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Top 10 Burlington Northern locomotives

By | February 4, 2020

Find out what made Tom's list of favorite diesel locomotives

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On June 10, 1993, a Burlington Northern SD60M and SD40-2 take an eastbound freight along the Missouri River and into Lombard Canyon just east of Toston, Mont.
On June 10, 1993, a Burlington Northern SD60M and SD40-2 take an eastbound freight along the Missouri River and into Lombard Canyon just east of Toston, Mont.
On June 10, 1993, a Burlington Northern SD60M and SD40-2 take an eastbound freight along the Missouri River and into Lombard Canyon just east of Toston, Mont.
Tom Danneman
Learn about Trains Art Director Tom Danneman’s favorite Burlington Northern Railroad Company diesel locomotives, presented in no particular order. The story of Burlington Northern has been told many times, and in many ways, but it still feels like BN never got the recognition it deserved. The story always seemed like it was about the railroads BN swallowed. Admittedly, popular railroads such as Great Northern; Northern Pacific; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Spokane, Portland & Seattle; and later St. Louis-San Francisco were relegated to history. Because of that, however, BN inherited a variety of locomotives. On March 2, 1970, the new railroad amalgamated nearly 2,000 locomotives from all four of the major American locomotive builders, American Locomotive Company, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Electro-Motive Division, and General Electric, with countless models, making Burlington Northern one of the more exciting railroads to follow. What do you think?
For more, check out Tom’s feature story in the March 2020 issue.

1. SD60M Three-window cab
Nos. 9200-9249
Why? Finally moving on from SD40-2s, Oakways, and LMXs. BN’s first comfort cabs which were adorned in BN’s “whiteface” scheme.

In January 1984, Burlington Northern F45 No. 6613 awaits its next assignment in Chicago & North Western’s Butler Yard near Milwaukee.
In January 1984, Burlington Northern F45 No. 6613 awaits its next assignment in Chicago & North Western’s Butler Yard near Milwaukee.
Tom Danneman

2. F45
Nos. 6600-6645
Why? Six axle cowls. My favorite locomotive.

3. SDP40
Nos. 9850-9855; 6394-6399
Why? Former Great Northern passenger locomotives equipped with steam generator.

In October 1985, a nearly-new Burlington Northern tiger-stripe GP50 leads a B30-7A(B) and a Frisco-ordered GP50 on a stack train on the Racetrack east of Naperville, Ill.
In October 1985, a nearly-new Burlington Northern tiger-stripe GP50 leads a B30-7A(B) and a Frisco-ordered GP50 on a stack train on the Racetrack east of Naperville, Ill.
Tom Danneman

4. GP50 
Nos. 3100-3162
Why? Variety. 3100-3109 ordered by Frisco. 3110-3162 wore tiger-stripe scheme, last five delivered with extended-length cab.

5. F9-2 A and B unit
Nos. BN-1 and BN-2
Why? They’re F units, that’s why. Rebuilt for executive service from F9s with GP38-2 innards.

6. SD40C
No. 6330
Why? Caterpillar-re-engined SD40-2 with interesting nonstandard features.

In May 1992, GP20C belches out a bit of smoke as it switches Burlington Northern’s North La Crosse, Wis., yard.
In May 1992, GP20C belches out a bit of smoke as it switches Burlington Northern’s North La Crosse, Wis., yard.
Tom Danneman

7. GP20C
Nos. 2000-2009
Why? Caterpillar-re-engined GP20 with unique angled cab with original sloped nose.

8. C30-7
Nos. 5000-5141; 5500-5599
Why? They looked cool. They sounded cool. They were cool.

On Aug. 25, 1990, a Burlington Northern GP39M leads two LMX locomotives on train No. 3 down the
On Aug. 25, 1990, a Burlington Northern GP39M leads two LMX locomotives on train No. 3 down the “Racetrack” near Brookfield, Ill.
Tom Danneman

9. GP39M With original GP30 carbody
Nos. 2750-2758; 2800-2834
Why? Modernized locomotive with classic body lines.

10. SD60M Two-window cab
Nos. 9250-9298; 1991
Why? Second variation of SD60Ms. No. 1991 painted red, white, and blue in support of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf in a scheme that shames current commemorative offerings.

