Redux: How to build a locomotive

Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.

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Ol' Loco Guy

Redux: How to build a locomotive

Post by Ol' Loco Guy »

K. I'm going to throw some grist into the mill.

Theoretical construct: Suppose some company decides that it wants to
supply 'new' Alco locomotives to the marketplace. Suppose that the marketplace consists of regional and shortline operators. Further suppose that a certain operator will place an order for 10 2000 hp 'utility' (B-B) Alco powered locomotives at some negotiated price.

I don't want to hear a word about Class Ones-they have two suppliers and not interested in a third. Period.

The first thing one to has to do is throw out all preconceived notions about Alco locomotives. The old mfg. drawings for any previous model are of no use-period. Whether or not they even exist is open to contention. Certainly, the old tooling and fixtures were scrapped long ago. The world has changed in the last 30-40 years.

If I am charged with the task of create the locomotive, I conceptualize it in my head-with an eye for low mfg. and low life cycle costs.

I hire a person (or persons) to create a 3D model on a computer. From this model, I can generate a set of mfg. drawings and also engage other parties to do all the predictive engineering. For example, I need to ensure that the underframe and chassis can handle all the static and dynamic load conditions that would be posed in railroad service.

The most important design criteria is going to be the use of established
(albeit modified) designs for as many components as possible. The second most important criteria is going to procure components that are low cost.

So, as you'll see in a minute, the actual locomotive is going to have a familiar flavor to it. The other thing to remember is that the crews and the guys in the shop will ultimately determine the fate of the design out in the field. If they don't like it-they will do their best to destroy it.

OK. The concept is going to be modular in nature. What I mean is that I am going to break the design down to pieces that can be manufactured
in different locations and assembled in very basic facilities. These modules can be put to bid to various peciality shops, some of which may already build this type of componentry.

The modules are as follows:

underframe and fuel tank.
nose cab
operator cab
electrical cab
engine cab
radiator cab

OK. Is everybody with me ?

The underframe is going to be an EMD style underframe modifed to suit
the Alco engine and support package. Why ? Because it the low cost way to do this part of the project and operating crews prefer EMD's step arrangement to GE or Alco. The fuel tank would be rectangular in cross-section-simple and cheap to build.

The nose cab and operators cab would also be modifications of EMD designs. Why ? The process of fitting out the cab with everything from FRA glazing to cab heaters becomes simple and cheap. Not only did somebody do the work previously-but one has the choice of a number of vendors on a given item. So, you can beat your suppliers to death-just like verybody else does. These items would come with all wiring and piping complete-ready to eb tied in to the othe rportions of the locomotive.

The electrical cab would be sourced from one of the exsting suppliers who can do this type of work. Anybody for ELCON ?One of the other design criteria is to MINIMIZE the amount of GE material in the locomotive. GE stuff ain't cheap-nor are there nearly as many aftermarket suppliers as EMD.

So, the HV side would be mostly EMD Dash-2 style motor driven switch gear. For controls, I would use our own proprietary PLC system. PLC system design expertiseis out there to be purchased. Many sources for the PLC itself, too.The cabinet would be supplied complete-ready to be welded in and connected up to the loco.

The engine cab would also be a modification of an EMD assembly. The one item I haven't really considered is the dynamic brake grid hatch. I'm not sure whether to replicate the Alco practice (over the engine) or MLW (behind the cab). In any event, the door placement, etc. would have to modified to suit the Alco engine.

In my mind, the radiator cab is open to question at this point. Should I use a salvaged and re-worked GE right angle drive or a single fan driven by an AC induction motor. That motor needs a power source. How do we do that ? Ditto for traction motor blowers. Mechanical or electrical.

Carbody filtration could be either multiple panel or mechanical-buyer choice.

Radiator can designed with single core to support single cooling fan a la
previous Alco practice.

As for the engine, I would spec. a reman 12-251C with the entire pallete of 251 Plus improvements. Engine support equipment is dictated by the mfr-but lube and fuel oil systems would be spec'ed for FRA 92 day maintenance cycle. For me, the makor design issue is the turbo. The Alco turbo (520 or 131) is obsolete-period. There are other choices out in the marketplace which would need to be evaluated. Two stage engien air filtration would be a must-along with eductor arrangement for the crankcase exhauster. One less DC motor to go belly up.

As for main alternator, I'd use a GE GTA-11, aloing with GE aux gen and exiter-completely remanufactured. Again, these items can acquired on a salvage basis at low cost versus new. A simple bolt up to the Alco engine.
Once thing I would do is remove the GE data plates from all equipment and replace them with 'ours.' This preserves interchangeability with GE equipment but addresses some issues relating to 'marketing and field support.'

Any thoughts on trucks/traction motors ?

Comments ? Questions ?

