Erie Lackawanna 3372
The U34CH represented a landmark in passenger train operation. It is truly the “last of the first of its kind.” During the late 60’s and early 70’s, passenger trains were nearing the end of an era. Aging equipment, heated by steam, could not stand up to the demands of changing technology. Across the country, these older cars were being replaced with newer, electrically lit and heated cars, powered by car-mounted generators or individual power cars. At that same time, the Erie Lackwanna was dealing with an ever aging fleet of coaches and MU’s that dated back to the late teens and twenties. When the NJ Department of Transportation took over passenger service, they used an ingenious new idea to modernize the fleet.
The result was an order of new “Comet I” coaches from Pullman-Standard, and 32 U34CH locomotives from General Electric Co. This was the first time in the evolution of modern passenger equipment that locomotives and cars were ordered together to work in tandem. The new coaches would be powered by electricity delivered from a new type of generator in the U34CH. The drive shaft from the locomotive’s 16 cylinder motor would go entirely through its main generator, which powered its 6 traction motors, and go into a generator used exclusively for powering the train. This meant that, to power the cars, the engine always ran at a full 960 rpm, the equivalent of full power. This made for a locomotive that was not only powerful and efficient, but exceptionally distinctive, characterized by its consistent roar both stopped at stations and at speed.
The U34CH, and its corresponding passenger car fleet, pioneered “push-pull” operation of trains in New Jersey. Today, all commuter trains in NJ run in this manner. The U-boats represented the turning point in New Jersey railroad history, as they bridged the gap between the first generation diesels from the pre-Conrail era and the modern head end powered passenger equipment of today. The story of New Jersey railroading would not be complete without including the U34CH, which is why the URHS finds it imperative to save the last one in existence.