Union Pacific's Late EMD Switchers

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This page was last updated on June 26, 2013.

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Of all of America's Class One railroads, Union Pacific is one of the few that still has use for a large fleet of pure, purpose-built switch engines. The switcher fleets of other large railroads, such as Burlington Northern and the Southern Pacific were shrinking, and the three big eastern roads, Conrail, Norfolk Southern, and CSX, were also operating fewer numbers of switchers. Union Pacific's potential merger partner Santa Fe has eliminated this type of unit completely, choosing instead to use smaller road service locomotives, such as refurbished GP30s and GP35s, to perform any needed yard switching duties.

Prior to the 1982 merger with Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific, UP's switcher fleet consisted of an 87-unit fleet of NW2s, SW7s, SW9s and TR5s, all built between 1939 and 1953, along with 45 rebuilt SW10s. There were still 19 NW2s, 18 SW7s, four SW9s, and only a single TR5 cow and calf set. All were at least 20 years old, except the newly rebuilt SW10s, which were the result of an on-going program begun three years before, in 1979.

Former WP, MP, and MKT SW1500s

The December 1982 merger brought seven SW1500s to the Union Pacific roster; three from WP and four from MP. Of the 808 SW1500s completed by EMD between July 1966 and January 1974, these seven units represented less than 1 percent, and Western Pacific and Missouri Pacific were just two of 58 customers. Western Pacific 1501-1503 were delivered to WP in May 1973, in WP's dark green with orange lettering paint scheme. The three units were repainted to UP yellow and gray, retaining their former WP numbers, in April and May 1984. These three SW1500s were generally assigned to the Oakland yard prior to the merger (one was used in San Francisco until WP ended its ferry service to that city), and after being repainted at North Platte in 1984, they were returned to Oakland for service. In 1987 and 1988, in a move to place all of the road's switchers in the 1200 and 1300 series, the three ex-WP units were renumbered from their original 1500-series to the 1300 series, as 1315-1317, in number slots following the former P&LE MP15DCs in the 1300-1314 series; UP 1501 became UP 1315 in November 1988; UP 1502 became UP 1316 in May 1988, and in August 1987, UP 1503 became UP 1317. UP 1315-1317 were formally purchased by Union Pacific on January 3, 1989 after the original lease to WP expired on January 1, 1989. In 1990, all three ex-WP SW1500s were reassigned from their California locations to new assignments at Centennial Yard in Fort Worth, Texas.

UP 1318-1321 were originally MP 1518-1521. These four units were Missouri Pacific's first, and only, experience with EMD's SW1500 switcher, and were numbered after the 18 SW1500s MP had furnished in its co-ownership (with SSW) of the Alton and Southern (A&S), a terminal railroad operating in East St. Louis, Illinois. These 18 MP-owned, A&S-leased units were delivered to A&S in three orders of six units each (with retired RS2/3s as trade-in material): A&S 1500-1505 in May 1969; A&S 1506-1511 in February 1970; and A&S 1512-1517 in April 1971. MP 1518-1521 were delivered in December 1972 and were the only SW1500s on MP proper. (Later, in October 1980, MP purchased a single MP15DC for service on the Alton. Given A&S road number 1522, it too was painted in the A&S scheme of yellow hood and blue cab.)

MP 1518 was repainted to MP's version of the UP-standard yellow and gray scheme, with Missouri Pacific spelled out in the squareish North Little Rock style lettering, in April 1985, and was later relettered and renumbered to UP 1318 in August 1986. MP 1519 became yellow and gray UP 1319 in October 1986. MP 1520 and 1521 retained their MP blue color schemes throughout this period of the original lease.

