Twenty-seven years. Built in 1992, EMD F59PH (now F59PHR) #861 can still be seen powering Metrolink commuter trains around Southern California for several years to come given its status as one of seven overhauled units. This view is rather rare, however, as 861 is seen leading a special train towards Los Angeles and Lancaster, returning from the Auto Club 400 race in Fontana, passing through Claremont. Normally, westbound trains travel with the cab car in the lead, so it was a treat to be able to catch the locomotive leading in afternoon light.
861 has an interesting history. Having been with Metrolink since the beginning of operations, it has seen the agency evolve over nearly 27 years. In early 2000, 861 struck a loaded truck in Glendale, CA which utterly destroyed the cab of the locomotive and required it to be sent for extensive repairs and rebuilding. In the late 2000s, it was one of the first F59PHs to have Metrolink’s new “ribbon” paint scheme applied. However, it was soon chosen to be one of seven F59PHs to be sent to MotivePower for overhaul, reclassifying it as an F59PHR. Upon return from overhaul, it was never fully painted into the “ribbon” paint scheme, instead being kept in what has come to be called the “Metroblank” scheme – all white with simple teal Metrolink lettering on the side. This rather bland look is worn by several of Metrolink’s locomotives that, for whatever reason, were kept in this transition scheme. 861 has certainly seen it all, and it stands to be one of the last F59s in service in the Southern California region. As unoverhauled F59PHs and F59PHIs are gradually being retired from Metrolink service as new EMD F125s come online, the seven F59PHRs should be sticking around for a few more years. But with the last of Amtrak’s Surfliner F59PHIs now in the hands of Metra, 861 and its sister units will come to be the final remaining F59s in the region – quite an accomplishment given that Southern California was dominated by F59s for over two decades.
Some of the best passenger locomotives that EMD ever made (aside from the F40PH). With all Amtrak F59s gone from the Surfline, the only place that they can be seen is with Metrolink, COASTER, and Caltrans (Amtrak California).