A question often asked by VIAphiles is ‘when did VIA reverse their Skylines?’ The term ‘Skyline’ was likely chosen by Canadian Pacific for the 1955 launch of The Canadian to reflect the Skyline Trail Hikers of the Canadian Rockies. Beginning in 1933, these amateur mountaineers with roots in CPR’s publicity department held an annual Rocky Mountain hike, and the Rockies were part of the allure of the railway's passenger service. Even during the CP Rail era, the Skyline was advertised in brochures as an integral part of The Canadian Experience (top photo) when sensible ascending of the Skyline stairs was from the rear of the dome.
Although I originally published some of this material in January, 2022 you're reading an enhanced post. My general goal is to elucidate the genesis of the exodus from vestibule-forward to the vestibule-rear 'directionality'. To clarify just when VIA reversed its Skylines. But first...here's the executive summary:
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING STARTED IN 1982.
THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING STARTED IN LATE 1983.
THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING EXTENDED INTO LATE 1984.
SKYLINES IN CANADIAN PACIFIC SERVICE
As delivered, CP’s Skylines had 26 coach seats in their front (longer) section, contiguous with the 100-series coach(es) that were usually marshalled immediately ahead of the Skyline. According to an October, 1954 article and diagram (below) from Canadian Transportation: "Each of the dome-buffet-lounge cars presents an unusual combination of facilities, and is really three cars in one. The forward 26-passenger coach section, ahead of the dome, features seating similar to the first class coaches. At the end of the coach section, two steps lead down to a passageway under the dome. Off the passageway there is a kitchen from which snacks and beverages are prepared and served. This kitchen is finished in stainless steel throughout and features a combination three-gallon coffee urn and six-gallon hot water boiler, an automatic dishwasher, a combination ice cream and frozen food compartment and a general storage refrigerator among other kitchen facilites. Beyond the kitchen and occupying the remainder of the under-dome area, there is a six-passenger buffet section. This is separated from the passageway by clear glass panels on either side of the entrance, a large mirror being on the right wall and a mural on the left transverse wall. Two steps lead up to a 17-passenger buffet section with a combination of curved settees, banquette seats and tables. From this section, seven steps lead up to the dome, which seats 24 passengers." The Skyline's direction of travel is to the right in this diagram:
Some have opined that the Canadian looked better this way - Skylines and Park cars matching with short lounge section at rear. CP’s design for the Budd cars was contrary to most other railroads' Budd-built mid-train domes of that era. Those domes operated with the shorter section forward. When CP Rail paint was applied in 1969, the multimark appeared on the Action Red letterboard at the normal 'rear’ of the car. Sandwiched between VIA coaches 102 (blue-striped) and 5629 still in CN colours, is Skyline 501 (above) with CP Rail markings on a four hours-late VIA No 2 stopped at Portage la Prairie, MB on August 21, 1979.
SKYLINES IN VIA RAIL SERVICE
With the drastic cuts to VIA Rail in November 1981, there was less demand for a full diner during the off-season. In fact, the Canadian often ran without a diner in winter, with the train’s Skyline providing food service. An eastbound Corridor Canadian consist photographed at Kingston in early 1982 (below) shows a Skyline operating with the long section forward (train departing to the left of photo). Around 1982, VIA redesigned the Skylines, replacing the below-dome buffet seating with a take-out snack bar, replacing the coach section with tables and chairs seating 24 in the now-rear section, with lounge seating in the short section leading to the dome. The dome seats were reversed, so that the car operated lounge forward. Some refer to this conversion as a dome-coach to dome-coffee shop transition. Since these were non-revenue cars, and only served passengers assigned to other revenue cars, VIA did not see fit to include seating diagrams in their timetables or other publications of the reversed Skylines. A low-resolution diagram from the current VIA website will have to suffice (above) with direction of travel to right.
