The ALCO FA was a family of B-B diesel locomotives designed to haul freight trains. The locomotives were built by a partnership of ALCO and General Electric in Schenectady, New York, between January 1946 and May 1959. They were of a cab unit design, and both cab-equipped lead (A unit) FA and cabless booster (B unit) FB models were built. A dual passenger-freight version, the FPA/FPB, was also offered. It was equipped with a steam generator for heating passenger cars.
Externally, the FA and FB models looked very similar to the ALCO PA models produced in the same period. Both the FA and PA models were styled by GE's Ray Patten. They shared many of the same characteristics both aesthetically and mechanically. It was the locomotive's mechanical qualities (the ALCO 244 V-12 prime mover) and newer locomotive models from both General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Electric (the partnership with ALCO was dissolved in 1953) that ultimately led to the retirement of the FA/FB locomotive model from revenue service. Several examples of FAs and FBs have been preserved in railroad museums, a few of them in operational status on such lines as the Grand Canyon Railway and the Napa Valley Wine Train. ALCO's designation of F marks these locomotives as being geared primarily for freight use, whereas the P designation of the PA sets indicates that they were geared for higher speeds and passenger use. However, beyond this their design was largely similar, and many railroads used FA and PA locomotives for both freight and passenger.
The FAs, as well as their cousins, the ALCO PAs, were born as a result of Alco's development of a new diesel engine design, the Model 244. In early 1944, development started on the new design, and by November 1945, the first engines were beginning to undergo tests. This unusually short testing sequence was brought about by the decision of Alco's senior management that the engine and an associated line of road locomotives had to be introduced no later than the end of 1946. In preparation for this deadline, by January 1946, the first four locomotives with the 244 engines had been built. Two FA-1s and an FB-1 were painted in Alco Demonstrator colors and were released for road tests for a month and a half on the Delaware and Hudson Railway. A strike at Alco delayed production beyond the first four units and delivery of the first three ex-demonstrator units, to the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad, began in mid February 1946. The remainder of the order began delivery in May 1946 and continued until April 1947 for a total of 80 units. Before the end of this production run, Alco upgraded the generators and traction motors in the locomotives, with the first of these models entering service in February 1947 for the New York Central. In 1950, the Montreal Locomotive Works, an affiliate of Alco, began production of FAs as well. In the Fall of 1950, an upgraded model, the FA-2, was launched. This model featured an uprated Model 244 engine, with an output of 1600 horsepower. Additionally, the carbody was lengthened, making possible the addition of a steam generator in the A unit to allow for passenger service. Models equipped as such were designated the FPA-2/FPB-2. The first FA-2s were delivered in October 1950 to the Baltimore and Ohio and the Erie. By this time, however, the cab unit had fallen out of favor due to the greater versatility of road switchers, and U S production of the FA line ended in 1956, with Canadian production ending in 1959. The MTA Long Island Rail Road purchased 20 units and removed the traction motors from the units. the LIRR used them to supply AC HEP (head end power) to the cars of the train. Also the engines were used as a cab when another engine was pushing on the east end of the train. By the late 1990s and early 2000s the railroad began retiring the Alcos for new double deck cab cars.
Three different models were offered. The FA-1/FB-1, which featured a 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW) rating, was built from January 1946 to October 1950 with a 1,600 hp (1,200 kW) version produced between March and August 1950 (many early models were subsequently upgraded to 1,600 hp). The 1,600 hp (1,200 kW) FA-2/FB-2 (along with the FPA-2/FPB-2 variants) was built between October 1950 and June 1956. The 1,800 hp (1,300 kW) FPA-4/FPB-4, powered by the 251 V-12 engine, was built between October 1958 and May 1959 by ALCO's Canadian subsidiary, Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW).
Externally, the FA-1/FB-1 could be distinguished from the FA-2/FB-2 (FPA-2/FPB-2) by the position of the radiator shutters – the FA-1/FB-1's shutters were at the far end of the carbody, whereas on the FA-2/FB-2 they were further forward, the design having been modified to allow the installation of a steam generator behind the radiator. The FPA-4/FPB-4 were visually different due to the additional radiator space that was positioned below the shutters. These Canadian variants were intended and used for high-speed passenger service, and remained in use into the 1990s on Via Rail Canada.
