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Locomotive Descriptions and Phases - EMD GP38-2

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CN GP38-2 #4908, a Phase 2a1 GP38-2 originally built as LIRR #274, seen in 2022.

The GP38-2 was introduced by EMD in 1972 as a replacement for the GP38. It retained the same 2,000 horsepower 645-series engine but received a host of mechanical and electrical upgrades geared at improving reliability and ease of maintenance, the most substantial of which was the introduction of modular electronic components (which had been tested on the DDA40X starting in 1969). The use of an alternator in place of a DC generator, previously standard on higher-horsepower models but optional on the GP38, was made standard on the GP38-2. Production continued until the end of 1986, at which point no direct replacement model was introduced.

Externally, the GP38-2 kept the same general appearance as the GP38, with four axles, two 48" radiator fans and two exhaust stacks. The paper air filter housing created a raised box on the hood roofline ahead of the exhaust stacks. Early in GP38-2 production, the radiator intakes were shortened and the fans moved closer together.

Thanks to their exceptional reliability and versatility, the vast majority of GP38-2's have remained in service more than 50 years after the model first entered production, and hundreds of GP35's, GP38's, GP40's and GP50's have been rebuilt to GP38-2 or GP38-3 specifications.

Transition: From late GP38 to early GP38-2

While all the overall dimensions and proportions were retained with the start of the Dash-2 series, many small detail changes were made to the entire locomotive. As a result, almost every part of the cab and hood was changed in some way. The following external changes were made with the introduction of the Dash-2 series:

Cab and cab sub-base


Underframe and walkway

Phases - GP38-2

The GP38-2 underwent a similar evolution to the GP40-2 and SD40-2. I initially based these phases on SD40-2 phases by Scott Chatfield, with details added based on my own observations. I added a few more sub-phases after refining the phases for the GP40-2, which underwent essentially the same detail evolution but lacked all the Phase 1c variations.

As with most models produced concurrently by EMD in the US and GMD in Canada, the phase details are not entirely the same between the two builders, so these phases do not apply to GMD GP38-2 production.

Phase 1a 1b1 1b2 1c1 1c2 1c3 2a1 2a2 2b1 2b2 2c1 2c2 2d 3a 3b
Radiator intakes Square wire grid, 2 sections Square wire grid, single shorter section Corrugated; relocated lift ring and flag holder aft of intakes
Radiator fans Flat-top radiator fans; curved grabiron behind fans Fans closer together Angled grabiron behind fans (late Phase 2b1) Q-type radiator fans
Inertial air intakes   Ridge added along top Ridge added along bottom
Cab side panel 11 rivets along top/bottom 13 rivets along top/bottom Welded
Battery box covers Bolted, small louvres Larger louvres Horizontal rib added (bolted version only) Latched, lift-off tabs
Pilots Straight upper end plate corners, straight coupler cut levers Notched upper end plate corners, raised coupler cut levers Revised upper pilot/drop step area; front anticlimber/sill extension added (except units with high short hood)
ECAFBElectrical cabinet air filter box, located on the left behind the cab
Separated from cab Flush with cab (except early SOU units)
End handrails Flush with pilots, inward-facing outer stanchion supports Wrap around pilots slightly, outward-facing outer stanchion supports
Phase 1a 1b1 1b2 1c1 1c2 1c3 2a1 2a2 2b1 2b2 2c1 2c2 2d 3a 3b
Stairwell side sheet Full-height angled sheet Handrail notch extending from walkway to second-lowest step, sharper angle creating narrower top step (appeared on SOU Phase 1c3 units)
Cab sub-base doors Hinged Lift-off tabs
Underframe   Revised fuel tank vent pipe Revised air reservoir piping on conductor's side (appeared on some late Phase 2a2 units)
Short hood 81" length 88" length; circular vent on right side (except units with high short hood) Bolted hatch added on top
Hand brake Ratchet Wheel (many units retained ratchet)
Dynamic brakes Batten strip at rear of dynamic brake housing No batten strip Rear edge of dynamic brake housing moved rearward
Exhaust Raised oblong stacks Flush circular openings
Frame side sill Narrow over air reservoirs, wide at ends Narrow over entire length
Blower duct Flat, wide, two ribs Angled "laundry chute"
Phase 1a 1b1 1b2 1c1 1c2 1c3 2a1 2a2 2b1 2b2 2c1 2c2 2d 3a 3b

Other details


Foster, Gerald. (1996). A Field Guide to Trains. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Unofficial EMD Homepage. (2001). GP38-2 Order Numbers. Retrieved December 2009 from