Santa Fe SDF40-2's

A General History

The locomotives that ultimately became Santa Fe's SDF40-2's started life on Amtrak as SDP40F's. Designed and built by EMD between June 1973 and August 1974, the 150 SDP40F's were intended to replace the rag-tag assortment of none-too-healthy E and F units the passenger carrier had acquired from the freight railroads in 1971. Mechanically, the SDP40F was essentially an SD40-2, with a 16-cylinder 645E3 engine rated at 3000 hp. The locomotive was considerably longer than an SD40-2 (72 feet 4 inches versus 68 feet 10 inches) due to a large steam generator section at the rear of the carbody that held a pair of skid-mounted steam generators. The SDP40F was also considerably heavier than an SD40-2. The underbody tank was partitioned to hold both fuel and water. An auxiliary water tank was also installed above the frame in the engine room. The SDP40F utilized a unique hollow bolster version of EMD's standard HT-C truck.
The carbody of the SDP40F followed the styling established by the FP45 several years earlier. The first order of SDP40F's (500-539) had pointed nose doors similar to the FP45's. The first thirty SDP40F's were assigned to the Southwest Limited, Amtrak's version of the Santa Fe Super Chief. Prior to entering passenger service, a few units made test runs on Santa Fe freight trains, a curious foreshadowing of things to come. The second order of 110 SDP40F's emerged with a flattened nose door. The SDP40F's had anticlimbers mounted above their plow pilots, but lacked true front platforms with handrails as on the FP45's.
The route of the Southwest Limited was predominantly FRA Class 5 track equipped with Automatic Train Stop, good for 90 mph operation. The first SDP40F's performed well on the Southwest Limited, but as the second order arrived and went into service on railroads with Class 4 track, the locomotives began to demonstrate a disturbing propensity for leaving the rails. Several derailments on Burlington Northern, Chessie System, L&N and other roads were attributed to the locomotives. In several cases, the derailments occurred on curves of 2 degrees or more at high speed, and began either with a trailing SDP40F or the first baggage car behind the locomotives derailing. Freight railroads began to ban the locomotives from their property, and in 1977 the FRA imposed a nationwide speed restriction for the SDP40F's of 40 mph through curves of 2 degrees or more.
The SDP40F's were studied extensively. The yawing tendency of the hollow-bolster HT-C, the sloshing water in the high-mounted internal tank, unfavorable dynamic interactions with older baggage cars, and other factors were examined, but the source of the locomotives' problem was never pinned down conclusively. By 1977, Amtrak had had enough, and the decision was made to trade the SDP40F's in on new F40PH locomotives. The SDP40F's were phased out over the next several years. Not surprisingly, one of the last trains that regularly used SDP40F's was the Southwest Limited, where the locomotives had experienced few problems. They survived on this train into 1981.
By 1984, what few SDP40F's remained on Amtrak had been stored or reduced to work train service. That year, an unusual locomotive swap was worked out between Amtrak and Santa Fe. The passenger carrier was in need of switchers to replace an aging fleet of Alcos and early EMD's, and Santa Fe just happened to be selling off its 1500 hp CF7's and 1200 hp SSB1200's. Amtrak has never enjoyed a generous capital budget, but in 1984 it did have several SDP40F's it no longer needed or wanted. Carbody aside, an SDP40F is essentially an SD40-2, the most popular freight locomotive ever built in the US, and in fact the SDP40F's had been built with the idea that if Amtrak failed, the locomotives could be sold to freight railroads. In September 1984, a deal was struck that gave Amtrak 25 CF7's and 18 SSB1200's from Santa Fe in exchange for 18 SDP40F's.
Santa Fe quickly pressed several of the SDP40F's into freight service as trailing units with their Amtrak markings painted out. By early 1985, however, the units had been rounded up and sent west to the railroad's San Bernardino, CA shop for rebuilding. The SDP40F's Santa Fe acquired ran the gamut from some of the first units delivered to the very last SDP40F built. Since none of them had front platforms, the anticlimbers were modified into a narrow platform, and front steps were fashioned to access them (the SDP40F's had always had a bottom step for the use of hostling crews, and plated-over space for additional steps above it). The two units from the first order (AMTK 511 and 526) had their nose points flattened to match the other units, allowing more space on the platform. Various other changes were made, including the replacement of the hollow bolster HT-C trucks with standard HT-C's, regearing from a passenger 57:20 ratio to a freight 62:15 ratio, and removal of the partition in the underbody tank. This latter modification resulted in a fuel tank with a generous 4000 gallon capacity. The oscillating headlight package located between the numberboards was replaced with a fixed headlight, and the headlight in the nose door was removed. The steam generators were removed and concrete ballast was added in their place to make up for the lost weight. The associated steam generator intakes, vents, exhausts, and access doors were removed and plated over. Finally, the locomotives were given a coat of Santa Fe blue and yellow. Unlike the "clothes horse" FP45's, which seemed to change paint schemes once or twice a decade, the SDP40F's would only wear one paint scheme as Santa Fe locomotives.
Plans had originally called for the rebuilt SDP40F's to be numbered 5932-5949, below the rebuilt F45's. Someone apparently realized that these were "40's" rather than "45's," though, and the units emerged from rebuilding as 5250-5267, numbered above Santa Fe's 5200-class SD40-2's. The locomotives also gained a new designation. In keeping with the F45's and FP45's redesignation as SDF45's and SDFP45's to identify them as 6-axle EMD's, the SDP40F's were redesignated SDF40-2's.

