Trackside Classic: 1955 Union Pacific EMD E9 – The Last Of The Classic Diesel Streamliners

(click on all images for full-sized viewing pleasure)

(first posted 7/16/2012)      It’s been a long, hot day, and I need to cool off – time to take a bike ride down to the river. And what do I see, like a mirage in the distance? A Union Pacific Streamliner, right out of 1955, sitting on a freight yard siding, and headed by the ultimate of GM’s classic diesel locomotives, a trio of E9s! Sunstroke or heat exhaustion? But as I get closer, I can hear the seventy-two cylinders throbbing away, eager to assault  4800 feet high Willamette Pass on this perfect summer evening; this thing is for real.

One of my biggest unfulfilled ambitions is to take a train over the Cascades in the summer (update: we did, later that summer); I’ve even toyed with the idea of hopping a freight from Eugene to Klamath Falls. But here is this, a childhood and adulthood dream, just waiting for me to climb aboard. Which door will it be?

The story of the streamlined diesel train involves the harmonious convergence of three key technologies: internal combustion locomotion, aerodynamics, and the use of light-weight alloys that were developed by the aeronautical industry. From the earliest days of the 20th century, the opportunities that self-propelled rail cars offered was compelling: lower operating cost, flexibility, and the means to serve smaller lines economically.

These motorized railcars were crude, though, with mechanical clutches, gears, and noisy engines inside the operator’s cabin.  How would you like to spend your day right next to this 150 hp Hall-Scott engine? You wonder why his shirtsleeve is oily, with all those exposed rockers?

The idea of exploiting the potential advantages of streamlining a train goes all the back to 1865, with Samuel Calthrop’s patent for an “air-resisting” train. But it would be a number of decades before aerodynamics were actually applied to trains.

The McKeen motorcar, with its parabolic wedge front end, was the first popular application of aerodynamics on the self-propelled motor car. Ironically, it was later found that its aerodynamics were actually better running backwards, with the blunt but rounded end first, and the pointed end last. Oh well; at the speeds these ran, its “wind-splitting” looks were realistically more important than the actual aerodynamic benefits.


But at higher speeds, aerodynamics had significant potential. It was the Germans who first put all the technologies together to create the first modern high-speed lightweight diesel-electric streamliner, the 1933 “Flying Hamburger” Class SVT 137.

A two-unit articulated train, it had two 12 cylinder Maybach diesel engines (810 hp total) that drove the generators for the DC electric traction motors. And the Flying Hamburger came by its name honestly; in regular service between Berlin and Hamburg, it covered the 178 miles in 138 minutes, an average of 77 mph. That would not again be equaled until the new German high-speed ICE trains were instituted on that run in 1997. Its top speed was solidly over 100 mph. Needless to say, it was a pivotal moment in railway history, and one not lost on Americans.

The Flying Hamburger’s breakthrough design and performance undoubtedly led to Pullman ordering an experimental high-speed railcar from the Stout Engineering Laboratories in 1933. William Stout was a pioneer in the use of lightweight metals in airplanes, and had developed the famous Ford Tri-Motor.  The “Railplane” had a lightweight welded tube frame covered in duralumin. It weighed a mere 26,000 lbs, and could hit 90 mph powered by just two 100hp truck engines.

All of this led directly to the pivotal request for proposals for a lightweight high-speed streamlined train by the Union Pacific in 1933. Two large rail-car builders, ACF and Pullman, each presented proposals. The Pullman was chosen, and Electro-Motive —  originally an engineering service and sales organization which became part of GM in 1931 — was chosen to supply the engine and electric-drive equipment. The result was the groundbreaking M10000.

A three-unit articulated train built almost exclusively out of lightweight aluminum alloy, the M10000 was a the prototype of all the American streamliners to come, and more specifically, those by the Union Pacific, which adopted the name “Streamliner” as its own. Before we examine it and its successors, we need to understand why the UP and other railroad companies, especially those in the West, were willing to gamble on this radical new form of small, light and fast equipment.

Between 1920 and 1932, passenger train-miles in the US plummeted from 47 billion to 16 billion, the result of the Depression and the increasing use of cars. It hit western railroads like the UP particularly hard, since they depended much more on tourist travel than the East Coast railroads with their dense inter-city rail networks.

It was the hope of luring travelers back on the trains with glamorous new streamliners, as well as their drastically lowered operating costs that spurred their rapid development. The M10000, along with the similarly groundbreaking stainless-steel Burlington Zephyr (right) that followed it by some months, brought out huge crowds on promotional tours of the country before going into actual revenue service. There was great interest in what was the perceived to be the equivalent of shiny airplanes rolling down the tracks.

