Written by: Gary Dolzall
Main Image Above > Amtrak’s highly distinctive General Electric Dash 8-32BWH is coming soon to Train Simulator in both is original (left) and current (right) Amtrak liveries. The unique locomotive will be an ideal workhorse for passenger service on U. S. Train Simulator routes from coast to coast!
Amtrak’s distinctive Dash 8-32BWH, coming soon to Train Simulator, was born of an urgent need for new passenger power, as Gary Dolzall reports
In the early 1990s, as Amtrak turned its eye toward the General Electric “Genesis” diesel as its motive power of the future, the passenger railroad had an urgent need for new motive power to help fill the gap until the first of the revolutionary Dash 8-40BPs could arrive. The answer was the GE Dash 8-32BWH, which, despite its origins as a “quick fix,” has in fact proven itself a capable and long-serving passenger-service locomotive.
The Amtrak Dash 8-32BWH, coming soon to Train Simulator, is one of the more unique and, among North American railroad enthusiasts, one of the most popular diesel types to emerge in the 1990s. When it debuted in August 1991, it was in appearance quite unlike anything on the Amtrak roster, featuring a “North American” wide cab set in front of a traditional road-switcher carbody and dressed in a flashy red, white, blue, and gray Amtrak livery that enthusiasts’ informally dubbed the “Pepsi can” scheme.
In truth, to facilitate the fast delivery that Amtrak needed, the locomotive was a modified version of General Electric’s existing Dash 8-32B freight locomotive, which had first been constructed in 1989. The Dash 8-32B freighter, rated at 3,200 horsepower, was cataloged as a moderately-powered locomotive that, in using GE’s 12-cylinder version of the 7FDL power plant rather than the 16-cylinder version used in GE’s high-horsepower line (such as the Dash 8-40B), would be more fuel efficient, lighter, and less expensive. But with America’s railroads seemingly always thirsting for high horsepower, the Dash 8-32B had met with very limited appeal and in fact Norfolk Southern, with a roster of 45 units, was the only buyer.
Nonetheless, the basic design of the Dash 8-32B lent promise to creation of an able and nimble passenger diesel to fit Amtrak’s immediate needs. By taking the basic hardware of the freight version, including its 3,200-horsepower 7FDL12 power plant and FB-2 two axle trucks (in B-B configuration), building the passenger version on top of the Dash 8-40B’s slightly longer frame in order to include head-end power (HEP) equipment, and then applying the more stylish North American cab, the Dash 8-32BWH could hit the rails quickly.
As part of its first landmark order for Genesis diesels, Amtrak accordingly included an additional specification for 20 Dash 8-32BWHs (also often called P32BHs), which were constructed at GE’s sprawling Erie (Pennsylvania) plant between August and December 1991 and given Amtrak road numbers 500-519. The stylish GE diesels were immediately assigned to both short-haul and long-distance runs by Amtrak, which early on included the California’s Bay-Area Capitol service trains, the Los Angeles-San Diego San Diegans, the Los Angeles-Ogden (Utah) Desert Wind, and, perhaps most notably, the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, successor to the famed Santa Fe Super Chief. By the mid-1990s it was also common to see one or more flashy Dash 8-32BWHs, most often lashed up with an EMD F40PH, powering the equaled famed Chicago-Bay Area California Zephyr.
Predictably, given the Dash 8-32BWHs creation as a short-term solution while the Genesis diesels were under development, the original order for 20 units was also the last. The first Amtrak Genesis diesels (the Dash 8-40BP, followed by the P42DC) began entering service in 1993 and equally predictably, the more diminutive Dash 8-32BWHs were increasingly reassigned, primarily to short-haul services ranging from “Amtrak California” services to Chicago-based trains such as the Illinois Zephyr to the Amtrak Pennsylvanian operating over Horseshoe Curve. Nonetheless, it remained not entirely surprising to see a Dash 8-32BWHs heading up long-haul trains such as the Coast Starlight, Empire Builder, and Sunset Limited when Amtrak’s motive power requirements dictated. Indeed, late in life (Amtrak’s Dash 8-32BWHs remain in active service), the units have proven their versatility by being assigned to terminal switching duties at major Amtrak yard facilities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D. C., Miami, and Sanford, Florida (home to Auto-Train).
Over its 25-years (and counting) service career, the Dash 8-32BWH has appeared in four primary liveries ranging from its original “Pepsi Can” motif through Amtrak Phase IV and V liveries and also including the “Amtrak California” livery applied to two units.
The Amtrak Dash 8-32BWH is coming soon to Train Simulator, ready for service in both its original “Pepsi can” livery and its current blue and silver scheme. Provided with a set of Amtrak Superliner equipment and with career scenario for the Miami-West Palm Beach route, the detailed and highly authentic Dovetail Games Dash 8-32BWH promises to most certainly be a favorite of Steam Workshop creators who will no doubt put the distinctive diesel to work on a variety of routes across the U. S., from Miami to Chicago to San Diego! – Gary Dolzall