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EMD GP39-2 - A Locomotive Profile



The Atlas Trainman HO GP39-2 offers a reliable model of this unique locomotive at a very reasonable cost. The model could be easily detailed and customized to represent other variations of the prototype.

©2013 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The GP39-2 offered a fuel-efficient option to the GP38-2 for light duty mainline and other freight duties.

Prototype History

Builder: General Motors, Electro Motive Division (EMD)
AAR Type: BB
Dates Built: 1974 - 1984
Number Built: 239
Horsepower: 2,300
Engine: 12-645E3
Length: 59ft 2in

Compared to EMD's GP38-2 and GP40-2 locomotives, the GP39-2 seems like an overlooked middle child. The locomotive was a compromise between its two more popular siblings which offered a lot for railroads.

The GP39-2 was the successor to the GP39, of which only 23 were produced (20 for the C&O, 2 for Kennecott Copper and 1 for the Atlanta and St. Andrews Bay.) Like the other locomotives in the line at the time, the -2 represented an improved electronics package. Like the GP38 and GP40 models, there were few external differences between the GP39 and GP39-2.

The GP39-2's power plant was a true compromise between the GP38 and GP40. Like the GP38, it offered a 12 cylinder model 645E3 engine (unlike 16 in the 40's.) But like the GP40, the GP39 was turbocharged.

The GP38 had earned a strong reputation for reliable service, especially in local, yard and smaller freight jobs. The GP39-2 offered an attractive alternative for trains that would spend more of their time out on the mainline, but which wouldn't require the extra speed of the GP40s. They were more fuel efficient than the bigger locomotives and performed very well at higher altitudes.

Externally, the GP39-2 looks very similar to the GP40-2. The biggest difference is that the GP39 has only two fans above the radiator at the rear of the long hood, while the GP40 has 3. There were several production changes even on the short roster of GP39-2s which included changes in the style of radiator and dynamic brake screens, number of engine doors and numerous smaller details.

Although only produced for a handful of railroads, thanks to sale and mergers, they can be found all across the United States. Perhaps the most mobile of the GP39-2s were the 20 purchased by the Reading. These were given to the Delaware and Hudson in 1976 as part of the Conrail consolidation. Later they went on to work for CSX. Many arrived on CSX in the 1990s with their patched out Reading green paint still intact!

As of 2012, most of these locomotives are still in regular operation.

Original Operating Railroads

  • Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe - 106 (to BNSF and Willamette and Pacific)
  • Burlington Northern - 40 (to BNSF)
  • Delaware and Hudson - 20 (to B&M)
  • Kennecott Copper - 32
  • Missouri, Kansas, Texas - 20 (to Union Pacific)
  • Phelps Dodge - 1
  • Reading - 20 (to D&H, to CSX)


The GP39-2 has been produced in HO and N scales. The most common model, by Atlas in their Trainman line, features the "Phase 1" design which is appropriate for early Santa Fe, D&H, Reading and one Kennecott Copper unit. If you wanted a more perfect model for the later production units, your best option would be a kitbash from a GP38-2 shell and other detail parts. With the numerous parts available for EMD diesels, this wouldn't be an impossible task.

These kitbashing techniques would work in many scales, where GP38-2 and GP40-2 models are far more common.

N Scale: Mark 4 Design - shells only, use an Atlas GP38 frame and drive.
HO Scale: Atlas

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