The GE 44-ton switcher is a 4-axle diesel-electric locomotive built by General Electric between 1940 and 1956. It was designed for industrial and light switching duties, often replacing steam locomotives that had previously been assigned these chores. This locomotive's specific 44-short ton weight was directly related to one of the efficiencies the new diesel locomotives offered compared to their steam counterparts: reduced labour intensity. In the 1940s, the steam to diesel transition was in its infancy in North America, and railroad unions were trying to protect the locomotive fireman jobs that were redundant with diesel units. One measure taken to this end was the 1937 so-called "90,000 Pound Rule" : a stipulation that locomotives weighing 90,000 pounds (41,000 kg) – 45 short tons – or more required a fireman in addition to an engineer on common carrier railroads. Industrial and military railroads had no such stipulation. The 44-ton locomotive was born to skirt this requirement. Other manufacturers also built 44-ton switchers of center-cab configuration. 276 examples of this locomotive were built for U. S. railroads and industrial concerns, four were exported to Australia in 1944, 10 were exported to Canada, 10 were exported to Cuba, one was exported to the Dominican Republic, five were exported to France, three were exported to India, six were exported to Mexico, five were exported to Saudi Arabia, one was exported to Sweden, two were exported to Trinidad, 10 were exported to Uruguay, and 57 were built for the U. S. Military. Many remain, in service and in museums.
The locomotives were available with a choice of prime movers. Most were built with a pair of Caterpillar's D17000 V8 180 horsepower (134 kW) engines, but three other engines types were used. Nine were built with a pair of Hercules DFXD engines, and were sold to Chattanooga Traction (2) and Missouri Pacific Railroad and its subsidiaries (7). Ten were built with a pair of the slightly more powerful Buda 6DH1742, rated at 200 horsepower (150 kW) each. The last four locomotives built had Caterpillar D342 engines, and were sold to Canadian National Railways (3) and the Dansville and Mount Morris Railroad (1).
During the Second World War GE produced a "Drop Cab" variant of the 44-ton locomotives for the US Armed Forces. These appeared similar to the standard 44-ton but had a lower cab for European clearances, and large boxes next to the cab, on the front right, and back left running boards, housing the air compressors (housed under the cab on standard versions). Most of these military variants were ballasted to an actual weight of 45 tons. A total of 91 Military 45-ton Drop Cabs were built with 31 of those sold to the Indian Railways. Additional narrow gauge drop cabs were built to a 47-ton rating for the military and export.
Arcade and Attica Railroad in Arcade, NY shifted all operations to diesel in 1941 with the purchase of 44ton No110. Six years later a wreck forced them to send the engine back to Erie for repairs. At that time they purchased a second engine (ARA No 111) and scrapped their last remaining backup steam engine. ARA110 today is a static display while ARA111 remains operational for freight duties, playing second string to 65-ton ARA 112.
The Western Railway Museum near Suisun, CA. is the home of Sacramento Northern 146, Visalia Electric 502 and Salt Lake, Garfield and Western (Saltair) DS-2. The 502 is operational. The 146 is now undergoing restoration, Saltair DS-2 is on display and may be restored later.
The Charlotte Southern in Charlotte, MI. operates the last 44 ton GE ever built. Ex-Danville & Mount Morris #1. List in the Diesel Spotters Guide (Kalmbach Publishing).
The Toledo, Lake Erie, and Western owns one Whitcomb 44-tonner, #1, Ex-Dundee Cement 951901, and née-Ann Arbor Railroad #1. Currently, it is sitting in its yard in Grand Rapids, Ohio, along with a Baldwin 0-6-0 steam locomotive. Both are currently being restored.
The Southern Railroad of New Jersey currently rosters two 44-tonners. One, the former New York Ontario & Western Railway 105 has been restored to its original paint scheme.
The Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania, an excursion line with historic equipment, acquired former Pennsylvania Railroad 44-tonner 9331 in 1966 after leasing it from the PRR since 1961. It remains on the railroad but is currently considered retired after being replaced by an SW8 acquired in 2009. In 2013, 9331 was donated to the Walkersville Southern Railroad.
The Walkersville Southern Railroad in Maryland has a privately owned ex-Pennsylvania Railroad 44-tonner, 9339, acquired from the South Carolina Railroad Museum in 2011 and owns an ex-PRR 44-Tonner 9331, acquired form Strasburg Railroad in 2013.