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EMD BL2 - A Locomotive Profile

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BL2

The HO Scale BL2 set a new standard when introduced by Life-Like - an interesting choice in prototypes to blaze new trails.

©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A transitional locomotive between the EMD F series and Geeps, the BL2 is best remembered for its distinctive styling as opposed to record sales numbers.

Prototype History

Builder: General Motors, Electro Motive Division (EMD)
AAR Type: BB
Dates Built: 1948 - 1949
Number Built: 58
Horsepower: 1,500
Engine: 16-567B

While EMD was enjoying great success and market dominance with their "covered wagon" F - units, the wide-bodied or "cab" units did have limitations when it came to working in the yards and in switching. Visibility from the cab was very limited, especially to the rear. Also, the locomotives lacked a convenient and safe place for brakemen to get on / off or ride for short distances during these frequent moves.

With competition coming from other builders, most notably ALCo's RS-1 locomotive and successors, EMD needed a locomotive to fill the road-switcher role.

Their first attempt at this was the BL1. The BL stood for "Branch Line" indicating the lighter and more diverse duties for which it was built. Locomotives featured mechanics based on the very popular F3 locomotive and could be equipped with a steam generator for passenger service. Those with this feature could be identified by an extra exhaust stack between the windshields for the generator housed in the short hood.

The biggest difference between the F3 and the BL1 was the carbody. Although the BL1 still featured a full width body, the sides featured a taper and inset upper section, a more rounded short hood and platforms at each end. This improved visibility and access for the crews, but most agreed it did little for the locomotive's aesthetics. It also made maintenance more difficult.

EMD made one small modification, replacing the pneumatic throttle with a more conventional electric model between the BL1 and BL2 - there were no external spotting differences. A total of only 58 of the oddities were sold.

Although the BL2 design itself was a failure, it was an important step in EMD's designs. The wide demand for a road-switcher locomotive was clearly proven by sales of competing builders so EMD went back to the drawing board.

The next locomotive to roll off the line was a "General Purpose" engine that one designer said was "so ugly no self-respecting railroad would ever let it near a mainline." That locomotive was the GP-7. And that prediction, at least for EMD, was happily and completely debunked.

Although only purchased in small numbers by a handfull of railroads, many of them smaller lines, the BL2 has always had a loyal fan following. Of the 58 built, at least 7 still remain today. Many of those are operable and power excursion trains across the country.

Although the carbody doesn't make maintenance as easy as a GP, it protects the same reliable mechanics. And while the styling may not be as univerally appealing as an "bulldog nosed" F unit, the distinctive flair is certainly appealing on a tourist line.

Original Operating Railroads - includes all production variations, 1975-1992

  • Bangor and Aroostook - 8
  • Boston and Maine - 4
  • Chesapeake and Ohio - 14 (all ordered for subsidiary Pere Marquette which was merged into the C&O by delivery.)
  • Chicago and Eastern Illinois - 2 (C&EI also purchased the single BL1 demonstrator.)
  • Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville (Monon) - 9(to Amtrak, 1990)
  • Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific - 5
  • Florida East Coast - 6
  • Missouri Pacific - 8
  • Western Maryland - 2

Models

The BL2 has been reproduced in model form several times over the past fifty years in many scales. Many of the early models were quite toy-like by today's standards, but the BL-2 was also chosen by Life-Like as the premier engine in their "Proto 2000" line of locomotives that raised the bar for ready-to-run plastic models. While that line has now been acquired by Walthers and several of the other models have been re-released, as of 2012 the BL2 has been out of production for about two decades.

Models can be found frequently at swap meets and online auctions however, including older versions and models by other manufacturers in other scales.

The list of models below includes all known models of the BL2 made up to this time.

N Scale: Life-Like
HO Scale: AHM (out of production, toy-like model) Life-Like Proto 2000 (out of production)
S Scale: BTS (shell only)
O Gauge: MTH (Premier), Williams (now Bachmann)

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