Monday, August 8, 2016

VIA Builds and Splits Trains at Brockville, 1976-1981

Are you interested in Corridor operations in VIA's early era? If so, you've likely seen photos of VIA passenger trains being built and split in Brockville, Ontario. This station marked the divergence of lines that VIA trains from Toronto used to reach Ottawa or Montreal: CP towards Smiths Falls or continuing on CN's Kingston Sub, respectively. From October 31, 1976 until October 27, 1985 two or four day trains to/from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto had their consists altered in the City of the 1000 Islands. In this two-post series, I'll look at the history, operations, consists and fascinating factors influencing these early VIA years during which "passenger trains can switch, too"! This post will cover the years 1976-1981, and the second post will span 1981-1985 and beyond
Pennsylvanian Jeremy Plant made several visits to Brockville, camera in hand. Jeremy graciously gave permission to include his photos in this post. On August 11, 1979 Jeremy was on the William Street overpass - a perfect location for views west to the station on Perth Street (above) or east to CP's Brockville Subdivision interchange (top photo) When the morning train from Montreal arrives with its three cars behind VIA 6767 (likely VIA train No 43), CN 3107 swings into action, bringing the three cars out of the pocket track as VIA 6767 still in CN colours, belches MLW smoke after turning and now backing into the pocket track to power VIA No 44 back to Ottawa. Turning was accomplished on CP's 'loop line' which shows clearly mid-photo, used to work the CP freight shed. It disappears to the west, behind the white and green houses, before heading west to serve the Phillips Cables plant, and at one time, east to Brockville's waterfront. The wye was centred on Church Street, and included a tunnel under CN's Kingston Sub which would accommodate VIA locomotives until the large, boxy 6400's came on the scene in late-1986!
In 1976, VIA's formative year, CN hosted some interesting connecting trains at Brockville. In the April 25, 1976 CN timetable, after Montreal-Brockville Railiner trains 653 and 657 terminated at Brockville, passengers boarded Ottawa-Toronto conventional trains 43 at 1045 and 45 at 1825 respectively. Eastbound, trains 44 and 46 would have disembarked passengers continuing on to Montreal on Railiner trains 650 and 654, departing Brockville at 1315 and 2030, respectively. With the issuance of the VIA/CN timetable on October 31, 1976, the Railiners were replaced with conventional consists of black & white CN or newly-repainted VIA (ex-CN) blue & yellow cars. These conventional trains departed Brockville at times comparable to the RDC trains. 
  • First to arrive was Montreal-Toronto No 53 at 1115, then Ottawa-Toronto No 43 at 1122, departing combined for Toronto at 1135. 
  • Eastbound from Toronto, VIA No 44/54 arrived at 1256, with No 44 departing for Ottawa at 1301 and No 54 departing for Montreal at 1316.
  • Montreal-Toronto No 55 arrived at 1840, joining with Ottawa-Toronto No 45 which arrived at 1847, departing combined for Toronto at 1900.
  • Eastbound from Toronto, VIA No 46/56 arrived at 2006, with No 46 departing for Ottawa at 2011 and No 56 departing for Montreal at 2026.
Interestingly, the trains serving Ottawa were considered 'through' while Brockville-Montreal trains 53, 54, 55 and 56 were marked as 'LOCAL SERVICE' up to and including the October 29, 1978 VIA timetable! Let's remember that although there were limited-stop trains, namely two daily Montreal-Toronto Rapidos, like the three-unit platform-filler smoking through Brockville (above) and two daily Turbos, there were only two Brockville-Montreal locals serving eastern Ontario and western Quebec into Montreal. The schedules for Nos 43/53 and 44/54 (the latter is likely the one arriving in Jeremy's photo, below) would remain consistent, changing only by +/- 1 hour until VIA switching at Brockville ended in the fall of 1985. The schedule of Nos 45/55 and 46/56 were equally as consistent until the June 1, 1981 VIA timetable. Then, instead of combining and splitting at Brockville, these two train pairs operated intact through Brockville. Passengers were expected to transfer from one to the other to reach intermediate points not served by the train in which their intercity journey began. This was signified in the timetable by an inter-schedule column arrow indicating the transfer at Kingston station.
