“Struggle” could be the word most apt to describe the situation North America’s locomotive builders are facing. On top of railroads implementing PSR (Precision Scheduled Railroading) and stalling on further large investment in Tier 4 locomotives, the economic downturn, and supply chain issues of the COVID pandemic didn’t help. Luckily, the modernization programs that Progress Rail and Wabtec had started several years ago became an important element to pull them through.
Other than a great year in 2019 that saw output of more than 700 new and rebuilt locomotives, the rest of the last five years have averaged around 500 units (with an anemic 2021 at only 340); the effects of the pandemic on factory production were extreme.
Where does that leave 2022? PSR is in use by six of the seven Class 1s (BNSF is the alleged non-participant), and to some extent the pandemic further encouraged its use. Thousands of loco-motives are stored, so investing in new freight locomotives makes little sense. But age does take its toll and the rail-roads do want more efficient/capable machines, which is where locomotive modernization comes into play. They also have to deal with growth, so they can only hold off so long in obtaining additional power. The good news is that exports are a strong market for new locomotives.
The scope of this article’s coverage is North American production — both new and modernizations. For the latter, it is impossible to include all rebuilds, so significant and interesting programs are included…