A Masterpiece in Many Colours


Gary Dolzall

June 3rd, 2021

In this, the second of a two-part feature, Gary Dolzall continues the remarkable story of the EMD F40PH.

Words by Gary Dolzall

As recounted in the first of this two-part We Are Railfans article – see “To the Rescue: Amtrak’s F40PH” – the Electro-Motive F40PH, originally intended as a short-haul sister to the EMD SDP40F, stepped in to save the day when the big SDP40F proved ill-fated. As it turned out, the F40PH’s debut in 1976, and its subsequent success in serving Amtrak, was only the beginning of a long and varied career for the four-axle passenger diesel – and indeed it is a story that continues to this day.

In 1974, Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) was formed to assume responsibilities for light rail, commuter rail, and bus services in the Chicagoland area. For commuter rail operations, the challenges RTA faced were not unlike those of Amtrak. RTA (which for commuter rail services morphed into today’s Metra in 1984) was taking charge of a vast lineage of rail services over multiple railroads, most notably including Chicago & North Western, Milwaukee Road, Burlington Northern, and Rock Island. As had been the fact with Amtrak, the operations were largely served by aging fleets of locomotives and equipment. And as had Amtrak, the RTA turned to the Electro-Motive F40PH for salvation. In 1977, RTA purchased an initial group of 28 F40PHs. The EMDs proved well-suited to the task and through 1983, RTA grew its roster of F40PHs to a total of 74 units. Also coming on board for the F40PH were Ontario’s GO Transit, which purchased six units in 1978 (which were later sold to Amtrak); the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, which acquired 18 units in 1978-80); and New Jersey Transit (17 units acquired in 1981).

In 1985, Electro-Motive changed the designation of the locomotive to F40PH-2, although the only notable difference was a boost to 3,200 horsepower. As expected, the F40PH-2 picked up where its nearly identical predecessor left off, as in 1985 Caltrain acquired 18 F40PH-2s to modernize the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula operations it had inherited from Southern Pacific and Metra acquired 11 units in 1989-90. Most notably, the F40PH-2 earned the mantle of Canada’s new primary diesel passenger locomotive, as, between 1986 and 1989, VIA Rail Canada between purchased 59 F40PH-2s to serve as the power for a majority of Canada’s intercity passenger services.

While destined to achieve landmark locomotive status, the F40PH (and sister F40PH-2) did have one rather serious liability: Its HEP generator was geared directly to the locomotive’s 645-series prime mover, and to provide heat and lighting to its train, the engine had to operate at near full throttle. As a result, fuel consumption, engine wear, and noise were often excessive. Indeed, anyone walking, for example, through the train sheds and closed confines of Chicago Union Station while a pair of F40PHs screamed away at full tilt was not inclined to forget the ear-rattling experience.

The solution, first introduced at the instigation of Boston’s MBTA, was to add a separate small diesel powerplant to the locomotive to handle HEP requirements, thus allowing the main powerplant to throttle down whenever feasible. Enter the F40PH-2C. Extended 8 feet in length compared to a standard F40PH to accommodate a Cummins auxiliary diesel, the newcomer hit the rails in 1987-88 as MBTA placed 26 units in service.

By mid-1988, Electro-Motive was making the transition across all its models to the builders’ new 710-series powerplant and with it a successor to the F40PH-2, the F59PH. But in a rather striking turn of events, the F40PH family was far from done. In 1991-92, Metra custom-ordered a group of 30 locomotives designated F40PHM-2s. For all intents and purposes mechanically the same as their older sisters on Metra, the new F40PHM-2s nonetheless featured a new rakish cab design with the windshield seamlessly merging into the locomotive’s slant nose.

Even more remarkable events followed. With EMD wishing to focus on the new 710-powered F59PH (and then its F59PHI successor of 1994), several operators chose instead to have locomotive remanufacturer and builder Motive Power Inc (formerly Morrison Knudsen) both construct new F40PH-2C models and rebuild older standard units with auxiliary engines for HEP. Among the roads either acquiring new such units or sending existing units through the transformation process at MPI (or other rebuilders) were Caltrain, MBTA, NJ Transit, Northern California’s Altamont Express, San Diego’s Coaster, Florida’s Tri-Rail, and VIA Rail. New York commuter giant Metro-North also assembled a small fleet of rebuilt F40PH series diesels (from Amtrak and NJT) for use on its “west of the Hudson” lines. Such units have been given a range of designations, including most commonly F40PH-3C, and many are equipped with Caterpillar auxiliary engines. The latter-day duties of the F40PH family have also included fascinating tasks, such as serving as power for the Grand Canyon Railway’s spiffy tourist trains and for CSX’s executive train.

