Thursday, January 17, 2019

VIA's Head End Power Program

As early as 1981, VIA had considered following Amtrak’s example of switching from steam heat for its passenger cars to electric heat.  At that time, the cost per car was estimated at $200,000, plus the cost of electric generating cars or locomotives equipped with Head End Power (HEP). To-be-converted ex-CP coaches 102 and 112 are behind the power - 6439-6303 on VIA No 62 on April 27, 1991 (top photo) with my mini-me railfan!


In 1987, VIA announced plans for a massive HEP rebuilding of its steam-heated stainless steel fleet. The $90 million contract was awarded in September 1988. All design and engineering work was to be done in-house by VIA, with some cars requiring over one thousand engineering drawings!  New air conditioning, electrical appliances, water systems including showers in sleepers, fire protection, wiring, interior coverings and rebuilt trucks were some of the upgrades these 35 year-old cars received.  Montreal’s AMF Technotransport, a CN subsidiary located in the Pointe St Charles shops, rebuilt the cars, which were also renumbered: 600-series baggage cars became 8600’s, 100-series coaches became 8100’s, 500-series Skylines became 8500’s, 16500-series diners became 8400’s, 14300-series Manor sleepers became 8300’s, 14200-series Chateau sleepers became 8200’s, and 15500-series Park cars became 8700’s. Renumbered 8101 as part of the HEP rebuilding program, ex-CP coach (101) is on VIA No 60 at Kingston on September 2, 2011:


The first planned consist: 8601-8104-8118-8518-Burton Manor-Carleton Manor-Dunsmuir Manor-Empress-Chateau Bienville-Chateau Radisson-Assiniboine Park. A guard consist of spare cars would be rebuilt next: 8604-8117-8515-Elgin Manor-Fairholme-Chateau Levis-Tremblant Park.

As consists were completed, they were placed in service.  Early plans to rebuild 45 ex-CN CC&F blue & yellow cars were shelved, in light of the devastating 1990 cuts.  While it was seen as a knock against the cars’ steel construction and subsequent corrosion of the car bodies, these cars went on to extended careers with other railways and private operators. Eventually, other stainless steel cars were bought and converted to HEP to 'replace' these ex-CN cars in the VIA fleet. VIA acquired, but did not convert to HEP, four baggage cars (planned as VIA 618-621), 1 dome-obs (15519) and seven dome coaches (518-524).

An HEP display train for viewing debuted on May 18, 1990:  8120-8515-Elgin Manor-Fairholme-Chateau Levis-Tremblant Park, with coach 8117 released for cold-weather testing in August, 1989 by Ottawa's National Research Council. Over 1,000 miles of road-testing was required prior to acceptance of the cars by VIA. VIA 8117's road testing lasted from December 1989 to May 1990, then the car was returned for improvements before final aceptance in August 1990. Here's 8117 on No 63 at Belleville on April 30, 1990, also seen on No 62 on May 8:
Arriving in Toronto from Montreal on October 6, 1990, the HEP display train consist: 6443-6436-8604-Jarvis Manor-Chateau Levis-8104-8515-Empress-Elgin Manor-Tremblant Park.  Departing Toronto, spare cars 8118 and Chateau Bienville were added behind the power and later set out in Winnipeg.  Jarvis Manor and Chateau Levis were used as crew sleepers, cut in behind 8604.  The train travelled to Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper, reaching Vancouver on October 20, 1990.


It was expected that one 11-car HEP consist would be in service in May 1991, three consists by June 1991, with program completion in May 1992.  In fact, three consists and spares, 47 cars in total, were completed by July 1991.  Five HEP consists were in service on the Canadian by January 1992.

Departures of VIA Nos 1 and 2 with HEP consists grew from two to four monthly through the months of November 1990-March 1991, five and six from April 1991 to June 1991, eight and nine from July 1991 to November 1991, and all HEP consists as of November 28, 1991.  Ever seen this many passengers trying to board a Park car? It's Brian Schuff's photo of  HEP refurbished Banff Park on the CBC anniversary train at Winnipeg in September, 2002!
The first HEP consist on the Gaspe run departed Montreal on April 6, 1992: 6439-8608-8115-8102-Annapolis-Chateau Lasalle-Chateau Lemoyne.  A second consist departed Montreal on September 24, 1992.  One HEP consist was in operation by January 1992 on the Skeena.  By April, all Skeena consists were HEP-equipped.  Steam-heated equipment previously used on the Skeena was moved from Vancouver east on CN train No 218 on May 14, 1992: 15441, 15475, 15486 and 9483 to Winnipeg; 5595, 5596-5621-5627 to Toronto; 9475, 9479, 9481 and 9482 to storage in Toronto; and 501, 503 and 504 for HEP conversion, the last three Skylines to be converted.   The last HEP car was accepted by VIA on June 21, 1994.


