The Emergence of Diesel Locomotives in 20th Century America

American Locomotive Company (ALCO)

Valerie Varnuska is a resident of the Westbury, NY, area who takes part in local activities such as watching theatrical performances. Among Valerie Varnuska’s interests is classic locomotives and she is particularly drawn to those with powerful engines needed to climb mountains.

The precursor to the modern diesel locomotive arrived in 1918, at a time when steam-powered locomotives had established a predominance in much of American transportation. The new design came about when American Locomotive Company (ALCO) entered into a partnership with General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand to create a diesel-powered motor car. Designed for a New York City connecting line, this vehicle was the first ever to combine railroad tracks with a diesel electric power.

Within five years, the three partner companies had created an even more advanced motor that ran on diesel and pulled a 60 ton boxcar. By the 1930s, 300 horsepower engines had been surpassed and B&O started to run diesel engines across major North American railroad lines.

The reason for diesel’s popularity had to do with the simplicity of mechanical systems and with fuel efficiencies achieved. By the mid-1930s, B&O was making diesel locomotives for smaller passenger trains that ran with less fuel than traditional steam engines, which were on their way out.


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