End of the Line for Canadian ‘Cowl’ Units?

Trail Fail: BC Rail 4614 is one of 19 C40-8M locomotives put up for sale by Canadian National. Hopefully, you have more luck capturing these unique locomotives than Associate Editor Justin Franz did at West Glacier, Mont. in October 2017. Photo by Justin Franz. 

End of the Line for Canadian ‘Cowl’ Units?

The cowl unit era appears to be drawing to a close on Canadian National. CN recently put 19 of its unique General Electric C40-8M locomotives up for sale, including eight former BC Rail units. In recent weeks, the railroad has been corralling the locomotives in Centralia, Ill., and all of the cowl units listed for sale are expected to be there by May. 

While there will still be more than 60 C40-8M locomotives on the CN roster many are currently in storage and it is evident that the uniquely Canadian freight locomotives are entering the twilight of their career on the main line. 

The C40-8M was the last freight diesel produced with a cowled car body, as well as the first GE road units purchased by a Canadian railroad, which had passed on the earlier Universal and Dash 7 offerings. Custom-designed for CN, the C40-8M locomotives featured the Canadian safety cab that had been introduced with the SD50F and rode on MLW-Dofasco trucks from retired C630Ms. During four years of production starting in 1990, 84 were built, with 55 of them going to CN, 26 to BC Rail, and a trio to ore-hauler Quebec North Shore & Labrador. The QNS&L scrapped their cowl units in 2016.

Cowl units continued to sell in Canada after U.S. production ended, in part due to the idea that they provide a buffer against the cold while traveling between engines and while doing repairs or maintenance on the road. But crews complained of hot cabs and poor visibility when backing up, another trait shared with earlier “covered wagons.”

Cowled versions of EMDs SD40-2, SD50 and SD60 were all produced by GMDD solely for Canadian roads. All of CN’s remaining GMDD cowls were sold or scrapped by 2018.

Listed for sale in April were CN 2400, 2401, 2406, 2407, 2409, 2410, 2411, 2413, 2414, 2416, 2419, 2421, 2426, 2428, 2429, 2435, 2442, 2445, 2453 and BCOL 4606, 4610, 4613, 4614, 4615, 4616, 4621 and 4624. Also up for sale are four ex-Chicago & North Western standard cab C40-8 and seven ex-Santa Fe C40-8Ws. 

The only cowls Canadian Pacific bought were 25 SD40-2F’s built in 1988, the last units in the SD40 line. CP sold ten to Central Maine & Quebec in 2015 and sold the rest for scrap the following year. Now that CP has regained control of CM&Q, the future may once again be bleak for the remaining SD40-2F locomotives. 

—Eric Berger, Railfan & Railroad Magazine

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This article was posted on: April 22, 2020