Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc. (formerly the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corporation) is currently the world's second largest builder of railroad (railway) locomotives in terms of overall sales. General Electric is the largest, overtaking EMD in the mid-1980s, and between them they have built the overwhelming majority of the locomotives in service in North America and a large proportion of those in the rest of the world as well. EMD is the only diesel-electric locomotive manufacturer to have produced more than 70,000 engines and has the largest installed base of diesel-electric locomotives in both North America and internationally . Additionally, EMD can lay claim to being the company that ended the dominion of the steam locomotive on the world's railroads, by both producing high-quality, reliable locomotives, and just as importantly (maybe more so) knowing how to sell them.
While hardly ever is anyone the absolute inventor of any system, Harold L. Hamilton most probably comes close to being called the "father of the diesel locomotive." In an evolutionary career that led him into that role, he was without doubt the diesel-electric’s guiding coordinator. Starting his railroading career as a fireman on the Southern Pacific Railroad, he continued into becoming a locomotive engineer on long-haul runs on both passenger and freights; eventually becoming a manager with the Florida East Coast Railway. Upon leaving the rails for an automotive marketing position in Denver, Hamilton, aware of early electric propulsion experiments, the needs of railroads, and his most recent exposure to heavy vehicles, soon recognized and integrated the idea of highly more efficient (over steam) internal combustion power with railroading. Financing himself, he quit the truck sales job, set up shop in a hotel with his partner and a designer, and created an initial product in 1923 of what eventually became the successful version of diesel-electric railway propulsion.
In 1930 General Motors, seeing the opportunity to develop the diesel engine, purchased the Winton Engine Company, and after checking the Winton Engine Company's books, decided to purchase its chief customer "Electro Motive Company," which was a rail-based company. Advancing from railcars, the company began building multi-car diesel streamliners, for the Union Pacific Railroad, among others. By 1935, GM felt confident enough to invest in a brand new factory on 55th Street in McCook, Illinois, just west of Chicago, which is still the corporate headquarters. By the end of the 1930s, EMC had a diesel engine powerful and reliable enough for road locomotive use.
The 567, named for its displacement-per-cylinder of 567 in³ (9.3 L), was a two-cycle (or two-stroke) supercharged engine with overhead camshafts and four exhaust valves per cylinder. It was built in V-6, V-8, V-12 and V-16 configurations. The new technology found its first uses in glittering prow-nosed passenger locomotives, but EMC's eye was on freight service. The glamorous passenger services made little money for the railroads but replacement of steam engines with reliable diesel units could help railroads save money in a money losing service. It also gave EMD practical experience and future contacts for capturing the ultimate prize -- freight service.
The company produced a multi-unit freight locomotive demonstrator, the EMD FT, and began a tour of the continent's railroads to demonstrate it. The tour was an overwhelming success, Western roads, in particular, saw their prayers of freeing themselves from their dependence on scarce water supplies for steam locomotives answered in the FT. By 1940, EMC was producing a locomotive a day, with 600 in service.
General Motors merged EMC and part of Winton Engine to create the Electro-Motive Division (EMD) on January 1, 1941. All GM locomotives built prior to 1941 were built by the Electro-Motive Corporation (EMC). Winton's non-locomotive products (large submarine, marine, and stationary diesel engines}) continued under the title of the Cleveland Diesel Engine Division for another twenty years.
The story of diesel's conquest of steam is better placed elsewhere, but a combination of many factors weakened steam's position and strengthened that of the diesel locomotive, and by the early 1950s the majority of American railroads had decided to dieselize. While other builders had entered the diesel locomotive field -- whether old steam builders like Baldwin, Alco and Lima, or newer competitors like Fairbanks-Morse (also a producer of Navy diesels in the war), EMD's extra years of experience told. Most railroads ordered a few units from several different builders in their first, trial purchase —- but the second, volume order more often than not went to EMD. Most of these were sales of its freight F-Unit platform; the EMD F3 and later, the legendary F7; but their passenger E-unit locomotives just as quickly replaced their steam counterparts with shiny new EMD E7 and later EMD E8 locomotives. The economic arguments for diesel passenger power over steam were a bit shakier than those for freight service, but it hardly mattered -- passenger service was more a matter of rolling advertisements and publicity machines than actual profit by this late date.
