Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Report that Hatched Buffer Cars

VIA's implementation of buffer cars on its its consist equipped with HEP1/HEP2 stainless steel cars occurred rapidly in mid-October. In the absence of official press releases from VIA Rail, the buffer car issue became something of a personal quest for clarity. The first post that I published on Thursday, October 13 attempted to amass information from various sources as to why this implementation was occuring, and documenting consists beginning on October 12. A postscript published on November 7 described some early moves of the cars being sent to Ottawa for compression testing. Three days later, a second post included one of only three articles presented in national media. And now this fourth post, with the where-it-all-began genesis - the Hatch Report. Supplanted by a fifth post compiling Corridor buffered consists from Oct/22-Jan/23. A sixth post includes a preliminary Hatch report. This post profiles the final report provided by Hatch Engineering to VIA thence Transport Canada.

This report - VIA Rail Canada Inc. Technical Advice for Railcars Structural Inspection and Reinforcement Summary Report was prepared by Aaron Hoag, Vehicle Engineering Practice Lead, Canada, Transit Business Unit, Hatch (Toronto).  Interestingly, its release date was October 17, five days after the buffer cars were already bracketing HEP consists! The report has been provided to Trackside Treasure through an Access To Information Act request by a third party. No restrictions were placed on sharing it by VIA to the applicant, who agrees with its publication in this post. The report had already been circulated to VIA's employee unions.

On its webpage concerning governance and ethics, VIA Rail states that since 2007, 
At VIA Rail, we believe that openness and transparency are essential to building trusted relationships with customers, partners, and the public. That’s why we make detailed documentation about our operations and activities available to the public.

Without further delay, and in a sincere effort to ensure this transparency and to enlarge and elucidate Trackside Treasure's series of posts on buffer-car implementation, the report follows. The report has been minimally formatted for publishing:


This report provides an overview of the technical advice and recommendations that Hatch Ltd. (“Hatch”) provided to VIA Rail Canada Inc. (“VIA” or “VIA Rail”) regarding a variety of structural conditions VIA identified on their Head End Power (HEP) fleet of stainless-steel passenger rail cars.


1. VIA Rail’s passenger rail fleet consists of approximately 400 passenger rail cars, of which about 200 have predominantly stainless-steel structures and were built by the Budd Company in the United States in the 1950s. This fleet is known as VIA’s HEP fleet. These rail cars are designed for passenger service in mixed traffic on freight rail lines and were designed to the industry standards of the time (known as AAR S-034-45), to resist damage in the unlikely event of a train-to-train or train-to-other object collisions; these same standards remain in place today.

2. VIA launched its Heritage Program in 2018 to renovate 71 of these HEP cars to improve customer experience pending delivery of the new passenger train fleet to be delivered under VIA’s Fleet Replacement Program, transforming the travel experience for Canadians. The Heritage Program work plan initially focused on upgrades of vehicle amenities and some onboard systems.

3. As the Heritage Program renovations progressed, a variety of structural conditions were identified on different cars. A fleetwide visual inspection was initiated by VIA on all HEP cars to identify any unsafe vehicles and immediately remove them from service and institute repairs.

a) Six (6) unique conditions were initially identified initiating the fleetwide inspection.

b) Two (2) further conditions were subsequently identified in the Heritage cars and additional fleet-wide inspections were initiated.

4. As fleetwide inspections continued during the Heritage Program, the findings suggested that all HEP cars likely have some degree of structural degradation of the strength of the car body.

a) The conditions identified on the HEP fleet do not affect the structural performance of the HEP cars under normal operating loads, meaning that they will not fail in regular service.

b) Unfortunately, in most cases, the remaining car body strength of the HEP fleet cars is likely less than original design standards.

c) Operationally, this reduction in car body strength could result in increased injury risks in the case of train-to-train collisions. The extent of this risk is difficult to quantify. Like automobiles, even brand-new rail cars can suffer high levels of damage in collisions above certain speeds. With the deterioration found on the HEP fleet cars, this higher level of damage may occur at lower collision speeds than on a rail car that still complied with the original design standards.

5. When the deterioration found exceeds Transport Canada regulations, VIA is repairing these cars to restore car body strength to their “original configuration, strength level and crashworthiness” according to:

a) American Association of Railroads standard AAR-S-034, which defines the original design conditions, and

b) American Passenger Transit Association standard APTA PR-CS-S-020-03, the “Standard for Passenger Rail Vehicle Structural Repair,” which defines applicable repair procedures.


Based on the progress of the ongoing structural repairs and recent findings, VIA sought external technical advice from Hatch with a mandate to:

i. Identify risks associated to the current operation of the HEP rail cars;

ii. Advise what is required to keep the affected HEP cars in service, if possible;

iii. Confirm the course of actions taken by VIA through its structural inspection and monitoring program;

iv. Recommend measures to further mitigate operational risks on the aging HEP fleet;

v. Provide an opinion to identify other wear, corrosion or other structural issues that should be considered;

vi. Advise any other elements regarding the management of an aging fleet based on industry practices.


• Based on Hatch’s observations and the material provided by VIA, Hatch considers that VIA has been diligently addressing the issues around the known structural conditions as they have been discovered.

• VIA’s repair approach for each of the known eight (8) conditions is in accordance with industry standards.

• Considering the age of the current fleet and the planned operation until 2035, Hatch has provided VIA Rail with key recommendations around fleet replacement, a structural reinforcement program for the current fleet, temporary operational mitigations and updates to VIA’s risk assessment to support decisions around proposed mitigation measures.


Hatch provided the following key recommendations to VIA:

1. Initiate a replacement program for the HEP fleet. By 2035, most of VIA’s HEP fleet will be greater than 80 years old. Considering the age of the fleet, continued deterioration due to corrosion is expected despite any further mitigations taken in the interim. The only long-term solution is the replacement of the fleet.

2. Plan and implement a structural reinforcement program for the entire HEP fleet that restores the strength of the vehicle structure of the HEP cars to their original design capacity. This program will mitigate the increase in employee and passenger safety risks by returning each car’s collision strength to the original design standard.