Since there would have been minimal leg room at the new front of the reversed dome, the first pairs of seats were left facing rearwards and two game tables were installed in the resulting four-seaters. Some say this eliminated the 'best seats in the dome' for forward-facing dome travel and photography. Stairs to the dome now ascended toward the front of the dome and the rear of the train. Some contend this floods late-night dome denizens with unwanted light pollution. It certainly makes it obvious that you're searching for a vacant seat as one ascends the stairs. The redesigned Skyline now separated extra-fare passengers in Dayniters and sleepers from the Canadian’s coach passengers.
The ‘onion’ domes of the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brandon, MB form a stately backdrop for VIA No 2’s Skyline 516, its dome nearly empty on June 2, 1984. Even at this relatively late date in the reversing program, 516 is still operating vestibule-forward!
The reversed configuration is still in use 40 years later. When Skylines served as diners, as they did on the Chaleur and Hudson Bay, this configuration made sense, with the tables closest to the sleepers. As close as we get to a Park car in the Corridor these days: Rapido Trains Inc. aficianados en route to a product launch at Exporail in St-Constant, QC, Reversed Skyline 8501 trails No 62/52 approaching Kingston on October 11, 2015 (video capture by Erika Gagnon):
During the pandemic suspension of the Canadian, VIA deadheaded some stainless steel equipment to Montreal. Then, prior to resumption of the Canadian in May, 2021 there was another series of deadhead movements. On April 18, 2021 Skyline 8507 trails No 66 through Kingston from Toronto (below) vestibule-forward reminiscent of the original CP pre-reversal era, which was also 'befour' four digit numbers. Skylines 8503 and 8516 also headed east the same week.
WHY REVERSE THE SKYLINES?
VIA publicized their reconfigured Skylines in early-1984. Other than that, the entire 1983-84 period during the reversing of the Skylines continues to be an under-reported and under-documented time. Railfan pubications of the time did not contain that level of detailed car coverage. VIA had lots of other stories to publicize at that time, some good: new maintenance centres, new LRC's and the possibility of obtaining Superliners, and some bad: a disastrous winter
and increasingly unreliable locomotives. Few, if any, internal VIA documents, confirmed shop dates or captioned in-process conversion photos have ever surfaced. Perhaps they never will, now that forty years have come and gone.
Surprisingly, the best-known VIA publications are silent on this topic: BRMNA, Morning Sun, Hungry Wolf and Coo, as were the industry and railfan magazines of the time. Rail Canada's VIA Volume 4, covering the VIA fleet from 1976 to 1983, comes with a caveat: "Modifications and lesser rebuilds to cars since 1979 that we have not been able to obtain drawings of", were not included as of January 1983 when the book's introduction was written. Author Donald C. Lewis correctly noted, "One of VIA's first major tasks was to renovate and upgrade the interiors of the ex-CP cars". CP Rail had not exactly been diligent while delaying to divest. The pre-reversal, vestibule-forward Skyline diagram from Lewis' volume, complete with measurements in millimetres:
In the fresh People Moving People, Kevin J. Holland makes four references to the Skylines being modified for expanded food service by VIA in the 'early 1980s', noting the disappearance of the two-table alcove under the dome during the interior reconfiguration, explaining "These changes were made to improve fleet compatibility and to align the Skylines' on-board service standards with VIA's former CN cafe-lounge cars", and that "it was the need to operate this new table area adjacent to one of the Canadian's dining-car kitchens during peak traffic times that dictated this reversal."
Wait, could this be a smoking gun? In a footnote supporting the above, Kevin refers to a VIA System Circular No.46 issued February 19, 1980, entitled Standard of Service 'Skyline' Coffee Shop Cars which advised that The 'Skyline' coffee-shop series of cars will be undergoing a major modification program, which in due course [!] will enable VIA to provide meal, take-out and bar service on these cars, consistent with that provided on [former CN] cafe-lounge cars. This is a valuable and critical citation - a nod to an original VIA document that makes a direct connection to the reversing of the Skylines.
Without internal VIA plans or documents to which to refer, some rail enthuiasts have their own ideas. Why were coach seats removed? It does seem that dining and lounge space was more important than coach seating space. Some have opined that the Skylines operate vestibule-rear to improve air flow through the multi-use car. Others have suggested that the Skylines were turned to provide overflow seating when marshalled next to a diner, the sit-down dining section serving as an additional dining area for extra-fare passengers.