All four of the ex-MP SW1500s were no longer on UP's switcher roster. The original 15-year lease for UP 1318-1321 expired in December 31, 1987. All four units were retired on January 1, 1988 and were returned to their owner/lessor, who immediately sold them to Helm Financial Corporation. Helm sold UP 1318 and 1319 to Chicago Rail Link as their numbers 18 and 19 in February 1988. The two other units, MP 1520 and 1521, still in MP blue paint, remained on UP and were leased by UP from Helm on a five-year operating lease. MP 1520 and 1521 were painted yellow and gray, becoming UP 1320, 1321 in May 1989 and June 1988 respectively. UP 1320 and 1321 were returned to Helm upon expiration of the later five-year operating lease in late March 1994.

The merger of the Union Pacific and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas in August 1988 brought an additional six SW1500s to UP's stable of late EMD switching locomotives, four of which remain on the roster. The first two, MKT 50 and 51, were delivered to the Katy in November 1967, and the other four, MKT 52-55, following in September 1968.

MKT 50 and 51 became UP 1322 and 1323 in July 1989 and December 1989. MKT 52 became UP 1324 in July 1989, and MKT 54 and 55 became UP 1326 and 1327 in February 1990. MKT 53 was the last former MKT unit to be repainted from MKT green and yellow to UP's yellow and gray paint scheme, and was repainted and renumbered to UP 1325 in November 1993.

The lease on UP 1322 and 1323 expired in October 1989 and both were returned to their owner, EMD, in November. The former UP 1322 was later sold by EMD to Prairie Coal in Saskatchewan. The other four ex-MKT SW1500s were still on the roster, in service as UP 1324-1327.

The October 1990 reassignment of switch locomotives included the assignment of ex-MP SW1500s 1320, 1321 and ex-MKT SW1500s 1324, 1325, 1326, and 1327 in three two-unit sets to trim service for the hump at Fort Worth's Centennial Yard.

Union Pacific did not purchase the SW1500 model new, but acquired all of its 13 examples through merger. While six units have left the roster, seven units remain - all three ex-WP units and four ex-MKT units. As of mid 1996, all seven work at the former MP Centennial hump yard in Fort Worth, Texas, working the trim jobs at the west end of the yard.

Former MP MP15DCs

UP's 62 former Missouri Pacific MP15DCs came to the railroad through the December 1982 merger. EMD's MP15DC was built between February 1974 and late 1982, with 246 units having been built. The 25 units in the MP 1530-1554 series came in three different orders during the one-year period from March 1974 to March 1975. The units delivered in 1974 came as model-type MP15, but with the introduction of the AC-alternator option for its 1,500 horsepower switcher line, EMD changed the models to be either the MP15DC or the MP15AC, a model which MP chose not to include in its expanding modern switcher fleet.

The later group of 37 Missouri Pacific MP15DCs, numbers 1356-1392, came in two separate orders, 20 units in January 1982 (MP 1356-1375), and another 17 units in October and November 1982, with road numbers 1376-1392. The new 1300-series numbers were necessary to avoid the 110-unit group of GP15-1s MP had acquired between June 1976 and November 1981, carrying road numbers 1555-1664, themselves numbered after the earlier orders of MP15DCs.

The MP15DC fleet was intact at the time of the December 1982 merger, and remains intact today, with no retirements having taken place. As mentioned above in the SW1500 discussion, Alton & Southern MP15DC 1522 was delivered in November 1980, between the two groups of MP MP15DCs. The new unit was needed on the MP/SSW-owned St. Louis area terminal road to augment its fleet of eighteen SW1500s.

An additional three MP15DCs were originally part of the final MP MP15DC order (MP 1376-1392) in November 1982, but these three units were diverted to MP/AT&SF/MKT-owned Texas City Terminal Railway 35-37 at Texas City, Texas, painted in that road's yellow and green scheme.

Three almost-new MP15DCs, MP 1389, 1391, and 1392, were assigned to the Union Pacific at Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, respectively, in May 1983 to "show the colors" of the new UP/MP/WP merger. Like-wise, recently rebuilt UP SW10s 1240, 1241, 1245 were assigned to the MP at Houston. While assigned to UP's Albina yard in Portland, MP 1391 was repainted in full MP blue in January 1984. All units were returned in April 1985 -- the SW10s to former UP lines and the MP15DCs to former MP lines.

