Amid today’s standardized diesel power, Gary Dolzall celebrates a welcome and intriguing exception to the rule.
Words and Photographs by Gary Dolzall
How can one not like a diminutive diesel locomotive nicknamed “Brookie,” seemingly a character that would fit perfectly in Rev. W. Awdry’s classic and beloved stories of Thomas the Tank Engine?
“Brookie the diesel,” however, is not to be found on the imaginary Island of Sodor, but rather in real life plying the rails of America.
The nickname “Brookie” is derived from the Brookville Equipment Corporation, whose Locomotive Division has produced a modest but intriguing line of diesel locomotives. The origins of the company, based in Brookville, Pennsylvania, date back to 1918, but it is only in the past decade and a half that the company has delved into construction of the fuel-efficient diesel locomotives around which this story revolves. The company also produces light rail equipment and components, perhaps most notably its Liberty line of modern streetcars which can be found in cities such as Dallas and Milwaukee.
In 2007, Brookville unveiled plans to build fuel-efficient “Co-Generation” diesel locomotives, and its offerings since have included a variety of locomotives – ranging from diminutive 45-ton switchers to potent 3,600-horsepower commuter diesels. Brookville’s first major sale remains to this day among its most notable: In 2008, New York City area commuter giant Metro-North and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation combined to purchase 12 Brookville locomotives classed BL20GH. Based upon “Gen-Set” technology, the locomotives were powered by a trio of 700-horsepower Cummins QSK1 powerplants, thus providing 2,100 horsepower for traction and hotel (HEP) power.
Earmarked for commuter train use on Metro-North’s branch lines, the Brookies went to work on MNCR’s Danbury and Waterbury branches in Connecticut and the northern (non-electrified) reaches of Metro-North’s Harlem Line between Brewster and Wassaic, New York. Of the dozen BL20GH diesels, six (Nos. 110-115) were outfitted in MNCR’s silver and blue livery, while the Conn DOT units (Nos. 116-130) were dressed in a stunning orange, white, and black New Haven Railroad heritage livery. Prior to the arrival of the Brookies, MNCR’s branch line trains typically were powered by aged ex-New Haven Electro-Motive FL9s or modern General Electric P32AC-DMs. Like their predecessors, the Brookies tote Metro-North Shoreliner coaches/cab cars (on the branch-line trains, consists are typical two or three cars in length) that operate in push-pull configuration.
Concurrent with the purchase of the BL20GH diesels, Metro-North also acquired a pair of BL14CGs (powered by two 700-horsepower Cummins engines) for work train service, and the New York Metropolitan Authority (parent of Metro-North) acquired a quartet of BL20G diesels (similar to the BL20GH but without HEP) for use in switching and work train service on the Staten Island Railway. The BL14CGs were dressed in a unique yellow livery, while the Staten Island BL20Gs wear blue and silver colors similar to the livery of Metro-North. The Metro-North and Conn DOT BL20GHs were equipped with Electro-Motive-style Blomberg two-axle trucks, while the BL14CG and BL20G diesels ride on EMD-style Flexi-coil two-axle trucks, good for fitting into the tight spaces these units frequently occupy.
Brookville has built a modest number of freight locomotives for roads including the Buffalo & Pittsburgh, Ohio Central, and Central California, as well as an experimental battery-powered BP4 switching locomotive for Norfolk Southern. In addition to Metro-North’s purchases, the builder’s most noted and high-visibility project has been the construction of a dozen 3,600-horsepower streamlined BL36PH locomotives, which are powered by German-design MTU V-20 powerplants and serve Miami-area commuter carrier Tri-Rail.
Happily, in this era of locomotive standardization, the Brookville diesels, although relatively few in number, have provided a slice of the unusual – and have proven successful in Metro-North (and other) applications. For train-watchers in the New York City area and New England, the Brookies are always a welcome sight. And such encounters will, indeed, continue into the future, as in 2019 the Metro-North/Conn DOT BL20GH diesels began rolling through a rebuild program at Motive Power International that includes installation of Tier 3 compliant Cummins QSK50 prime movers. The Conn DOT BL20GHs have also been receiving a new CT Rail scheme (CT Rail also is the parent entity of the state’s Hartford and Shoreline East commuter rail operations).
Should your travels take you amid the marvelous swirl of Metro-North commuter operations, where the bustle is provided by countless numbers of M7 and M8 EMUs and rakish GE P32AC-DMs hustling Shoreliner coaches, keep your eyes and ears open for the uncommon angular road-switcher-style shape and vibrant diesel voice that will announce the arrival of a diminutive Brookie. You will, most assuredly, find the encounter enjoyable.
“Brookie the diesel!” Doing the task for which it was designed and built, Metro-North Brookville BL20GH 112 leads a branch-line commuter train into Danbury, Connecticut, along MNCR’s Danbury Branch on a brilliant October 14, 2020, afternoon. In 2008, Metro-North and Connecticut’s Department of Transportation acquired a dozen of the diminutive and intriguing locomotive, which railfans promoted nicknamed “the Brookie.”
The six Brookie diesels acquired by Conn DOT in 2008 were delivered in a heritage orange, black, and red livery honoring the famed New Haven Railroad. On what was once NYNH&H trackage, BL20GH No. 125 is powering a Danbury-South Norwalk shuttle through Bethel. In the New Haven era, this branch was electrified, as recalled by the still-standing catenary poles.
While the Metro-North/Conn DOT Brookie diesels are used primarily on MNCR’s branch lines, the commuter railroad’s service patterns give them the chance to ride the “high iron” for short distances. At Bridgeport, Connecticut, BL20GH No. 130 (above) and No. 115 (below) are powering Waterbury Branch trains, which operate on the New Haven Line (Northeast Corridor) between Bridgeport and a connection with the Waterbury Branch at Devon. The Brookie diesels typically tote consists of two or three Shoreliner cars and operate in push-pull fashion.
Dressed in its new CT Rail livery, BL20GH 125 rolls through Redding, Connecticut, while on another day blue, silver, and red No. 110 makes the station stop at Branchville. Both images are on the MNCR single-track Danbury Branch in September 2022.
Making for a most enjoyable and memorable train-watching encounter, CT Rail-dressed Brookville BL20GH No. 125 scurries across the Still River amid the first hints of autumn fall foliage in 2022. The train is approaching Danbury with a shuttle train originating in South Norwalk, Connecticut.
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