Union Pacific SD45s

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This page was last updated on January 3, 2016.

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(This article is an updated and expanded version of text used in an article published in Diesel Era, Volume 11, Number 2, March-April 2000, co-authored by Steve Orth and Don Strack)


In 1967, Union Pacific was continuing in its search for the ideal high-horsepower, six axle locomotive. This search resulted from the outcome of studies done by the road's mechanical department in 1962. These studies showed that the annual per unit cost of a diesel locomotive, at $7,000.00 per year, remained the same, regardless of a locomotive's horsepower. As a result, Union Pacific decided that it would pursue large unit, high-horsepower locomotives to meet its motive power needs.

This motive power plan was consistent with UP's historical locomotive philosophy of utilizing large, single locomotives to move trains and avoid the use of helpers. Locomotive acquisitions to this plan began in earnest in 1926 with the purchase of the then gigantic 9000-series 4-12-2 steam locomotives. Union Pacific continued to design and purchase large single unit locomotives, including the 4-6-6-4 Challengers of the 1930s, 4-8-8-4 Big Boys of the 1940s, the 4,500-horsepower gas turbines of the early 1950s, and the 8,500-horsepower three unit gas turbines of the late 1950s.

Although the gas turbines met the high-horsepower goals of the railroad, their operating costs left much to be desired. In 1963, in an effort to obtain the same high-horsepower, single unit goal in a diesel locomotive, UP purchased the first of their "double diesels", the DD35s from EMD, the U50s from GE, and the C855s from Alco. These were all delivered in 1964 and 1965.

Although the DD35s had lower maintenance costs compared to the U50s and C855s, all three demonstrated that existing diesel technology and design practices would not allow the high-horsepower locomotives that the railroad wanted to be built. All three designs met the requirements of the conceptual design, but the reliability and overall cost of operation of the GEs and the Alcos was disappointing. The reliability and maintenance cost savings which were anticipated, based on the studies, were never realized. Reliability and maintenance estimates are generally linked to reduction in components within a system. While the double diesels had the horsepower to provide unit reduction within a consist, the parts count was nearly as high as separate locomotives. In particular, major components requiring maintenance, such as prime movers, generators, traction motors, wheels, and electrical control systems were not reduced from a pair of locomotives. The only items reduced were low maintenance items such as the frame. This in turn resulted in no cost reduction on those high maintenance parts and, in the case of the later U50C, even resulted in high maintenance costs on items such as the frame!

Having failed in its search for the ideal 15,000-horsepower, three-unit locomotive, in 1966 UP was again forced to subscribe to the multiple unit, flexible motive power approach then being marketed by the nation's locomotive builders. This situation was much the same as it had been with the earlier F units of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the GP9s of the mid 1950s, the SD24s of the late 1950s, and the GP30s of the early 1960s. Union Pacific's sampling of the builder's current offerings came in the form of EMD's SD40s, GE's U28Cs, and Alco's C630. The EMD SD40 design was found to be much less costly to both operate and maintain, and a follow-on delivery was made, bringing the SD40 fleet up to a total of 83 units, while the ten-unit fleets U28Cs and C630s remained as solitary examples on UP. EMD's SD40 used the builder's new 645 model diesel engine, the new AR-10 alternator, and the new D77 traction motor, and UP soon came to appreciate the improvement over the builder's previous 567 model engine and DC generator combination. Although the SD40 proved to be a successful and reliable design, its 3,000 horsepower was woefully short of the 5,000 horsepower that UP was looking for.

EMD's SD45 Comes To UP

Unfortunately, horsepower increases were coming at a much slower rate than UP hoped for. While other western roads bought the SD40's big brother, the SD45, right away in 1966, UP withheld its support, letting other roads test the new 20 cylinder engine. After two years, UP remained hopeful of the builder's capabilities, and as a test of EMD's new high-horsepower offering, UP bought 50 SD45s in two separate multiple unit orders, plus two single-unit orders. Over the period of 1966 to 1972, when production began on the SD45-2, EMD built 1,260 SD45s. While other western roads eventually bought hundreds of the new SD45, Union Pacific limited its orders to 50 units total. This is not surprising, given that the railroad was still looking for more than the 20 percent increase in horsepower that the SD45 provided over the SD40, which was not sufficient to provide the unit reduction that the railroad was seeking.

Union Pacific's first 24 SD45s were purchased under EMD order number 7077 (UP 3624-3649), and most of the order was built in March 1968. UP 3600-3621 were constructed in late March and April of 1968, under EMD order number 7975. Note that the first locomotives built were assigned the higher road numbers. The two single unit orders, EMD order 7107 for UP 3622, and EMD order 7108 for UP 3623, reflect the special feature of these two locomotives as UP's first two units to be equipped for radio control operation.

Fast Intermodal Service

As built, all 50 SD45s were equipped with 59:18 gear ratios, giving the entire fleet a maximum speed of 90 mph. This gearing indicates that they were meant for high-speed freight service. By the end of 1968, several units were assigned to the "mineral traffic" i.e., specialized trains dedicated to the movement of coal and iron ore. The growth of this mineral traffic was a direct reflection of the expansion of steel mills in Colorado, Utah, and California. Union Pacific could see that it needed a locomotive that it could use to pull these heavier trains, but still maintain the higher over-the-road speeds that were becoming the norm for this western rail carrier. The new SD45s filled this need.

Many of the SD45s were also used in UP's rapidly growing fast intermodal service. However, their service as high speed units was significantly reduced beginning in mid 1969, with the delivery of the DDA40X Centennial locomotives, which were also delivered with 59:18 gear ratio. By 1971 the SD45s were almost completely displaced in intermodal service by the new DDA40X Centennial units. Although the SD45s continued in fast freight service, by late 1975, UP planned to convert many of its standard SD40-2s into high speed SD40-2Hs (to be numbered in the 8000-series). As a result, the SD45s were no longer needed in high speed service, and UP began converting them all to the more common 62:15 gear ratio. The conversion was completed by mid 1976.