In the upper photo, four freshly rebuilt SDF40-2's roll eastbound at Verdemont, CA, heading for Cajon Pass. Note the short-lived classification lights beside 5254's number boards. In the lower photo, a pair of glistening SDF40-2's lead a less lusterous F45 at Sullivan's Curve on Cajon Pass. Both photos by Bill Morrison.

As freight locomotives, the SDF40-2's experienced none of the derailment problems that had plagued them as passenger units. However, concern soon developed over the design of the front steps, which were essentially vertical ladders instead of the stepwells found on most other EMD products. Crews preferred to board cowl units through the nose rather than try to scale the side ladders to reach the cab doors, but on the SDF40-2's, the front steps weren't much better than the ladders. Mounting and dismounting during a rolling crew change was especially risky, and Santa Fe banned the SDF40-2's from the point of trains in late 1985. In November 1985, the railroad began plating over the front steps and wrapping the front handrails around to prevent access through the nose door.
Eventually the rolling crew change, a dangerous practice regardless of the motive power, was banned, and cowl units could once again be used on the point. Bob Finan recorded the 5262 flying solo on westbound train Q-NYLA west of Williams Junction, AZ on September 9, 1987.
In early 1988, Santa Fe began relocating the headlights on its power from above the cab windows to the nose in an attempt to reduce glare reflected into the cab during foggy or blizzard conditions. The F45's and most of the FP45's already had headlights mounted in the nose door, but the SDF40-2's did not. ATSF 5258 shows off its new look as it pilots Train 1-718-24 (the Parker Local) up Bolo Hill on February 24, 1990 in this Bob Finan photograph. Units 5251, 5254, 5258, 5261, and 5267 are known to have had their headlights lowered to the nose before Santa Fe began yet another program that drastically altered the appearance of the SDF40-2's.
In late 1988, Santa Fe set about to remedy the step problem once and for all. ATSF 5259 was selected as the guinea pig. Deep notches were carved in the nose of the unit, and stepwells similar to those found on EMD hood units were installed. The balance of the class was similarly modified over the next several months.
In 1994, the SDF40-2's were included in a contract with Morrison Knudsen to maintain various older Santa Fe EMD's. The locomotives were given MKM sublettering to identify them as units covered by the program. By the mid-1990's, cowls on the point of trains were once again a rarity. Their poor rearward visibility and various other complaints made them undesirable as lead units, and Santa Fe once again banned them as lead units unless no conventional hood units were available. Few if any of the SDF40-2's were fitted with ditchlights, and therefore could not lead trains after December 31, 1997 when the lights became mandatory.
With the BNSF merger in 1995, the SDF40-2's were assigned a new BNSF number series, 6960-6977. By 1999 most of the fleet had been renumbered. On November 13, 1998, ATSF 5263 was involved in a low-speed derailment at Barstow, CA in which the locomotive reportedly suffered a bent frame and significant body damage. The unit was retired at the end of April 1999, the first SDF40-2 off the roster.
In February, 2000, the remaining 17 units were stored at Barstow, CA due to the seasonal slump in traffic and a surplus of locomotives. The units were part of a "surge fleet" that would be tapped if a power crunch occurred. This Al Bowen photo from March 11, 2000 shows part of the deadline including two SDF40-2's, an SD45, and an SD45-2B.
"Service disruptions" (derailments) on the western end of the BNSF during the summer of 2000 created a temporary power shortage that saw most of the SDF40-2's returned to active service in July and August. At upper left, 6960 and 6972 are shown at Stockton, CA on July 30, 2000, having just arrived from Barstow on their first trip since reactivation. The big cowls were in and out of storage over the next year as conditions warranted.
Around Thanksgiving 2001, the big units started moving into storage at Kansas City and Barstow for the final time. The last active unit was BNSF 6970, which made its final trip on train P-EPEKCK1-01 arriving at Kansas City on the afternoon of December 2, 2001. After another half year in storage, all 17 remaining SDF40-2's were retired on May 2, 2002. In August, BNSF began moving the units to Topeka to be harvested of useful parts.
Scrapping at Erman Corp in Topeka commenced in the fall of 2002. The end was near for BNSF 6974 on October 9, 2002 in this John Mallory photo.
There was one last hurrah for the SDF40-2, however. In June 2002, BNSF 6976 was pulled from storage and sent to the National Railway Equipment shop in Mt. Vernon, IL to be gussied up for use as a display locomotive at the grand opening of Maersk's Pier 400 container terminal at the Port of Los Angeles in August. The unit received a special blue and silver Maersk paint scheme along the lines of Santa Fe's warbonnet, a scheme similar to the one worn by GP60M 146 for a Maersk promotional film in 1990. The first version of the scheme applied to 6976 had a small star emblem below nose headlight. This proved to be aesthetically unpleasing, so the unit returned to the shop to have its headlight relocated to the space between the numberboards and a larger emblem applied to the nose. The result was stunning, as illustrated by these photos with NS SD40-2 3329, Norfolk Southern's contribution to the Pier 400 festivities. The top view shows the units at Pier 400 on August 14, 2002; bottom shows them on the approach bridges to Terminal Island on August 16, 2002. Both photos by Joe Blackwell. Sadly, for 6976, the beauty was only skin deep. NRE did not make the unit operational, so it was merely an attractive "hood ornament" to be moved around by NS 3329.
BNSF 6976 put in one more special appearance when it attended the grand opening of the Logistics Park intermodal facility near Joliet, IL on October 14, 2002. Following that engagement, the unit was sent to Topeka for storage. Its future was uncertain until preservationists from the Northwest Rail Museum came to the rescue. In November 2003, the unit was moved to Portland, OR for storage and restoration work. It is expected to be preserved as Amtrak 644. Chris Fussell photographed the unit as the Maersk markings were being painted out in October 2004.
With the retirement of the SDF40-2's, the cowl unit era on the Santa Fe was over after 35 years.
Tour the innards of BNSF 6969 as engineer Al Krug points out the salient details.
Photo essay copied with permission from his "Tales from the Krug" site.
For another great page on SDF40-2's, please visit the QStation's SDF40-2 page.
The "Friends of the 231" have a page about the preservation of Amtrak SDF40F 644 (ex-BNSF 6976, exx-ATSF 5266).


