• What would have made a difference?

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

Moderator: Alcoman

  by bluesman
After looking over the recent great discussions, and drawing on the research I have done through many books, the question of what would ALCO have done different to have survived?
I speculate that the Century designs were basicly very good. But, several known problems came up. And, in retrospect, some designs or systems were either not good or had suspicious reliabilty.
Some things I Identify are: The use of Aluminum main wire in the C-430s, (and any other models?), Apparently, the 251 took more shop time when pistons or bearings needed replacement, air starters, small vertical mounting ladders, the OE alumimum pistons in the C-430s and C-630s, ( the C-636s?), cabs/seats that may have not been ergonomicly well designed, and perhaps many other things I am not aware of. These things all add up to risky engineering and poor follow through on designs.
I am not trying to be critical of anyone who was behind these designs, as I susupect ALCO did not have the resources to quickly make the really good changes needed at the time. This after seeing units in service and listiening to operators/owners for improvements. Otherwise ALCO had very sound basics for locomotives.
Any further speculation or additions?

  by RS-3
Good question. Re reliability, while I'm sure there were lot of things that could have been done better I'd be curious to hear from those that work work with Alcos as to what three things they would have "improved" (in retrospect) to improve Alcos basic reliablitiy.


  by Alcoman
Most of the Century line was good, however,in an effort to be competitive with EMD and GE, Alco made some design moves in order to cut costs which proved to be a mistake on thier part.
Most operators later changed out the cable when a unit came in for an overhaul. Keep in mind that it was not the cable per se, but the connections that caused most of the problem. Those were made of aluminum also.
Here is a few items to be added to the list you started. These are design moves that should not have been used or other improvements that Alco could have made.
1) Use another source of electrical gear other than GE. I have been told that this was considered, but customers requested GE electrical gear since it was compatible to electrical gear on GE locomotives in most cases.
2) Enlarge the size of the door opening to the cab.
3) Better sound insulation between cab and engine room.
4) Regarding the ladders: On earlier models such as the RS-11, the ladders were cut into the platform so the Century line went backwards by having verticasl ladders.
5) More trained service personell. I am told that getting a field service man was like pulling hens teeth at times especialy during the 244 days.
6) Alco should not have used the C415 carbody as built. They should have had end cab design using the12 cylinder engine instead of the 8 cylinder one. MLW later came out with such a design called the M420TR and M420TR-2.
7) Catwalks made with open grating instead of sheetmetal which was very slippery during wet and snowy weather.
8) Reduce the number of engine protection devices as many were overkill.
These excessive devices caused engine shutdowns for no apparent reason addingto the crews fustration.
9) Better smoke deflection to prevent smoke from entering cab.
10) Better trade-in offers as Alco lost a few orders because of EMD giving them better trade-in figures.

Just a few of ideas for a better Alco Century.

  by Cactus Jack
Having been involved in mechanical departments of several railroads and contract shops and a former member of LMOA (Locomotive Mechanical Officers Association) there was one prevailing thread in Alco discussions as they were held in various hospitality suites at conventions and meetings of former Alco users. That ONE thing mentioned more than not was "Technical Field Support". Alco's stock answer to failures and problems was simply "obviously you are not maintaining them correctly" and "huh, no one else is having that problem" Hey, everyone talks to everyone, this is a small industry. I always thought the Alcos were better than the U series GE's, but GE was right there with a service man, field rep and a fix. That scores points with any CMO reporting to the boss in the Monday morning meeting as to why availability was down and operations was delayed. Other problems as mentioned above were all true, but each in itself was not fatal. Look at the support SP gave Alco, and how they really payed for it in the end. "Choosing Alco and sticking with Alcos" was simply not good for one's long term career when performance evaluations and budgets were reviewed.

Alco may have stood a chance if they actually listened to what the mechanical departments were telling them and really bent over like EMD and GE did to provide solutions. ....yes, and those damn steps on the Century series, it is like they designed the locomotive then came to the realization that one needed to get on it, so the steps (ladder) was an after thought.

EMD also had more of a total system of parts numbers and mechanical references that tied the whole locomotive management function toghether very well.

  by Paul
I think in order for Alco to competitive in the year 2005, they would have had to be competitive in 1939. GM saw the deficiancies in out sourcing manufaturing of locomotive sub assemblies that early. Everything from Generators to bearing boxes were GM owned, or exclusive use. They also needed to start serious development of a high power medium speed engine well before the 241 or 244 engines, and design their own electrical system, again akin to what GM did with EMD with the purchase of Winton and Delco among others.
I have posed this question before and never got a satisfactory answer. but I will try again. Which of the two locomotives were actually (in real dollars and cents) the better locomotive- the C-425 or U25B?

  by Cactus Jack

Depends on the criteria (re: your question on C425 vs. U25). From the standpoint of product line, product development and future sales it was hands down for the GE, as the U25 virtually launced GE into the market.

Now as far as the customer side, let the end market define that, and you'll find that in the end the C425 outlived the U25B, therefore the market (users) put their faith and dollars behind the C425, and still are, while the Boats are razor blades.



  by mp15ac
I have posed this question before and never got a satisfactory answer. but I will try again. Which of the two locomotives were actually (in real dollars and cents) the better locomotive- the C-425 or U25B?
I'll let the market answer that. Both Erie-Lakawana and New Haven bought initial orders of the C-425 and U25B. I might be wrong about EL, but the NH only reordered the U25B.

