Friday, June 17, 2022

Two Pivotal Years for VIA: 1983 and 1992

Throughout VIA's history, inertial forces were at work through times of stability as well as times of change. Two pivotal years in which many major changes to VIA's fleet and its operations occurred were 1983 and 1992. Interestingly, two years prior to each, VIA had suffered major service cuts. Your humble blogger captures the moment at Kingston in July, 1982 (all three photos - L.C. Gagnon).

In its infancy, VIA had struggled to maintain service and equipment. It was more than apparent that improvements were required. A hodge-podge fleet of conventional cars meant that small classes of cars led to less interchangeability and to maintenance challenges. After the 1981 cuts, fewer cars were required, and many such cars were taken out of service for disposition, including ex-Reading Crusader cars, 400-series dinettes, Falls and River sleepers, Sceneramics, Cape-series sleeper-lounges, older coaches, some baggages and baggage-dorms and other oddities!
Evening eastbound at Amherstview, complete with ex-Reading Crusader car, January 1, 1980 

Conversion to Head End Power (HEP) was still some years away, but it was already apparent that steam-heated, 30 year-old equipment in the harsh Canadian climate was affecting reliability and schedule-keeping. A major $1 million program to improve steam heating on VIA's long-distance fleet was announced. Steam pipes were fitted with new insulation, steam control valves checked and replaced, and cars' steam-heating systems rigorously inspected and repaired. VIA expressed interest in obtaining double-deck cars for transcontinental service!
Teething troubles continued with the new LRC fleet. In December, the 50-car coach fleet was removed from service after a bearing failure near Grafton, ON. In the ensuing inspection and repair period, conventional cars pulled by CN GMD-1's, LRC locomotives paired with B-units and CN Geeps with SGU's covered LRC schedules. Fortunately, LRC locomotives were cleared for higher-speed operation, from 75 mph to a new maximum speed of 95 mph.

VIA's ex-CN Tempo fleet was upgraded, with all 25 cars cycling through Montreal's Pointe St Charles shops to change voltage from 575V to 480V, thus making the cars compatible with LRC locomotives. As a result, CN RS-18m's 3150-3155 entered storage. By summer, these units were taken from storage in Toronto for stripping in Montreal and Moncton, NB.

With the retirement of the ex-CN Turbos in October, 1982, the "Turbo Bay" maintenance tracks under Montreal's Central Station were now available. Nineteen Montreal-based RDC's, including three still maintained at CP's Glen Yard, plus CN electrics and MU cars moved in.

Servicing of conventional cars, RDC's and locomotives carried out by CP at the Glen and Calgary's Alyth would be done by CN at Pointe St Charles and Winnipeg's Transcona shops, with major servicing centralized at Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

The LRC fleet had utilized GO Transit's Willowbrook facility and its drop pits, but was now maintained at Can-Car facilities in Lachine, QC while new VIA shops in Montreal were under construction. 

Change to the nature and use of VIA's aging F-unit fleet was undertaken, with new locomotives still at least three years away. CP agreed that non-dynamic brake-equipped F-units could operate on the Canadian in mountain territory: ex-CN F's and eight rebuilt ex-CP F's worked west of Winnipeg through to Vancouver. CP no longer serviced F-units at Alyth in Calgary, and would no longer perform steam generator repairs to its 45-unit steam generator-equipped fleet. Unrebuilt 1400-series F's were stored by CP at Montreal's St Luc yard, Medicine Hat, AB and Calgary, the latter as back-up for the Calgary-Edmonton RDC service. VIA announced plans to remanufacture 15 ex-CN FP9's to FP9ARM's, with the first unit emerging in December.

Plans were made to move servicing of ex-CP Canadian stainless steel cars at Spadina from the Glen, and Montreal passenger were consolidated at Central Station as CP continued to withdraw from the passenger business. 
VIA No 1 station stop at Chapleau - July, 1983 

As in 1983, operational changes in 1992 also resulted from major cuts to VIA made two years earlier. The rolling stock fleet was in a state of flux. The HEP conversion program, begun in 1988, bore fruit with converted cars entering service in 1990. By 1992, all five trainsets required for the triweekly Canadian were HEP-equipped, with the Skeena, Chaleur and Ocean following later in the year. In all, 70% of the fleet would be HEP-equipped by May, 1992. Second-hand coaches from American railroads were also to be part of this HEP1 program, and approval was granted for planning the HEP2 program. 
VIA 9479 at Mimico in October, 1992 (Trackside Treasure collection)

With frequencies reduced, more older cars continued to leave the property. First-generation locomotives, too, with 6506 and 6514 running out their last miles. Fewer LRC locomotives were needed, with 10 in service with 20 others stored. Dangerously disruptive LRC coach axle breakages hailed the beginning of VIA's Operation Axle in March. Fortunately, enough conventional blue & yellow cars were still on hand to fill replacement consists. There was good news, too. With a leaner fleet came various service enhancements. LRC car interiors were refurbished, with backward-facing seats removed. At-seat cart service was introduced in the Corridor. An additional frequency was introduced between Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal!
A new station was announced for Ste-Foy, QC. Montreal-Toronto express trains Nos 166/167 were heralded, with a 4-hour, 10-minute schedule. By the end of 1992, a 3-hour, 59-minute trip was planned. In Western Canada, Silver & Blue touring class was launched.
The winter of 1983-84 would be a media disaster for VIA, with reliability problems finally leading to new power and the search for new rolling stock. The Canadian Transportation Commission launched an investigation in May, 1984 (above). The aftermath of pivotal changes that VIA experienced in 1992 would lead to the imminent end of steam-heated VIA trains. 

Running extra...

Rapido Trains Inc. just announced their intention to produce the CN GP9RM mother and slug sets. Within 24 hours, social media lit up with brass, Kaslo and other GP9RM's for sale. It's The Rapido Effect! Once it's announced, all previous versions go up for sale so their owners can now afford the better, more expensive Rapido product. Happens every time! I have to wonder though, seeing the price for the used paid, what the modeller paid for the brass pair new (one of only 25 produced, apparently).

I don't really know what to make of the perplexing panoply of today's model railway scene. Never in history has so much variety been provided to so many at so high a price. I've written about it before, and though I'd rather model than talk about modelling, we are definitely living in a Golden Age. In which you have to have lots of disposable Gold to play with!
Another week, another Indigo burgeoning bargain section to peruse and plunder! Ottawa's IKEA loomed on the horizon but my feeble feet beat retreat to the nearby Pinecrest bookbarn. Why, Kingston Indigo, why can't you host a bargain section? Don't you know your humble blogger likes bargains? Ottawa came through with a short stack that I'll write more about once I complete the books.*

(*I've already got two of them completely coloured-in!)


Michael said...

That Indigo is a cool store in a horrible plaza. It's close to our house, but we rarely go. Reading about the main topic at hand, I remember being utterly amazed when I first walked the platforms of Union Station in Toronto in 1983 and being shocked to see a complete CN passenger train, idling alongside the mix of Via blue, silver and LRC coach consists. As a kid, I wanted to ride that CN passenger train and was disappointed when we couldn't. It was probably for the best!

Eric said...

Hi Michael,

I walked to Indigo across the parking lot from IKEA. And survived! Good thing it was not a weekend!

Two years that indeed characterize some of VIA's early teething pains. Nowadays, it seems by comparison to be rather uneventful. The change from railway ownership and staff to VIA ownership and staff was wrenching for many involved. Even the railfans!

Thanks for your comment,