3. While reinforcements are underway, implement operational mitigations aimed at reducing the consequences of a collision event if feasible and shown to be effective through engineering analysis or simulation. Two such operational mitigations to consider are:

One: Reducing the employee and passenger safety risks from train-to-train collision on unrepaired cars by positioning empty (i.e., non-passenger carrying) cars or baggage cars directly behind both the locomotive and as the last car in the train to act as a buffer should collision loads occur.

a) This mitigation should be assessed by engineering analysis or simulation to optimize the selection and placement of buffer cars for each of VIA’s train configurations for their many different routes. Hatch has been engaged by VIA to perform this analysis. Preliminary results of this work show that the use of the buffer cars is an effective means of mitigating the increased injury risk caused by the structural degradation observed by VIA.

b) To support this analysis, VIA should also perform a compression test of a sample, unrepaired HEP car to better characterize the remaining structural strength of the cars and inform the design of the structural reinforcement program. VIA should also consider a compression test of a fully repaired car to confirm that the reinforcement program is effective. The planning for the proposed compression load test of a sample of unrepaired cars has commenced and Hatch is supporting VIA to expedite the testing.

Two: Consider instituting a reduction in speed at grade crossings considered as higher-risk for significant collisions. The amount and location of speed reduction should be determined by VIA through a review of past incident data and the unique risk characteristics of different grade crossings on third-party host railway infrastructure (i.e. CN, CP).

a) Hatch’s initial review of VIA’s grade crossing incident history does not identify a current need for VIA to change operating speeds at grade crossings. This conclusion may be reassessed after structural testing and teardown inspections of the HEP cars, which should include an assessment of the condition of vehicles’ side structure. The temporary mitigations describe above do not eliminate the possibility of vehicle damage in a collision scenario, rather, they can reduce the severity of the consequences to VIA employees and passengers if such an event were to occur by reducing the energy seen by the cars during a collision.


Hatch supports VIA’s decision to maintain regular service within their normal operating parameters by implementing the recommended mitigations described above. Hatch is continuing to work diligently with VIA as a member of their technical task force to ensure this program is completed at the earliest time and will provide updates to this report periodically as the task force’s actions are implemented.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Invista Outbound Cars & Derailment

In 2016, Kingston's Invista (formerly DuPont) plant began shipping an outbound product produced at the nylon plant. The plant's traditional inbound feedstock loads - hexamethylene diamine by tank car and adipic acid by covered hopper car - used to arrive from DuPont's sister plant in Maitland, ON. Now they come all the way from Texas. Watch for an upcoming post on the cars used for feedstocks - while that's in the works, this post profiles the outbound-product cars. 

From a 2020 Recycling Today article: "Invista, a company that is part of Kansas-based Koch Industries, is supplying nylon 6,6 pellets made from manufacturing scrap to Spain-based Nylstar so it can produce its Meryl line of recycled-content yarns. Invista, which produces fibers for airbags and carpeting at a factory in Kingston, Ontario, says it converts manufacturing scrap generated at that plant into recycled-content pellets. Those pellets are supplied to Nylstar so it can make its Meryl line of yarn while adhering to the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification standard by using the recycled-content nylon 6.6 polymer, [to offer] brand partners a new way to transition to closed-loop solutions."

Only 1-2 cars for this new product are inbound or outbound from the plant on a given CN No 518, the train that works the Cataraqui Spur. The outbound cars are outnumbered by the similar-looking adipic acid cars, which usually number 5 to 10. The key difference of the outbound cars is their unloading hatches. They're also the trickiest to see while driving by on nearby Front Road, which is the north property line of the plant. Usually placed on the easternmost track, they're often obscured by loaded adipic acid cars stored nearer to Front Road. Pressing on...each fleet handling the outbound product will include photos, and first observations of each car: date, car number and notes.

I don't yet know how these outbound loads make their way to Spain, or if they're shipped to another location in North America. The fleets are, in order of my first observation at the Invista plant: 
  • SRLX Southern Rail Leasing
  • PLCX General Electric Rail Services, formerly Pullman Car Leasing until 1986
  • UTCX Union Tank Car Company
  • INVX Invista
  • ACFX General Electric Rail Services, formerly American Car & Foundry until 1997

SRLX 45139 is tucked in behind 4779-GTW 4625 (above) as CN No 518 heads west from the Cataraqui Spur on the south main track of the Kingston Sub on March 18, 2022. SRLX 45173, 45130 and 45126 were surprisingly and strangely set-out on the team track at the top of the Cataraqui Spur on April 23, 2016. Why? This may have been off-spot, for familiarization or just the beginning of production. At first, I thought this was a switching error or a one-off. I took the opportunity to photograph the cars that would soon become commonplace.

Close-up of SRLX 45126 (above) and 45130 (below)
Stencilling on the car: "THIS CAR HAS FOUR COMPARTMENTS EQUIPPED WITH 5015A FLUIDIZED BUTTERFLY OUTLETS". The fluidized butterfly outlets are made by SMBC Rail Services. Detail view of the double-groove pneumatic gate unloading mechanism, produced by Miner Enterprises:

SRLX Observations:
-Feb 3/16 45186
-Apr 20/16 45139
-Apr 23/16 45173, 45130, 45126
-Jul 2/16 45115
-Jul 13/16 45148
-Aug 3/16 45052
-Aug 19/16 45244
-Sep 10/16 45139, 45062
-Nov 15/16 45053
-Nov 23/16 45132 derailed track KM31
-Dec 27/16 45133
-Jan 6/17 45157
-Jan 17/17 45062, 45148
-Jan 26/17 45190 end-lettered SLRX (see photo)
-Feb 8/17 45116
-Sep 22/17 45099, 45130
Interestingly, all three outbound car series were together in one train (above and two photos below) - CN No 518 on May 22, 2017.