(Beginning with the timetable marking the disastrous Liberal government cuts to VIA issued November 15, 1981, the cars for Nos 44 and 54 were included in the now Montreal-Toronto consist of VIA's Canadian which operated between Montreal and Vancouver,in part over CN's Kingston Sub - read more in the next post in this series.) In all other cases above, the shorter westbound train's power, usually a single unit, would wait in the CP pocket track behind Brockville station before departing east on the next split train i.e. 43 to 44, 45 to 46, or 53 to 54, 55 to 56. To change direction in the one hour before the next eastbound departure, the unit trundled over CP's loop line through Brockville. On March 8, 1981 No 53's power 6780-6621 derailed on the Brockville wye. CN Montreal-Toronto freight CN No 317 donated CN 4493, and after VIA No 44/54 arrived with 6760-6615, power shuffling resulted in CN 4493-6615 departing with No 44 for Ottawa, 6760 taking No 54 to Montreal, and 6780-6628 being inspected by the Belleville road repair truck crew before returning to service.
During this era, there were three carmen working in Brockville who worked on building and splitting the VIA trains, including making couplings and connecting steam lines. There were two common methods:
  • When the Montreal train arrived, it pulled into the south pocket track next to the platform. The Ottawa section arrived on the north main track. When both sections did their station business, the Montreal section was pushed back onto the mainline, then its unit cut off. The Ottawa section backed down, coupling onto the Montreal cars, and the combined train departed behind the Ottawa power. The unit from the Montreal section turned on the loop track, returning to the station and backing into the north pocket track to power the next Ottawa-bound train. 
  • Alternatively, the local Brockville switcher (CN RS-18 or SW1200RS) would work the morning and evening westbound trains by pulling the cars out of the south pocket track and adding them to the Ottawa section on the north main track.
Eastbound trains would stop on the mainline, then the carman would cut the rear cars off for Montreal. The train would depart for Ottawa, then the Montreal power would emerge from behind the station to take its train on to Ottawa. In Jeremy's photos, this Ottawa-Toronto train (above) has pulled in on the north main track of the Kingston Sub before preparing to depart west (below):
As reflected by the consists of these trains, the marks in VIA timetables showed the various services provided on  the through trains vs. the local trains. Toronto-Ottawa trains 43, 44, 45 and 46 offered baggage (Brockville-Toronto), club car service, snack and snack/beverage service and reserved coach seats, while Toronto-Montreal trains only offered snack or snack/beverage service. From 1978-1981, my trackside observations were mainly of evening combined trains 45/55 and 46/56 which passed through Kingston after 1900 hours. From 1978-1981, the consists of Nos 45/55 and 46/56 were remarkably similar: 
  • baggage (Ottawa)
  • two to four coaches (Ottawa)
  • 2500-series cafe bar lounge (Ottawa)
  • club-galley (Ottawa)
  • two to four coaches (Montreal)
  • 3000-series cafe coach lounge (Montreal)
  • baggage (Montreal)
Likely VIA No 55 arrives in the evening on August 11, 1979 and the switcher again waits to swing into action. My one and only trip to Brockville in 1981 revealed VIA 53/43's consist behind 6518-6864: from Ottawa 2513-5525-5560-Rideau Club and from Montreal: 5307-5429-5299-3037-5646-9634. Eastbound at 1308 No 44/54: 6514-6636-2508-5536-5610-York Club-3033-5501-5388-5403-9654 just three months before the Canadian began carrying Corridor cars in this timeslot.
Another Ottawa train arrives (above) and then departs Brockville, slightly longer with cars from Montreal added to the consist:
Interestingly, CN 6793 would have its CN white nose logo 'wiped' in December 1979 and would not receive VIA blue & yellow paint until well into 1981!
Though I wasn't trackside to see the trains Jeremy photographed, I was trackside in the evening of August 11 and I observed this same train at Kingston at 1946 hours. Power was 6793-6633, CN-painted baggage car was 9649 and CN-painted cafe bar lounge was 2500. University Club was also in CN colours, and 5495-9652 rounded out the partial consist I was able to record at speed! Heading down the CP from Smiths Falls (above), then accelerating out of Brockville as combined VIA No 55/45:
Going way back - Jeremy photographed CN 6776 arriving from Montreal on a cloudy day in November, 1971!
Thanks to Jeremy Plant for sharing his photos. Interestingly, both Jeremy and Dale Woodland, who shared photos for the second post in this series, wrote articles published in the Summer 2016 edition of Classic Trains magazine!

