Thursday, 26 February 2015

Throwback Thursday #6 - CN SD40 #5070 at GMDD London, November 1968

CN 5070 sits in the company of an unknown CP SD40 in front of the General Motors Diesel Division plant in London, ON on November 1, 1968. Reg Button photo, author's collection.

Today’s Throwback Thursday takes us back to November 1, 1968. We’re at General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) in London, Ontario where we find brand new Canadian National SD40 #5070 ready for release. In the background we observe another SD40, although it will go to work for rival Canadian Pacific. How to tell? Close examination reveals a number of differences between CN & CP SD40’s; CP SD40’s featured cab-side rain gutters (not sun shades), snowplow instead of rock plow, a different MU plug arrangement, tight-lock couplers instead of conventional coupler, different air tanks (one large instead of CN’s two smaller tanks on each side) and (especially to modelers), different stairwell (step) arrangements. Another painted CN SD40 off in the distance. Perhaps this is an open house to show off the latest-and-greatest in Canadian motive power? Maybe, but the reason for this interesting pairing of engines may well be lost to history…

About the London plant: General Motors opened the plant at London in late 1950, at a time long before Free Trade permitted easy import of goods to Canada from the US (without costly import tariffs). Facing competition from Montreal Locomotive Works and, to some extent, Fairbanks-Morse (under license to Canadian Locomotive Company), GM constructed the branch plant to supply Canadian roads with new diesels. Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo GP-7 #71, famously destroyed in a wreck in February 1980 east of Smithville, ON, was the first locomotive completed at the new plant, and was soon to be followed by many more engines for CN, CP, and other Canadian railways. With its’ busiest year in 1958, the overwhelming majority of diesels built for Canadian roads over the next 35 years or so were built in London. When EMD stopped production at its’ primary manufacturing facility in La Grange, IL in 1989, all GM locomotive production was consolidated to the London plant. The plant then handled all production for not only North American railroads, but also did brisk business manufacturing locomotives for export to countries all over the globe. A declining market share, however, eventually lead to the sale of GM-EMD to Greenbriar Equity Group in April 2009, which included the London plant. Run for a number of years under Greenbriar ownership, the former GM-EMD assets were sold in 2010 to Caterpillar Inc. As part of their Progress Rail division, the London plant operated until 2012 when it was shuttered in favour of manufacturing capacity at their new Muncie, IN locomotive plant. The last diesels to be constructed in London were an order of Kansas City Southern SD70Ace’s, with KCS 4130, 4131, 4133, 4135 and 4136 leaving the plant on September 25, 2012, bringing an end to 62 years of locomotive manufacturing in London.

Not only did the plant produce diesel (and even electric) locomotives, but also buses, earth-moving equipment, and military vehicles for GM’s other manufacturing divisions. Though production of busses and earth-moving equipment has long since ended, part of the plant survives under General Dyamics Land Systems ownership and still produces military vehicles.

What about CN 5070? Following its’ release from GMDD London, the engine enjoyed a long career with CN, eventually being repainted into the popular “zebra stripe” scheme. The engine changed little mechanically over the years, eventually gaining a new snowplow and snow shields, along with new horn, ditch lights, winterization hatch and rear rock plow. Though CN initiated a program to rebuild their SD40 fleet in the mid-1990's, it was soon realized that the per-unit rebuild cost was relatively high compared to the cost of purchasing a new unit. Declared surplus, the engine was leased in 1998 to Quebec Railway Corporation for use on the New Brunswick East Coast railway. Less than a year later, the engine was retired in 1999 after 31 years of service. A new lease on life was granted after rebuild by GEC-Alstom in spring 1999 and the engine was released as Chemin de Fer Matapidia et du Golfe (CFMG) #6909 in a solid black paint job. After nine years of operation in southern Quebec, a sale of the QRC operations (CFMG, NBEC and Ottawa Central) to CN in 2008 spelled the end of the line for the engine. Ironically purchased back by its’ original owner, the engine was shipped to the Homewood, IL shop to await disposition. Resold to Allied Services (A division of Allied Equity Group), the engine traveled to Georgianna, AL as ASDX 6909, where it ultimately met the torch.

One has to wonder if CN 5070 and the unknown CP SD40 ever crossed paths again – likely not, but who knows?…

‘Til next time,



  1. CFMG 6909 was one loco I saw frequently in New Brunswick!

    Nice comparison of the two locos and description of the GMDD London facility.

    1. Thanks Steve! Way cool to explore your blog, I have been looking through it the last hour or so. Too bad a lot of old EMD's and MLW's bit the dust when CN took over NBEC/CFMG/OC. Cheers, Peter.

  2. HOLY COW! I would have turned seven when this photo was taken. Wonder what I got for my birthday??