• ALCO-GE marketing agreement

  • Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.
Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.

Moderators: AMTK84, MEC407

  by Dan Robirds
I've seen bits and pieces of discussion on this and other forums, and have heard conflicting stories. Does anyone have supportable information as to:

1. The actual ALCO-GE agreement, and the restrictions place on either party as a result?

2. The reason(s) GE apparently terminated or did not renew the agreement?

I have my own conclusions and theories, but there must have been something published in industry news at the time or by former employees. And of course this does directly lead GE into the FDL engines and the Universal series ....


  by Pneudyne
I can’t say that I have ever seen a detailed treatment of the Alco-GE arrangement and its eventual termination. One might expect it to have been covered in a trade journal such as “Railway Age”, but perhaps even there it would have been more in the nature of transcribed corporate press releases than searching editorial comment.

The best coverage of the ending of the agreement that I have found is in Steinbrenner, page 317, under the heading “GE’s Fateful Decision”.

In summary, there were mutual technical frustrations between the two partners. (Presumably GE wasn’t happy with Alco’s engine and Alco wasn’t happy with GE’s turbocharger.) Then GE saw itself as having a diminishing market share in a diminishing market, already dominated by EMD, with no real expectation that Alco would put the resources into developing a locomotive and diesel engine that would allow market share growth.

Steinbrenner had noted (page 313) that n 1950 GE had assumed responsibility for field sales and service for Alco-GE locomotives. But GE staff would then have been on the point when it came to customer complaints, and that may have helped convince it that the Alco-GE locomotive was too much of a troubled product, and one that did not justify the effort that would be required for its redemption.

On that page is a copy of an internal Alco letter that in effect says that having GE, with its large network of nationwide office, assume these responsibilities was better than Alco’s attempting to build its own network. (Perhaps that was an example of Alco’s apparent parsimony when it came to development spending.)

Anyway, it was GE who wanted out, on the basis that it thought that it could do better alone.

As to what the agreement allowed and did not allow the participants to do is hard to discern.

Evidently GE could still act independently when it came to industrial locomotives. But these may not have been excluded from coming under the Alco-GE heading when that was appropriate. I think for example that the 70-tonner was offered both as a GE product and an Alco-GE product before the split.

GE’s domestic electric locomotive production during the Alco-GE era was I think under the GE name, not Alco-GE. But the GTEL-4500 prototype was an Alco-GE, even though built at Erie.

In the international arena, Internal General Electric (IGE) appears to have acted independently, with its export locomotives carrying a GE, not an Alco-GE label. Quite a few of these had Alco 12-244 engines, but these were usually described as Alco-engined GEs, not Alco-GEs, implying that Alco was simply a supplier, not a partner in these cases.

Nonetheless, the 1950 Alco internal letter mentioned a few paragraphs back included the sentence: “For nearly a year, as you know, we have worked together on diesel-electric sales in the international field through International General Electric Company.”

I am not quite sure how to interpret that. Possibly it meant simply that Alco had benefitted from being the engine supplier to IGE in some cases. But one may identify cases that might have included joint sales and/or support efforts. AFE Uruguay bought a batch of the Alco-GE RS3 model at about the same time as it bought its first batch of IGE Alco 12-244-engined shovelnoses. And EFCB Brasil bought a broad-gauge Alco-GE RS3 fleet at about the same time as a fleet of metre-gauge IGE Alco 12-244-engined 110-ton road-switchers. The Alco DL-500 “World” locomotive was announced just before the split and was originally billed as an “Alco-GE” production. Whether GE had much input to its design beyond the electrical equipment is unknown. But it was sized more for SB-gauge roads, whereas the IGE basic designs had been sized to fit CMT-gauge roads (as well as SB), which philosophy GE carried over to the export Universals, and against which GE precept the DL-500 would have been an outlier,

That not much information seems to be available on the Alco-GE partnership and the eventual split suggest that both organizations controlled fairly tightly what was released, with each putting its own “positive spin” on the split.

  by Dan Robirds
Consider the following partial timeline:

1946 - WWII has ended, US and world shifting into peacetime economies. Good news is that most of the larger US and Canadian railroads, as well as many shortlines, begin investing heavily in full dieselization regardless of the condition of their steam fleet. Bad news is that the government backed orders for industrial locomotives fade, and many of those purchased for the war effort are now surplus and hit the used market. GE does introduce the 70 ton (as well as begins construction as a contractor of the F-M "Erie builts"), and the Alco FA1 and RS2 begin production. Things are booming.

1948 - 65 and 80 ton redesigned to 65/80 4GE747 model though older 80 ton (LI-600 GHM833) continues production. Demonstrator gas-turbine is built (as UP 50).

1949 - Shovelnoses with C-B FVL-12T engines for Argentina. EMD introduces their infamous GP7.

1950 - First C+B+C w/ 12-244 engines for IRCA (Guatemala). First order of Shovelnoses for Belgian Congo. Alco builds 1600hp RS3/FA2.

1951 - Shovelnoses for Chile. Alco RSD4. First GE loco use of Caterpillar D-397 engine.

