• Unbuilt locomotive

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Allen Hazen
I've asked this before, on this or another forum, and got no response. Let me try again. This is not a fantasy locomotive -- well, in a sense it is, I suppose -- but a novel locomotive design ordered by the New York Central but cancelled (at, I think, the builder's request) before it was built.

West Albany Hill was an operating problem for the New York Central. I believe a small fleet of switchers (steam and later diesel) was stationed there to act as pushers: even a Hudson with a booster needed help getting up the hill with a heavy passenger train!

So. In the 1920s, the New York Central launched a program to develop diesel locomotives. Three prototypes were built: the first "tri-power" unit for use in the electrified New york City area, and the two 4-8-4 boxcabs for the Putnam Division. But a fourth was ordered: a heavy (1000 hp, I think) switcher for use on … West Albany Hill.

All FOUR prototypes were to have General Electric electrical gear, and I think all the "mechanical portions" were to be from Alco, but four different diesel engine designs were specified: small Ingersoll-Rand on the Tri-Power, large Ingersoll-Rand on one of the 4-8-4, McIntosh & Seymouron the other 4-8-4. (M&S was later bought by Alco: it's plant in Auburn, NY, became Alco's engine-building plant, and the 531-538-539 engine series was considered an M&S design. But the engine used on the New York Central's prototype was an earlier design, with no direct connection to Alco's engines.) The fourth prototype was to have had a "Nelseco" engine. That's a brand name of the New London Shipbuilding and Engine Company, which -- don't ask me for the exact corporate structure -- was essentially the same people as Electric Boat Company: the submarine builder.

Which comes close to being all I know about the fourth engine. One interesting design feature has been mentioned: it was to be a B-B-B type: three two-axle trucks, all axles motored. This is a configuration that has been used on a reasonable number of electrics (one pair of Baldwin-Westinghouse rectifier prototype-demonstrators for the Pennsylvania in the 1950s, EMD's GM-10 prototype-demonstrator in the 1970s, a whole fleet of locomotives on Australia's Queensland Rail…) and a few diesel electrics (New Zealand Railway's Japanese-bult DJ class, and I think a fairly widely used type on Japanese railways), but so fares I know never for a North American diesel. (Hmm.. I wonder if Baldwin, whose early road switchers did not have under frame fuel tanks, ever considered it…)

… And it was never built. Apparently Nelseco decided that their engine wasn't suitable for locomotive use, and returned the deposit on the contract.

So, my QUESTION: Does anybody know more about this unit? I assume a fairly detailed specification was drawn up, so somewhere there must be paperwork giving technical details. Were drawings made? Do we know what it would have looked like?
  by Allen Hazen
I've re-read the section on this unbuilt locomotive in Kirkland's "Dawn of the Diesel Age": I had misremembered the envisaged power. It was supposed to be a 600 hp unit, not 1,000.
Timing: the contract for it was signed in June 1926, cancelled in June 1927. Other units from this experimental four-some were delivered in mid to late 1928, so -- had Nelseco not backed out -- that's the sort of completion date probably planned.
Kirkland remarks that there was no attempt to revive the project with a different engine (Alco was the prime contractor, and was supposed to buy the engine from Nelseco, so this would have been possible in principle). An obvious thought is that the project wasn't revived because of the depression, but since the original contract was cancelled well before the 1929 stock market crash, this probably isn't the explanation. Maybe there was no other engine-type on the market that seemed attractive?
GE was supposed to provide the electrical components, but not details are given in Kirkland's book. The three prototy[es that WERE built all had four GE 286 traction motors (a type also used on some New York Central straight-electric locomotives: Q and R classes, at least. Traction motors were less standardized in those days than they are now, so perhaps something different would have been considered for a six-motor unit. On the other hand, Kirkland reports that the 750 hp "DEP" road freight unit sometimes had to double hills on the Putnam Division because it had reached motor short-time limits. So maybe six 286 motors would have been thought appropriate in a unit intended for heavy switching and helper service?
Trying to find more about the Nelseco engines, I found a submarine history website. (Recall that New London Shipbuilding and Engine was part of Electric Boat company!) It looks as if a six-hundred horsepower Nelseco engine in the 1920s would have been an inline 8. With air injection, a feature that would soon be seen as obsolete and undesirable...
  by BR&P
With so little (apparently) available from the railroad end, seems like your best hope for additional info might be from the engine builder's side. I suppose the boat company archives are non-existent by now?
  by Allen Hazen
Thanks for the suggestion! The company is still with us, post a number of mergers: Electric Boat is, I think, a subsidiary or division of … I was about to say United Technologies, but I should check that. I don't know whether they have kept archives that far back.
  by Allen Hazen
Sorry, General Dynamics(*). Quick look at the Electric Boat website says that information on older submarine classes has been transferred to the U.S. Navy's historical service. I should write to EB and ask if they have kept any historical information about NON-submarine applications of their products…
I think Alco's archives have been deposited with some university in New York State.
As for what I've been able to find on the WWWeb… George Elwood's marvellous "Fallen Flags" rail image site has (in PDF format) the New York Central's 1930 locomotive diagram book. It claims they had one -- count them, one! -- diesel electric locomotive, and has a diagram for the prototype Three-Power unit. The two 4-8-4 (2-D-2) prototypes for the Putnam Division would have been on the property in 1930 but aren't recorded: perhaps they were still officially "under test" and counted as the property of the builders rather than of the New York Central at the time? Anyway, my guess is that even if we did find a 1927 diagram book, it wouldn't include a proposed locomotive not yet built.
(*) Which also includes Convair, I think. United Technologies (formed by merger of United Aircraft and Otis Elevators) includes Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney.
  by Backshophoss
It might be for nothing,but you might check with a historical group in Groton Ct if they have any info of
this "spinoff" from EB,as this was a non-Military use of their engines.