The PLCX cars are the only 'flat-sided' covered hoppers, in service until 2018.
PLCX observations:
-Jul 20/16 46157 or 517?
-Nov 15/16 46513
-Feb 17/17 46509
-Feb 27/17 46248 ?42648
-Mar 4/17 43940
-May xx/17 46518
-May 22/17 46517
-May10/18 46505
-Aug 23/18 43940
-Sep 3/18 46510


Rare visitors, no photos. Just two UTCX observations:
-Sep 10/16 53219
-Jan 6/17 53248

INVX cars have been relettered from DUPX, Center-Flow built by ACF. They have Salco caps and stenciling "INT COATING CHAMPION 636 APPLIED BY SRSV 1013". Champion 636 is a polyurethane liner produced by PPG. INVX 38613 at Invista on October 28, 2023 (above).

INVX observations:
-Feb 8/17 38615
-Mar 9/17 38619
-Dec 3/17 38616, 38605, 38603, 38611, 38615 at team track, top of Cat Spur gone by Dec 10
-Jan 29/18 38612
-Oct 5/18 38609
-May 17/20 38608


The most recent addition to the cars in use, just this year. 
ACFX observations:
-May 30/22 37429
-Jul 8/22 37301
-Aug 12/22 37561
-Aug 28/22 37310
-Sep 11/22 37157
-Sep 15/22 37176
-Oct 4/22 37400 (derailed at plant Nov 22 top photo and below)
-Nov 4/22 37165
-Nov 11/22 37223
If this derailment site looks familiar, it's because it was the scene of the derailment of SRLX 45132 on November 23, 2016 - six years earlier. There was as a another derailment at these derails in February, 2015. A report from our son about a car off the rails at Invista was the genesis of this noon visit on November 23. C.A. Peters Crane sent its 300-ton Grove 6300L, and the crane made its exodus west to Belleville by 1600 that afternoon. 
A concurrent tie program, installing bundles of ties that have been in the Invista parking lot for months, was underway. Oil Well Services Railroad Construction & Maintenance (OWS) maintains Invista's plant trackage, so several OWS workers and three trucks were onsite. Ties on the westernmost storage track were being changed out. Cars on the two westernmost storage tracks were pushed toward the plant buildings.
After the 2016 derailment, the crane-access road constructed by two excavators was left in place, coming in handy! The crane was just setting up as we left the scene for grocery-shopping. The boom was already over the ACFX car upon our departure west on Front Road.
Just days before, Belleville-Kingston turn CN No 518 had changed its days of working the plant from Monday-Wednesday-Friday day-shift to a nocturnal Tuesday - Thursday - Sunday switch. It is now known as CN No 519 (the number works for eastward and westward movements. At Invista, new trainees are told to place the 'whites'  up to the derail, since it's downhill from here to the busy Front Road. In this way, the cars build up less momentum if they start rolling toward the derail.
A close-up, showing how the car rolled over the derail, which did its job!
One last view:

Running extra...

Once again this year, VIA has been applying poppy logos to select cars as a gesture of remembrance. In the Corridor, here are the LRC Business Class cars so adorned, and first dates observed: 3476 (October 26); 3464 (October 31); 3472 (October 31); 3451 (November 5); 3453 (November 10). The poppies are still on, as is this one photographed on Renaissance class car 7208 on the Ocean at Halifax by Tim Hayman, on November 23. Thanks, Tim!
VIA Riding Mountain Park has been acquired by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to undergo a $250,000 HVAC and electrical upgrade for potential use on their excursion train. The acquisition was made possible by donation by a private donor, after having been stored for over 10 years. Still possessing its chairs and metal ashtray/drink holders (FWRHS photo):
I'm succintly summarizing my scribbled scintillant shopping list of scintillating Christmas specials, alliteratively assembling a luscious and lustrous list and checking it once - just another service Trackside Treasure provides. More than just trains! Enticingly eliciting a noteworthy nocturnal network, an ebullient evergreen electronic eldorado of evening flatulent festive fircone festooning, tantalizingly tinselled tree-time televised treats vis-a-vis viable victualling and viewing and convivial, coniferous camaraderie! 
  • Nov. 27 Houghs/Disney (ABC)
  • Nov. 29 Michael Buble (NBC)
  • Nov. 30 Rockettes and Kelly Clarkson (NBC)
  • Dec. 1 Dolly Parton (NBC)
  • Dec. 8 CMA Christmas (ABC)
  • Dec. 11 Tree-Lighting (CBS)
  • Dec. 13 Mormon Tabernacle Choir (PBS)
  • Dec. 20 Mariah Carey (CBS)
  • Dec. 23 The Grove (CBS)
As we all approach the season of Advent, 
I hope you'll daily discover gifts of hope, love, joy and peace!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Manitoba Western Railway Layout, 1984

Let's take a trip back to 1984, to the basement of our family home - the home of the Manitoba Western Railway. Initially designed by my Dad as the Cataraqui Northern Lines (CTQ), I took over the layout and after reading an article by Frank Ellison on the operation of his Delta Lines layout, I decided to run it based on operations. Initially as the CTQ, then as the Manitoba Western Railway (MWR) after our trip to the Western province of the same name. Two-unit freight train No 411 on the MWR Rivers Subdivision  mainline (top photo). The train is at the thinnest part of the dogbone-shaped layout that my Dad initiailly designed.
Using my new 35mm camera and natural afternoon light, I tried to capture a bucolic scene at Newton (above). The basement of our 1960's split-level house was supposed to be a rec room. Instead, it was a catch-all:  storage and minimal living space, an upright piano, TV and recessed glass-shelved cupboard full of scale plastic models, among many other things. Like, you know, a model railway that grew.

My Dad was forever rearranging the constituent elements under and around the layout. My brother had since outlived our shared bedroom upstairs. I then shared that room with my Dad's desk. My brother had also since outlived his basement sleeping quarters here, hence the additions to the layout. He was now happily married and had moved out. I would follow that same process in the next three years!

