VIA F40PH-2D Masterclass

VIA F40PH-2D Masterclass

by Manny Jacob, Mike McGrattan and Dan Garcia


6427 and 6432 await their respective departures at Corwall in May, 1997. Photo by Manny Jacob

In the early 1980s VIA Rail Canada found itself in need of a modern locomotive. To meet this need VIA purchased 59 brand new F40PH-2D locomotives, built between November 1986 and July 1989 by GMDD in London, Ontario. These state of the art locomotives represented VIA’s first new motive power purchase for use outside the Corridor. In late 1986, these shiny new locomotives started to appear on the point of numerous trains across the country replacing the then 30+ year old FP7A, FP9A and FPA-4 units. Today, the F40PH-2D is synonymous with VIA's operations across Canada.



VIA Rail Canada F40PH-2D 6437 in the as delivered: paint scheme. Photo Manny Jacob Collection

The F40PH-2D

The VIA F40PH-2D has a turbocharged EMD 16-cylinder 645 E3, two-stroke, water-cooled diesel engine (prime mover) which develops about 3,000 hp (2.2 MW) at 893 RPM. While a standard F40PH has a gear ratio of 57:20, and was originally capable of speeds up to 110 MPH (177 km/h), the VIA F40PH-2D is geared at a lower 58:19 ratio and thus is limited to 90mph (145 km/h) or 95mph (153 km/h) in service.

For passenger service all F40PH-2D locomotives have an extra electrical alternator, known as the Head End Power (HEP) alternator. On the VIA units, the HEP alternator generates up to 500kW of three-phase AC power at 480V for lighting, heating and air-conditioning the train. As built, F40PHs (including the F40PH-2D) have their HEP alternators driven by the prime mover, thus leading to their colourful nickname “Thunder Wagons”. In "RUN" mode, the HEP alternator needs to output a constant frequency so the prime mover must spin at a constant 893 RPM while supplying HEP, regardless of the actual power required to move the train at that moment. They also had have "STANDBY" mode which allowed for a lower RPM (720 RPM) and a correspondingly lower fuel usage rate, but would use the main traction alternator to provide the HEP - and thus was only possible to be used when the locos were stationary.

It should also be noted that the HEP alternator need not be engaged, meaning that an F40PH can also be used as a glorified, high-speed GP40-2. In VIA's case, several units were even leased out and used as such!

The 59 F40PH-2Ds were delivered in three batches. The initial 20 locomotives were classed GPA-30a, and were built between November 1986 and January 1987. 10 more units would follow later in 1987, classed GPA-30b. A final 29 examples were delivered between April and July 1989 and were classed GPA-30c. In 2006, capital funding allowed VIA Rail Canada to completely overhaul and rebuild its F40PH-2D fleet. The rebuilds feature a complete rewiring; new computerized control systems; rebuilt prime movers certified for EPA Tier-0+ regulations; and a separate smaller Caterpillar diesel engine and new HEP alternator located in an extended carbody. The rebuilt units are classified GPA-30H. Fresh from their rebuilds, 53 of the original 59 F40PH-2Ds continue today to lead many of VIA's trains today. Before rebuilding, the VIA Rail F40PH-2D was very similar in appearance to Amtrak's F40PH. However, there are noticeable differences. Compare the photos below.

F40PH-2D Spotting Features


F40PH-2D spotting features. Photo by Manny Jacob

  1. Ditch lights mounted beneath the anti-climber from the factory
  2. CN passenger-style pilot
  3. No MARS light above the cab windshields
  4. Winterization hatch above the first radiator fan closest to the cab
  5. Twin-bus HEP receptacles
  6. Desktop controls (thus the "D" in its name)
  7. EMD Super-series control systems (similar to the 50 and 60 series produced by EMD)
  8. Centre-mounted fuel tank
  9. Canadian 3-lens class lights above cab windows
  10. Post 1980 “Quiet” package featuring 48” Q-fans and later exhaust manifold
  11. Different side door location.
  12. Nathan Air Chime K3L horn mounted in front of dynamic brake fan

Comparison photo of Amtrak F40 232 in Chicago, Illinois on October 7,1979. Photo courtesy of Kaluza-Mueller collection


VIA Rail F40PH-2D 6405 on the point of the Canadian in Calgary in 1987. The unit does not have the cab air conditioner that was later installed on these units. Note the F9B unit assisting in the blue and yellow scheme as well as the ex CN lightweight smoothside coach. Photo by Brian Schuff.

Introduction and Roll Out

The first F40PH-2Ds were assigned to the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor for testing and general service in late 1986. The units were almost immediately well liked by their operating crews and maintenance teams. Shortly thereafter, the F40PH-2Ds started to appear on the western trains including on the point of the world famous Canadian.

Watch a F40PH-2D lead the last Canadian on CP rails:

Something new, something old.

F40PH-2Ds came equipped with HEP as opposed to steam generators. This resulted in some rather unique consists of modern power ahead of aging steam generator units (SGUs), F9Bs, FPB-4s and various steam-heated passenger cars. F40s were frequently found lashed up with FP9As, FPA4s, SGUs, other F40s and even LRCs at the head end of almost any train! They would also frequently be found operating with VIA's P42s once they arrived in 2001.

