Saturday, August 27, 2016

Locomotive Classifications

CN 3014, classed as EF-644t
Following on my recent post about railfan names for locomotives, I was asked on Instagram what the cryptic letters on CN locomotives meant.

CN Locomotive Classifications

The CNRHA's CNCylopedia has a great page that describes what these cryptic designations are. In truth they make a lot of sense. I won't go into great detail here - you should check their page out - but I'll give some examples.

CN 3014 (an ET44AC): "EF-644t"
  • E = Built by General Electric
  • F = Freight locomotive
  • 6 = Six axle locomotive
  • 44 = 44xx horsepower (4400 in this case)
  • t = Order sequence (normally starts at "a")

CN 6025 (an SD40u): "GF-630c"
  • G = Built by General Motors
  • F = Freight locomotive
  • 6 = Six axle locomotive
  • 30 = 30xx horsepower (3000)
  • c = Part of third order

CN 8011 (an SD70M-2): "GF-643d"
You get the idea.

The interesting part here is that the manufacturer designation "SD70M-2" is also listed at bottom left. I can't recall seeing that on any other CN locomotives besides the SD70M-2 units.

CN 8239, photo by Greg Brewer
CN 8239 (an S-12): "MS-10p"
  • M = Built by MLW
  • S = Switcher locomotive
  • 10 = 1000 horsepower
  • p = Order number

Note that it doesn't include the number of axles.

CN 203 (a slug): "GY-00b"
  • G = Built by General Motors
  • Y = Yard use
  • 00 = No horsepower (it's a slug, it doesn't have a prime mover)
  • b = Order number

CP Locomotive Classifications

CN and CP have very different systems. Compare CN 3014 at top, and CP 3014 below.
CP 3014, classed as GP38 or DRS-20b
CP's system is simpler than CN's.

  • DRS=Diesel Road Switcher, DRF=Diesel Road Freight, or DS=Diesel Switcher
  • xx=First two digits of horsepower
  • y=order letter (optional)
Also note that CP doesn't always put a class designation on its locomotives. I have photos of numerous CP locomotives with only the unit number on the cab with no classification at all.

CP 3014 (a GP38AC): "DRS-20b"

  • DRS = Diesel Road Switcher
  • 20 = 2000 horsepower
  • b = order number

It looks like someone labelled it as a GP38-2 initially.

CP 1540 (a GP9u): "DS-17"

  • DS = Diesel Switcher
  • 17 = 17xx horsepower (1750)
No order letter here!

It's very common for CP to show the locomotive type as well as the CP designation.

CP 6000 (SD40-2): "DRF-30"

  • DRF = Diesel Road Freight
  • 30 = 3000 horsepower

CP 8946 (ES44AC): "DRF-44"
  • DRF = Diesel Road Freight
  • 44 = 4400 horsepower

What other railway(s) have their own classification schemes?

PS I'm stevetraingeek on Instagram if you want to touch base!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

CN 1501, Finally

RDC CN 1501
Like other railways, CN inspects its track and roadbed regularly. It does this with a combination of manual and automatic methods, such as visual inspection by foremen and inspection vehicles like Sperry rail vehicles and CN's TEST train. One vehicle I was aware of, but had never seen, was CN 1501, an RDC (Rail Diesel Car) converted to a Self-Propelled Track Geometry Car.

CN 1501 was originally a CN RDC-1, labelled D-108, built in 1958 for passenger service. As an RDC-1 it had coach seats only. All RDCs, except for the RDC-5/9, have two diesel engines driving the wheels, so they are self-propelled and have operator controls at each end.

D-108 was renumbered to CN 6108 in March 1969, then became VIA 6108 in March 1978. I'm not sure when CN acquired it from VIA but it was rebuilt into a rail test vehicle and was in service as CN 15016 in 2010. I heard it was fairly quickly renumbered to CN 1501 when it was realized that CN's dispatching software only accepted four digits for a locomotive number.

Anyway, back on July 27 2016, I heard on RailsMBSK that 1501 was in Symington yard, ready to go east on the Sprague subdivision. Since I only live about 15 minutes away from Symington, and happened to have some time, I decided to run over and see if I could grab 1501 before it got away. It's been in Winnipeg before but I was always either out of town or unable to go see it.