When that happened, my Dad would enjoy relaying much of the track in his retirement, operating strings of complete Athearn passenger consists he bought at Lloyd Shales Hobby Supplies, a store he'd frequented in its various iterations since his days at Queen's University summer school in the 1950's. He apparently bought and brought the consists into the basement without my Mom being aware of his expenditures. Frankly they were not huge expenditures anyway. At the time, even in 2022 dollars, an entire powered consist could be bought for the price of one piece of Rapido Trains Inc museum-quality rolling stock of today!
Those are some vintage curtains! The rear of the Newton elevators and station (above) on the first 1980 addition to the dogbone. The basement sat up high enough off the bedrock that good-height basement windows let in lots of natural light. The adjacent, somewhat scary crawlspace and furnace area, not so much!
Two slightly-earlier photos taken with my Hawkeye camera and flashcubes. Grain trucks line up at Newton (above). This view (below) shows the town of Oak Bluff inside the left end of the dogbone. A three-track yard and one industry, church, and three houses sit within the upper, Glenboro Subdivision 'embankment' that contained three bridges,grandiosely-named Onderdonk, Moberly and Van Horne -  two of which were made by my Dad from Meccano - and miraculously survived into the otherwise flat era of Manitoba topography! By this time the left dogbone had been widened with the 1980 addition of Newton, and the truncated mainline was now a team track, holding a Railbox:
The town of Oak Bluff had two industries by 1984: a farm implement dealer and Penners Farm Supply. Except for a couple of Matchbox farm toys, most of this equipment was scratchbuilt, including the two combines:
At this point, I'd divided this layout into five subdivisions, using as many Manitoba place names as I could. Junctions between subdivisions were also named: Pacific Junction, Delta Junction, St James Junction, West Tower and Diamond. The five subdivisions - the longest being Rivers at 0.6 miles:
  • Rivers Subdivision - most of the main line and Portage yard inside the right end of the dogbone
  • Glenboro - the three-bridge embankment
  • Carman - inside the left end of the dogbone
  • Gladstone - addition under the beer bottles
  • Winnipeg Terminals -final stub-ended yard addition
You can just see the lighting system my Dad was proud of designing - using discarded Ditto fluid cans from his high school, opened up to hold lightbulbs and suspended well above the layout. Later iterations of lighting used 48-oz. apple juice cans for early pot-light effect! The back wall holds my beer bottle collection. There was a lot going on in here. The ancient table at centre was my workbench and train-order office typewriter. Without a tripod or flash, this overall view shows the original dogbone at left, 1980 prairie addition in foreground, and two subsequent additions at rear and right. 
The other end of the layout, upon entering the 'rec room'. This newest addition held a large coach yard, a Reimer Express and Texaco bulk fuel plant, and station. The coach yard was actually a huge gobbler of space without adding any operations. What would today be called open-staging, or in the good ol' days, a storage yard.   
Canadian Forces equipment on flatcars, express and milk reefers, Athearn rubber-band driven Dayliners and much, much more in the Glen Yard at St James. The industry track in foreground was designated St Boniface:
Another view, showing hand-painted Reimer trailer, plus Reimer depot made of cardboard, though with a nod to more modern construction methods with its styrene roof! At this time, almost every piece of rolling stock, vehicle and structure on the layout was brush-painted and decalled to reflect Canadian prototypes. Long before Canadian prototypes were mass-produced! 
My interest in all things Manitoba led to scratchbuilt Esso fertilizer plant and grain elevator construction, again using styrene. The backdrops are my Dad's originals from at least 30 years ago, or more modern 'English' Peco ones at right. The parts cabinet hangs at centre, with the binder-twine connection to the fusebox power shut-off hanging at left. Again, all these pieces are scratchbuilt, kitbashed, repainted and all by hand. Neepawa is the small yard in foreground, with Gladstone at rear.
You can title this portrait, "Of Flextrack and Plywood" ...or... "The Railway Builder", amid shelves holding my Dad's files and every item that had ever been bought and seemingly never left our house! Sometimes I marvel at the patience an the time I had to work on these modelling tasks, trying to realistically build each item, operate the layout, and document operations in detail. 

Running extra...

VIA's buffer cars continue to roll. Watch for an upcoming post on progress and backed with background. I also continue to update the orifinal buffer car post, this postscript on testing as new observations, information and car movements come to light.

I was fortunate to have some photos of my current layout shared on Global Kingston's Morning Show.  Before I knew it, one of the station's reporters was arriving to profile the layout. Here's the report. Television makes one look 10 pounds heavier and at least three shades grayer! Sorry about the ads if they appear - we gotta monetize the entire internet - well, except this blog.

To quote from 1984, "Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason.” Deep. Oh, and war is peace. We read George Orwell's classic just about in 1984. Fun fact: it was published in 1949.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Buffer Cars in the News

On November 9, reporter for the Quebec media newspaper network Le Soleil Gilles Gagne published this article. I was pleased to collaborate with Gilles. He was knowledgeable about the issue, and I was able to provide some additional information and context. This article is an important step forward in bringing the issue forward to a wider audience of not only rail enthusiasts, but passengers and taxpayers. Since the article is from the Le Soleil webpage with its limited number of available views, and originally published in French, I've translated and reproduced it here with permission. What follows is the published French version translated to English. Light edits that I made for clarity are in [brackets]. 

To me, the article is especially important because it documents the detailed questions that the reporter has asked VIA. The lack of answers to those questions is perhaps more revealing than the responses that have been given.

By Gilles Gagne

[Do] you find that some of the Via Rail passenger trains have become longer in the last month? That's true, but these trains are not carrying more people. They are longer because a structural failure detected on some stainless steel cars has prompted the common carrier to place empty buffer cars at the ends of the trains, following the locomotive(s)!

The problem, likely a consequence of wear and tear rather than a manufacturing defect, was detected prior to the pandemic, but Via Rail's communications department refuses to say when and who identified it. The federal company also refuses to say why it did not clearly inform the public of this way of operating a significant portion of its trains.

According to information gathered by Le Soleil, the structural failure takes the form of a crack of a few centimeters very close to the bogies of the cars, including the wheels, at a place where the stainless steel was welded to the regular steel covering the upper part of these bogies. The problem affects sleeping cars, coaches, dining cars and baggage cars.

Eric Gagnon, an author and blogger on his passion for rail transportation, says there are currently six stainless steel train sets operating in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor on varying routes. About the same number of trains also feature the addition of buffer cars elsewhere in the country.

