Friday, April 1, 2011

CN Steam Freight

Twenty-five years after the age of steam, rising energy prices led to a re-examination of the use of steam by CN management. Specifically, the use of surplus VIA steam generator units (SGU's) to heat cargoes en route, saving shippers and consignees the need to heat upon arrival thereby reducing production costs. In April 1985, CN operated a series of little-known experimental steam freights between Montreal and Toronto. These trains usually operated at night to avoid industrial espionage efforts by CP and competing US railroads. CN marketing teams, under CN Marketing Vice-President A.P. Rilfuls had been given the task of researching specific cargoes that could be included in this program.

The teams came back with a diverse range of steamed commodities such as vegetables, rice, dry-cleaned garments, clams and mussels, hot liquids such as cider and tea, bread dough, and kiln-dried lumber. A rare daylight move, necessitated by a last-minute SGU swap at CN's MacMillan Yard, was caught on film by Trackside Treasure photographers very early in April 1985 at Mileage 141.4 of the Kingston Sub (above). The gondola loads behind the SGU were likely hot steel being kept warm by SGU 15469 being pulled by 9622-9414.

Symbols to be used by CN for these experimental trains included Heat In Transit (HIT), Steam In Transit (SIT) although Progressive Online Unit Train Incorporating New Energy (POUTINE) was immediately rejected as being too wordy, and Steam Heated In Transit was also rejected for obvious reasons. Labcoat-clad technicians were on the far side of this train, thus not visible in this photo with their clipboards, thermometers and laptops, while monitoring this movement possibly involved warm newsprint, likely for use in printing news "hot off the presses". CN newsprint boxcar 410105 is paired with VIA 15485:
Ultimately, the project ran out of steam, the marketing plan went up in smoke and CN's enthusiasm cooled . The proponents of the plan were raked over the coals and had their ashes kicked then handed to them. After leaving CN, believing that the Marketing VP was just blowing smoke, they turned their attention to another alternative energy source - wind power. They and are now cashing in on the wind turbine craze.


Steve Boyko said...

You're a day early, Eric!

Eric said...

True Steve, I know, I know it's not even April yet, but I'd rather be early than be a "fool" for posting after noon tomorrow! I know you won't get steamed because I'm ahead of schedule.

Robert in Port Townsend said...

Well unfortunately THAT wasn't the first time steam generator cars were tried on various consignments.

We had them out in Prince Rupert back in 1957. The Fisherman's Coop tried using them to ship steamed clams.

Then marketing got hold of the idea. They tried them on a passenger train to keep passengers warm.

Worked out pretty well!

Zartok-35 said...

CN sure liked their temperature-controlled deliveries. I guess the 'Superthem' series insulated equipment worked out better for them.

Eric said...

Hi Robert and Elijah, have eiether of you considered a career future with CN Marketing?

Semi-seriously though, I still wonder why they were dragging that SGU around in the first photo. Second photo was on the cabooseless display train:

Thanks for your comments, and happy March 32nd!

Craig Davies said...

Hi Eric,

I'm not contacting you about this specific post, but love the site. Photography is my passion and I wanted to know how to send you some rail shots for fun that I have taken over the years. You can see some Royal Hudson b&w shots on my blog

I have taken some elevator shots on the prairies since the 80's also. Anyway, what a great site you have.

Craig Davies

Eric said...

Hi Craig,
Good to hear from you and thanks for your kind comments about Trackside Treasure. I share your interest in photography, although you have far surpassed my knowledge and style. I visited your site and you have some great shots there.

As I see it, the most formidable enemy of great railway photography is the wedge shot, which has been around since the early 20th century. I think we all appreciate variety in photography, and with the cookie-cutter nature of many of today's cross-border CN and CP trains for instance, creativity and variety are essential.

Feel free to email me at mile179kingstonATyahooDOTca.