When I was approaching the Sprague sub, I saw a freight train coming into Symington off the Sprague. I made a guess that 1501 had already left, so I headed east on the Trans-Canada Highway.

The highway parallels the Sprague sub for at least 25km so it's a good area to chase. I was hoping to overtake the RDC before Ste. Anne where the railway diverges from the highway.

As I approached the first siding, Lorette, I saw headlights from a westbound train. I pulled over to photograph CN 2874 and 2852 running elephant-style with a mixed manifest.
CN 2874 and 2852 near Winnipeg
After grabbing the head end shot, I hit the road again. As I approached Lorette, I saw this:
CN 1501 in the Lorette siding

CN 1501 was in the siding, crawling toward the west siding switch. I snapped a few photos as it passed.
RDC CN 1501
There was a hi-rail pickup truck pulled over on the highway shoulder, and the CN foreman gave me a wave as I walked past - thanks!

They pulled through the signals and out onto the mainline, blowing the horn for the Station Road crossing as they went.
Red-nosed CN 1501
CN 1501 tested more than 25,000 miles of track in 2013. It gets around! If you search online for photos of 1501, you'll see it everywhere on CN's system.

CN 1501, and partner rail car CN 15008 (not self propelled), both collect rail profile data at one foot intervals. The kind of data they collect is the gauge of the track (distance between the parallel rails), superelevation, curvature, alignment, surface, and wear data. Here's an example, taken from a CN presentation at a 2014 Heavy Haul Seminar (PDF).
Example rail profile data, from CN
The raw data is processed through Holland's Rangecam software to produce various reports. This can result in immediate slow orders being issued to CN for any serious defects, and reports are used in planning maintenance for coming weeks and months.

Rail defect cars are known for leaving a trail of slow orders behind them! It's good, because they are finding issues that can be corrected before a serious accident occurs.

After CN 1501 was on the main line, the RTC lined the switch for the main and 1501 took off. I took a little video with my phone. The engineer gave me a nice toot on the horn as they passed!

I chased them down to the other end of the Lorette siding and grabbed this iPhone shot of them passing the work crew at the east end of the siding.
CN 1501 approaching the signals at Lorette's east end
So, finally, I caught CN 1501. One more off my list!
CN 1501 departing
See also:

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Bonavista Train Display

NF110 CN 932 in Bonavista, Newfoundland
The second place we stayed on our summer vacation in Newfoundland last month was Bonavista. This charming town on the east coast of the Rock is near the tip of the eponymous Bonavista Peninsula.

History of the Bonavista Branch

The Bonavista Branch was the second longest branch line in the system when it was completed at the end of 1911. Stretching 87.9 miles from Shoal Harbour just outside Clarenville, it ran past picturesque Trinity (through the famous Trinity Loop) until it terminated near the ocean in Bonavista.

Port Union train station and museum
Construction began on the branch in November 1909 and the branch was officially opened on November 8, 1911. The line was lightly built, like most Newfoundland branches, and only the lighter G8 diesel-electric locomotives were permitted on the line. The last train was mixed train 205, which departed Bonavista on November 23, 1983 with CN/Terra Transport 802 and 803 for power. The branch was suspended shortly afterward due to track conditions and never reopened.

One unique feature of the branch was the Trinity Loop. The track had to drop more than 30 feet in a short distance to get close to Trinity. This was the only visible train loop in North America; there are others like it but this is the only one where the entire loop is visible.

After the closure of the railway, the Loop was leased by a local businessman and operated as an amusement park until 2004 when it was shut down. Hurricane Igor did serious damage to the remnants of the park in 2010 and it is dubious whether it will ever reopen.

The Bonavista Display

Bonavista station and locomotive
The train display is at what was the very end of the Bonavista branch line. The display consists of locomotive 932, a flatcar, a passenger car, and a caboose, along with a speeder. The train station and freight house are both still on site as well.

I walked over there from our hotel (the excellent Harbour Quarters Inn) on the first evening we were in town. The display is not really front and centre, being midway between the two main north-south roads through town. You could drive through town without even noticing it.

