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At the end of the 1970s, Electro-Motive sought a successor to its landmark SD40-2 locomotive and for its 645-series power plant. That effort would spawn Electro-Motive’s “60-series” diesel locomotives and EMD’s evolutionary 710-series engine. But tucked between the classic SD40-2 and the SD60 was a transitional model that would take the 645-series power plant to its highest levels of output and preview design features of the 60-series. That locomotive was the SD50.
In 1980, the first SD50s appeared with the delivery of six pre-production units for Norfolk & Western. Deliveries of regular production versions of the SD50 began in the spring of 1981, and from 1981 through 1985 421 standard SD50s would be constructed using EMD’s traditional “Spartan” cab design. To improve the appeal of the SD50 during its production run, EMD had, in late 1984, boosted the horsepower rating of the model from 3,500 to 3,600 horsepower and had introduced improved alternators and traction motors. As such, the SD50 matched, with a 16-cylinder power plant, the potency once reserved for EMD’s 645-series 20-cylinder SD45.