Kaiser Unit Coal Train Service

During mid 1968, UP negotiated an agreement, along with D&RGW and AT&SF, with Kaiser Steel to operate what was to be one of the nation's first unit coal trains. To serve as motive power for this new train, UP regeared seven SD45s from their as-delivered 59:18 ratio to the lower speed 62:15 ratio, giving the units more lugging power and a lower maximum speed of 65 mph.

UP initially supplied six units to the pool, plus a spare, and D&RGW supplied three units. UP's units were 3643-3649 and D&RGW's units were 5336-5338. By January 1971, the number of trains was increased with added traffic from the loading point at Carbondale, Colorado. (the mine itself was 17 miles away), and the number of units dedicated to this service rose to nine units, UP 3641-3649. In June 1971, with the expansion of service, and the delivery of 100 additional Coal Liner cars in 1970, three additional units, UP 3638-3640, were added to the Kaiser pool, as were three more D&RGW units, 5326-5328.

The ratio of twelve UP units (UP 3638-3649) to six D&RGW units (D&RGW 5326-5328 and 5336-5338) reflected the two to one ratio of operations between UP and D&RGW, based on mileage. UP also furnished a majority of the "Coal Liner" cars for the new, dedicated service. The trains operated every four days from late 1968 to early 1983, when the Kaiser steel plant quit making steel and became a rolling mill.

The Rio Grande locomotives were leased for actual operation to UP and to help them stand out among UP units, they were among the first D&RGW to incorporate the new large "Rio Grande" logo. The D&RGW units weighed 389,400 pounds in operating condition, while UP's units weighed 393,300 pounds. Although UP only used Coded Cab Signals on its Wyoming mainline, the D&RGW engines also had cab signal equipment installed so they could run in the lead position in UP territory.

(Read more about the Kaiser coal trains)

Radio Control Operations

Thirty-seven SD45s were equipped as Radio Control System (RCS) units, operating in pairs; 19 even numbered units, UP 3600-3636, as Radio Control Masters and 18 odd numbered units, UP 3601-3635, operating as Radio Control Remotes. The first two UP units to receive RCS were UP 3622 and 3623.

The concept of radio control of remote units was new at the time, and UP and AT&SF were on the forefront of its development, AT&SF having first used it on its York Canyon coal trains in 1967, which were also destined for the Kaiser mill at Fontana. Today known as distributed power, radio control was being developed under the trade name of Locotrol, which placed radio-controlled mid train helpers further back in the train on high tonnage trains, with all locomotives under the control of the train's single engineer. According to Don Selby, credited as being the designer of Locotrol, the system was initially tested on Southern Railway GP9s in 1963. The first production Locotrol was installed on Southern Railway in 1965, and Kansas City Southern was Locotrol's second customer, with GP40 lead units and SD45 slave units. As mentioned above, Santa Fe installed it in 1967 on York Canyon coal trains.

In early 1968 Union Pacific installed Locotrol in two SD45s and a DD35A/DD35 set, ultimately equipping 19 SD45 even-numbered masters and 18 SD45 odd-numbered remotes. Those first two UP SD45s with Locotrol were UP 3622 and 3623, and they shared the initial application of radio control on Union Pacific with DDA35 82 and DD35 82B.

The first RCS train to operate over the former Oregon Short Line ("1st train over Short Line with slave units") was on March 27, 1968, as shown in the book Montpelier and the Oregon Short Line, by JoAnn Farnsworth.

Symbol: ACBNWF27 - 2AKCNWF27 (combined "Adv. Northwest Forwarder" trains; one from Council Bluffs, one from Kansas City)
(Advanced Council Bluffs Northwest Forwarder, 27th day - Advanced Kansas City Northwest Forwarder, 27th day)
Power: 3622-3634-3645-3613, with slave units 3601-3627-3623
Call time: 2:55pm
Loads/empties/tons: 92-54-6957 (92 loads, 54 empties, 6957 tons)

Installation of the RCS radio equipment was in the short hood of the SD45s. This necessitated the relocation of the Coded Cab Signal equipment box to the conductor's side walkway, behind the cab. The initial antenna configuration consisted of a pair of "firecracker" antennas mounted directly on the locomotive cab roof. Difficulties in radio signal reception resulted in a redesign of the antenna system to include an antenna platform, or ground plane, mounted on risers above the cab roof, with a pair of can style antennas mounted on the platform. The normal voice communication firecracker antenna was relocated to the back of the long hood, between the rear most radiator fan and the sand filler hatch.

Radio control operations were initially tested in Utah's Weber Canyon, using UP 3622 and 3623. By September 1968, UP 3600 and 3601 were also equipped for RCS operation. The number of RCS-equipped units continued to increase, with UP 3600-3607 being equipped by May 1969, along with the first two units, UP 3622 and 3623. The two DD35s also remained in RCS operations, reportedly for use on an ore train between Salt Lake City and Butte, Mont. Throughout 1968 and 1969, RCS operations were in their test phase, using the ten SD45s (UP 3600-3607, 3622, 3623) and the two DD35s (UP 82, 82B). By early 1971, six more units, 3608-3613, were equipped for radio control operations. By August 1971, another six units, 3614-3619, were in the RCS fleet.

In April 1972, the RCS fleet had grown still more, and included SD45s 3600-3631 (32 units), along with the 82 and 82B. By October 1972, the continued success of RCS operations, along with the delivery of new DDA40X Centennial locomotives for the road's fast intermodal trains, eventually brought the SD45 RCS fleet up to its final size of 37 units, UP 3600-3636. The RCS equipment was removed from the two DD35 units, UP 82 and 82B, during 1975.