Last summer, VIA's Customer Delivery Manager Western Services/Chef Expérience Client, Service Ouest Mark Sampson posted on social media last summer that, "in 1983 when the cars were turned, there was no intention to run them next to a diner. No train on a regular basis had a Skyline marshalled next to a diner at the time. The re-design of the cars was to allow it to operate as a stand-alone food-service car".
VIA's 1982 annual report noted that $40 million had been spent on refurbishing older equipment. By the end of the year, over 80% of the fleet inherited by VIA had been completely refurbished to contemporary standards. The 1983 annual report touted a 90% fleet refurbishment rate. VIA annual reports from 1980 to 1985 also make no mention of the Skyline refurbishing, not that of any other specific car series.
CN had made a habit of refurbishing older equipment, unlike CP. In 1972, CN produced 39 Dayniters from coaches and surplus sleepers. VIA followed, converting 14 more surplus sleepers to Dayniters in 1978-79. This was VIA's first foray into rebuilding programs. In 1982, VIA rebuilt its Mount cars, actually dropping the 'Mount' from the car name as the rebuilt cars exited the shops as 3 double-bedroom buffet-lounges. From 1980-83, VIA converted 32 surplus coaches to 3200-series snack bar coaches.
HONING IN ON THE REVERSING
I decided to hone in on conclusive reversal dates using two sources I had in hand: consists and photos. The trifecta of evidential excellence triangulated from these dual sources would ideally include all three of the following criteria:
- correct date captioning
- visibility of car number, and
- discernible directionality.
(This is not a safe way to discern directionality (screen shot from the movie Narrow Margin, filmed atop a Roaring Forks Group faux-Skylines 7031-7032 on BCR between North Vancouver and Prince George, BC in the summer of 1989! - below)
USING CONSISTS TO DATE REVERSING
Building a table of all the Skylines that my Dad or I recorded on the Corridor Canadian during its Montreal-Toronto routing, the list comprised consists
between mid-November of 1981 until March, 1984. That March break marked the reassignment of maintenance of the ex-CP equipment from the ex-CP Glen Yard in Westmount
, just west of downtown Montreal, to Toronto's Spadina. Final observations of full stainless steel equipment to/from Montreal:
- The last two Skylines I observed here were 511 on March 9 and 513 on March 31, 1984.
- Diners had come off much earlier, by August 1, 1982 - the last one observed was Palliser on July 31, 1982.
- Park cars also came off the Corridor Canadian beginning March 31, 1984 - the last one I observed was Kokanee Park on April 8, 1984.
- The last Corridor Canadian consist I collected was May 19, 1985 - 12 days prior to the reinstatement of Toronto-Vancouver operation of the Canadian on June 1, 1985.
In the table, I looked for breaks in observations, setting a lower limit at 12 days, just above the usual nine-day timeframe for a Montreal-Vancouver-Montreal round trip by a Skyline. I grouped the breaks as 12-30 days, and big breaks exceeding 30 days, reasoning that the shop-days required for the reversing might be somewhere between 30-100 days.
Having two uberVIAphiles to consult, both Jakob Mueller and Jason Shron believe that the reversal work wouldn't have taken an extended period. Not requiring extensive rewiring, nor major plumbing to be done. Mainly furnishings in the dome, lounge and table areas, and some galley work - one month, or two months at the outside, with more than one car being worked on at a time. Jason suggested that a prototype may have been done during a big break first, with the others following the prototype in the ensuing months.
