Railway Preservation News

GG-1 & Other Electrics
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Author:  SteveRG [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:33 am ]
Post subject:  GG-1 & Other Electrics

From inception to demise, the GG-1's used a toxic PCB as Askarel (fudged the spelling Im sure) to cool down their electrical components. When the Pennsy had them built, were they aware of the toxicity of said chemical and simply turned a blind eye or were they unaware at the time? At what point did they stop using this chemical and what if any other electric locomotive utilized this PCB in their cooling system as well?
From what I have read, this and other factors such as body rot, chassis cracking, power conversions and other details are the main contributors that we don't see and G's on the road today. Such a remarkable looking engine and my only memory of them is of 4877 in Hoboken when they towed it to the old DLW Terminal for their Festivals.
The picture is of me when I was about 7, 8 or 9, either '79, '80 or '81.

5980_1130444856415_1086031316_30397387_3604863_n.jpg [ 53.2 KiB | Viewed 5893 times ]

Author:  davew833 [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

You nailed the spelling... Askarel was one of the trade names. According to Wikipedia, the toxicity of PCBs was known from the beginning of their production but was dismissed as negligible. PCB production was finally banned in the US in 1979.

Author:  dinwitty [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 5:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

what would they use now?

Author:  Richard Glueck [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 11:05 am ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Continued scientific study has changed much about the way we live. Remember, steam boilers were insulated with blocks of asbestos, tiles were made of the stuff. Thalydomide was prescribed for pregnant women, and hexochlorophene was used as an acne scrub. I doubt the Pennsy turned a blind eye to anything. More likely, the toxicity of the chemicals was made known and the locomotives were suffering from other failures of age (aren't we all?), so phasing them out was the correct procedure. It took some time to find a suitable replacement for one of the greatest electric locomotive designs, to be found.

Author:  EDM [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 2:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

I have to disagree with Brother Glueck; a suitable replacement for the GG-1 has yet to be found. The E-60 had its issues with tracking at high speed, and the AEM-7s can't handle long trains like the G motors could. The HHP-8s are apparently scheduled for replacement as well.

And PLEASE, lets not turn this thread into another round of "Why cant they put new oil in the transformer on a GG-1 and run it again?" Oh, right, this RYPN and not FN- My bad-

Author:  Dave [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 2:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Nothing like an expert in the G motors, but I was told by some who are several years ago that they are suffering from a constant irreperable barrage of cracking in the frame, that if continually patched would render the frames as replicas made of welding rod in due course.

Whether creating actual replicas with better frame design and engineering might be feasable I don't know. My sense is we are aiming towards a modern technology based insular high speed passenger rail network rather than a rebirth of pre-war high speed shared heavy rail technology.

Which isn't to suggest they can't be really cool streamlined designs....


Author:  survivingworldsteam [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

SteveRG wrote:
When the Pennsy had them built, were they aware of the toxicity of said chemical and simply turned a blind eye or were they unaware at the time? At what point did they stop using this chemical and what if any other electric locomotive utilized this PCB in their cooling system as well?

The Pennsy was far from alone in using PCBs in transformers and electrical gear; just about any transformer from that period had PCBs in them as well. It was the industry standard at the time; like Richard said; just like asbestos and other stuff now considered to be bad.

Author:  Stationary Steam [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 5:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

When I was out in Elkhart recently I noticed the plethora of welded repairs to that GG1's frames. Not the main frame but the cast truck frames that held the drivers. Weld upon weld upon weld.

Author:  davew833 [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 5:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Did the GG1's have a one-piece cast frame like some of the big modern steamers of the era or was it fabricated?

Author:  Mike Tillger [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 6:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

The areas in question with all the weld repairs were the cast truck frames of which there were 2 per locomotive, these truck frames were equipped with lead trucks very similar in design to a steam locomotive lead truck. The carbody had its own separate frame.
Photo and additional info at

Author:  Richard Glueck [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

EDM, I yield to you, bowing as I do so. There has never been a replacement for the GG1. And sadly, it probably isn't cost efficient to build replacement GG1's with the exact same specs, but perhaps some upgrades in the electric works. No doubt that job would go to China, anyway.