With this much larger fleet to support RCS operations, the radio control units were expanded to several locations across Union Pacific. RCS operations were found to be difficult in Weber Canyon, on UP's famous Wasatch Grade, due to deep canyons, several short tunnels, and numerous curves, all of which raised problems with the line of sight radio communications. RCS operations soon found a home moving trains across Wyoming, and in the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon, between Huntington and Hinkle, where they were regularly used on wood chip unit trains, known as "Chip Rack Specials."

Rob Leachman adds the following remarks about how the units were used in the Blue Mountains:

In 1974 there were about half a dozen SD45 RCS sets (even numbered master, odd numbered slave) assigned to Hinkle - Nampa service to get big trains over the Blue Mountains without helpers. With the onset of the 1975 recession, not so many units were needed, and then sometime around 1977 or 1978 they started using helpers in the Blues again.

Rob Leachman shared some additional remarks in November 2009:

"RCS" trains (UP-speak for Locotrol operation) were limited to 60 MPH max under UP operating rules. So by 1970 RCS was not a good option in the minds of UP management for high-speed merchandise trains. In 1970-71 UP's Operating Department took to running the Roseville (RV) blocks as longer trains with RCS power. UP's Traffic Department complained about the slow-down in the service, so by 1972 that was the end of Locotrol operation on perishable trains. Use of RCS on hot westbound merchandise trains, if it happened at all, would have been only experimental and short-lived.

UP management's attitude in the early 70s was that Locotrol was something to be kept OFF its high-speed trains. UP's general policy was to run the high-speed trains non-Locotrol with units equipped with 59:18 gearing. (As you know, the Centennials and the Fast Forties were the backbone of the high-speed fleet.) And it was the policy that all regular trains be assigned units with 62:15 gearing, and certain heavy, slow trains could be run under RCS operation.

In the late 1960s, the SD45s (excluding those in the coal pool with DRGW) were delivered with 59:18 gearing, suitable for high-speed merchandise trains. Then around 1970 they were equipped with RCS and assigned to the RV blocks and WB manifest trains. In late 1971 or early 1972 they were transferred up to the Pacific Northwest to run chip rack trains and other drags over the Blue Mountains. The units retained their 59:18 gearing, which to several knowledgeable persons, seems to be a crazy decision. The crews did not like the SD45s over the Blues. Unlike the SD40-2s, they would be constantly making transition around the track speed which was 20-25 MPH. This was always a risk of getting a knuckle or a drawbar.

During 1973-75 (when I was in Omaha) there were no plans to expand the use of Locotrol. At the time, RCS didn't work reliably enough for more application. Lots of problems with lost continuity in the canyons of the Blue Mountains, too many pulled and broken knuckles and drawbars. Milwaukee Road also was having lots of problems, and UP Mechanical Dept. management was aware of that.

I don't know the reason for the "Snoot" noses on the SD40-2s. If it cost little or no more to have the long noses, then I can see why UP Mechanical Dept. recommended buying them that way - added flexibility at little or no cost. A cheap bet that maybe the continuity problems could be solved, whereupon suddenly Locotrol suddenly would become attractive.

After the second OPEC crisis (circa 1977), UP put helpers back on in the Blue Mountains. But Locotrol still wasn't working well enough to justify further investment.

I think it wasn't until Harris Corp. perfected its DPU communication systems in the early 1990s that the concept became trouble-free enough to justify making it a standard.

During late 1980 and early 1981, RCS operations were being used in service on coal and grain shipments between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Yermo, California.

Final Years

While UP was satisfied with the SD45's performance, after the initial order in 1968, there were no follow-on orders for the 20-cylinder unit. An April 1970 motive power purchase plan showed an intended purchase of 60 SD45s in 1971 and another 60 SD45s in 1972, but the additional six-axle power came in 1971 as late-model SD40s, numbered as UP 3083-3122. That same 1970 motive power plan also projected purchases of 10 EMD SD39s, 10 GE U23Cs, and 20 GE U33Cs, each divided equally between 1971 and 1972. The change in Mechanical Department leadership in 1971 also saw the end of UP's unique double-diesel concept, with the railroad returning to the builders with orders for standard catalog locomotive designs. In January 1972, a follow-on order for more SD40s brought some of the first SD40-2s built by EMD. The SD40-2 was exactly what UP was looking for, and over the following eight years, a total of 686 units were delivered to the railroad.

UP's SD45s were numbered as 3600-3649, and with so many SD40-2s being delivered, by 1978 it became apparent that the two groups of locomotives would soon be in conflict with their road numbers. Beginning in September 1978, and continuing through March 1979, to avoid confusion with the 3574-3608 and 3609-3658 groups of SD40-2s due to be delivered beginning in July 1979, the 50 SD45s were renumbered from 3600-3649 to the new numbers 1-50. To simplify the renumbering process, the last two digits were retained. Two examples would be UP 3603 and UP 3637 becoming UP 3 and UP 37, respectively. Since UP 3600 could not be renumbered to UP 0, it became UP 50.

EMD and the railroads soon found that EMD's 20 cylinder diesel engine was successful in stationary and marine service, but not in locomotive service, due to torsional flexing in the engine's long crankcase. When the 20 cylinder engine is put into a locomotive, the extra length of the crankcase results in more displacement of the main bearings relative to the crankshaft as the locomotive frame twists as it moves over the rails. This additional displacement puts additional loads on the main bearings in the ends of the engine, causing them to prematurely wear out. EMD's solution for the problem was closer attention to preventative maintenance: to line bore the block about three times as often as EMD's very successful 16 cylinder engine. The same torsional flexing occurs in the 16 cylinder crankcase, but because it has a shorter length, the loading of the crankshaft bearings is reduced. When in stationary or marine service, the engine block doesn't get the same twisting loads due to frame flexing, so the 20 cylinder engines successfully remain in service for extended periods of time.