BNSF numberATSF NumberAmtrak NumberBuilder's Number Build DateRebuild DateRetired Date
6960525064374611-6411/741/855/02
6961525151172694-123/734/855/02
6962525261574611-361/742/855/02
6963525363074611-516/742/855/02
6964525463574611-567/743/855/02
6965525552674694-276/732/855/02
6966525664074611-616/743/855/02
6967525762274611-431/743/855/02
6968525862874611-493/743/855/02
6969525963374611-547/743/855/02
6970526063874611-596/743/855/02
6971526163474611-554/744/855/02
6972526262974611-503/744/855/02
(6973)526363974611-605/744/854/99
6974526463274611-534/744/855/02
6975526564974611-709/744/855/02
6976526664474611-658/745/855/02
6977526764574611-6610/745/855/02


Dispositions:

5250: to BNSF 6960. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5251: to BNSF 6961. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5252: to BNSF 6962. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5253: to BNSF 6963. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5254: to BNSF 6964. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5255: to BNSF 6965. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5256: to BNSF 6966. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5257: to BNSF 6967. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5258: to BNSF 6968. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5259: to BNSF 6969. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5260: to BNSF 6970. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5261: to BNSF 6971. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5262: to BNSF 6972. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5263: Wrecked at Barstow, CA, 11/13/98. Retired 4/99, scrapped.
5264: to BNSF 6974. Retired 5/02, scrapped
5265: to BNSF 6975. Retired 5/02, scrapped?
5266: to BNSF 6976. Retired 5/02, to Northwest Rail Museum for preservation 11/03
5267: to BNSF 6977. Retired 5/02, scrapped?


Photo Credits:

526: collection of Albert Phleep, from Jim Hebner's Amtrak Photo Archive.
622: John Tudek, from Jim Hebner's Amtrak Photo Archive.
628: from Jim Hebner's Amtrak Photo Archive.
643: Steve Gartner, from Jim Hebner's Amtrak Photo Archive.
5254: Richard W. Clark.
5254 at Verdemont, 5262 at Sullivan's Curve: Bill Morrison
5258 at Bolo Hill, 5262 at Williams Junction: Bob Finan
Barstow dead line: Al Bowen.
"Maersk 6976:" Joe Blackwell
"Maersk 644" Chris Fussell


Roster Information:

Kevin EuDaly, Santa Fe 1992 Annual, Hyrail Productions, 1992.

Additional Information:

J. David Ingles, "The Power Behind the Pointless Arrow," Trains, Vol. 36 No. 2 (December 1975), p. 22-29
Preston Cook, "SDP40F, From Varnish to Vanquished," Railfan & Railroad, (January and February 1991).
Russell Strodtz, private communications


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