1952 - First ten production gas-turbine-electric (GTEL) for Union Pacific. Shovelnoses (12-244) for Uraguay. Ten 110T road-switchers for Australia (C-B FVL-12T). First 50 ton end cabs with Cat D-397 engine (predecessor of Universal Cat end-cab switchers).

1953 - Shovelnoses for Argentina and Indonesia (12-244). GE built road switchers for Brazil (12-244). MRS-1 model built by Alco for USATC. Alco 6-251 enigne used in GE 78 ton for Cuba.


1954 - EMD GP7 superceded by GP9 (horrid 567B replaced by 567C). 15 more GTEL for UP. Shovelnoses for Chile and Uraguay, more roadswitchers for Brazil (12-244). First two White Pass & Yukon shovelnoses (6-251). GE #750 test set built. Alco S5 built (6-251).

1955 - 60 engine order for Manila Railways (first ten 52T shipped). US large railroads have largely dieselized, several years earlier than expected due to unplanned efficiencies of diesels and traffic fluctuations.

1956 - 25 "UM12C" (two versions) shipped to Manila Railways. "Super 88" model appears, last 44 ton built. GE advertises their "Universal Line" in April including U4B, U6B, U9B/C, U12B/C, U18B/C and U18BD. Two U18BD demonstrators and additional purchased by NdeM (Mexico). All models except U4B subsequently built. Alco 12-251 powered RS-11 and RSD12 introduced to compete with GP9 and SD9.

1957 - Last 70 ton built for US use, "replaced" by U6B but few built for US. First production Universals are U9C for Chile, though other pre-production models were built. 76 ton C-C for USATC with Alco 6-251.

1959 - "XP-24" demonstrators built #751-752

1961 - U25B (hi-nose) demonstrators built #753-756

1963 - U25B (lo-nose) demonstrators built #2501-2504

1966 - last White Pass & Yukon shovelnoses - Alco 6-251

1969 - Last Alco delivered - production continued by MLW in Canada.

From what I've seen, all the Alco diesel-electric locomotive models were marketed under Alco-GE, as apparently were the GE 44 ton and 70 ton as they were considered "railroad" versus industrial designs. The GE standard industrial line seems to have been marketed primarily as GE locos. IGE seemed to not have any restrictions. The one domestic model that approached competition with Alco's model line was the 95 ton but all were built as 4GE747 so definitely industrial. AD&N did buy one, but apparently it was restricted to plant switching while their stock 70 tons handled the road traffic.

What I have concluded so far:

Alco had design and quality issues that reflected poorly with GE.
Alco (and BLH) suffered from steam era management that did not transition well to diesel production.
The Alco 244 series engine had its drawbacks (as did other builder's engines of the era including the EMD 567B), and its replacement 251 engines appeared to have had some serious teething issues which GE was in the middle of.
I do believe their were conflicts between Alco and GE regarding some international and other orders, but not necessarily the ones claimed by others.
GE's engineering and design participation extended well beyond the electrical system, and Alco and GE founds themselves increasingly at odds.
Turbochargers were a definite part of the Alco/GE conflict, and connected to the FDL development.
Circa 1951, GE was content to let Alco lead the large diesel-electric production effort as GE thought the future was in straight electric and GTEL for mainline locomotives (both of which GE could produce without Alco's participation).
Whatever caused the Alco-GE split must have occurred circa 1952-1953.

The amazing thing is assuming that GE had no intent of splitting with Alco in 1951, they seemed to have quickly pivoted without hesitation to work with Cooper-Bessemer to further develop (and subsequently obtain) their FV series engines with the 750 test set being deployed on the Erie Railroad a very short time later. GE seemed to continue limited use of the 6-251 (at customer request?) up until 1966. Within three years of the 1953 divorce GE offered the Universal line using the Caterpillar D-397D engine (U6B) and the Cooper-Bessemer FV-B series engines. XP-24 test set in 1959, by 1963 the production lo-nose design U25B demonstrator set was fielded - only 10 years after the divorce, putting Alco out of production only 5 years later. It should be noted that GE was content to continue to sell MLW/BBD electrical equipment, but did GE ever make an offer to buy them out?

Just some odd thoughts ....

  by Engineer Spike
With the demise of the Alco-GE agreement, and subsequent GE solo road locomotive sales, how did MLW escape? I know that Canada required locomotives to be built domestically, or charged huge duty fees. Why didn’t GE try to tap the Canadian market earlier? MLW was basically selling somewhat improved Century series. They still had GE electrical gear. Why didn’t GE set up shop there? It didn’t take CPR long to remove them from transcontinental service, and restrict them to Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Maybe GE could have worked the same magic that they did in the US. I do realize that the market was smaller, with only 2 major customers. Even so PGE/BCR was pretty steady to near the end.
  by Typewriters
Business deals like this arrangement were almost certainly considered proprietary information in that the details could affect share value and so would be closely held. Even details released to the shareholders and trade papers may not have been complete. Has anyone tried to find any of either firms’ Annual Reports to see what was written in those?