Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives The evolution of EMD’s GP60-series locomotives

The evolution of EMD’s GP60-series locomotives

By Chris Guss | February 12, 2024

The final high-horsepower four-axle EMD model still soldiers on

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GP60-series locomotives

orange BNSF locomotive hauling heavy-tonnage trains
EMD’s GP60-series locomotives: BNSF’s line between Spokane and Chewelah, Wash., is restricted to four-axle locomotives, making it a perfect assignment for BNSF’s GP60M and GP60Bs to haul heavy-tonnage trains across this mountainous terrain. Chris Guss

EMDs GP60 model was the last of a series of four-axle locomotives built with ever-increasing horsepower, designed to lead a railroad’s priority trains. Short, fast intermodal trains were perfect for a GP60s 3,800 horsepower V-16 to send 950 horsepower to each axle. Unfortunately, the double stack era was underway, with longer heavier trains beginning to make inroads across the country. Most railroads found six-axle locomotives better suited to double-stack trains, essentially spelling the end for future four-axle locomotive development.

Almost 400 GP60 variations were built from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s ranging from standard cabs to comfort cabs, and a handful made with no cabs at all! EMD constructed three demonstrators with rounded cab edges for reduced wind drag and spec’ed out with Southern Pacific options including a full light package up front. While the trio tested on many potential customers, Southern Pacific was the most impressed. It led all purchasers, buying almost half of all GP60s produced, though they came without the full light package and rounded cab edges the demos featured. Southern Pacific orders were all standard cabs with approximately half wearing Cotton Belt lettering.

While Santa Fe didn’t have the largest fleet, it had the most varied, purchasing all three 60-series models from the builder. The railroad took delivery of 40 standard cab locomotives before switching to 63 comfort cab GP60Ms and 23 cabless GP60Bs, the latter two orders coming in the famous red and silver warbonnet colors. Norfolk Southern picked up 50 GP60s while Rio Grande, Texas Mexican, and the Department of Energy ordered three, two, and one, respectively.

Today the GP60 fleets have stayed mostly intact, with Union Pacific inheriting Southern Pacific and Rio Grande units and BNSF getting all Santa Fe models. BNSF also acquired the pair of former Tex Mex GP60s second-hand. Unfortunately, the demonstrators haven’t fared as well. CSX ultimately purchased the trio second-hand, but one was wrecked and retired while the other two are stored and will most likely never operate again on CSX.

All GP60-series units are largely assigned to secondary and local service presently. These will no doubt find their way to shortline and regional rosters someday, but for now, this model remains an important part of many Class 1 rosters.

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