Saturday, March 17, 2018

CN 398000 Articulated Grain Car

In 1985, a unique articulated covered hopper intended for grain service was built at CN's Transcona Shops in Winnipeg. The concept and design engineering originated with CN's Equipment Department in Montreal and Winnipeg. CN designer Kelly Arrey had already designed other equipment sudh as Toronto's 75-foot aluminum subway car of 1958. Construction of CN 398000 began on March 18, 1985. Mark Perry kindly shared a photo of the fairly pristine (then!) car at Dauphin, MB in 1988 (top photo).

Intended as a prorotype for further such cars to carry grain on the light rail to the Port of Churchill, CN 398000 remained only a prototype. The line could not accommodate 100-ton-capacity covered hoppers. Design costs were covered by CN, with construction costs paid by the Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba, under an Economic and Regional Development joint agreement. Artist's conception:
Typical axle load of a conventional covered hopper of this capacity would be nearly 66,000 pounds. CN 398000's axle loading would be 44,000 pounds on each of the end trucks and 55,000 pounds on the centre truck. The overall centre-of-gravity was seven inches lower than conventional covered hoppers. This provided good dynamic stability, ideal for rail lines with severe surface irregularities. The car's uniform track load distribution would subject the rail and track structure to lower stree, thereby decreasing maintenance costs.

The car was tested under load to Churchill in July, 1985. It apparently rode much better than  its standard boxcar companion, with much faster unloading time by gravity at the port. CN would design and build a second articulated covered hopper in 1993 -  CN 399000 for potash service. But CN, the federal government and the Province of Manitoba decided to refurbish a fleet of 'Buffalo' boxcars for Churchill (and Thunder Bay) service, rather than produce a fleet of articulated covered hoppers! The Buffalo boxcars would remain in service for another ten years, amid continuing Churchill controversy.

CN 398000 with cylindrical and 40-foot grain-carrying compatriots - a good comparison of their dimensions. Photographed at Prince Albert, SK by Bob Clarke on August 14, 1990 - courtesy Mark Perry:

CN 398000 statistics:
  • Length: 66'6"
  • Trucks: three 70-ton
  • Cubic feet: 4750, each half 2375
  • Hatches: trough
  • Built: June 1985
  • Light weight: 70500 lbs
  • Load limit: 216500 lbs
  • Capacity: 108 tons
  • Centre-of-gravity: 84 inches above top of rail              

CN public car tracing allowed easy tracking of CN 398000's real-time location (see list below). I was at work but tracking when the car finally made its way east. Just my luck, after tracing it for over two years!
Tracking results....Toronto MacMillan Yard 0811; Oshawa 1018; Clarke 1041; Belleville 1233-1315; Kings 1443. My Dad kindly took to the tracks at Mi 182 Kingston Sub to try to snap the speeding car at Amherstview, at 1415 on November 23, 2000 (above and below):
On Feb 1, 1992 CN 398000 was at the CN transload facility just west of Central Station. Again by tracing, I was able to catch CN 398000 on CN No 306 in May, 2001 at Mi 178 Kingston Sub. After a harrowing drive south to the Gardiners Road underpass, I gained track level and photographed it along with 15 CNWX covered hoppers heading for Pointe St Charles, likely the same spur as above in 1992.
Randy O'Brien kindly shared these detail photos of CN 398000 at Yorkton, SK in August, 2009, looking like it had been in a bit of a scrape somewhere:

BUDX 6250 was an American Budd-built articulated covered hopper. Still running the rails in 2002 as FSIX 6250, here it is in Peoria, IL in 1989 Facebook scan:
This car was designed by Transit America (Budd's railroad division) and christened the HiCube 2000: a car slightly larger than CN 398000: 72' 3", 131-ton capacity, 70-ton outer trucks and common 100-ton centre truck. The car was to be offered in covered and open-top versions!

