Saturday, April 19, 2014

VIA's Calgary-Edmonton RDCs, Part 1

Often referred to as the 'Death Train', CP's perilous Calgary-Edmonton passenger service was a quick dash at speeds reaching 90 mph. For more than 94 years, spanning August 1891-September 1985, Canadian Pacific and after 1978 VIA, provided Calgary-Edmonton intercity passenger service between Alberta's two largest cities. By 1936, CP used Jubilee 4-4-4's to haul Chinook trains in 5 hours 5 minutes, making all stops. CP Dayliners 9054-9055 were exhibited in Calgary and in service on August 30, 1954, on the Stampeder and Eskimo (named for the cities' Canadian Football League teams). The ultra-modern Dayliners (at the time) reduced travel time to 3 hours 30 minutes, and in 1969 there were three trains per day each way. A busy rail corridor passing through agricultural land and oil fields, and criss-crossed by many road crossings, CP's Red Deer Sub runs north out of Calgary 93 miles to Red Deer, continuing the final 95 miles as CP's Leduc Sub from Red Deer to South Edmonton (though referred to as Edmonton in this and subsequent posts).
By the time I rode the Budd car on August 31, 1981, the run terminated in South Edmonton, as CP's passenger trains originally had, at Strathcona station. CP's downtown Edmonton station was reached via the High Level Bridge across the north Saskatchewan River until 1972, with the downtown station out of use by 1977. VIA RDC-1 6129 is on the way north (above), having stopped at Red Deer (above). While passengers availed themselves of refreshments from the vending machines, I did some dumpster diving behind the CP station, finding a copy of the clearance for the southbound from the previous evening (top).  The round trip fare? The princely sum of $22.00!

My trip account we work our way north, I note the grain elevators in each town: A=Alberta Wheat Pool, C=Cargill, D=Federal, E=Elephant, F=Unifeed, H=Parrish & Heimbecker, U=United Grain Growers, noted along with other items of note including many CP Geeps!

Boarding VIA No 195 at 0820 from Calgary's station (I noted it was nice, but a bit small), I was in seat 20 on the east side. The westbound Canadian is still in the station.
Red Deer Sub:
Calgary 0850
Mi 8 Beddington 0905
Balzac AA
Mi 19 Airdrie CAAU 0918 - string of grain cars
Mi 29 Crossfield EAAAA 0927 - large sulphur plant with tank cars and Sultran bathtub gons
Carstairs AAUUPF Mountain View - seed cleaning plant
Mi 46 Didsbury AAUU 0945
Mi 56 Olds AAPCUUHF 0956 - running 25 minutes late, coyote running away from train
Mi 67 Bowden AUP 1006 - large Shell refinery 1 mile north
Mi 75 Innisfail AAAPUUUCE 1018 - met southbound RDC-1 6124 at 1015
Mi 84 Penhold UU 1025
Mi 93 Red Deer AAECU 1036 - arrived 30 minutes late, departed 22 minutes late. CP 8679, 8483, 8532, 8822, 8543. Note the well-known notation in VIA's April 26, 1981 timetable: "Vending machines available at Red Deer Station dispensing soft drinks, soup, tea, coffee, hot chocolate and candy."
Leduc Sub:
Red Deer 1044 - passed under a railway bridge at 1055 [CN's Brazeau Sub, thanks Ben!], hotbox detector at 1101
Mi 18 Lacombe CEAAP 1107 - northbound 2-unit wayfreight passed. CP 8487
Mi 35 Ponoka AAUPF 1121
Hobbema AAUU - Cree Tribal Administration building
Mi 57 Wetaskiwin AAAUCF 1139 - running 17 minutes late. CP 8811
Mi 67 Millet AD - passed herds of Holsteins
Mi 79 Leduc P 1200 - hit 2 track torpedoes and stopped briefly at Mi 77.7
Mi 84 Nisku 1206 - lots of oil industries. CP 8649
Mi 90 Ellerslie A
Mi 97 South Edmonton E 1223 - Strathcona station built 1907 arrived 23 minutes late.

