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"Jersey Diesels: The U-boats" (Video)


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By the late 1960’s, New Jersey commuter rail transportation in the New York City Metropolitan Area was in dire need of modernization. Service on Erie Lackawanna (EL) lines radiating from Hoboken was provided by a mix of electric multiple unit cars in service since 1931 and first generation EMD and ALCo diesel units powering consists of former Erie “Stillwell” and Lackawanna “Boonton” coaches. Jersey Central (CNJ) passenger service was still primarily the domain of aging ALCo, Fairbanks-Morse and EMD locomotives pulling steam era open window coaches. Complicating the situation, Penn Central equipment was literally rusting away and/or falling to pieces due to deferred maintenance. Swift action was called for.

 

Enter the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). The need for an infusion of modern equipment was recognized and decisive measures were enacted. NJDOT financed the purchase and construction of thirteen new GP40P units for CNJ. Modern second hand rolling stock rendered surplus by the downturn in intercity passenger traffic procured from a number of Midwestern and western railroads replaced CNJ’s steam era rolling stock, giving CNJ passenger service an entirely new look. Meanwhile, Hoboken customers were treated to former Santa Fe (ATSF) stainless steel cars, replacing some of the oldest equipment on EL trains. Despite the purchase of the newer ATSF cars for EL service, much old stock still remained so a more comprehensive solution was required for these routes. The solution was to be found with General Electric for motive power and Pullman-Standard for rolling stock.

 

An order was placed with General Electric for thirty-two U34CH diesel locomotives. The U34CH was an historic model because it was the first unit designed from its conception to utilize power supplied by its prime mover for passenger car lighting and climate control. The engine was built to provide these creature comforts by maintaining a constant RPM speed which was equivalent the traditional maximum throttle setting of “Run 8.” As a result, the locomotive’s prime mover maintained this high speed setting even when making a station stop. This concept later became the de facto standard for climate control for decades to come as subsequent passenger locomotives such as the Amtrak F40PH and P30CH classes were built using this technology. Along with their brand new companion fleet of brushed aluminum push pull equipment built by Pullman-Standard, the U34CH’s entered commuter service in 1971 and performed admirably until the last of their ranks were withdrawn by NJ Transit in 1994.

 

“Jersey Diesels: The U-boats” by Mark 1 Video is a two hour program dedicated to this landmark locomotive. It begins by recounting the history of commuter motive power and various methods employed by railroads to supply climate control to passenger consists. The program then provides copious amounts of broadcast quality footage of the U34CH’s as they roll across Northern New Jersey and Southern New York State with thousands of commuters in tow. The characteristic chug of their GE prime movers in the HEP mode can be heard distinctly throughout the program. The locomotives are presented in a variety of weather and lighting conditions, including some of the most spectacular night scenes this reviewer has seen. We are treated to several cab rides as well and have the opportunity to watch the engineer working the controls of the big U-boat.

 

This video is a fitting tribute to the U34CH. Mark 1 is to be commended for releasing a program of this nature so everyone can enjoy the sights and sounds of the U34CH in operation. It is available in DVD for $29.95 and VHS for $31.95. I recommend it highly for anyone interested in commuter railroading and diesel locomotives.

 

Happy railroading,

 

Earle

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The U34CH's were operated in freight service during their early years. After the evening rush hour was completed on Friday, some units would be assigned to freights with the stipulation they be available for their Monday morning commuter assignments. This practice ceased when locomotives were not returning in time with increasing frequency.

 

The U34CH was essentially a U36C with 150 horsepower used for the HEP feature although, in reality, delivery of the U34CH pre-dated production of the U36C, a type which was rostered by Erie Lackawanna as well.

 

Earle

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