Saturday, January 7, 2017

ADtranz IC3 Flexliner in VIA Service

The Danish-designed, German-built Israeli State Railways-operated Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) IC3 Flexliner was on loan to VIA and Amtrak, with the two three-car trainsets touring the country to promote commuter rail systems. Built by ADtranz, a partnership of ABB and Daimler-Benz, the Flexliner trainset operated on diesel or overhead electrical power. 

Both versions could operate together and uncouple 'on the fly' at junctions. Rubber 'donuts' improved the IC3's safety and aerodynamics, but not its looks! Top speed was 112 mph, though limited to 90 mph in VIA service. In a luxury configuration, 109 passengers in coach and 32 in first class could be accommodated. Total trainset length was 193 feet, and weight was 224,000 pounds.

A westbound Flexliner approaches Collins Bay in April. 1997 (top photo). The next six photos were scanned from prints shared by Kingston's Ron Barrett. Thanks, Ron! Ron snapped the Flexliner with VIA markings on the north track at Kingston's VIA station:
Painted in ISR red livery with Israeli and Amtrak decals, the two sets when coupled together deflated the rubber 'donuts' and fold-away windshields and cab controls, providing a wide walkway with full-width diaphragms between coaches. Beginnning the two-year tour, the Flexliners debuted at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal on July 16, 1996. 

In VIA operation, the Flexliner operated out of Toronto for 4-6 months after their Amtrak stint. Amtrak lettering was removed, and VIA logos added. In fall 1996, Club 7001-7401-7201 and Club 7003-7403-7203 were in VIA service. The public was invited to tour the IC3 at open houses held in Corridor cities after a debut at Ottawa Union Station on September 20 - Kingston on September 21, Stratford and Kitchener on September 23, then London and Niagara Falls on the next two days, with the Toronto debut on September 26 and 27. At Kingston, there were balloons, clowns and refreshments - Ron was there (next two photos) as we were. 
The demo consist in the morning sun (below) with a nice view of the Public Utilities Commission propane spur at right, served by CN's Aluminum Spur.
The trainsets entered revenue service on September 29, concurrent with the release of the new system timetable and the reintroduction of a morning Kingston-Toronto 'commuter' service. Early technical problems - signals not being activated due to the cars' light weight led to a Transport Canada-mandated withdrawal from service on September 30. Flexliner trainsets could apparently 'disappear' from dispatcher's computer monitors!

The units were stored until further testing took place in early October. Composite brake shoes were replaced by steel brake shoes. When not available, the IC3 schedules were covered by buses or other equipment, such as 6421-3322-8143 and 6401-3344-8141 on October 3, 1996. The trainsets operated on Toronto-Kingston train No 650 and morning Kingston-Toronto 651.
A wintry but sunny day view of the Flexliner on the north track of CN's Kingston Sub at Kingston (above) contrasts with a greener, grassier view on the south track (two photos below):
One of two rotations for the two sets was a Monday-Friday Kingston-Toronto, Toronto-Ottawa round trip, with a Saturday run from Kingston-Toronto, then one more Ottawa-Toronto-Kingston cycle over the weekend, in place again for Monday morning in Kingston.  The second rotation was a Monday-Friday Stratford-Toronto, Toronto-London, Toronto-Kitchener, Saturday Stratford-Toronto and Toronto-Niagara Falls, Niagara Falls-Toronto-Stratford weekend operation, in place again for Monday morning in Stratford.
The Flexliners returned to service on November 19, after being tested on CN and CP lines. Scrubbers had been applied to the cars' wheels, and switched to cast iron brakeshoes. Cast iron brakeshoes kept the wheels 'cleaner' than the composite brakeshoes they replaced. There was also concern from Transport Canada that harmonic oscillations during operation at high speed on jointed rail could result in a derailment. This was not borne out during additional testing.a Continuing to operate through the winter, the demonstration was ended on March 28, 1997. VIA logos were replaced with Amtrak logos.

On April 2, 7001-7401-7201 left Canada on the tail end of VIA No 85, travelling to Missouri for further demonstration on Amtrak between St Louis and Kansas City, then on to Oregon. The other trainset continued operating east of Toronto until May 6, 1997 when it was reassumed by Adtranz. Amtrak's two IC3 Flexliners ran in multiple as train 330 in Milwaukee in June, 1997, operating between Milwaukee and Chicago. On June 30, 1997 Amtrak's Empire Builder delivered the IC3's to the Twin Cities, where the train ran at 79 mph over BNSF's main line between the Coon Rapids and Big Lake, MN area to St Cloud.

With the Flexliner's pitfalls and problems, VIA did not pursue the Flexliner after the demonstration period. A postscript with some more Flexliner photos here.

Running extra...
Happy New Year...just like this dude who had one too many and now obscures a perfectly good multimark (above). And of course the Flexliner will be included in my upcoming book Trackside with VIA: Research and Recollections. On track for a spring arrival - my most recent thoughts here.
Speaking of on track, a colleague shared a photo of the re-railing of an SRLX covered hopper at Kingston's Invista plant back in November (scroll a bit in this post to see non-crane rerailing efforts). The plant is shipping outbound product for the first time in recent memory, including new extra track being added on the lake side of the plant.