"In the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, you're going to see these trains between Quebec City and Montreal, Montreal and Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and then between Ottawa and Toronto. They're also on the routes between Toronto and Windsor," says Gagnon, who has written four books on Via Rail, "but [I'm not connected to VIA], I assure you.

Trains between Montreal and Abitibi, Montreal and the Saguenay, Montreal and Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver (the famous Canadian), Prince George and Prince Rupert, as well as the train between Winnipeg and Churchill, are notably affected by the inclusion of buffer cars in their [consists].

Old rolling stock
Almost all of Via Rail's stainless steel cars are from the 1950s. They make up roughly one-third of Via Rail's fleet of about 500 passenger cars, between 175 and 180 units, plus a few [RDCs]. The main manufacturer of all these stainless steel units is the American firm Budd.

The directive to use the buffer cars was issued on October 12, two days after Thanksgiving, even though Via Rail has known about the structural problem for at least three years. Trains using Renaissance and LRC cars are not affected by the requirement to add buffer cars, as no structural cracks have been found in these [cars].

Via Rail has not issued a press release outlining its new operating procedures. To Le Soleil, the company responds in general terms that "based on the results of an external engineering report, which confirms that our stainless steel cars can be safely used under normal operating conditions, VIA Rail has implemented a plan to proactively address structural issues with its aging stainless steel car fleet and ensure continued safe rail operations."

Eric Gagnon comments almost daily on the issue on his blog, Trackside Treasure, followed mostly by other rail enthusiasts in Canada. It was through contacts in the railroad community and observations [by him] and these enthusiasts about structural problems with some of the carrier's cars that he was able to document [the details].

"It's certainly not from Via Rail, which is keeping a lid on the matter. What I find frustrating is that nothing clear has been communicated by Via Rail about this. We pay for Via Rail, as taxpayers or users. It's a safety issue for the passengers and we don't see anything published about it," said Eric Gagnon.

"I started talking about it more openly on my blog (on Oct. 13) and that may have been what prompted Via Rail to consult with Transport Canada about what needed to be done publicly to talk about the buffer cars," Gagnon says.

Transport Canada, which has a division that deals with rail safety, issued a ministerial order on October 19 that went almost completely unnoticed.

This order provides some guidance on how to place buffer cars in a train to minimize the impact on passenger cars in the event of a collision. The document recommends that crash simulations be conducted by experts and that stress tests be conducted on four cars with cracks to see if they expand. A preliminary report on these tests is due January 31, 2023.

Experts are also to perform compression tests on two cars with cracks to see if they meet the requirements of the Association of American Railroads, a regulatory authority. Here, a preliminary report must also be prepared by January 31 and a final report must be submitted for both types of testing by March 31, 2023.

The ministerial order states that Via Rail and the experts retained for the tests will have to compression-test at least one repaired stainless steel car, validate the methodology used and determine a course of action for all cars to be repaired by Dec. 31, 2023, which is 13 1/2 months away.

Uncertainty and secrecy worse than danger

Via Rail's guidelines communicated only to its customers have "temporarily" prohibited pets from entering the baggage car since October 12. The baggage car serves as a buffer car when there is one in the train composition. The baggage car is a buffer car when there is one in the train's consist, and as a result, it is not accessible to any passenger or Via Rail employee while the train is in motion. Passengers carrying their medication and usually placing it in a suitcase in the baggage car are asked to keep it with them.

Eric Gagnon would be surprised if the cracks on some of the cars are a real danger to passengers, but he is not sure. He notes that an engineering firm, Hatch, was commissioned by Via Rail to study the issue, and it was this firm that suggested the guidelines in effect since October 12.

"What is troubling is Via Rail's silence on an issue that remains important to the safety of riders until the Hatch report is available," he said.

Observers reporting on his Trackside Treasure blog have reported seeing buffer cars being directed to Ottawa for testing, which will take place at the National Research Council.

Via Rail's public relations department does not indicate why the issue of cracks in the stainless steel cars has not been [made public].

In writing, the carrier states that "the deployment of this safety plan is already underway. Beforehand, VIA Rail shared this plan and agreed on its direction with the Canadian rail safety regulator, with whom VIA Rail has communicated on a regular basis, as reflected in the Transport Canada order . The company has also proactively shared this plan with its health and safety policy committees and union leaders," the carrier added by email.

Finally, Via Rail says it has "also established a joint technical working group comprised of current and former VIA Rail employees, union representatives and Hatch representatives. This group will assist the company in analyzing and implementing the engineering firm's recommendations, including overseeing the measurements, interpreting the results of the comprehensive inspection process, and participating in the development of a potential repair program." Le Soleil has learned that some of the stainless steel cars are already repaired.

What Via Rail is refusing to answer

When it comes to the use of buffer cars, Via Rail refuses to answer simple, fairly basic questions that are in the public interest, says Eric Gagnon. [VIA] more often than not operates on the basis of answering questions in writing, which leaves some latitude in terms of whether or not they are willing to answer. In fact, Via Rail has responded to only one of the 11 questions sent in an email by Le Soleil.

It is therefore not possible to know when this problem was detected, how many cars are characterized by this problem and, consequently, what is the proportion of 180 or 185 stainless steel cars with cracks.

Via Rail does not further answer questions as to the cause of the problem, and whether it is known. It is also not possible to know how many cars have been repaired so far and to have an idea of the time frame needed to fix it.

Le Soleil has asked Via Rail without further success to clarify whether any cars have been permanently removed from service in connection with the cracks.

Le Soleil consulted the Trackside Treasure blog in which it is mentioned, with a photo, that the CAD workshops in Montreal were chosen to repair some of the damaged cars but Via Rail does not specify if other workshops were selected to do this work, when asked about it.

[VIA] also would not say how long it plans to keep the venerable cars in daily service. With the busy holiday season approaching, Via Rail is also refusing to say whether all these empty buffer cars will create a shortage of rolling stock.

Jacques Vandersleyen, a lecturer in project management at the Université du Québec à Rimouski and a seasoned observer of the rail transportation scene, deplores Via Rail's continued silence in this matter and does not believe that the use of buffer cars will profoundly change the outcome of a potential collision.

