Union Pacific GTELs

The Union Pacific GTELs were a series of gas turbine-electric locomotives built by Alco-GE and General Electric between 1952-1961 and operated by Union Pacific from 1952 to 1970.



Union Pacific operated the largest fleet of gas turbine-electric locomotives (GTELs) of any railroad in the world. The prototype, UP 50, was the first in a series built by General Electric for Union Pacific's long-haul cargo services and marketed by the Alco-GE partnership until 1953. The prototype was introduced in 1948 and was followed by three series of production locomotives. At one point, Union Pacific said the GTELs hauled more than 10% of the railroad's freight.

Fuel economy was poor, for the turbine consumed roughly twice as much fuel as an equally powerful diesel engine. This was initially not a problem, because Union Pacific's turbines burned Bunker C heavy fuel oil that was less expensive than diesel. But this highly viscous fuel is difficult to handle, with a room-temperature consistency similar to tar or molasses. To solve this problem, a heater was built into the fuel tanks (and later into fuel tenders) to heat the fuel to 200:°F (93:°C) before feeding it into the turbine. Eventually UP switched from Bunker C to modified No.:6 heavy fuel oil, which contained fewer pollutants and solvents. Soot buildup and blade erosion caused by corrosive ash plagued all of the turbines. Changes to the air intake systems on the production turbine locomotives improved the quality of the air that reached the turbines, which in turn reduced the wear to the turbine blades and increased the turbine's running life. The GTELs were operated into late 1969 and the final two (numbers 18 and 26) were stored at the Cheyenne roundhouse in operating condition until being retired in February 1970. Both were later sent to museums.


GE diagram of a turbine locomotive.

Union Pacific had long sought the biggest and best locomotives. In the 1930s, a pair of steam turbine locomotives were tried but rejected. Before World War II, Union Pacific had been adding diesels to its roster, but none pulled road freight trains. The idea of using four diesels to... ...read more

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