A Focus on EMD F-Units by Alex Mayes

Gettysburg Scenic Railroad in Pennsylvania. (Alex Mayes photo)

New: 1 July 2022
Electro-Motive's F-unit impacted North American Railroading more than any other single locomotive model. The four-axle freight hauler with the bull-dog nose provided greater economy, reliability, and dependability, and its building-block approach to horsepower gave railroads a degree of operational flexibility that had not previously existed. Driven by the builder's V16-567 diesel engine, the F-unit had become the darling of the railroad industry and in the process sealed the fate of the locomotive steam engine.

The LaGrange builder introduced diesel-electric technology to main-line freight railroading in late 1939. The Santa Fe railroad helped pioneer the technology by placing the first order in 1940; another 34 railroads purchased F-units by the end of 1946. 567-powered, single-engine cab units were employed in all types of mainline, short line and passenger service; the final F-unit count totaled more than 7600 F-units.

All images and captions were provided by the photographer Alex Mayes.

F-Unit Gallery

Chicago & North Western Commuter F's

A pair of Chicago and North Western Transportation Company commuter trains duck under a vintage signal bridge laden with upper quadrant semaphores in August 1978. This location is at the western entrance to the CNW passenger terminal in downtown Chicago. On the left is an inbound train in the push mode powered by F7 No, 413; on the right is an outbound train powered by E8 No. 8025B.
Rock Island Freight Unit

A Rock Island grain train crosses over Calumet Sag Channel in Blue Island, Illinois in August 1978. A pair of EMD F7s power the 88-car train.
Canadian National Passenger F-units

Our train stopped at The Pas station on July 1, 1985. The power for our train was Canadian National freight GMD F7s Nos. 9168 and 9158. Since Via Rail was eight years old by then we were surprised to see GMD F7s still in CN paint. Coupled behind the 9158 is a Via Rail head-end power car equipped with a diesel/generator to provide electricity for the consist.
An Alternate Form of B-unit

While exploring around the Canadian National freight yard in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 4 1985 I came across this former CN F7 which had been converted to a B-unit. Its cab had been stripped of all appliances and controls, and the windows covered. It was coupled between two GMD GP9s, so the lashup was kind of a bizarre A-B-A consist!
SOO 2500A, Ex-EMD FP7 Demo

A hostler in Soo Line's Schiller Park Yard prepares to move EMD FP7 No. 2500A in August 1978. Schiller Park Yard was the southern terminus of the Soo Line Railroad, located in Des Plaines, IL. It consisted of six arrival tracks, 15 classifications tracks, an engine terminal with roundhouse, two caboose tracks, four team tracks, two freight house tracks, nine R.I.P. tracks, a scale track, a clean-out track, two TOFC tracks and nine local industries. Canadian Pacific now owns the Soo Line. FP7 No. 2500A was one of several such passenger engines used by the Soo Line for their passenger service between Chicago, Duluth, Winnipeg and other places. It is currently owned by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and is used in excursion service.

One of the most intriguing developments for many railfans in the early 1990s was the creation of the Nebkota Railway; it ran between Chadron and Merriman, 74 miles, on the Chicago and North Western's Cowboy Line. What made this new operation so intriguing is that their trains were powered by a classic set of F-units painted in a striking silver and red scheme, which was a real treat for first-generation diesel fans. The three covered wagons were acquired from VIA Rail in Canada. Due to the loss of grain traffic the railway was forced to abandon portions of its line, and later the operation was sold to another railroad, ending the runs with the Fs. In this photo, taken in September 1996, a Nebkota train heads east near Gordon, Nebraska. Leading the train is FP7 No. 55, originally Canadian Pacific No. 4099; trailing is F9B No. 66, originally Canadian National No. 6612; and the third diesel is FP9 No. 54, originally Canadian National No. 6451.
Tourist Line F-Unit

Gettysburg Scenic Railroad, prior to Pioneer Lines ownership, used F-units in both freight and tourist train service. This photo shows GSR #401 (ex-Erie LTV Miming) and 402 (ex-Chicago & North Westerm 4086) leading an afternoon excursion.
Dual Power Commuter F-Unit

A pair of EMD-built FL9s lead an early evening commuter train along the eastern shore of the Hudson River. Built in October 1957, the leader was ex-New Haven #2017; it later carried the colors of Penn Central #5017 and Conrail #5017.
Museum F-Units On The Main

Southern Railway FP7s No. 6143 and 6133 lead an excursion train north bound on the Southern main at Culpeper, VA on June 20, 1981. This train, titled The Piedmont Limited, is on the return leg of an Alexandria-Charlottesville VA round trip. The excursion was sponsored by the Potomac and Washington DC Chapters NRHS, and the Chesapeake Division of the Railroad Enthusiasts, known as the Joint Trip Committee.
Short Line F-Unit

For most of the 1980s railfans were drawn to the Louisiana and North West Railroad, a 62-mile shortline running between McNeil, Arkansas and Homer, Louisiana. The attraction was the L&NW fleet of 30 year old EMD F7s hauling freight, which were becoming uncommon to see on most railroads by then. In 1986 the L&W had five F7s and one FP7 on their roster, however the F-units were gone by the early 1990s, replaced by EMD Geeps. This photo was taken of a south bound L&NW local at Brister, Arkansas on June 7, 1984. Leading the 27 car train are F7s No. 47 and 45, both ex-Southern Pacific units

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