Written by: Gary Dolzall
New Haven’s GE EF-4 electrics worked for five railroads – and the distinctive locomotives are coming soon to Train Simulator!
Built by General Electric in the mid-1950s and born to haul coal in the Appalachians, a group of 3,300-horsepower electrics – destined to be vagabonds over a quarter-century of service – came to the New Haven Railroad in the summer of 1963 to haul tonnage between New York City and New Haven, Connecticut. And soon, these distinctive electrics – designated EF-4 by the NYNH&H – will be coming to Train Simulator!
The story of New Haven’s EF-4 electrics is about as close to a “man bites dog” story as one can find in American railroading history. It is a story that begins in the Norfolk, Virginia headquarters of the Virginian Railway (see “Born to Haul Coal: The Virginian Railway“). Dating back to the 1920s, the 600-mile Virginian Railway had electrified the challenging 134-mile center section of its Appalachian mountain main line, and the heavy-haul railroad then called upon three generations of powerful electrics to help tote millions of tons of coal. Last among Virginian’s electrics were a dozen 3,300-horsepower ignitron rectifier General Electric-built locomotives which rode on a pair of three-axle trucks and employed road-switcher carbodies. Designated as class EL-C, the new locomotives were dressed in an attractive black-and-yellow livery, and given road numbers 131-140 on the Virginian. The potent rectifier electrics, which began arriving in October 1956, weighed in at 394,000 and provided 98,500 lbs. of tractive effort, were put to work lugged coal over the rugged spine of the Appalachians between Princeton, West Virginia and Roanoke, Virginia.
Only three years after the arrival of the dozen GE electrics, however, the Virginian Railway was merged into its big neighbor, the Norfolk & Western. The almost-new electrics worked for their new owner for a time as N&W 230-241 (and at least one even gained N&W livery), but Norfolk & Western, whose own main line was largely parallel to the Virginian, soon began using the ex-VGN route only for eastbound empty movements and in 1962 de-energized the ex-Virginian electric catenary. The Virginian GE’s, although less than a decade old, thus became orphans and were stored.
Meanwhile, some 500 miles to the north, the New Haven Railroad, which for a time had tried operating its freights exclusively with diesels even though they operated under live electric catenary used for commuter and passenger services, was rethinking that odd decision and looking for modern electric freight power. At a bargain price of $300,000 for the lot, New Haven purchased the ex-Virginian electrics in the summer of 1963. For NYNH&H service, the electrics were given classification EF-4, assigned road numbers 300-310 (one unit, ex-Virginian 180, was assigned road number 311 but in truth was used only as a spare parts source), and dressed in a flashy New Haven vermillion (red-orange), white, and black livery.
Nicknamed (for obviously reasons) “the Virginians” by New Haven road crews, the electrics began entering regular service on the NYNH&H in October 1963. New Haven 304 and 309 were the first to go to work and were assigned to night piggyback service between New Haven and the railroad’s Oak Point Yard in the Bronx. As the full roster of EF-4s rolled out of the road’s Lamberton Street Shops in New Haven, the electrics assumed virtually all mainline freight operations across the railroad’s electrified territory, working between massive Cedar Hill Yard in New Haven, Oak Point Yard in the Bronx, and Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge Yard. Most typically, the EF-4s worked in lash-ups of two units and although they had been constructed as heavy coal-haulers, the electrics were capable of quick running, being geared for a 65-mph top speed.
By virtually all accounts, the “Virginians” served the New Haven well and were a welcomed assignment by the road crews. But the railroad was bankrupt and in December 1968 the New Haven was merged into the ill-fated Penn Central. Serving their fourth master, the EF-4s (which became class E-33s on Penn Central) briefly continued to serve in ex-New Haven territory but increasingly found their way into ex-Pennsylvania Railroad territory where they joined the large ex-PRR fleet of E-44 electrics which has been built for the Pennsy by General Electric in 1960-1963 and were a refinement of the ex-Virginian units constructed half-a-decade earlier. Soon dressed in Penn Central’s somber black, the electrics worked for the PC until 1976 when the railroad was merged into the newly formed Conrail, thus giving the vagabond electrics their fifth owner. With some units gaining Conrail blue livery, the operational careers of the “Virginians” finally concluded in 1981 when Conrail ceased electrified freight services. Happily, two of the distinctive rectifier electrics have been preserved: Ex-VGN 131 at the Illinois Railway Museum, and appropriately, ex-Virginian 135 at the Virginia Museum of Transport in Roanoke. The latter is beautifully restored to its original Virginian livery.
Now, thanks to partner programme member Reppo, the remarkable New Haven General Electric EF-4 freight electric is coming to Train Simulator. Created in extraordinary detail by the masterful Ricardo Rivera of Reppo, the NYNH&H EF-4 for Train Simulator faithfully recaptures the features and operating characteristics of the distinctive electric locomotive and the Reppo EF-4 will be provided in both “running” and “cold and dark” variations. To provide period-appropriate equipment to accompany the EF-4, the pack will also include a 40-foot New Haven boxcar in familiar orange livery, NYNH&H’s classic NE-5 steel cupola caboose, and, for AI use, a New Haven Electro-Motive GP9. And the pack will also include four career scenarios for the NEC: New York – New Haven route (route available separately) which represents much of the ex-New Haven mainline trackage over which the distinctive rectifier electrics operated.
New Haven’s “electric vagabond” is coming soon to Train Simulator! – Gary Dolzall ■