CN 932

CN 932 and train
CN 932 is an NF210 locomotive, one of 38 narrow gauge 1200 HP diesel-electric locomotives built for CN for service on Newfoundland. It is a bit out of place in Bonavista as the NF210 and nearly identical NF110 locomotives were prohibited from operating on this branch due to their weight. The lighter G8 locomotives were the only diesels that operated on the Bonavista branch line, to my knowledge.

I didn't take any photos of the flat car, CN 12142.

The Diner Car

Dining car in Bonavista, NL
The dining car in the train was built by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company for the Newfoundland Railway in June 1943, as NF 12. It was renumbered to CN 174 in April 1953 and it retired from diner service in July 1973, becoming work car #5018 until after the official closure of the Newfoundland railway.

The car is in CN white and black but has no external markings.

Caboose CN 6060

Caboose CN 6060 in Bonavista, NL
The caboose at the end of the train, CN 6060, was built by National Steel Car in December 1962.

The Station and Freight House

Bonavista Train Station
The train station, on Station Road, is now home to the T.K. Kelloway Senior Citizens 50+ Club. Based on some recent town council minutes (PDF) it sounds like it requires some repairs.

The former freight house is still in its original place, on the other end of the train display. It doesn't look like it is being used for anything but it is intact.
The former freight house in Bonavista
Here's a great photo by Joe McMillan of the mixed train in Bonavista on June 30, 1980.
Only on Wednesdays

Joe has great photos from Lethbridge (not the Alberta one) and Port Rexton on Flickr.

There's also a little speeder in Bonavista. I was surprised to see this on display outside.
CN speeder in Bonavista

The Trinity LoopI tried to visit the Trinity Loop when we were touring Trinity, but I wasn't 100% sure where it was. I ended up driving up a road for a bit, then getting frustrated and turning around and giving up.

I realized that night that I was on the right road, only a few hundred metres away from the Loop. Shoot.

Instead I'll share this fantastic photo of the mixed train by Joe McMillan, taken from the top of the Trinity Loop.

That's the last of the railway displays I've seen in Newfoundland. There are a number of displays in central and western Newfoundland that I haven't seen yet. The biggest ones are at Bishops Falls and Port Aux Basques, with a variety of cabooses, and freight cars scattered around the island in private use.

The most unique piece on Newfoundland I haven't seen yet is the G8 locomotive at Carbonear, CN 803, the only G8 remaining on the island. I understand it is looking very shabby. I have seen a G8, though... CN 805 was outside at the Exporail museum in July 2005 when we visited it.
G8 locomotive CN 805 in Delson, Quebec
Thanks for reading and taking a virtual tour through the railway sights in eastern Newfoundland!

I'll leave you with a few non-railway images from Bonavista and area... including this photo of me enjoying cod cheeks in Bonavista. They were tasty!

Bonavista harbour at sunset

Inside the Cape Bonavista lighthouse, with its rotating reflectors

CCGS Vladykov, docked in Bonavista, NL

See more!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Manitoba Live Steamers and the Assiniboine Valley Railroad

Two miniature railways - one weekend! The Manitoba Live Steamers are holding their annual open house and the Assiniboine Valley Railway is holding another public run.

Live Steam

Manitoba Live Steamers - Red River Valley Railway
The Manitoba Live Steamers are holding their annual open house at their Red River Valley Railway site just northwest of Winnipeg, near the Prairie Dog Central Railway. They'll be open Saturday August 27 from 10:30 AM to 4:30 PM, and Sunday August 28 from 11 AM to 3 PM. (Times are approximate)

They will have live steam trains running on their extensive track system, model engines on display, and a canteen will be open for lunch, drinks and snacks.

They are a little tricky to get to - they are off highway 190 / Centre Port Canada Way - but here's a map provided by the Manitoba Live Steamers.

If you have a GPS you can enter 49.945960, -97.271530 to get there.

I stumbled across one of their open houses a few years ago and took the above photo.

There's a caboose on the property as well, an ex CPR one if I am not mistaken.

Assiniboine Valley Railway

Winnipeg's Assiniboine Valley Railway is holding another public session soon. For a toonie ($2) you can ride on their miniature railway through the woods! Kids under 2 are free but must be accompanied by an adult.

I've done the ride a few times and I can say it is a lot of fun to take the train through the tunnels and trees, and often you will see deer in the distance too.