Many railroads found that the SD45's 20 cylinder engine was reliable, if they followed EMD's recommended level of increased preventative maintenance. But the 20 cylinder engine's real weakness was its increased fuel consumption: in idle, 6 gallons per hour for the SD45, compared to an SD40's 5.5 gallons per hour; and under load, 194 gallons per hour for the SD45, compared to an SD40's 167 gallons per hour. On some railroads, the SD45's increased horsepower compared to the SD40 did not justify its increased fuel consumption.

These two factors, excessive engine wear and high fuel consumption, made the SD45s early candidates for storage during periods of slow traffic on UP. The downturn of traffic that began in early 1980 soon forced most of UP's fleet of 50 SD45s into storage. With the success of the storage program for the DDA40Xs at Yermo, California, beginning in October 1980, the desert station became the point where UP was to store many of their unneeded locomotives for the next five years. In November 1981, of the nearly 500 units in storage throughout UP's system, 81 units were at Yermo. Just seven months later, in July 1982, there were over 650 locomotives in storage system-wide, with 125 units stored at Yermo. By late 1982 all of UP's SD45s were stored, with at least 40 of the units stored at Yermo. During mid November 1983, 40 of the 125 units being stored at Yermo were SD45s, including UP 1-5, 7, 9-12, 16-19, 21-33, 35, 36, 39-42, and 45-50.

UP SD45s on MoPac

In late November 1983, four of UP's SD45s (UP 4, 10, 22, and 32) were removed from storage at Yermo and leased to UP's new merger partner, Missouri Pacific to help with MoPac's shortage of motive power in Texas. This action left 36 SD45s at Yermo.

In January 1984, 14 additional SD45s were removed from storage at Yermo, reconditioned at Salt Lake City, and leased to MoPac, so that by early March 1984, there were 20 UP SD45s assigned to MoPac. Their numbers were: UP 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 31, 32, 33, 36, 41, 45, 47, 48, and 49. The rest remained in storage at Yermo and other locations.

The original intention was to assign all of the SD45s to service on the Missouri Pacific. But by June 1984, the units' reliability problems ended that plan, when it was reported that five of the 20 SD45s on MoPac, numbers UP 20, 23, 38, 44, and 49, were officially out of service. At that point, 21 of the 44 units in storage at Yermo were SD45s, including UP 2, 3, 7, 9, 12, 16, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 35, 39, 40, 42, 46, and 50. The remaining SD45s were stored at Los Angeles, Salt Lake, and North Platte.

With their high cost of operation, and questionable reliability, on December 23, 1984, several of the 20 UP SD45s leased to MoPac were re-assigned to hump service, where they would be close to a maintenance facility. Neff Yard in Kansas City, and Centennial Yard in Fort Worth were to get two sets of two each; North Little Rock was to get three sets of two. (The Mixed Train, January 1985, page 14)

The SD45s in hump service (3,600 horsepower on six axles) replaced sets of one of MoPac's yard slugs spliced between two GP15-1s (3,000 horsepower on 12 axles), which were assigned to other switching duties. The other UP SD45s on MoPac were placed into storage. (Pacific Rail News, April 1985, page 24)

By 1985, the plan to put ten SD45s into hump service changed and all but six of the units were returned to storage. During May 1985, UP 4, 6 and 41 were at Fort Worth, and UP 17, 21, and 36 were at Kansas City. (The Mixed Train, April 1985, page 17; CTC Board, May 1985, page 20.)

These last six were the last SD45s in service on UP. All of the other SD45s were retired while still in storage. Within a couple months, UP 21 was out of service and moved for storage to Council Bluffs, Iowa. (CTC Board, July 1985, page 17.)

UP SD45s 4, 6, 17, 32, 41, 48 are the last six SD45s on UP; all six were assigned to hump service at Fort Worth. On December 15, 1985, UP 4, 6, 17, and 41 were seen and photographed by Bob Graham, in hump service at the former MoPac Centennial Yard in Fort Worth Texas. On January 19, 1986, UP 6 and 48 were seen by James Mischke, in active yard service switching a group of cabooses at Fort Worth.

In a reflection of the January 1986 consolidation of UP's and MoPac's operating departments, on March 13, 1986, the 18 remaining UP SD45s on MoPac (originally leased in early 1984) were transferred to MoPac ownership, although none were actually relettered for their new owner. The road numbers of the units involved is uncertain since the road numbers of the two retired units is unknown. As of 4 June 1986, only three units (UP 6, 32, and 48) were in service; with the other three units stored. In early June 1986 UP 4214 and 4215 were reassigned to Fort Worth to replace the remaining three SD45s. All six remaining UP SD45s were removed from service during late October 1986, and moved to Omaha for storage. (The Mixed Train, March 1986, page 12; CTC Board, July 1986, page 39; Extra 2200 South, Issue 86, August 1987, page 16)

Sulzer-Powered SD45s

Morrison Knudsen began the Sulzer SD45 program in 1980, eventually installing Sulzer engines in ten SD45s, four for AT&SF, and six for UP. The Sulzer application included the installation of the Sulzer 16ASV25R, 16-cylinder, four-stroke, 3,600-horsepower engine. UP 60 was the first unit completed, in July 1980. The second Sulzer SD45 was AT&SF 5497, completed in December 1980. Another seven units (three for AT&SF and four for UP) were completed during 1981, with the tenth unit, UP 65, remaining in test during 1982.