In 1949, EMD opened a new plant in London, Ontario, Canada, which was operated by subsidiary General Motors Diesel (GMD), producing existing EMD as well as unique GMD designs for the Canadian domestic and export markets. That same year, EMD introduced a new, revolutionary locomotive -- the EMD GP7. Called a road switcher type, its design was that of an expanded diesel switcher, with the diesel engine, main generator and other equipment in a covered, but easily removed, hood (thus the other name for these locomotives, hood units). This hood being narrower than the locomotive, this enabled the crew to have visibility in both directions from a cab placed near to one end. The structural strength in the road-switcher was in the frame, rather than in a stressed carbody in earlier locomotives. The maintenance ease of this new type of locomotive won over the railroads in short order -- faster, indeed, than EMD truly expected. With very few exceptions, all locomotives produced in the United States for domestic use since the 1960s have been hood units.
EMD's competition was unable to keep pace. Lima failed first, merging with Baldwin and engine builder Hamilton in Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, but the Baldwin-led company didn't last long. Fairbanks-Morse, after producing a series of innovative locomotives that sold poorly, left the locomotive field (the company is still in business, in its original markets). Before long, only Alco remained, aided by the industrial might of General Electric, which manufactured the electrical gear used in Alco diesel-electric locomotives. GE itself entered the locomotive market in the early 1950s with the introduction of gas turbine-electric locomotives. By the early 1960s GE was marketing its own line of diesel-electrics in its Universal series, such as the U-25C.
The 567 engine was continuously improved and upgraded. The original six-cylinder 567 produced 600 HP, the V-12 1000 HP, and the V-16 1,350 HP. EMD began turbocharging the 567 around 1958; the final version, the 567D3A (built from October, 1963, to about January, 1966) produced 2,500 HP in its V-16 form.
In 1966 EMD introduced the enlarged 645 engine. Power ratings were 1,500 HP V-12 non-turbocharged, 1,500 HP V-8 turbocharged, 2,300 HP V-12 turbocharged, 2,000 HP V-16 non-turbocharged, and 3,000 HP V-16 turbocharged. EMD also built a turbocharged V-20 that produced 3,600 HP for the SD-45 that was their first twenty cylinder engine. The final variant of the sixteen cylinder 645 (the 16-645F) produced 3,500 HP.
In 1972, EMD introduced modular control systems with the Dash-2 line; the EMD SD40-2 became one of the most successful diesel locomotive designs in history. All told 3,945 SD40-2 units were built; if the earlier SD40 class locomotives are included, the total increases to 5,752 units. The vast majority are still in service on North American railroads. In 1984 EMD's control systems on locomotives changed to microprocessors, with computer controlled wheel slip prevention among other systems.
EMD introduced their new 710 engine in 1984 with the 60 Series locomotives, although they continued to offer the 645 in certain models (such as the 50 Series) until 1988. The 710 was produced as a twelve-, sixteen-, and twenty-cylinder engine and continues to be in production.
After the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement came into effect in 1989, EMD decided to consolidate all locomotive production at the GMD plant in London, Ontario; a development which ended locomotive production at the McCook, Illinois (commonly called the La Grange plant, after its postal address) in 1991, although the Illinois facility continues to produce engines and generators.
The early 1990s saw EMD introduce two new innovations: AC induction motor for increased reliability and tractive effort at low speeds, and the radial steering truck which reduced wheel and track wear. The decade also saw locomotives increase in power to 6,000 HP(4.5 MW) from a single prime mover (sixteen cylinder 265 H engine), in the EMD SD90MAC-H locomotive.
In 1999, Union Pacific placed the largest single order for diesel locomotives in North American railroad history when they ordered 1,000 units of the EMD SD70M from EMD.
The year 2004 saw CSX take order of the first SD70ACe locomotives that are designed to be more reliable, fuel efficient, and maintainable than its predecessor AC locomotive the SD70MAC. This model also meets the stringent EPA Tier 2 emission requirements using the tried-and-true two-stroke 710 diesel engine.
The year 2005 saw the first delivery of the SD70M-2 DC locomotive to the Norfolk Southern, building on the heritage of the work horse SD70M locomotive that has set a new bar for reliability in the rail industry. Like its sister locomotive, the SD70ACe, the SD70M-2 meets the stringent EPA Tier 2 requirements and uses the same engine.
Confirmation came the following day with a press release issued by GM. General Motors has agreed to sell its Electro-Motive Division to a partnership led by Greenbriar Equity Group LLC and Berkshire Partners LLC. The newly spun-off company is called Electro-Motive Diesel, Incorporated, which retains the EMD brand that is so widely known in the railroad industry. The sale closed on April 4 2005.