They'll be running from 11 AM - 5 PM on Saturday August 28 and 1 PM - 5 PM on Sunday August 29. Details on their web site!

If you miss this weekend, they will also be running on the weekend of September 10-11 and October 8-9.

Check them out at 3001 Roblin Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba (GPS 49.870603, -97.249942)

More posts on the Assiniboine Valley

Monday, August 15, 2016

10 Questions for Trevor Mills

This series is modeled after the "Interesting Railfan" series in Railroad magazine from years ago. I'm asking each railfan 10 questions, some standard and some customized for the particular person. I hope you enjoy it. (See all in the series)

Trevor Mills at "work"
I put 10 questions to Trevor Mills, who is heavily involved with the West Coast Railway Association in Squamish, BC and recently purchased Great Northern lounge observation car #1090 to restore it.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Squamish, British Columbia Canada. My father was an engineer on the Pacific Great Eastern Railway and mom stayed at home and looked after me.

I tried to hire on as a conductor hoping to work my way up to be an engineer but the 20/20 vision rule with no corrective devices was still in place so that was out.

I tried applied to be an apprentice machinist just as BC Rail was getting rid of their apprenticeship programs. I have had many jobs around including truck driving and long shoring.

I have worked various jobs at the museum over the years including archivist, guest services and on restoration projects. I am currently master mechanic looking after 4 operating heritage locomotives and the operating coaches we use to carry people for events.

2. Why do you like trains?

I think the main reason I like trains is they have been part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Many of dad and mom's friends in part had something to do with trains ranging from fellow employees on the full size railways to friends with model railways.

Our place was a weekend hangout for people that came from afar to see the British Columbia Railway. Dave Wilkie and Pat Hind would venture over from Victoria, park their camper in our driveway and we would all go off and spend a weekend photographing whatever was running.

Mom was part of the team and would usually have a wonderful dinner ready when we got home. Evenings were usually spent around the slide projector catching up on each other's adventures since the last time we were together.

3. Are you a railway modeller?

Yes! I have built or assisted with many models in various scales from N scale to live steam. I prefer the larger sizes because it is easier to get better detail. I guess my favourite size would be gauge 1. It is a larger size and there are not many models out there which leaves lots of opportunity for scratch building.

4. What is your favourite railway to see/photograph?

The Royal Hudson #2860
I love railways that run steam. The Royal Hudson came to town every summer while I was growing up and it had a great influence on my photography.

I am also a scenic photographer and love rail lines that go through the mountains and valleys. The only time I take roster shots is if there is something I want to model.

I have an overflowing box of photos of stuff I want to make  models of in the future. This will be a great retirement project if I ever get to old to work on the full size stuff.

5. How did you get involved with the West Coast Railway Heritage Park?

I was invited by one of dad's friends to a meeting of the WCRA in Vancouver. It was in 1988. The slide presentation that night was on the current progress of the restoration of the colonist car 2514. I was amazed by the wood framing in the car and wanted to learn more about it.

There was also talk of building a museum and one location was Squamish. I do not think I missed a meeting after that for the next 2 years hoping to hear more. When the decision was made in 1989 I was at the table when we signed the lease for the land where the Heritage Park is now and have been a part of its growth ever since.

6. What are some of the challenges in restoring railway cars?

One of the biggest challenges is getting everyone to agree on what a piece should be restored to. It is unbelievable how much time is wasted arguing how it should be done. After that the metal work, wood work and painting are easy.

7. Which restoration are you most proud of?

I have worked on or assisted with over 25 and I think my favourites are PGE 561, CPR 4069 and of course the Royal Hudson.

8. How did you end up owning a railcar?

The WCRA has cleaned out their collection several times over the past 20 years and several great cars have gone to the scrapper. When this round of thinning came along I just could let a car from my childhood get cut up.

The car I acquired is the Great Northern lounge observation 1090. When I was young dad had a model of the GN Oriental Limited on his railway pulled by a P-2 and the observation car was a car just like the 1090.

Trevor's car, GN #1090
I jumped on the opportunity to save a classic both from my own life and the history of travel in western North America. I have a plan for the restoration based on experience gained from my past work at the Heritage Park. Oh, and there will be no argument on the colour I will be painting it. The car has given me a beautiful sample of the Pullman Green.

