In the 1960s, railroads were looking to replace aging EMD E-units and Alco PAs for passenger service. EMD responded by adding a steam generator compartment to the long hood end of their SD45. This required a longer frame and resulted in the creation of the SDP45. Three railroads originally purchased SDP45s: Southern Pacific, Great Northern, and Erie Lackawanna.
Southern Pacific bought ten SDP45sin 1967 to replace 21 PAs on the Overland Route. Initially their primary assignments were the “City of San Francisco” between Ogden and Oakland, “Coast Daylight” on the Coast Line and the “San Joaquin Daylight” between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Depending on the size of the train, the power might be a single SDP45, an SDP45 with a F7B, or a pair of SDP45s.
With the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the SDP45s were leased to Amtrak and usually operated in pairs on the “Coast Starlight” and at times on the “Sunset Limited”. With the delivery of Amtrak’s SDP40Fs in 1974, the SDP45s returned to SP and assigned to commuter service between San Francisco and San Jose. They eventually replaced the aging Trainmaster locomotives.
SP’s SDP45s earned the nickname “Weekend Warriors” as part of their commuter service. On Friday night, the SDP45s would haul a freight train from San Jose to Roseville, often with all ten in one consist. From Roseville, they would split up and power freight trains east over Donner Pass, north to Oregon, or south to Los Angeles and back. On Sunday night, they returned to San Jose for the Monday morning commuter rush. They lasted in commuter service until June 1985, when CalTrain took over the operation.
At that time, they were assigned to freight service. One regular service was hauler service in Southern California. In SP terms, a hauler was a transfer run from one yard to another. The SDP45s were regulars between West Colton, City of Industry, Dolores Yard, Long Beach, Taylor Yard, and Anaheim. Although assigned as freight locomotives, SDP45s 3201 and 3207 retained their steam generators for special service such as business trains. All 10 SDP45s were retired by 1990.
During the merger of Northern Pacific and Great Northern in 1970, the newly formed Burlington Northern assigned GN SDP45s passenger locomotive numbers 9856 through 9863. To protect them from being taken by Amtrak, BN swapped them with F-units. The SDP45s operated for a few more years with their passenger numbers in patched Big Sky Blue and were gradually repainted Cascade Green and black. In April 1974, they were renumbered as freight units 6592 through 6599. As BN units, they remained assigned to Havre, MT until they were retired between 1984 and 1987.
Erie Lackawanna (EL) was the largest buyer of SDP45s and took delivery in 1969 and 1970. They were designed for freight service so the long hood had the standard EMD “pointed” end instead of the flat end like the SP and GN units. On piggyback and other special trains, the SDP45s operated in solid sets to take advantage of their larger 5,000 gallon fuel tank capacity. A consist of SDP45s could travel between Hoboken, NJ and Chicago, IL without stopping to refuel. After the SD45-2s with 5,000-gallon fuel tanks were delivered in 1972, they were intermixed with the SDP45s on hotshot trains. This saved time and reduced costs. For the 1976 bicentennial, EL painted SDP45 3638 and SD45 3632 in patriotic red, white, and blue paint schemes.
After EL merged into Conrail in 1976, the SDP45s were renumbered as CR 6667 through 6699 and operated for a time in patched EL paint. By the early 1980s, they were all painted into Conrail blue. Conrail mixed the SDP45s with other types of power and used them on a variety of trains. Conrail #6670 resides at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke in faded Conrail blue. It was extensively measured and photographed in the development process of our model.
In 1984, Conrail retired the SDP45s, returning them to the lessors. Several units became a part of VMV’s lease fleet and saw extensive service on the SP in the late 1980s.