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Thread: Alco versus EMD
04-10-2006, 12:17 AM #1
This is history now, but it makes interesting reading - how could a hugely succesful builder of steam locomotives (Alco, also Baldwin and Lima) fail to compete with companies that had never built a steam locomotive (EMD and GE).
It is not straightforward either - you can't just say that it was because GM was involved, or that Alco etc didn't try to build diesels (they did). Fairbanks Morse and others even came up with much more powerful diesel electric locomotives, but that wasn't all it took to succeed.
There are some other good articles on the same website, eg on Richard Dilworth, and on the closure of La Grange.
04-10-2006, 02:32 AM #2
A subject dear to my heart. Alco had the lead as they bought the MacIntosh-Seymour design outright, years before EMD entered the game but ALCO continued to build steam engines instead of dropping steam and devote all it's energy to diesel, EMD had no such steam baggage.
They scored big with the RS1,2 units but turbo and crankshaft failures marred the image even after the introdcution of the 251 series engine.
I have spent years working on all the large american diesels (EMD/FM/ALCO/FDL)EMD is dead last in my book for reliabilty, it's easier to work on than the others but it should be with all the problem they have.
04-10-2006, 07:57 AM #3
Alco 215's RULE!!
04-12-2006, 12:31 PM #4
One would think that ALCO had it all over the competition. As noted, they had merged McIntosh-Seymour into their holdings early on. Next, they got the US rights to the Turbocharger (the Swiss Buch patent). They had a good solid engine in the 539 series (539 = may, 1939). They also had gotten in bed with GE for the electrics.
EMD predated ALCO and scooped the market, coming out with their 567 series engines and locomotives as early as 1938. Alco, Baldwin & Lima were entrenched as steam locomotive builders. The railroads had tremendous amounts of physical plant set up to handle steam locomotives. Coal was king, and a lot of the railroads' main revenue was hauling it. As far as most people could see in the 1930's, it looked like steam locomotives were going to be around for awhile.
World War II intervened. Diesel engine production was diverted for defense related applications. EMD's and O-P Fairbanks engines wound up in submarines, landing craft, and various other smaller vessels. The railroads were needed for the national defense, so mainly steam locomotives were kept in production. After WWII, ALCO, Baldwin and LIma were still mainly steam locomotive builders and EMD was all ready to start cranking out more diesel units.
ALCO had started building diesel locomotives using steam locomotive thinking. They were using castings. Castings for the blocks and castings for the frames on the S-1's and RS-1's. The 251 was a welded block, and it was a hell of an engine. I believe it appeared in February, 1951. Unfortunately, it was not on the scene when ALCO and EMD intially went head-to-head.
Along came EMD and used weldments. Lighter all around and less machine work. EMD also came in as a brand-new locomotive builder. thaey didn;t have the old heavy phsycial plants associated with steam locomotive production. The overhead of acres of foundries, forge shops, boiler shops and machine shops (mainly with manual machine tools) wasn;t there to slow EMD down.
ALCO came along with a quality steam locomotive builder's way of thinking. They were going to utilize their existing assets. I never really thought much of Baldwin. Having done engineering on a number of their locomotive boilers, I put them at the bottom of the "Big 3". On almost every baldwin boiler Ihave done engineering on, it seemed Baldwin figured things right to the hairy edge, putting in just enough steel for a new boiler to hold together. Get a boiler from Alco or Lima and you have a boiler with more steel, and more liberal staying and bracing. If that was Baldwin;s way with their boilers, it probably carried through to their diesel-electric locomotives. I worked on one Baldwin diesel on a stationary genset. It was an in-line 6 cylinder engine. I think it was Baldwin's answer to the ALCO 539. It was a similar engine, but it did have some differences.
In the end, I think EMD won out as they could furnish a lot of diesel electric locomotives and their prices were probably lower. With their method of changing out a "power pack" (cylinder/piston/rod assembly) they had it all over ALCO.
I went to school at Auburn, NY in the old ALCO plant for a five day course in the 251 series engine maintainence. The 251 was an incredibly well built engine. It was much better all around than the EMD 567's or 645's. ALCO called for "stretching" the various studbolts when putting their engines together. If I remember right, I think they had serrated rod caps. An EMD required only that you got a "torque multiplier" (made by Sweeney) and torque the various bolts and studs to spec. A sloppier and less consistent way of doing things on something like heavy diesel engine work.
