• Reason(s) for Demise of ALCO

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

Moderator: Alcoman

  by Engineer Spike
The part about not getting sales in countries which had been part of the British Empire sounds a little far off. Both GM and Alco were firmly established in Canada, which is still affiliated with Britain. Look how well Alco has done in India.

I know some about mechanical design, and also about diesel engines. How was the wet block of the 251 a detriment?
  by Allen Hazen
Re: sales to British Empire
Thee was certainly some preference for British products in the Empire/Commonwealth. There was also, in the first few years post-WWII, a foreign exchange issue: it was easier for Australian railways (and I would ***GUESS*** those in other Commonwealth areas) to come up with Pounds than with US Dollars to buy new locomotives. (I think the first Victorian Railways (Aust) EMD diesels came a year or too later than they would have otherwise because of this. I have histories of the B-class and S-class VR units, and there is a comment somewhere in them about for-ex issues...). The least bad of the British diesel locomotive builders, English Electric, managed to sell a reasonable number of units to Commonwealth countries.

Despite this, Alco seems to have done fairly well in the non-African part of the Commonwealth. Engineer Spike has mentioned the Indian case. In Australia, different state railways had different policies in the steam-replacement era. EMD dominated Victoria and Queensland (with, in Queensland, a significant minority share going to the British manufacturer English Electric, and a token to GE), but in New South Wales I think Alco designs significantly outnumbered EMD among first generation diesels.

In Africa there may have been a technical issue. GE seems to have come up with designs suitable for African ("Cape Gauge") railways before Alco did (GE's U-series introduced in 1956; Alco's Dl-541 being too large and having to be redesigned as the Dl-543 before they could make serious efforts to enter the African market: so here it seems that Alco's marketing and engineering people erred in their plans.
  by Pneudyne
Engineer Spike wrote:I know some about mechanical design, and also about diesel engines. How was the wet block of the 251 a detriment?
As I understand it, this relates to the time required to change a power assembly in the event of a scuffed liner. With the EMD (567C and later) and C-B/GE engines, with their sleeved liner, dry block construction, this could be done whilst the engine was still hot and without draining the coolant, and could be completed within three hours when the pressure was on to get a locomotive back into service. On the other hand, with the Alco 251 engine, it was necessary to let the engine cool somewhat and then drain the coolant before replacing the liner. Thus the locomotive would likely be out of service for the best part of a day.

Whether this was an issue in practice would have depended upon individual road practices and expectations. But I have heard that it was this aspect that caused the UP not to extend its C855 fleet, which (apart from exhaust smoke) was seen as quite good when in operation. The power assembly change downtime disadvantage was magnified for the twin engine case.

Whether it was an issue for South African Railways (SAR) I don’t know. But what is known is that SAR did appreciate the three-hour turnaround time for a power assembly change on its EMD fleet. Anyway, information more recently to hand clarifies the SAR initial choice of diesel locomotive supplier. Apparently it came down to a choice between GE and EMD, with the GE U12B being chosen. Presumably the G12 was the EMD contender. At the time, Alco would not have had a horse in that race, with nothing between the small DL531 and the much larger DL540, so it would have been a non-starter. The decision in favour of GE was made because it was willing to fit GSC cast trucks, whereas EMD would supply only its own flexicoil design. SAR had an established relationship with the South African GSC licensee, and wanted to continue that. When SAR did eventually buy EMD locomotives, the initial order (GL26C model) was fitted with GSC-pattern cast trucks.

  by tgibson
Note that the three countries you mention: India, Australia, and Canada all had Alco license production within their respective countries. Thus the currency issue would not be a factor (or would be less of a factor), and I assume that many countries would prefer home built production over imported locos, even if from the mother country. In contrast, Canadair produced the DC-4M using Rolls Royce Merlin engines and Trans-Canada and Canadian Pacific (along with BOAC) bought them to avoid having to pay for Pratt and Whitney radials from the USA. So Canada would buy from the UK if something built in country (i.e. the engines) were not available.
  by Pneudyne
In the Indian case, Alco was prepared to enter into a licensing agreement that supported eventual complete locomotive manufacture in India including the Alco 251 engine. At the time, EMD, who had also supplied complete locomotives to India, was not prepared to license the building of its 567-series engine. That difference may well have tilted the balance in favour of Alco. On the electrical equipment side, a similar licence was entered into with AEI of the UK, who had become an electrical equipment supplier to Alco in 1959. This licence covered electric locomotives and EMU equipment as well as that for diesel-electric locomotives, so was probably more comprehensive than could have been offered by EMD at the time. (Also, EMD electrical technology of the era was probably not the best of starting points upon which to build a new industry.) Hitherto Indian DC electric locomotives had come from English Electric and Hitachi, with some derivative local builds. Anyway, the two licenses (both dating from 1962) covered a wide range of Indian Railways requirements, diesel and electric, and the balance between the USA and UK principals, even if happenstance, may have suited the general non-alignment position of India at that time.