And so, the era of the F40PH family marches on. While Amtrak’s veterans have been retired (save those converted to non-powered cab cars) and the new Siemens SC44 Charger diesel is making inroads into the remaining F40PH rosters, VIA Rail still calls upon its veteran EMDs, as do commuter roads including Metra, Caltrain, Metro-North, and MBTA. In fact, MBTA has an ongoing program bringing many of its F40PH family diesels up to “-3” specifications. While the glory days of the F40PH may now be passed, the story of this remarkable diesel remains far from over. – Gary Dolzall

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-Proviso-Illinois Constructed only a few miles away at Electro-Motive’s LaGrange (Illinois) plant, RTA F40PH 167 and a sister stand at Chicago & North Western’s Proviso (Illinois) engine terminal in August 1986 in company with another EMD product, C&NW GP50 5060. RTA was the first commuter road to acquire the F40PH. Photograph by Gary Dolzall.

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-Waukegan Awaiting the morning and another day of commuter duties, a trio of F40PHs acquired by Chicago’s RTA stand in the night at Waukegan, Illinois, in December 1986. F40PH 134 wears the livery of today’s Metra, while its two sisters still are outfitted in their original RTA colors. Photograph by Gary Dolzall.

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-MBTA-Berkshires The versatile EMD F40PH became the diesel locomotive of choice among many U.S. commuter operators in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Taking a break from its usual commuter hauling, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) F40PH 1004 is powering a fall foliage special through the Berkshires in 1992 (above), while in 1988, New Jersey Transit F40PH 4120 cants to the curve at Elizabeth, New Jersey, with a Trenton-bound commuter run (below). Both photographs by Gary Dolzall. F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-MBTA-New-Jersey

F40PH-OakSub-CalTrain-Millbrae Beginning in 1985, Caltrain put the F40PH-2 to work hauling commuters along the Bay Area’s Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. F40PH-2 915 is making its station stop at Caltrain’s modernistic Millbrae station (above, photograph by OakSub), while sister 922, a F40PH-2C equipped with Cummins auxiliary power, calls at Burlingame, California (below, photograph by spottingbythebay). F40PH-spottingbythebay-CalTrain-Burlingame

F40PH-transitfanlion-VIA-Canada-Lovekin Just as it had in the U.S. for Amtrak, the Electro-Motive F40PH became the mainstay diesel power for VIA Rail in Canada. Originally dressed in a yellow and gray livery, VIA Rail 6407 is outfitted in VIA’s current dress as it hustles a Toronto-Ottawa express through Lovekin, on the eastern outskirts of Toronto. Photograph by transitfanlion.

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-MBTA-Boston With Boston’s historic South Station and modern skyline as a backdrop, MBTA F40PH-2 1013 and F40PH-2C 1065 await the afternoon commuter rush in August 1992. MBTA continues to call upon its F40PH family of diesels and is actively rebuilding veteran units to “-3” standards. Photograph by Gary Dolzall.

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-Metra-Elmhurst Chicago’s RTA and successor Metra purchased the first F40PHs for commuter service and then built the biggest roster of the type among commuter carriers. Metra has since proven to be a long-term user of the landmark locomotive. Metra F40PH 171 hustles through Elmhurst, Illinois, on C&NW trackage (above), while Metra 197, one of the commuter railroad’s unique and distinctive F40PHM-2s, hurries west through Hinsdale, Illinois, on the Burlington Northern in 1992 (below). Both photographs by Gary Dolzall. F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-Hinsdale

F40PH-OakSub-Pleasanton Operating commuter service between Stockton and San Jose, California, on ex-Western Pacific (now Union Pacific) rails, Altamont Corridor Express has called upon MPI F40PH-3Cs since 1997. Colorful ACE 3102 is operating in push mode as it glides across the Arroyo del Valle River at Pleasanton, California. The road’s F40PH-3Cs are scheduled for replacement by Siemens Charger SC44 diesels. Photograph by OakSub.

F40PH-Gary-Dolzall-San-Diego At the classic Santa Fe station in San Diego, California, Coaster F40PHM-2Cs (of which five were acquired from Morrison Knudsen in 1994) stand ready to head north along the Amtrak Surf Line in 2013. After a quarter-century of able duty, the Coaster diesels were replaced by Siemens SC44s in early 2021, but the M-K rebuilds are happily earmarked for preservation. Photograph by Gary Dolzall.

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