General Electric Locos in the 1990s

Until recently the only General Electric (GE) locomotives operating in Canada were small industrial-type switchers. However with the advent of the North American Free Trade agreement Canadian National, British Columbia, Quebec North Shore and Labrador and Canadian Pacific Railways have begun to purchase GE locomotives for main line service (CN formerly had 45T and 70T switchers in branch line service in the 1950s and a few survived into the 1980s). CN and BCR have purchased locomotives with the more traditional DC traction motors but Canadian Pacific Railway has invested heavily in new technology in the form of AC traction motors (partly perhaps because of their steeper grades through the Rocky Mountains as compared to Canadian National’s route). BC Rail has also purchased some second hand GE units from Santa Fe.

Dash 7

Three four axle 3600hp B36-7 were initially leased by Great Canadian Railtour Company from Santa Fe to haul their prestigious tour train the “Rocky Mountaineer” from Vancouver to Jasper and Calgary. These units were built in 1980 with the 16V-FDL16 engine and have a top speed of 65 mph. During the winter the units were often leased to other Canadian railroads and seen in freight service.

All three units were purchased by the British Columbia Railway from Santa Fe along with thirteen others in 1995 and they are currently being upgraded by BC Rail. Initially they retained their Santa Fe numbers 7484-7499 but as they are upgraded they are being renumbered into the 3601-3616 series, class GEF 36.

Santa Fe 7498 on lease to the Great Canadian Railtour Company, painted in their livery and hauling the “Rocky Mountaineer” at Revelstoke, BC on 19 August 1991.

In the lower picture we see 7495 after purchase by BC Rail but before repainting on 31 May 1995 near Whistler, BC. (cannot locate photo, sorry – Steve)

The Roberval & Saguenay Railway in Quebec operates five B23-S7 (Super 7) locomotives which were rebuilt on the frames of traded-in U23B units using 12V-7FDL12 engines.

Dash 8

Canadian National was the first Canadian railroad to purchase main line GE locomotives – 30 of the 4000hp Dash 8-40CM (C40-8M) units in 1990 (2400-2429), class EF-640a. These six axle units were fitted with a “Draper Taper” full width carbody (designed by Mr Draper of CN), dynamic brakes and a pacesetter (for slow speed control while loading unit trains). The locomotives had a 16V-7FDL16 engine and a top speed of 65mph although they were fitted with 73 mph gearing. Initially the locomotives were based in Montreal and hauled Laser trains (express freights) in Atlantic Canada, Quebec & Ontario. Now they are based in Edmonton but sometimes still appear in Halifax.

Here we see Canadian National 2413 at the Halifax, Nova Scotia maintenance depot on 7 March 1993 awaiting its next turn of duty. Note the Draper Taper just behind the cab that gives better rear visibility with the full width carbody and the full width cab. Note the four windows in the front of the cab and the nose sloping to the sides.

BC Rail purchased 22 similar units in 1990 (4601-4622) and four more in 1993 (4623-4626) both class GEF 40. All these units are fitted with universal Locotrol II which permits unmanned units in the middle of the train to be controlled directly from the lead unit by radio control. All the BC Rail units have been upgraded to 4400hp beginning in 1996.

4609 was photographed with a southbound freight leaving Squamish on 1 June 1995. Behind 4609 are 766 (an SD40-2) and an RS18 rebuilt with a CAT 3516 engine.

BC Rail 4609 (above) and 4623 (below) . Note the full width carbody with Draper Taper and full width cab.

4623 is seen on 28 May 1995 at North Vancouver shortly after arriving with a freight.

The Quebec North Shore & Labrador (QNS&L) purchased three similar units (401-3) with Draper Taper and bell above the cab windows and these were built in 1994.

In 1992 Canadian National received an additional 25 units (2430-2454), class EF-640b in the CN North America livery. They are similar to the first batch but the bell is no longer above the front windows of the cab but below the running board.

Canadian National DASH 8-40CM 2451 without bell above cab windows and DASH 9-44CWL 2518 with an empty eastbound coal train at Boston Bar, British Columbia on 30 May 1995. The differences between the full width and regular carbodies can be clearly seen.

Canadian National also has a long term lease on 25 C40-8W (DASH 8-40CW) units (LMS 715-739) from Locomotive Management Systems for the six winter months of each year. These locomotives have only two rectangular front windows and a nose which slopes down to the corners. They were built in the US style with headlights above the front windows (where Canadian locomotives usually have the bell) but they do have snowplows and ditch lights although the latter are below the front platform.

Locomotive Management Systems DASH 8-40CW # 718 built in August 1994 and on lease to Canadian National seen at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in late February 1995. This locomotive’s builder’s plate is seen at the top of this page. Note the two rectangular front windows, different nose and headlights above the windows .