In November, 1998 the CNET online chat group alerted members that the car was making a rare trip east! It went through Buffalo, NY destined Silver Lake, NJ on Conrail, sadly avoiding CN's Kingston Sub. Here are my tracking results for CN 398000 between November 16, 1998 and February, 2001.
  • Red River South Track LE50 to Minneapolis, MN on BNSF
  • Stored Allan Mines SK January 22-February 18, 1999
  • Melville to North Vancouver on CN train No 755 (potash train)
  • Sylvite, SK Tk RS24 then Winnipeg twice, stored Melville
  • Stored Dauphin May 19-October 1
  • Humboldt, SK to Chilliwack, BC Tk YG07
  • Bashaw AB Tk CC32 to Ridley, BC
  • Unity SK Tk WR38 to Ridley, BC
  • Duncan, SK Tk AB04 to Vancouver
  • Kindersley, SK Tk KS12 to Ridley, BC
  • Carlton Train Railway Warman, SK to Vancouver
  • Duncan, SK Tk AB06 to Spiritwood, ND on BNSF
  • Morris, MB Tk LE33 to Destrehan, LA on IC
  • Morris, MB to Thunder Bay
  • Stored Fort Qu'Appelle, SK May 3 to July 6
  • Rowatt, SK Tk LW93 to Vancouver
  • Edmonton to Vancouver
  • Humboldt, SK to Duluth, MN
  • Moose Jaw, SK Tk CE46 to Minneapolis, MN
  • Saskatoon, SK to Pointe St Charles, QC on No 856 Saskatoon to Winnipeg, No 304 Winnipeg to Toronto, No 306 Toronto to Montreal
  • Duncan, SK to York, PA on NS
  • Morris, MB Tk LE35 to Superior, WI on BNSF
  • Hamlin, SK Tk TR09 to Limoilou, QC on CN No 894

Thanks to Randy O'Brien and Mark Perry for sharing their photographs in this post. More information on CN 398000 can be found in the following magazines:
  • August 1986 Mainline Modeler
  • T18/T4-5 Canadian Railway Modeller
Running extra...

Non-fast Food and Trains! This past Tuesday night was a most pleasant evening with the Associated Railroaders of Kingston. I presented my Kingston Platform Scenes talk to a receptive room of fellow Denny's diners. Thanks to Andrew C., Bob and Greg for the invitation and assistance, and Chris, Andrew J., Paul, Andre and the whole group for lively discussion, ideas and reminiscing!

British Columbia's Royal Hudson came east in 1978. Watch for an upcoming Trackside Treasure post. In the meantime, PWRS and Rapido Trains are producing the virtually invisible B-units that accompanied it. Fifty pairs, that's it!

Speaking of Rapido, their 3800 cu.ft. covered hoppers are now in modeller's hands. Meanwhile, on the Green Mountain Lines, CP 386457-386889-385130 are bringing Canadian grain to the Ide feed mill in St Johnsbury. Mine are classic Model Power cars now soldiering on in their fourth decade. At last weekend's Kingston Rail-O-Rama, I even found a Model Power Winnipeg aluminum & yellow car for sale, produced for the 1983 NMRA convention in the Gateway to the West!


Zartok-35 said...

Another good post, Eric. Despite its multiple trips to and from the homefront, I haven't yet seen this unusual specimen in person. I heard at one point it was being used to ship Mustard seed out of Melville, along with the Canpotex car. Cool to hear about its trips for awhile.

Canadian Train Geek said...

I saw that car, once, in Winnipeg - August 26, 2012 in Transcona. It still had that scrape!

Eric said...

Thanks for your kind words and comments, Elijah and Steve.

Those trips from Sylvite and Melville, plus reports by others, make me wonder if CN 398000 does indeed flip between grain and potash service, plus carrying the world's smallest seeds - mustard!

Usually, such flips would be unusual, to my mind. But the prototype does what the prototype does.

Keeping track of CN 398000's graffiti and scrapes would be a post in itself.

Which will happen first...the car will 'age out' or it will be repainted in CN's www scheme?
I think I know the answer, though.


JDL said...

I have a photo of an HO scale model of that articulated car on my blog:

Eric said...

Thanks, John. It's a good thing to preserve scale and prototype versions of this car here in cyberspace!


Greg Prosmushkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...

Thanks, Greg. It's always interesting to research such little-known facets of Canadian railways.

Mark said...

I would like to make a model of this car - thank you for all the photos. I read RDL's blog post and contacted the Canadian Railway Modeler to inquire aobut the back issues but I guess Jim Stanitz's model is completely scratch built so is beyond my skill level... Still, one can hope.

Eric said...

Surprisingly, or not, there is no shake-the-box kit for CN 398000, Mark. If there were, I'm afraid it would become like the SCLAIR ACF covered hoppers or CN's 3800 cu ft cylindrical billboard car. Every single model railway layout has one of both!

OK, except mine.

There is always hope, though. You're right!
Thanks for your comment,

Greg Prosmushkin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.