Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives Canada’s GMD1 diesel locomotive

Canada’s GMD1 diesel locomotive

By Brian Schmidt, Classic Trains Editor | June 5, 2023

This distinctive diesel found use throughout the Dominion even as its original assignments waned

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Canada’s GMD1 diesel locomotive was the first to be completely designed by General Motors Diesel Ltd., Electro-Motive’s subsidiary at London, Ontario. GMD built 101 copies in two variants between 1958 and 1960. The locomotive was powered by a 12-cylinder, non-turbocharged 567 prime mover producing 1,200 hp. A news brief in Trains’ July 1959 issue called it “essentially an elongated yard unit with road trucks and space for a steam generator.”


GMD1 diesel locomotive in black-and-white
The GMD1 diesel locomotive was built specifically for light-rail branchline service. Canadian National No. 1000 has A1A-A1A trucks to spread the weight over more axles and the original green-and-gold paint scheme. GMD photo


Authors Les Kozma and Chuck Bohi described the GMD1s as “ubiquitous as the grain elevator and 40-foot boxcar” on the Canadian prairies. The authors go on to proclaim that the original Canadian National fleet of 78 units “stepped lightly over 3,200 miles of branch lines that were restricted to a maximum of 160,000 pounds on driving wheels.”


Because of this, the GMD1 diesel locomotive rode on six-wheel, A1A-type trucks with the middle axle unpowered. This spread the weight across more wheels, making the units better suited for lightly constructed branchline trackage.


CN later added 18 units, Nos., 1900-1917, on four-wheel trucks equipped with steam boilers for branch line passenger service.


GMD1 diesel locomotive with passenger train and banner on nose
Northern Alberta GMD1 diesel locomotive No. 302 stands with the last passenger train from Dawson Creek at Dunvegan Station in Edmonton, Alberta, on May 31, 1974. The railroad had five such steam generator-equipped units, Nos. 301-305. W. C. Slim photo


Finally, Northern Alberta Railways purchased five GMD1s, also on A1A trucks, Nos. 301-305 built in 1959. They were set up to operate short-hood-forward, which differed from CN’s units. When CN acquired NAR in 1980, they became Nos. 1078-1082.


Their territory initially spanned from Manitoba west to Vancouver Island. As the branch lines waned the GMD1s found themselves reassigned to yard and local duties throughout the greater CN system. Some of the 1000s were rebuilt with new fuel tanks and four-wheel trucks and assigned new 1100-series numbers. In 1988-1989, 31 units were rebuilt with four-wheel trucks and designated GMD1U operating in the 1400-series. Another 15 units retained their six-wheel trucks and were converted to short-hood-forward operation in the 1500-series.


GMD1 diesel locomotive with passenger train and banner on nose
Canadian National GMD1 diesel locomotive No. 1012 stands at Winnipeg in 1985. J. David Ingles photo, Brian M. Schmidt collection


A number of units survived on the CN roster into the 21st century with the last two retired in April 2021. Twenty units went to Cuba in the 1990s, where the railroad found the four-wheel truck configuration to be too heavy. The solution was to purchase the six-wheel trucks that CN had left over from the conversions in the 1990s. Some units also emigrated to the U.S., including Oregon Pacific Railroad No. 1413 in Portland.

3 thoughts on “Canada’s GMD1 diesel locomotive

  1. EMD ran at least one ad in the trade press (and Trains) circa 1960 with side-elevation line drawings of its entire domestic standard catalog. The one labeled “RS1325” was distinctly the B-B GMD1 carbody…not sure if this was an ad-agency mistake or an early concept that was later modified on the two production RS1325s

  2. I’m sure I’m not the only one to let you know that there were no GMD1s on Victoria Island in the Canadian Arctic. The GMD1’s did run on Vancouver Island off Canada’s west coast. The city of Victoria, British Columbia’s capital, is located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and GMD1s were seen there.

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