Encounter with an old ‘Friend’

Amtrak No. 470 reposed on the dead line at Beech Grove Shops on August 11, 1991. It was rare to see a locomotive at this late date still wearing the Phase 1 livery that Amtrak created in 1972.

Amtrak No. 470 reposes on the dead line at Beech Grove Shops on August 11, 1991. It was rare to see a locomotive at this late date still wearing the Phase 1 livery that Amtrak created in 1972.

While looking through my collection of photographs of Amtrak trains recently I ran across the photo shown above of E unit No. 470. This image was made on August 11, 1991, at the Beech Grove shops in suburban Indianapolis.

Seeing this photo of No. 470 brought back some memories and reminded me of how my thinking about Amtrak’s early locomotive power has changed. But more about that later.

Look at this image and what do you see? Most would probably see a locomotive that is clearly past its prime. The peeling paint suggests that No. 470 had received little attention from Amtrak maintenance forces for some time.

Indeed it was a wonder that No. 470 was still at Beech Grove. It had been nearly eight years since Amtrak had used E units. That No. 470 is still wearing the Phase I livery suggests that it had not seen service for an even longer period of time.

But No. 470 was no ordinary E unit. Built by EMD in May 1955 for the Baltimore & Ohio, it wore number 1454 when it was conveyed to Amtrak. Its original Amtrak number was 400 and the limited roster information that I have indicates that it spent a good portion of its time assigned to Cumberland, Maryland, working on such trains as the Blue Ridge and James Whitcomb Riley.

In 1978 No. 400 was rebuilt into a prototype fuel tender, its traction motors and engine removed and replaced with fuel tanks. The idea was to place it between two F40PH locomotives on long-distance trains so as to avoid having to refuel en route.

Environmental regulations set to take effect in 1983 would mean that Amtrak would have to refurbish its refueling stations, something that might cost $20 million. Hence, a fuel tender was tried as a way to get around having to do that.

The test ruins using No. 400 as a fuel tender were successful. It was renumbered No. 470, the second E-unit to carry that number. The original No. 470 had been a former Union Pacific E9A.

The fuel tender idea failed to catch on, although I do not know why. Maybe the environmental regulations changed, but I suspect that Amtrak decided that instead of using fuel tenders it would refuel locomotives with trucks or refueling facilities owned by its contract railroads.

At the time that I photographed No. 470 on this humid August Sunday I paid little attention to it. I was at Beech Grove courtesy of a friend who was permitted to come in and look around on weekends when no one was working. My primary objective was to photograph the F40s, particularly to get some cab interior shots.

There were a lot of F40s parked outside the diesel shop and a few retired P30CHs. I only grabbed this snap snot of No. 470 because it has been years since I had seen an Amtrak E unit, let along one painted in the Phase I livery.

I wish I had spent more time examining No. 470. I see that the door on the engineer’s side is open and I wish I would have climbed up there and had a look around. The control stand may have been gone by then, but maybe not. But I didn’t have time for an old, ratty-looking E unit. And that was the way it was when the E units were still working Amtrak trains in the late 1970s.

In those days I was disappointed when I saw that the Amtrak train that I was ticketed to ride was being pulled by an E unit. E units were has-beens. I was enamored with the SDP40Fs, the F40s and the P30s because those locomotives represented progress.

Never mind that E units were classics. Their time had come and gone and I didn’t care for them all that much. They were another generation’s locomotive. They did not belong to my generation.

As I write this in 2009, I’m a lot older and a little wiser. I wish that I had not been so dismissive of the E and F units that I once disdained. There aren’t many of them left now except on tourist railroads, in museums and at the head of the Norfolk Southern executive train. I spent most of a day last year traveling to Bellevue just to see the NS executive train so I could see something that was once commonplace.

The SDP40s and P30s are gone now as are many of Amtrak’s F40s. Some F40s still live in commuter train service, on VIA Rail Canada and in other assignments here and there. A few survive on Amtrak as non-powered “cabbage cars” used in push-pull service.

I still have a lot of fondness for SDP40s, P30s and F40s. They remind me of a formative time in my life. It’s funny how things that impressed you at a young age tend to stick with you. Things just seem to make more of an impression when you are in you early 20s. I like that blue and silver Genesis units that are ubiquitous at the head of Amtrak trains today, but I can’t say that I love them as much as I did the aforementioned three models that came out in the 1970s.

To be sure, there are a lot of guys around my age who have always loved E units. It just took me a long time to understand that I should have respected and appreciated them a lot more when I had the chance to see them and ride behind them.

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One Response to “Encounter with an old ‘Friend’”

  1. David Warner Says:

    Information about three actual and planned fuel tenders can be found at http://www.amtrakbythenumbers.com.

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