I worked on a few of the Opposed-Piston Fairbanks Morse diesels in stationary generating set service. These ran smoothly, given their opposed-piston design. However, they looked to be a bear to do heavy repairs on. I think the cost in dollars per HP for an O-P Fairbanks was bound to be quite high. F-M never sold a lot of their locomotives to the railroads. I think they came late to the game, and EMD had pretty much sewed things up.
The other driving factors were that fuel oil costs were low back when EMD entered the market. A two stroke diesel does not have the low end lugging power or the overall feul economy of a four stroke diesel. EMD and F-M were two stroke engines. ALCO, Baldwin and Hamilton were all four stroke engines. Their first costs for the engines were higher for a number of basic reasons. EMD won out because they proliferated and were cheaper to by and to maintain. Now, facing rising fuel costs and emissions regulations, I believe General Electric is at least a very formidable challenger to EMD, if not taking the major share of the locomotive market. At long last, four stroke diesels in locomotives may have won out. Too late for ALCO, Baldwin or Lima.
04-12-2006, 06:51 PM #5
Isn't the ALCO 251 engine series still being made in Montreal?
04-12-2006, 07:04 PM #6
The engines were never made in Canada,only the locomotives. The engiens were prodcued in NY and now in Beliot Wis.
04-12-2006, 07:16 PM #7
The unthinkable has occurred: Colt/Pielstick abosrbed the remains of ALCO within the past few years. As I noted, I went thru Alco training in about 1978 at Auburn, NY. At that time, Alco was building only the 251 & 254 series engines. They were, at that time, owned by British G.E.C. Some which way, in the legal manuverings, The Auburn engine plant and what was left of Alco was reconfigured as "Alco Power". They could not manufacture new locomotives. They could only manufacture engines for stationary or marine use, but did do factory reman of railroad engines.
As for the Colt/Pielstick situation: Colt Industries had owned F-M. F-M made the opposed piston engines which were falling out of major usage. four stroke diesels were taking over. F-M entered into an agreement with Pielstick, a French builder of four stroke medium speed diesels. That had to be in the 1970's. Pielstick engines were going into US Naval and Military Sealift Command Vessels as main propulsion and ship's service generator engines. Ore carriers on the Great Lakes were getting powered with Pielsticks. How much of those engines came out of the Beloit, WI plant vs. the French plant I do not know.
What does occur to me is there may be some overlap in the product lines between the Pielstick engines and the ALCO 251's and 254's. that being the case, it may be that the only part of Alco which F-M wanted was the Alco parts and service end of it. It would be interesting to know if this new incarnation of F-M/Alco has sold and dleivered any new Alco engines.
I think the 251 engines might have been used by Montreal Locomotive Works, which was Canadian Alco. MLW DID build entire steam locomotives. I think the diesel engines for the diesel-electric locomotives built at MLW came from the Auburn, NY plant.
04-12-2006, 08:03 PM #8
olddude-EMD is dead last in my book for reliabilty,
I've heard that the 6,000 hp SD-90s have been problematic from the get-go. Did they down-rate them to 4,000 hp for reliability?
Great subject. I live in the "hub", Rochelle, home of the double diamond formed by the UP and the BNSF and the RailRoad park, which is about a block from my house. We also used to build Whitcombs here, a small industrial loco.
Here's the link for the web cam that views the diamond. If your looking there around 4-5 pm Illinois time, you stand a good chance to see me with my boy. We haunt the place every day and walk down by the "hobo jungle". look for the short guy with glasses, an NRA hat, and a 9-year old boy with a scarf around his neck holding dads' hand.
04-12-2006, 09:52 PM #9
I think that there are so many 251's out there in stationary and marine applications that Whoever-it-is is going to be making parts for quite some time.
When ALCO wanted to go from steam to Diesel, the clinker was the electric transmission system. They got in bed with their neighbor, GE and this allowed ALCO to get in the market.
GE has always made locomotives, albeit totally electric ones.
GE is pretty good at engine making, albeit turbine ones.
All the company had to do is snarf up a Cooper Bessemer design that was already intended for railway service.
I think that's why there is no ALCO now.
GE has done evry well with both the engine and the rest of the locomotive. For the first time, EMD has a real fight on it's hands.
American style railroading is as hard-driving as ZZ top's band. The FM engines were all right in submarines but they had big bad problems in railway service.
The Maybach Diesel-hydraulic jobs tried out in this country didn't fare much better. Their high speed Diesels couldn't cut it in the long haul over American rails.
