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.