CF-7: The Ugly Duckling?



Former Santa Fe CF7 #2546 at the Kentucky Railway Museum. New Haven, KY.

The following first appeared on my old (now extinct) website, Modern Diesel Locomotives.

By the late 1960s, the Santa Fe Railroad found itself with a large fleet of over 200 aging F units. These classic "bulldog" locomotives still looked great, but were wearing out. Only a thorough overhaul could make the old units usable again. Unfortunately, however, the F units were also unsuitable for switching duties because of the poor visibility the full width carbody offered. Train crews had to stick there heads out the windows to see the end of the train or locomotive when coupling and uncoupling from cars. It was not a fun job trying to switch with a cab unit. Santa Fe needed a versatile locomotive that could operate on secondary runs and perform switching duties when called upon. With new locomotives costing over $150,000 each, Santa Fe was not anxious to order new units from EMD or GE. But how could the F unit be used for such a task?

The solution was ingenious: Santa Fe's Cleburne Shops would gut the F units and turn them into road switchers! The result was one of the most remarkable transformations in the history of diesel locomotives.


In the fall of 1969, Santa Fe F7 #262C entered the Cleburne Shops (Texas) to begin the CF7 program. (Converted F7) The unit was stripped down to a shell, with the sleek carbody removed and scrapped. A new underframe had to be built since cab units were structurally supported by the carbody, unlike hood units. A new carbody was manufactured and installed, along with countless other changes. Old components were removed, rebuilt, and re-installed. What emerged from the shops in February of 1970 bore little resemblance to an F unit. Indeed, it looked like a GP7 with a short nose.

The rebuild of 262C was considered a success. Over the next 8 years, a total of 233 CF7s were created. Once the program was up and running, it took about 45 days to perform the rebuild. The program ended in 1978 simply because there were no more F units on the Santa Fe roster. Santa Fe's goal had been to rebuild the F units for about 1/3 the cost of a new locomotive. This worked out to a cost of around $60,000 each. In fact, Santa Fe got a real bargain with the CF7s since most units ended up costing about $40,000 each. Santa Fe had much to be proud of.


Major changes to the F7s:

*New road switcher carbody with walkways.

*Remanufactured prime movers, trucks, and traction motors.

*Air conditioning installed.

*New cab

*Refurbished electrical cabinet and wiring.

*A choice of either switching mode or road service mode.

*New control stand.

*Upgraded brakes.


By the Numbers:

Length: About 52 feet

Height: 15 feet

Weight: 249,000 lbs.

Horsepower: 1500

Continuous Tractive Effort: 41,300

Prime Mover: EMD 567B or C 16 cylinders

Traction Motors: D27

Fuel Capacity: 1255 gallons

Lube oil capacity: 200 gallons

Water capacity: 240 gallons

Sand capacity: 19 cubic feet

Speed: 65 mph (Gear Ratio 62:15)


The CF7s provided excellent service for Santa Fe. They performed switching duties, worked on secondary runs and branchlines, and occasionally operated on mainline freight service.

By 1984, however, new locomotive purchases and changing motive power philosophies spelled the end of the CF7 on Santa Fe. But, the CF7s, at least most of them, did not head off to the scrap yard. Instead, they were sold to shortlines during the shortline boom of the 1980s. The CF7 was perfect for light duties on these small railroads. They were also cheap, some were sold for only $20,000.

So, despite being well over 20 years old, the CF7 will probably be seen on the rails for a long time to come on shortline and regional railroads. Fortunately, at least one unit, #2546, has been preserved for future generations. The Kentucky Railway Museum, in New Haven, is the first museum to have a CF7. It is used to pull excursion trains. It is painted in the original Santa Fe yellow-bonnet scheme (repainted in 2001) and has never been renumbered. Hopefully, more units will be donated or sold to museums across the country before the final retirements of the remaining CF7s. These special locomotives have a unique place in history and should survive as a symbol of railroad ingenuity.


KRM's ex-ATSF CF7 #2546 In fresh paint in 2001.


CF7 Locomotives: From Cleburne to Everywhere. Cary F. Poole. The Railroad Press. 1997. 

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