Why so few U-boats?

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Why so few U-boats?

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Oct 27, 2015 4:05 pm

GE made a big splash with its Universal series in the 1960s, selling just over 1000 four-axle and nearly 1700 six-axle domestic-pattern locomotives in the series. Very few are running today. Why? Were they inherently unreliable, did GE run an aggressive trade-in campaign, did they cost more to maintain than an equivalent EMD unit...? It's especially surprising because for the number produced between 1960 and 1970, it seems (I don't know for certain) that there are more Alcos preserved or operating per capita than GEs of the same time period. Both are far and away outstripped by the equivalent number of EMDs, which have been rebuilt and rebuilt again and continue their work on railroads of all sizes (not to rub it in! :-D )

So, what's the deal? They're definitely more fuel-efficient per horsepower.
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Re: Why so few U-boats?

Postby NorthWest » Tue Oct 27, 2015 5:39 pm

Early GEs were of rather poor overall quality. They were less reliable than EMDs, and generally were harder to fix. The Dash-7 line was better, but GE only caught up to EMD quality and reliability with the Dash-8 series. GE hadn't perfected the design and so was continuously working things out to try to improve quality. Because of their large corporate backing, though, they could offer financial packages to enter the market that were one of the final nails in Alco's coffin.

One of the main reasons why GEs die sooner than locomotives from other builders is that GE vigorously protects their parts supply. Other builders have lots of vendors that produce aftermarket parts, but that has not been the case with GE historically. When GE ends parts support, the majority of the units left operating cease to.
This has happened with other models too, note that almost all of the Dash-7 line were retired rather suddenly around 2008 when GE ended parts support and the recession hit.
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Re: Why so few U-boats?

Postby Leo_Ames » Tue Nov 03, 2015 9:41 pm

There's only so many secondary assignments.

When their first 15-20 years of mainline service ended, the more common EMD's got the call to enjoy a 2nd life for the reasons already mentioned. Superior reliability and durability, more readily available parts, a knowledge base that extended to almost anywhere in this country with steel rail, etc. GE's usually seemed to have an advantage where fuel economy was concerned though and their bulletproof 752's made them good slow speed luggers.

But it's not so much that they were poor locomotives. Railroads wouldn't of supported them en masse had that been the case. The reasons for their demise more so has to do with EMD simply being even better. Why settle for 2nd best when oftentimes, the need for EMD's in secondary services like locals or the resale market couldn't even absorb all the mainline EMD cast-offs (Like hundreds of serviceable Missouri Pacific GP18's going to scrap back in 1980 or so)? There were good reasons when they were new to buy earlier GE's (Their long-term flaws weren't clear, it spurred on innovation across the industry, delivery times, initial cost, financing, etc.), but when their day in the sun concluded, only the best had much chance of moving on to new careers and that usually meant that survivors were picked from the more numerous EMD models.

And because of GE's late entry into the market for road locomotives, they also didn't even enjoy the position that saved many an Alco. There was no inclination to purchase a GE when their product line largely was foreign to you (There's no commonality with GE's industrial diesels and outside of perhaps some of the electrical system, it's all new). But if you were a shortline running Alco's ever since you had dieselized decades earlier (And oftentimes, ran Alco's in the steam era as well), it's not difficult to imagine why you'd like to stick with Alco as later power like relatively young C420's became available at reasonable prices.

So the 1960's era Alco's lived on in significant numbers while GE's Universal series largely disappeared after 15 years or so.
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Re: Why so few U-boats?

Postby Pneudyne » Sat Nov 14, 2015 4:10 pm

The situation may well be different with the export Universals. Some of these have had relatively long lives. As far as I know, some of the mid-1960s, ex-South African Railways U20Cs are still working in Namibia. And 1970s-built U26Cs are in still in service on South Africa, Kenya and New Zealand. That suggests that there is nothing inherent in the GE designs and components that would lead to a shorter service life than typically achieved by other makes in similar conditions.

South Africa, of course, was a “GE road”, having started dieselization with the U12B in 1958. EMD was a latecomer there, not gaining a foothold for about a decade. The very positive South African experience may have influenced Zambia and Zimbabwe, who also acquired U20Cs in the mid-1960s. New Zealand was an EMD customer, but along with South Africa became an early customer for the U26C when it wanted a more powerful locomotive. Evidently it was did factor in the South African GE experience. There were a few settling-in difficulties with the U26C fleet, some of which were of the “it’s different to an EMD” variety, but the fleet, now rebuilt in various ways, is seen as having been a “best buy”.

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Re: Why so few U-boats?

Postby Allen Hazen » Sat Nov 14, 2015 4:54 pm

Putting together bits and pieces that I've read over the years…
---GE, in the U.S., has offered favourable trade-in deals, and has kept spare parts expensive: sounds as if their business plan is to maximize sales of new locomotives in ways that hurt the longevity of (domestic) GE locomotives. (Company makes more money replacing whole locomotives than it would replacing bits and pieces of old ones, I suppose.)
---My ***impression*** is that few railways outside the U.S. expect to replace old locomotives with new as soon as those in the U.S. do, so this strategy may not work as well in the export business. Maybe GE has a different strategy in that segment of the business.
---It was reported that some time around 1990 (plus or minus: I don't remember the date very precisely), one or more U.S. railroads that owned fleets of U18B (built 1973-1976) approached GE about a rebuild program: GE wasn't interested, and these locomotives soon left the rosters of major U.S. railroads. On the other hand, as Pneudyne notes, New Zealand's U26C locomotives, of about the same vintage, have been rebuilt successfully, with GE co-operation. Two data points isn't enough to fit a curve to, so I won't claim that this demonstrates a trend… but it is at least consistent with the hypothesis that GE has a different sales strategy in the export market from their domestic policy.
Disclaimer: I am a railfan, not involved in the railroad or railroad supply industries. So this is NOT "inside dope": just the thought of an observer.
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