Two limitations to my consist-crunching (the only consists I've found anywhere, included in my books on VIA Rail
) were that sightings tended to be fewer in the winter months (cold Corridor Canadians) and, that I had no way of accounting for the breaks. Out of service? Sitting in a coach-yard somewhere on the system? Missed the train that day? In the shops? Surprisingly, there were some cars that were observed consistently over long periods, while others had several consecutive big breaks. Unfortunately, my consists give no indication of directionality of the Skylines. I just wasn't aware of which end the vestibule was facing, and therefore didn't note it at the time
Interestingly, in terms of consisting on the Corridor Canadians, the Skylines could usually be found between one or two ex-CP 100-series coaches and a Dayniter, until the end of 1982. Beginning in 1983, the Skylines could be found ahead of a single winter-consist 100-series coach or Chateau and following a 3200-series snack bar coach. Some examples:
- Jan 20/83 3242-502-Chateau
- Feb 5/83 3208-505-Chateau
- Feb 12/83 3228-511-110-Chateau
- Feb 13/83 3221-503-104-Chateau
- Feb 20/83 3230-500-118-Chateau
- Feb 27/83 3222-512-116
- Mar 5/83 3232-506-125
- Mar 6/83 3220-509-124
- Mar 14/83 501-3224-Chateau
and a couple of exceptions:
- Mar 13/83 112-505-Chateau
- Apr 23/83 101-509-Chateau
Summary of observations of each Skyline by car number - year/years, (number of observations):
- 500 - 81/82 (22), 83/84 (17)
- 501 - 82 (17), 83 (14)
- 502 - 82 (15), 83 (15)
- 503 - 82 (18), 83 (8)
- 504 - 81/82 (20), 83 (10)
- 505 - 81/82 (17), 83/84 (15)
- 506 - 81/82 (20), 83 (11)
- 507 - 81/82 (17), 83 (8)
508 - wrecked while CP
- 509 - 81/82 (21), 83/84 (14)
- 510 - 81/82 (10), 83/84 (13)
- 511 - 81/82 (9), 83/84 (11)
- 512 - 81/82 (6), 83/84 (19)
- 513 - 82 (17), 83/84 (9)
- 514 - 82 (18), 83/84 (7)
- 515 - 82 (8), 83 (12)
- 516 - 81/82 (16), 83 (16)
- 517 - 81/82 (18), 83 (12)
Unfortunately, winter 1983-84 and the 1984 removal of Skylines from the Corridor Canadians make conclusive shop date discernment difficult for what was likely the time that the Skylines were being rebuilt and reversed! So aside from doing some interesting data-crunching, it was difficult for me to make this data into useable information.
USING PHOTOS TO DATE REVERSING
There are several factors that make it difficult for Budding Skyline spotters to ascertain dates by which specific Skylines were reversed, based solely on photographs:
- Skylines are marshalled too far back in the consist to discern reversal without significant squinting, major magnifcation and a certain amount of guessing.
- Skyline close-up photos make it difficult to ascertain directionality, and Jakob suggested that Skylines in photos may be marshalled backwards.
- Few Skyline photo captions seem to include the car number and the date.
The online auction site image (below) is captioned VIA 512 in 1983. It seems to be going-away from the camera, based on the blue & yellow car's vestibule ahead and the ex-CP car behind, which should mean that 512 is genuinely operating vestibule-forward. Good news! A second similar slide shows Kootenay Park bringing up the rear of this train, confirming the directionality and its unreversed state at that date!
Fortunately, my photos, as well as those of my Dad (below), brother David and others, taken in the Corridor and in Western Canada, helped to pin down additional data-points. Fortunately, most of these photos are supported by consists and/or reliable dates - two-thirds of the trifecta! Unfortunately, 1983 was the only year in the early-1980's that I didn't head west. If I'd known at the time that it would help solve this reversing mystery years later, I would have made different plans! Fortunately, my parents were in Manitoba that summer to gather some data-points.
Rather than re-posting photos I've already published in other posts, links to those photos are included below:
Based on the above photo evidence, it can be proven that, at least:
- VIA 502 was reversed sometime between August 19/83 and and June 1/84!
- VIA 516 was still not reversed by June 2/84 (passengers' directionality in dome) so the reversal program must have extended into the second half of the year.
