Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Transport: Union Pacific's First SD40-2

Union Pacific's first SD40-2 locomotive, #3123, sat at the diesel shop in Roseville, California on 26-April-2006

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Even most railroad enthusiasts think my practice of doing thorough write-ups of my railroad observations is insane. In terms of efficiency, the research I try to do into the things I see when I later go to write them up doesn't hold up very well. Most of the time I end up confirming that locomotives or cars that I thought were mundane were indeed unremarkable. Every once in awhile, though, I discover that I have seen something significant without realizing it.

Recently, I was looking through the pictures from a trip on Amtrak's California Zephyr over Donner Pass between Reno, Nevada and Sacramento, California that I took in 2006 and had never finished writing up. Besides passing some phenomenal scenery, the route also passed the former Southern Pacific, now Union Pacific, diesel shops in Roseville, California. When passing Roseville, I tend to snap a lot of photos to get as many locomotive numbers as possible and most of them are never used in my write-ups. One picture from that trip, of a tattered-looking locomotive from the 1970's, Union Pacific #3123, was about to be passed over as boring until I suddenly had a thought--"3123, that must be an early SD40-2."

Sure enough, a little research on Don Strack's excellent website revealed that not only was it an early example of the SD40-2 model on the Union Pacific, it was the very first. It was built in February 1972, being stamped with frame number 7334-01. Union Pacific would eventually order 686 of the locomotives itself, and through merger with companies like the Chicago and Northwestern and Missouri Pacific would eventually roster more than 1000.

The SD40-2 model was not just important to the Union Pacific. 3,957 SD40-2's were built, not counting variants, used by every major railroad in the United States. The "SD" in its designation actually stood for "Special Duty," as the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) used to designate its six-axle locomotives, which to that point had indeed mostly been used for special duty. With the SD40, though, the six-axle locomotive became the standard instead of the four-axle, and with the "-2" electrical upgrades, the SD40-2 became the reliable, fuel-efficient standard locomotive of the era. There were more powerful locomotives and faster locomotives in EMD's own offerings, but it was the SD40-2 that was the best seller. The last variant was not built until December 1988--the run of production lasted a full 17 years, unheard of in the industry.

The 3123 was not the absolute first SD40-2 locomotive. That honor goes to Kansas City Southern #637, built in January 1972. But, as the first locomotive of what would become the largest fleet of SD40-2's under one flag, the 3123 was hardly a locomotive to be ignored. It received special attention in my write-up and the picture at the top of this post will appear in the "published" pages on the day--something that would not have happened had I not done a little extra research.

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