The first UP unit selected to become part of the Sulzer rebuild program was UP 34, which was stored out of service at Salt Lake City at the time, and moved in late 1979 to Morrison Knudsen at Boise, Idaho. All car body modifications for UP 34, which became Sulzer-powered UP 60, were done by Morrison Knudsen at Boise as part of the prototype testing of the first unit. UP 60 was completed in late July 1980, and released for service by Morrison Knudsen on July 28, 1980.

The car bodies for the other five Sulzer SD45s were modified by UP at Omaha, and the units were then shipped to Morrison-Knudsen in Boise for installation of the Sulzer engines. After Morrison Knudsen had installed the new Sulzer engine in each of the units, and as they were completed in August 1981 through June 1982, each rebuilt locomotive worked east to North Platte, for repaint and renumber. After being fully painted and lettered at North Platte, the rebuilt units worked back west to Salt Lake City for final adjustments by Morrison Knudsen personnel prior to entering road service. UP's shops in Salt Lake City, Utah, were the major maintenance point for the Sulzer SD45s, or as UP called them, SD45Ms, with Morrison Knudsen personnel working closely with UP's own mechanical forces. Morrison Knudsen used its own designation for these Sulzer-powered locomotives: TE83-6S (Tractive Effort, 83,000 pounds, 6 axle, Sulzer).

The six Sulzer SD45s for UP were completed on the following dates:

The total cost to modify UP 60 was reported as $349,000, which included $36,000 to modify the carbody and other parts of the SD45, $299,500 for the Sulzer engine, and $14,000 for MK to install the engine at its Boise facility. Union Pacific chose to assume the cost to modify the SD45s at its Omaha facility, to prepare them for installation of the Sulzer engines, thereby saving $36,000 on the cost for each unit.

Details of the modifications comes from a report for converting UP 14 to UP 61. The work by UP at Omaha to modify UP 14 was completed on April 13, 1981, and the unit was sent to MK at Boise for installation of the Sulzer engine. The work on UP 14, and all subsequent units included removal of the carbody and all engine components, modification to the frame to include removal of existing ballast blocks, and changing the engine mounting pads, modification of the carbody to allow installation of Sulzer engine and associated fuel and cooling components. The work at Omaha required 2,380 man hours, with work being done by all four crafts (Machinists, Electricians, Boilermakers and Pipefitters).

The following table shows the comparison between a Sulzer 16-cylinder engine, and an EMD 20-cylinder engine. Average fuel consumption was 57.6 gallons per hour for Sulzer, compared to 59.5 gallons per hour for EMD. It should be noted that UP's entire motivation for the Sulzer program was to reduce fuel costs for an EMD SD45 locomotive.

Gallons Per Hour
Gallons Per Hour
HP Percent
Duty Hours
8 191.3 197.5 3608 17%
7 148.4 155.3 2883 4%
6 119.5 127.9 2272 4%
5 98.4 100.7 1775 4%
4 83.6 84.6 1499 4%
3 48.9 48.1 837 4%
2 28.4 29.7 466 4%
1 20.1 20.4 289 46%
Idle 4.7 4.7   9%
Dynamic Brake 12.5 12.5    

(Source: "Comparative Fuel Consumption Rates, EMD SD45 vs. Sulzer", R. L. Dyson to R. P. Neeley, September 8, 1980)

As with any engineering program testing new technology, there were many problems with the Sulzer program. In July and August 1981, Union Pacific and Morrison Knudsen exchanged several letters concerning responsibility of a main bearing failure on one unit, and a turbocharger failure on another unit, and continuing oil pressure and temperature problems on all six units. MK engineering and service personnel felt that the failures were due to operational negligence by Union Pacific personnel, and UP felt that the failures were due to inadequate design. By late February 1982, the first five units (UP 60-64) were removed from service and stored at Salt Lake City, pending improvements in the design. UP 65 was still under construction by Morrison Knudsen, and after undergoing additional development work, the unit was released during early June 1982.

In mid May 1982, when UP 60-64 were stored pending design improvements, the five units were reported as having the following accumulated mileage:

UP 60 126,614 miles
UP 61 46,698 miles
UP 62 40,157 miles
UP 63 20,043 miles
UP 64 14,924 miles
UP 65  

After April 30, 1982, UP 65 was the only Sulzer SD45 in operation on Union Pacific. The unit continued to serve as the engineering test bed for many modifications as Morrison Knudsen's engineering staff worked at getting the Sulzer application to work in the railroad locomotive service. On July 9, 1982, Morrison Knudsen advised Union Pacific that an additional $126,000 would be required to modify the other five units to match the improvements made to UP 65, which UP hesitated to spend until number 65 was operating with a much greater availability rating. The performance of UP 65 simply did not meet Union Pacific's expectations for a Priority I road freight locomotive. There were too many problems that affected "the good and expected performance of these Sulzer engine locomotives."

An "all-hands" meeting was held on August 10, 1982, resulting in an agreement to continue to operate UP 65 between North Platte, Nebraska, and Hinkle, Oregon, by way of Pocatello and Nampa, Idaho, to allow MK personnel access to the unit on a regular basis, as needed to ensure reliable operation. The disagreements continued over responsibility of failures, and the projected costs to continue the program. After experiencing an availability of just only 70 percent, UP 65 was removed from service on August 20, 1982, and joined the other five units stored at Salt Lake. All six units were formally retired in December 1983.


The first SD45 retirement took place while the Sulzer program was underway during 1980-1982. UP 43 had been damaged in a wreck in early 1981, and was retired in May 1981. UP scrapped the unit at its Omaha shops during June 1981. The storage of the entire SD45 fleet by late 1982 brought an end to days of operation for UP's SD45s. In a December 15, 1983 report, 36 of the 125 units being stored at Yermo were SD45s: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 36, 39, 40, 41, 42, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, and 50. The units remained in storage until retirements began in June and July 1984, when seven units were retired, including UP 11, 20, 22, 23, 38, 44, and 49. Retirements continued in 1985, when 30 were retired (most of them on March 18, 1985), including UP 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 16, 18, 19, 21, 24-31, 33, 35, 36, 39, 40, 42, 45, 46, 47, 50. There were no retirements during 1986. The end of the SD45s came in 1987, as the six units first leased to, then owned by MoPac, were removed from service and retired. Their numbers were UP 4, 6, 17, 32, 41, 48.