Brand new F40PH-2D 6455 leads a steam-heated train through Field BC in December 1989.

Maintenance assignment bases

According to the Canadian Trackside Guide, in the mid to late 1990s the F40PH-2Ds were assigned for maintenance and operations as follows:

  • 6400-28 Quebec City – Windsor corridor
  • 6429-36 Eastern Canada (later allowed to roam the corridor)
  • 6437-58 Western Canada

While for many years there had been no evidence of VIA returning to a regional assignment base for specific blocks of F40PH-2Ds, post-rebuild this seems to be changing with some of the current modifications being done to the units.

Lease to CP Rail

In 1994-95, several F40PH-2Ds were leased to power-short CP Rail for use in freight service between Toronto and Montreal. This was likely the only time VIA F40PH-2Ds ever turned a wheel on the Winchester and Belleville subdivisions and some units even travelled into southern Ontario. Units observed included 6438, 6439 and 6448-58 at various times.

Watch VIA F40s lead CP freight trains in 1994-95.

Lease to AMT

Several VIA F40PH-2Ds were leaded to Montréal's commuter service AMT (Agence Métropolitaine de Transport) from the late 1980s through to the late 2000s. These had their "Canada" markings and flags stripped off. Some examples included 6402, 6453, 6455 and 6457. Here is 6455 once again.


F40PH-2D 6455 in AMT service. Photographer and date unknown. Manny Jacob Collection

Paint schemes

All 59 units carried the original paint scheme shown here from 1986 until 1998. At that time, the revised "Canada" scheme was born and started to be applied to the F40PH-2Ds and passenger cars.


F40PH-2D 6452. This was the last unit to wear the original paint scheme. Photo by Manny Jacob.


VIA 6416 in the VIA "Canada" scheme. Photo by Manny Jacob

Advertising wraps

VIA began working with the corporate community by selling advertising space on their F40PH-2Ds in 1990. Unit 6400 was decorated in a Diet Pepsi wrap and was showcased across the country for several weeks until the promotion was complete. In 1997 VIA followed up with another unit decorated for Home Hardware. The Home Hardware unit remained in that unique yellow livery for many years. Since then other F40PH-2D’s have carried a variety of advertising wraps at various times for numerous companies such as, Telus, Kool-Aid, CBC and others.

Below are just a few examples. For a complete history showing photos of every single wrap unit click here.


VIA F40PH-2D in Pepsi wrap. Photo by Mark Forseille


VIA F40PH-2D in Home Hardware wrap. Photo by Manny Jacob


VIA F40PH-2D in Kool Aid wrap. Photo Manny Jacob collection


VIA F40PH-2D in Spiderman wrap. Photo Manny Jacob collection


VIA F40PH-2D in Coors wrap. Photo by Manny Jacob

Renaissance Rebuilds


VIA F40PH-2D 6405 Ren rebuild. Photo by Manny Jacob

From 2006-12, the 54 remaining units (not including 6422, 23, 30, 47 and 50 that had been retired previously) were rebuilt into an attractive new "Green Choice" paint scheme to match the appearance of the GE-built P42DCs and Renaissance passenger cars purchased secondhand from the United Kingdom in 2001. The rebuild was a comprehensive program, featuring freshly overhauled and upgraded prime movers, a complete rewiring and aftermarket, computerized control systems. These units (except 6400, partially rebuilt in 2006 but scrapped following an accident in 2010) also received a prominent extension on the rear porch to house a new, separate HEP engine and alternator. Amongst other improvements, the separate HEP package allows for fuel savings, as the prime mover no longer is required to run at full speed. The Renaissance Rebuild project, completed with the release of 6453 in November 2012, was said to extend the lives of the F40PH-2Ds for another 15-20 years.

Spotting features for these units include:

  • Extended carbody at the rear of the locomotive, housing a new Caterpillar C18 HEP engine and alternator
  • Automatic shut-down of the prime mover on layovers
  • Flashing beacon on roof of cab, indicating that the auto shut-down system is active
  • Quieter idle sound, as the prime mover no longer needs to run at full speed to provide HEP
  • VIA "Renaissance" scheme
  • HID spotlight below the original headlight cluster
  • Newly mandated emergency horns, located at the front corners of the cab (in addition to the original horn)
  • Air conditioning unit on the cab
  • Class lights removed
  • High-mounted MU plug on nose and back end of loco removed

Modelling options

The VIA Rail F40PH-2 is a very unique locomotive in many respects and has frustrated detail-oriented modellers since its initial appearance on the prototype in late 1986. While several hearty souls have attempted kitbashes through the years (just a few examples of these efforts can be found on, with numerous commercial detail parts to match, these projects were very challenging to complete. Several manufacturers produced plastic models of the Amtrak F40 with VIA paint jobs. The Rapido HO scale F40PH-2D finally addresses this gaping hole that has existed in the Canadian quality modelling scene for nearly 30 years!

There were several detail changes that occured on these units over the years. We have included many of these parts as optional details that are packaged with our model.

Copyright © 2023 Rapido Train, Inc. All rights reserved.