In some ways, India chose well. The way that Alco’s future turned out probably gave it much freer rein when it came to future diesel locomotive development. And AEI seemed to have had a fairly relaxed attitude that likely became more relaxed after it was absorbed by GEC in 1968.

In Australia, local manufacture with maximum local content was an imperative. The Commonwealth preference was still operative in the 1950s, and as well dollars were in scarce supply. EMD was the first to set up an Australian licensee (Clyde-GM), with Alco following somewhat later (Goodwin-Alco). Initially the electrical equipment for the Goodwin-Alco locomotives was supplied by Australian GE (AGE), some of it locally manufactured. Ownership of AGE then passed to AEI UK, who from 1959 could supply, from Australian manufacture, a full range of electrical equipment for Alco locomotives. Considering that Clyde-GM got there before it with Australian manufacture, Goodwin-Alco did well to catch up. In the NSWGR case, I understand that Clyde-GM got itself wrong sided with the customer over the 42 class order, and was on the outside looking in for many years after that. Allegedly the 42 was overweight, rode and tracked a lot more roughly than the smooth 44 class (Alco DL500 model), and consumed more fuel for the same work. The Alco might have been better in reliability and availability terms, too. Of course, if there was an institutional bias in favour of Alco, then the Alco fleet might have received better treatment, whereas the much smaller EMD fleet were second-class citizens.

Still, one could say that the Alco DL500 was a very good fit, in terms of power, weight and profile, for the Australian standard and broad gauge road requirements. And it was designed to be that way; it was not an adaptation of a standard US domestic model. On the other hand, Alco did not make any real inroads into the Australian Cape gauge market, which supports the notion that it hadn’t sized its export products for this requirement, hence its lack of success in central and southern Africa. South Australian Railways had some Cape gauge DL531 models, but then its DL531 fleet operated on all three gauges.

Canada seems to have been a mixed bag when it came to transportation technology in the couple of decades or so following WWII. Certainly there was some British leaning on the aviation side. As well as the DC-4M case, TCA bought the Vickers Vanguard and CP bought the Bristol Britannia, both models that had (predictably) very limited markets. TCA specified Rolls Royce Conway engines for its DC-8 fleet, and was the first airline to specify this engine for any DC-8 or 707. CP followed suit for its DC-8 fleet. (TCA made an early change to the P&W JT3D, but CP must have been about the last customer to acquire a new Conway-engined DC-8.) Rail and road largely followed US practice much more than British practice. Heavy rail transit was something of an exception, and Toronto had some British-built cars as well as using the AEI (BTH) PCM control in some locally built units. (BTH of course developed its MU version of PCM from the GE single-car original.) Toronto was also an early use of the British Westinghouse Westcode EP braking system. Post-WWII Canadian streetcars were of the US PCC type, and trolleycoaches followed the US Brill pattern with GE motors and MRC (aka “jerkomatic”) control. (There it might have been better to have adopted British technology.) Transit and highway buses followed the US pattern, albeit with some use of British diesel engines. (CCF used AEC diesel engines, one hopes with locally-specified cooling systems of adequate capacity.)