Final Disposition

The year 1985 was a very bad year for UP's SD45s. On January 19, 1985, 26 of the 64 units stored at Yermo were SD45s. But by June 1985 the number had been reduced to four of the 35 units in storage there. Those 31 other units had been moved to Omaha and Salt Lake City to be stripped of any useable parts before being sold for scrap.

One of the SD45s gave more than just good service. In 1985, UP 19 contributed its cab and short hood to the repairs of UP SD40-2 3584, wrecked on January 2, 1985 at Gering, Nebraska. The wreck damage on the SD40-2 was repaired by UP's shops at Salt Lake City, Utah, by using the complete cab and short nose from retired UP SD45 19. Repairs were completed in early December 1985, and two months later, UP 19 was sent to the scrapper's torch at General Metals in Tacoma.

Also during 1985, the SD45s gave up their Coded Cab Signal equipment, which was installed on C&NW's GP50s. The cab signal equipment was needed on the C&NW units for use on Union Pacific lines between Fremont and North Platte.

By July 1985 there were only six SD45s left on the roster; those in service on MoPac's hump yards. The other 44 units had been officially retired or rebuilt with Sulzer engines. In August the last four SD45s (UP 2, 26, 35, and 40) still stored at Yermo were moved to Omaha to be stripped of usable components. At the same time, wholesale scrapping started for UP's SD45s. UP 9, 11, and 25 were three of the 13 units sold to the Erman Corp. of Turner (Kansas City), Kansas, in August 1985. A month later, in September 1985, when 12 more units were sold to Erman, 10 of them were SD45s, including UP 1, 5, 21, 29, 31, 33, 36, 42, 45, and 47. In October, an additional 11 units went to Erman for scrapping. Again the largest part of the scrapped locomotives, seven units, were SD45s (UP 7, 12, 16, 24, 26, 27, and 39). (The group of 20 UP SD45s was delivered to Erman in December 1985.) Also in October, of the five units that were sold for scrap to Durbano in Ogden, one was an UP SD45 number 18. SD45 number 22 was one of the 15 units that were sold to St. Louis Auto Shredding in December, but wasn't actually delivered until the following March 1986. Erman-Howell's salvage yard continued to be the graveyard for UP SD45s when in February 1986 UP sold six more units to the Kansas City scrapper, and four of them were SD45s (UP 3, 10, 30, and 46). In that same month, February 1986, UP sold nine locomotives to Bargains Galore of Portland, Oregon. Again five were SD45s (UP 2, 19, 28, 35, and 40). Bargains Galore couldn't handle all of the units at its small Vancouver, Washington, salvage yard and re-sold the units to General Metals of Tacoma, Washington, where the five SD45s were delivered in late March to be cut up. By May, of the 12 units at General Metals awaiting the scrapper's torch, UP 2 and the cabless UP 19 were still intact, along with UP 25 and 28.

On February 22, 1986, when UP's Power Control office in Omaha rounded up the last of the surplus locomotives on the railroad, 21 of them were SD45s. Of the 102 units listed as ready to be moved, 34 units were to go to St. Louis Auto Shredding at Madison City, Illinois Four units were to go to Precision National Corporation in Mount Vernon, Illinois Eighteen units were to go Durbano Metals in Ogden, Utah. Two units were to go shortline operator Colorado & Eastern, and 44 units were on their way to Erman-Howell. UP 18 was one of the 18 units that were to go to Durbano and UP 30 was one of the two going to the Colorado & Eastern. Of the 44 units going to Erman, 19 were SD45s, including UP 7, 10, 12, 16, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 36, 39, 42, 45, 46, and 47.

In late March 1986, over the Easter weekend, UP made a special "dead engine move". Included were SD45s 3, 22, and 29. UP 3 and 29 were set out at Kansas City for delivery to Erman-Howell. UP 22 continued on to St. Louis and its destination of St. Louis Auto Shredding. In May 1986, UP 50 was one of 25 units sent as trade in to EMD on new SD60s. All were sent by EMD to Pielet Brothers in McCook, Illinois, to be cut up as scrap. Three more SD45s (UP 32, 41, and 48) were part of the 29 units retired on January 10, 1987.

By June 1986, the six SD45s being used by MoPac in hump yard service at Fort Worth (UP 4, 6, 17, 32, 41, 48) were the last six SD45s on UP. As of June 4, 1986, only UP 6, 32, and 48 were in service, with the other three units stored. In early June 1986 ex-MP SD40-2s 4214 and 4215 were reassigned to Fort Worth to replace the remaining three SD45s. Within a month, on July 3, 1986, two units, UP 4 and 41, were removed from service and stored at Fort Worth. During late October, all were moved to Omaha for storage. UP 32, 41, and 48 were retired on January 10, 1987. UP 4, 6, and 17 were retired on February 9, 1987.

Of the 24 SD45s sold to Erman Corp., in 1985 and 1986, six were later sold (in late 1988) to VMV Enterprises in Paducah Ky., including UP 12, 21, 26, 27, 31, 39. VMV purchased the units to serve as core units for its projected rebuilding programs, but only UP 26 was actually used, becoming an SD40-2V for Nationales de Mexico, as their 13076, in December 1988. The other five units were scrapped by VMV during 1990.