I have a love-hate relationship with EMD's Who could love an engine with "pot" heads held on by "crabs"?
OH! but the non turbo ones sound so good.
EMD had some good ideas, they are easy to work on. That's good because ya gotta work on them a lot.
GM knew what they were doing, guess who sold EMD parts.
ALCO or EMD? I guess the question is realy GE or EMD? Now that EMD is a smaller outfit will they be able to hang with GE as technilogy evolves? Will EMD have the reseves to overcome the inevitable boo-boos's. The SD 90 issue looks like it could cost a bundle.
I think the horsepower race is getting out of hand. Who knows? GE might be thinking about gas turbines. Their huge LM 2500 can get .39 BHP per Lb. of fuel. If they get a 10,000 HP small one to do the same, it will be Katy, bar the door.
04-12-2006, 10:12 PM #10
Certainly GE has experience with gas turbines in locomotive service -- they built a good number for Union Pacific, including some 8,000 HP units later upgraded to 10,000 HP. One issue is stocking of repair parts by the railroads. When locos stayed on their home rails almost exclusively, some railroads standardized on one brand and maybe even one model to simplify maintenance. Now, locos go everywhere...on through trains, in seasonal lease service, etc. So a multitude of designs with many parts unique to each design will not be well received absent a clear advantage for the new ones. Charles
04-12-2006, 11:01 PM #11
I ran the best (and worst) of what EMD and GE had to offer in my four years working for CSX. In my opinion the best locomotive ever built was the SD40-2. No question, hands down, without a doubt. Put a set of well maintained SD40-2s on a train and you couldn't ask for more.
The AC4400s are the backbone of the CSX fleet and were pretty good uits. Not too many troubles with them and they pulled well. The SD70s were slippery. One day we stalled just outside of the Parson yard limits in Columbus, OH with a grain train. She just couldn't get the train up the hill and in the yard. They brought out one of those homebuilt mother slug combos (GP40-2 with GP30 road slug) and walked away with that train like it wasn't there.
Probably what gave EMD the upper edge is the War Production Board. EMD was allowed to build their FTs during the war while Alco and Baldwin either built steam or diesel switchers. So by the end of the war the operating departments of the railroads were already familiar with EMD products.
04-13-2006, 12:34 AM #12
Colt/FM has helded the rights for Alco since 82-83 and you can still order a 251c, many oil rigs use these.
No railroads, marine and stationary applications, EMD engines nickel and dime you to death, I found the fairbanks viturally maintenance free but a pain to work on if you were pulling liners. The Alco has to stroked and aroused like a woman but once you got her where you wanted her you could abuse the hell aout of her and she liked it. I had one 251 which was putting out 250lb more firing pressure than the OEM designed her for,never gave me a bit of trouble. Cooper-Bessemer, White-Superior were also good engines, I also have a fondness for the much smaller old Buda diesels.
04-13-2006, 12:53 AM #13
Have no experience running a loco, or working on them, but I live about a mile from (former) So Pacific, now UP's maintenance facility in Roseville, CA. This is the facility that was built when the Central Pacific moved here in 1885??? and there are still several buildings dating back to that time. The big erection, boiler, etc shops were in Sacramento and unfortunately are slated to be torn down for redevelopment.
SP was primarily an EMD railroad after steam was phased out. Because of the extensive snow sheds on the Donner route over the Sierra Nevada, they asked for the SD40-T2, or tunnel motor configuration, where the air intakes for the radiators was at catwalk level on the rear of the loco. A very successful design.
I looked at a SP book that discussed motive power in the period 1952-1982. The breakdown as of June 1952 was a total of 864 diesel units in service. Of those, 554 (64%) were EMD and most of those (480) were F units, or covered wagons. 55 were switchers and there were 19 E types.
Alco, Baldwin and GE delivered the other 310 units in service at this time.
The earliest diesels on the SP were switchers as mentioned in other posts. These started appearing in 1939. EMD started making serious inroads in about 1949 with E7 units and F7's in about 1951. By 1952, steam was pretty much on the way out, with diesel units hauling the majority of the tonnage.
I have kind of lost touch with what they have now and of course UP is the owner. There are very few SP paint jobs left to see at this point. GE is definitely making inroads out here.
