• Were GE's Throw Away's ?

  • Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.
Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.

Moderators: MEC407, AMTK84

  by obsessed railfan
Modern railfans and historians can endlessly wonder and debate the factors that contributed to the demise of early domestic GE units. One potential cause that is not mentioned often is lack of proper maintenance. In the 1960s, most mechanics were only familiar with Alco and EMD and lacked proper training for maintaining GE locomotives which caused frequent mechanical problems. Even a machine as simple as a lawn mower needs to be properly maintained. Something that isn't properly maintained probably won't last longer than 20 years. Improper maintenence, combined with strong EMD bias among nearly all railroads are among my personal beliefs leading to the cause of early domestic GE locomotives. It is known that early GE locomotives had several advantages over EMD locomotives; but EMD locomotives had the bias of highest reliability which as we know today wasn't always the case and railroads ended up with EMD's plagued with electrical and other problems.

When an export customer bought GE locomotives, the customer's maintenance personnel was often sent to Erie for a several week training course to learn how to properly maintain the locomotives, and many of the early 1960s export Universals are still running today. And now we're talking almost 60 years and still running. That says a lot in my opinion.
  by Allen Hazen
Obsessed Railfan--
What you say sounds very plausible to me. I think this is connected with the issue of GE's "Good trade-in allowance so the customer will replace" vs. EMD's "support long-term use to encourage spare parts sales" strategies. I have the sense that GE's strategy w.r.t. export units is very different from its domestic strategy. Some export GE diesels have had major rebuilding/upgrading, almost certainly with GE support. (E.g.: New Zealand's upgraded U26C, Brazilian U23B with alternators replacing their original DC traction generators.) The domestic U18B were retired comparatively young because GE was apparently unwilling to support/provide fleet rebuilding: technologically similar (FDL-8 engines, GT581 generators) export units have lasted much longer, and I suspect that this is in part due to GE's providing more support.
One way to test the hypothesis that GE units (from the U-series era) suffered from poor maintenance as unfamiliar and minority-make units would be to compare survival rates on railroads with only a few U-boats with survival on railroads with large fleets: mechanical people on a railroad with a lot of U-boats would have to learn to maintain them, whereas a small fleet could just be stored except at peak traffic periods. I know a number of railroads with only a few U-boats retired them quite young (Soo Line's U30C, for example, or -- extreme case -- Katy's three U23B, which hardly lasted ten years). And U-boats seem to have lasted a long time on a couple of railroads that had a lot of them: SCL (many of whose U-series lasted well into CSX days) for example. But I don't know whether a statistically significant trend can be detected.
In addition to all the other problems a U-boat might have getting proper maintenance, I remember reading somewhere that quite expensive special tools were needed: available for a price from GE, but expensive enough to discourage small railroads from getting GE units, and, I would assume, short lines from acquiring U-boats retired by Class 1 railroads.
  by obsessed railfan
I totally agree with you Allen, that GE's strategy was different regarding export customers. But as a GE fan, I just wanted to point out that 1963 built U13B, for example, are still operating today.
Most other railfans couldn't imagine a U25B from the same era still in active service today! I also agree with your long term survival rate theory. Various sources (I know you're already familiar with it, as I believe you mentioned it elsewhere here) indicate the D&H became a GE road because of better financing; not very surprising, but obviously their shop personnel knew how to properly maintain a fleet of GE locomotives. And as a GE fan yourself, I'm sure you're also already aware that they traded their three EMD SD45s for three EL GE U33Cs for a period of time to supplement their own U33C fleet.
  by MEC407
Allen Hazen wrote:In addition to all the other problems a U-boat might have getting proper maintenance, I remember reading somewhere that quite expensive special tools were needed: available for a price from GE, but expensive enough to discourage small railroads from getting GE units, and, I would assume, short lines from acquiring U-boats retired by Class 1 railroads.
Often times when a large railroad would sell off an entire class of locomotive — e.g. when CSX got rid of their U18Bs — they would also sell off their inventory of parts, tools, manuals, etc. associated with that class, and at a much lower cost than those items' original prices when new. I suspect that was part of what made it possible for tiny shortlines like Pickens, TTI, and Georgia Central to successfully operate U-Boats for decades after the locos' original owners retired them.

And this is as good a time as any for me to mention once again that the mechanical guys at Pickens have had nothing but good things to say about their U18Bs. :-D
  by Allen Hazen
Pickens had good taste!

(The U18B might-have-beens are intriguing. What if Cleburne Shops had utterly botched their first ATSF CF-7 conversion? What if Penn Central had (i) been thoroughly disappointed with its first Dewitt Geeps and (ii) had gotten an advance on USRA money to finance new locomotives? And, maybe more realistically, what if a leasing company-- preferably one with a competent backshop-- had bought the whole CSX fleet?)
  by obsessed railfan
On another website, a former D&H brakeman in the early 1970s commented that their GE's were well liked by their engineers. A fairly large, well maintained GE fleet equals generally positive comments. On the other hand, I'd be curious to hear a comment from an engineer on a predominantly EMD road where GE was a minority. You could bet money that those comments would be negative.
  by MEC407
Maine Central mostly EMD, with a few Alcos, when they got their 10 U18Bs in 1975. The only bad thing I ever heard about them was that they had some issues with wheel slip when they were brand new, but that the GE techs got that issue sorted out pretty quickly. From that point forward, most of what I heard was that the Maine Central hoggers preferred the U18Bs over the GP7s and GP38s in road service, and preferred the GPs in yard service — which makes perfect sense to me.