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Post by Alcoman »

A number of things come to mind.
1) Use the current GE 752 TM's
2) For trucks, use the Dofosco MLW Hi-Ad style truck since GE also uses a similar design.
3) Where would you build it?
4) Why not offer a End cab version based on the M420TR for those who want switchers. Keep the 2000 hp V-12 251
5) What about Tier II requirements. How would you get FM/Alco to supply engines. I suspect that if you promised to buy XXX amount, they would upgrade the engine.
6) Why not offer Hitachi built electrical systems?
7) Marketing, service and parts. How would you set that up? I would start in NY and have a parts warehouse and a service center. NY has the most Alcos.
I would also set up in the Chicago area and somewhere in the west.

Your ideas are very well thought out.

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Post by EDM5970 »

The "Truck Engine Switcher" and the Green Goat are built on modified EMD frames, so there is some precident there for using EMD frames. The Goat also has Blomberg trucks, and parts for them should never be a problem.
I concur with the 752 motor choice.

I recently viewed a Green Goat marketing DVD, and they made mention of the fact that they went to great lengths to make things familiar for crews. The control stand was an EMD stand, and even still had the EMD nameplate on it.

I'm not sure I agree with the motor driven switch gear. With only 2000 HP, and a GTA -11 alternator, wouldn't simple CP-2 (or industrial =) contactors do the job? We're not building a C-424 here, with umpteen stages of field shunting, and trying to squeeze 2400 HP through a 581C main generator.

The use of standard doors, windows, heaters, hardware, etc., makes good sense. As long as you can tie an EMD, GE or even Grainger or McMaster-Carr part number to it, fine. Just nothing custom-

The PLC on a locomotive idea is one I've thought about using ever since I started to work with them (on industrial machinery) maybe twenty-five years ago. Of course, EMD and GE use industrial computers, probably proprietary, but the Green Goat has what looks like an Allen-Bradley PLC-5, right off the shelf.

I would look to other than GE for most of the switch gear; there is a lot of industrial stuff out there up to the task, and cheaper.

Radiators could be copies of GE or EMD radiators (Missabe or Touchton??), keeping the parts numbers down to a minimum. Again, off the shelf-

As far as overall configuration, I'm pretty much with Alcoman and the M-420TR concept, although a short hood would be nice for collision protection and an optional toilet. (A new RS-1, called the RS-2000?)

All of this is pretty much academic, though, as few shortlines/regionals have the money to buy new power. I suspect that they will just buy used Alcos, EMDs and GEs and fix them up. A friend compares it to the $500 car used for commuting to work; use it up and get another one.


Post by wess »

Someone has finally got serious here about the question of new locomotives, and leaving the flamers out of the equation. I was getting annoyed when they came in and went off about us prists and romanticists wanting to bring back the past. Get over it guys. Some of us would like to see evolution of the design go on,


Post by 2spot »

I like where youre going with this topic. I totally agree with Ol' Loco Guy about using the most readily available parts (mostly EMD) and designing around what crews (train, maintenance) like. Nothing wrecks a locomotive faster than crewmen that dont like it. Personal preference would be the Dofasco truck, but leave room for other truck choices. Dont limit yourself to body layouts either. A 2000 HP BB loco can be spec'ed to appeal to different uses. Switcher, like a M420TR. Short line/ Regional carriers may prefer something like a M420W or a narrow short hood version. A transit authority might prefer a wide body version like a F40PH. You have to give options if you want to sell to different rail users.

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Post by Komachi »

OK, now 2spot has raised an interesting question from my perspective, if a commuter agency (dare we dream Amtrak?) were to express interest in this new locomotive of yours, would it be adaptable for a HEP generator? Or are you just going to focus on freight operations? Just currious on that minor issue.

Other than that, it's a wonderful concept. To quote Otto, "Me likie."


Post by wess »

It should be adaptable for as many applications as you could dream. So lets keep this thread going. With out the foaming please

Ol' Loco Guy

Post by Ol' Loco Guy »

Alcoman wrote:A number of things come to mind.
1) Use the current GE 752 TM's
2) For trucks, use the Dofosco MLW Hi-Ad style truck since GE also uses a similar design.
3) Where would you build it?
4) Why not offer a End cab version based on the M420TR for those who want switchers. Keep the 2000 hp V-12 251
5) What about Tier II requirements. How would you get FM/Alco to supply engines. I suspect that if you promised to buy XXX amount, they would upgrade the engine.
6) Why not offer Hitachi built electrical systems?
7) Marketing, service and parts. How would you set that up? I would start in NY and have a parts warehouse and a service center. NY has the most Alcos.
I would also set up in the Chicago area and somewhere in the west.

Your ideas are very well thought out.
Thanks Alcoman. I'll answer your questions first.