My southbound trip aboard VIA No 196 was 3 minutes late leaving at 1728, I was in seat 42 on the west side. At the time of boarding, I regettably realized that I had lost my return ticket! Panic set in! I notified the conductor. I offered him money. I think he perceived this as a bribe instead of an offer to pay onboard for my passage. He looked me straight in the eye and said the following, "This is my train. If I want to carry ya for f***ing nothing, I'll carry ya for f***ing nothing!!" Later, when he came down the aisle to lift the tickets, he looked at me with a "Oh, it's that guy!" look and went on to the next passenger.

We met a 2-unit freight south of Ponoka CP 5622-5617, and a scrap metal pickup train was in the siding at Lacombe. We departed Red Deer 15 minutes late at 1926. We met the northbound RDC just south of Red Deer at Tuttle. We halted due to mechanical problems at Penhold, now running 30 minutes late. Passing the large Johns-Mansville plant north of Innisfail, blackbirds, heron and four prairie chickens were flushed out by our Dayliner. No wonder the RDC's on this line were equipped with grated windows for the engineer! Late trains get later. Though only one hour late at Didsbury, Calgary city lights were visible at 2142, with arrival 1 hour 9 minutes late at 2159. Fortunately, staying at the Palliser Hotel, the late arrival meant I didn't have far to go for a hamburger at the Four Seasons restaurant.

Over the years, CP's and then VIA's passenger trains provided intercity rail passenger service which had more than its share of accidents on the line. At one point, LRC service was proposed. CP Rail and VIA had made numerous presentations to the Canadian Transport Commission's Railway Transport Committee in Ottawa, hoping to discontinue the service. The CTC mandated upgrades to equipment and service. Increasing truck and agricultural traffic was starting to take its toll. By early 1985, the run's future was tenuous at best. I photographed 6124 at Winnipeg's East Yard with its end covered in plywood, following a 1982 tangle with a truck:
On January 15, 1984, Transport Minister Don Mazankowski announced the indefinite suspension of Edmonton-Calgary service. Eleven Dayliner accidents in the previous two years led Edmonton's mayor of the day Laurence Decore to state "It's a seedy, tacky service used by very few people. Its 200 level crossings make it an absolute calamity that has caused too many deaths." Even with $1,000,000 in Alberta government spending and the elimination of 12 grade crossings, the Dayliner made its last run on September 6, 1985. The unsuitability of the South Edmonton station, four miles from the VIA (ex-CN) Edmonton station, as well as competition from road and air travel contributed to the service's demise. Though there have been efforts to start a High-Speed Rail intercity service, since the competition is still out there, this would seem unlikely! Check out Part 2 of this series for photos and which RDC's were in use when.

Running extra...

Train of thought: Edmonton has the largest Ukrainian-Canadian population of any Canadian city. Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore was born Lavrentiy Dikur. Don Mazankowski was born in Viking. Viking is 36 miles from Vegreville. Happy Easter! Vegreville is the site of the world's largest pysanka, not to be confused with Vulcan, which is the site of a Star Trek Starship and Trek Station. Those grain elevator listings remind me of ABBA, the Swedish pop group celebrating the 40th anniversary of their Eurovision song contest win with Waterloo. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, was dyslexic. The IKEA product nomenclature system includes POANG, a popular chair series. POANG is Swedish for point, which is a British term for a switch.
A co-worker of mine was photographing near-record spring run-off of the Napanee River, then thoughtfully pointed the camera at a passing westbound VIA conventional consist. Watch for upcoming posts on this most scenic trainwatching spot, as well as a two-part series on Napanee's rail-served industries!


BArailsystem said...

Thanks for sharing your experience from days gone by Eric. I have shot photos, videos and watched trains trackside from so many of the locations you mention over the last few years. I would kill to take a dayliner round trip from Calgary and see what it looks like from the rails.

The rail bridge you went under shortly after departing Red Deer northbound is the CN Brazeau sub.

Thanks again for sharing. I enjoyed the read.


Eric said...

Glad you enjoyed Part 1, Ben. I noted that during my short stay in Edmonton, I visited a hobby shop in which I bought an HO-scale tractor and materials for an Elephant elevator. I dare say there are not as many elevators on the route today.

Thanks for the tip about the Brazeau - I'll add it to the post.

I do recall looking out the RDC window and seeing passing traffic on the parallelling highway. The trip was fast for the most part.

I'm not sure why I decided to dumpster-dive in Red Deer, but the results were worth it! Young and foolish, I guess, before I turned older and foolish!


Anonymous said...

