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That Part Never Gets Old

March 27, 2010

“Highball on time, 59.”

I step aboard the train as two blasts of the horn are followed by the rush of air as the brakes kick off. The train slowly begins to move away from its station stop. In the sleeper two cars behind the locomotive, I pause in the open doorway and listen as the engineer notches out the throttle.

Say what you will about Amtrak’s current General Electric locomotives, but they certainly sound more interesting than the old F40’s did. It wasn’t without reason that the old EMD’s were nicknamed “blast boxes;”  they sounded pretty much the same whether they were idling in the station or pulling a train at 80 miles per hour; a turbocharged EMD 645 in Run-8. How boring.

These P42’s on the other hand have a little more character. It was said of the old Baldwin diesels that their sound didn’t speed up or slow down; they just got louder. Amtrak’s units are much the same. They run at a constant 897 RPM when they are providing head-end-power for the train. The harder they work, the louder they get. And the more defined the sound gets. From a smooth turbocharged whine at idle, the sound takes on the characteristic chug of the G.E. 4 cycle FDL prime mover. One locomotive accelerating a train is impressive. Two or three? Whoa!

Standing there and listening to that sound never gets old to me. As the train begins to move, the locomotive begins to emit that characteristic G.E. bark. By the time the train is moving at ten miles per hour, the locomotive is up there barking for all it is worth.

I close the door, but pop open the window.

A few miles per hour more and the droning whine of the electric motors turning the locomotive’s power into motion begins.


The whine of the traction motors begins to compete with the chugging locomotive as the cars pound and bang over the switches south of the station.


The whine of the traction motors has overtaken the diesel engine under the hood for sheer volume of sound.


I step back and close the window. Time to go update my paperwork and sort through the new tickets. It may be a simple little guilty pleasure, but that part of it never gets old.


Copyright 2010 – Mary Rae McPherson

One Comment leave one →
  1. T. J. Kaufhold permalink
    March 27, 2010 4:10 pm

    These new trains dont really look like the old ones do they???

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