1) and 2) I would use GE 752 clones. I wouldn't want to use the GE name
any shape or form. They like to sue other companies-and have deep pockets. The truck I would want to use would be the Blomberg casting that MPI uses on their passenger units. It has a larger wheelbase to accept a 752 motor ?

I'd skip the ZWT or FB-2 (which are really similar) as they tend to ride hard by nature and don't have much lateral compliance (the bolster can't move much side to side).

3) Good question ? Where land, taxes, labor and the cost of living are inexpensive. Notice the latest round of transplant manufacturers site themselves in the Deep South. Besides, FM has their Alco engine rebuild line right in Houston.

BTW, the design office could be elsewhere. How about somewhere near LaGrange-so you source your engineering talent from from the ranks of former EMD people on a contract basis.

4)I think the days of straight end-cab switchers are over. Think liability here. How about something like the EMD GP-20D ?

5) Actually, there are a couple of single cylinder (research) 251 engines floating about. Believe that SWRI has one. Pay them(or ESDC) to do contract R&D and have FM build to your specs. Of course, one is going to need a certified test cell to do the emissions certification of a complete locomotive. This is ONE area where the lawyers may need to get involved.

6)Believe that Hitachi left the business a while back. GE rotating gear (until they began to value engineer the hell out of it) can last 10 years.
Remember an alternator is mechanically and electrically much simpler than a DC generator.

7) Interesting question. Marketing ? One needs to be able to demonstrate a payback in the investment for new vs. the operation of old locomotives. Fuel efficiency is an obvious requirement, along with a reduction in overall maintenance costs.

MRL bought new SD-70's based upon a 'promised' reduction in overall operating costs. This IMPORTANT.

BTW, FM-Alco keeps the actual fuel consumption close to the vest, but the number I've heard is 'less than 200g/kwhr at rated output for the Plus engines. Maybe someone can develop a number for a GP38-2 or B23-7.

Service? One again, I'd go to EMD's bench and snare some retired guys that missed 'being in the trenches' and pair them up with some fresh young bucks. Still and all, everybody has to learn the entire locmotive from scratch.

Parts ? Parts would be initially handled out of the factory. Use Fedex or UPS overnight for the smaller stuff. If anything large fails-it will have to be trucked one way or the other.


Ol' Loco Guy

Post by Ol' Loco Guy »

All of this is pretty much academic, though, as few shortlines/regionals have the money to buy new power. I suspect that they will just buy used Alcos, EMDs and GEs and fix them up. A friend compares it to the $500 car used for commuting to work; use it up and get another one.
Agreed. Just trying to answer a question that has been asked here for a long time. Yet, I'm thinking about drawing the thing up-for sh_ts and grins.

I wouldn't use ANY GE material-for all kinds of reasons. The way GE protects their business could be a whole thread by itself. I would want to steer clear of them.

I choose the GTA-11 because I know it is good for 5000 amps plus, or 1250 per traction motor Remember, this a full parallel machine-no transition or field shunting. However, it just occured to me that it would need to be ventilated off the platform vs the fan that was part of the Alco application. OOPs !!!

When I spoke of the electrical cabinet, I should have said Dash-2 or perhaps Dash-3. I choose this option based upon the fact that there are multiple vendors who probably supply the item as a pre-tested bolt-in assembly. So vendors such as ELCON, VMV and a few others come to mind, which is in keeping with my design theme of modifying existing

Now here is a question for your-as I don't know much about PLC controls.
Could a PLC system be set-up to basically do what the GE closed-loop systems do

a) infer generator voltage and current
b) sense engine speed (w/o the tach gen )
c) sense oil temps and pressures,
d) sense fuel temps and pressures
e) sense intake manifold pressure

all toward the goal of drawing a set of generator characterisitic curves
for all eight notches ? In other words, tractive effort control ?

Last thing and I'm gonna give this a rest: How about a stepper motor
to replace the governor ?

NO mechanical pressure, temp or flow switches are allowed on this beast.


Allen Hazen
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Frames and truck frames

Post by Allen Hazen »

An interesting thread! THANK YOU, OLG.
Two thoughts.
1) Using recycled frames instead of new is a way of keeping the cost down, but if you get popular, I'd think that new frames would be one of the simpler further developments: my impression is that the locomotive frame is a comparatively simple structure, and would need a large but not particularly high-tech shop to fabricate. Am I missing something important here?
((((Possibly relevant gossip from down under: there's been a program, started by "Freight Australia" but apparently continuing under Pacific National management since their takeover, to rebuild former Victorian Railways X-class [think: SD-38 reduced to export locomotive weight] with 3000 hp turbocharged 16-645: initially from ex-VR G-class [think: SD-40-2 innards in a box-cab], but with new engines in the most recent. AND the last few seem to be being built on NEW FRAMES. It may be that, because of customs, or something, the economics of the Australian locomotive business are really screwy, but it looks like the need to build new frames isn't scary.))))
2) Truck frames. The Blomberg truck has a good reputation (good going for a 1939 design in 2005!), so, YES. GE was able to stuff 752 motors into Blombergs on some U-boats and a few Dash-7, and at least some of these used bits from trade-ins. So apparently the dimensions are such that at least part of an old EMD Blomberg can be used with, umm, VII-V-II motors: maybe the main frame casting can be used with a new, narrower, truck bolster to accommodate physically larger motors?
((Since you're in Varanasi, should we call you "Old Locomotive Guru"? (Grin!)))

