A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Locomotives: Old, not so old, and really new

Written June 15th, 2023 by Hasso Hering

An unexpected sight in the Albany yard: A different engine was doing the switching on June 14, 2023.

Back on March 1, the Albany Parks Commission heard something about an aging railway switch engine that had been at work in the Albany and Millersburg yards for years.

Off and on over the following weeks I hoped to get a photo of the old Engine 1501, but I never did see it.

On Wednesday afternoon I had just cleared the Queen Avenue crossing when the gates came down. Now’s my chance, I thought. But surprise: It wasn’t 1501 pulling and pushing cars back and forth. It was a newer horse in the Portland & Western stable.

Have we seen the last of 1501? Possibly, because the railroad has been under federal orders to get rid of the old diesel-electric engine, along with three others like it, on the grounds that they do not meet modern emission standards.

This, in fact, was the subject the parks commission heard about on the first of March. Miles Wilson, then a senior at West Albany High School, gave the commission a history of 1501. And he reported on the consent decree from the Federal Railroad Administration under which that and other locomotives have to be taken out of service by the end of 2025.

Engine 1501 was built for the Southern Pacific in 1952 and spent most of its life in California. Wilson suggested that the Portland & Western would want to sell it for scrap, and when that happens Albany should try to acquire it for display in one of the city parks.

Nothing came of the student’s suggestion, but you can watch his presentation on the video available on the parks commission’s website here.)

For many years, this venerable old Iron Workhorse, Engine 1501, was switching rail cars in the Albany yard. The photo is a screenshot from 2019.

While I was standing there, thinking about old 1501 and its replacement on Wednesday afternoon, Amtrak’s southbound Coast Starlight fairly leaped out of Albany Station and accelerated toward the crossing, blasting its horn.

And here was another unexpected sight, to me anyway. The Coast Starlight was pullled by a couple of locomotives dressed in new colors.

The engineer gives a little wave as his new Locomotive 306  speeds past on Wednesday afternoon.

I looked it up later. Turns out that a little more than a year ago, Amtrak unveiled a new paint scheme for the locomotives it plans to buy and put in service over the next couple of years.

The locomotive pictured here is No. 306. In April 2022, Amtrak issued a press statement on a cross-country run of a similar engine, No. 309, to show off the new colors. Here’s more from the Amtrak handout:

“Locomotive 309 features our mainstay Amtrak Blue with Amtrak Red and Midnight Blue separated by white arcs. The Amtrak red color on the front provides a bright splash of color, while darker colors were placed in strategic areas to accentuate the sleek form. The white portions of the design, stripes, logos and unit numbers are reflective for added visibility and safety. The design’s use of non-metallic colors is a departure from predominantly silver locomotives, making repair work more efficient…

“Locomotive 309 is the tenth of 75 ALC-42 units being delivered through 2025, an important part of Amtrak’s sustainability initiative as they are significantly more environmentally friendly than their 1990’s predecessors… They greatly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide by more than 89 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent, all while consuming less fuel and reaching a greater top speed than the locomotives being replaced.

“These ‘Charger’ locomotives are Buy America compliant and built at the Siemens Mobility rail manufacturing hub in Sacramento, Calif. It is part of Siemens Mobility’s larger U.S. manufacturing network, with eight facilities, more than 4,000 employees and 2,000 American suppliers.”

That’s probably more than you cared to know about locomotives. If so, tough. It’s the result of hanging around at the Queen Avenue crossing for about 10 minutes.

And because the bike and I had already bumped across the four tracks by the time the gates came down, it was voluntary. I did not actually have to wait. (hh)


4 responses to “Locomotives: Old, not so old, and really new”

  1. Anony Mouse says:

    California recently dictated that switch, industrial, and passenger locomotives built in 2030 will be required to be zero emission. Freight locomotives in 2035.

    I assume Oregon will follow California’s lead and dictate the same requirement.

    Say goodbye to the Sam Elliott deep growly sound and vibration of diesel locomotives.

    Say hello to the Yoko Ono high pitched buzzing and whining sound of electric locomotives.

  2. H. R. Richner says:

    Sorry, but old 1501 looked much better, like a powerful engine not like a Disney cartoon.

  3. James Engel says:

    Nothing beats the sound, mechanical motion, the style of a steam locomotive!!!!

  4. Todd Thompson says:

    Thanks for the great reporting Hasso. I am interested in supporting this student’s effort to preserve the yard switching locomotive. I’ll reach out to the city to see what I can do to help. Thanks a lot for making us aware.


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