Deconstructing Technology

Cabbages on Rails


The EMD F40PH is in use with several train operators. It’s a capable train for passenger service even though it is somewhat outdated now, despite production ending in the early 1990s, due to the more efficient designs coming from GE and others over the last decade. Amtrak had several F40PH locomotives when they began converting over to the new GE Genesis-series locomotives. Several of the F40PH’s in their possession had mechanical or other issues that severely limited what Amtrak could get for them on the used market. Rather than sell them, they removed the traction motors and prime movers and installed a sliding door on the side. Now, they could still be used as control cars, but carrying luggage or cargo rather than powering the train. Officially called Non-Power Control Units (NPCUs), they were given a 90-series number indicating a rail car. For example, the NPCU above would have been locomotive 219, but is now NPCU 90219.

Fittingly, they are referred to as Cabbages — a portmanteau of “cab” and “baggage”.

[Image Credit: Charles Fulton]

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    This calls for a reference to slugs my favorite examploe of which was the KCS F unit with diesels in the b unit and the A unit converted to a slug with motors and controls but no diesel.

    • lcunnin

      I drive by the Inman yard in Atlanta when taking the scenic way home from work and on most days can see one or more yard slug at work, rolling along behind the mother unit. Clever little units.

  • So basically it is a caboose now.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      With controls to the rest of the train.

      • Yeah. A caboose was basically to house crew and allow them to watch the train from the rear. It also had lighting to indicate the end of train.

        These can be at the front or rear and the engineer can control the power unit from them. Some lines need an engine on one end and a control car or another engine on the other end because they can't just turn the train around. If you only need the tractive power of one engine then it's more cost effective to put a control car on the opposite end.