22 thoughts on “Top 10 Burlington Northern locomotives

  1. Here’s my top 10 BN locomotives.

    10.BN’s executive F units BN 1, 2, and 3 all three of them still in their BN paint scheme at the Illinois Railway Museum.

    9. SD70mac. BN’s only modern A.C. traction Diesel engine before the merger.

    8. BN’s SD45. Cause some of them went to the Wisconsin Central Ltd in the late 80’s.

    7. SD60M. Came with 2 different style cabs and love SD60M 1991 in the supporting our troops paint scheme.

    6. SD60mac. They have only 4 of them but all have a fantastic paint scheme.

    5. Oakway SD60’s. For their awesome air horns and it’s paint scheme.

    4. BN’s bicentennial units. They have 3 units painted in the special paint scheme include a SD40-2, a SDP40, and a U30C.

    3. DF40-2. Two units numbers 7149 and 7890 were converted to run on compressed liquefied natural gas. Plus also have a fantastic paint scheme. My favorite unit is 7890.

    2. GECX/LMX B39-E. They were on a long term lease to the BN but have a very sharp looking paint scheme and I think they were nicknamed “Sharks” by the white band on the nose that look like either a tiger or a great white shark.

    1. SD40-2. Have over 800 on its roster, more than any other railroad in North America.

  2. My vote goes to the high nose GP7 & GP9. I grew up along a Rock Island branch on which BN had trackage rights. Most of the BN trains had high nose Geeps. Many of the RI trains did too. I like them in BN green, RI Red & Yellow, and RI blue & white.

    I also like the F45s, SD40-2s, Oakway SD60s, SD60Ms, and SD70MACs. OK, I like EMDs. I also like the Cat repowers.

  3. The C30-7s were my favorites because they often ran on the Sandhills Sub bringing the coal east through the dry country.

  4. As an employee of EMD, I had a long relationship with the BN and some of its predecessors. Early in my career, I delivered the six SDP40 locomotives along with GN’s first eight SD45s. Later, as a service engineer assigned to Clyde Diesel Shop at Cicero, I delivered almost all of the F45s as well as other models built for BN at that time. Between 1975 and 1983, I was EMD’s Service Manager with responsibility for the BN account. In 1983, I was promoted to Account Sales Manager for the BN; a position that I held until 1996. During that time, I was heavily involved with the sale of the 53 GP50s nos. 3110 – 3162, my first locomotive sales. Later, came Oakway ( a really challenging project), the SD60Ms (an Oakway variation) with considerable time spent re designing the cab for better visibility to satisfy BN management concerns, which resulted in the two window version. After that in the late 1980s, was the development of the program to remanufacture older locomotives to lower HP units which resulted in the GP39E (for EMD units, M for Morrison Knudsen and V for VMV of Paducah). Finally, there was the development and sale of the 350 SD70MAC locomotives, a model that significantly changed the rail industry. Every current AC motored locomotive can trace it’s ancestry to those units and the four SD60MAC demonstrator units. While I like Tom’s list, I really think it should included the SD70MAC because of it’s high starting and continuous tractive effort that changed both the BN and the industry. It was the locomotive that allowed the BN to begin replacing their huge SD40-2 fleet on a 3 for 5 unit basis; which resulted in significant savings in coal and high tonnage operations.

  5. I was a train dispatcher in BN Alco land – the Portland Sub – from the mid-70s into the 80s. That Tom didn’t include a single Alco model in his list tells me he was too young to experience them in action. At least he could have listed the C-636s. As 3rd trick assistant chief dispatcher, I set up the consist for the last all RS-3 powered train on the west coast. Oh well.

