance decided to buy a new SW1001?

IA and eastern

What railroads in the  80s wanted switchers? Gary

Do you mean newly constructed switchers? Not many, but the business hadn't quite yet dried up.

While in a long decline by then that first started as GP7's and such started to transition away from mainlines, all Class 1's still wanted switchers in their fleet during the 1980's. Union Pacific for one invested a lot of money into rebuilding portions of their fleet and acquiring more modern 2nd hand examples to replace the rest. 

But even though most Class 1's relied on their declining fleet of older switchers for the jobs that remained that they were best suited for, there were some takers for newly constructed EMD goats. During the 1980's Missouri Pacific bought 40 MP15's, Southern bought 42 MP15's, Katy bought 4 MP15AC's, and Seaboard bought 41 MP15T's.

  • Member since
    July 2016
  • 1,909 posts
Posted by Backshop on Friday, June 17, 2022 3:25 PM

Although they were technically roadswitchers, I would posit that the GP15-1 was bought mainly for the same service as the pure switchers.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,463 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, June 17, 2022 8:22 PM

I believe the GP15-1 was EMD's response to the Paducah rebuilds.. railroads were rebuilding older GP9s, taking market share from EMD.. the lower horsepower geep was marketed to compete with the rebuild market.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,463 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, June 17, 2022 8:31 PM

bogie_engineer

A very significant factor in the cost to build a locomotive is the size of the order - orders for switchers could be only a few or even one loco, where orders for road power were nearly always larger. At EMD, we budgeted 10,000 engineering hours for every order, regardless of number of units, to cover all the basic design and processing hours to turn the sales spec into drawings and docs for purchasing and production. This was things like painting and styling drawings, ongoing changes to basic components requiring drawing revisions and updates, general customer requests for cab appertenances, wiring diagrams, shop assembly instructions, parts catalogs, etc. Special features beyond what we consider normal added hours to that total. When it got to the shop floor, there was a learning curve figured in - the first unit of an order always takes twice the hours to build as the 10th unit. Then there is the cost to purchase the material for a small quantity versus large. With switchers weighing about 260K lbs versus a GP40-2 at 272K lbs, the basic raw material cost is not much different. We also looked at how many different models we were building each month to try to keep it as low as practical for shop efficiency, sometimes with exports included we were doing 8-10 different orders per month in the 70's when the factory was running at capacity which was a killer for efficiency. Just changing over shop tooling fixtures as the model mix changes adds cost.

Even though switchers couldn't command a greater price than a road loco just based on HP, they could have cost more to build especially based on size of order.

Dave

 

I guess GMD would have taken a bit of a hit on the two GP30s they built for CP. That locomotive with all of its curves would have been harder to build than the more angular geeps that followed. Not sure why CP bought only two..perhaps they were part of a larger order that was cancelled. Diddo for the only RSD17 ever built by MLW.. after testing on both CN and CP, neither road wanted more, although that  only unit would eventually become the Empress of Agincourt, a fan favourite. But there again.. 10,000 engineering hours expended on a single locomotive, or perhaps some of those hours overlapped with the development of the earlier RS18. 

  • Member since
    December 2007
  • From: Georgia USA SW of Atlanta
  • 11,014 posts
Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, June 17, 2022 8:43 PM

Maybe a 1500 HP 5 axel quick loading Yard light weight switcher type would be better for yard and road work than than these 4400HP 6 axel overweight for industrial sidings.  These switchers would cost closer to present locos with MU, PTC, and DPU installations.  The lack of these switchers now could be one reason for the PSR removal of on line customer service?

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,770 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Friday, June 17, 2022 9:11 PM

Ulrich

The F series locomotives were used for both freight and passenger interchangably... why were the Es used almost exclusively for passenger? 

 

Lot of good info, a few more thoughts.

Part of this question is "why did some roads use F units for passenger service?".

