Like I warned you, fair readers, I cover everything from bicycles to trains here-

First off, a bit o’ historic background is in order- Back in the 1920s GM bought out Winton and their two stroke diesels and like they did back then, invested serious money in the company. By the late 1930s this resulted in the development of two stroke supercharged diesel engines great and small- The Detroit Diesel for trucks and the “Cleveland” diesel for GM’s locomotives. These came to be know as “EMD” locomotives, short for the GM “Electro Motive Division” that built them. EMD had competitors- steam locomotive builders like Baldwin and Alco did not give up without a fight, and developed their own diesel locomotives as a hedge against wholesale abandonment of the steam locomotive.

EMD went on to produce a series of hits- the E and F model streamliners, and the GP and SD freight locomotives. By the late 1960s EMD dominated the market and Baldwin and Alco had given up. EMD was an industrial tour de force, with a massive plant in LaGrange, Illinois that came to be know as the “home of the diesel locomotive” and made virtually the entire locomotive there.

General Electric had dabbled in locomotives a bit, building small “box cab” powered boxcars and supplying electrical parts to Alco. With the demise of Alco, GE entered the locomotive market right at EMD’s peak with more a belly flop than a splash. GE locomotives then were generally considered to be inferior in every way to the EMD products and rather unreliable. But GE locomotives were cheap and it seemed they’d give easy credit to anyone- amazing the number of railroads that went bankrupt with a fleet of new GE locomotives on their rails…

By the 1980s the glory days of the railroads were over, with so many bankruptcies that the future of the very industry was in doubt. As one would expect, the market for new locomotives crashed. GM’s EMD responded by shutting down the half of the LaGrange plant that assembled their locomotives, moving production to a smaller facility in London, Ontario and outsourcing more of their parts. Meanwhile, GE kept plugging along and improving their product. Come the 1990s and the railroads recovered, grew, and started buying new locomotives again. EMD’s little London plant couldn’t keep up and assembly was outsourced- Conrail even had to assemble some engines themselves to get new EMD locomotives. Production shifted to odd places like Mexico, and EMD’s quality suffered.

Meanwhile, GE just kept quietly improving there product, and by the turn of the century the major freight railroads were splitting their new locomotive purchases between GE and EMD. GE scored a coup in winning almost all of Amtrak’s orders, even though their “Genesis” passenger locomotive was less reliable than the EMD F40 that it replaced. In the new century, railroads increasingly preferred GE’s better fuel economy and reliability over EMD’s offerings, and GE passed EMD in sales. Granted, GE’s locomotives with their computer controls weren’t always popular with locomotive engineers, but as always GE plugged away and improved the product with software upgrades. GM responded by putting EMD up for sale…

Which resulted in an outfit called Progress Rail or something like that swallowing EMD, and then no doubt turning a tidy profit selling themselves to Caterpillar. Yup, the company that couldn’t come up with an EPA 2007 legal engine, never mind EPA2010, now owns (formerly) legendary EMD!

And of course, CAT did what CAT always seem to do these days, outsource or relocate or out and out “badge engineer” somebody else’s product with a CAT logo. So CAT built a whole new plant in Muncie, Indiana and hired a bunch of newbies to build their (formerly) legendary EMD locomotives. Now you can probably train monkeys and certainly some pretty dumb humans to build cars where all they have to do is snap part “A” onto part “B”, but with locomotives it’s different… The whole market is only a couple thousand in a good year, and the railroads tend to want a lot of custom features. That means that locomotive building is not a job for any idiot that will work cheap. Ignoring that fact, CAT closed the London plant with it’s experienced workers, replacing them with newbies at half the pay in their new Muncie plant.

That’s probably just the beginning… CAT PR is babbling about a CAT engined EMD locomotive… Heads up, LaGrange EMD workers. The CAT engined EMD has been tried before, and it was a flop even though CAT practically gave them free engines. And the locomotive version of  EPA 2007 and 2010 is coming, and the company that couldn’t meet the EPA truck regulations now has to meet similar EPA locomotive regulations? Hopefully, EMD LaGrange developed an EPA compliant EMD engine before CAT took over.

So in the locomotive division, EMD has now decisively won the race to the bottom. Meanwhile, GE just keeps pluggin’ along with the same experienced workers in the same Erie plant they’ve been in for decades, improving the product…

 

 

 

 

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