It should be noted that the M10000 did not have a diesel engine, but a 600hp Winton V12 distillate (kerosene) engine, with carburetors and spark ignition. The reason was that Electro-Motive’s brand new two-stroke diesel engine, designed by Charles Kettering and operating on the same principles as the smaller Detroit Diesels, was not just quite ready yet. The Zephyr did take the plunge and used the new EMD Winton 201 diesel, but not without some risk.

That’s not to say that it was the first American application of diesel-electric rail motive power. Ironically, that was GE, in conjunction with Ingersoll-Rand. This 300 hp switcher from 1924 was the first, and led to a line of the first commercially successful switchers, with 600 hp. But GE played a distant second fiddle to EMD until recent years when they finally surpassed them.

In its extensive tests and tours of the US, the M10000, known as Little Zip,  proved itself in stellar fashion. It cruised effortlessly at 90 mph, and could hit 110 mph.Eventually, it went into revenue service as the City of Salina, between Kansas City and Salina, KA. It was a small trainset, seating  just108 passengers. But Union Pacific already ordered larger streamliners for its major routes.

The M10000 was hardly a handsome thing, looking more like worm than some of the other proposals. The similarities of its front end with the ill-fated Chrysler Airflow are all-too obvious.

Union Pacific’s second Streamliner, the 1935 sleeper-equipped M10001, was significantly longer but still fully-articulated (cars joined permanently, and sharing a joint truck in between them). It now had the new Model 201A Winton (GM) diesel, a V12 developing 900 hp at 750 rpm. The M10001 made the first coast-to-coast run of a diesel-electric, to test the feasibility of a 40 hour schedule, at a time when 60 hr coast-to-coast times were the norm. On this run, the M10001 covered the nine miles from Dix to Potter, Nebraska in 4½ minutes, or 120 mph. The total fuel cost for the 3248 mile trip was $70, or 60¢ per passenger. A comparable five-car steam train would have used $375 worth of fuel, and required numerous engine changes along the way. The diesel-electric proof-of-concept was highly convincing.

The 1936 M10002 really began to set the pattern for the future of the streamlined diesel-electric train: bigger and longer. The M10002 now had two power cars; the first (A unit) with a 1200 hp V16 version of the EMD-Winton diesel, and the shorter B unit with a 900 hp V12. The so-called City of Los Angeles went into service on the the premier Chicago-LA route, on a 39¾ hour schedule.


Union Pacific’s fourth Streamliner was the M10004 (there was no M10003), the City of San Francisco. This, along with identically-designed M10005 & M10006 City of Denver units, were the last UP Streamliner to have its power unit built by Pullman (with EMD propulsion). It also sported a distinctive new look, very automotive indeed. The power cars now both sported 1200 hp V16s each. The horsepower war was on.

By 1937, just three years after “Little Zip”, the definitive version of the classic streamlined train arrived on the UP, two additional new City of Los Angeles train sets. The two main changes were non-articulated full-height and width passenger cars, except for the two-car articulated chair-car set. And at the head end, there were three locomotives, and now built by EMD itself. These particular units were the EMD E-2, one A-unit, and two B-units, with 1800 hp each, two V12s per unit. With a combined rating of 5400 hp, the world had never seen anything like this before: a thundering powerhouse able to leap western mountain passes without breaking a sweat.

From the numbering sequence, the EMD E-series of passenger locomotives actually started with with this EA, a handsome unit built for the B&O in 1937. It was the first to sport the classic “slant-nose” style that soon became the standard for the type. But at this time, all EMD locos were essentially custom units, which explains why the UP’s E-2s (previous photo) had a different front end, a much more bulbous nose than the sleek EA. This pioneering locomotive is now in the  B&O Museum in Baltimore, where I’ve had the privilege to pay my respects.

The EA’s nose also was used on Santa Fe’s E1s, which became iconic with their “war bonnet” paint jobs and pulled the legendary streamlined Super Chief. As in so many cases, the very first of this long line of locomotives was the purest, with its graceful faired-in headlight and clean lines.

The E3 marred that a bit, with its protruding upper headlight, as well as a second one. Now power was up to 2000hp per unit. And from here on forward, EMD units became increasingly less “custom” and more uniform, although there were still certain variations from the formula.

Burlington, which pioneered the fluted stainless-steel construction on it early Zephyrs, and which became the eventual standard for rail cars, also ordered its E5s with fluted sides to match. But it was the end of that era, and standardization soon became the norm. Note the different side-window treatment on each of these early Es.

And starting in 1938, all of them were powered by EMD’s definitive 567 engine, which replaced the pioneering 201, originally designed for submarine use and not the continuous high-power demands of a train . The 567 refers to its cylinder displacement (per cylinder), with an 8.5″ bore and 10″ stroke.  Until 1966, when replaced by the new EMD 645, it ruled the tracks of America.