In the whole of F unit production, not that many were built with steam generators and passenger gearing. The roads that did buy them typically had more mountainous routes, needed the TE of all axles powered, and coupled enough units together to provide the same backup reliablity the E unit provided with its twin prime movers.

Noticeably more F3's were built for passenger service than the later F7 and F9, even if you count FP units. 

Roads like the PRR found good use for both, applying them based on the conditions on different sub divisions and differnt classes of trains.

E units by design are race horses, the A1A truck, the twin prime movers, the length, all made for smooth high speed operation, just like a Pacific or a Hudson in steam.

One of the largest users of E units was the B&O, with 64 units on a system much smaller than other big users like the PRR or NYC. Even with mountains to cross, the E unit was effective for them. Most B&O passenger trains of that era were relatively short compared for example with the ATSF who was one of the biggest users of F units in passenger service. Tonnage vs TE vs ruling grade.

Unlike many other roads, the B&O did not buy ALCO PA's, passenger dieselization on the B&O was E units from the beginning, some F3's, and lastly some GP7's. Later the C&O contributed their E units and FP7's.

E units came with several different steam generator options, some had one large generator, others had two smaller ones. 

F unit A's lacked adequate water storage for long distance passenger service. The ATSF and the Northern Pacific fixed this with some custom options from EMD. EMD latter fixed the problem with the FP7, a stretched passenger F unit with more water storage.

As noted by others, E units did see freight service in their later years, and were very effective on things like hot shot piggyback trains. Remember, truck trailers carried a lot less weight back then, train lengths were limited by siding length, so even 60's piggybacks with 85' flats were relatively light trains and the railroads were doing their best to compete with the trucks. A good use of a surplus passenger locomotive in a time when passenger trains were quickly disappearing.

While they may have built out of many of the same parts as the F unit - the E unit was built for speed.........

Sheldon 

    

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 912 posts
Posted by BEAUSABRE on Friday, June 17, 2022 10:58 PM

Ulrich
Not sure why CP bought only two..perhaps they were part of a larger order that was cancelled. Diddo for the only RSD17 ever built by MLW.. after testing on both CN and CP, neither road wanted more,

I've got a hunch you answered your own question - they were built either as demonstrators no one wanted to try or GMD persuaded CP to give them a try, CP decided not to bite, but when GMD offered them at a discount to get them off their hands, CP took them. 

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,015 posts
Posted by Overmod on Saturday, June 18, 2022 11:03 AM

If I remember correctly, the issue was taxes: weren't they bought as pool power for cross-border services, but were taxed as imports (and so wound up not staying in Canada over 24 hours at a time)?

It would seem just as obvious for CP as for ATSF that four-motor power was just as good for fast trains that had to negotiate scenery en route... and run flexibly anywhere else.

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 1,224 posts
Posted by Erik_Mag on Saturday, June 18, 2022 1:41 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL

In the whole of F unit production, not that many were built with steam generators and passenger gearing. The roads that did buy them typically had more mountainous routes, needed the TE of all axles powered, and coupled enough units together to provide the same backup reliablity the E unit provided with its twin prime movers.

Noticeably more F3's were built for passenger service than the later F7 and F9, even if you count FP units. 

Which accounts for why the AT&SF, NP and GN greatly preferred passenger F's over the E's.

Kind of funny about more SG equipped F3's than F7's as the big improvement of the F7 over the F3 was a higher CTE for a given gear ratio, which translates to lower continous minimum speed. This advantage of the F7 was less important for passenger service than frieght service, so I would guess that the RR's dedicated the F7 purchases for freight service.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 912 posts
Posted by BEAUSABRE on Saturday, June 18, 2022 2:43 PM

Overmod
If I remember correctly, the issue was taxes: weren't they bought as pool power for cross-border services, but were taxed as imports (and so wound up not staying in Canada over 24 hours at a time)?

They were built by GMD in Montreal, so there would be import duties to pay to the US if they stayed for over 24 hours, not vice versa.  

And who were the partners in this cross-border pool?

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy