The Alco FA:
A Working Gal


Alco FA-2 Diagram

Shortly before Alco unveiled the PA to the world in an elaborate ceremony, the company placed the FA-1 in its catalog. (The F for freight, the A for A unit, and the 1 for the first model) The FA looked very similiar to the PA, except that it was shorter and the nose was not as long. Unlike the PA, however, the FA was designed to pull the bread-and-butter of the railroads, freight. The FA would compete head-on with the immensely popular F units of EMD. Although the FA lost the battle with the F unit, it was much more successful than the PA in terms of sales. The FA would, like the PA, go down in history as one of the most handsome diesel locomotives ever built.

FA Technical Data

Model: FA-1
Horsepower: 1500
Engine: Alco 244
12 Cylinders
Produced: 1946-1950
Units sold: 433(A units)
249(B units)

Model: FA-2/FB-2/FPA-2/FPB-2
Horsepower: 1600
Engine: Alco 244
12 Cylinders
Produced: 1950-1956
Units sold: 395(A units)
227(B units)

Model: FPA-4/FPB-4
Horsepower: 1800
Engine: Alco 251B
12 Cylinders
Produced: 1958-1959
Units sold: 36(A units)
14(B units)

Maximum Speed: 65 m.p.h. Total Units Built: 1354
A units: 864
B units: 490


Technical Features:

1. The FA was just over 53 feet long and weighed about 243,000lbs. The tractive effort at startup was 60,875.
2. The standard gear ratio was 74:18, which meant a maximum speed of 65 m.p.h.
3. Dynamic braking was an optional installment.
4. A dual passenger-freight version, the FPA, was also offered. It was equipped with a steam generator for heating passenger cars. The FPA weighed 255,000 lbs., almost 12,000 more than the standard version.
5. The FA-2 had 1600 horsepower, 100 more than than the FA-1. Many FA-1s were upgraded to 1600 later.
6. The FA could carry 1200 gallons of fuel oil.
7. All axles were powered and arranged in a B-B configuration.
8. The FA was turbocharged and fuel-injected.
9. Most FA components were compatable with the PA.


FA Historical Analysis:

Although sales of the FA might seem small compared to the number of EMD F units sold (1354 vs. about 7500 for the F) the FA was the 2nd top-selling cab unit of all time. Only the F unit outsold it. The FA was a modest success for Alco, a much needed boost for the company. Most lasted about 15 years, the average life expectancy of a cab unit. Some were re-engined (sometimes by EMD) and lasted much longer. The FA was a common sight on the track for many years.


Railfan Perspective:

The FA was, and still is, one of the best looking locomotives ever built. It saw service on many more railroads than the PA and appeared all over the country. The flat-nosed FA provided a welcome change from the constant flow of F units that dominated the railroads in the forties, fifties, and sixties. The paint scheme of L&N and the B&O looked great on the FA. Although the FA did not really need much help, did it?



I am unsure as to the number of FAs still with us. However, it is considerably more than the PA. I count about 50 by one source, but this seems a little low to me. It may be in the range of 75 or so. I'll update you as soon as I get more info. Stay tuned.

But, unlike the PA, there are several places in the United States were you can climb aboard an excursion train and be pulled by a classic Alco FA. That experience, unlike some other ones, has not been lost with the passage of time.



Photo from George Elwood's Erie Lackawanna Railroad Page.



 "The American Diesel Locomotive" Brian Soloman. MBI Publishing. 2000.

 "Modern Diesel Locomotives" Hans Halberstadt. MBI Publishing. 1996

"Vintage Diesel Locomotives" Mike Schafer. MBI Publishing. 1998

"A Field Guide to Trains" Gerald Foster. Houghton-Mifflin. 1996

 "Diesel Locomotives: The First 50 Years" Louis A. Marre. Kalmback Books. 1995
 "PA: Alco's Glamour Girl" Andy Romano. Four Ways West Pub. 1997

"Alco Official Color Photography" Walter A. Appel. Morning Sun Books. 1998

 "Passenger Alcos in Color" Jim Boyd. Morning Sun Books. 2000

 "The Encyclopedia of Trains and Locomotives" C.J. Riley. MetroBooks. 1995

 "The Railroad Encyclopedia" Edited by Anthony Lambert. Eaglemoss Productions. 1996

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Railway Technical Web Pages site. 



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