"In the case of a head-on collision, it will be fine, but in the case of a side impact, the buffer car will be useless. Overall, I don't understand why Via Rail has reached such a critical point. We have outdated, obsolete rolling stock that no longer meets standards. We are witnessing a total neglect in the planning and renewal of the Via Rail fleet, even with the recent arrival of new units delivered by Siemens. We saw it more than 20 years ago with the Renaissance cars that were rejected for the Night Star service in England but that we bought here," says Vandersleyen.

He sees it as a common route taken by the Canadian and Quebec departments of transportation, or the Department of National Defence.

"We see it for icebreakers, ferries, cruisers and Canadian Forces aircraft. We always wait not until the last minute, but until it's too late. It's the same thing, the same pattern as for submarines. We bought four piles of scrap, not operational," says Vandersleyen.

Returning to Via Rail, he adds that this piecemeal approach to management also has a profound effect on service in rural areas.

"Via Rail is not interested in returning to the regions, such as the Gaspé. Except for the corridor (Quebec City-Windsor), they are not interested in serving areas where the profit/loss ratio would be less advantageous, even if it is useful," he concludes.

(Translated with free version)

Running extra...

nice article on my Quebec cousin's efforts to right a lost commemoration of his own namesake, and three others, who served in World War II. It's surprising how quickly such sacrifices can be so easily forgotten.

There is no more poignant wreath, placed more lovingly at the National War Memorial, than the one whose purple ribbon reads, "The Mothers of Canada". This Remembrance Day, it will be Silver Cross Mother Candy Greff of Lacombe, AB who will stand and remember her son MCpl Byron Greff, who as a member of 3 PPCLI was Canada's final soldier killed in Afghanistan.

I am looking forward to being able to attend the RCHA Remembrance Day service in Kingston's City Park, for the first time in three years!

Monday, November 7, 2022

Testing VIA's HEP Fleet

After a flurry of activity at VIA Rail, and the addition of buffer cars to HEP1 and HEP2 consists, intended to reduce energy transfer to occupied cars in case of collision, there has still been no confirmation from VIA about steps that have been taken. These steps would include public acknowledgement of the state and testing of the stainless steel fleet to confirm structural integrity, per federal government order.

Not to worry. Due to excellent sources and various online reports, Trackside Treasure can continue to publish updated information on just what's going on! Watch for updates to this post, which will not concentrate on cars in use, but will instead focus on testing and subsequent steps after the first three weeks of this disturbing debacle. 

The Transport Canada Rail Safety ministerial order MO 22-06 requires testing of four cars, though it seems that one car of each type (baggage, coach, diner, Chateau, Manor, and dome) may be tested. These will likely be cars that are out of service for various reasons, including mechanical issues. The cars will be moved from Toronto or Montreal Maintenance Centres (TMC and MMC) to CAD Railway Industries in Lachine for stripping, thence sent to the National Research Council facility in Ottawa for strength testing, specifically their Squeeze and Tension Frame Facility. Testing is to be completed by January 31, 2023 per the order. There is speculation that cars already at CAD will be sent. But Strathcona Park and 4006(?) have been there for some time, the former with loose fixtures and equipment inside, and the latter with boarded-up windows. They don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon! These were, in fact, never intended for stripping and testing, having been at CAD before the buffer-car issue arose.

NOVEMBER 6 UPDATE: Rumours have been flying over the past three days about an impending move of cars out of VIA maintenance centres for testing. Perhaps one source can't be deemed reliable, but triangulation and confirmation sure helps. Two shrink-wrapped cars arrived in Ottawa's Walkley Yard around 0630 today. The cars, a coach and a sleeper, appear to have underframe equipment removed.

The move from CAD to MMC took place on the afternoon of Saturday, November 5. 'Love the way' wrapped VIA 6420 led the two cars - Chateau Richelieu and coach 8138. The train arrived in Ottawa's Walkley Yard around 0630 today. Chateau Richelieu was one of the cars stranded in Churchill in 2017 and not reported in service since, and 8138 has not been reported in service since early-2021. On the tail-end was Chateau Laval. Operating as Extra 627 between Montreal and Ottawa, the unit and Chateau Laval were observed on an east-side stub-end track at Ottawa Union Station the day after. It's interesting that the Montreal-Ottawa movement was made at night, similar to some of the early Siemens trainset testing! 

Cue the railfan rumour mill/conspiracy theorists, "What the **** is VIA hiding?!", asked one.) Well, interestingly, it turns out the AEI car reader tags from the two cars had also been removed. Though the locomotive and trailing car registered on CN's AEI reader at Coteau at 0438 on November 6, the wrapped cars did not - only that two four-axle cars were mid-train. (Though tarped, the tarps would not impede the radio signals.) There are no AEI readers between Coteau and Ottawa, nor between Ottawa and Brockville, so there is no record of these movements in and out of Walkley Yard.

NOVEMBER 8 UPDATE: Two baggage cars and a diner are expected to travel from Montreal to Ottawa on the 9th for subsequent NRC testing.

NOVEMBER 10 UPDATE: Gilles Gagne' of Le Soleil news network in Quebec has just published this this investigative article. In it, Gilles lists the detailed questions has asked of VIA Rail, for which he received no answer. Gilles also reports [translation from French] the discovery of a crack of a few centimeters very close to the trucks, the assembly including the wheels, at a place where the stainless steel was welded to the steel atop the upper part of the trucks.

Added to this post on July 4, 2024 based on information obtained through my ATI request: also on November 10, the 'death warrants' of eight of the eleven cars selected for tear-down and/or compression-testing were already signed as listed in a Surplus Asset Disposal form, with their eventual destruction and disposition already decided as early as mid-November. 

DECEMBER 7 UPDATE: Added to this post on July 4, 2024 based on information obtained through my ATI request: a contract was signed between CAD and VIA for stripping and inspection of stainless steel HEP cars at CAD. 

