Excellent maintenance pays off

… whether one is talking about a car or a locomotive:

Meet the oldest NJ Transit engine on the tracks. It’s older than the agency itself.

Updated: Nov. 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m. | Published: Nov. 19, 2021, 12:00 p.m.

By [Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com]

NJ Transit locmotive 4100 is a microcosm of state commuting history. At age 50, 4100 began its career as one of 13 boxy GP-40P passenger engines, built by General Motors and purchased by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to keep commuter trains running on the bankrupt Central Railroad of New Jersey.

The 4100 is like the winner of “Survivor,” outlasting that railroad and Conrail, which absorbed the CNJ and other bankrupt northeastern railroads. It was still working when Conrail quit the commuter train business in 1982 and continued running when NJ Transit rail operations were created to keep commuters moving.

“It is almost unimaginable these locomotives are still in service after more than 50 years of continuous service. About 20-25 years is the expected life expectancy of a locomotive,” said Frank Reilly, President of the Central Railroad of New Jersey Historical Society and a former railroad employee. “This goes to show that good maintenance and caring can keep equipment going for many years past their life expectancy.”

Some rail enthusiasts will cite other GP-40 engines in NJ Transit’s fleet that are chronologically older than the 4100. But they aren’t Jersey homegrown, having been converted from former New York Central railroad freight engines. As of 2021, the 4100 is still hauling passengers, while some of its sister locomotives have been downgraded to lesser duties.

Locomotives are not like cars that may get bought and sold once or twice and are finally junked after 10 to 15 years of rolling up the miles.

“Unlike most road vehicles, railroad locomotives of all types can last a very long time, and usually do, even if they get bought and sold repeatedly,” said Russell Quimby, a retired National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator and safety consultant. “4100 is highly unusual, not only due to her longevity, but because ‘she’ has remained in the relatively same location and service as when she started.”

He compared the engine to a dedicated employee who is still working after 50 plus years in the same job.

“The 4100′s survival is also a tribute to the long line of maintenance men and women who have worked to keep her ‘alive’ all these years,” Quimby said.

“I was working on the CNJ in 1968 when the GP40P’s arrived and they were beautiful,” Reilly remembered. “That had great power and pulled a passenger train out of a station much faster than previously used locomotives.”

“The maintenance crews liked them because they were easier to work on,” Reilly said. “Commuters loved them because reliability of their ride greatly improved.”

The 4100 was the first one, built in October 1968 and delivered wearing CNJ number 3681. NJ Transit later bought other GP-40′s from different railroads and had them rebuilt into passenger engines in the 1990s. Lionel trains even made a model of NJ Transit GP-40 4302, in case you want a commuter train under the Christmas tree.

Their story isn’t over.

NJ Transit officials said the 4100 still has a future, even though the state allocated a $500 million bond last December which includes buying 17 new locomotives which are replacing newer locomotives that provided to be not as reliable. Under that plan seven GP-40′s will be rebuilt for Atlantic City line service.

“Number 4100 is in revenue service and there are no immediate plans to retire it,” said an NJ Transit spokeswoman.

That doesn’t mean life is easy keeping a half-century on the rails in regular service. Think about having to find parts for a 50-year old car.

“Parts are available for the GP40s and on occasion, there can be some lead time to locate something particular,” the spokeswoman said.

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I’ve ridden behind that locomotive many times. The local station on the Atlantic City line is 3 miles from my house.

That locomotive outlived GM ownership of Electro Motive Division, the division that built it, as well. They are now known as Electro Motive Diesel since 2005.

Charles F. Kettering’s son, Eugene Kettering was the Chief Engineer involved in the development of the diesel engine in that locomotive.