In 1994 Canadian National purchased 23 six axle 4400hp Dash 9-44CWL units again fitted with the 16V-7FDL16 engine (2500-2522), class EF-644a. These did not have a full carbody apparently because of increased price but are fitted with dynamic brakes and a pacesetter and again are restricted to 65mph although they have 73 mph gearing. They too are based at Edmonton, Alberta. Note the bell and number boards above the four front cab windows. The nose slopes to the side but not to the front as on LMS 718.

Note the bell, number boards, cab windows and nose. CN 2522 is at Walker yards Edmonton, Alberta on 24 June 1997. The front door of the full width cab is open.

A second batch of 60 locomotives (2523-2602) with only two front windows and a nose sloping to the corners as in LMS 718, was delivered to CN in late 1997 and early 1998. The number boards are above the front windows and the bell is below the running board on the left side. The ditch lights are above the running board.

Here we see CN 2554 at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia on 4 February 1998, soon after delivery. Note the two front windows (not rectangular as on LMS 718) in the full width cab with nose sloping to the front corners rather than to the sides.

BC Rail purchased 4 units (4641-4644) class GEF 44 as an add-on to Canadian National’s 1995 order. They are also fitted with universal Locotrol II and can be used as lead or remote mid-train units. However I was told that the crews and their union prefer not to have them in the lead position because of the lack of exit doors from the cab. I understand that modifications are to take place.

BC Rail 4643 is an unmanned mid-train helper controlled from the lead locomotive by a Locotrol radio link on a southbound freight near Whistler, British Columbia on 31 May 1995.


CP Rail, now Canadian Pacific Railway, has long been a purchaser of General Motors GP38-2s and SD40-2s. In 1995 they switched suppliers to General Electric and ordered the 4400hp AC4400CW with 16V-7FDL16 engine with a top speed of 75mph. All units have AC traction motors and are equipped for portable Locotrol equipment. They are class DRF-44 and altogether 265 units have been delivered (CP 9500-9683 & SOO 8500-8580).

CP Rail AC4400 9556 standing on the Alyth Electronics\Oil Lab track at Calgary, Alberta on 15 June 1997.

Railroad Switchers

General Electric manufactured B-B 44 ton, 70 ton, and 95 ton railroad switchers from 1940 to 1958 and a few of these units came to Canada.

Canadian National purchased 44 ton (44T) units in 1947 & 1956 and 70 ton (70T) units in 1950. They also purchased second hand a 44T and an 80T unit. The 70T units (26-43) were the last to be scrapped and some were used on light rural branch lines in Prince Edward Island until 1983.

Dr J.S.Grossert photographed CN 41 (70T) with a short freight near Pisquid, PEI in July/August 1980. The picture captures the atmosphere of a rural branch line and shows why they were no longer profitable!

Canadian Pacific did not purchase any GE switchers.

Industrial Switchers

GE also manufactures a wide variety of industrial switchers and many small firms have purchased new and second hand units, several of which are still operating today. Photo of some of these are included in the home page on shortline and industrial railways in Nova Scotia (see index page).

Narrow Gauge

The White Pass & Yukon Route runs north fron Skagway in Alaska through Bennett, British Columbia and Carcross, Yukon to Whitehorse. It was built in 1899 at the height of the gold rush and was temporarily closed in 1982 when the Cyprus Anvil mine at Faro shut down. The line is currently open from Skagway to Bennett but is being refurbished through to Whitehorse. More information at Boerries Burkhardt’s WPYR pages or at the official WPYR page.

The line has eleven 84-86 ton 800-900hp GE “Shovel Nose” units built between 1954 and 1966.

Here we see two of the newest WPYR GE Shovel nose locomotives 100 and 97 (built in 1966) as they prepare to leave Whitehorse, Yukon with southbound train #2 at 9:30am on 17 September 1982.

Newfoundland also had 3 B-B 380hp 44 ton switchers purchased by the Newfoundland Railway in 1948 (#5000-2). These were transferred to CNR in 1949 and renumbered 775-7 in 1950. The units were sold to Costa Rica in October 1968. (Thanks to Peter J. Byrne for the information)


  • Canadian Trackside Guide published annually by the Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa
  • Extra 2200 South published quarterly by Iron Horse Publishers, Blaine, Washington.
  • Branchline – the magazine of the Bytown Railway Society, Ottawa
  • The Second Diesel Spotters Guide by Jerry A. Pinkepank, Kalmbach Publishers

Return to David Othen’s Canadian Train Photographs

Material on this page copyright 1998-2001 by Pat and David Othen. Reproduced with permission of David’s widow Pat.