The U18Bs spent a great deal of time on the Mountain Sub, which was by far the most challenging line Maine Central owned.

The ex-D&H U23Bs were also well-liked by MEC/ST crews. Not so sure about the ex-CRIP U25Bs, which didn't stick around very long anyway.
  by Engineer Spike
The quoted D&H crews likely had little experience with any brand besides Alco, and GE. They may have had run through EL, LV, or B&M GMs. That would only be if the quoted guy was on the divisions which hosted the run through trains.

GE engines are not too popular with crews. The slow loading makes the engineer have to really change. Sometimes a short, heavy train is impossible to run properly with GE. The fit and finish has improved. Even the -9/AC4400 improved over the course of production. I have worked for BNSF, and D&H over the time period. Early production had more rattles and squeaks, when new. Later ones were somewhat better. All of them are poorly designed. Every one has a flag stick wedged to keep the desk from rattling. Folded up paper is wedged about in every joint. The SD70MAC on BN seemed better put together.

Recently I have run NS's SD70-2, and SD70ace. The -2 have a rigid cab, and vibrate, and the back door needs deadbolt to stay closed. The isolated cab ace are quieter, and have much less vibration. The new Eco rebuilds are noisy, but pull really well.

In closing, I think GE finally hit a home run with the ES series. They respond much better, and the cabs are laid out better. The newer ones with conventional control stands are just super comfortable to run.
  by Engineer Spike
There is one point about GE which hasn't been brought up. I have heard that they keep a tighter control over the aftermarket parts manufacturers. With this, parts for older models simply disappear. GE Financial makes new locomotive deals sweet.

Someone said that they do promote rebuilding programs overseas. This might be mostly in poorer nations. They know that new units likely can't be financed, no matt how good the deal. Here they settle for selling parts.
  by trainiac
Earlier in this thread I wrote "It will be interesting to see in another 10 years what happens when the earliest Dash-9's and AC's reach 20 years of age."

Well, that was 11 years ago now, and we seem to have an answer. If the BNSF AC44C4M and NS Dash 8.5 and AC44C6M programs are anything to go by, it would appear Dash-9's are more worth rebuilding than Dash-8's. Kind of makes sense given that GE kept the same basic platform from the Dash-9 to the ES44AC.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned (unless indirectly) is the issue of cracks in the FDL crankcase. Apparently Hamersley Iron had new crankcases fitted to their Dash-9's at 15 years of age while their SD40's still had their original crankcases at age 40. It seems to me that would be a significant factor in determining whether a unit was worth rebuilding. There's a very interesting discussion on this topic (from 8 years ago) on the Australian Railpage site - one poster (M636C) writes "One reason that GE are so heavily into EMD spares is that there is no significant market for rebuilding GE locomotives or FDL engines owing to the cracking of the cast crankcases." Link below:

  by MEC407
GE has invested millions in their plant at Grove City specifically for the purpose of rebuilding both FDL and GEVO engines. Canadian National is apparently confident enough in the Dash 8/FDL platform to have purchased large quantities of them from other railroads and rebuilding them to as-new condition with the Dash 9-style split cooling system. I think it's still premature to say that there's no future in the Dash 8 platform, at least in North America.
  by JayBee
Last week UP wrote off all of their Dash-8 locomotives, except for 42 that had received fairly recent overhauls and were in decent running condition. A total of 266 locomotives were sold to GE, 42 were retained, and the remainder were sent for scrapping. This includes all standard cab and widecab versions. The locomotives are in the process of being shipped to their new owners which will take several weeks.
  by MEC407
To follow up on that, GE is working VERY aggressively to sell preowned Dash 8s to shortline and regional railroads. They now have a dedicated sales and service team specifically for that purpose.
  by MEC407
And speaking of Dash 8 rebuilds, it appears BNSF is getting in on the action:

http://www.railpictures.net/photo/632542/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
  by obsessed railfan
Earlier in this thread I speculated that a major contributor for the premature demise of the early domestic Universals was lack of proper maintenance, and I also mentioned a positive comment from a former railroader who had good things to say about his railroad's early GE's. I'd like to briefly quote another positive comment from a former New Haven railroader, which was originally posted elsewhere.
As a former employee of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad and a crew member of a 3 tripper from Boston to Cedar Hill, New Haven on U25B we had excellent luck with them ... The U25B was the work horse of the Shoreline Freight Division
He also goes on to mention lack of maintenance:
...the main problem I saw was the lack of preventive maintainence.[sic] When the unit was not maintained properly and the engine filters (oil - air - breather) were not replaced or cleaned and serviced as per the mfg. the engine would blow engine oil out of the breathers due to possible back pressure in the crankcase. I never was on one that broke down on a run.
More proof that there are good things to say about early GE's, from actual crew members.