The Canadian railroads had used US-type steam locomotives. It is difficult to imagine that the UK builders could have produced comparable units, and the tendency of some of the those builders to stay with Victorian-era mechanical construction unless forced (often reluctantly) to do otherwise by their customers would not have made them obvious candidates. Then when CN and CP were ready to buy diesels in quantity, the British builders were hardly geared up to supply in quantity. Rather they were still very much on the early learning curve, endeavouring to develop their products on the basis of small and sporadic export orders, for which in-service performance feedback was not always easy to obtain, there being no domestic market at the time. (Those were UK’s “export or die” years, during which, in respect of rail and road transport at least, those in authority appeared to have worked very hard to ensure the maximum disparity between domestic and overseas market product requirements, so making it doubly hard for the manufacturers. In the rail case, BR’s failure to start a dieselization programme circa 1948 was not really the result of an intelligent policy decision, but the outcome of a power structure that allowed a political engineering appointee (who was something of a joke) to ignore the guidance of those above him and satisfy his own ego-driven need to build a new range of steam locomotives (which needless to say retained some of the Victorian-era mechanical precepts, in part because of capability limitations in BR’s inherited workshops.) The first British main line diesel locomotive type that could be said to have been a really good performer was the Rhodesian Railways DE2 class, built by English Electric in 1955. (Even late in their lives, they were matching or even bettering the younger GE U20C DE6 class in terms of monthly mileages when used on the same services. And the U20C was something of a “gold standard” in the Cape gauge world in the 1960s and 1970s.) But by 1955 the Canadian roads were well into dieselization, and had already made their supplier choices.

  by Allen Hazen
Nice summary!
Couple of questions...
1) Re: Australia. My impression is that Australian license-building wasn't as completely localized as India's: Australian companies did the "locomotive mechanical portions," and, as you recount, Australian Alcos ultimately had Australian electrica gear, but I think the diesel engines (for Australian-built Alco, EMD, and GE locomotives) were always imported? Is this right? (My guess is that it made economic sense: the Australian locomotive market wasn't big enough to support domestic manufacture of the engines.)
2) Re: Britain. There's a lot I don't know. But the CMO who promoted the BR range of "standard' steam locomotives had come to BR from the LMS, hadn't he? And the LMS itself, before nationalization, seemed to think that mainline dieselization was worth looking into: the first British mainline diesel prototypes where built for the LMS (and the LMS was proud of them: supposedly the LMS initials were cast into some metal components, so that even if post-nationalization BR tried to change the image, there would still be a sign that the design had originated from LMS). Do you know more of the story? Were there factions in the LMS hierarchy, with BR choosing the leader of the steam faction?
  by mandealco
Thanks guys for all the great info. I don't have much to add, but the comment on the Rhodesian Railways DE2 class made me look at our own NZR Df class from 1954. They were very similar and rather unsuccessful. An additional order for 21 of the 1500hp double engined and double ended units from English Electric was amended to 42 750hp single engined/ended Dg class. These were delivered about the same time as the first of the GM G-12's (Da class), the rest is history, though the rebuilt G-12s are not!

Enjoying the ALCo talk.

  by Pneudyne
Hi Allen:


Re your questions:

1. Yes, the Australian licensees always imported the diesel engines from their principals. Some of the electrical equipment was imported initially – e.g. EMD generators, I think – but in time that moved to Australian manufacture. As you say, the total business on offer in Australia would not have justified local building of the engines. On the other hand, India was a huge market, and self-sufficiency appears to have been a major national goal in and of itself. In the Australian case, it was more a case of the optimum use of scarce foreign exchange.

2. That CMO, Riddles, had been with LMS, but had been seconded to WWII work and so was out of touch with subsequent LMS thinking, particularly under Ivatt, who was quite progressive, and was in favour of a diesel programme. It looks very much as if Riddles got the top BR (Railway Executive - RE) mechanical engineering job as a reward for his WWII efforts, and because he was a known quantity to the politicos. The power structure was such that although the British Transport Commission (BTC) was above the RE, it [BTC] couldn’t tell the RE what to do, even though Hurcombe of the BTC was in strongly favour of a diesel development programme. That situation obtained until the early 1950s, following a change of government after which Riddles was retired and the RE abolished.

Back to Alco, it did not manage to get into the New Zealand Cape gauge system, either. In part that was probably for non-technical reasons, but lack of suitable products may also have been a factor. There were some odd happenings in New Zealand Railways (NZR) in the early 1950s. As the result of a regime change which saw an anti-electric, pro-diesel (in fact very pro-EMD) faction come into power, a planned electrification programme was quietly set aside, but no additional diesel locomotives were ordered to replace the planned electric locomotive fleet that was not ordered. (Existing diesel orders placed by the prior regime had been to supplement the electrification scheme, and these were both delayed and cut back.) Thus by late 1954 there was a motive power crisis looming, and so a diesel locomotive tender was issued with very quick delivery being about the most important specification parameter. It just so happened that the best delivery times were offered by EMD. (What a surprise!) So EMD got the order. In its haste NZR stepped aside from its established requirements – enforced for other suppliers - for cast-frame trucks with very good tracking and riding ability. The EMD G12 fleet had rather poor trucks that did a lot of track damage, although this fact was strongly supressed for many years. The later cast-frame versions rode better, but still tracked badly.

