The Erie-Built and C-Liner:
FM's Intriguing Entry in the Cab Unit Business

 

In 1944, Fairbanks-Morse, after successfully building engines for most of the submarines in the U.S. Navy during World War II, threw it's hat into the diesel locomotive business. FM used a unique, patented, opposed-piston engine with 2 pistons in each cylinder. This eliminated the need for cylinder heads and theoretically created a smoother-running engine, with higher thermal efficiency. The very next year, the company introduced the Erie passenger diesel to the world. It looked quite similar to the forthcoming Alco PA, except that the long noise was rounded and the body of the locomotive was shaped a little differently. Designed as duel-service locomotives, Eries could pull both passenger and freight trains. The A1A-A1A trucks could transmit a whopping 2000 horsepower to the rails.
Unfortunately, the Erie did not sell particularly well. Competition from EMD, Alco, and Baldwin proved too much. The opposed-piston engine was also troublesome, especially the early versions designed for railroad use. To access the cylinders and pistons, the upper crankshaft had to be removed. This increased maintenance costs and reduced availability. (Some dispute this and say that it was not necessary to remove the crankshaft to access the cylinders.) Although many of the problems with the OP engine were worked out by the time the C-Liner and Trainmaster entered production, the damage to the engines reputation had been done. Only 111 units, including both cab and boosters, were built. Since the E had a head start in the passenger business and the F was cleaning up the competition in the freight arena, the Erie was a rare sight on the tracks.

In 1950, FM made another try with the cab unit when it unveiled the "Consolidated Line", or the C-Liner. This was an ill-conceived venture from the start. The era of the cab unit was nearly over by that point. Railroads were turning to the hood unit (A locomotive with a self-supporting frame, better visibility, and exterior walkways) for their future needs. Nevertheless, the C-Liner was a sophisticated locomotive. Several options for horsepower were offered, from 1600 to 2400 hp, with the 2000/2400 horsepower passenger units being offered only with 5 axles (instead of 4) to spread the increased weight of the steam boilers more evenly on the track. The short, rounded nose was unique and easy to distinguish from the competition. Unfortunately, like the Erie before it, the C-Liner was a disappointment to the company. Because the unit was introduced so late in the cab era and the opposed-piston engine was viewed by some as unreliable, the C-Liner only sold 165 units. Production only lasted 4 years.

 

Erie Technical Features:

Model: A Erie, B Erie
Horsepower: 2000
Engines: FM 38D OP
10 Cylinders
Produced: 1945-1949
Units sold: 82 A units
29 B units
Total: 111

C-Liner Technical Data:
(Various models are combined under the C-Liner designation)

Model: C-Liner
Horsepower: 1600-2400
Engine: 38D8 variants
6-12 Cylinders
Produced: 1950-1955
Units sold: 123 A units
42 B units
Total: 165

Erie Technical Features:

1. Erie units were 65 feet long with A1A-A1A trucks. The 6 axles were powered by 4 traction motors.
2. The name Erie comes from the fact that the GE Erie Work's constructed the bodies of the units.
3. The engine RPM was 850.
4. Many early units had rectangular windshields, while later ones had rounded shields.
5. The Erie units suffered from several technical flaws that hurt the reputation of the FM OP engine: the cylinder liners were often damaged when starting a train after a prolonged wait with the engine running, the A-1-A truck had a reputation as being slippery on the Erie unit, the consumption of lubricating oil was very high, access to components was difficult, and the double cooling and electrical systems were very complex. All of these factors increased maintenance costs and reduced availability of the Erie unit.

C-Liner Technical Features:
1. C-Liners were 56 and a half feet long. 1200 gallons of fuel could be carried.
2. Fourteen models with various options for horsepower were offered by FM. The B-B axle version, regardless of model, fit in the same size carbody.
3. A B-A1A version was also offered, but only Canadian National, Long Island, New Haven, and New York Central purchased it.
4. The opposed-piston engine continued to be a maintenance problem (for some roads) throughout the careers of these units, particularly when they had a few years under their belts. New York Central tried repowering some C-Liners with EMD engines, but had little success.
5. The C-Liner did have an improved engine/equipment layout, and redesigned cylinder liners when compared to the Erie unit.
6. New York Central also had trouble with the electrical systems of the C-Liner.

 

Historical Analysis:

Unfortunately, the FM entry in the cab unit business was not successful. Sales did not justify development. FM pulled out of the locomotive business in 1963, after only 19 years. The opposed-piston engine may have doomed FM from the start. Although the engine had advantages, early design problems hurt the reputation of the engine. To make matters worse, repair crews, used to working on EMD and Alco locomotives, regarded FM units as oddities. The very different OP engine, in comparison to Alco and EMD prime movers, required special knowledge and spare parts to maintain. If a railroad, like the Virginian, dieselized with only FM units, they found that, with a single line of spare parts and knowledgeable workers, that FM locomotives were durable and excellent pullers. But since FM units compromised a small percentage of the roster on nearly all roads, these locomotives did not fit in well with other builders units. Once you combined this with stiff competition from three other builders, FM never had a chance. Even if the OP engine had worked well, the outcome would probably not have been much different. Realistically, there was only room for 2, maybe 3, locomotive builders. FM got into the game too late.

Survivors:

I know of 4 surviving C-Liners, 2 A units and 2 B units. The first, an A unit, (ex-CPR#4065) is on display at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Canada.
This unit was originally CLC demonstrator #7006 in 1951. The other surviving A unit, ex-CP #4104, is on display at the Museum of the Highwood Railway Project in High River, Alberta. In addition, 2 booster units still exist as mere shells at Cranbrook, B.C.

Railfan Perspective:

FM products are something of an oddity to the railfan. So few were produced that they hardly made much of an impression. They certainly were unique products and we can be glad that they were built. They were handsome locomotives with good lines. Anything to break the mold of an almost endless fleet of EMD units was interesting and worthy of notice.

 

Canadian Pacific C-Liner#4052. Photo by J. Testagrose.

 

Sources

 "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

 "Diesel Locomotives: The First 50 Years" Louis A. Marre. Kalmback Books. 1995

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

 "C-Liners: FM's Consolidation Line of Locomotives" David R. Sweetland. Withers Pub.1996
 "Black Gold-Black Diamonds: The Pennsylvania Railroad & Dieselization, Volume II" Eric Hirsimaki. Mileposts Publishing. 2000.

Diesel Era Magazine

 LocoNotes Mailing List

"Erie-builts and H20-44s" David R. Sweetland. Withers Pub. 1999.

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