Rail Diesel Cars


Western Pacific, on January 25, 1950 became the first railroad to place an order for one of the new Budd rail diesel cars, when the passenger and express model, technically referred to as the RDC 2, was purchased for delivery in May, at a cost of about $130,000. WP’s order for the first car was followed very quickly by C&NW, PRR, B&O, and the NYS&W. The Board of Directors then authorized purchase of a second car for delivery in June 1950.

Before placing an order, WP had used the RDC-1 demonstrator from Portola to Salt Lake City in trial revenue service from January 18-27, 1950. With BUDD approval WP shop forces temporally modified the car with a head-end compartment for baggage use and ran it as numbers 1 & 2. BUDD, at their expense, also applied pilots at each end. This gave WP the distinction of being one of the first railroads to use the RDC in revenue service.

Link to image of RDC 375 
BUDD RDC-2 375 on an excursion at Niles Canyon on March 31, 1951.
Arthur Lloyd Jr. Photo.

Proclaiming it was a “Revolution on Rails” the Budd rail diesel car closely resembled the California Zephyr vista dome coaches in appearance, although the “dome” contained the engine cooling system rather than observation seats. Mounted under the car floor were two six cylinder, 275-h.p General Motors diesel in line engines with the power drive provided by Allison torque converters, developed for heavy tank use during the war. Even with this mounting arrangement, all clearance requirements were met with no intrusion on revenue space. Moreover, this placement contributed to a low center of gravity only 52.6 inches. The installation was designed with special consideration for simplifying normal maintenance, preventive maintenance, and ready replacement when overhaul schedules required.

The principle of the torque converter, which was being widely employed in automotive transportation, was applied to the power transmission. It operated during acceleration up to a designated speed, at which point the transmission automatically locked into direct drive. In addition to providing high efficiency and reliability, the torque converter saved tons of weight, was appreciably lower in price than other drives, and gave unsurpassed flexibility and smoothness in operation. Only the inside axle of each truck received power.

Seldom did these cars lack for power. In direct drive, cruising speed was 70 miles per hour at 55 percent of available horsepower while in torque conversion the maximum speed was 55 miles per hour. On the one percent grade a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour was obtainable. In 6,000 miles of test service the car averaged 2.8 miles per gallon of diesel fuel at a cost of slightly more than 3 cents per mile. Fuel cost for steam locomotives used in similar service averaged 22 cents per mile.

The Budd Railway Disc Brakes, model CF, operated in conjunction with the Budd Rolokron anti wheel slide device, could stop a fully loaded car, under service application, from 85 miles per hour in 2,330 feet. The disc for each brake was bolted to the inner face of the wheel. To increase rail adhesion the car was equipped with both automatic and manual sanding devices. Delivered with 33” wheels these were replaced with 34” wheels in 1953 by the railroad. At the time these two RDC cars were the only “locomotive” type equipment on the railroad equipped with sealed beam headlights.

The car was fully insulated against heat, cold and noise, and completely air conditioned by seven ton, electromechanical equipment especially designed for railway car use by the Frigidaire Division of General Motors. This model of Rail Diesel Car had a seventeen-foot baggage section and its foam rubber seats provided a comfortable ride for 70 passengers at speeds up to 83 miles per hour.

Traffic wise, the Budd car presented an attractive appearance. Constructed throughout of stainless steel, it made a fitting supplement to the California Zephyrs, and for this reason, Western Pacific dubbed its new cars "The Zephyrette’s."

Before being placed in service, the cars were set up at the Sacramento Shops. Many modifications followed over the years. These included electric water coolers as well as additional toilet and hot water facilities. Photomurals depicting scenes of the Feather River Canyon were placed in each car as were reclining seats in the center section for use by through passengers. Exterior modifications included two number boards at each end of the car and a red Gyralight at the rear of the car with a white Gyralight being mounted at the front. Additional air horns were installed at each end of the car and mounted so as to sound toward the opposite end of the car. One interesting addition was the installation of special fish racks in the baggage section for the handling of iced fish shipments.

After being declared surplus by WP, the cars were sold to the Northern Pacific who in turn sold them to Amtrak. Both cars have since been scrapped.