DATA-POINTS FROM OTHER PHOTOS
In John Hardy's book Canadian Rail Travel
an unknown Skyline in 1983 is vestibule-forward, while another in 1984 is vestibule-rear. In my brother's
blog post on his May, 1984 Canadian trip, the Skyline is running vestibule-rear, as is another Skyline in this second post
at Calgary and the Spiral Tunnels.
ADDITIONAL VIA DOCUMENTS
Mark Sampson and I compared VIA marshalling-of-trains documents as a source of reversing dates. Therein, marhsalling instructions from October 1983 and June 1985 (below) show the transitional timespan between vestibule forward ('83 - VEST. FWD) and vestibule rear ('85 - VEST. REAR). Realizing that every car couldn't be converted at the same time, it would seem reasonable that 1984 marshalling document (sadly unavailable) or at latest, the 1985 phase-in date, surely would mark the end of the reversing of all the Skylines.
So somewhere in between the release of these two documents - October 1983 and June 1985 - the Skylines had been reversed.
Based on all of the above, I'm confident that we can safely conclude the following:
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING STARTED IN 1982.
THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING STARTED IN LATE 1983.
THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THE REVERSING EXTENDED INTO LATE 1984.
*** AN EPILOGUE ***
It's cloyingly concerning that although we stood on the platform beside, rode in, rejoiced in the presence of in the Corridor, and even took a few photos of the Skylines, we seem in retrospect to have been completely oblivious at the time to their now-obvious reversing. Thus, this nearly-forensic analysis and conclusion-reaching has now been attempted, I believe successfuly, 40 years on. Technically, this slowly-evolving post has been in the works since this first Yahoogroups message I posted back in June, 2014:
"Regrettably, while the Canadian was running on CN's Kingston Sub between 1981-1984, and though I observed something like 200 consists that included Skylines, I was at the time unaware of the switching-around of the Skylines, so didn't record details like these - plus the fact that the train was usually pushing 80 mph when it passed me and I was lucky to get the consist! However, since the normal direction of travel from vestibule forward/'long hood' forward became vestibule rear/'short hood' forward after the reconfiguration, a survey of photos from 1982-1984 might yield some valuable results as to the reconfiguration dates. This would rely on two factors: accurately dated photos (increasingly unreliable as time marches on) and being able to ascertain interior layout/direction of travel from the photos." Well said, self, but the road to reversal was apparently paved only with good intentions 'til now! Better late than never.
This could conclusively be the second dome denouement
- a long-unsolved VIA mystery solved for uberVIAphiles. The first was the serendipitous solving of the Sceneramic tiny lettering
, the tail-end of a four-part series on the scintillating ex-CN Sceneramics! Another dome-dotted VIA post remains one of my favourites - VIA's Canadian at Portage, 1981
This post will have to do for now, until further vital VIA documents, confirmed shop dates or captioned in-process conversion photos surface. I'm going to pour myself a cup of joe and wait. And wait. If and when it happens, it will definitely be a rewarding reversal of our fortuitous fortunes. Let's conclude this retrospective repast of the past not with a fortune cookie, but an after-dinner meme:
Ride the Siemens train with Todd - this video gives a good appreciation of the weekly Tuesday VIA Montreal-Ottawa
round trip. Long after VIA reversed its Skylines, everything old is new again, including this whole train. It's reversible - no wyeing or loop tracks required. Old/new stuff? Open luggage racks on CN/CP coaches then airline-style LRC overhead lockers - back to open luggage racks! Half-and-half seating in the original LRC then one-direction - back to half-and-half!
Is this a prison train? Where have the soft seat cushions and warm, welcoming carpeting gone? The Siemens train can be cleaned with one mop - floors, seats, walls. Uniformly grey -- looks like Kingston without the limestone. Seatback handgrips, check. Shallow cup holders, slosh!
VIA's Siemens Set 2 made a test round-trip from the MMC to the TMC this past Wednesday-Thursday, as VIA No 627 westbound and VIA No 656 eastbound, in light and darkness, respectively. The Wednesday train passed Kingston at 1300, Thursday's nocturnal eastbound passed at 2230. There were no passengers and few visible VIA staff or crew onboard.