Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives Six EMD locomotives no one wanted

Six EMD locomotives no one wanted

By David Lustig | February 16, 2024

| Last updated on March 4, 2024

Despite EMD's storied history, not every one of their locomotives have been sales successes

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EMD may be the most famous locomotive manufacturer in the history of railroading. Despite that success, there are models in the the EMD history books which arrived to little fanfare and few orders. The following are six notable examples of EMD locomotives that, for one reason or another, no one wanted.

EMD Model 40

Men look at EMD Model 40 centercab diesel locomotive coupled to train cars
Electro-Motive demonstrator 1134 works at East Dubuque, Ill., in mid-1940. It would later wear EMD’s standard white, black, and red when working as the La Grange plant switcher. Louis A. Marre collection

The EMD Model 40 was always an outsider.

For a locomotive that was in EMD’s catalog (and predecessor EMC before that) eight decades ago, the Model 40 still holds up as a curiosity. Made in an era when the builder was primarily producing streamlined FT diesels for Class I railroads, the diminutive two-axle product looks like an engineering afterthought created from a pile of spare parts.

A total of 11 were built between 1940 and 1943, with nine pressed into military service. Two went straight to work in the locomotive builder’s plants.

Read more about the EMD Model 40 here


EMD RS1325

Green and red diesel locomotives with freight train in yard
Unique to Chicago & Illinois Midland were two EMD RS1325 light road switchers, shown leaving Ellis Yard west of Taylorville, Ill., with a few non-coal cars ahead of the road’s signature bathtub coal gondolas. The Kincaid Power Station is visible at rear. R. R. Wallin photo

Someone at EMD must have thought, “here’s an idea that can’t miss!”

A modern light road switcher which fit snugly between the weaker standard cab end switchers and the heavier Geep and RS locomotives seemed like a sure bet, but unfortunately, the first order for the RS1325 would also be the last. The demand simply wasn’t there, and railroads just didn’t see the need to fill the gap which seemed so obvious to EMD.

Read more about the EMD RS1325 light road switcher here



EMD NW3 locomotive in rail yard
Great Northern No. 179 is an EMD NW3 locomotive, one of seven built. Harold Buckley Jr. photo

The EMD NW3 locomotive was the builder’s first entry into the eventually lucrative road switcher category, although it was intended as a passenger terminal switcher.

Wanting to compete with Alco’s successful RS1 light road switcher, EMD took its basic end-cab switcher design and stretched it onto a longer frame, gave it Blomberg road trucks – one of the first units to receive the new design — a steam generator, and a 12-567 12-cylinder prime mover to pump out 1,000 hp.

When it came time to sign on the dotted line, though, only Great Northern put pen to paper, ordering seven units in 1939, and the NW3 disappeared from EMD’s catalog.

Read more about the EMD NW3 here


EMD BL20-2

Blue-and-white EMD BL20-2 locomotive standing in yard
One of EMD’s three BL20-2s takes a break from switching duty at Rochelle, Ill., during the time the trio was in the builder’s lease fleet on Burlington Northern. Erik Bergstrom photo

The concept for the BL20-2 seemed like a sure bet. Take an old locomotive, remanufacture its guts, and make it more powerful than it had been. Railroads get an effectively new, more powerful locomotive, at less than the price a new locomotive would typically set them back, and the engineers wouldn’t need to learn a new locomotive. Everyone wins – at least in theory.

In practice, only three demonstrator units of the BL20-2 were ever produced, and they eventually became lease units before landing at Genesee & Wyoming’s San Joaquin Valley Railroad.

Read more about the EMD BL20-2 here


GMDH1 diesel-hydraulic

Yellow-and-black centercab GMDH1 diesel-hydraulic locomotives outside factory
By Feb. 26, 1972, No. 1001 wore this yellow-and-black paint scheme at London, Ontario. Ray Sabo, Brian M. Schmidt collection

Technically a product of EMD’s Canadian subsidiary, General Motors Diesel, the GMDH1 was an attempt to popularize the diesel-hydraulic locomotive in North America. The striking design of this locomotive made its intentions clear: This was something new, and it had the looks to match.

If its design was meant to popularize the diesel-hydraulic locomotive concept in North America, ultimately, the GMDH1 was a failure. Only four were ever produced, with two staying home in Canada, and one of each of the remaining two landing eventually in Brazil and Pakistan, respectively.

Read more about the GMDH1 diesel-hydraulic here



: EMD GP39 diesel locomotive in yard
Chesapeake & Ohio No. 3909 is one of 20 GP39 units on the coal-hauling road’s roster. J. David Ingles photo

The GP39 featured EMD’s popular 645E3 V12 prime mover producing 2,300 hp. Most buyers found that, with the right assignment, the GP39 was a capable product. But in the late 1960s, the market just wasn’t there.

A silver lining for the GP39: EMD’s engineers kept the flame of the GP39 lit, later creating the nearly visually identical and very popular GP38.

Read more about the EMD GP39 here


One thought on “Six EMD locomotives no one wanted

  1. The RS-1325 was probably the result of the highly successful GMD-1s built in Canada, some of which are still active on short lines and in Cuba. GTW bought the last two domestic RS-1s for passenger terminal switching in Chicago, a plan which ultimately fell through. Had the RS-1325 been an option, it would be a more obvious choice. GTW and other roads purchased SW-1200s with flexicoil trucks and other modifications for branchline service. These purchases are other examples of where the RS-1325 would be an option if available. Simply put, EMD just did not react to the market fast enough.

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