2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Railway transport

GM&O #742, an ALCO FA-1, leads an eastbound freight train through Wikcliffe, KY, in June 1951.
Power type Diesel-electric
Builder American Locomotive Company (ALCO)
Model FA
Build date January 1946 —
May 1959
Total production 1,354
AAR wheel arr. B-B
Gauge ft 8½  in (1435  mm)
Length 53 ft 1 in (16.2 m)
Total weight 243,000  lb (110,000  kg)
255,000 lb (116,000 kg)
Fuel capacity 1,200  gal (4,542  L)
Prime mover ALCO 244
ALCO 251B (FPA-4/FPB-4)
Engine type 4-stroke diesel
Aspiration Turbocharger
Displacement 8,256 in³ (135.2 L)
Cylinders V12
Cylinder size 9 in × 10.5 in
(229 mm × 267 mm)
Transmission DC generator,
DC traction motors
Top speed 65  mph (105  km/h)
Power output 1,500  hp (1,119 kW) —
early FA-1/FB-1
1,600 hp (1,194 kW) —
later FA-1/FB-1, FA-2/FB-2, FPA-2/FPB-2
1,800 hp (1,343 kW) —
Tractive effort 60,875 lbf (271 kN)
63,750 lbf (284 kN)
Locomotive brakes Dynamic, straight air
Train brakes Air
Locale North America

The ALCO FA was a family of B-B diesel locomotives designed to haul freight trains. The locomotives were built in Schenectady, New York, by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) between January 1946 and May 1959. They were of a cab unit design, and both cab-equipped lead ( A unit) FA and cabless booster ( B unit) FB models were built. A dual passenger-freight version, the FPA/FPB, was also offered. It was equipped with a steam generator for heating passenger cars.

Externally, the FA and FB models looked very similar to the ALCO PA models produced in the same period. They shared many of the same characteristics both aesthetically and mechanically. It was the locomotive's mechanical qualities and newer locomotive models from both General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Electric (GE) that ultimately led to the retirement of the locomotive model from revenue service. Several examples of FAs and FBs have been preserved in railroad museums, a few of them in operational states on such lines as the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Models overview

Three different models were offered. The FA-1/FB-1, which featured a 1,500 hp (1,119 kW) rating, was built from January 1946 to October 1950 with a 1,600 hp version produced between March and August 1950 (many early models were subsequently upgraded to 1,600 hp). The 1,600 hp (1,194 kW) FA-2/FB-2 (along with the FPA-2/FPB-2 variants) was built between October 1950 and June 1956. The FPA-4/FPB-4 was built between October 1958 and May 1959 by ALCO's Canadian subsidiary, Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW).

Externally, the FA-1/FB-1 could be distinguished from the FA-2/FB-2 (FPA-1/FPB-2) by the position of the radiator shutters. The FPA-4/FPB-4 were visually different due to the additional radiator space that was positioned below the shutters. These Canadian variants were intended and used for high-speed passenger service, and remained in use into the 1990s on VIA Rail Canada.

The FA had the same distinctive styling as its larger cousin, the ALCO PA, with a long, straight nose tipped by a headlight in a square, slitted grille, raked windshields, and trim pieces behind the cab windows that lengthened and sleekened the lines. As with the PA, the overall design owed much to the Fairbanks-Morse Erie-built design, which had been constructed by ALCO's sales partner General Electric (GE) at their Erie, Pennsylvania, plant. GE's industrial designer Ray Patten styled the FA and FB, and many believe it likely that he took drawings of the Erie-built as a starting point, lengthening and squaring the nose and giving it a more aggressive look. The majority of FA components were compatible with the PA.

As with the PA, the model 244 diesel prime mover proved to be the undoing of the PA, and the locomotives failed to capture a marketplace dominated by General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD). The later 251-series engine, a vastly improved prime mover, was not available in time for ALCO to recover the loss of reputation caused by the unreliability of the 244. By the time the ALCO 251 engine was accepted into widespread use, General Electric had launched their entries into the diesel-electric locomotive market. General Electric eventually supplanted ALCO as a manufacturer of locomotives, leading to ALCO's demise in 1969.

An eastbound Union Pacific freight train, pulled by a trio of ALCO model FA locomotives, passes near Cheyenne, Wyoming in September of 1955.
An eastbound Union Pacific freight train, pulled by a trio of ALCO model FA locomotives, passes near Cheyenne, Wyoming in September of 1955.

Original production

Almost 800 FA units were built by ALCO and MLW, with just over 15% of them sold to New York Central Railroad, and another 5% each to Union Pacific Railroad, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Missouri Pacific Railroad. About half as many FB units were produced and sold in similar ratios.




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MLW built 125 of the various FP models with the largest quantity, 46% of the total production, sold to Canadian National Railway.



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Surviving examples

An ALCO FA-1 operates in MetroRail commuter service during the 1970s.
An ALCO FA-1 operates in MetroRail commuter service during the 1970s.

Some 20 units of various designations exist today in a preserved state, all of which are owned by railway museums or historical societies. Several excursion railways, including the Grand Canyon Railway and Napa Valley Wine Train, own operating examples which are in regular service.

ALCO "World Locomotive"

ALCO's "World Locomotive" (introduced in 1953) is an 1,800 hp "cousin" to MLW's FPA-4 passenger locomotive. As with the FPA-4, these units ride atop six-wheel trucks and utilize the ALCO model 251B diesel engine as the prime mover. The only locale within the Americas where ALCO-built cab units, such as America Latina Logistica (ALL) #8414, still see daily usage in freight duty is Argentina.

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