Friday, May 15, 2015

MCIS Diesel Roster Evolution 1975-2015

In previous posts we have talked about the Michigan Interstate diesel roster that is both modeled and not modeled. What I wanted to share in more detail today is the evolution that has taken place in the past 40 years to get us where we are today with the fleet being 70 active motors strong.

Before we look at the diagram which shows the evolution we first must understand where the MCIS originated from.

Early Years
Prior to 1975 the Michigan Interstate existed in the form of two subsidiaries and this is where our journey begins.

St. Clair & Western (Michigan Central - New York Central - Penn Central)
The 1970s were rough times for railroads and in this version of history the Penn Central decided to divest the SCW trying to streamline less profitable operations. We will dig further in another post about the various subsidiaries and how they came about but what we need to know for this post is when the line was bought by the Lakes Interstate Transportation Group the sale included motive power. During this era of PC just prior to the formation of Conrail, power was an eclectic bunch of 1st gen. EMD, GE, and Alco. So at the beginning of the Michigan Interstate Railway (MCTR) were Alco C424s, RS27s, EMD GP7s, GP30s, and SD35s for a total of 31 units that came with the property sale. Additionally Michigan Interstate's parent company purchased Alco RS3s, RS11s, and EMD SW1200s used to supplement start up for a grand total of 42 units.

The railroad with these 42 units did not make any further acquisitions for the next 10 years as current traffic levels on the line did not warrant additional motive power. However the railroads leadership knew that long term success was going to be in more modern power to leverage fuel efficiency and locomotive utilization.

Electro Motive Growth
1985 saw an opportunity present itself to the Michigan Interstate Railway and Lakes Interstate Transportation Group in the form of additional trackage extending its reach in the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.

Mackinaw Northern Railroad (Grand Trunk Corporation) 
Continuing the story of Class 1 railroads retrenching to their core products, the Grand Trunk Corporation spun off their Mackinaw Northern Division in 1985 which reached to the Mackinaw Straits and beyond. The price was right and in short order the now Michigan Interstate Railroad Inc. has doubled in size with serious need for more motive power. Part of the Grand Trunk sale also included motive power in the tune of EMD GP9s and GP38s. 1985 was the year that the tables turned on the dominant locomotive manufacturer. For the first 10 years Alco had held the #1 spot, but after the MCNR purchase EMD took the lead and did not look back.

The 1985 MCNR acquisition brought in 14 EMDs along with MCIS acquiring second hand 6 GP38-2s and 2 additional SD35s. A wreck this same year knocked the GP7 fleet down to a total of 3.
Spreadsheet in 5 year increments showing evolution of fleet. The numbers in each square are individual unit counts for that model. 
Dash 2 Era
Prior to 1990 the RS3, RS11, and GP7 fleets were traded off to make way for newer dash 2 equipped power that the railroad had originally sampled in 1985 with the GP38-2. The 1990s saw an explosion of dash 2 motors in the form of EMD GP38-2s, GP40-2s, and SD40-2s. The railroad had struck a deal with EMD to upgrade their original Grand Trunk GP38s through trading in the GP7s and Alco RS fleet. To supplement online traffic growth MCIS picked up three second hand Santa Fe CF7s to utilize on light branch lines replacing the aging Alco RS fleet. These CF7s were eventually sold off in the early 2000s to the Natchez Trace & Orient for use in the southeast U.S. Coming to the end of 1999 the fleet had changed completely with a strong stable of dash 2 motors and the sun had set for the retirement of the entire Alco fleet.

New Millennium
While eleven Alcos had made it into 2000 on the roster, it was not long before their replacements arrived on property and found their tanks drained and stacks capped in storage at the Mt. Pleasant shops awaiting sale. Any railfan could tell that by 2005 it was easy to see EMD and the venerable 645 turbo / non-turbo prime movers were the dominant player in the diesel house and here to stay. But even then there were 567s still holding their own with the original GP30 and SD35s handling local and branch line switching. These brutes were a testament to EMDs solid early design and the fit that they had with this regional. Behind the 645 dominance and 567 survival were two EMD GP60s the railroad had picked up from BNSF. Their 710s had a unique and new sound to them and would find a great niche prompting the railroad to pickup two more in 2010 from the UP. Looking to find a like replacement to the SW1200 for tighter switching areas, MCIS picked up one EMD MP15DC in 2000 on lease from GMTX ultimately returning the leasor and acquiring three of its own in 2005. The roster by 2005 had declined to 60 motors from the peak of 64 in 1995 and this was mostly due to replacing more with less in terms of early generation EMD and Alco with second generation dash 2 power.

Twenty Tens
The year 2010 saw the fleet still at 60 motors which was flat from 2005 but if you look at the diagram detail the CF7 and SW1200 were struck from the roster and the gradual phase out of the GP30 / SD35 had begun with GP40-2, GP40X, and SD40-2 incremental growth. Even SD45-2s which had labored for a long time got a new lease on life after departing Class 1s to find mainline roles on this regional. More stringent environmental laws prompted the railroad's mechanical team to find ways for a better carbon footprint and in the 2015 roster we can see the fruits of this labor.

Continued Modernization
2012 saw big modernization changes starting with an order for four EMD SD70ACe locomotives producing 4,300 hp a piece. These are by far the largest engines on roster and have really helped improve locomotives per train as two can do the work of three SD40-2s or even four GP38-2s. Additionally the EMD 567 prime mover was no longer present on the active roster as the four remaining GP30s were stored in 2013 at Mt. Pleasant awaiting conversion to road slugs which will pair up with EMD GP40-3s. A new entrant to the roster made its debut in 2012 as well from National Railway Equipment in the form of four 3GS21B gensets producing 2,100 hp a piece. These ultra low emission engines are primarily taking over yard switching roles at Grand Rapids and Bay City but occasionally can be found sandwiched between two EMD 645 prime movers on a out and back local turn. Seeing opportunity with stored serviceable SD35s the railroad is currently converting one into a 3GS21C genset through a NRE kit built in-house at Mt. Pleasant. Two other SD35s went to VMS in Virginia back in 2013 and were converted into EMD SD22ECOs which utilize at eight cylinder EMD 710 prime mover. The last SD35 was sold off to VMS which was refurbing and selling to another operator. Future plans could include refurbing the SD45-2 fleet into SD32ECOs or de-rating into SD40-3s but in a SD45-2 carbody. The fleet has leveled out at 70 active units at time of press with no orders or acquisitions in the immediate future. But in our continued effort to have a positive environmental footprint all locomotives are being or have been retrofitted with AESS Smart Start to reduce idling and wasted fuel consumption. When "railfanning" my youtube channel or blog posts, be on the lookout for the small square black logo that denotes these retrofits (Check out Wordless Wednesday #14). Additionally locomotives are receiving GPS domes, RV style air conditioners (Whoever said Michigan wasn't humid....) and updated side sill reflective striping to meet the FRA mandate.

I hope you enjoyed my synopsis of the diesel roster evolution. Normally I had more photos than words in my posts, but my goal was to paint a clear picture of where the fleet was and is going in the future.

Any questions or further detail on a particular model please post in comments.



  1. Very nice history lesson! I need to do this with the Midlenad but I will have about a sixth of the fleet size. Noticed that GE never made a appearance, Of course everyone knows EMD blows GE's out of the water. Don't see many old GE's roaming the rails now.

  2. Good observation. We had looked at GEVOs when scooting out higher horsepower but mechanically similar parts and mechanic familiarity with EMD products not to mention a fantastic price point keep MCIS EMD.

    We will keep the GEs in the break rooms if you know what I mean.