Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives Fairbanks-Morse Erie-Built diesel locomotives

Fairbanks-Morse Erie-Built diesel locomotives

By Brian Schmidt | November 26, 2023

These distinctive diesels sold just 111 units in less than four years of production

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Fairbanks-Morse’ distinctive Erie-Built diesel locomotives were the builder’s entry into the six-axle passenger locomotive market. FM sold 111 total units between December 1945 and February 1949. They were the best-selling FM cab unit models; second place went to the CFA/CFB-16-4 “C-Liners” with 90 units sold.


Three unit set of Erie-Built diesel locomotives under wires
Santa Fe No. 90 is a late-production Erie-Built, as each windshield is curved at the top. Fairbanks-Morse photo


FM’s big Erie-Builts were named for being assembled at General Electric’s facility in Erie, Pa., instead of FM’s home of Beloit, Wis. This was due to lack of sufficient space at Beloit at the time. They rode on six-wheel, A1A trucks with unpowered center axles, like their competitors: Alco PAs and Electro-Motive E units. Each Erie-Built was powered by a single 10-cylinder, 850-rpm, opposed-piston diesel engine generating 2,000 hp.


They were designed by famous industrial designer Raymond Lowey, who worked on many FM diesel locomotive designs, and have a distinctive nose shape — “boat-nosed” some would say — and large, rectangular radiator intake grilles at the rear. Early units had rectangular windshields with square corners while later units had curved windshields. Erie-Built diesel locomotives also came with two truck styles: FM-designed fabricated trucks or those supplied by General Steel Castings that also appeared under Alco PA units.


In spite of just 82 A units and 29 B units being built, they sold to seven railroads: Santa Fe, Chicago & North Western, Kansas City Southern, Milwaukee Road, New York Central (the last built), Pennsylvania Railroad, and Union Pacific (the first built). Pennsy had the most with 48 — 36 A units and 12 B units — and were used in freight service. All but C&NW purchased cabless B units.


Three quarter view of diesel-powered Kansas City Southern locomotives in yard
Kansas City Southern, was one of seven buyers of 2,000 hp Fairbanks-Morse “Erie-built” units. The units derived their name from their assembly at General Electric’s facility in Erie, Pa., when FM didn’t have capacity at its Beloit, Wis., plant. A three-year-old cab-booster set rests at Shreveport, La., in July 1949. Harold K. Vollrath photo


Some roads, including Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific, rebuilt their Erie-Builts in the 1960s with EMD prime movers to extend their usefulness on rosters with few other FMs around.


No Erie-Built diesel locomotives are preserved, although a set of General Steel Castings from an unidentified Erie-Built was used under Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad’s restored Alco PA, a project spearheaded by Doyle McCormack.

5 thoughts on “Fairbanks-Morse Erie-Built diesel locomotives

  1. That ‟unidentified Erie-Built” supplying trucks for the ex-AT&SF PA-1 was one-of the former PRR’s dozen B-units acquired-by CN c.1965 and used-in a rail-welding outfit prior-to retirement. Supposedly, it had been discovered in a southern Ontario scrapyard ‒ as can be seen-on the AT&SF #90 (above), their truck sideframes were straight, whereas ALCo’s had a distinctive shallow arch design.

  2. They were very handsome units. It is unfortunate they were not a success. Moreso, it is unfortunate no example survives.

  3. Wouldn’t it be great if they brought back these style locomotives, like the PA, s E, s F, s and the shark noses, they were great looking locomotives and were air row dynamic. Ok I know the locomotives these days more efficient and computer friendly, but they have no, and I mean no style they look like a rectangle Box , change is ok but too much change isn’t good either. just like the older cars they ran better and looked better simply put.

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