The EMD F40PH was Amtrak’s primary locomotive for more than two decades. These husky locomotives hauled millions of passengers from coast to coast, racking up millions of miles which ultimately caught up with them. In 1996, the time was clearly up, and Amtrak placed an order for their first order of P42’s that would displace the units from their last stronghold-Chicago. Most of the F40’s would languish in the back lot of Beech Grove shop and be turned into razor blades and silverware. But Amtrak had other plans for several lucky individuals.
In February, 1996, former F40PH #368 emerged from Beech Grove with baggage doors, a sealed fuel tank, and a five-digit number-90368. Christened NPCU, (Non-Powered Control Unit), the 90368 would have a new life at the end of corridor Amtrak trains as a cab control and baggage car in one. Unit 225 was the second unit converted, and many others followed. Most of the units from Amtrak’s initial F40 order from 1976 were targeted, even the original demonstrator, #200. High-mileage, obsolete wiring, and high maintenance costs were the reasons for these units’ conversions.
Creating cab control units out of locomotives has many advantages over passenger cars. First off, it provides passenger safety, since there is a solid locomotive body in front of them in case of a collision. It also results in more crew comfort, due to the larger cab size. Spare parts become surplus from the gutting out of the locomotive body and provide other “real” locomotives to remain in service. More baggage cars can be used in service elsewhere, because the NPCU’s can hold baggage. It provides good use for retired locomotives as well, instead of a trip to the scrap yard. Last, but definately not least, it is half the cost to covert a locomotive verses a passenger car. Since they were cab car and a baggage car in one, the nickname “Cabbage” was started by railfans, and it has stayed.
The NPCU’s began their life on the Milwaukee Corridor. Here is my first video of 90368:
In 1997, the “real” F40’s began to be bumped from the HIAWATHA service as well, having been replaced by the B32-2W “Pepsi Cans.” Here is an NPCU with a “Pepsi Can” shoving on the rear:
In the spring of 2000, Amtrak rebuilt several F40’s for service out of Chicago due to the equipment shortages. Many received a sharp platinum mist scheme that was designated Phase 4. The NPCU’s retained their Phase 3 paint at this time. Here is a Phase 4 F40 with an NPCU at Russell, IL:
In 2000, the NPCU’s also began to receive a version of the Phase 4 scheme, but retained a black roof. The new HEARTLAND FLYER service was haven for the them, in addition to the Michigan trains, the CARDINAL, and even the short-lived KENTUCKY CARDINAL.
Several of the NPCU’s have received the Phase 5 Paint Scheme. Here is #90218 at Hammond-Whiting:
One unit, #90340, was even repainted to match the Talgo trainsets on Cascades Service. No matter what their color, all these “second-life” F40’s still have the melodic five-chime horn that Amtrak was famous for.
To date, a total of twenty-three NPCU’s have been built by Amtrak from F40PH’s. Unit 406, was converted without baggage doors and backdated into Phase three paint for use on Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary train. The original #200 continues to soldier on as #90200, although many railfans would rather have seen her to go to a museum. Whether they are viewed as sabotage or salvation, the NPCU “Cabbage” unit, will continue to serve Amtrak into the 21st Century.
Posted in Amtrak,High-Speed Rail,Passenger Rail,Train Stations