04-13-2006, 07:43 AM #14
The article I mentioned answers some of the questions asked - eg Alco's "recent" history:
1966 Alco sold to Worthington.
1967 Worthington merged with Studebaker Corp, who sold Alco off in 1969 as it was financially unsound, wherupon locomotive manufacture at Schenectady ended after 121 years.
1970 Studebaker-Worthington sold its diesel engine business to White Motor Corp.
The design rights to the diesel locomotives were transferred to Montreal Locomotive Works, which remained part of Stude-Worthington...
This left GE and EMD.
GE has been a lot more sucessful than some seem to realise.
Although EMD had 85% of the market at their best, GE has be working away at them...
GE had 33% of market by 1968.
EMD no longer the market leader by the mid 1980's (1988, GE had 60% of market).
EMD recovered somewhat by mid 1990s, about 50% share of market.
I can't find the more recent figures, but I think GE is way ahead of EMD. Anyone know?
Also interesting to read that Alco was the 52nd largest US company in 1917, 145th by 1948 - almost unique in falling so far, so fast.
Good to hear about the Alco engine still being used (and possibly manufactured??)
04-13-2006, 07:53 AM #15
The old Buda Diesels you are fond of, are you speaking of the 6 3/4 X 8 3/4 in line engines with six and eight cylinders, 1879 and 2505 C.I.D. respectively?
04-13-2006, 08:26 AM #16
Just about all the railway Deisels were rated at 100 HP per cylinder. Today's engines aren't far from their original basic design Their bores and strokes may have been changed and of course materials technology and supercharging and faster rotative speed have had their effects. Still the high-rate engines are hot 1940's models.
That's why I think the old gas turbine idea may be new again. It is just my specualation.
Not only has gas turbine technology made quantun jumps, but so has locomotive electrical technology and now most locomotive systems are computer controlled.
I am thinking in terms of a 10,000 HP turbine with a shaft speed of 12,000 RPM. A high speed alternator running at 4,000 RPM, (only a 3 to 1 reduction gear). I am no turbine expert, maybe the speeds will be different but not by much.
The alternator would supply high voltage, say anywhere from 11,000 to 30,000 volts. Transformere may be necessary but there would be plenty of room for them and their weight would be welcome.
The part load economy of a gas turbine isn't so good but nowadays locomotives want to run flat-out most of the time. so most of that will be mitigated.
The Diesel's cooling system takes a good amount of power to run and it takes up a lot of space. The cooling system for a 4,000 HP Diesel is huge. A turbine cools itself.
A turbine engine is pretty finiky but it is also small and light. GE would be wise to institute a change-out policy rather than have the railroad companies do major maintenance at their shops. GE could set up service centers near their customer's locomotive sheds. I am thinking in terms of swapping entire engine-alternator units as well as swapping engines.
I think that if the railroads want 6,000 HP to 10,000 HP single unit locomotives then they will have to once again consider gas turbines. There are limits to how hard manufacturers and operators can flog a late 1940's Diesel motor design.
04-13-2006, 08:32 AM #17
Yes they are the ones.
04-13-2006, 09:05 AM #18
The Napier Deltic has been mentioned on other posts and criticised for its complexity and for being difficult to work on, but it was intended for use as you have suggested for turbines - when work is required you hoist the whole unit out and fit another one, sending the old one back to the works for specialist repair.
This, IIRC, was the plan for both locomotives and patrol boats.
Didn't seem to work out for Napier though. (Though they are still re-building the odd Deltic engine)
Still, it was a brave attempt at a high power package.
04-13-2006, 01:31 PM #19
Rick Rowlands-The SD70s were slippery. One day we stalled just outside of the Parson yard limits in Columbus, OH with a grain train. She just couldn't get the train up the hill and in the yard. They brought out one of those homebuilt mother slug combos (GP40-2 with GP30 road slug) and walked away with that train like it wasn't there.
BNSF seems to be dominated by the AC-44s and 45s.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but aren't the ACs' traction motors AC current while the others like the SDs DC current? Is there an advantage for AC over DC traction motors?
Back in the 1980s my Dad and I toured the La Grange EMD plant. Pretty big stuff.
04-15-2006, 10:41 AM #20<Greybeard> Guest
Gee, how I miss that muffled "POOM!" of yet another crankcase explosion.
This was in a 1940's tug originally owned by the Army which they unceremoniously sunk in the Mississipi river.
The Navy fetched her out and I was the engineer in the 60's at New London.
Ran down the SSBN Geo.Washington in her.
Ooops! Sorry 'bout that!