Tom Box said...

You wrote, "The trainsets entered revenue service on September 29, concurrent with the release of the new system timetable and the reintroduction of a morning Kingston-Toronto 'commuter' service." I would argue that it was not a reintroduction, but the first time that there was really a service from east of Toronto (beyond GO's territory) geared to daily commuters with 9-to-5 jobs.

Prior to the 1990 cutbacks, overnight #59 from Montreal was too slow (3 h 48 min travel time Kingston-Toronto) and arrived in Toronto too early (07:30) to appeal to many commuters, and the RDC from Kingston got to Toronto too late (09:50) unless you had a very flexible work schedule. Immediately after the cutbacks, the earliest train to Toronto from the east was #41 from Ottawa, arriving at 12:00. In the April 1996 timetable, it was arriving at 10:10, but there was still nothing useful to daily commuters. So when #651 (arr TRTO 08:35) was introduced as part of the IC3 experiment in fall 1996, it was first truly commuter-friendly schedule from east of Toronto. Though the IC3 test didn't lead to a purchase of similar units, #651 and 650 continued running with conventional equipment after the IC3 lease ended. They were folded into the overnight Enterprise in 2000, and re-emerged when that train was cancelled in 2005. 20+ years later, they're still running, and I'd say they're the most significant result of the 1996 experiment.

Tom Box

Eric said...

Thanks very much for that additional information, Tom.
I used the single quotes around 'commuter' intentionally, to wit:

I would dare say that back in the day of the Kingston-Toronto RDC, commuters contented themselves with living in what is now the Greater Toronto Area. Suggesting to a commuter, in the era that I had the pleasure of taking the morning Railiner to Toronto, that he or she should consider boarding each morning in Cobourg for their job in Toronto would be met with surprise or perhaps disbelief!

Also, I would also dare say that the commuters that ride today's VIA No 651 still need to have a somewhat flexible work schedule, not to mention an employer that understands the pecularities, idiosyncracies, inherent variability and vagaries of commuting by train for tens or even over a hundred miles! Full disclosure of commuting arrangements would be made and expected.

Most workplaces would normally tolerate a 5-10 minute delay arriving at work due to weather, traffic or other unforeseen delays.

I don't think many workplaces understand such oft-broadcast VIA chestnuts as 'a freight train has broken down ahead of us and we are waiting for it to get going again' or 'we are following a freight train and will be following it for the next 20 minutes until we can get around it'.


Gary said...

From my old VIA working days ... often mentioned to me, was the remark ... Via was NOT in the commuter business. Someone, who shall remain nameless, absolutely hated the Cornwall commuters that rode into Montreal every day, filling at least 1 coach back & forth. The cafe lounge attendant had the fresh coffee ready for us getting on # 58.

Eric said...

Indeed, VIA has not embraced, though it has perhaps tolerated, the commuter market. Those perennial timetable footnotes about no local service between Dorval and Montreal, between Guildwood and Toronto et al spoke to that arm's-length, chill embrace.

And though we talk aimlessly and nostalgically about going to 'the bar car' I concur that there really is nothing like a full-bodied, good cup of coffee aboard a moving train!

Thanks for that memory, Gary!
Great to have you aboard.

Tom Box said...

Occasional disasters happen with any mode of transport, but #651 has a far better record of on-time performance than most VIA trains. Since November 1, 2016 it has run 43 times. 35 of those trips were on time or early. Another four trips were 1 min late. The other four trips were late by 6, 3, 5, and 9 minutes. (The train was cancelled from Dec 27 to Jan 2 for the holidays. I guess previous years' experience has shown that many regular users take the week off between Xmas and New Year's. Those who needed to get to work would have had to find another way to travel.)

VIA has for many years been offering a product it calls the Commuter Pass, so it's not overtly hostile to commuters. Was that pass introduced at the same time as the IC3 experiment? If not then, it was only slightly later. VIA was even flexible enough to listen to the commuters' complaints about assigned seating on #651 and 650, and did away with it after a few months.

Michael said...

Looking at those Flexliners... words fail me. Face only a mother could love.

Eric said...

Reminds me of something black that latches onto your toe while swimming in a cold northern lake, Michael!

Mark Walton said...

I rode an IC3 set fro Kingston to Ottawa in March 1997, from Kingston to Ottawa. I was returning from a Transport 2000 AGM with the late Bert Titcomb; our train was the Saturday afternoon one, I forget the number. Our seats were in a compartment with a table in the middle; we found it OK.

Eric said...

Well, you've got one up on me, Mark! Great memory of a neat ride!

Mark Walton said...

Vague though it is.

Eric said...

Good one, Mark. When you have as many train-riding memories as we do, some are bound to be a little vague!

Anonymous said...

In this very moment, it is it last journey in Israel. Sold to Denmark

Eric said...

Interesting! Thanks, A.

Anonymous said...

The trains has been recieved in Denmark, i can add. It's been bought for spare parts, and has becommed a viable option, because several of the electronic parts and units are far beyond their "End Of Life" as it's called in the electronic buisness when they're not being produced anymore. There's a public, short danish article with a photo here:

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, A. The Flexliners on VIA and Amtrak were an interesting experiment!