Saturday, October 6, 2012

ONR - The Northlander

Last weekend's final runs on Ontario Northland's Toronto-Cochrane Northlander resulted in a wave of nostalgia, regret, political rhetoric and separation talk from some Northerners.  I'll leave it to the political pundits to discuss whether the cancellation was a calculated move by southern politicians to alienate northern residents, or just the reaction of a desperately cash-strapped Ontario government, trying to cut subsidies to a passenger service that could never earn a profit.  To me, it's just one less interesting (dare I say iconic?) regional passenger train in Canada.  
Initially equipped with conventional passenger equipment - ONR acquired passenger cars from Bangor & Aroostook, Canadian Pacific, Detroit & Mackinac and Norfolk & Western - F-units pulled the trains.  ONR 1502 was at Spadina roundhouse in July, 1982.
I remember the Trans-European (TEE) trainsets, one of which travelled east for display at Belleville Railway Days.  The trains travelled the Kingston Sub once again, heading back to Europe after their career on the Ontario Northland.  ONR was keen to publicize their newly-acquired trains:
The TEE trains were built by Swiss Industrial Co., Werkspoor and Brown-Boveri.  Out of service due to their age and the electrification of their Paris-Zurich line, the trains had a purchase price of $200,000 each including a major overhaul.  Shipped from Europe as deck cargo, the trainsets were leased from the Urban Transport Development Corporation, and final assembly took place in Malton, Ontario.  Since the Toronto-Timmins run was one-third on CN lines, the 1900-1903 locomotive numbering was changed to 1980-1983, although interestingly, last-shipped 1983 never operated as 1903.
The TEE cars outlasted the Swiss power units , which were replaced with F-units. CN 8517 pulls ONR 1985 and its three car train to be serviced at Spadina in August, 1981. The F-units were rebuilt to match the profile of the TEE cars, and received a couple of different paint schemes.  The modified F-units then operated with former GO Transit single-level ex-commuter cars.  
It was these cars that I rode to Timmins and back, with my northbound train ONR GP38-2 1808-APU 203-coach 609-snack car 702-coach 612. The trainman and I disembarked as he threw the switch for the approaching southbound at South River behind 1501 (above).  The trainman kept snapping photos after I posed with the engine, resulting in this photo of the train stopped in the show at South River:
The car interiors were quite nice. Watch for an upcoming blog post on this March, 1994 trip.
Though the Northlander is often photographed in the majesty of Ontario's north, here it is at its southern terminus.  On November 25, 1994 at 1120, the consist ONR 1501-202-606-700-612 is approaching the Skywalk west of Toronto Union Station and is dwarfed by hotels and the convention centre, not the pine forests, sparkling lakes and colourful foliage that normally surround it on its journey north:
Last Thursday, I was lucky to see one of the Northlander's last consists under the trainshed at Union Station 1809-1800-202-604-615-612-606-703.  Previously, I'd seen the Northlander at Washago in 2010:

In all cases, the train appeared well-patronized.  But what rail passenger service can pay for itself?  The Northlander was no different.  Will it return?
Watch for more Ontario Northland posts in this series...documents, train orders, publicity, schedules and my snowy 1994 trip.

Running extra...

The extensive coverage of the last Northlander makes me wonder what coverage could have been preserved for posterity at the time of the 1981 and 1990 VIA Rail cuts.  Then, all that was available was overly-sentimental TV news reports, hoary newspaper accounts and enthusiast newsletter articles...a  month later.  How things have changed.  Now we have video, social media, and other real-time accounts and photographs of the last Northlanders. Steve Boyko has links to some videos here.  VIAphile Matt Soknacki rounded up some fine photography of the last runs as showcased on, here, here and here, and will be posting a trip account and more photos of his recent trip north.

I was happy to receive an email from my printer, telling me that the final proof of my second VIA Rail book should be in my hands tomorrow.  The end of a year-and-a-half of work is at hand.  I'll be sharing this update with the CRHA Toronto & York Division Thursday, where I'll be speaking on VIA Rail and my first book.  If any Division members are Trackside Treasure readers, I hope to see you there!

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian readers.  We truly have so much to be thankful for, not just one day a year, but all year.  May your upcoming week be filled with turkey casserole, turkey soup, turkey pot pie, turkey tetrazzini...


Andrae Griffith said...

Will it return? I suspect so. Northern Ontario will be hit much harder than us down south when gas prices continue to rise. But, I'm just a professional transit planner - nobody listens to me.

Love the site!

Anonymous said...

There sure was some beautiful graphic design on Canadian railways during the 60s and 70s. The Northlander is a good example of that in my opinion.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, A. and Andrae. I hope the Northlander does return, somehow sometime. I hope you've seen Chris Mears' Prince Street Terminal blog. Chris blogs about a wide variety of topics, including commuter.

I do believe the ONR chevron scheme was intended to represent rushing rivers or rapids. You've probably noticed I also changed the colours of my blog to match this post. Unoriginal but highly topical.

Great to hear from you both,

Anonymous said...

Great post Eric. I was always fascinated with the Northlander's Swiss consist if only from a page in an old Marklin catalogue I had. What ever happened to the train set after it was replaced with the ex-GO cars? Was it just scrapped in Canada?

Anonymous said...

Wow Eric, thanks for the kind words. I really appreciate it.

Eric said...

Well Chris, apparently the TEE trains were Europe. I know someone who told me he has photos of the train move to eastern seaport stopped near Kingston. I'll email him to see if he's got them handy. This definitely has the potential to be a Trackside Treasure postscript, don't you think?

Thanks for reminding me, I'll email him now.

Anonymous said...

Whoever had the brainwave to turn the Northlander into a day train was the person responsible in driving the last nail in our railways passenger service, Instead of promoting the train they killedit. Hopefully this person responsible got a cut in wages equivalent to the work they don.t have to do now.

Denis Charette

Eric said...

Or worse, Denis! These days, for environmental and service reasons, trains are clearly the superior choice. There are a lot larger government waste sources that remain untouched.

Check out Thomas Blampied's book on the train if you haven't already.

Thanks for your comments,

Anonymous said...

Can we go back in time and bring the Ontario northlander back

Eric said...

Lots of folks want that, A. Not the least of which were Northerners!
Thanks for your comment,