Against that background, neither Alco nor any of the other bidder had any chance, regardless of the merits of their products. A cynical observer might say that the combination of the (otherwise unexplained) delay in issuing the tender coupled with the required delivery timing eliminated all but one supplier from real contention.

But in that case, Alco would have been out-of-court on technical grounds anyway. It (or I think it was Goodwin-Alco) bid what was effectively a precursor to the DL531, with A1A-A1A running gear, which at 950 hp (gross), was not really in the desired power class. GE had bid what could be viewed a precursor to the U12 road switcher, with the CB 8-cylinder engine set at 1100 hp and with A1A-A1A running gear, so that was closer to the mark. At that time Alco had a gap in its export range between its 6- and 12-cylinder models, so could not compete with the EMD G12 or the (forthcoming) GE U12. That gap was filled by the DL535 in 1961, using an uprated 6-cylinder engine, which conferred both advantages and disadvantages as compared with its competition. In part the DL535 was developed against an Indian Railways metre-gauge requirement, with many being built subsequently by DLW.

Possibly Alco (or its successors) had a couple of other chances at NZR business. For the South Island universal locomotive, NZR appeared to have looked at both the Clyde-GM GL8C and an English Electric design (of which 5 prototypes had been supplied), and preferred the latter. Thus the tender documents were written accordingly. But financing was by the World Bank, who insisted that fair tendering rules be followed, something that NZR apparently had not always done in the past. The net result was that Mitsubishi got the business. Possibly or even probably Goodwin-Alco made a bid on the basis of its DL531 model. Quite a bit or lightening would have been needed to get its weight down to the required 63 long tons (roundly 140 000 lb). Also, I doubt that NZR would have accepted the standard rigid-bolster trimount trucks, so something better would have to have been fitted. Conceivably Goodwin-Alco had already done some of the redesign work in connection with Queensland Railways requirements, from which both the Clyde-GM GL8C and the EE design were derived. But Goodwin-Alco was an outsider at QR, so probably had little chance of getting the business anyway.

For the North Island “superpower” requirement, NZR chose the GE U26C, and never looked back. It may not have been too impressed by EMD’s offering at the time (GT22LC, I think, and lower power), and was apparently reassured generally on the GE front by South African Railways, who had a very large fleet of GE products, and was the other initial customer for the U26C. The MLW MX626 (whether supplied by MLW or Goodwin-Alco) might have been a contender, if in fact it was ready for bidding when the NZR tender was issued. East African Railways was the first customer for the MX-series, with an order placed in 1970. But there would not have been testimonial evidence for the performance of Cape gauge 12-cylincder Alcos at the time (with only one such having been built), and EAR is said to have had quite a bit of early trouble with its MX fleet.

  by mtoney
Alco had a good foot hold in the switcher market, but the early teething problems with the 244 put them way behind the 8 ball market share wise with the cab units and road switchers. Had Alco properly beta tested the 244 or skipped that and got 251 project to fruitation much sooner(again with proper beta testing), they might have stayed around a bit longer. GE bailing out over those issues was the nail in the coffin for Alco in the locomotive business. But the fact that many 251's solder on in ships, large tug boats and stationary use is a testament that therr final engine design was an excellent one. Just to little to late, the damage done by the 244's issues was done. Overseas sales aside, their reputation was stained forever with the 244, even though that engine design was eventually improved to where there are some still running in RS3's for shortlines. Even to this day, the GE"s that followed still have an "Alco like" chug to them and smoke under heavy load. Even EMD eventually fell to GE in the locomotive business due to quality issues with thier designs, but they managed to be sold to new owners and have regained some ground in the market. Mike the Aspie
  by Typewriters
ALCO lost a LOT of money trying to diversify into nuclear energy, and although they sold most of that business to Allis-Chalmers (and some contracts to B-L-H) they never made their money back on the enterprise.