For the first six decades of the diesel era, the main goal of locomotive design was higher horsepower. Introduced in 1993, GE’s 4400 hp Dash 9 and its AC-motored sibling, the AC4400CW, were three times as powerful as a typical first-generation diesel and had 10% more horsepower than their immediate predecessor, the Dash 8. A couple years later, GE and then EMD introduced 6000 hp engines, the first single-unit diesels to equal the power of the last and best steamers.
But what was thought to be a breakthrough turned out to be a flop. By the late 1990s, North American railroads had rejected the 6000 hp concept and concluded that the 4300-4400 hp diesel was the Goldilocks locomotive — not too big, not too small, but a versatile, just-right building block for multiple-unit lashups. The horsepower race was over.
The Dash 9, accordingly, turned out to be a best-seller. with more than 3600 engines sold by the end of production in 2004. It was the last and best of GE’s third-generation diesels, the generation in which computers were integrated into nearly every locomotive function, from engine management to traction control to spotting and reporting maintenance issues. Instead of looking at dials and gauges, a modern engineer monitors computer screens. The Dash 9’s successor, today’s GE Evolution Series, helped usher in the diesel era’s fourth generation: still 4400 hp, but a 21st century “green machine” with a much smaller carbon footprint.
The Dash 9 exemplified the modern locomotive at the turn of the 20th century, with microprocessors ensuring that its 4400 horses were working as efficiently and as often as possible. It rode on GE’s brand-new HiAdTM trucks (for high adhesion), with computerized wheelslip control. Also new was a split cooling system that reduced temperatures and prolonged engine life. The Dash 9’s wide-nosed North American cab, an option on earlier diesels, was standard equipment, solidifying the new look in road diesels. It was also the first GE diesel not offered with four-wheel trucks, recognizing that 6-axle, 4400 hp freight power was the new normal. And its four-stoke, V-16 7FDL motor was the final refinement of the 2500 hp prime mover that had powered the U25B — General Electric’s landmark 1959 product that had launched GE back into the locomotive market and the diesel era into its second generation.
BNSF and the Norfolk Southern purchase the largest Dash 9 fleets, with more than 1000 units each, and both opted for not-quite-stock locomotives. Before its merger into BNSF in 1995, the Santa Fe specified a unique notch on the side of its Dash 9 cab roofs for clearance reasons, particularly at its York Canyon, New Mexico coal loadout. Known as a gull wing cab roof, this feature was carried over into subsequent BNSF Dash 9 orders, and is accurately rendered on our Santa Fe, transition period, and BNSF models.
Norfolk Southern Dash 9s have software that downrates their motors to 4000 hp in order to reduce engine wear and fuel consumption. If needed, however, the extra 400 horses can be accessed with the flip of a key switch. While NS also specified a unique (and somewhat retro) narrow-nosed cab on its first Dash 9 order, the federal railroad Administration soon required it to purchase the standard wide-nose model for greater safety. Our replicas of Norfolk Southern and all other non-Santa Fe/BNSF Dash 9s feature the correct standard cab roof.
While this new model is not the first HO replica of the Dash 9, we believe it is the best. From the shock absorbers and brake lines on its HiAd trucks, to its windshield wipers, MU hoses, and metal grilles, our Dash 9 is loaded with accurate, added-on detail parts. Proto-Sound 3 models include flashing ditch lights; smooth performance from a three-scale-mile-per-hour crawl to full throttle; “cruise control” for steady speeds regardless of curves, switches and grades; built-in decoders for DCC and the M.T.H. Digital Command System (DCS); remote uncoupling anywhere on the layout; and a full range of sounds recorded from actual prototype engines, our Proto-Sound models are more fun to operate than any other HO locomotives.