As already mentioned, of those last six units working on MoPac as hump units, all were retired in early 1987. UP 48 was sold for scrap to Southwest Railroad Car Parts in April 1987. UP 6, 17, and 32 were sold for scrap to Pielet Brothers in July 1987, and UP 4 and 41 were sold to Precision National in January 1988. Precision National moved these two units to its large facility at Mount Vernon, Illinois, for use as parts, and for potential rebuild and sale at a later date.

The six Sulzer-powered SD45Ms were retired in December 1983. They remained in storage first at Salt Lake City, then at Council Bluffs, until being sold to Precision National in October 1987.

Return To Service

In what has got to be one of the one of the most unusual stories of locomotive longevity, several former UP SD45s have returned to ply the railroad's rails, although in body appearance only. In 1998, UP took delivery several SD40-2s that had been rebuilt from retired SD45s.

After their sale in 1987, the six Sulzer units, UP 60-65, along with UP standard SD45s 4 and 41, remained in storage at Precision National's shop complex in Mount Vernon, Illinois, for over ten years. Over the intervening years, Precision National went bankrupt (in February 1997), and in November 1997, the entire facility and inventory was purchased by National Railway Equipment. NRE had begun its efforts in locomotive rebuilding as early as 1984, and had continued to grow, buying the former CRI&P (Rock Island) shop at Silvis, Illinois, in 1990. The former Precision National facility fit right in with NRE's plans for continued growth, and work began immediately to market the company's new capability.

By late 1998, NRE had negotiated a rebuild program for CIT Finance. During the same time period, CIT had itself negotiated a lease agreement with Union Pacific to furnish UP with 33 SD40-2s, to be rebuilt by NRE from its existing stock of core units, many of which had been purchased as part of the Precision National bankruptcy sale. These new SD40-2s were to be rebuilt from SD45s, SD40s, and SD39s, using only the frames and trucks from the various core unit as the basis for the new units. NRE would install all-new electrical equipment and a new 16-cylinder, 3,000-horsepower diesel engine, bringing the new units up to SD40-2 operating capabilities, albeit in the car body of a retired, much older unit. Due to the added expense of making extensive car body changes merely to match the cosmetic appearance of a factory SD40-2, these rebuilt units retain their original appearance. This includes, in the case of the retired SD45s from UP, BN, SP, D&RGW, and CSX, the unique flared radiator section at the rear of the unit. The following original UP units have been rebuilt and returned to UP rails:

UP 4740 UP 3641 UP 41  
UP 4742 UP 3637 UP 37 UP 65
UP 4749 UP 3608 UP 8 UP 64
UP 4753 UP 3614 UP 14 UP 61
UP 4756 UP 3615 UP 15 UP 62
UP 4758 UP 3613 UP 13 UP 63
UP 4764 UP 3634 UP 34 UP 60

UP SD45 Features

Among locomotive historians, the EMD SD45s are known to possess spotting features unique to individual railroads. However, these features have not lead to designation of the SD45 into separate "phases." UP's SD45s have several characteristics that are unique to the railroad and are discussed below.

During their construction, 12 SD45s were selected to receive fuel tanks with dual fuel fillers. They were 3644-3647 in order number 7077, and 3600-3607 from order number 7975. One feature of those units with dual fuel filters was the breather stand pipe located on the engineer's side of the unit, adjacent to a handrail stanchion along the walkway. The dual fuel fillers were applied to allow the units to be refueled on the ATSF as part of the Kaiser train assignment, although 3600-3607 did not perform in that service. As previously noted, Santa Fe utilized the units on their system while the trains were being unloaded at Kaiser.

Union Pacific's SD45s all had double clasp brakes for the additional braking capacity. These units all had cast iron brakes shoes, for the same reason. These trucks carried EMD's "Flexicoil" brand name and were externally identical to the trucks used on UP's earlier SD7 and SD24 locomotives, although the SD45 trucks differ from the earlier SD7 and SD24 trucks in the location of the traction motor air ducts. The newer Flexicoil trucks that were available in 1966 on the first SD40s and SD45s for other railroads were not available with double clasp brake shoes, so EMD was forced to use its older design to fulfill UP's needs, and all of UP SD45s were delivered with these trucks. By mid to late 1968, EMD was able to modify its newer design with double clasp brakes, which were selected by other railroads, such as the N&W. Later, several UP SD45s were equipped with this later double clasp brake truck, including some units with one truck of each type. Because the earlier design was no longer in production by EMD after 1968, these later, different trucks were the result of truck replacement through normal maintenance by Union Pacific, since the two designs are functionally identical.

(Read more, below, about the different trucks and their interchangeability)

Other physical features of UP's SD45s came later in their careers. These included uncoupling lever extensions after 1977, to allow uncoupling from the side steps without having to stand on or near the footboards, which were removed at the same time. The footboard removal was completed to comply with a government safety mandate for road freight units to not be equipped with footboards after September 1978. Another feature was the later application of lifting lugs on the units' end sheets. These lugs allowed easier lifting of damaged units following a derailment.

When delivered, the SD45s were equipped with a variety of journal boxes. These likely came from the variety of units that were sent by UP to EMD as trade-in credit. These trade-in units included four Baldwin AS-616s, a single wrecked E9A, 16 F9s (rebuilt from F3s), a single wrecked GP30, four Alco RS-2s, three Alco RSC-2s, and 16 Alco S-2 switchers, along with a modified Alco PA. By counting the number of axles of the traded-in EMD units, one can see that there wouldn't be enough journal boxes to furnish the entire 50-unit SD45 fleet. Too few trade-in journal boxes brought still more variety with new boxes being applied at random. Within a few years, during normal maintenance actions, all of the trade-in boxes were exchanged for the single style seen in later photos of the units.

