Thursday, February 27, 2020

VIA Turbo Replacements, June-July 1979

CN's Turbos have achieved a near-mythical status among Canadian rail enthusiasts. The Turbos' service life was not uneventful - far from it. On June 27, 1978 I observed CN 3742 was pulling Turbo VIA 154-129 at 1231 westbound through Kingston. Despite an overall 97% availability rate in CN and VIA service, the Turbos were withdrawn from service on a few occasions:
  • January 7, 1969 - May 25, 1970
  • February 1, 1971 reconfigured into 9-car sets back in service June 22, 1973 (some sources state December)
  • June 1973 - December 1973
  • May 29, 1979 fire at Morrisburg, back in service by August
Turbos caught fire in 1973 near Montreal and September, 1975 near Riviere Beaudette, QC. 

The May 1979 incident occurred at 1715 hrs - fire in power car 153 (other end power car 125) operating as VIA train No 66. The train was evacuated, passengers placed on other trains, and the next morning CN GP9 4479 hauled the damaged consist west back to Brockville to clear the main line. VIA took all Turbos out of service, suggesting that they might never be returned to service, and that their operation was incurring high costs. Conventional equipment covered morning and evening scheduled runs.

Upon returning to service later that summer, one pair of Turbo runs began covering the evening schedules, though morning trains continued as Rapido conventional consists. (This was reportedly to allow time for thorough mechanical inspections of the operating Turbos between evening runs.) I have called these conventional stand-in trains 'Turbo Replacements". VIA-painted 60-degree yellow-nosed 6516 leads the first such replacement I observed past Mi 182 Kingston Sub, on June 15 (top  photo). Online photo auction site (captioned September 1979) VIA 6525 at Kingston:
I was able to document some Turbo replacement consists in my first book, throughout June and July 1979. Each consist comprised one 6500 for power, a club, a cafe-bar-lounge and three coaches. Notable and photographable because none had a baggage car, unusual for the time. The timetable indicated that Turbos had no checked baggage service, so neither did their replacements. And the consists were shorter than the usual 8-11 cars of other VIA trains. 
The above observations show that the Turbo replacements were largely unable to keep to the Turbo scheduled arrival times at Kingston, their only stop other than Dorval and Guildwood:  
  • Westbound morning No 61 due at 0950
  • Eastbound morning No 60 due 0935
  • Westbound evening No 67 at 1805
  • Eastbound evening No 66 at 1750
My first observation of a Turbo replacement on June 9. 'Dude, where's my baggage car?' is an initial visual tip-off. VIA 6537 has CN 3112 in tow with its unusually-shortened five-car consist.
As with many things VIA in its early era, we didn't really 'know' what we were looking at. We didn't know how unusual and unique VIA's genesis was. Sometimes it takes years of reflection to look back and highlight how unique and short-lived some of VIA's operations were.

Here's a sensational Montreal Gazette press photo of the 1979 fire:
The Turbos made their final runs on October 31, 1982. 

Running extra:

Some posts are magazines, some are Harry Potter novels. You know, posts that you need to prepare a fine beverage to sit down and enjoy in a leisurely manner. Tim Hayman's recent trip to Montreal and Ottawa is one. Tim's newsy text and sensibly-sprinkled photos are as close to being aboard as one can get! Highly recommended.

Three weeks of hundreds of VIA Corridor trains cancelled, hundreds of thousands of passenger trips not made, and no freight traffic on the CN Kingston Sub until very recently. Though I would like to highlight the challenges and interesting operations that are occurring, I've decided to wallow in nostalgia instead. And do some bus-watching...

Kingston is hosting the 2020 curling Brier. For months now, Kingston Transit electronic roll-signs have encouraged residents to buy tickets. Now KT is encouraging visitors to get on the bus and welcoming them with coffee-shop branding:


Steve Boyko said...

I'm curious how they had a 97% availability rate when they were withdrawn from service for such a long period of time. I guess the clock was paused?

Eric said...

I guess it was, Steve. Those reconfiguration/repair times were probably excluded when this statistical analysis was done. Those loyal to the Turbo claim that they were very reliable. I'm not sure what the reliability rate for any F-unit or EM coach would have been. Every piece of equipment is unavailable sometime.

Part of the Turbo mystique may have been the constant defence and promotion of its positive qualities, in the face of those who saw it as unconventional and futureless.

Thanks for your comment,