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.
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.
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:
- Roger Puta's March 1980 slow waltz at Brockville
- Search Brockville on the CSTM collection
- Doug Lilly Brockville on July 28, 1979, including switching, VIA power laying over at the station, a westbound adding Ottawa cars and a combined train departing westward. July 1980 with CN switcher in evidence.
- George W. Hamlin on June 7, 1979 switching and Montreal cars being added to tail end of VIA No 45.
- CN-painted 6518 and VIA-painted 6516 in 1976.
- an important operational point on Jason Shron's Kingston Sub Layout. No lack of prototype inspiration on the layout's website! Newly-added to Facebook is Jason's KingstonSub FB page!
- 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!