Saturday, June 8, 2013

UP History of Steamies vs. Diesels

Although diesel locomotives first came to American railroads in the 1920s, their use was confined to switch engines, and later to passenger train locomotives. It wasn't until 1940 that the Electro Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) demonstrated that diesels could practically replace steam locomotives in heavy-duty service. A pioneer freight diesel, model "FT," toured the nation's railroads and changed history. Much like its sister passenger locomotives of the day, it was styled with an automobile-like nose and windshield, a design that prevailed until the late 1950s.

Although commonly called "diesels," the locomotives actually are electrically driven. The diesel engine drives an alternator, which produces electricity to run electric motors mounted on the locomotive's axles. The internal combustion engine was a dramatic improvement in efficiency over the steam locomotive, making substantial savings possible in maintenance and the elimination of widespread facilities. Extra units could be coupled together and run by one engineer from the lead unit, creating very powerful combinations.

Many railroads, including Union Pacific, were unable to take quick advantage of the new technology due to material shortages caused by World War II. Union Pacific's fleet of modern steam locomotives and plentiful on-line coal reserves in Wyoming were another factor in UP's late entry into the dieselization race. After the war however, railroads began sweeping the rails clear of the classic steamers. Union Pacific began its sweep in the late 1940s on the line running through the southwestern deserts, where water was difficult to obtain for steam engines.

By the end of the 1950s the steam era was over and increasingly powerful diesels ruled the rails.

No other railroad in this country has retained its historical equipment and honored its past like the Union Pacific. The preservation of its fleet speaks to the high value Union Pacific places on its heritage and its role in America's history.