Under-photographed due to its nocturnal movements, the overnight Cavalier was also built and split at Brockville: VIA No 48 (Toronto-Ottawa) with VIA No 58 (Toronto-Montreal) split and VIA No 49 (Ottawa-Toronto) with No 59 (Montreal-Toronto) built. The overnight run from Ottawa simply backed its train (coach-sleeper) onto the short passing siding between the William Street overpass and Park Street, cut the power and it would head down the wye and turn. The Montreal section would back onto the cars and head to Toronto. 

A much-photographed view -  a VIA cab-unit sunning itself behind Brockville station. In this case, it's VIA 6772 in July, 1984:
Another vintage view, showing CN 6783 and cars in the pocket track from the station parking lot in 1975: 
Winter view from SW switcher cab of a train arriving behind VIA 6775 from Montreal, March 1980 (Jakob Mueller collection) interestingly powered by two units and comprising four cars:
The Brockville switcher is ahead of the Ottawa train as the Montreal train approaches, dated May 21, 1978. Interestingly, I observed the combined train at Kingston at 1936: power was VIA 6759-6625-CN 3115, with partial consist - baggage 9636, Club Laurier and tail-end baggage 9644!
CN 1311 is in position ahead of No 45 Eng 6765 and check out the five-locomotive consist coming in on the Kingston Sub - No 69 Eng 6536 - captioned June 16, 1979: 
Dated 1981, this eastbound train is likely Nos 44/54 with VIA 6775 leading, operating in the final summer before No 2 would handle this traffic on the Kingston Sub:
(Unless noted, above six photos from online auction site)
Lots o' links:
In print:
  • Switching En Route section of my second book, Trackside with VIA: Cross-Canada Compendium.
  • BRS Branchline December 2005 edition Michael Shufelt's article: Brockville in the 1980s.
  • Railfan magazine July 1979 issue - a multi-page, photograph-rich article by Jim Boyd chronicling his visit to Brockville, railfanning the evening of Sept 3/78 and four hours mid-day on Sept 4/78!


Drew Makepeace said...

Excellent photes! Crisp and clear.

Eric said...

Great photes indeed! I'm glad Jeremy was so generous in sharing them. My Brockville photos are four: one of the CP wayfreight, two of boxcars, and one of a Rapido speeding through the yard. My photes of the train building/splitting....nil.

Thanks for your comment,

Sean said...

I much prefer this method of running a separate train from Ottawa and montreal and joining them in Brockville to the current practice of running most Mtl-To trains via Ottawa which adds an extra 3 hours to an already long trip.

Sean said...

I'm also amazed at the lack of trees around the tunnel cut by the old Coop elevators. In just 35 years the entire area has become lost in a forest.

DaveM said...

Those were some great pics that you were able to get a hold of. Surprised how clear they were.


Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Sean and Dave.

Most of VIA's recent operational changes seem to involve cost-cutting, streamlining operations and corporate convenience not necessarily customer convenience. No wyeing, run-through consists are in direct opposition to carmen, steam lines, making connections, baggage cars, club cars and dedicated meal/lounge cars. I guess that's progress.

When I first reviewed Jeremy's fine photos, I thought the overpass hadn't been built yet. I quickly realized the 1971 photo HAD TO HAVE been taken from the overpass! Indeed, clear sightlines. I can't stress enough how much I appreciated Jeremy's contribution to making this post much more 'visual' than I alone could have!


Tom Box said...

"...the overnight Cavalier was also built and split at Brockville..." Only starting in October 1978. Until then, #48 and 49 ran on the ex-Canadian Northern line between Smiths Falls and Napanee and didn't go through Brockville at all. They were split/combined with #58 and 59 in Belleville.

"...VIA switching at Brockville ended in the fall of 1985." Here too the Cavalier was an exception, as it continued to be split/combined at Brockville until the Ottawa section was cancelled in January 1989. The Montreal section survived for one more year.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Tom. The upcoming post covers the Cavalier operations in a little more detail. It was easy to almost forget about this bit of switching, it being nocturnal and a lot less likely to appear on film than the daylight movements!

Interestingly, the pre-1978 Cavaliers would have travelled directly past my future in-laws' house. If only I had I met my wife sooner and/or been a little older, I could have had some more (nocturnal) consists to post (if I had a good flashlight, that is!)

GP9Rm4108 said...

You continue to make me proud.

Eric said...

Great to hear, Chris. Part Two to follow!

Michael Pasch said...

What a great read, Eric. Looking forward to Part Two.

It brought back a fond memory, as a much younger kid in his early twenties, travelling overnight from Ottawa to Toronto, for an early morning interview at Humber College for their broadcasting program.

I recall, head pressed against a cold window in the month of January, the brilliant headlight of the switcher awaking me from a deep sleep, as we awaited the Montreal section of the train.

Travelling to and from Toronto was very enjoyable experience that time. Sure wish overnight service was still around.

Eric said...

Great that we could reawaken, or should I say resuscitate, some of those vintage memories. There was nothing like online switching to make one wonder just what the heck was going on and what was that thing that just went 'bump' in the night!

Thanks very much for your kind comments and memories,

mark walton said...

In May of 1983 and 1984 I went Ottawa-Toronto on 43, which did the reverse of what you described: The Ottawa train pulled into the south pocket track next to the platform. Then the Montreal section arrived on the north main track. When both sections did their station business, the Ottawa section was pushed back onto the mainline, then its unit cut off. The Montreal section backed down, coupling onto the Ottawa cars, and the combined train departed behind the Montreal power. The unit from the Ottawa section turned on the loop track, returning to the station and backing into the north pocket track to power the next train.

Eric said...

This sounds like the consists I noted during the 1981-1985 era, in which the VIA Nos 43/53 consists were led by Montreal cars as I observed them at Kingston. Check out the next post after this one.

Thanks for your comment, Mark.