DECEMBER 20 UPDATE: Inquiries to the National Research Council regarding VIA car names/numbers undergoing testing elicited this response: "Thank you for your interest, but due to a non-disclosure agreement, which is commonplace with our clients, the NRC is not in a position to share details about the research. The details of the research and testing are the property of the client. For more information, please contact VIA Rail directly." An inquiry to VIA Rail, already keeping the lid tightly closed on the informational cookie-jar, would likely result in a similar NDA-centred response. An email inquiring about the Access To Information request process was replied to by a VIA Legal Affairs paralegal - fifteen days after it was sent.

DECEMBER 27 UPDATE #1: A coach in the 'D&H' scheme, a Chateau (possibly Ch. Roberval?) as well as 8517, Strathcona Park and Waterton Park were noted at CAD by Mark Charlebois today. (Waterton Park had sat at VIA's MMC since at least October, 2022.) Mark kindly shared these outside-the-fence photos: 

Chateau (above). 8517 and Waterton Park (below).
Largely-windowless Strathcona Park:
Here's another view of VIA 8517 and Waterton Park together at CAD. It is likely that both are samples of their respective car types chosen for NRC testing. Perhaps we will see these wrapped and shipped to Ottawa after stripping. (On November 22, 8517 had deadheaded east on VIA No 42, having just arrived in Toronto on the Canadian.)

Other cars previously noted at CAD and/or part of the NRC testing 'rumour mill':

  • Strathcona Park with only emergency, dome and bathroom windows. Moved from VIA's MMC, where it had been since spring 2020, (as was Revelstoke Park, also at MMC), to CAD. Strathcona Park disappeared from public view in early January!
  • Business Class car 4006 in the (grey) "D&H" scheme, on the same track as Strathcona Park.
  • Coach 8126, though has been in Corridor service October to December/22

DECEMBER 27 UPDATE #2: It is now expected that no further cars are to be tested, only VIA 8138 and Chateau Richelieu. This is based on the Transport Canada order for VIA to conduct a static compression test of at least two unrepaired HEP cars. Or to put it another way, two.

JANUARY 6 UPDATE: A reply concerning early testing reults, from an anonymous industry source, as  posted to social media:

JANUARY 15/23 UPDATE: An RDC-2 took the place of Strathcona Park in the CAD yard, with 8517 and Waterton Park still visible.

JANUARY 27 UPDATE: Following the Access To Information request I submitted to VIA Rail, this response was provided: "VIA Rail train cars #8222 and #8138 were prepared and shipped to the National ResearchCouncil on November 6, 2022." Although I continue to hear rumours and opinions that more cars are to be tested, I'm satisfied with this response. This process worked well if not quickly, and I will submit another request upon the emergence of concrete proof of additional cars being sent for testing. The request was subsequently posted to VIA's 2023 Completed Access to Information Requests webpage:

Also on January 27, and just four short days before the mandatory Transport Canada reporting date of the structural testing, VIA released a Notice of Market Consultation, stating in part, "VIA Rail intends to renew its existing long distance regional and remote fleet by selecting a supplier to design, manufacture, test, supply, deliver and commission cars and motive power and ancillary equipment (on-board and offboard) with a prescribed capacity of car types (seated coaches, sleeper, diners, multi-purpose, baggage) through an open competitive procurement process (the “Long Distance Regional and Remote Fleet Renewal Project”).

VIA Rail will proceed with pre-procurement activities regarding its Long Distance Regional and Remote Fleet Renewal Project. As part of these pre-procurement activities, VIA Rail intends to engage in consultations with motive power and rolling stock manufacturers to solicit feedback on VIA Rail’s proposed technical specifications, maintenance’s scope of work as well as commercial & contractual related terms."

FEBRUARY 2023 UPDATE: Added to this post on June 4, 2024 based on captioning information accompanying a photo of Waterton Park posted to railpictures dot ca: As of February 2023, VIA-owned Budd-built cars at CAD Railway Industries in Lachine, QC (all ex-CP except as noted): Club Galley Coach 4006 (ex-Southern 815), coach 8126, 8138 (ex-NYC 2954), 8222 Chateau Richelieu, 8402 Alexandra (stripped bare), Skyline 8517, 8714 Strathcona Park (some windows removed), 8717 Waterton Park, and RDC-2 6208 (stripped).

FEBRUARY 9 UPDATE: In a TRAINS magazine blog post from aboard VIA No 2 in BC, Bill Stephens shared this, still mentioning four cars(!): Right now four of the venerable Budd cars are being sacrificed in Montreal. They’re being stripped to their frames and undergoing detailed inspections and metallurgical analysis. Then they’ll be put through destructive stress testing that will simulate a collision. The goal is to determine if they’ll buckle at the vestibules, as designed, or in their interiors, as feared.

In a few weeks we should know the diagnosis and the prognosis. (An initial report on the test findings was due on Jan. 31. VIA Rail representatives did not immediately respond to an email seeking an update today.) The best case would be that the cars sail through the testing or can get by with frame modifications. The worst case would be that there’s no fix and the cars are deemed so unsafe that they must be pulled from service. That would be the Canadian’s death knell.

FEBRUARY 10 UPDATE: I submitted another ATI request to VIA regarding the above. A report from Gerry Burridge indicated that diner Alexandra and RDC-2 6208 are stripped to the bare-bones at CAD. Michael Berry posted this nice closeup two days later, showing both in a state of undress, likely after the tear-down. Michael also kindly confimed that Chateau Rouville, Alexandra, 6208 and Business Class 4006 were the four cars that were torn-down at CAD. Underbody lines, piping and plumbing removed, HEP plug-ins removed, an interiors gutted - not to run again.  Interestingly all four of these were mentioned in an internal VIA document published on or before January 27! Gerry kindly shared his  photos of torn-down Alexandra:

FEBRUARY 22 UPDATE: An unsigned email from Rail Safety, Transport Canada confirms the submission of required testing results to Transport Canada by VIA, stating:
"Thank you for your email in which you requested information regarding the results of testing imposed as per Ministerial Order MO 22-06. VIA Rail submitted to Transport Canada the information required as per the order. There are no plans to release this information to the general public.