9. Who would you say is your inspiration?

First would be my dad for his encouragement. Next I would say all his friends from his coworkers to his fellow modellers who never said no and were always there if I had a question. There are way too many to list here.

10. How can people help preserve Canada's railway history?

One of the biggest ways is to write down family stories. Dad died when I was 9 and I never got to ask him many questions about his railway life.

This is another reason why I like trains - to find out more about my father who left us way too soon. These stories tell of a way of life that contributed to the development of the great country we live in.

Another way is to come out and help by sharing a talent like wood work, metalwork and record keeping in the archives to work toward upkeep of a collection near you.

These few pieces that are left help us remember how we have progressed to where we are today. If you would like to help me with my project please see my website for more info.

To learn more about Trevor's project, visit You can see the West Coast Railway Association's site at

See all other 10 Questions posts

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Lewisporte Train Park, Newfoundland

CN 6069 at the Lewisporte Train Park in Newfoundland
In July we paid a brief visit to the Lewisporte Train Park in Lewisporte, NL. I took a different route back from Twillingate via Lewisporte to take in this railway park, and I'm glad I did! My wife and kids were happy to spend a few extra minutes as we stopped at the nearby Tim Horton's in town for a snack.

Lewisporte is a bustling town of about 3,300 people. It was located at the end of the 9.4 mile Lewisporte Branch, built to provide a deepwater port for the Reid-Newfoundland Company's coastal boats. It was originally called Burnt Bay but was renamed Lewisporte after Lewis Miller, who was a Scottish lumber mogul. The branch became critically important during World War 2 with the rapid expansion of the Newfoundland Airport (now called Gander) and its importance for trans-Atlantic flights. Fuel for the important Gander airport was brought to Lewisporte by ship and travelled twice daily by "oil train" to the airport.

The branch connected to mile 244 of the main line at Notre Dame Junction.

After the creation of Terra Transport, the subdivision was downgraded to a spur and eventually saw its last train in 1987 and was closed in 1988.

Here's a photo by James F. Primm II showing CN 931 working the CN Marine warehouse on the docks at Lewisporte.
CN NF210 #931 at Lewisporte NL, 1980
Lewisporte still hosts ferries to Labrador.

The train park is located right beside highway 340 and is very easy to find. There is a parking lot next to the train and a nice walking trail behind the display. The train station still exists in the town proper, but we did not visit it.


Snowplow CN 3462 in Lewisporte, NL
The display is headed up by the ubiquitous Newfoundland snowplow, CN 3462. This plow was built by National Steel Car in November 1953. It is unusual in that it has a lot of stenciling on it. Most display pieces lack most of the stenciling that the equipment had when in railway service.

CN 902

The locomotive CN 902 demonstrates this lack of stenciling.
NF110 locomotive CN 902 in Lewisporte
It's surprising that CN 902 doesn't even have the zebra or Terra Transport markings. The far side doesn't have a number at all and the window is boarded up. Note the lack of number boards, too. Perhaps this is undergoing restoration, as Brian Hiscock's photos from 2000 show it with a CN "noodle".

Unlike most of Newfoundland's branch lines, the Lewisporte Branch could operate the heavier NF110 and NF210 units (~100 tonne), because it had a minimum of 70 pound rails. Most branches could only support the lighter G8 (66 tonne) locomotives.

I liked how the garbage cans were railway themed!
Put your trash in the choo-choo bins

Coach CN 764

The sole passenger car is next.
CN 764 in Lewisporte
Coach CN 764 was built by the Canadian Car and Foundry company in June 1949 for the Newfoundland Railway as #47. I peeked in the windows and the seats are still inside.

Note that there would not be a passenger car on a plow train, as this is strictly against the rules. I understand it was commonly done during the Newfoundland Railway days but banned after Canadian National Railways took over the island's railway.

Caboose CN 6069 was built in January 1967 by National Steel Car.

The plow apparently makes a nice play structure!
Climbing the snowplow
(that's not my child on the plow)

The bold Terra Transport logo was evident on the passenger car.
TerraTransport logo
I'm almost done describing the Newfoundland railway sites that we visited. The last to come is Bonavista.

See also: