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Union Pacific "Fast Forties" High Speed SD40-2s

by Don Strack

This page was last updated on February 20, 2009.

(This article is an updated and expanded version of an article published in Diesel Era, Volume 9, Number 1, January-February 1998)

Beginning in January 1972, Union Pacific purchased its first SD40-2, number 3123, the first of 686 units. After merging with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific in 1982, Missouri Kansas Texas in 1988, and Chicago & North Western in 1995, the total SD40-2 fleet reached 1,079 units, and included 229 from MoPac, 132 from C&NW, and 33 from MKT. The 1996 merger with Southern Pacific added another 231 ex-SP and 69 ex-D&RGW SD40T-2s (which UP calls SD40-2T) and 133 ex-SP SD40M-2s, furnished to SP by Morrison Knudsen as remanufactured units in 1994 and 1995.

Of the 686 units (UP 3123-3808) delivered to the pre-merger Union Pacific from 1972 to 1980, four (UP 3804-3808) were a special SD40-2 model that EMD called SD40-2S, for SD40-2 Special, that included several enhancements to the regular SD40-2 specification, along with a slightly longer car body. Included in the original fleet were 100 units that were geared and otherwise equipped for high speed intermodal service. These 100 units were numbered in the 8000 series numbers, and were nick named, "Fast Forties."

With the increased growth of piggyback and container traffic along its routes between the Midwest and the West Coast in the mid 1970s, Union Pacific became aware of a need in its motive power fleet for additional high speed locomotives, locomotives that would augment its new 47-unit group of high speed DDA40X Centennial units numbered in the 6900 series, delivered between 1969 and 1971. After investigating the potential design changes needed for a dedicated group of locomotives, UP ordered 23 unique SD40-2B booster units, meant to operate singly between pairs of 6900 class units. These SD40-2B units were to be numbered as UP 3288B-3310B, and were expected to be delivered during May and June 1975.

The cost savings of purchasing units without cabs was weighed against the operational difficulties of the same cabless booster units, and the motive power folks in UP's Omaha headquarters decided in February 1975 to cancel the SD40-2B order, and instead, modify standard, cab-equipped units for use in high speed service. The additional flexibility of not having the additional units not being limited to operation solely with the Centennials, but instead as multiple-unit consists, was the deciding factor in the modification program. In February 1976, three standard SD40-2s, geared for normal 65 mph operation, were modified for high speed operation.

The newly modified units were renumbered to the 8000 series, taking their number series from their new 80 mph capability. From the very first, like the canceled booster unit order, the newly modified units were intended to supplement the Centennial fleet, and entered high speed service in solid sets of 8000 series units. Later, many were assigned as middle units in locomotive consists that included a 6900 series units at each end of the consist.

These combinations of high speed units were needed by Union Pacific, and its partner C&NW, in the operation of the hot Overland Mail train between Chicago and Oakland, and the equally hot VAN intermodal trains between trains between North Platte, Nebraska, and Los Angeles.

The first unit completed, UP 8000, was renumbered from UP 3240 in February 1976. The next month, UP 3241 became UP 8001, and in May 1976, UP 8002 was modified from UP 3242. These three first SD40-2H (for High speed) locomotives were less than three years old, having been delivered to UP in June 1973. Between April and July 1976, another 32 units were modified for high speed service. This second group came from the 3243-3274 group of SD40-2s built in June and July 1974, and were numbered as UP 8003-8034.

The modification was found to take too long for UP's own shop forces to complete, so the railroad's engineering staff decided that it would be best to have the modification completed at the factory on new units. With the decision made, the remainder of the un-renumbered units in the 3243-3287 group, above 3274, would remain as standard SD40-2s. But the decision caught UP 3284 and 3285 after they had already been renumbered to UP 8044 (completed in May 1976) and 8045 (completed in April 1976). Both units were renumbered back to their original numbers in August 1976.

In early 1976, UP had ordered from EMD another group of standard SD40-2s for delivery during the third quarter of 1976. After the successful initiation of the high speed modifications, and the decision to have it completed only on new units, the builder was notified that this soon to be delivered group of units should be modified at the factory for operation as high speed units.

Rather than being delivered with their intended numbers of 3305-3334, these 30 units were delivered in July 1976 as UP 8035-8064. Like the previous two orders before them (UP 3243-3287 and 3288-3304), these 30 units were delivered with the 116-inch extended short hood, in the form of the earlier design that was the original 81-inch length nose with a 35-inch straight extension predating the later constant slope 116-inch nose that first came in February 1977 on UP 3335-3399. The first three of the 8000 series units (UP 8000-8002), having been renumbered from the last order to be equipped with standard 81-inch short hoods, were the only 8000-series units to have this shorter version of nose design.

The next 10 units of the new 8000 class was delivered to UP as 8065-8074 in May 1977. These had the constant slope 116-inch short hood and carried a new model designation, SD40-2M. It wasn't until over two years later that additional 8000 series locomotives entered service. In July 1979, UP began receiving its twelfth order of SD40-2s, numbered as 3574-3608. The last 25 units of this order were modified at the factory for high speed service and delivered as 8085-8099, with the standard units still being delivered as 3574-3583.

In addition to the variations if short hood length, as already discussed, the 8000 series units differed in external details, as did the fleet of standard SD40-2s. The first 182 UP SD40-2s, numbered from 3123-3304, including the renumbered 8000-8034, were built with the open-grid style of radiator grills. The remaining 504 units, from 3305-3808, were equipped with the later corrugated radiator grills. UP 8000-8034 also shared the ratchet-style hand brake with the 165 lower numbered standard SD40-2s (UP 3123-3287). The later 8035-8099 were among the 521 units delivered with a wheel-style hand brake.

The recession of the early 1980s hit Union Pacific hard, especially in its premium intermodal service. By October 1980, all 47 of the Centennial locomotives were in storage at Salt Lake City, Utah, and Las Vegas, Nevada, and by the peak, in June 1982, UP had over 650 units in storage. The severe reduction of need for high speed units put all of the 100 8000-class units back in regular service, alongside other SD40-2s, although many SD40-2s were also being stored due to the severe downturn in business. Operational strategies changed during the recession, and a fleet of dedicated high speed units was found to be a luxury the railroad could not afford. Beginning in June 1980 and continuing through August (when a brief surge in high speed traffic kept the units moving), and starting again in April 1981, and continuing through March 1982, each of the high speed 8000 class units were either renumbered back to its original number, or given a slot in the 3000 series numbers that had remained empty due to the units being delivered as high speed units.

8000 series number Qty. Original Number Date Built Renumbered to...
8000-8002 3 3240-3242 1973 3240-3242
8003-8034 32 3243-3274 1974 3243-3274
8035-8064 30   1976 3305-3334
8065-8074 10   1977 3400-3409
8075-8099 25   1979 3584-3608