  6. SD60M twice just with a different windshield? How about the the B30-7AB. Now that is a locomotive that just screams BN. Rest of my list would have to be

    2. GP39M in GP30 carbody I think the GP30 was one of the best looking road switchers
    3. F45 like Tom one of my favorites locomotives ever
    4. C30-7 I loved watching those GEs in a sea of EMD
    5. GP50 last of the Geeps in a world of SDs
    6. F9-2 The executive F9s They are covered wagons what more is there to say
    7. C636 has to be at least 1 Alco on the list and these things just look like brutes
    8. GP9 with a high nose, I got a cab ride in the Sandpoint switcher when I was in high school 38 years ago
    9. SD40-2B love those B units
    10.SD45 6430 love that radiators and that BN kept the Hustle Muscle name

    Runners up all the Bicentennial units and the ex GN SDP40 and 45s. I grew up in North Idaho in the 1970s and early 80s so weren’t all locomotives green? Still my favorite paint scheme.

    By the way loved Tom’s article and photos in the Locomotive 2019. I live near that line now and still love those B units.

  7. Thanks everyone!

    Jack: Agreed! The only Es I saw in action on BN were the Chicago commuter Es. They would rank number 11 on my list. 🙂

    Willliam: Thanks for your insights! I agree with your assessment of BN’s SD70MACs. They would definitely make my top 20 list. I guess one reason they weren’t top 10 for me is the paint. While I like the dark green and cream, I will always be partial to Cascade Green.The importance of BN’s MACs in BN and locomotive history is undeniable, and I did mention this in my article in the March issue.

    Don: You are absolutely right. I never was able to see the Alcos in action. As you can tell from my list, most of the locomotives were around in the late 80s and early 90s when I really started getting out to watch and photograph BN. C636s were definitely cool. I wish I could have seen them in the Columbia River Gorge!

  8. I fully agree with the F45 choice. My wife and I were traveling in South Dakota soon after they were introduced. One morning we ventured off to a local yard (I have no idea where at this point). There was a F45 idling in full view, so I got out with my camera (security was simpler in those days). An employee asked if I want to climb up (YES!!). While in the cab he told me he had to move it from there to there… and allowed me to ‘help’. ‘We’ moved it about 25 feet, but it was a great 25 feet. My wife was a little concerned when it began to move while I was in it (Where are you going???). But it was certainly worth that trip.

  9. Has no one mentioned Alcos yet? While not a big Alco fan myself, I understand why those who grew up around them would be. I have enjoyed watching Burlington Junction switch with their C415, and I do like the sound.

  10. Everyone did good. There are no BN locos not to like. We just all have our favorites. That said their is a totally different interpretation of a “Burlington Northern Locomotive”. That would be a CB&Q 4-8-4.

  11. Oh, Tom, you youngster, you. Missing out on all that great BN early stuff. Here’s my 10, no particular order:

    –C636. The biggest, baddest Alco on the BN. Even badder-looking after the snow shields were added to the roof.
    –Commuter E9s. Certainly a locomotive identified with BN’s link to Chicago and the suburban traffic.
    –SD40-2: They were everywhere, on coal and merchandise and intermodal. Certainly an iconic BN locomotive.
    –LMX B39-8: Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a symbol of BN’s outside-the-box thinking with locomotive acquisitions and financing
    –Tiger Stripe GP50 (and fuel tender): BN was one of America’s most innovative railroad when it came to locomotive fleet development. And might as well make it a “Crew cab” version.
    –F45: simply because they were cool.
    –F3A 702: A specific locomotive. The oldest surviving F-unit on the BN for many years. Shoulda been preserved! Only three-holer left, with a nose-door headlight right out of the Northern Pacific FT playbook.
    –U30C: Many would choose the C30-7 over this, but this was the GE model that really took hold as the coal boom matured. Fitting that a couple are preserved.
    –SD70MAC: True, the Siemens/EMD SD60M’s were the “first,” but these were the “mostest.” And in “Grinstein Green”! Though their absolute reign as the coal train power of the late 90s didn’t last that long before successor BNSF switched to the AC4400 as the de-facto coal unit of the AC age. . .
    –GP9: Everyman’s locomotive, everyplace on the system. Worked probably every branchline before the big purge of low-margin lines accelerated in the mid-1980s. And multiple flavors: Long-hood ex-GN units; Torpedo Tank NP units. dynamic-brakeless CB&Q units. Even a few long-hood, dynamic brakeless SP&S models.