Interesting post, and great memories! Service on that route was cancelled a little too soon for my purposes... I would have loved to take a ride on it.

I always sort of wondered about the old downtown CPR station in Edmonton. Do you know anything about it? I've only ever seen one or two photos of it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Eric....Great story on the Silver coffins on the Cal-Ed run. The Budd dayliners could run at 89 mph and outrun and eighteen wheeler or antelope on the line or crossing. Via F9Bs also a great bit of info and trivia for those who were not there, but I was and thankful for the images that I shot. Little that I know now that these treasures would be sought by viafiles 20-25 years later. Crazy. As always, the blog looks great and and the photos and credits are a pleasure to see. Hope the blog part 2 of Dayliners in Cal-Ed corridor will be of interest and not a RDC overload. R3K

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, A. and A. I don't have any other information at hand about Edmonton's downtown station, but it seems as if CP was more intent on realizing its assets than keeping passenger service intact across the river.

Part 2? We may go over the edge into what I call the RDC abyss. There is so much detail available on the CN and CP fleets, but it's been well-documented. My more recent interest is in the VIA era.

Not being a VIAphile at the time, I was just trackside. Oh, and riding Dayliners and loving it!

Unknown said...

Nice one! I've always wanted to know about the VIA days on the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. Apparently, the governments are really looking into the possibility of a High-speed rail line for it. If it can cut a 3 hour drive to about 1, there will be some heavy consideration. In fact, Ive heard rumors that there may be a rebirth for the old, ripped up Calgary-Fort McLeod route. If thats not it, there better be something planned for Calgary-Lethbridge! It still kills me that VIA doesn't run the Canadian on its home route of CP like it did.

Eric said...

I agree, Braedan. And, there are a lot of people like us who'll sign a petition to get High Speed Rail in the Alberta corridor or VIA's Canadian back on the very scenic CP route, which I had the pleasure of travelling.

It's just that there's a lot of political inertia to prevent such things happening, much to our chagrin. But never give up hope. Never.

Thanks for your comment,

levitan360 said...

AWESOME PAGE AND RESEARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And thanks for dumpster diving and retrieving
what seemed worthless to people at the time
but is the broken arrowhead that is dug up and put in museums today

there used to be a photo of the CPR station beside the old 109 street A&W
and it was hung on the wall of every A&W in Canada 15 yrs ago,
might still be today but can't seem to find it in any A&W now.
i recognized the station in the unlabeled random photo only because in 1976
i lived in the roach-infested dumpy old wooden apartment beside the A&W
and i'd have the damn flashing A&W neon lights in my window all night, lol.
was a great era
walking over to Dreamland theatre and watching Charles Bronson

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind words, levitan, and for sharing your memories. Only made it there once but it was a fun trip. I included the trip in my upcoming book on VIA Rail, titled Trackside with VIA: Research and Recollections. Heading east from Calgary on the Canadian was fun - all CP all the way.


Janet Gadeski said...

So glad to have discovered this page. From age 2 - 17 I lived on a farm beside the old #2 highway that became part of the Calgary airport. I used to see at least one of these "Dayliners" go by in the distance, as you could just see the tracks from our barnyard. I always wanted to ride one, but didn't get the chance before moving away. I never heard the stories about the accidents and passenger decline in its last few years. If rail service is ever re-created along that route, I'll ride it for sure.

Eric said...

Well welcome aboard, Janet! Thanks for sharing your memories of the Dayliners. I usually doubt passenger rail service will return between Alberta's big cities, but I've been wrong before. I was fortunate that my aunt and uncle were out that way with me and that this 17 year-old was let loose on the rails, wandering around Edmonton, losing my return ticket but still making it home and no collision on that collision-prone line!

Thanks very much for your comment,

Anonymous said...

In September of probably 1962 or 1963 I was on the Dayliner from Calgary to Edmonton to attend U of A.
Just north of central Red Deer, the train hit a taxi that had not stopped at a crossing

Anonymous said...

(continue re: taxi at Red Deer)
I was seated on left side of train and looked up to see, as if in slow motion, the car tumble along, having been dragged a fair distance by the Dayliner.

I was one of the first people to reach the taxi. Everything seemed
like it had been miniaturized. As best as I can recall, there were 5 passengers killed and only the driver survived. South side station in Edmonton was Chas when the train arrived.