Friday, June 19, 2020

CN 399000 Articulated Potash Car


CN's Transcona Shops in Winnipeg produced articulated covered hopper CN 399000 in March, 1993 for potash service. A unique articulated design, similar to but not identical to CN 398000 which was in grain service, CN 399000 was 55'10" in length and 15'6" in height, with a capacity of 4600 cubic feet. This additional capacity was 800 cu ft. larger than the standard 3800 cu ft cylindrical covered hopper car. CN 399000 spent most of its life being loaded at the potash mines in the Saskatoon area and unloading at various ports and large cities throughout the western U.S. and Canada. At the same time, CP was working with Canpotex and National Steel Car (NSC) to develop a three-unit potash prototype using slackless couplers, inter-unit drawbars and self-steering trucks. 

Canpotex (Canadian Potash Exporters) entered operation in 1972 as a potash marketing firm and exports one third of the world's potash annually, now representing Agrium, Mosaic and Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. Canpotex and NSC have together provided 7,000 cars for potash shipments.


Beginning in March, 1998 Saskatchewan potash began traversing CN's Kingston Sub en route from Melville, SK to Clover Hill, NB. A heavy train, eastbound CN No 738 brought the potash for refining to Clover Hill, NB via CN's Denison Sub, since the there was flooded but could still process mined potash. More on these unique unit trains here. 

I'd spotted CN 399000 eastbound on No 738, and on September 10, 1999 a CN public trace showed it coming west on 90-car CN No 737, in the company of some of the 1600 cylindrical covered hoppers lettered for Canpotex. These classic cylindricals have been almost totally replaced by 4300 cu ft shorter cars with a variety of reporting marks. Passing Kingston's Coverdale Drive intersection, I hastily snapped this unique car from the No Frills parking lot here at 1500 hours:
Interestingly, one unit of the articulated car was equipped with troughs, the other had round hatches for loading. There have been printed reports of structural issues around the articulated connection in the centre of the car:
I'd contacted my Dad by phone as a backup plan - in case I wasn't able to quite make it trackside after work that day. He set up at Mi 182, about three miles to the west. He photographed the head end: CN 2418-4131. Being empties, the eastbound consist was kept together and was definitely not over-powered! A subsequent CN No 737 on October 2, observed at Belleville, was powered by single unit CN 2402 and sample cars PTEX 455420 and 455704. 
Nailed it!
Going-away shot into the afternoon sun:
I had only one more observation of this unique car - on December 6, 2007 on CN No 309 with high-visibility striping applied. Two years later, Peter Mumby photographed CN 399000 in 2009, also showing the high-visibility striping:

Lots o' links:
  • CN 399000 on CN's Edson Sub in 2017. The car has acquired a colourful bit of graffiti that nearly obscures the Canpotex lettering on one side. It's at the 4:10 mark of this video.
  • Canpotex unloading just like the real thing!
  • Canpotex in model form. One modeller bought 50 of these cars, paid to have them professionally weathered, resulting in a train that cost $10,000. That would buy 40 tonnes of potash!
  • Now, CN operates their heavy potash eastward moves as train B730, with up to four locomotives including rear Distributed Power to Saint John, NB.
  • Instead of falling into a mindless stupour watching all those 200 cars pass by, here's one to watch for: CEFX 302593, the 5,000th Canpotex car built by NSC.
  • Modelling potash cars on CP, 1995-style.
  • PWRS master class on potash cars.

Running extra...

John Fenner of Montreal will be receiving the Trackside Treasure prize pack for his entry in Trackside Treasure's Covert Covid Contest. Describing how he's modelling or railfanning local in 2020, part of this blog's self-declared campaign, John shared the following:

 "Re 2020 modelling/surviving COVID:   My theme:  “Run What You Brung” and use up stuff - have someone hold my ankles while I dive deep into my scrap box.  As our local hobby shop was closed for the duration, I was down to, for example,  stripping air horns off scrap trainset (Tyco™ !!) shells to use on a “vintage” FA-2 NYC detailing project that had been suspended since sometime in the late 1990’s  , and piecing together “GAIETE”  to name a CN lounge car (itself an Athearn Blue-box kitbash) ,  out of a decal set for “MAGNOLIA PETROLEUM COMPANY”. Good fun.  And doing my bit to save the world  (by staying home)

Dame Vera Lynn left behind sentimental classics like We'll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. She's been hailed by queens and captains alike, with pandemic fundraising phenom Captain Tom noting how much her songs meant to him while stationed in Burma during WW2. Dame Vera was 103 years young!


Robert Archer said...

Very interesting post on a unusual freight car.
In 1993 CN was still an instrument of government transportation policy so it could build experimental cars.
As I've written before Kingston is a great location for seeing lots of different things on CN.
What was the fate of this car?
Has it been scrapped or is it still sitting in the back of a yard somewhere near Winnipeg?

Eric said...

Indeed, Robert. Not sure on the latest update on either articulated car, though I do know they spend more of they fair share of time stuck in various yards. Yes, before CN started its insatiable quest for the lowest Operating Ratio, things were different.

Watch for an upcoming post featuring the smattering of scintillating sights here at Kingston Station - Railfan & Model Local 2020 gleanings!

Thanks very much for your comment,

Brian said...

An interesting car Eric. I don’t know the loading capacity for this car, but some rough math based on the car’s volume would suggest that it was in the neighbourhood of 125 tons. It seems to me that it could be quite easy to overload the center truck. So, it would be interesting to know if the car was constructed so as to limit how the four hoppers could loaded or if special loading instructions were relied upon. The third truck and the articulated joints would certain add to the maintenance costs.

I remember hearing that one of the objectives behind CN398000 was to determine if the design would be feasible for moving grain to Churchill, thereby eliminating the need for Churchill boxcar fleet. At the time, the prevailing view within CN was that line to Churchill could not accommodate conventional hopper cars. If that was indeed true, then I wonder if someone at CN had the idea that CN399000 might allow potash to be moved to Churchill too.

Eric said...

Great points, Brian, and I'd need to find out from someone who was 'in the room where it happened. I agree about the genesis of CN 398000, and I'm not sure if that same rationale carried over for CN 399000 a few years later. New designs should be ones that are useful to the customer and I'm not sure how potash shippers thought this design would improve their business.

Thanks for your thought-provoking comment,

Anonymous said...

Excellent writeup! I both railfan and model the other end of things; the CN/IC in Central IL has many fertilizer dealers which receive potash. Thanks for sharing PWRS' master class on their NSC cars; I didn't realize so many of the Canpotex cars worked in my 2008 modeling timeframe.


Eric said...

Good to hear, Isaac! Thanks for your kind words. Glad to hear Trackside Treasure is assisting enthusiasts and modellers on both sides of the border!