    Did I do good?

  12. Blair: You did do good! If I would have seen them with my own eyes, I’m certain I would have put the C636 on the list. In fact, one of my first N scale locomotives was a BN C636. I painted and numbered it myself (4366). It looked awesome. I even added the shields that you mentioned. The trucks they road on were bad arse as well!

    Here my thoughts on the LMXs and Oakways. Like you mentioned, they were definitely outside the box thinking on BN’s part. What I didn’t like about them is that they weren’t in BN paint. Imagine those LMXs in Cascade Green!

    OK, so now after thinking about it, and reading the comments, I think I might need to change my mind. Is that even allowed at this point? 🙂 I really need to get SD9s in there somehow. I remember seeing fleets of them in Denver in switching duty. One was even in the whiteface paint (not the best application of the scheme) Same goes with the high hood GP9s. One in particular was No. 1977. I photographed that one fairly late in the game, and it was a former SP&S locomotive, complete with long hood forward controls, and “torpedo tubes” on the roof.

  13. I have never been able to tell one diesel from another, except for E and F, as those units always pulled passenger trains I rode with parents and friends. Never knew what kind they were until I got on here and also Facebook. I know it suddenly seemed strange to see green engines running around where I was used to seeing red/white or blk/yellow at Frisco yard where Dad worked.

  14. BN’s locomotive legacy lives on 50 years after its creation —BN “Cascade Green” Painted Units Saved!
    These four units are painted in the BN “Cascade Green” scheme and reside in Museums —three at the Minnesota Transportation Museum, and one at the Illinois Railway Museum. Are there others?

    BN U30C— BN 5383 (an original BN U30C) in BN “Cascade Green” saved at the Illinois Railway Museum, operational.

    BN SD7— BN 6008 (nee-GN SD7 558) was one of the first 20 EMD SD7s constructed from GN’s first EMD order for 15 SD7s GN 550-564 built 5-10/1952 all delivered in the GN Empire Builder Scheme operating in long-hood-forward configuration. The locomotive was renumbered BN 6008 painted in the BN “Cascade Green” scheme. Retired by BN in 1983, it was sold to Cargill, Inc. and for decades performed switching at Cargill’s grain elevator in Litchfield, MN, adjacent to the former Great Northern mainline. Cargill, Inc. donated the locomotive to the Minnesota Transportation Museum in March 2018, the only former GN SD7 preserved.

    BN SD9— BN 6234 (nee-C&S SD9 839). BNSF donated BNSF SD9 6234 to the Minnesota Transportation Museum in October 2003. MTM had the unit repainted at Wisconsin & Southern’s Horicon, WI paint shop in December 2007 with a new coat of BN “Cascade Green” and retaining the BN 6234 road number. The 6234 still retains its as-built SD9 high hood appearance.

    BN SDP40— MNTX 325 (nee-GN SDP40 325). As BNSF SDP40 6327, the unit was donated by BNSF in May 2009 to the Minnesota Transportation Museum painted in the BN “white face” scheme.

    BN SD9 6234 and BN SDP40 325 are in service from early May to late October on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway’s regular passenger operations on CN’s North Division Dresser Subdivision between Osceola, WI and Marine, MN and between Osceola and Dresser, WI.

  15. I’ve always liked the GP50s and I get to see them all the time here in Sedro-Woolley, Wa with the GP60Bs in the middle.

  16. My favorite paint scheme was the original cascade green with white stripes. My absolute favorite locomotive is the SD40-2, with the GP38-2 close runner up! Really like the SD-9 as well.

  17. I was a foremen in both the Burlington,Iowa and Livingston, Montana heavy repair locomotive shops in the 70’s and saw all these engines. Burlington only worked on EMD’s Including the Chicago Metra engines which were high priority. Livingston was about a 50/50 mix of brands. Lots of stories on these rebuilds. In Livingston rebuilt engines were initially always put into helper service on the Bozeman Hill to break them in. Sd40-2’s ruled the roost in those days. Engineers far preferred the throttle response of the EMD’s vs GE’s. Who would have guessed that GE would come to dominate.

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