Utah was once a state that was rich with diverse railroads and equipment. But as the seven First Class railroads progress into the 21st century, they have an underlined ambition to dispose of their predecessors' mark with their own brand. Why are railroads determined to get rid of their history? How are the railroads getting rid of it? Are the Heritage Units successful as preserving that heritage?
Before we talk about the present, let's discuss the past. The merger movement in the railroad industry originated in 1838, when the Wilmington & Susquehana merged with the Baltimore & Port Deposit to create the first regularly operating railroad, the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore railroad. Although the merger itself wasn't of great significance, but it would trigger combinations of various kinds as an integral part of the nation's booming railroad network which continued up until the late 1990.
We will start with the early 1980s, which will concentrate on the six primary Class I railroads that have helped make up the modern Union Pacific system, those railroads include:
- Denver & Rio Grande Western
- Western Pacific
- Southern Pacific
- Missouri Pacific
- Chicago & North Western
These six railroads have had mixed histories of rather being diminished completely, or have managed to survive in the sea of the Armour Yellow roster.
It begs the question for why these railroads merged, for both the Missouri Pacific in 1982 and the Western Pacific in 1983, it was for a simple combination of entities within corporations. Just a few years later, the flailing MKT was desperate for a trading partner and happily obliged when MoPac/UP offered to purchase the company in 1989. Within a few years, any evidence of either railroad was scrubbed completely off the locomotive fleet, with some structures still carrying the heritage. Unfortunately, when the UP merged with the WP, it was DRGW's primary trading partner. The merger left the Grande in limbo, who was forced to combine with the financially unstable Southern Pacific in 1989. As a common note of confusion, the DRGW bought the SP as Rio Grande Industries but retained the name of the SP, because it was more well-known. Between the period of 1989 and 1996, most equipment was left in the DRGW paint with a few exceptions. Following the acquisition of the Chicago & North Western (CNW) in 1995 and the SP just one year later, the foundation was set for the modern Union Pacific system. Following the merger, the mega railroad had excess locomotives, primarily favoring their own over the predecessor schemes of the SP, CNW and DRGW. The primary target for the repaint booth was DRGW, who saw a dramatic loss in motive power entering the 21st century. By 2005, most unpainted locomotives carried a "Patch", usually characterized by a cover up of the previous logo and a yellow cab numberboard (below the windows) with red lettering, signifying of Union Pacific ownership.
In 2008, the last surviving (unpatched) member of the DRGW (under UP ownership), an SD40T-2 No. 5371, was proudly donated to the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden, Utah. From there, repaints were done on an "as needed" basis, usually resulting of when a locomotive comes in for rebuild. Following the decline in rail traffic, linked to the drop in coal and other types of traffic, the patches then gave way to a mass pickup of speed with the repainting shop in North Little Rock, Arkansas. From that exponential drop in traffic, locomotives across the UP fleet have been put into long-term storage all over the system.
There were several things that hit me hard following the sudden disappearance of these dependable machines, by the likes of which have stood the test of time. What was the sudden hurry for these repaints? Answer, progress. Railroads look to progress into the future with their current business model, for what will appear consistent and complete to a onlooking stockbroker/ investor. As the modern railroads invest in new motive power that meets the latest emissions standards; older locomotives, several of which come of previous heritage, are rather sent back to the manufacturer per warranty, or sidelined for a hope of increased traffic in the future. But in the meantime, NLR still continues to repaint former SP, CNW and SSW locomotives into Armour Yellow. As of this writing, the CNW "Twins" are still stationed at IRM, with suspicions of being donated.
If you are looking for evidence of times gone by, there are:
- 140 patched SP AC4400CWs
- 17 patched CNW AC4400CWs
- 12 patched SP GP60s
- 9 patched SSW GP60s
- 3 patched SP GP40-2s
- 1 patched DRGW GP60
This number is depressingly going down by the day, with no expectation in the future of it stopping.
Now that we've talked about the decimation of these cultures, what is Union Pacific doing about these diminishing figures? As most railfans know, Heritage Units. In 2005, with the introduction of Electro-Motive Division's SD70ACe, Union Pacific specially painted and numbered 6 units to honor the primary class I railroads mentioned above. The "Fabulous 6" were dressed in fictional, or "Fantasy", paints of their select railroad, and were used as public relations tools on UP's 'Heritage Fleet' as an addition to their 4-8-4 steam locomotive No. 844, their DDA40X No. 6936, and their 'Challenger' class steam locomotive No. 3985. These "Heritage Units" both served as a splash of color for the UP, but also served as protection for the predecessor railroad copyright and trademarks. Since the idea with UP sparked in 2005, three other railroads have caught on with their own heritage units. In 2011 Amtrak unveiled 6 locomotives in 4 different heritage Amtrak schemes for its 40th anniversary. A year later NS unveiled 22 heritage locomotives with schemes created by railroad artist Andrew Fletcher. Then in 2015, CSX revealed locomotives with heritage emblem stickers on the noses of the units.
So do these paints honor or disrespect the heritage of the railroad they are attempting to represent? That is a personal answer. But here is some food for thought, and where I leave this post at. While the Heritage ACes put on a show in the foreground, little attention is shed on the true stars in the background.
- Schon N.