Sunday, November 30, 2008

CN and VIA's Winnipeg to Churchill trains

The passenger trains operated by CN then VIA, between Winnipeg and Churchill have always been interesting due to the variety of head-end traffic handled between the remote communities on the line to Hudson Bay. On July 3, 1976 the eastbound train from Churchill was stopped at Portage: CN 9154-9152-15491-633112-11119-11064-222626-8063-9642-3030-5467-5587-5595-1338-Great Slave Lake-Edwardsville-Thunder Bay-Terra Nova River-Greenridge - Bedford in VIA blue & yellow (L.C. Gagnon top photo).

Having seen a few of the trains, and collected consists since, I was interested to hear from Mark Perry, CN engineer in Dauphin, on this topic. Researching the CN F7Au's and the transition from CN express reefers, through boxcars, CN mechanical reefers and COFC and TOFC flatcars, I was able to summarize some information and create a timeline. Here's an old photo, from a March, 1971 National Geographic School Bulletin article on Manitoba's Train to Tundra, showing 2 CN GP-9's pulling CN head-end and passenger cars, in both the black-and-white and earlier olive-and-green paint schemes.
The locomotives used on these trains included GP-9's, some with Flexicoil trucks, but after CN rebuilt some of its 9100-series F7's, these units predominated. Initially, they wore CN's passenger scheme, but later received a full red nose, yellow frame stripe and freight stripes. Here are some power consists, from a variety of sources:

1970: 9060-3617-9088
1971: 2 GP9's
1972: 2 F's
1976: 9154-9152
1977: 9154-4271
1978: 91xx-4303
1979: 9151-91xx, 9155-9152
1980: 9154-91xx, 9153-4117, 9151-9153
1981: 9150-9154, 9155-9152
1982: 9152-9151
1985: 9168-91xx, 9163-9158

When CN rebuilt some FP9's into the 6300-6304 FP9ARM's in 1984-85, these replaced the 9150's, such as No 93 with engines VIA 6304-6300 on August 19, 1984.

Photographed from the mosquito-infested embankment above CN's East Yard in Winnipeg, 9163, 9158 and steam generator unit 15484 arrive from Symington Yard to power VIA No 93 to Churchill, on a warm September night in 1985, around 2000 hours:
The head-end traffic was handled in a variety of former CN boxcars and reefers, some left over from the steam era, until containers and later highway trailers were carried on the Churchill trains. The following observations show the evolution of the cars in use into the 1980's:

Through boxcars, 40-foot with sliding doors:
1976: 11119, 11064
1977: 11148
1980: 11077
1981 and later: not in evidence

Express reefers, 40-foot with plug doors:
1976: 10621, 10657, 10673
1979: black/white, olive/black
1982 and later: not in evidence

CN 2226xx-series reefers:
1970: 222601, 222619, 222608, 222603, 222624
1976: 222626
1977: 222620, 222614
1978: 222620
1979: 222617
1980: 222620, 222619, 222609, 222600
1981: 222618, 222604, 222626
1982: 222600

COFC 89-foot flats with 3 ISO containers:
1967: 633084
1976: 633122

TOFC flats:
1985 in use

In August 1981, the northbound train to Churchill passed Gladstone's Manitoba Pool elevator, then made a station stop:
Head-end traffic on this August night was handled in two CN reefers, as the use of the older cars was waning. The consist: 9150 - 9154 - 15450 - 222602 - 222604 - 9621 - 5440 - 3032 - 5574 - Palliser - Eldorado - Terra Nova River (CN) - Cape Race - Glace Bay (CN)- Mount Resplendent.

Here's an interesting comment from Mark about working with the CN reefers:
"I hated working with those reefers. In the summer of 1982, I was a trainman on Nos. 94-95 between Thompson and Gillam. By that time most of the reefers were in captive service between Thompson and Churchill. There were no carman stationed in Thompson so the train crew had to do up the steam conduits between the cars after picking them up from the express shed - a very dirty and hard job to do. Can you imagine what a blue VIA uniform looked like after doing up the steam conduits on 6 reefers between the SGU and the baggage cars, crouching underneath cars, wrestling with those conduits, kneeling on oily and watery tracks?"

I'm always on the lookout for more passenger consists that operated on the Churchill line.
Running Extra...

For all your Canadian passenger car modelling needs, be sure to check out the Rapido Trains website at
I had the chance to meet Jason and Dan, and although they take their production of quality Canadian prototype models very seriously, they seem to be having a lot of fun at the same time.
Ted Rafuse, of Steampower Publishing is looking for text and photographic material to use in a book under consideration, on the Kingston & Pembroke Railway. See

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cabooseless Operations Display Train, November 1984

