A splash of red and a chuging exhaust enliven the icy realm of the Penobscot River at Bongor as the Maine Central's Bucksport Job returns home behind ex-Rock Island U25B 231 on February 27, 1981.
From Silvis to Bangor
The Maine Central gets its piece of the Rock
By Hal Reiser/photos by the author
One of the few bright spots brought about by the dissolution of the Rock Island in early 1980 was the acquisition of 14 of its U25Bs by the Maine Central, a road whose only other GEs are ten U18Bs — and a handful of 44-tonners in the past. Built in 1965, Rock Island 225-238 were among the later U25Bs and have the "intermediate" carbody with the two-piece windshield and sloping short hood. The 14 were owned by Greyhound Leasing and were recovered by their owners when the Rock Island folded. Greyhound then sold all 14 to the Maine Central in August 1980, and they began arriving at their new home that month with four going directly to Waterville Shop for overhaul and the remainder going to Bangor for storage.
The MEC's acknowledged plan was to put ten of the units into service and hold four for parts salvage. Since the Rock Island was in the process of an "image change" when it collapsed, the U-boats arrived in Maine in a variety of paint schemes, ranging from the "Rock" blue and white to RI red and yellow or the older maroon. The 226 was the first to be overhauled, and it was given a full-blown MEC yellow and green paint job, but others followed closely behind and were pressed into service with only a small "MAINE CENTRAL R.R." stenciled on the cab over whatever RI paint scheme remained. The units all retained their former Rock Island numbers, as they fit conveniently into the MEC's existing system. (One of the units, the 232, was given a hurried paint job in the Bangor shop which resulted in a solid yellow scheme with no green stripes-it was promptly dubbed the "Great Pumpkin.") There were about a half-dozen of the U25Bs in service by the end of the year.
Weighing in at 264,000 lbs., the Rock Island units are the heaviest on the MEC, with the U18Bs at 250,600 lbs. and the GP38s at a modest 215,900 lbs. The U25Bs' large 27,000-gallon fuel tanks comprise a substantial portion of the weight. (Actually, from the standpoint of axle loadings, ex-L&N GP9s 290 and 291 are considered the MEC's heaviest units, since doubling their "heavy ends" gives a figure of 266,000 lbs., although their gross is somewhat less.)
Maine Central 226 was the first former Rock Island unit to be fully overhauled and repainted at Waterville, seen here in charge of the Rumford Job the "wrong way" at Lewiston, Maine, on February 25, 1981.
Because of their weight, the U25Bs are given unrestricted track speed only on the two Portland-Bangor main lines and the Bucksport branch. They are restricted to 20 m.p.h. at various points on other lines (25 m.p.h. if carrying less than 950 gallons of fuel oil) and are forbidden from the Lewiston Lower, Bingham, Foxcroft and Woodland branches. The happy result of all of this for the visiting railfan is that the U25Bs tend to get the most use on the main line manifests between Portland and Bangor.
The information in Ron Johnson's article in the July 1978 Railfan is still accurate enough to be used as a guide. On the main line, eastbound RB-1 is probably the best train to chase, being called at Portland's Rigby Yard at 8:30 a.m. and usually on the road sometime between 9:30 and 10:00. It uses the "Back Road" via Lewiston and moves right along at 45 to 50 m.p.h., making it a challenging chase for someone not familiar with the area. The Official Maine Transportation Map, which you can pick up at almost any of the state's tourist information centers on the main highways, is a great help by showing both roads and railroads.
There are two trains in each direction between Rigby and Bangor, the aforementioned RB-1 in the morning and RB3 eastbound before dawn, and westbounds BR-2 and BR-4 which run the "Lower Road" via Augusta and arrive in Rigby in the morning hours (RB-1 and BR-4 are daily; RB-3 and BR-2 do not run on Sundays). In addition, the U25Bs are fairly common on the Rumford Job, which departs Rumford around 10:15 a.m. for the run down to Rigby They are not uncommon on the Bucksport Job and may substitute for the usual Geeps on the Augusta Job, daily except Sunday out of Rigby about 8:15 a.m. Although one or two have strayed onto the Mountain Subdivision, the speed restrictions make them very unlikely on that line.
The survival prospects for the MEC's U25Bs seems to be the brightest of any still running in the country. In 1981 the U25B fleets in the U.S. dropped to three with the BN/Frisco removing the older GEs from the roster. The L&N's remain pretty much as described in the May 1981 R&R, but Conrail has put most of its U25Bs into storage with their future at least questionable if not doubtful. The only unfortunate aspect of the Maine Central's acquisition was that a sacrifice had to be made: the U25Bs relieved enough Geeps to permit the retirement of the MEC and Portland Terminal Alco switchers (only one pair of Alcos, 313 and 314, are left working ballast trains on the MEC in the summer of 1981). Though the demise of any Alco fleet is a tough blow, in this case, at least, the units that brought it about are not lacking in esthetics which help compensate for the loss.
POSTSCRIPT: Of the nine operable Maine Central U25B's (225, 226, 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, 234, and 238), only 231 was wrecked in January 1987 at Fitchburg, Mass., and scrapped on-site. The remainder were all retired in February 1988. Most were sold for scrap to Midwest Steel & Alloy in Ohio, except for 230 and 232 which were scrapped by Guilford in June 1988. The 226 lasted the longest, stored at East Deerfield with wreck damage and was finally scrapped in October 1991. -O.M.V.
This article originally appeared in the November 1981 issue of Railfan & Railroad.