Dynamic Brake Vents

During early 1970, EMD became aware of a problem in the design of their dynamic braking feature, as applied to its GP40s and SD45s. Tests showed that the dynamic brake fan motor bearings were overheating due to their close proximity to the exhaust manifold on the interior of the locomotives, with the top of the manifold just four inches below the bottom of the dynamic braking fan. EMD developed an enclosure that completely covered the bottom of both dynamic brake fan motors, and in addition, installed a two-layer heat shield between the enclosure and the exhaust manifold. To bring cool air into the dynamic brake fan bearing area, two vent openings were installed on the side of the dynamic brake grid enclosure on the SD45, about two feet behind the grid openings themselves. These vents were approximately four inches by six inches. To allow overheated air to escape from the new motor enclosure, a vent was added to the top of the dynamic brake enclosure. Labeled as the "Dynamic Brake Compartment Vent," railfans soon began referring to it as the so-called "shoe box vent," because it looked like a shoe box sitting atop the unit. It measured about 12 inches by six inches, with a cap about two inches high that was about two inches above the roof surface. The lower part of the roof vent was indented below the vent cap by about two inches.

The first units to get the ventilated dynamic brake enclosure were brand new SCL GP40s 1624 and 1625 and AT&SF SD45 5622. All were finished in June 1970, painted black with just white cab-side numbers, and EMD ownership plates. Union Pacific soon accepted the modification for its fleet of SD45s, all of which were equipped with extended range dynamic braking, and in 1971, began applying it at their shops in Salt Lake City, Omaha, and North Platte. At Salt Lake, the units completed included those 12 UP SD45s assigned to the Kaiser trains, along with their six companion D&RGW SD45s.

SD45 Traction Motor Duct

On EMD locomotives built after 1966, the traction motor duct runs along the left side to get the cooling air from the traction motor cooling blower back to the rear truck. There is also a much shorter duct going to the front truck. The duct runs along the walkway because the base of the engine and the engine sump prevents the duct from being run along the inside of the locomotive. The rear duct ends adjacent to the equipment rack (water tank, oil filter, oil cooler, etc.) and turns down into the frame after crossing the top of the left-side I-beam of the two I-beams that form the locomotive frame. The space between the two I-beams is enclosed ahead of the generator at the front and behind the engine sump at the rear, forming a large plenum that feeds the three individual traction motors at each end. Underneath, each traction motor has a sprung rubber boot that connects it to the bottom of the locomotive frame (cooling plenum) through three openings, each above a traction motor. The front duct ends immediately after entering the area under the cab, and also turns down into the frame. An observer can see the end of the front duct if the left side equipment door is open. The rear end of the duct looks exactly the same, but has an add-on cover to square it off, making it a step. There are two different lengths of ducts on SD45s. The length of the duct is easily spotted by the presence of either three or four short handrail stanchions on the left side of the locomotive. Several railroads have examples of each length, and there appears to be no correlation between build date and duct length. Likewise, it is not known why there is a long duct and a short duct on the SD45s. All UP SD45s were equipped with the short duct.

Union Pacific SD45 Trucks

All UP SD45s were delivered with truck type SD-CB-B, as described below. Several units had truck replaced with a second type, SD-CB-C, also described below. In the designation, used by Union Pacific, SD denotes SD-type trucks, CB denotes Cast Brakeshoes, and A, B, or C denotes the configuration.

SD-CB-A trucks (EMD part number 8189219), with three high mounted brake cylinders, and six cast iron clasp brake shoes. Externally, these trucks can be recognized by the three brake cylinders, two small rectangular bumps below the sideframe holes, thin curved lips above the journals, and small triangular shaped brackets above the holes on the top of the side frame. The traction motor air ducts are mounted on the truck bolster. These trucks are original equipment on UP's SD7, SD24, and SD24B locomotives.

SD-CB-B trucks (EMD part number 8344609), with three high mounted brake cylinders and six cast iron clasp brake shoes. The external features of these trucks are the same as the SD-CB-A truck. The trucks differ in that the traction motor air ducts are mounted on top of each traction motor. These trucks are original equipment under UP's SDP35s, SD40 demonstrators 3040-3046, and SD45s.

SD-CB-C trucks (EMD part number 8408453) are distinguished by three brake cylinders, lack of small rectangular bumps below the side frame holes, prominent side frame stiffening bulges above the journals, and massive bolster mounting hardware above the side frame holes. These trucks are noted on UP shop notes as having greater center plate load capacity. These trucks were original equipment on SD40 demonstrator 3047, and the second order of SD40s (3083- 3122). These trucks were also provided as maintenance spares for the SD-CB-B trucks and are directly interchangeable with them on the SD45, or with underframe modifications on the SDP35 and SD40 demos (3040-3046).

SD45 Phases

Diesel locomotive historians generally do not recognize phases in the SD45 production run. However, the following details on Union Pacific SD45s are related to the detail variations recognized in SD45 production.

SD-CB-B trucks, with three high mounted brake cylinders, and six cast iron clasp brake shoes. Externally, these trucks look the same as those under UP's SD7s, SD24s, SDP35s and SD40 demonstrators 3040-3046.

Other details include:

  1. Pilot end plate terminates at bottom of step.
  2. Blower bulge lacks stiffener rib
  3. Blower duct is short version; there are 4, not 3, short handrail stanchions at the rear left side.
  4. Units were delivered without the dynamic brake vent on hood top, which was added later by UP.
  5. Dual fuel fillers were applied to 12 units (3600-3607 3644-3647), including a breather standpipe.
  6. UP SD45s had rear number boards.
  7. Brake wheel located on the right rear.
  8. Farr air radiator grills.
  9. Dynamic brake and radiator fan grilles go to center of fan; no center hub as on earlier SD45s.


Correspondence and communication with Bill Metzger, Warren Johnson, and Mark Hemphill.