Union Pacific's Rock Island GP40s

By Don Strack

(This article is an updated and expanded version of an article published in Diesel Era magazine, Volume 4, Number 5, September/October 1993)

As part of a hoped-for merger between the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRI&P, or simply "Rock Island") and Union Pacific Railroad, in 1966 Union Pacific purchased new from EMD, and leased through an equipment trust to CRI&P, 40 new GP40s, numbered in the CRI&P 340-359 and 362-381 series, along with 20 more in 1970, numbered in the CRI&P 4700-4719 series. UP also purchased and leased to CRI&P twenty new GE U28Bs in the CRI&P 262-281 series and five new ALCO C415s in the CRI&P 420-424 series, along with eventually thousands of cars and 150 cabooses. Rock Island immediately put the GP40s, and other locomotives, to work. However, over the following 8-10 years, Rock Island's dwindling financial resources forced deferred maintenance on the GP40s, as well as the road's other road power. By 1978 many were out of service because of the heavy work load and lack of regular maintenance, and by the time of the bankruptcy shut-down in March 1980, many were still in storage at Silvis, Illinois.

The Rock Island was forced into bankruptcy and shut down its operations on March 31, 1980. When the Rock's operations came to an end, all of the 76 locomotives leased from UP (excluding those nine GP40s which had already been retired) were immediately returned to Union Pacific, along with 2,654 cars and 127 cabooses. The returning cars and cabooses were assigned UP numbers and classifications.

Of those nine GP40s were not returned to UP when Rock Island operations ended, seven units in the 340-359 and 362-381 series (CRI&P 374, 375, 376, 377, 379, 380, and 381) were purchased from the equipment trust by Rock Island in October 1978 for an uncompleted Capital Rebuild program that would make GP40-2s out of the worn-out GP40s. The other two units, CRI&P 370 and 378, were wrecked and had been retired by the time of Rock Island's March 1980 shut-down.

Most of the locomotives were returned to Union Pacific during April 1980, usually in solid trains made up only of returning units. The final 37 units were delivered by the CRI&P trustee to UP at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on 3 May 1980. Included in that final train were seven U28Bs, 17 GP40s in the 300 class, three of the C415s, and 10 GP40s in the 4700 class, with six of the returning units used as road power for the special move. UP had no use for the five Century 415s and they were eventually sold. The 20 U28Bs were assigned UP road numbers 500-519, but saw little, if any, service after being returned to UP, spending almost all of their time in the storage lines. Only 11 of the U28Bs were found to be serviceable and were repainted to UP's yellow and gray; they were immediately stored serviceable at North Platte, Nebraska, and later at Yermo, California, pending an upturn in traffic levels. The other nine U28Bs were stored unserviceable until their sale for scrap. By March 1983 all 20 U28Bs had been retired and sold for scrap and moved off of the railroad. The 51 GP40s were assigned UP 600-650, and it is these units that this article is really about.

Of the 51 Rock Island GP40s that were returned to UP, only 25 were found to be ready for immediate service. These 25 locomotives were immediately renumbered into the UP 600 class, some retaining their CRI&P maroon or red paint, and put to work pulling trains on UP's Eastern District trackage in Nebraska and Kansas. Fifteen of the 25 serviceable locomotives were repainted into UP's yellow and gray paint scheme at the same time that they were renumbered as UP 600s. The other 10 were placed into service with UP numbers, but remained in CRI&P paint, with the Rock Island lettering blanked out, and all 25 units received yellow and gray paint by the end of July 1980, with the work being done as the locomotives came into the North Platte shops for other work to be done. Included in the group of 25 locomotives fully painted to UP yellow and gray by late 1980 were UP 600, 603, 604, 606, 608, 610, 611, 614, 615, 616, 622, 626, 628, 629, 632, 633, 635, 637, 639, 640, 643, 645, 646, 647, and 648. About a year after the initial April 1980 renumbering and repainting effort, in March 1981, three un-renumbered units (CRI&P 345, 4700 and 4705) were fully painted in yellow and gray with UP lettering, as UP 605, 631, and 636. In 1984 and 1985, two others (CRI&P 352 and 4711) were repainted directly from CRI&P colors and numbers to yellow and gray, and lettered for the Missouri Pacific, becoming MP 612 and 642. These last repainting actions left a total of 21 former CRI&P GP40s that never saw either yellow and gray paint, or a UP/MP road number. As things worked out though, the renumbering and repainting done during 1980 only provided nice looking, freshly painted locomotives for the storage lines. Almost all of the former CRI&P GP40s were idled by a severe downturn in traffic in mid 1980 and were placed into long term storage; first at Council Bluffs, Iowa, and at North Platte, Nebraska, and later, at Salt Lake City, Utah, and Yermo, California.