Many of the former MP MP15DCs were equipped to operate as control units with MP's 23-unit fleet of yard slugs. This fleet of yard slugs was converted by MP from retired SW7s, SW8s, and SW9s, in a program beginning in December 1978 and ending in January 1982. These MP15DC and yard slug combinations operated at all of MP's large yard facilities, including Kansas City, St. Louis, North Little Rock, Houston, and Fort Worth, along with some leased to Alton and Southern for service at that road's Gateway Yard in East St. Louis.

Some former MP MP15DCs have carried three different paint schemes. Fifteen units (MP 1532, 1535, 1540, 1542, 1552, 1553, 1357, 1362, 1370-1373, 1377, 1379, and 1382), while still MP units, were repainted between July 1984 and October 1985 to the post-merger Missouri Pacific yellow and gray paint scheme, with Missouri Pacific lettering, using the unique squareish North Little Rock style lettering. Beginning in January 1986 (UP 1363, ex-MP 1363 was the first on January 24th), Union Pacific started the general repaint program, changing MP units to UP yellow and gray units. The last ex-MP MP15DC, MP 1377, became UP 1377 on December 17, 1992.

Switching locomotive assignments for the system hump yards were changed in October 1990. The major part of the change brought the re-assignment of 41 GP38-2s from freight service to switch service, most in either hump service or trim service at the system hump yards, and the remainder in regular flat switching service. Included in this general re-assignment was the assignment of UP 1356, with yard slug S9, and UP 1357, with slug S10, to the hump yard at East Los Angeles. The hump yard in Pocatello, Idaho was the new assignment for UP 1364-1367. These four units at Pocatello were used in two two-unit sets, with a single ex-MP yard slug spliced between them. UP 1364 and 1365 work with yard slug S14, while UP 1366 and 1367 work with slug S15. The remaining 56 ex-MP MP15DCs kept their assignments in regular switching service on the former MP lines of UP's Eastern and Southern operating districts.

The October 1990 switcher assignments show 1330-1334 assigned to flat switching duties in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Twenty-six MP15DCs (UP 1335-1354, 1374-1379) were assigned to the flat yard at Houston, Texas. UP 1358-1363 were working on the hump at Neff yard in Kansas City, and 1368-1373 were working on the hump in North Little Rock. The six units in the 1380-1385 group were assigned, together with six ex-MP and ex-MKT SW1500s, to hump yard trim switching service at Centennial Yard in Fort Worth. The final group of seven ex-MP MP15DCs, UP 1386-1392 (along with ex-MKT MP15ACs 1393-1396), were assigned to flat switching at the former C&EI Yard Center yard in suburban Chicago.

In mid 1996 the former Missouri Pacific MP15DCs were still assigned primarily to ex-MoPac lines, unchanged from assignments recorded for September 1994, although there may have been some relocation of single units. Of the 62 former MP units on the MP15DC roster, 20 were at the former MP hub terminal known as the Little Rock Terminal. Two major mainline routes cross here making this is one of UP's major terminals. This division takes in the huge North Little Rock hump yard, along with the smaller Biddle Yard, south of Little Rock. Seventeen more were assigned to Houston. Six units were assigned to Kansas City, Missouri, five were assigned to Yard Center in Chicago, and four were working with slugs at Pocatello, Idaho. Five units were assigned to other points in Texas, including Fort Worth and Arlington. The remaining four MP15DCs were assigned to the new yard at Livonia, Louisiana.

