May 21, 1999
The brute force and size of mighty locomotives such as the SD80MAC and C40-8W make those locomotives favorites among modern railfans and modelers. These fellows will stand trackside and marvel as two MACs effortlessly haul a 100+ car coal drag at mainline speed. Granted, there is a certain appeal to watching these giant locomotives at work, but they are only one small piece of the entire railroading picture. For example, have you ever watched an SD80MAC set-off an empty covered hopper along a branchline? I thought not. So where am I going with all of this? Why to that flexible, reliable, dependable, venerable, and a host of other able words locomotive--the GP38-2.
The combination of its underrated 2,000hp 645 prime mover, a.c. traction motors, modular electronics, and four axles made it one of the most reliable and versatile locomotives of all time. You could easily find these locomotives switching freight in a yard, leading a train up a secondary line, or working side-by-side with higher horsepower locomotives on mainline freights or work trains. I know of no other locomotive on Conrail's roster that could do such a variety of chores with little effort. As a former neighbor of mine who just happened to be Conrail engineer used to say, "I'll take a beat-up GP38-2 any day over a C40-8W."
Even though they inherited 223 units from the Penn Central, Conrail still needed more reliable, smaller road switchers to service its many secondaries (aka branchlines) during the early years. It wasn't until the later 1980s and 90s that Conrail began shedding many of its secondaries to upstart shortlines and regionals. So between 1977 and 1979, they received 119 additional GP38-2's.
Model railroaders have assigned the name of "phases" to designate groups of production units that contain similar features, such as nose length. I have yet to see a detailed examination of GP38-2 phases, nor am I an expert on such things. But I do know from inspection that Conrail received at least two major phases or groups of these locomotives. These phases are nearly identical to those found on the GP40-2's.
The first group, which I am currently labeling as Phase I, were purchased by the Penn Central between 1972-1973 and assigned to the series CR 7940-8162. Like most if not all GPxx-2's manufactured prior to 1976, these units have an 81" low short hood and wire mesh radiator grills. For those choosing to model the GP38-2 in HO scale, Athearn produces a model of the Phase I complete with a 2,600 gallon fuel tank.
The second group, which I am currently labeling as Phase II, were purchased by Conrail between 1977-1979 and assigned to series CR 7940-8282. Unlike Phase I units, these have an 88" low nose, the newer-style corrugated radiator grills, a slightly redesigned dynamic brake area, and a revised air filter box. These units, like the Phase I's, came with the 2,600 gallon tanks.
CR 8157 was specially equipped with a hot box simulator.
Many of Conrail's GP38-2's survived until the end of the railroad in 1999. Anyone modeling the Conrail scene needs these versatile locomotives on their roster.
The roster below is comprehensive for these units between April 1976 and May 1999, and contains all predecessor units of the locomotive class that Conrail inherited as well as those Conrail purchased. If numbers are missing from the roster, Conrail intentionally left them open. It does not contain retirement dates and dispositions due to their complex nature. All of the units were retired prior to June 1999.
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