EMD’s new post-war version was the E7, and it now sported the more vertical and blunt “bull-dog” nose that has become so iconic. Here’s is the demonstrator, pulling GM’s 1947 “Train of Tomorrow”. Dieselization was now in full swing, and the railroads needed large numbers of motive power to replace the worn out equipment from the overwhelming WW2 years. Locomotives now became essentially standardized, and the E7 and subsequent E8 were the big sellers, with over a thousand units sold.

The E7’s new bull-dog nose came directly from EMD’s freight locomotives, which got their start with the 1939 FT. The key difference was that the F-Series were shorter, and with two-axle trucks instead of the three-axle trucks of the E-series. They used one V16 engine, starting with 1350 hp. The FT was the first of the legendary F-Series, which dominated the dieselization of freight trains.

Although originally designed for freight service, the F Series was also adopted widely in passenger service, with different gearing. This was especially the case in mountainous areas, as the F had relatively greater tractive force that the Es. Santa Fe was one of the pioneering adopters of the F3 and subsequent F5 and F7, and sometimes there were quite a few of them strung together on the head end.


So that brings us up to our E9, the last of this great series. Only some one hundred were built, with the UP being one of the bigger customers to complete its final upgrade between 1954 and 1956. A few more were bought in 1961 and 1963, the end of the line for the E-series.


The passenger train business was quickly drying up, and railroads had little interest in investing capital in a dying business. They made their existing units work for decades to come, and E9s (along with upgraded E7s and E8s) could be seen powering trains until well into the eighties and beyond. It wasn’t that long ago that they could still be spotted in commuter train work.

There’s a superb set of three E9s in this consist today (click picture for full size), two A units and a B unit in between. Some railroads preferred an A-B-B consist, but this arrangement makes “reversing” the train much easier. The big change in the E9 was a power bump, to 2400 hp (@ 800 rpm)  in each unit, using the final EMD 567C prime movers, still with two V12s per unit. Here’s 72 cylinders capable of 7200 hp, throbbing away in front of you, eager to roll.

This is what they look like in the raw. In these older “hood” units, they were accessible inside the locomotive, which was handy in the earliest 201-powered versions for fixes on the go. But that rarely ever happened with these.

And here’s where that power meets the rails. Although the Blomberg-designed trucks have three axles each, all E-Series locomotives have only four traction motors (D 37) , on the front and rear axle of each truck. The middle axle is an idler, and as thus the configuration of these locomotives is A1A-A1A. This is the reason the shorter four-axle four motor F-Series had an advantage in the mountains. But although the Es preferred flatter terrain, they still had 56,500 lbs of starting tractive effort, and 31,000 lbs of continuous tractive effort (@ 11 mph).

Tractive effort is what it’s all about, when it comes to locomotives, and getting all that power down on a tiny contact patch of two smooth steel surfaces is a challenge. Locomotives are heavy for a good reason; the E9 weighs in at 315,000 lbs.

Oddly enough, this decal on the side of the E9 calls it a 0-6-6-0 class, which is the manner in which steam locomotives were described in their axle configuration. Odd; but a handsome decal anyway, from the glory days of GM’s EMD division. Undoubtedly, this unit built in 1955 helped contribute to GM being the first corporation in the world to post a billion dollar profit that year.

Let’s take a quick walk to the rear of the train, and see what we’ve got here sitting on this siding in Eugene, ready to pull out any minute.

Here’s the rear A unit, and the baggage car. The top of the nose on the UP Es is painted a dull green to reduce glare from the sun. And the unique “canopies” on their roofs is a UP modification to keep snow and rain out of the air intakes, after opening them up in order to improve air flow.

The consist is short tonight; passenger traffic just isn’t what it used to be.

A couple of coaches and sleepers, and a dining car, of course.

The observation dome will be the place to be tonight, except for the cab, of course. “All Aboard!”

How about me? What, I need a ticket? But there’s no station here…and I just stumbled into all of this…


Might as well stay a few minutes and wave it goodbye. At the rear is the the “business car” Shoshone. There must be some serious big-wigs aboard this train today. This is an old-school “heavy-weight” car, with six-axle trucks.

On second thought, the rear platform has even the dome car beat, at least on a warm summer evening. The Cascades will look fine from there. If only…

The only place better would be the view forward from the cab. Let’s at least watch it take off, and use our imaginations.

That door looks so inviting.

Anybody up there? Hello! I’ve learned it’s better to get thrown out than not risk trying to get into things I shouldn’t be in.

Empty. I wonder if I could just stow away in here somewhere? Not much going on in this seat.

Here’s  where the action is. Wow; just like I always imagined. How many times have I played out this scenario in my mind? This whole train, just sitting here and pointed to the mountains, engines running, and nobody up here except me. Hmm; what does this big lever do? Let’s just give it a little nudge….



The Coast Starlight: A (Legal) Train Ride Over Willamette Summit    PN