Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives North America’s endangered Class I locomotives in 2024

North America’s endangered Class I locomotives in 2024

By Steve Sweeney | December 21, 2023

| Last updated on December 22, 2023

It's time to revisit endangered Class I locomotives

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Endangered Class I locomotives


Endangered Class I locomotives: Red and black locomotives in a snowy landscape.
A trio of Canadian National C40-8s haul a loaded ore train in Minnesota on Feb. 25, 2022, while other units are stored or heading to scrappers. Chris Guss

Endangered Class I locomotives in 2024: Locomotive fleets are always in a state of evolution. Changes such as new power purchased, older locomotives rebuilt, returned off lease, stored, or retired are always happening. Interest is always piqued when the last of a model is ready to exit a roster. Observers then hope to see or document the last runs of a particular locomotive.

Railroads have been amassing huge fleets of the same model in the past several decades. It will be a while before people clamor over the final run of a BNSF Railway C44-9W, a CSX Transportation AC4400CW, or a Union Pacific SD70M. For the record, UP’s order of SD70Ms stands as the largest single order of one model from one manufacturer — over $2 billion for 1,427 locomotives from EMD [see “1,000 SD70Ms (plus 427 more),” Trains, February 2024 – Ed.].

Today, it’s the smaller fleets or less visible power, like yard and local units, that can slip away with little notice. Locomotives that are owned by a railroad can be parked more easily and returned to service when demand warrants, which may cause a favorite model drift into and out of storage many times before being sidelined permanently.

A couple of years ago — 2022 — Trains Correspondent Chris Guss, who keeps tabs on locomotives for Trains, made several observations about power trends. Now, as we begin 2024, we checked-in with Guss to see what models currently may be ready to exit.

  • 2022: General Electric’s Dash 8 locomotives have been on the way out of Class I rosters for several years. First constructed in the 1980s, the locomotives are still in daily use on several Class I railroads like BNSF and Canadian National. They are rarely used, if at all, on railroads like CSX and Union Pacific, who still have a few on their rosters. The best chance for a long career on a Class I railroad is a portion of BNSF’s fleet of B40-8Ws, which received minor overhauls several years ago. Their desktop control stands were also converted to a standard design to better facilitate their new role in local and switching service. CN is actively reducing its fleet with a mix of Dash 8s in-service, stored and headed to scrap.
  • 2024: The GE Dash 8s continue to leave the Class I rosters, if they are not already gone. However — CSX recently reactivated a portion of its Dash 8 locomotives due to an uptick in traffic. CN still has a few Dash 8s in use, but this may be short-lived.
  • 2022: SD60Ms and GP15-1s have been trickling off Union Pacific’s roster for quite some time, with many finding new homes on short line and regional railroads across North America. While SD60Ms have been long stored on UP, some GP15s are still in service while others have been sold off. Other roads with these models are BNSF with the SD60M, which appears safe for now, and CSX with a handful of GP15Ts still on the roster. The CSX GP15Ts will most likely never see service again.
  • 2024: Adding to SD60Ms and GP15-1s, some of UP’s SD70Ms are now showing up on shortline rosters. Considering the number available, this will be a trend to watch moving forward.
  • 2024: Overall, locomotive dispositions continue based on age, reliability, and the cost of refinancing when the lease is up on a group of units. There is not a great deal of extensive new storage at this time, but many locomotives that have been in storage remain there.

One model that keeps hanging around is the EMD SD40-2. The catch is that many are being rebuilt into SD40-3s. Every Class I still has some form of this model on its roster.

As long as we are digging in the locomotive history book, what about older EMD GP models — GP7s, GP9s, GP20s? Of the Class Is only Canadian National (GP9s) had such older units on its roster.

Like this article on endangered Class I locomotives? Check out “Class I power finds its way back into the fold.” Updated from it’s original version on March 30, 2022.

blue and silver locomotive
Lake State Railway No. 6433, built as Union Pacific SD70M No. 4667 leads a train in Bay City, Michigan, on Aug. 9 ,2023. Chris Guss
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