Second-hand Ex P&LE MP15DCs

The motive power practices of the post-1982 merger Union Pacific began changing with the increased influence of the former Missouri Pacific in Union Pacific's motive power practices. In late fall 1984, Union Pacific ended the SW10 rebuild program and began looking at secondhand switchers on the used locomotive market as the means to increase its switcher fleet and to modernize it at the same time. In December 1984, as the last SW10s were emerging from the Omaha Shops, UP purchased fifteen MP15DCs from the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, which no longer needed the units due to its declining traffic base.

The first 10 MP15DCs delivered, ex P&LE 1574-1583, arrived at Omaha, Nebraska in mid-February 1985. After an operational check by the Omaha shop forces, the all-black units were stenciled as UP 1275-1284, in sequence with the final SW10, and placed in service in Omaha and Council Bluffs. In May 1985, UP began renumbering the units to the 1000 series, as UP 1000-1009, and repainting them in the classic yellow and gray colors. The last five units, P&LE 1584, 1587, 1588, 1596 and 1598, were delivered in late April 1985 to complete the purchase. The timing of the arrival of the last five units coincided with the renumbering of the earlier units to the 1000 series, and some of this later group may have received white UP 1000-series numbers on their former P&LE all-black car bodies, but most were repainted directly to yellow and gray before entering service.

The ex P&LE MP15DCs were renumbered to road numbers 1300-1314 beginning in May 1987. After being renumbered, the units were reassigned to Portland, Oregon, where they replaced SW10s. The assignment of the MP15DCs to Portland's Albina Yard allowed UP to reassign the SW10s to other locations, where they could be more easily maintained. The last ex-P&LE MP15DC received its 1300-series number in December 1987. Portland has since remained as the assigned home for these 15 units, with the Salt Lake City (Utah) shops being available when heavy maintenance is required.

Former C&NW MP15DCs

UP received 14 more MP15DCs with its merger with C&NW in April 1995. C&NW numbers 1302-1316 have been assigned UP number 1315-1328, but as of August 1996 none have been renumbered. UP received 14 of C&NW's original 15 units, as C&NW 1313 had already been retired by C&NW prior to the merger. All 14 units remain on ex-C&NW territory, with seven units working the automobile assembly plant in Janesville, Wis. Two units each work at Madison, Wis., and East Marshall, Iowa. Single ex- C&NW MP15s were at Harvard, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The location of ex-C&NW 1311 was not shown in assignment records for the same period.

Leased MP15AC

UP 1329 was the first MP15AC built and entered service as EMD plant switcher 115, painted in EMD's blue and white demonstrator paint scheme. EMD sold the unit to the Georgetown Railroad as their 1013. Georgetown 1013 suffered a crushed cab in an accident while in service on the Georgetown and was retired and sold to Helm Financial Corporation. The wreck damage was repaired by National Railway Equipment at Dixmoor, Illinois, and the unit entered lease service as National Helm Leasing (NHL) 1013. NHL 1013 was leased to UP in April 1988 on a 5-year lease, with its reporting mark changed from NHL to UPL, meaning Union Pacific Leased. UPL 1013 was painted UP yellow and gray and became UP 1329 in late August 1989. UP 1329 spent most of its time on UP working at the former MP yard in North Little Rock, and was returned to its owner, Helm Financial, upon expiration of its extended operating lease in late March 1994.

Former Missouri-Kansas-Texas MP15ACs

UP 1393-1396 were ex-MKT 56-59. Prior to the addition of 32 ex-Soo Line MP15ACs in late 1992, ex-MKT MP15ACs 1393-1396 were four of only five examples of that model on UP; the fifth unit being the Helm leased unit mentioned above. UP 1393-1396 were delivered to Missouri-Kansas-Texas in October 1980 as MKT road numbers 56-59. Following the 1988 UP/MKT merger, MKT 58 and 59 became UP 1395 and 1396 in December 1989. MKT 56 and 57 became UP 1393 and 1394 in March 1991. The October 1990 plan for general re-assignment of UP's switcher fleet showed all four ex-MKT MP15ACs being moved from their former MKT home in Texas to Yard Center in Chicago. Assignment records for both September 1994 and August 1996 show these four units still at Yard Center.

