Montreal Locomotive Works

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Montreal Locomotive Works builder's plate, 1913

Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) was a Canadian railway locomotive manufacturer which existed under several names from 1883-1985, producing both steam and diesel locomotives. MLW's headquarters and manufacturing facilities were located in Montreal, Quebec.


Early History

The "Locomotive and Machine Company of Montreal Limited" was created in 1883, producing primarily for the growing domestic market - notably the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Intercolonial Railway.

Purchase by ALCO

In 1900, the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) headquartered in Schenectady, New York was formed by the merger of several struggling locomotive manufacturers. ALCO purchased the Locomotive & Machine Company of Montreal in 1904 to tap into the Canadian market with its emerging designs. The Montreal subsidiary was renamed to Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) several years later.

MLW became an exclusive ALCO design shop and grew to acquire a substantial portion of the Canadian steam locomotive market. The period of railway expansion between 1900-1915 was unprecedented in Canada with many new orders for locomotives from the various domestic manufacturers. Restrictive customs tariffs also worked to prevent Canadian railways from purchasing American-built locomotives for use in Canada. Following the nationalization of several bankrupt systems to form the federal Crown corporation Canadian National Railways in 1918, the federal government mandated that CNR purchase locomotives from all manufacturers to discourage domination of the market by any one manufacturer.

The CNR moved throughout the 1920s-1940s to modernize its locomotive fleet by replacing many of the units it received from its former component railways. MLW was a major beneficiary of these purchases. MLW grew substantially during the Second World War when its plant facilities were converted primarily to fabricating war materiel for the Commonwealth/Allied war effort (largely by a female workforce).

Post-war diesel competition

Following the Second World War, MLW and other locomotive builders reverted to building locomotives. MLW continued to benefit from Canada's restrictive trade policies which prevented a flood of U.S. imports, although the switch from steam to diesel-powered locomotive production opened the door to new competitors. In 1949 the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors established a Canadian subsidiary named General Motors Diesel Division (GMD) in London, Ontario. MLW's long-established steam locomotive competitor, the Canadian Locomotive Company (CLC), had also entered into a partnership with Baldwin and produced the designs of Baldwin and its subsidiary Whitcomb. CLC also produced several Fairbanks-Morse designs and was responsible for building General Electric industrial switchers, during a time prior to General Electric entering the road-switcher market in the U.S., a move which placed it in direct competition with its partner ALCO.

Diesel production

In 1949 MLW began to introduce its first ALCO-derived diesel designs in response to GMD, mostly switchers, which were given different names and slight modifications to distinguish between MLW and ALCO versions. In 1951 MLW began to build cab-units for freight-passenger service.

Canadian railways continued to rely heavily upon steam locomotives throughout the 1950s, a time when many U.S. railroads were dieselizing. However, with some isolated exceptions, Canadian railways were completely dieselized by early 1960. The 1960s were therefore the heyday for first generation diesels in Canada - fully 15 years behind the United States, which was by then experiencing a drastic consolidation among locomotive manufacturers.

Through the 1960s, CN (MLW's largest diesel locomotive customer), continued to implement purchase policies drafted by its government owners which spread procurement among the manufacturers, although MLW began to see increased favour as it was located in the politically-important province of Quebec at a time of increased nationalism by Francophone citizens. MLW road switcher designs were also preferred by several railways due to their power which made them useful on heavily graded rail lines. MLW/ALCO designs also benefitted from a partnership with General Electric, whereby extremely robust GE-designed electrical systems were incorporated into their locomotives.

MLW also benefited from Canadian trade policies which were less restrictive than the those of the U.S. in regard to dealing with communist governments and countries throughout the Third World, permitting MLW to expand a growing export business.


MLW's parent, ALCO, experienced several years of declining business during the 1960s following the entry of former-partner General Electric into the road-switcher manufacturing business in the United States. ALCO entered financial difficulty in 1964 and was purchased by Worthington Corporation. MLW was renamed MLW-Worthington and continued much as before.

In 1967, Worthington Corporation merged with the Studebaker corporation to form Studebaker Worthington Inc. with ALCO as a wholly-owned subsidiary. In 1968, several divisions of ALCO became semi-independent subsidiaries and in a 1969 corporate reorganization, Studebaker Worthington closed its Schenectedy locomotive manufacturing facility. The locomotive designs were sold in 1969 to MLW-Worthington and the diesel engine designs were sold in 1970 to White Motor Corporation. The ALCO diesel engine designs went through several changes in ownership as White Motor Corporation formed White Industrial Power which was subsequently purchased by British General Electric Company in 1977. Renamed Alco Power Incorporated by BGEC, the designs were sold to Fairbanks-Morse in 1994.

Throughout the early 1970s MLW-Worthington continued to build second generation designs for Canadian railways. CLC had closed, leaving MLW-Worthington as the primary competitor to the rapidly expanding GMD. During this time MLW-Worthington was at the forefront of a design trend which continues to influence North American railway locomotives to this day - the "Canadian safety cab". First appearing on its M-420 which carried an additional designation of "W" (for wide cab), the safety cab soon became a key requirement on Canadian railways as a result of joint union/railway efforts. This form of cab design was not adopted by the U.S. manufacturers EMD and GE until the late 1980s, but has now become an industry standard.

Purchase by Bombardier

In 1975 the emerging Quebec-based industrial conglomerate Bombardier purchased a majority stake in MLW-Worthington. Under Bombardier, "MLW" continued to provide innovative locomotive design into the early 1980s, and also benefited from its geographic location and political realities, given that it was an important employer in Montreal. During the 1970s, Bombardier began to enter the railway passenger car business with domestic orders for commuter and subway systems. In 1980 MLW became responsible for manufacturing a series of high-speed diesel-powered passenger locomotives for the LRC (light, rapid, comfortable) passenger trains being built for the newly-created federal Crown corporation VIA Rail.

MLW also continued to drive its locomotive research and development by introducing an early version of alternating current traction motor design with its 1984 demonstrator model M-640 for the Canadian Pacific Railway, although no other purchases were made. Although by now fully merged into Bombardier, the MLW plant and design bureau also received a spurt of contracts from government-owned CN for the newly-designed HR (highly reliable) line of freight locomotives which incorporated the Canadian safety cab; namely the 4-axle HR-412 (similar to the M-420) and the full-width carbody 6-axle HR-616. The HR-616 incorporated another unique design with the "Draper Taper", named for a designer at CN, allowing for rear visibility from the cab. These locomotive designs were intended to replace aging MLW and GMD units CN had purchased during the late 1960s and early 1970s, although only a token combined order of 30 units were built. These locomotives were considered a failure as they lasted only as long as the units which they were designed to replace (mid-1990s) and were considered to be mechanically and electrically unreliable, a common complaint with several ALCO/MLW designs.

In a 1985 corporate reorganization, Bombardier removed itself from manufacturing locomotives and concentrated on producing passenger train rolling stock, as well as aircraft (following the 1986 acquisition of the federal government Crown corporation Canadair), in addition to its recreational products. The dormant MLW plant was sold to General Electric in 1988 and ironically was used by GE during a late 1980s programme of rebuilding some of its 1960s-era road switchers - the locomotives which had initially driven ALCO out of the locomotive business. GE closed the MLW manufacturing plant in 1993.

Bombardier has since returned to the locomotive manufacturing business, albeit using largely European or European-influenced passenger locomotive designs that retain none of the MLW heritage.

See also

Template:MLW diesels


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