Saturday, April 7, 2012

CN's Ecorail

Ecorail was a RoadRailer-like technology developed in Quebec for use on light-density branchlines.  An early version of 'distributed power', the Ecorail control cab and power cubes were designed to be distributed throughout the 'convoy' of trailers and bogies, although this rarely happened and the power cubes were usually marshalled with the locomotive.  The system did not use locomotives nor traditional freight cars. The control cab housed a crew area, generator and equipment controlling the bogies by radio. Initially tested in Quebec in 1993 as Maritime-Ontario-Quebec (MOQ) at a cost of $1.5 million, with eight trailers on bogies, a certificate of fitness application was submitted in October 1989. Here's ECO8003 at Brockville, Ontario in 1996, Rich Stewart photos (above and below):
An application for running rights on CN from Boucherville to Brampton and Detroit, and Chicoutimi to Dorval and Moncton was made in May 1990.  CN opposed MOQ for not divulging financial statements and lack of suitable equipment, in the face of some 'political' pressure.  Public hearings before the National Transportation Agency were scheduled for September 1991.  MOQ became Ecorail and later became a CN subsidiary.  Meanwhile, in May 1991 CP initiated Toronto-Detroit RoadRailer service, the first non-Norfolk Southern RoadRailer.
The Ecorail power units are being inspected at CN's MacMillan Yard in Toronto in September, 1997 (Jim Parker photos)
Another Jim Parker photo. Undated, but perhaps that's a GO Transit coach at right.

CN did not grant Ecorail open access, instead CN initiated its own five-times weekly Drummondville-Toronto service in 1995, operating between CN's Malport Yard in Mississauga and the Transport et Entreposage Bourret terminal in Drummondville. The Ecorail locomotive was apparently scary to ride in, prone to lots of bouncing around.  An agreement with the Canacian Council of Railway Operating Unions representing engineers and conductors was signed. Unsafe, unreliable and generally unsatisfactory, the odd-looking (LRC-like?) Ecorail locomotive was often pulled by a lone GP9.  The associated CN jobs were salaried until a locomotive began pulling the consist, then CN was forced to pay crews based on mileage. CN 4128 drags ECO8003 through the snow at Newtonville, Ontario in March 1996, Gary Zuters photo (above).  John Reay photographed CN 4018 hauling Ecorail at Newtonville in 1995 (below).  Daytime appearances of the usually nocturnal train indicate mechanical reliability problems.
CN 7021, on an Ecorail train with 9429 and 12 trailers, was notably destroyed in a May 6, 1997 derailment at Mi 34.5 of CN's Kingston Sub, near Coteau.  Designed to be environmentally friendly (hence the Eco- prefix), the Ecorail cab unit and power cubes were intended to replace CN's locomotives, with just enough horsepower to pull the trailers.  
A single M420, GP38-2 or GP40-2 could also be found hauling the Ecorail consist.  Rich Stewart photos show CN 3501 eastbound at Brockville in March 24, 1996 (above), and CN 9449 westbound on March 26, 1996 (below):
In 1998, the eastern terminus moved from Drummondville to Val Royal.  Train length rarelly exceeded 25 Bourret Transport trailers bearing ECOZ reporting marks.  To avoid having to turn the power units in Toronto, a circuitous route was followed.  Westbound via the Kingston, York and Halton Subs to Malport via the south service track at Goreway.  Eastbound, trains headed west from Malport on the Halton Sub, south and east on the Halton-Weston connecting track at Halwest, then Weston Sub, Toronto Terminals Railway trackage at Union Station, then east on the Kingston Sub.

CN saw the Ecorail concept as too fragile, not capable of generating enough profit, not operateing as intended, increasingly out-of-place in the rapidly-growing double-stacked container craze.  Jim Mumford photo of Ecorail bogies:
The service ceased around 1997.  Control cabs ECO8003 and ECO8004 and power cubes ECO9004-9008 were quietly scrapped and have since faded into obscurity.  CN RoadRailers took over in 1999.

Many thanks to Jim Parker, Rich Stewart and John Reay for providing their photos, and sharing those of Jim Mumford and Gary Zuters expressly for use in this post.  Their photos serve to document this elusive, ghostly, nocturnal service in photographic form that I was personally unable to.

Running extra...

Just finished listening to Focus on the Good Stuff - The Power of Appreciation by Mike Robbins. A very sensible, un-Oprah-like take on adopting an attitude of gratitude.  I really appreciated what Mike had to say.

As I write this, CN No 305 is dropping a bad order tri-deck into the Cataraqui Spur.  CN No 368 had slowed to assist a little earlier, its consist including 7 former CP bulkhead flat cars in the 317xxx-series now with ATW reporting marks, carrying sheet steel.

Watch for diva songstress Jessica Sanchez to win this season of American Idol.  She may have a run for her money from filet-o-soul Joshua Ledet and the oddly-named Phillip Phillips. Reminds of the even more oddly-named candidate Tarquin Fim Bim Lim Bim Wim Bim Bus-Stop F'Tang F'Tang Ole Biscuit Barrel made famous in Monty Python's Election Night Special sketch, originally from the Live at Drury Lane LP.


Zartok-35 said...

Well this is certanly unique! I guess using the powered bogies on the trailers caused most of the problems.
I'm surprised roadrailers didn't catch on for branchline traffic, thats a good idea!

Eric said...

Hi Elijah,

Thanks for your comments. I think that Ecorail, had it spent a bit longer in the development stage, would have been a good concept for branchline service.

I had seen info in print on Ecorail, but very few prototype in-service photos. It was rewarding to post an inquiry on Yahoogroups, which netted information and photos from John and Rich, that I wouldn't have had any access to otherwise, nor been able to share.


Canadian Train Geek said...

Those are so bizarre! Thanks for sharing those - I had never heard of Ecorail before this.

Anonymous said...

Why not use a light engine like a gmd1 which could be used on branchline service and in the yards?

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Steve and A. Ecorail was indeed an obscure concept that it's good to shine some light on.

It seems we are now seeing a new generation of comparatively lightweight units, many rebuilt with higher emissions standards - green locomotives, that will serve as an 'eco' alternative to traditional power.

Ecorail offered the additional flexibility of easy road-rail intermodalism.

A more robust technology was locomotive-powered Roadrailer, which will be highlighted in my next Trackside Treasure post.


Anonymous said...

The problem here on Montréal is they got caught by highway officiels, the trailers were just too heavy .