Alco's Six-Axle Freight Cabs

1st Image: EL #852 blasts through the Ravena, Ohio country-side on 1 May 1968. (Rod Peterson photo / Bill Kalkman collection)


2nd Image: Lehigh Valley PAs with w/b freight pass beneath the L&NE bridge over the Lehigh River. (Mac Owen photo / R. Craig Collection)

American's love for the family automobile and the growing popularity of flying led to the demise of many passenger trains during the late 1950s and early 1960s . This shift in travel mobility resulted directly in lots of six-axle (A-1-A) passenger locomotives from the erection floors of builders Alco, Baldwin and EMD being stored or deemed surplus. Consequently, many of these sleek-looking cab units were sold, traded-in or scrapped. In contrast, a few main-line carriers opted to temporarily try them in freight service, as well as on hot mail trains and TOFC piggy-backers. Back in March of 2022, EMD E-Units in freight service were highlighted in here. This month attention is drawn to Alco passenger cabs hauling freight; they were truly awesome sights.

A few railroads were even known to have permanently re-geared their six-axle Alco cab units and placed them in everyday freight service as a means of maximizing aging-locomotive investments. The success of these "PFAs" however was most often dependent on a railroad's geographic profile. ("PFA" is used here for convenience and with tongue-in-cheek; it is not to suggest in anyway that the term was ever a part of Alco's or railroading's lexicon.)

Although the performance and durability of Alco locomotives powered by the 244 prime mover had often been brought to question, (especially units built prior to October of 1950), engine crews praised the ability of PAs to lug heavy tonnage, especially at sustained low speeds.

By the way, last year's discussion on "E-Units in Freight Service" can be still re-visited here.

New: May 2023



Photo Exhibits

New Haven DL109s

It should be noted that six-axle Alco passenger units in freight service was hardly a novel concept. The New Haven railroad from the beginning had used pre-WW II Alco DL109s in freight service at night, and on passenger trains during the day. NH DL109 #0745 was at Providence Rhode Island on 23 September 1955. (W.T.Clynes photo)

Santa Fe PAs

Santa Fe appears to have experimented with Alco passenger cabs in freight service as early as April 1959. This Oklahoma shot shows PA1 #52 and a companion possibly leading a freight consist of refrigerated box cars. Given the lack of existing photos, the experiment did not meet ATSF management expectations. (K.B. King photo / Jim Spears collection)

Erie Railroad PAs

There is photographic evidence suggesting Erie Railroad was using PAs on freight manifests as early as 1951. In this post Erie-DL&W merger view, one of the railroad's long-snouted passenger Alcos leads a mixed merchandiser; the 2000-hp locomotive still wears the original attire of partner Erie as it passes through Kenton, Ohio. (Rod Peterson photo on 12 February 1966 / Bill Kalkman collection)

Erie Lackawanna PAs

Not long after EL pulled the last PA from passenger service, it was common to see a match set of two or three PAs hauling tonnage. Still in full Erie paint, EL PA1 850 leads a general freight towards Marion, Ohio. During the late 1960s, the area around the EL diesel shops was often a good place to find PAs. (Rod Petersson photo on 9 October 1966 / Bill Kalkman collection)

Erie Lackawanna PAs

As ridership shrank on EL passenger trains during the mid-1960s, the railroad permanently placed several surplus six-axle Alco cab units in the general freight pool to handle tonnage between Chicago and Meadville, Pennsylvania. (Robert Farkas photo)

Lehigh Valley PAs

A pair of LV "Glamour Girls" lead a general freight manifest westbound at South Plainfield, New Jersey in August 1962.. The duo had pulled LV's crack "Black Diamond" passenger train between Buffalo and New York City until 1961. (Mac Owen photo / R.Craig collection)

Nickel Plate PA

NKP spent $2.25 million to purchase 11 PA1s for passenger service in 1948. The railroad's timetable carded four Chicago-Buffalo and two Cleveland-St Louis passenger trains. By 1962, several of the trains were discontinued and the PA1s became trade-in fodder. (R. Craig collection)

Pennsylvania RR

PRR was one of several railroads to re-gear their 2000-hp Alco passenger cab units and place them in routine freight service. The 5757 and 5758 pictured here lead a mixed manifest at Philadelphia, Pensylvania. The photo was taken by William D. Volkmer and is from the collection of Thomas C. Ayers.

Rock Island DL109

Several railroads during the 1950s replaced the problem-plagued 244 engine in their Alco locomotives with EMD's reliable 567 engine. Rock Island was clearly the leader when it came to engine swaps; the list included Bladwin switchers, FM H15-44s and Alco FAs and RS3s. The most notable being Alco DL109 "Christine" shown here on 19 March 1967 at Morris, Illinois. (Rick Burn photo, Marty Bernard collection)

Union Pacific PAs

By the fall of 1958, UP had long lost confidence in its fleet of Alco 244-powered FAs and PAs to the point that six-axle cab units were commonplace on freight manifests and mixed trains after being re-ballasted and re-geared. On October 18, UP 603 and a companion lead a westbound freight on the out-skirts of Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by W.A. "Art" Gibson Jr from the James T. Wilson Collection.)

Delaware & Hudson PA4s

D&H's four PAs were rebuilt in 1975/76 to run on the Albany-Montreal Adirondack, and they did until replaced by Amtrak's Rohr Turbo units the next year. As a result, the surplus Alcos ran in freight service for several months. This July 1977 shot shows the quartet leading a southbound Rouses Point to Whitehall freight consist. (Gardiner Cross photo)


National de Mexico railway wasted little time pressing the recently acquired four ex-D&H Alco cab units into service on freight as well as passenger trains. The newcomers appeared to work more often independently rather than in M/U with other PAs. This photo shows the #DH19 departing San Luis Potosi in January 1979 heading to AGS. (John C. Benson photo)

Reference Sources:

  • Lehigh Valley in Color by: Robert J. Yanosey
  • New Haven: The Final Decades by Scott Hartley
  • Rock Island Locomotives by Louis A. Marre
  • Train (internet forum)

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