Are We Really Going to Miss Amtrak P42s?

Amtrak P42DC No. 68 sits at the engine facility in Chicago on May 20, 2013.
The ALC-42 Charger is the next generation of Amtrak motive power. (Amtrak photo)

The February issue of Trains magazine had a list of things that railfans need to seek out in 2022 because they are endangered.

Among them are Amtrak P42DC locomotives. What? Are you serious?

Like many railroad photographers I can’t wait for the day when Amtrak trains are no longer being led by the ubiquitous P42s with their blue and silver Phase V livery.

It seems as though those locomotives have been around for about as long as Amtrak has even though they actually date to the 1990s. I have hundreds of photographs of the P42s in action, particularly those in the Phase V livery.

I am more than ready for a new look to Amtrak’s motive power.

Well, it’s true the P42 is endangered although far from being on the verge of being extinct.

Amtrak in 2019 placed an $850 million order with Siemens Mobility for 75 ALC-42 Charger locomotives and recently announced it would buy 25 more.

The plan is to use the Chargers to replace P42s and P40s in the national network. That means primarily long-distance trains but some corridor trains will also see ALC-42 Chargers on the point, including the New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian.

The ALC-42 Chargers are similar to the SC-44 Chargers used to pull Midwest corridor trains. They have similar appearances but the specifications of the two models are different.

The Charger era at Amtrak got off to a less than auspicious start on Feb. 8. ALC-42 Nos. 301 and 302 were assigned to pull the Empire Builder out of Chicago that day but when No. 7 departed Chicago Union Station a P42DC was on the point and Nos. 301 and 302 were relegated to trailing unit duty. The explanation given was the 301 had technical issues with its positive train control system.

That hiccup notwithstanding, the Charger era is here although it will be more than a year and maybe two years before the ALC-42 becomes the dominant everyday motive power.

In the Trains article, author Chris Guss said it is time to document the P42 because although they may seem mundane now they will be appreciated later.

He wrote that he heard friends say decades ago that they wouldn’t photograph another train led by a pair of green Burlington Northern SD40-2s because they seemed to be on every train.

Guss said those statements made sense at the time, but now those BN “green machines” have given way to BNSF wide-cab “pumpkins” and some photographers – himself included – regret not documenting the green SD40-2s more often.

It’s a valid point. By the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, boxy-looking F40PH locomotives were the Amtrak standard and many photographers tired of them, too.

The EMD-built F40 gave way to the Genesis line of GE-built passenger locomotives. The first of those was a class of 40 P40 locomotives that began arriving in 1993.

The Genesis family expanded with P32DMAC units that were ordered to replace FL9s in New York. The P42DC came along in 1996.

Altogether Amtrak has had 207 P42s (roster numbers 1 to 207), 17 P32s (roster series 700), and 43 P40s (roster series 800). Those figures include units “retired” due to wreck damage or sidelined for other reasons.

All models in the Genesis family were introduced in the Phase III livery. That gave way to Phase IV starting in 1997, which lasted only a few years until Phase V came arrived in 1999. 

If I have any regrets, it is that I didn’t photograph more of the Phase III and Phase IV Genesis units.

The dominance of the Phase V era coincided with my interest in railroad photography intensifying, something that began to happen about 2004.

The F40 era didn’t vanish overnight and neither will the P42/P40 epoch. During the 1990s it was common to see a P40 working in tandem with an F40. Similar mixed motive power consists can be expected to occur with combinations of ACL-42 and P42/P40 units.

What you are unlikely to see, though, are ACL-42s mixed with SC-44s. The latter units are owned by state departments of transportation and were bought by those agencies for the express purpose of pulling corridor trains that they fund.

The Chargers in Midwest corridor service carry Illinois Department of Transportation reporting marks.

The Genesis era is likely to last through at least 2024 when Amtrak expects to take delivery of the last of the original 75 ALC-42s ordered in 2019.

Officials have not said how long it will be before the next 25 ALC-42’s begin to arrive.

The first ALC-42s have arrived wearing a Phase VI livery that is intended to be used by only a handful of the units. Amtrak plans to introduce this spring its Phase VII livery that will adorn the bulk of the Charger fleet.

If there is anything to be excited about with the changes coming in Amtrak’s motive power fleet it is the prospect of documenting locomotives in something other than Phase V.

It is not so much that I have grown bored with the P42 as such but I’m tired of the Phase V look.

The next two to three years will present opportunities for railfan photographers to document some interesting views including short-lived combinations. That will include combinations of P42s and ALC-42s with mixed liveries.

Amtrak also released last year a few P42s in one-off liveries including the Midnight Blue look for No. 100. No. 46 wears the Phase V scheme but with a gold 50th anniversary herald. No. 160 has the modified Phase III livery used to introduce the P32-8 locomotives in 1991.

Earlier this year P42 No. 203 received a tribute livery to Operation Lifesaver.

But perhaps the most sought after one-off livery is the “Day One” scheme applied to ALC-42 No. 301, which mimics a look applied to Penn Central E8A No. 4316 for ceremonies held on May 1, 1971, to trumpet the arrival of Amtrak.

Of course a handful of P42s are still out there in retro Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV liveries that were brought back to celebrate Amtrak anniversaries.

Among the interesting factoids about the new Chargers is that the initials denote Amtrak Long-Distance Charger.

The Chargers have 4,200 horsepower capability, which is less than the SC-44, but the ALC-42 has larger fuel tanks and increased head-end power.

Amtrak and Siemens have touted how the Cummins QSK95 prime mover of the ACL-42, which is built in Seymour, Indiana, is Tier 4-compliant. The locomotives themselves are being assembled in Sacramento, California.

I’ve photographed the SC-44 Chargers numerous times and one characteristic I’ve noticed about them is how bright their headlights are.

They are brighter than any freight locomotive headlight I’ve seen coming down the tracks. I also have noticed the ditch lights of the SC-44 flash in a slower sequence than those of freight locomotives.

I’m looking forward to documenting the transition era between the Genesis and Charger eras but I’m still not sure I’m going to pine for the days when every Amtrak train had a Phase V livery P42 on the point.

Simply put, I have enough photographs of those locomotives and I don’t think I will miss them all that much once they’re gone.

Article by Craig Sanders

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: