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.

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 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.

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

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 is that this was actually a move of 813[8], Waterton Park and Chateau Richelieu to CAD in Montreal for scrapping] Stay tuned...

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 passing CAD and clearly visible are the eight torn-down HEP cars. Video captures (below) Merci, Claude!
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 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.

* * * *

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

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