The recession of the early 1980s saw Union Pacific store about 40 percent of its locomotive fleet. By November 1981 UP had stored nearly 500 units, and by July 1982 the railroad had 650 locomotives in storage at various points along the system. Eighty-seven of these were in Yermo, including 26 of the 28 repainted/renumbered, former Rock Island GP40s. By March 1983 the number of units in storage at Yermo had risen from 87 to 147. This total included the 6900 class DDA40Xs and many of UP SD45s, along with, again, the ex Rock Island GP40s. December 1983 seems to have been the peak month for the storage of locomotives, with over 800 locomotives idled at points all over the UP System, which by this time included the merged MP and WP; soon after, UP began to either retire the units, or to put them back into service. Within five months, in April 1984, there were just forty-four units stored at Yermo. Most of the 6900s stored at Yermo had been either moved to other locations or were placed back in service; a third of the SD45s were gone and were being disposed off; as were the GP30Bs which had also been stored at Yermo. After sitting idle for three years, 28 ex Rock Island GP40s (26 stored at Yermo and two at North Platte, Nebraska) were removed from storage and sent to help out on the Missouri Pacific in Texas.

The remaining 23 un-renumbered ex CRI&P GP40s had been in storage at Council Bluffs, Iowa, since late 1980. These units included CRI&P 341, 342, 347, 349, 352 (later to MP 612), 353, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 365, 366, 367, 369, 373, 4703, 4707, 4710, 4711 (later to MP 642), 4713, 4717, and 4719. Seven (CRI&P 341, 342, 359, 362, 365, 4707, and 4719) of those 23 had been cannibalized and stripped of either their diesel or both the diesel and the main generator.

During December 1983, a year after the December 1982 merger of Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, and Western Pacific, MP found itself looking for additional locomotives that could be used on its coal and general service trains in Texas, joining six ex WP GP40-2s that had already been assigned to Texas. To help alleviate this power shortage, in January 1984 MP leased from UP all 41 of the ex WP GP40s, the remaining nine of the ex WP GP40-2s, 20 SD45s and 41 former Rock Island GP40s. The ex WP locomotives were removed from storage at Salt Lake City and sent to Texas. The SD45s and 26 of the former Rock Island GP40s (UP 600, 603, 604, 605, 606, 608, 610, 611, 614, 615, 616, 622, 626, 628, 629, 631, 632, 633, 635, 636, 637, 639, 643, 646, 647, and 648) came from storage at Yermo. Two other former Rock Island GP40s (UP 640, 645) came from North Platte, and the other thirteen GP40s (ex CRI&P 342, 347, 353, 357, 362, 363, 367, 373, 4703, 4710, 4711, 4718, and 4719) came from storage in Council Bluffs. This left 10 of the original fifty-one Rock Island GP40s units still in storage at Council Bluffs. By July 1984 these last 10 GP40s were also shipped to the MP, to serve as parts sources to keep the others running. All of the UP units leased to MP in early 1984 were assigned to Fort Worth, Texas, for maintenance and spent most of their time operating between the Lone Star cities of Houston, Fort Worth, and El Paso. In August 1984, all 51 of the former Rock Island GP40s were formally transferred to MP ownership, although only a maximum of 31 units were ever to receive yellow and gray paint, with 22 of those receiving Missouri Pacific lettering (see the roster for specific unit numbers).

