History of the MRS-1 units

The reason for their existence

When the cold war was heating up in 1950, due to part in the Korean conflict, the Pentagon quickly issued contracts for a whole new generation of military hardware. Included was a diesel locomotive of a type never before built. Some of its unusual specifications were a low and narrow profile to meet height and width restrictions found on foreign railroads; adjustable trucks for multigauge operations including the Russian 60" gauge; special coupler pockets to interchange domestic and foreign couplers; heaters for use in extreme cold; and a 1600 HP prime mover (diesel engine). They were build with Europe and the U.S.S.R. specifically in mind. Should WWIII develop, the diesels would be available for use on western and eastern European standard gauge railroads. And, should the occasion arise, the wide gauge tracks of the Russian railroads would be no barrier. The locomotives could have their trucks and wheel sets easily converted to the 60-inch gauge at a depot maintenance shop.

Who did the job?

The true origins of the MRS design concept lie not with EMD, but with several members of the US Army Transportation Corps (USATC)... who were either ALCo or GE employees before WWII and who became senior officers with the Military Railway Service's operations in Iran and Europe. They were the ones who came up with the idea of an updated multi-gauge version of the so-called RSD1.
All of the major American builders were offered development contracts to produce a fixed quantity of locomotives, with the understanding that one of the builders would be selected to build the remaining units planned for procurement. Only ALCo-GE and EMD accepted the offer.

The Electro-Motive division (EMD) of the General Motors Corporation at La Grange, Illinois, the largest producer of diesel electric locomotives, was awarded a design and production contract to build the MRS-1. A supply contract for spare parts was also given; however, it was never filled by EMD. The number of locomotives to be build is unknown, but it was not unusual for the Army to issue an open-end contract. From what information is available, it seems the military (see above) and EMD personnel assigned to the project did not get along. It probably started over the engine. EMD had built a number of different size prime movers, but not a 1600 HP. It did manufacture a 1500 horsepower for its GP7 production model. Only under extreme pressure did EMD agree to change the fuel injection settings on this engine so as to produce the extra horsepower required by the military.

ALCo-GE, Schenectady, New York, a competitor, presented its version at the same time the EMD version was to be released from La Grange. A major labor dispute at ALCo disrupted the production schedule, which was subsequently thrown back into limbo as a result of a bitter feud between top ALCo and GE executives.

The former ALCo and GE men who were now with USATC were the ones who convinced the Transportation Corps'equipment evaluation and acceptance board that the trial units from EMD were inferior to the units built at Schenectady. As a result, the final contract was offered to ALCo-GE... and GE eventually accepted it on a sole contractor basis, making arrangements with ALCo to handle actual construction. Eighty-three ALCo-GE MRS-1's were produced the following year. So although these 83 units were built at ALCo's main works in Schenectady, NY, the sole builder of record is the General Electric Company. ALCo handled the project as a GE subcontractor, and, with the exception of their ALCo Model 244 Diesel prime movers, were never under any ALCo warranty or service obligation... as many post-military owner/operators sadly discovered after acquiring these units through government surplus sales.

What's in a name...

It should be mentioned that the designation "MRS" was never an official ALCo, GE or EMD model designator. The official ALCo nomenclature was E1670, short for "Specification E1670". GE had its own specification or design number, as did EMD. The "MRS" designator initially came from name of the US Army Transportation Corps' Military Railway Service, and was later adopted, erroneously, as "absolute, cast-in-stone fact" by the original editor of one prominent US railfan magazine who's long been known for wanting to give every North American loco a "standard" model identification. Unfortunately for true historians, the average fan took his mistake and made it Gospel (as I did). All this was told me before...

BUT (there always is a 'but'), recently, I got a copy of the front page of the original Operating Manual by EMD (From the Ft. Eustis Museum library), and what is printed clearly on the front...
'MRS' is a Military Road Switcher (for the Military Railway Service) ;-)

The result

The 13 EMD MRS-1's produced, carrying serials 15873-15889, had a 1600hp 16-V-567B engine with 60:17 gearing, and were numbered from 1808 to 1820. They were delivered to the army between march and june 1952, painted in the Army's "Theatre of Operations" color scheme: the entire exterior was a gloss jet black. Numbering and lettering, plus the Transportation Corps insignia on the side of the cab, were in contrasting white.

The end?

In the early 70s, Pentagon planners came to the conclusion that future wars would not need the takeover of the rail system to assure an adequate supply system. Other modes of transportation had been prefected including sophisticated cargo aircraft that could penetrate any weather and accomplish pinpoint supply drops without ever having seen their target. With that point firmly agreed upon, the 83 ALCo and 13 EMD MRS-1 units were declared unnecessary. So what to do with about 100 diesels from 1952-53 at a cost of almost $500.000 a piece? From an age standpoint, they could justifiably be junked, yet from an operation standpoint, the bulk of them had never been used for more than a total of three weeks. In other words, the almost 20 year old diesels were brandnew!

So out of the storage yards they came, some of them at least, and they were assigned to the domestic roster of diesels used at various military bases and defense installations around the country, especially where large ammounts of horsepower were required.

The NAVY adventure

In 1970, the US Navy Ammunition Depot at Hawthorne, Nevada requested new power to replace aging ALCo S2 and EMD NW2 switchers. The depot received five MRS-1 units (1814-1818). They were repainted bright yellow, and began a month-long testing period. The result? Well, other bases may have been able to operate the creatures, but Hawthorne found them unsuitable. The horsepower was fine, but the low cab, a prerequisite if the diesels were to operate overseas, prevented the engineer from seeing the switchmen and an additional man had to be assigned to relay signals. The Depot asked for another type of diesel to replace the ALCos, and asked the Army to take the MRS-1 back. Except, the Army didn't want them back. So, the ALCo and EMD switchers were uncapped and cranced up and the EMD MRS-1s were capped and stored. What was good for Vandenberg (where one unit had been working very well for many years) was not necessarily good for Hawthorne.

A new job in Alaska

Fortunately, the MRS-1s have found employment elsewere. 13 ALCo's (12 for action, one for parts), and 5 EMDs (1814-1818, former Navy units) have been sent to the Alaska RR where they perform a variety of local jobs, relieving the GP7s for road work.
Many others worked at various military installations around the country, a large contigent were stored and, at least one has been used as a target for fighter-bombers at a Western United States bombing range, making it the most expensive target the fly-boys have ever strafed in practice.