Author:  buzz_morris [ Fri Dec 31, 2010 9:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Much power equipment had PCB oil for cooling, it was developed for that high dielectric purpose. The power transformer hanging on a pole near your house in the 70’s may have had some. Mineral oil also works for the same purpose, just not as well.
A mass poisoning occurred in Japan in 1968 when rice bran oil in a processing plant was contaminated with around 3000 ppm of PCB oil. Thousands of Japanese were made ill from food packed in that oil. Also many deformed and stillborn children. I cant remember all the details but that is when the US started to limit then eventually ban PCB production. There is still a lot of it out there, and pregnant women are still warned not to eat too much Great Lakes fish.
Wikipedia has more than anyone really wants to know about PCBs.


Author:  NYCRRson [ Sat Jan 01, 2011 12:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics


One thing to remember about the GG1’s; every material has a fatigue limit, or lifetime. About 50 years for a steel casting exposed to lots of stress from vibration just about every day is PRETTY IMPRESSIVE. Remember that when these locomotives where designed the modern computer engineering tools like FEA (Finite Element Analysis, a way to accurately predict stresses at many points in a casting) did not exist yet.

The proper thickness to use at each point in the casting was based on engineering judgment “Good Judgment comes from Experience, Experience comes from Poor Judgment”. I think they got it pretty close to right given the tools they had at hand. I doubt any of the GG1 designers thought that loco design would be running for almost 50 years.

As a side note there is some new research on “Self Repairing Composites”, these are carbon fiber layers glued together with epoxy. Composites are used in most of the new aircraft designs. The “Self Repairing” versions have a bunch of very tiny glass globes filled with epoxy. As the structure flexes and starts to break the glass beads break and release some more epoxy and glue the “crack” back together. Kind of like a tiny little welder riding along on each GG1 to fix the cracks as they occur. It’s still very much in the research stage, but it could provide materials that last for centuries.

Cheers, Kevin.

Author:  SouPac [ Sat Jan 01, 2011 5:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Howdy all,

Having not seen examples of these frame welds in person I may be missing the boat here, but I would wonder about the quality of the weld repairs on these cracks in general. If there are welds over welds that would indicate either a highly stressed protion of the casting (design flaw and probably the case no matter what), or also the welding created stress raisers/heat affected zones which made for more cracking in the same area. Pre and Post heat combined with full penetration welds using appriopriate tensile strength electrodes should render a bond nearly as strong as the parent metal. I wonder if the welding on these truck frames was done using this level of care or not. Also,were there any xray tests of the affected areas to determine if the cracking is very localized or if it is throughout the casting? Although metal fatigue is a normal process and should not be ruled out, it seems likely that at least some of this problem might be from poor welding practice and lack of NDT which would find the extent of the problem. A weld, no matter how well executed, has no chance if more cracking exists directly adjacent to it. Just food for thought.



Author:  NYCRRson [ Sat Jan 01, 2011 8:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: GG-1 & Other Electrics

Stathi and others, Howdy

I am of the impression that the majority of the weld repairs on the GG1 frames where performed with the loco still assembled (possibly with the trucks or axles removed). I think the ability to pre/post heat the casting was limited by the size of the castings (see the photo above, the casting was about 5 feet by 3 feet by 45 ! feet) and the expense of disassembling the loco to remove the frame.

I have seen references to railroads using magnaflux (especially on axles and crankshafts) and a little bit of X-ray work but the PRR back in the 50’s thru the 70’s was not exactly a hugely profitable business and investments in NDT equipment was probably a low priority. Much of the X-ray, ultrasound and other technology came out of the nuclear power industry and aerospace and was probably pretty expensive at that time.

So yes the welds probably could have been performed better in a “spare no expense” situation, but I think the situation was more like “that’s good enough for now”. They probably just ground down the crack until the base metal looked “clean” and then filled the crack back up with weld. Not the best approach, but probably the most realistic approach. As I understand it the fleet of GG1’s was retired gradually (from the mid 1960’s until the 1980’s when they all retired) with the units with the worst cracks being the first to go. The ones that lasted to the end just happened to have the best quality frame castings.

Still an impressive locomotive, I still remember seeing a tripleheader on a very long freight through Newark Delaware. Quite a bit of ground shaking going on as they went past.

Cheers, Kevin.

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