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


Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,
wanted to thank you for you effort on your blog. It's fantastic and please keep up the good work.
This is exactly what I've been looking for in terms of consists and photos in this time period.
As I'm in my mid 40's and spent most time back east and remember well the '61 paint scheme, Turbo's in CN paint scheme, etc...Spent lots of time on the overnighter leaving Dorval for Toronto. Also spent lots of time on the Super Continental to Vancouver as a kid. Probably stood more in the vestibule than in my Dayniter seat for the entire trip.
So, I look forward to seeing your next blog on "view's from the vestibule....."
It seems everyone and their grandmother is modelling the '54 scheme so it's nice to see these photos of the '61 for the next generation of modellers/railfans.
Will be checking back on a daily basis.
With thanks,

Eric said...

Hi Heath, thanks for those kind words. I have some vestibule shots from various locations that I want to share... THE place to be on a train until the conductor or porter passed through, unless they turned a blind eye. I generally blog weekly or biweekly - I'm in it for the long haul, rather than a flash in the pan, and I enjoy looking back through those consists and photos as I put each post together. Actually, my next couple of posts will be on the freight side - grain boxcars, but I've got lots of VIA stuff to post too.

Anonymous said...

thanks Eric,
I should send you the link to my train movies I made on my friends layout on Youtube.
As I live in a small condo I don't have the room for a layout. A friend of mine has a large layout that I help build and I get the chance to run my trains on.
If you like do a search for heathmphoto on Youtube and you'll come across all the movies I've made.
Looking forward to the new posts. Will pass on your blog to others.

Eric said...

I checked out those videos, Heath. The Super and the work train look great in particular, as well as the BCOL covered hoppers on the wayfreight. Thanks for sharing, Eric.

Unknown said...

Great post Eric!

I find it very interesting that CN and VIA ran TOFC/COFC traffic north to Churchill on their passenger trains. That would have been cool to see!

Early in the fall of this year, I caught an interesting 12-car consist on VIA 693. The train had two F40PH-3's leading (Numbers 6420 and 6408). The locomotives were followed by Baggage car 8101, three coaches (8123, 8113 and 8120), Skyline Car 8511, Dining Car "Kent" and four Chateau sleepers (Viger, Argenson, Vercheres and Rigaud). Kokanee Park brought up the rear of the train.

The train was extra long to accommodate the large amount of passengers traveling North to Churchill to see the whales.

Looking forward to the next post,


Eric said...

Yes, the COFC was four 20-footers on a flat car. Later, the full-size TOFC trailers were in use. Thanks for sharing that great Churchill train consist from the fall! Whale season!

I did have the chance to see the full Churchill train at Portage, one day in 1976. Wish I had more photos of that one. I'll post the consist.

Thanks for your comments,