Cabooseless train operations, like many developments in railroading, were adopted in the U.S. many years before Canada. This photo of a Conrail freight train near Utica, New York in autumn 1984, shows the Flashing Rear End Device, or End of Train Unit, on the rear coupler of a Chicabo & North Western boxcar: Federal labour arbitrator Dalton Larson granted CN and CP their request to operate cabooseless trains on July 19, 1988. Back in 1984, a letter to the editor of the Globe & Mail, with a photo of CN transfer caboose 76629, lamented what would become inevitable: "We are in jeopardy of losing a fundamental concept of railed transport: every train has a caboose. It's the one solid form of punctuation in a clanking, rattling sometimes violent rolling statement of freight"
In 1984, CN and CP first applied for cabooseless operation. A display train with an unusually varied consist backed into Kingston's Montreal Street station on a cold November 16, 1984. The train included two cabooses, but neither brought up the end of the train. It would be interesting to know where else this train was on display...please add a comment if you have more information. CN 9403, CP gondola 337457, UTLX tank car 83909, CGTX tank car 29454:
CP newsprint car 85338:
CN boxcar 410105, VIA steam generator unit 15485:
VIA official cars Coureur de Bois and Pierre de la Verendrye:
ONR baggage car 414:
CP van 434425:
CP boarding boxcar 404382, CN caboose 79681:
VIA theatre car Sir Sandford Fleming:
June 1, 1990 marked the commencement of Canadian cabooseless operations. The first cabooseless CN train I saw was this eastbound approaching Kingston on June 11, behind brand-new GE's 2409-2408. Within a month, these new units would make crew familiarization trips to Edmonton and Vancouver. The last car on this train carrying the ETU was CSXT 247567, a covered hopper. Throughout 1990, trains with cabooses were in the majority, but by 1991, cabooseless trains dominated.
Many CN cabooses were still in use after commencement of cabooseless operations:
1990: 79470, 79453, 79534, 79524, 79542, 79559, 79584, 79615, 79631
1991: 79420, 79575, 79693, 79632, 79678, 79620, 79768, 79797, 79766

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Postscript: CN Train No 805 on the Rivers Sub, June 1978

Just came across a CN switch list from June 14, 1978 from Portage la Prairie. It lists some grain boxcars to be lifted from two of Portage's elevators:

Pool B Track RG37 East End

CN 485285
CN 479271
CN 425470
CN 421644

U.G.G. Track RG54 East End

Car numbers unreadable, but there were four cars to lift.

All eight cars were billed to Thunder Bay, Ontario

Pool B, later destroyed by fire, was a unique elevator because it was served by both CN and CP.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

CN's Lewvan Subdivision, September 1985

Late September, 1985 found two things on the ground in southern Saskatchewan - snowflakes and dead grasshoppers. Despite the poor crop, CN was shipping grain off the Lewvan Subdivision, running southeast from Regina towards Weyburn. I arrived in Regina by VIA around 0300, then rented a car and headed out to record some trackside treasure. I visited Cedoux, Colfax, Lewvan, Estlin, Gray and Rowatt. Unfortunately it was a weekend and no grain pickup trains were running. Lots of 40-foot boxcars and some cylindrical covered hoppers were on the elevator tracks. I'll include some interesting post content from a recent YahooGroups discussion on the Lewvan Sub. My first stop Saturday afternoon was Cedoux...two elevators and one lonely tree. CN boxcars with six-foot Superior and Youngstown doors and wet-noodle and maple leaf logos awaited loading.
"The Lewvan has many wonderful memories for me. I discovered it on a very hot July day in 1970 when many of the depots and elevators were still there. It was so hot that my wife was refilling our thermos with water at every town. The towns still had businesses then and were at least somewhat viable. I eventually got to chase it a couple of times and enjoyed that very much. I wish I had started 10 years sooner, but I'm glad for what I got." Chuck Bohi The elevators at Colfax were lettered for Sask Pool, Searle and Federal. CN still thought enough of traffic on the Lewvan Sub that they stationed a speeder here for the section forces. The town's houses, church and garage were of wooden construction and looked like they had stubbornly faced many harsh prairie summers and winters.
Namesake town of the subdivision sported a Pioneer elevator with two annexes, as well as two Parrish & Heimbecker elevators. The nearest one included an old tractor and grain truck parked
behind it. Some low cloud made for moody photography and foreshadowed the demise of the line only a few years later, after being one of the last strongholds of GMD-1's.
"Lewvan [Sub] was there 8 years ago - the southernmost portion overgrown with weeds, but at least as far as Estlin & Riceton had been sprayed so the rails were visible, albeit coloured brown. The sub. was still listed on the employee timetables as late as August, 2001. "
Peter Lacey
Late Sunday morning, after an overnight stop in Weyburn, I visited Estlin, the town with the most colourful elevators: two Pioneer and one Cargill. A tilted wooden whistle post indicated the road I was on. Due to the cold and wet, I preferred to stay inside my warm rented Chrysler Fifth Avenue to keep the upholstery clean, and shoot with the telephoto lens!
With the option of visiting Riceton or running out of gas, I only got as far as Gray, where the store was open but the gas pumps were not. Covered hoppers, though likely not fully-loaded were spotted here. I coasted into Regina and found Petro-Canada open. This was one of CN's subdivisions notoriously listed in the employees' timetable as "Only units in series 1000-1076 permitted."
"I scanned some slides yesterday of the last run of the A1A's down to Talmage in 1999. I was kept in the loop as to when the train was going to run and made a hasty decision on a Friday afternoon to fly out to Regina to document the Sunday move. The train spotted about a dozen cars at Rowatt before heading to Talmage."
Jeff Robertson
Just south of Regina, Rowatt was my last stop. Next door to the Sask Pool elevator was a new Cargill, with exposed elevating leg, one wooden and two steel bins. Before long, concrete elevators would take over, the light rail subdivisions would be pulled up, wooden elevators would tumble, and the boxcars would be scrapped.