A TRAINS News Wire story suggests truck bolsters are the source of the structural integrity issues. Questionable third-hand information from consultant Greg Gormick is included in the story, as is a wet-blanket response from VIA, “...some of what you have reported is not accurate. It is based on second-hand information that has been misunderstood and mischaracterized in this account. As you know, VIA Rail puts the safety of our passengers and employees at the centre of everything we do. VIA Rail continues to work with the Canadian rail safety regulator to proactively address structural issues with its aging stainless-steel fleet and  ensure continued safe railway operations.“As the process is still ongoing, and out of respect for the regulator, we will not be commenting publicly until our regulator (Transport Canada) has had a chance to see the engineering reports.”  In other words, continue waiting until at least the March 31, 2023 deadline for VIA to submit the final report of engineering simulation, including testing reports.

FEBRUARY 26 UPDATE: Photos by David McCormack posted to Instagram/Twitter viarailstream show VIA Extra 627 (6436L, an 86xx-series ex-UP baggage 8620 and Chateau Laval) delivering a wrapped Park car (later revealed to be Waterton Park) to the NRC Ottawa testing facility from VIA's Montreal Maintenance Centre (MMC), on Sunday the 26th, then returning with two cars to the Alexandria Sub. Other photos in the stream show 6436L and the other two VIA cars sitting at the Ottawa VIA station afterward, today. On Tuesday the 28th, 6436L was back to Montreal leading No 24, thence leading VIA No 63.
MARCH 25 UPDATE: The following cars appear stripped at CAD, as reported and photographed by Michael Berry. Notable are the cutaways in the stainless steel sides in the area of the truck bolsters of each one:
APRIL 3 UPDATE: Requests to VIA and Transport Canada made, now that the March 31 deadline for communication from VIA to Transport Canada of testing and engineering simulation has now passed. Also an email request for updates not received per VIA's ATI webpage timeline. One might continue to reasonably suspect imposition of secrecy on the testing process, now exceeding five months.

APRIL 10 UPDATE: I received a very satisfactory response to my ATI request. As a result, I'll stop updating this post, and I've published a new post encapsulating the results of the testing. I'm proud to say that the supplied information does not conflict with most of what has been included in this post. So, gathering information in a proactive manner should be congruent with supplied information in a retroactive manner!

MAY 29 UPDATE: Well, it took the better part of two months, but Transport Canada sent an unsigned email reply: "Thank you for your email. There are no plans to release the report to the public." An ATI request has been made to Transport Canada for this report.

JUNE 7 UPDATE: Reports of one of each car type being taken from CAD for scrapping!
JUNE 17 UPDATE: This photo shows Alexandra and 6208 still at CAD and two days later the cars are visible at the 2:40 mark of this video taken aboard EXO.

JUNE 22 UPDATE: This post profiles the final report provided by Hatch Engineering to VIA thence Transport Canada.

JULY 21 UPDATE: The cars are visible from the EXO Candiac line at the 16:30 of this video.

AUGUST 13 UPDATE: TSB derailment report: On Sunday, August 13 at 0900, "VIA Rail assignment 636 was shoving 3 coach cars into the NRC Yard in Ottawa when unit VIA 916 and coach VIA 8135 derailed upright at Mile 0.2 NRC Test Centre Sub". [My suspicion was that this was actually a move of 813[8], Waterton Park and Chateau Richelieu to CAD in Montreal for scrapping. However, based on recent information it appears 8138 had already departed for the MMC and the other two cars were both scrapped by this point. VIA 8135 had been involved in a Manitoba derailment in December, 2019.)

AUGUST 24 UPDATE: An ATI request made to Transport Canada after the May 29 response (above) was finally fulfilled, after at least one extension letter, by the Transport Canada Access To Information and Privacy office. This request was basically an insurance policy to ensure access to the final report from TC if not from VIA.

Included with the full March 31, 2023 Hatch report was a transmission letter from Nicolas Panetta, VIA's Specialist Director of Regulatory Affairs & Safety - Railway Operations. The letter's subject line, VIA HEP Structure Final Report, states that the attached report satisfies Requirement #5 of ministerial order MO 22-06, and is addressed to several TC addressees, cc'd to several others perhaps at VIA. After a reference to an upcoming joint meeting on April 6, the letter ends with, "Happy reading!".

SEPTEMBER 21 UPDATE: Claude Langlois took a video while riding on the EXO Candiac line that passes above CAD - clearly visible are the eight torn-down HEP cars. Video captures (below) Merci, Claude!
The same month, this Victor Planche photo was posted to Googlemaps showing the opposite perspective!
NOVEMBER 17 UPDATE: Efram Ellenbogen took this photo while passing CAD showing the torn-down cars still there (from left - Alexandra-6208-4006-Chateau Rouville-Stuart Manor-8618-8505-Strathcona Park). Thanks, Efram!
NOVEMBER 18 UPDATE: Michael Berry photographed 6208, 4006 and Chateau Rouville still at CAD.

NOVEMBER 29 UPDATE: Michael Berry snapped a shot of a short-letter board coach coupled to a bilevel at CAD. Could it be VIA 8138?

DECEMBER 10 UPDATE: Michael Berry visited CAD again and his photos reveal five trucks with no HEP cars above them. Scrapping has begun. Baggage 8618 and Strathcona Park are definitely still extant. Also, Chateau Rouville and Alexandra.

MARCH 25, 2024 UPDATE: VIAphile Mark Charlebois reports that the Budd shells seem to be absent. They may have gone to that big Red Lion plant in the sky.

On July 10, 2024 and subsequent to an Access to Information request to VIA Rail, I'm able to share the final throes of those eleven cars in this post on their death and disposition.

* * * *

I'm publishing this post on November 7, which some have termed National Railway Day. On this date, 137 years ago the CPR was completed with the driving of the Last Spike at Craigellachie, BC. Those builders and pioneers could scarcely have imagined the changes brought to Canada's railways since!

Top photo - screen capture showing VIA Extra 627 at Walkley Yard, from Twitter video posted by @MattPinder1 Beyond the Automobile