Former Milw/Soo Line MP15ACs

The most recent additions to the Union Pacific switcher fleet were the 32 MP15ACs with road numbers 1397-1428, acquired during late December 1992 from American Financial Group. These 32 units were originally Milwaukee Road units, road numbers 434-465, which became Soo Line 1500-1531 at the time of the February 1985 merger of the two roads (Soo 1515 was one of the few units in the group to receive full Soo white and red paint). Their lease to Soo Line expired in April 1991, at which time the Soo returned them to their owner. The units sat in storage at Soo Line's Shoreham Yard in Minneapolis for almost two years, until late 1992 when their owner, American Financial Group (AFG), was able to interest UP in acquiring all 32 units. Prior to UP's acquisition, in the hopes of finding a new home for them, Soo 1514 was repainted green with yellow stripes by Conrail's Juniata Shops, identified as AFG 1, and displayed during the September 1992 Railway Supply Association show in Chicago.

Union Pacific was able to make a reasonable financial arrangement for these units, knowing that to bring the units up to UP's operating standards would equal the cost for each locomotive's acquisition. UP 1397-1406 were purchased outright, and UP 1407-1428 were on a long term lease, with option to purchase. All 32 have made a trip through the gigantic Downing B. Jenks shops complex in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with the first leaving the shop as UP 1397 on January 14, 1993. The last unit completed was UP 1428 on December 29, 1993.

Location assignments for these newer MP15ACs as late as September 1994 and mid-1996 show three units at Yard Center in Chicago. Twenty-nine units were assigned to Kansas City area yards, including Kansas City (Missouri), Eighteenth Street Yard, and Fairfax Yard. One unit is assigned to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the remaining unit is working at Salina, Kansas.


The 1982 merger brought with it the four MP and three WP SW1500s, along with the 62 MP MP15DCs, including 17 (MP 1376-1392) just delivered in November 1982, bringing the immediate post-merger UP dedicated switcher fleet up to 153 units (62 MP15DCs, 45-five SW10s, 20 NW2s, 14 SW7s, seven SW1500s, four SW9s, and a single TR5A). This number did not include the 50 SD40-2 road units re-assigned to switch service.

By the time of the 1988 UP/MKT merger, all NW2s were gone, as were all of the remaining SW7s, SW9s and TR5As. The merger with MKT added six SW1500s and four MP15ACs, bringing the fleet 149 units, including the 62 MP15DCs, 74 SW10s, and 13 SW1500s. This low number explains the need to lease the Helm MP15AC in late 1988, along with the use of GP15-1s and other road units in regular switching service, including the 50 ex CR GP38-2s leased from EMD.

In 1990, the SD40-2s were sent back to road service, with 41 GP38-2s taking their place in the requirement for higher horsepower switchers. Many of the GP38-2s were mated with ex-MP yard slugs in both hump service and hump yard trim service.

The December 1992 acquisition of the 32 ex-Soo Line MP15ACs brought the switcher fleet up to 191 units (68 SW10s, nine SW1500s, 77 MP15DCs, and 37 MP15ACs). Seven SW10s had been retired, and the leases on two ex-MP SW1500s and two ex-MKT SW1500s had expired and the units were returned to their owners.

As this is written, in late December 1994, the fleet stands at 187 units, with two additional SW10s having been retired since the new MP15ACs came onto the roster, and the remaining two lease-expired ex-MP SW1500s having been returned to their owners. The MP15ACs have proven to be very satisfactory in service, and one source has said that if more MP15ACs become available at reasonable prices, the railroad "will snap them up", and begin to retire the older SW10s. As mentioned at the first of this article, UP is one of the few Class I roads that maintains a switcher fleet. Because of the road's diverse traffic pattern, and the geographical area that it covers, there would likely be a continuing need for a fleet of regular switchers in Union Pacific's Diesel Era.