In September 1984, MP began formulating plans to rebuild 97 of the 107 ex-CRI&P and ex-WP GP40s and GP40-2s into "GP38-2s" at the new Downing B. Jenks shop in North Little Rock, Arkansas, scrapping the ten worst CRI&P GP40s. However, by mid 1985 the GP38-2 rebuild project was shelved because studies had shown the project would not be cost effective.

Beginning in May 1984 and continuing through late November 1985, MP began repainting some of its locomotives into UP's yellow and gray scheme, including the leased ex CRI&P and WP GP40s and GP40-2s. At the time, MP was to remain separate from UP and the "Missouri Pacific" lettering on the equipment would reflect that separate operation. The locomotives were painted in UP's style of yellow and gray, but lettered as Missouri Pacific units, using a style of lettering different from UP traditional, rounded Gothic lettering. The squarish style of black-outlined red letters was soon nicknamed as "North Little Rock" style. The first of the GP40s was completed in the new MP scheme in late July 1984 and the last to be done was completed in late September 1985.

Although the 51 Rock Island GP40s were assigned to Fort Worth, many in late 1984 and early 1985 were temporarily assigned to UP branchlines in Kansas and Colorado. In late December 1984, GP40s 640, 643, 645, 646 were assigned to LaSalle, Colorado. At the same time, UP 616 and MP 620 were assigned to Marysville, Kansas. During March 1985, UP GP40s 640, 643, 646, and 648 were still working the branchlines in Kansas. All seven units were returned to MP during April 1985.

As part of the general reconditioning that MP put the ex-CRI&P GP40s through, during 1984 and 1985, two of the 23 CRI&P un-renumbered GP40s were rebuilt and repainted to MP 600s; CRI&P 352 and 4711 became MP 612 and 642 respectively. The other 21 units still in CRI&P paint were found to be beyond cost-effective repair and were retired and sold, having been cannibalized for parts to keep the other GP40s running. UP 648 had been stripped of its engine, generator, and long hood, and was also retired. The nine worst of these heavily cannibalized units (CRI&P 341, 342, 353, 359, 362, 365, 369, 4707, and 4719) were retired in March 1985 and sold for scrap to Gray Supply Company, a scrap dealer located adjacent to MP's yard and shops in North Little Rock. Thirteen others (UP 648, CRI&P 347, 349, 357, 358, 363, 366, 367, 373, 4703, 4710, 4713, and 4718) were thought to be in repairable condition and were retired in May 1985 and sold to Precision National Corporation (PNC) in Mount Vernon, Illinois, in July 1985. PNC found most of the units to be either unusable for parts, or unmovable for shipment to its own rebuild facility in Illinois, and most were sold by PNC for scrap, again to Gray Supply Company. UP 648 was sold to PNC without its long hood, which had been used to repair another unit. CRI&P 357 was sold without its cab, having earlier donated it to the repair of UP SD40-2 3259.

As MP's new GE C36-7s were being delivered in late 1985, Missouri Pacific's need for the former Rock Island and WP units became less. By January 1986 most were in storage, including seven (UP 606, 610, 614, 632, 637, 639, 647) in storage at MP's Spring Yard in Texas. Sitting in storage for almost two years does not do a railroad locomotive any good, so it can be no surprise that in August 1987, 10 of the former CRI&P GP40s were found to be unserviceable and were retired. In October 1987 these same 10 units were sold to Morrison-Knudsen (M-K) at Boise, Idaho. Included in the sale to M-K were MP 604, 606, UP 610, MP 612, UP 614, MP 615, 626, 628, 629, and UP 646. Nine of these 10 locomotives (excluding MP 628) were used by M-K as the basis for rebuild program in which these GP40s were rebuilt into normal cab/full width carbody GP40FH-2s for the Metro North Commuter Railroad and the New Jersey Transit. The program included complete remanufacture of the locomotives, using GP40-2 technology and full width carbodies, some from scrapped BN F45s. The first was completed in mid May 1988, and because of contract options for additional locomotives, the last was completed in late December 1990. (A complete description of this remanufacturing effort was presented in Diesel Era, September/October 1991, Volume 2, Number 5).

