SDP40F

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The Electromotive Division SDP40F is a 6 axle, 3,000 HP diesel-electric locomotive built by EMD for Amtrak from 1973 to 1974. The locomotive was a cowled, passenger version of the SD40-2. Like it's freight sibling, it used a 16 cylinder 645E3 prime mover rated at 3,000 HP. 2 Vapor steam generators housed in the rear of the unit provided steam heat and power to passenger cars.

When Amtrak was formed in 1971, they inherited a rag-tag fleet of aging passenger equipment. Amtrak had to get by with EMD F and E units that had seen 20 plus years of hard service and deffered maintainence as the railroads had attempted to rid themselves of passenger service (newer units that had been purchased by the railroads a few years prior, like Santa Fe's FP45's and Great Northern's SDP40's, were retained and used in freight service). As a result, Amtrak suffered from numerous locomotive failures and power shortages in it's early years as it struggled to maintain it's fleet of dinosaurs. It quickly became aparent that new power would be needed. Amtrak went to EMD and told them they needed new locomotives fast, so EMD scrambled to get a design together. Looking at the FP45's that had been built a few years earlier for Santa Fe and Milwuakee Road, it was decided to emulate their design, but Amtrak felt a 20 cylinder engine was both fuel hungry and unnecessary. So EMD instead drew up plans for a cowled version of it's sucessful SD40-2 freight locomotive based on the FP45, and called it the SDP40F. Amtrak was aware of the good reputation the SD40-2 had in freight service and immediately ordered 40 units. They were built as closely to Santa Fe FP45 standards as possible, but extra additions were added to the units since they would be in service all over the country. The SDP40F's fuel tanks had 3 different types of fuel recepticals so they could be refueled on any railroad. In addition, they also recieved specially modified combined fuel and water tanks that could be partitioned off to cut down on weight if the unit was to operate on poorer track. They were also the first deisels built by EMD to have provisions for Head End Power (HEP). Though not HEP equipped, Amtrak specified HEP cables on all SDP40F's as it's plans called for eventually converting it's entire passenger car and locomotive fleet to HEP.

The SDP40F's performed as planned and Amtrak was so pleased with the type they eventually amassed a fleet of 150 units. However, a series of bad derailments (13 of them) soon did the SDP40F's in. The SDP40F, though a "passenger" unit in function, was not designed as a passenger service locomotive, underneath the cowling was still just a freight SD40-2. The SDP40F's rode differently than an older E unit, whose trucks and entire structure had been designed for high speed running. SDP40F's handled much differently at high speeds than an E, and this quirky handling became their undoing. As the units would enter a curve at speed, the rear truck would come off the rail. In all the instances, the units were running at high speeds, it was cold out, and a baggage car was coupled behind the locomotive, which also derailed. At first, the problem was blamed on EMD's then new HTC "hollow bolster" type truck, which investigators claimed was unsafe at high speeds. This led to Chessie System, Burlington Northern and Conrail to ban SDP40F's from their routes, while other railroads placed speed restrictions on them when running through curves. It even lead Conrail to order SD40-2's and the bulk of their SD50's with the old-style Flexicoil truck, even though the HTC truck was standard equipment on these models. With many railroads banning SDP40F's, Amtrak was unable to use it's newest and best locomotive on several of it's trains. Many SDP40F's sat idle while ancient EMD F and E units were fired up and put to work trying to keep trains moving at SDP40F speeds.

The problem was eventually attributed to poor weight distribution of the steam generators, fuel and water at the rear of the locomotive, and the HTC truck was cleared. But the damage was done. Amtrak began ordering EMD's new F40PH, a cowled version of the GP40-2, which was equipped with HEP to operate with newer equipment. As more equipment was built with HEP or converted to HEP, the SDP40F's fell out of favor. 123 SDP40F's were traded back to EMD as credit and parts of them were used for new F40PH's. The last SDP40F was retired by Amtrak in 1985.

In 1984, Amtrak and Santa Fe struck an unusual deal to trade locomotives. Amtrak would trade ATSF 18 SDP40F's, and ATSF would in turn give Amtrak several CF7 road switchers and SSB1200 yard switchers. Santa Fe was looking for bargain road power, and Amtrak needed switchers, so the trade worked perfectly. Once on the ATSF, the 18 locomotives recieved whatever repairs were necessary to get them road-worthry again, and they were placed in service still in their Amtrak paint with their markings painted out. All of the units were then rebuilt into SDF40-2's by ATSF's San Bernardino shops and were repainted into ATSF's "Blue Bonnet" scheme and numbered ATSF 5250-5267. The rebuild involved removing the steam generators, converting the fuel/water tanks to hold just fuel, adding a (very narrow) front pilot with steps to stand on, and regearing the trucks for freight speeds. From then on the units soldiered on in freight service for ATSF, never derailing. They were modified again in the early 1990's to allow for easier boarding by cutting notches into the nose on each side by the steps. All but one unit (5263 had been wrecked) made it to BNSF, which renumbered them BNSF 6960-6977. The units were placed in storage by late 2000 and were called upon from time to time when traffic demanded them, but the last was retired by 2002. One unit, BNSF 6976, was painted into a special Maersk Sealand paint scheme for the opening of a new Maersk dock on BNSF. 6976 has been preserved and is currently in operation on the Portland & Western RR as DLMX 644. Doyle McCormick (of SP 4449 fame) owns the unit and plans to eventually return it to it's as-built Amtrak SDP40F appearence.

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