Text by Daniel Garcia
Revised by James Bow
A Need for a New Generation
In 1987, GO Transit celebrated its twentieth anniversary of operation. The commuter rail service had grown considerably from its humble beginnings in 1967. It now boasted six commuter rail lines, and hourly or better seven-day-a-week service between Oakville and Pickering. But the original locomotives and those bought in the 1970s were beginning to show their age. The time had come for a new generation of locomotives that could pull GO’s trains into the 1990s.
GO knew its requirements. Its experiment with the F40PH series proved unsatisfactory; the locomotives just did not have the power to pull the long trains it required. However, General Motors’ locomotive division had just released the F59PH, a modern locomotive with the pulling power GO needed.
A Locomotive of its Time
The F59PH was a modification of the recently released GP60. It boasted the GP60’s frame, fuel tanks, trucks, traction motors and electricals. All of this was housed within an F40PH body with a safety cab for a more streamlined look. Power was provided by a 12 cylinder 710-series prime mover putting out 3000 microprocessor-controlled horsepower, and an HEP generator connected to a separate 675hp engine. These engines were designed by GO Transit and GMDD specifically for commuter service, with a top speed of 134km/h. They could accelerate a fully loaded 10-car train from 0 to 100 km/h in about 75 seconds, and were also the first engines bought by GO Transit that feature dynamic braking. With the advent of microprocessor controls, the effectiveness of dynamic braking was greatly increased, to as low as 8km/h.
The first sixteen F59PH series locomotives, numbered 520-535, arrived in 1988 and allowed GO to retire the GP40TC locomotives. The second group of 11, numbered 536-547, were delivered between 1989 and 1990 and replaced the F40PH series locomotives and some of the GP40-2Ls. Another fourteen arrived in 1990, numbered 548-561, to replace the remaining GP40-2Ls and to expand service. GO traded in its GP40U series locomotives, the last group of non-HEP engines, to GMDD as part of their purchase of six additional F59PHs in 1994, numbered 562-568. With the last non-HEP locomotives retired, the supplementary Auxiliary Power/Control Units were retired and removed from GO property. By 1994, GO had an all-F59PH fleet, which allowed them to reap the benefits of a more efficient maintenance program.
Nineties Surplus and Operating Problems
GO’s purchase of 49 F59PHs proved to be optimistic as, in the early 1990s, the government of Ontario cut budgets and GO Transit was forced to cut service. As a result, the four newest engines (565-568) were sold to Fort Worth, Texas, in the spring of 1997, along with 16 bilevel coaches. Other surplus locomotives were leased to commuter agencies in Vancouver and Los Angeles.
Despite being designed to last for thirty years, the F59PHs also proved to be less reliable than hoped. Despite being rebuilt twice (receiving upgraded HEP engines and generators), failures became common enough that a second unit was required on all weekend trains. When the MP40PH-3C series locomotives became available in 2009, GO began retiring the F59PH series. The first order of units (520-535) were retired and sold off in April 2009, while the whole second order and most of the third were retired through 2010. Many of these locomotives are still in operation on a number of American commuter rail lines, VIA Rail and Montreal’s AMT.
The remaining F59PH units (557-564) were retained, receiving a rebuild in January 2011 to overhaul components and give the units a fresh coat of paint. Most of the retained units received new electronic bells in place of their mechanical ones. The days for these days may be numbered, as GO invests in its MP40PH-3C fleet, but they remain to provide additional service as GO Transit’s network continues to grow.