Saturday, January 3, 2009

VIA's Last Cavaliers, January 1990

Nineteen years ago this month, massive cuts to VIA's national network included the overnight trains on the Kingston Sub, the Cavaliers. Since then, the run was reinstated as the Enterprise, then cancelled again. The last runs were on a bitterly cold night that made for some interesting night-time photography. Here's my original account published in the March, 1990 issue of the Bytown Railway Society's Branchline:

The wee hours of January 15, 1990 found my father and I driving to the Kingston VIA station, to witness the final passage of the eastbound and westbound "Cavaliers", the last truly inter-city sleeping car trains in Canada.

We waited in the station, as it was a frosty 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside. While watching the few passengers arrive who were to take the train, we were treated to two freights. The first, an eastbound, roared by with 9526 - 9455 - 9316. Shortly thereafter, a westbound trundled by with an impressive lashup: 9561 -9550 - 9471 - 2319 - 2020.

Soon thereafter, the darkness to the west of the station was pierced by the headlight and ditchlights of an LRC unit. A few minutes of its 0337 scheduled arrival, VIA No 58 pulled in. Its consist included 6914 - 15460 - 5737 - 5707 - 5488 - 3236 - Hudson Bay - Chateau Cadillac - 9639. We noticed the engine crew climb down from the cab and head over to the station - an unusual occurrence. The reason for this became clear as westbound VIA No 59 became visible, creeping towards the station with ditchlights extinguished at 0355. The crews were to exchange trains and return to their originating terminal this night.

Pulled by 6925, No 59 included 15424 - 9616 - Chateau Denonville - Chateau Salaberry - 5560 - 3231 - 5617. Activity was light, as fewer than 15 passengers boarded or got off either train. Nothing happened for the next 20 minutes, with both trains parked on the mainline in front of the station. With the relaxed schedule of the overnight trains, this had been a common occurrence at many of the on-line stops between Montreal and Toronto.

As I snapped a few time exposure photos for posterity, baggage was unloaded into a waiting pickup truck for the last time.

"They don't want us anymore", commented one of the train crew, referring to VIA as he boarded the train. No 58 was the first to go. As he got rolling, we could see one coach full of sleeping passengers. The sleepers and baggage car tagged along behind as 6914's horn sounded for the crossing to the east of the station.

All too soon, the conductor of No 59 walked from the station to his train. The brakes were released and the train quietly accelerated away from the station.

The soft sounds of escaping steam and wheels rolling along snow-covered tracks merged as the markers on the last coach slipped into the night. The Cavaliers were gone.

Running Extra...Lately I've been blogging a lot about VIA. What about the freight side of railroading, you ask? Going through some 1981 train register sheets from Ignace, Ontario on CP Rail revealed lots of grain empties returning from Thunder Bay for reloading. Between 110 and 130 cars, usually with an SD40-2 and a lesser unit, an 8600, 4200, or 4400. Once these trains reached Winnipeg, they were allowed only an SD to take them the rest of the way. And the eastbound loaded grain trains? 13,000 tons' worth. That's a lot of bread.


Anonymous said...

Keep them coming freind, best stuff on the internet IMHO.


Eric said...

Thanks for your kind comment, Mark. I just added a "Click to Join MB-SK Rails" button to my sidebar, for connoisseurs of fine Manitoba-Sask railroading!

jddc.trains said...

Excellent read.


Eric said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jason. The Cavaliers were cancelled during a period of drastic, negative change for VIA which was felt across the country. Let's hope we won't see the likes again.