The FA had the same distinctive styling as its larger cousin, the ALCO PA, with a long, straight nose tipped by a headlight in a square, slitted grille and raked windshields. Only the first 36 GM&O FA-1s had the distinctive trim pieces found behind the cab windows of the PA. As with the PA, the overall design owed much to the Fairbanks-Morse Erie-built design, which had been constructed by ALCO's sales partner General Electric (GE) at their Erie, Pennsylvania, plant. GE's industrial designer Ray Patten styled the FA and FB, and many believe it likely that he took drawings of the Erie-built as a starting point, lengthening and squaring the nose and giving it a more aggressive look. The majority of FA components were compatible with the PA.
As with the PA, the model 244 diesel prime mover proved to be the undoing of the FA, and the locomotives failed to capture a marketplace dominated by General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD). The later 251-series engine, a vastly improved prime mover, was not available in time for ALCO to recover the loss of reputation caused by the unreliability of the 244, which was a key factor in the dissolution of the partnership with GE. By the time the ALCO 251 engine was accepted into widespread use, General Electric had launched their own entries into the diesel-electric locomotive market, notably the U25B. General Electric eventually supplanted ALCO as a manufacturer of locomotives, leading to ALCO's exit from the locomotive market in 1969.
Almost 800 FA units were built by ALCO and MLW, with just over 15% of them sold to New York Central Railroad, and another 5% each to Union Pacific Railroad, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Missouri Pacific Railroad. About half as many FB units were produced and sold in similar ratios.
ALCO and MLW built 152 of the various FP models with the largest quantity, 38% of the total production, sold to Canadian National Railway.
Some 20 units of various designations exist today in a preserved state, all save one of which are owned by railway museums or historical societies. -SEPTA owns one FA-1, but it has no motor and is used as a cab car. -The Illinois Railway Museum owns a former Louisville & Nashville FA-1, which was rebuilt into a cab car by the Long Island Railroad -The Western Maryland Railway Historical Society owns former Western Maryland FA-2 #302. -The Railroad Museum of New England owns former New York, New Haven, & Hartford FA-1 #0401
Several excursion railways own operating examples which are in regular service, including MLW units received from Via Rail Canada -The Grand Canyon Railway owns 4 FP4As, and at least two FB-1s -The Napa Valley Wine Train owns 4 FP4As. -The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Peninsula, Ohio, owns four FPA-4s, of which three are in operation as of 2008. -Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway No. 866 is undergoing restoration by a private owner in Portland, Oregon. -The Monticello Railway Museum has restored CN 6789, an MLW FPA-4 into operating conditions, and uses it on museum trains. It has been repainted into the green/yellow scheme that CN used early on.
Alco built the 23 A1A-A1A trucked FCA-3s for Pakistan Railways in 1951 and 1953. These were the equivalent of an FPA-2 riding on A1A trucks. ALCO's "World Locomotive" the DL500 (introduced in 1953) originated as a newly designed demonstrator based on the FA-2. The first 25 DL500s used the model 244 engine rated at 1,600 horsepower (1,200 kW). Later DL500s were like the FPA-4 and utilize the ALCO model 251B diesel engine as the prime mover and are rated at 1,800 horsepower (1,300 kW). All DL500s were built with C-C trucks, but B-B or paired A-1-A trucks were offered as an option. The only locale within the Americas where ALCO-built cab units, such as All America Latina Logistica (ALL) #8414, still see daily usage in freight duty is Argentina. A total of 369 DL500 locomotives were built by ALCO, A. E. Goodwin, and MLW between May 1953 and December 1967.
Variants of the ALCO "World Locomotive" saw service in Australia where it was built under licence by A.E. Goodwin Ltd. A two cab design went into service on the standard gauge New South Wales Government Railways as the 44 class, and both a single cab and double cab design went into service on the 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) broad gauge South Australian Railways as the 930 class.
Similar DL500 locomotives were also used in Greece, India, Pakistan, Peru, and Spain.
A February 2014 episode of the TV series The Big Bang Theory, "The Locomotive Manipulation", takes place on a train pulled by what is explicitly described as an "Alco FPA-4".