The HEP (eventually referred to as HEP1) program involved the rebuilding of 24 stainless steel cars not part of CP’s Canadian.  Baggage cars 8618-8623 and coaches 8130-8147 were built for U.S. railroads such as NYC, RF&P and UP and purchased by VIA.  Ex-UP baggage car 8618 is on VIA No 55 at Kingston on September 2, 2011 (above). Rebuilding of these cars began at Septa Rail in 1992, with coaches completed by AMF Technotransport after Septa’s bankruptcy.  The baggage cars were accepted by VIA between October 23, 1992 and May 31, 1993.  All HEP1 cars were given a solid blue letterboard above the windows, with the coaches at least intended for long-distance service. 

Interestingly, when the last conventional Corridor trains were converted to LRC consists in mid-1991, ex-CP baggages 612, 613 and 615 were modified with pass-through HEP cables for heat and light, intended for baggage service on train Nos 62/63 and 70/79/172.  This allowed the baggage cars to operate next to the locomotive.  HEP baggage car 8605 also operated on Corridor trains.  Pass-through cable-equipped 615 operated until its AMF rebuild scheduled for 1993. 


Announced in June 1992, this program involved the rebuilding of 33 cars with unique blue & yellow letterboard above the windows, at a cost of $57.8 million.  The contract was awarded in December 1992 and would result in 74-seat coaches and 56-seat first class cars with interiors similar to those of the LRC.  The cars, originally from SP and other U.S. railroads, were renumbered 4100-4125 and 4000-4006 respectively would replace ex-CN blue & yellow cars still in Corridor service.  Coaches 4123-4125 were converted to club cars in 2000, renumbered 4007-4009. The cars were stripped to their shells, many in Halifax, then moved to CN’s subsidiary AMF in Montreal. Interestingly, downsizing at VIA meant hat in-house engineering was no longer feasible for the HEP2 program.  Modern interiors were created by AMF and Stone Safety Corp., Coach & Car Inc. and Polatec Inc. Thirty-three pairs of trucks came from ex-CN blue & yellow cars. HEP2 coach  4109 is on VIA No 60 in September, 2011 (above).

HEP2 cars entered service beginning on April 28, 1995, with an HEP2 display train touring Toronto, London and Windsor in late-February 1996: 6405-4002-4104-4124(still waiting for its seats) and the last HEP2 car was delivered on March 25, 1996. 

Eventually a fleet of 78 cars was amassed between 1987 and 1993 with 57 cars actually rebuilt (24 HEP1 and 33 HEP2), 18 later sold and three still stored in Montreal.  VIA gave each car purchased from U.S. railroads a temporary three-digit number.  For a summary of the lineage of these cars, see the Canadian Trackside Guide.  I’ve seen photos of Southern Railway, Amtrak, and Chesapeake & Ohio cars taken in Halifax in the early 1990’s with crudely lettered “VIA” and three-digit numbers on their number plates.  What a sight!

The HEP rebuilding program took VIA's stainless steel fleet from sizzling steam-leakers to sleek silver serpentine streamliners.

Further reading:
  • VIA "HEPPED" FOR SUCCESS by Douglas N.W. Smith, Canadian Rail Passenger Review No.1, 1997.
  • REBUILDING THE DREAM by Douglas N.W. Smith, Canadian Rail Passenger Yearbook, 1995 Edition.
Running extra...this week in italics!

Watch for an upcoming post on Kingston's new Railfan Walking Trail!

Looking for some fun? Every time someone asks, 'How are you?' just say the following...."So Good!" and pause. I have found that 90% of people will then repeat exactly that, and say 'So Good!", either in a surprised or pensive tone. Fun!

The three most-overused phrases of the week:

  • 1. Let's walk that statement back.
  • 2. They just moved the goalposts.
  • 3. So good!


Anonymous said...

HEP cars 4007, 4008, and 4009 were used on the Pierre Trudeau Funeral train in late 2000. Dome Yoho Park was the last car in the consist.

Eric said...

Good point, A.

VIA 4007 functioned as the car for media, the power was VIA 6433-6436 and the date was October 2, 2000.