In 1954, following the success of the GP7 road switcher, the first in the General Purpose series, General Motors released the slightly upgraded GP9. Capable of producing 1,750 horsepower, the new model kept the Illinois-based locomotive builder in a place of dominance over all other North American companies producing diesel electrics. Over the course of five years, between the American plant at La Grange, IL, and the Canadian facility at London, ON, 4,257 units were constructed for various railroads throughout North America. Capable of operating in both freight and passenger services, the GP9 helped these railroads to replace their last steam locomotives. Considered one of the best-selling models in General Motors history, many still operate more than fifty years later.
No. 8218 was constructed at the Ontario plant in 1957 as part of a seventy-three-unit order for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Originally assigned No. 8678, it was one of two hundred GP9 units that CP would eventually come to own. As-built, both the long and short hoods of the locomotive were of equal height. The next thirty-one years would see it working across Canada in various types of service.
In 1988, after much heavy use and accumulated mileage, No. 8678 was taken out of service and moved to CP’s Ogden shops in Calgary, AB for a heavy rebuild. Both mechanical and cosmetic details were attended to at this time in an effort to ensure continued reliability, extending the locomotive’s service life rather than replacing it with newer power. The rebuild included chopping the high short hood down and installing more windshields for better crew visibility. It was also renumbered to No. 8218 at this time, with the model designation changed to GP9u to note the unit’s upgraded status.
After the rebuild concluded, No. 8218 was placed back in freight service in both Canada and the United States. This time around, it commonly worked in yards and on branch line locals, with only occasional appearances hauling cars out on the mainline.
During the final years with its original owner, the locomotive became the regular power used on CP’s Track Geometry Train. This special train, consisting of a modified boxcar and two coaches, contained special computerized equipment used to inspect various details regarding the condition of the tracks. Because of its regular assignment in this special and important service, No. 8218 was kept in very good mechanical and cosmetic condition. In fact, during this time, it was a notable occasion to see this locomotive hauling anything besides the Track Geometry consist. Its special duties also made it one of the last GP9 units in active service on the Canadian Pacific.
Retirement for the old diesel finally came in the spring of 2015, with a little over fifty years of service to its original owner. After a few months in storage, it was acquired for use on the NHRR and moved to Pennsylvania, arriving in Bucks County in October of that year.
At first, the locomotive primarily saw use as a yard and shop switcher around New Hope. However, in the early fall of 2017, it emerged from the shop wearing a simplified NHRR paint scheme, a look very similar in design to the one used by the Reading Company on their first-generation diesel power. Fresh and shiny, it debuted on the railroad’s popular Fall Foliage excursions.
No. 8218 is one of the NHRR’s primary excursion locomotives, working together with Consolidation No. 40 and GP30 No. 2198. Its presence on the railroad is quite fitting, as the Reading Company once operated similar GP7 units on the New Hope Branch during the 1950s and early 1960s.