Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.

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Re: Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

Postby Engineer Spike » Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:50 pm

The part about not getting sales in countries which had been part of the British Empire sounds a little far off. Both GM and Alco were firmly established in Canada, which is still affiliated with Britain. Look how well Alco has done in India.

I know some about mechanical design, and also about diesel engines. How was the wet block of the 251 a detriment?
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Re: Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

Postby Allen Hazen » Sat Sep 01, 2018 9:26 pm

Re: sales to British Empire
Thee was certainly some preference for British products in the Empire/Commonwealth. There was also, in the first few years post-WWII, a foreign exchange issue: it was easier for Australian railways (and I would ***GUESS*** those in other Commonwealth areas) to come up with Pounds than with US Dollars to buy new locomotives. (I think the first Victorian Railways (Aust) EMD diesels came a year or too later than they would have otherwise because of this. I have histories of the B-class and S-class VR units, and there is a comment somewhere in them about for-ex issues...). The least bad of the British diesel locomotive builders, English Electric, managed to sell a reasonable number of units to Commonwealth countries.

Despite this, Alco seems to have done fairly well in the non-African part of the Commonwealth. Engineer Spike has mentioned the Indian case. In Australia, different state railways had different policies in the steam-replacement era. EMD dominated Victoria and Queensland (with, in Queensland, a significant minority share going to the British manufacturer English Electric, and a token to GE), but in New South Wales I think Alco designs significantly outnumbered EMD among first generation diesels.

In Africa there may have been a technical issue. GE seems to have come up with designs suitable for African ("Cape Gauge") railways before Alco did (GE's U-series introduced in 1956; Alco's Dl-541 being too large and having to be redesigned as the Dl-543 before they could make serious efforts to enter the African market: so here it seems that Alco's marketing and engineering people erred in their plans.
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Re: Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

Postby Pneudyne » Tue Sep 11, 2018 8:31 pm

Engineer Spike wrote:I know some about mechanical design, and also about diesel engines. How was the wet block of the 251 a detriment?

As I understand it, this relates to the time required to change a power assembly in the event of a scuffed liner. With the EMD (567C and later) and C-B/GE engines, with their sleeved liner, dry block construction, this could be done whilst the engine was still hot and without draining the coolant, and could be completed within three hours when the pressure was on to get a locomotive back into service. On the other hand, with the Alco 251 engine, it was necessary to let the engine cool somewhat and then drain the coolant before replacing the liner. Thus the locomotive would likely be out of service for the best part of a day.

Whether this was an issue in practice would have depended upon individual road practices and expectations. But I have heard that it was this aspect that caused the UP not to extend its C855 fleet, which (apart from exhaust smoke) was seen as quite good when in operation. The power assembly change downtime disadvantage was magnified for the twin engine case.

Whether it was an issue for South African Railways (SAR) I don’t know. But what is known is that SAR did appreciate the three-hour turnaround time for a power assembly change on its EMD fleet. Anyway, information more recently to hand clarifies the SAR initial choice of diesel locomotive supplier. Apparently it came down to a choice between GE and EMD, with the GE U12B being chosen. Presumably the G12 was the EMD contender. At the time, Alco would not have had a horse in that race, with nothing between the small DL531 and the much larger DL540, so it would have been a non-starter. The decision in favour of GE was made because it was willing to fit GSC cast trucks, whereas EMD would supply only its own flexicoil design. SAR had an established relationship with the South African GSC licensee, and wanted to continue that. When SAR did eventually buy EMD locomotives, the initial order (GL26C model) was fitted with GSC-pattern cast trucks.

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Re: Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

Postby tgibson » Tue Sep 18, 2018 11:08 am

Note that the three countries you mention: India, Australia, and Canada all had Alco license production within their respective countries. Thus the currency issue would not be a factor (or would be less of a factor), and I assume that many countries would prefer home built production over imported locos, even if from the mother country. In contrast, Canadair produced the DC-4M using Rolls Royce Merlin engines and Trans-Canada and Canadian Pacific (along with BOAC) bought them to avoid having to pay for Pratt and Whitney radials from the USA. So Canada would buy from the UK if something built in country (i.e. the engines) were not available.
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