As for Alco to remain in competative, I agree that the changes would have had to have started at least by 1939. Consider how many major class one railroads either never bought, or only bought a small number of Century series locomotives.

ATSF - 0. Their last Alcos were the DL600B/RSD15 "Alligators."
B&O - 0.
C&O - 4. 4 C-630's on Hi-ad trucks.
CB&Q - 0.
GN - 0. They had FA/FB's, and RS-2/3's. No 251's.
NP - 0. Their last were RS-11's.
SRR - 0. Also never bought any 251's.
UP - 13. 10 C-630's which they kept for only 8 years, and the 3 C855's, whose electrical cabinets exploded on their for trip.

If I made any errors or omissions I appologize. Also please post any additions or corrections.


  by Justin B
the 3 C855's, whose electrical cabinets exploded on their for trip.
I have never heard about that... I know UP was not satisfied with the C855s, but I did not hear of them exploding.

Can you supply any more details?

  by Alcoman
Some of the Century Series locomotives that UP received were wired backwards between the electical cabinets and traction motors and when the loco made transistion as the locomotives moved forward, the sudden reverse surge of 600 volts caused a electrical explosion in the cabinet.

To say the least, UP was not happy with Alco. This was a mistake made during construction of the locomotives.

  by MEC407
Paul wrote:Which of the two locomotives were actually (in real dollars and cents) the better locomotive- the C-425 or U25B?
I read your question yesterday, and ended up thinking about it while trying to fall asleep last night. Here's my take on it:

The two locomotives are comparable in terms of size, number of axles, and horsepower. However, I'm not sure if it's fair to compare them. The U25B came out in 1959, with what was essentially a brand new engine. (Yes, it was based on an old Cooper-Bessemer design... but it had quite a few major changes, and thus, there were some bugs to be worked out.) The C425 came out 5 years later, with an engine that had been around since 1951 or thereabouts, and therefore there weren't nearly as many bugs to be worked out.

Perhaps a better comparison would be U25B vs. Alco RS27, which was Alco's flagship roadswitcher at the time the U25B was introduced.

  by Paul
No, I am right about asking this question about the C-425 v U25-B. I believe the C-425 came as a direct result of Erie-Lackawanna's purchase of U25-Bs and E-L wanted commonality among parts. Both are equivalent locomotives. Both use (if I am correct) the same generator/traction motors. The C-425 was introduced after the U25-B. Essentually the same locomotives except prime mover and controls and carbody differances. Granted I havent seen any U25-Bs floating around except for one in Albany, NY (dead) and one out here at Perris, California, (again dead) while there still are many operating C-425 in regular service.

  by Cactus Jack
Both the U25 and C425 used the same GE 598 Generator. Back in the day, that was a good thing, but now as virtually no GE's still exist as comapred to operating C425's, the GE 598 has taken on special meaning for C425 users, as there are not alot of them just floating around out there.

The 2500hp 4 axle race was clearly between the U25B, C425 and EMD GP35. The GP 35 has been said to have been the worst EMD in that time frame as it had such a nightmare of electrical transition steps. Most roads simpified the transition in later years and there are still alot of '35's out there.

At the time 1964-65-66 clearly money was best spent on the GP35, and secondly, for the most part-shorter term on the U25. The U25 fell into the line of popular U-boats with standard parts and GE support with the other later models in the U line that roads were buying in greater quantity than the Alco Centuries.

However, looking at the longetitivy of the C425 model (although in a minority to the U25B in production) which would you rather have today in your asset portfolio ?
An operating C425 or a "display" or Sulzered U25B ? Which can you better take to the bank or convert to cash. Money well spent - well dpends on whether you are talking 1965 or 2005. Also depends on your maintenance cost structure and abilities with FDL's and 251's. Each road was different and what worked well for some (EL & SP&S) didn't work so well for others (Wabash).

I don't think there is an easy answer here. Personally I would rather have had the Century.

  by MEC407
Paul wrote:The C-425 was introduced after the U25-B.
Exactly my point. Apples and oranges. It wouldn't be entirely fair to compare a 2000 Buick with a proven engine design to a 1995 Chevy with an unproven engine design, despite their apparent similarities.

On the other hand, a comparison like "C430 vs. U30B" would be fair game. They were both released at the same time (1966) and GE at that point had had a few years to work the initial bugs out of the FDL.

In all likelihood, the C425 was (is) a better locomotive than the U25B. I'm not disputing that.

  by Cactus Jack
Diesel Engines alone do not a locomotive make !!

Each time more horsepower is asked of a design, there are alot of things that have to be modified (blocks, liners, heads, pistons, berarings, turbos, etc.) The 1951 "251" was a far cry from the 251C of later years or teh 251E. Some stuff worked well in the "proven design" other stuff didn't such as heads, turbos and pistons.

Then one can get into the real heart, the control system to get the HP developed by the diesel to the rail.

Same is true for EMD 567's and GE's FDL

  by Paul
Lets ask a slightly differant question: ok, how about a U30-B with 251?
Granted the Cactus Jack is correct in an engine does not a locomotive make. I still feel that the 251 is far superior to any of it's contemporary 7FDLs. BTW, I am curious if 251 powered locomotives will out last even EMD's SD-50?