Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives The search for real heritage locomotives

The search for real heritage locomotives

By Chris Guss | March 22, 2023

Legacy paint remains on many Class I railroads

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Heritage locomotives

dark, multi-colored train with overcast sky
Heritage locomotives: Former Southern Pacific AC4400CW No. 333, now UP No. 6379, leads train MSITP-14 just west of Solomon, Kan., on Feb. 14, 2023. Chris Guss

Over the last few decades, railroads have rolled out dozens of specially painted locomotives. Whether they were wrapped or painted, we’re fortunate to live in an era where honoring a company’s past is so visual. We are also lucky we live in an era where paint booths are far and few between and many leviathan-sized Class I railroads cannot repaint their locomotive fleets in a timely fashion.

This provides another and more authentic type of heritage fleet — locomotives that were acquired from mergers decades ago and still wear their original colors from the previous railroad. Some heritage power, such as BNSF’s, has been relettered and/or renumbered into a unified group; others, such as those on Canadian National, remain untouched, still using the reporting marks and road numbers of the previous railroad.

  1. BNSF Railway has been around for over 20 years now, but a significant group of its locomotives remain in former Santa Fe and Burlington Northern colors. The four schemes used pre-merger are still in daily service on the railroad. From Santa Fe, this means both the blue-and-yellow warbonnet scheme and the red-and-silver Superfleet paint; from BN, locomotives remain in green and black, as well as the cream and cream found only on SD70MACs.
  2. Canadian National has by far the most variety of heritage power of any Class I. With its steady stream of railroads acquired, the company still has many units still wearing original paint and operating in daily service. The colors represented include Elgin, Joliet & Eastern; Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range; Wisconsin Central, Grand Trunk Western, Illinois Central, and BC Rail.
  3. Union Pacific is down to only a handful of former Southern Pacific and St. Louis Southwestern-painted locomotives.
  4. Canadian Pacific still operates a handful of Soo Line-painted locomotives.
  5. Norfolk Southern and CSX have no heritage units remaining on their roster, but do have older variations of their previous corporate colors remaining.
  6. Kansas City Southern has no remaining heritage power.
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