In June 1987, 18 former CRI&P GP40s, along with seven former MP 3000 class SD40s, were leased to National Railways of Mexico (FNM) on a long-term, two-year lease. All were returned to UP by June 1989. Included in this 1987 lease were MP 600, MP 603, MP 605, MP 608, MP 611, MP 616, MP 622, MP 631, MP 632, MP 633, MP 635, UP 636, MP 637, MP 639, UP 640, MP 642, UP 643. MP 603 and MP 637 were returned to UP for maintenance during the lease; they were found to unrepairable and were retired and sold in October 1988; MP 603 was sold to Wilson Railway Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa; and the MP 637 was sold to VMV Enterprises, Paducah, Kentucky, only to rebuilt and later returned to UP as leased GP40 856 in July 1989.

As the 18 former CRI&P GP40s returned in June 1989 from their two year lease to Mexico, they were included in a larger group of 189 units which were retired in June through September 1989. However, almost immediately, because of growth in the cross-border rail traffic between the U.S. and Mexico, in mid-September 1989, another lease to Mexico went into effect. The initial 1989 lease was for forty-six units, including the eighteen former CRI&P GP40s. The units were delivered to Mexico starting in late September. Later, UP decided that they couldn't lease retired units and still maintain them as a provision of the lease, so on 15 November 1989, all 18 ex-Rock Island units (along with 103 others) were reinstated to the roster. For computer tracking purposes, all of the units leased to Mexico were re-designated with an "M" suffix; UP units became UPM units, MP units became MPM units, and ten MKT GP40s became MKM units. Eventually, by early 1990, there were as many as 120 UP, MP, and MKT SD40s and GP40s under lease to Mexico. FNM's need for locomotives slowly diminished throughout 1990, and as the units returned to UP for maintenance, many, including the former Rock Island GP40s, were placed into storage either in Texas or at North Little Rock. As the Rock Island units were returned and put into storage, their operating careers slowly, unit by unit, came to an end.

To us railfans who keep track of the movement and sale of railroad locomotives, it is quite common for locomotives of 80 tons and less to be sold and resold between railroads, shortlines, and industrial companies, to the point of Excederine-headache confusion. But these 51 Rock Island GP40s are 3,000 horsepower locomotives, designed for road service, and considering that they were built in 1966 and 1970, they have endured quite well. From being heavily relied upon on the Rock Island; to their sporadic service and very long-term storage while on UP (some were stored for over 1,200 days); to their use in secondary general freight service on the MP in Texas; to their use in helping the Mexican railways overcome their severe motive power shortage due to the increasing cross-border rail traffic caused by Mexico's growing economy, these 51 locomotives have almost had the multiple lives of your common alley cat.

To briefly summarize the story of UP's Rock Island GP40s, 51 units were returned to UP in April 1980; 30 units were eventually repainted to yellow and gray, with either UP lettering or MP lettering, with some getting both. Twenty-one units were never renumbered to UP and were sold for scrap, after being cannibalized to keep the others running. And now in late 1992, with the retirement of the last three units, the 12-year saga of Rock Island GP40s on the Union Pacific comes to an end. While as many as eight units (MP 605, MP 608, MP 622, MP 631, MP 632, UP 636, UP 640, and MP 642) remain on UP property as of late October 1992, all await their fates as fully retired units. These last eight units had returned from lease to FNM and had each been placed in long term storage; MP 632 and MP 642 having been stored for over 950 days, since March 1990. It may be safe to say that these last eight units will never run again, but prudence dictates one to never say never. The longevity of these former Rock Island locomotives truly helps us to "Remember The Rock".

Roster of UP's ex Rock Island GP40s