Abstract

Since the invention of the first electrified, self-propelled rail vehicles by Siemens & Halske in 1879 followed by the pioneering innovations of Frank Sprague starting in 1886, self-propelled, passenger, electric traction rail vehicles have evolved into an amazing variety of use cases, shapes and sizes to the present date. With the amelioration of each generation, the electrical and mechanical engineering disciplines have developed a high degree of cooperation and integration to what has evolved into a seamless systems approach that allows agencies and railroads to enjoy record breaking, yet safe commuter and short-haul passenger railroad service with an array of amenities and technical advancements. The core of these rail vehicles are and were humble looking Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) (also referred to as Multiple Unit (MU)) trains that unceremoniously ply the rails around major cities with hundreds of daily riders on board. These otherwise, non-descript vehicles often have mundane identifications such as “MP-54” or “M-9.” Once in a while, one of these workhorses garners brief notoriety that leads to a full name such as “Metroliner.” But these full names, more often than not, are simply duplicated by analogy much in the same way the term “Watergate” has been overused. The identification of each fleet and the uniqueness / advancements that each have brought to the passenger rail industry since 1904 is the goal of this paper series.

This paper is the first in a short series that will present a simple historic review of the electric, self-propelled railroad vehicles (EMUs) that were or are currently in service in the United States and Canada. The review begins with the transition away from wooden cars when steel cars were necessary by design. These early cars helped to define the EMU (and MU) benchmark and how they differ from other rail rolling stock of the early 1900s such as elevated / subway cars, interurbans, and locomotive-drawn coach cars. Regulation was part of the progress, but ever-increasingly heavy passenger, mail and cargo loads, tunnel designs and general progress of design evolution helped to define this classification of rolling stock that eventually has folded into the United States-defined FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) Tier 1 passenger fleet. This first paper will begin with a focus on EMUs of the New York State region, starting with Long Island and Westchester, New York branch lines. A future, second history paper will feature equipment from the States of Connecticut and New Jersey. The third history paper will feature equipment serving the cities of Philadelphia and Chicago. And the fourth and final history paper will feature other regions of the United States and Canada.

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