Ol' Loco Guy

Post by Ol' Loco Guy »

One last thought on commuter power. Forget it.
This is an niche product.

This locomotive would never get spec'ed by those who write the specs for commuter locomotives. Having seen QUITE a few of these documents (which BTW are loaded with boilerplate having nothing to do with the equipment itself), the first line of the 'engine section' never fails to elicit a chuckle:

" EMD 16-645F3b or "Engineer-approved equal" rated at 3000 hp"

When I first saw this, I was under the impression that the phrase in bold
alluded to GE. I was told NO-the phrase meant an "EMD" style engine supplied by a vendor other than EMD.

I hope nobody keels over...but apparently EMD power is the gold standard for commuter power. Period.

And before anyone invokes the MN GE Genesis locos, remember that scenario was born out an add-on order for Amtrak power and can be considered an 'outlying data point.'



Post by GN_RS-3 »

This thread is very interesting,
I would like to add my two cents worth. Some of ya'll are going to roll your eyes, but I think this must be said. One of your major concerns should be the comfort of the cab. Dont use those damned desktop controls like in the dash 9's. I have spoken to several trainmen, and they all hate them. Also, (ok you can roll your eyes now) is it possible to bring some of the old design features into the 21st century? Alco was famous for the nice rounded body styles. I think I speak for most when I say, no one wants to see a shortend dash 9 with an alco sticker for a builders plate. :wink: All in all, you definately have everything planned out very well. GO FOR IT!

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Post by MEC407 »

In addition to the suggestion of a control stand rather than a desktop console, I hope you'll use a simple, tried-and-true Graham-White 353 horn valve, rather than those electronic "push-button" or "joystick" horn controls.
Pan Am Railways — Boston & Maine/Maine Central — Delaware & Hudson
Central Maine & Quebec/Montreal, Maine & Atlantic/Bangor & Aroostook
Providence & Worcester — New England — GE Locomotives

Ol' Loco Guy

Post by Ol' Loco Guy »


I thought I had specified a new frame. Well, that is what I would do-because one would need to create the paper trail for possible 'later use', i.e liability.

You are correct-the frame is a relatively simple structure. The only 'magic' I have ever seen is the use of a fixture (trunnion) to flip the frame upside down do all welding can be done downhand. EMD does that at London. GE still uses the overhead crane to flip the thing over when complete.

Oh yes, I'm forgetting about the little motorized tractor affair is used for welding on frames.

The think the economics of the Australian locomotive business are probably all wrapped up in the balance of trade, exchange rates and all that. These days, I see many of the Aussie outfits are content to use a mix of current techology-along with old EMD & GE standbys. Although the entire loco may be economically obsolete in the US, there is quite a bit of manufacturing equity that can be salvaged and reclaimed for export use.

The Blomberg style casting still gets specified all over the place Really can't go wrong with that item. Mechanically simple and the primary (leaf spring) suspension can be tuned to the suit the application.

Yes, Varanasi is the "Holy City of the Dead." Thats is where folks go to cremate their dead-right on the banks of the Ganges. A bizarre thing to witness in the 21st Century-these wood fires-and they are running out of wood.


Yup, an AAR stand is the way to go. No boubt adout it. EMD worked out the
ergonomics long, long ago. Good old fashion horn valve-no solenoid and
push button. The solenoid is about 50 bucks for goodness sakes !!!

Electric cab heaters, too.

Last thing-I would forget about the rounded style. Look at a contemporary EMD or GE product. There is hardly a radiused edge to be found. It is all about $$$$. Nobody cares what the things look like.

I forgot one important point. This approach turns the existing business mechanics of the locomotive business on its' ear. Every new locomotive guaratees a certain amount of parts business over the life of the locomotive. I wish I had some numbers to demonstrate-but here is the big issue: If replacement parts have multiple sources, how is the builder going to stay in business ?


Post by 2spot »

OLG. Excellent thread. Nobody in mass production will make a radiused edge in steel when a square one will suffice. Youre right. Its simple economics versus styling. It didnt take MLW long to phase in square edges. I assume now you might end up with a M420/HR412 kind of product. Assuming of course you wanted some level of brand identification. Otherwise its a 251 powered Geep or U boat with EMD electrics. Did you have a railway in mind that might want something like this, and could deal with its unusual features?

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