It is an upgrade of the original GP38, and has more features like with every other EMD "Dash 2" series locomotive has.
There were 2222 GP38-2s built, and many still exist and are still currently in service.
The EMD GP38-2 is the upgraded version of the GP38 which is part of EMD's "Dash 2" line of upgraded diesel locomotives. The GP38 has many features such as equipped radios, and enhanced dynamic brakes, thus initially an improvement to its original roots-blown predecessor: the GP38. It was produced shortly after the SD40-2's introduction, and initial production a few months during the same year in 1972 following the development of the experimental GP40X program (which took several years to develop, but wasn't greenlit until 1977).
Many were purchased by American railroads such as Conrail, and Union Pacific; even though the majority of others were purchased from predecessors of former U.S Class 1 railroads, (Penn Central to Conrail, Chessie System to CSX, etc.). There are also several hood variants. Such as a "high-hood", which was ordered from the Norfolk and Western, and Southern Railroad in the U.S; to which they all soon became part of Norfolk Southern after both railroads merged.
They are one of the most commonly used diesel locomotives throughout North America, and can often be seen switching, or shunting freight cars in yards, delivering local freight, or used as spare units on mainline trains.
GP38 -Pre "Dash 2" upgrade; original version.
GP38-2B - Rebuilt, cabless GP38-2.
GP38-3 - Rebuild from various "GP Series" (General Purpose) units, yet retains the 'GP38' name (aside from the GP38-3 also referring to an upgraded version of the GP38-2.)
GP38-2LW - Canadian cowl version.
GP38AC - AC-alternator version of the GP38, though later GP38 units were rebuilt into what are often classified as the "GP38-2AC"; rare.
GP38-2CNG - NS is currently converting one GP38-2 to run on CNG, and one other unit (a GP38AC) to serve as its tender. Expect debut in early 2014.
Several rebuilt passenger versions exist as well.
The mostly reliable feature for differentiating a GP38-2 from a GP38 is the radiator water-level gauge below the forward radiator on the right-hand side. Save BN's early orders, a latched battery box cover (next to the short hood) is another detail.
- Earlier GP38-2 units were often referred to as the "GP38X" by the Penn Central (and later Conrail) shortly before the Burlington Northern acquired several units from Conrail (these units still survive on BNSF). Though the units don't have any external differences, they have numerous internal differences; meaning that they were wired slightly differently and had several numerous components arranged and placed differently.
- Kennecott Mining Co.'s owned railway used odd "high-mount" cabs for their GP38-2's and GP39-2's for switching or shunting, as well as hauling hoppers loaded with various minerals on steep slopes. These cabs were meant for better visibility for the crews to see over long strings of hoppers. (Several units were eventually reconfigured after being sold to the MKT; Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad during 1980 to 1982; when the railroad purchased numerous fleets of used and rebuilt GP38 and GP38-2 units.)
- UP GP38-2 #580 is one of the several GP38-2's used as a snow plow unit which is equipped with a flanger and special gear for scraping, plowing, and removing snow on the UP's Donner Pass railroad line.
- The Monongahela Railroad shortline owned some of the heaviest GP38 and GP38-2 units ever built, which rode on thicker, frames.
Team Fortress 2; a multiplayer videogame produced by Valve, has a locomotive model resembling a GP38-2.