Mannen’s article on the staff system
in the October Newsletter reminded me
that readers might not be familiar with this method of traffic control.
was often used on short segments of lines with heavy traffic. There
several other articles published in recent years.
for those less familiar with the electric train staff system, there are
block – A block in which but one train is permitted at a time. It
governed by an absolute staff, which is a steel rod turned into rings.
block – A block in which one or more trains are permitted to follow
meet as instructed. It is governed by a permissive staff, which is
divisible steel rod equipped with eleven removable rings.
block – A block in which a pusher engine is permitted to enter and
in the movement of trains. It is governed by a pusher staff of special
One of the busiest
and longest-lasting of the staff systems was the absolute block system
the Canadian Pacific Railway in controlling trains in the Ottawa
Prior to the relocations made in the early 1960s, rail lines ringed and
criss-crossed the central area of Ottawa.
1956, the CPR had three subdivisions feeding into Ottawa Union Station
the Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge from the north. About a mile to
south of the station was the junction at Deep Cut. Over this joint
line from Deep Cut the trains of the Canadian National, Canadian
New York Central were funnelled in and out of Ottawa Union Station.
west end of the CPR M&O Subdivision was Ottawa West, and from there
line crossed the Ottawa River on the Prince of Wales Bridge, ran
then crossed the river again on the Alexandra Bridge into the station,
continued south and east towards Montréal. The map on the next
page shows most
of the important trackage as it then existed. As shown, CPR’s Maniwaki,
Lachute, and Waltham Subdivisions all connected to the Ottawa Terminal
The staff system in
the Ottawa Terminals
involved two separate staff systems, and the operator at Hull West was
to the whole operation. He had four separate staff machines in his
system, the ‘A’ staffs, was used between Ottawa Union and Hull West,
“dummy” machine at Hull
(Beemer). The other system was the ‘D’ Staff , and covered from Hull
Ottawa West, with a “dummy” machine at Wamo. The staffs were engraved
letter ‘A’ or ‘D.’ Needless to say, an ‘A’ staff did not fit the ‘D’
or vice versa.
is a junction that was added when a wye was constructed at the
between the Waltham
and M&O subdivisions as part of the changes necessitated by the
the Hilton Mines on the Waltham Sub. This change permitted trains from
mines to avoid the need to go into the Hull West Station, and having to
over the Prince of Wales Bridge into Ottawa West, with its single-ended
Also, the imminent demise of the mixed trains on the Waltham Sub.
the building of the wye.)
a train were to leave Ottawa Union, say Train No. 1, the operator would
that train with the dispatcher in SmithsFalls,
then call the
operator at Hull West for a staff. The Hull West operator would insert
staff into his machine, then by means of a hand-cranked magneto on his
machine, produce an electrical current that released the lock on the
Union machine. This permitted the Ottawa Union operator to remove a
his machine (an ‘A’ staff) and give it to the conductor on Train No. 1.
1 would leave Ottawa Union (office signal ‘CD’), proceed over the
bridge, through Hull
(‘HJ’) and on across town to Hull West (‘HU’), where the Conductor
his staff (which was in a leather pouch) onto the platform. In the
the HU operator, after holding up a ‘D’ staff for the engineer on No. 1
would then pass it up to the Conductor who would be standing in the
of the 500-series Skyline car. At Ottawa West (‘UY’), the operator
up the orders to the head-end as No. 1 left the Ottawa Terminals and
the Carleton Place Subdivision, and then the tail end would throw the
staff, which would also be in a leather pouch, onto the platform, and
orders for the Carleton Place Subdivision from the hoop the operator
holding for him.
operator at Ottawa West would place the staff from No. 1 in the staff
and give one short crank of his staff magneto box to the operator at
announcing that No. 1 had arrived, and that the block was clear, should
be another train or a light engine to move from Hull West to Ottawa
is the same procedure that the Hull West operator would have done as
cleared Hull West, so the operator at Ottawa Union would know that No.
arrived at Hull West and that the block between these two stations was
should Ottawa Union have another move to make over the AlexandraBridge
after No. 1 arrived at Hull West, the operator at Ottawa Union might
the Maniwaki passenger train, No. 535, due out of CD at . The operator at Hull
West would crank
his magneto box until the operator at CD told him that he was
withdrawing his next staff from the machine. No. 535 would proceed,
staff, from Ottawa Union to Hull
(Beemer) only, where another operator was working. The operator at Hull would have previously obtained clearance
from the SmithsFalls
dispatcher for No. 535 to proceed up the Maniwaki Subdivision from Hull. Upon
arrival at Hull,
No. 535 would get
his orders from the operator there, and give the operator the ‘A’
operator would insert this staff into his “dummy” machine once No. 535
the Ottawa Terminal trackage, and give one push of a button on his
telling the operator at Hull West that No. 535 had arrived and cleared
terminal trackage, and at that time, the operator at HU would push the
button on his magneto box, and an electric current would be generated
automatically, without the operator at Hull (HJ) having to crank his
box, and the operator at Hull West would then be able to extract an ‘A’
from his “dummy” machine, and the whole block was again open for others
or light engine moves.
the Hilton Mines opened, and the new junction was constructed at Wamo,
“dummy” machine with ‘D’ staffs was constructed within a little typical
wooden shack at Wamo, where the train crews were to try to extract the
from the machine. They were not used to trying to wrestle with the
there were plenty of train delays while that happened. In addition to
Mines, there was also a gravel pit at Franceschini Pit about five miles
Shawville, Québec, using a little Plymouth engine, and they gave
the CPR one
train per night, five days per week, and when the Wamo wye was opened,
also used it, instead of pulling into Hull West for his own staff and
Trains from the Waltham Subdivision using the staff did not have to get
train orders when re-entering the Ottawa Terminal trackage to return to
West, the staff being their authority.
you had a staff, you were king of the road, you didn't care about No.
1, No. 2
or any other train . . . just don’t delay them! The fun would start
someone mistakenly took a staff past its territory, or one was lost.
was swinging the staff in its leather pouch while standing on the
his caboose while waiting for the block signal to enter Ottawa West
it got out of his grip, and landed in the Ottawa
– his train had been standing with the caboose just onto the Prince of
Bridge. When that happened, the signal maintainer had to be called to
that the staff was indeed lost, so there wouldn’t be two staffs
once, then he had a key to unlock the machine, and remove a staff to
the lost one. Should this occur on a weekend, it could take some time
the maintainer to come in from home.
time, the E8 1800 was into Hull West, just arriving from
Montréal on Train 503,
and was moving light to Ottawa West for servicing. The engineer and
were in Hull West chewing the fat with the operator, just having given
their ‘A’ staff. As they were leaving, they picked up the staff, and
proceeding over the Prince of Wales Bridge towards Ottawa West, when
looked at their staff and saw that they had picked up their original
which had only given them authority to go from Ottawa Union to Hull
from Hull West to Ottawa West. They made a hasty return to Hull West
according to the rules) and picked up the proper ‘D’ staff.
time, due to an accumulation of staffs at Ottawa West, the Chief Train
Dispatcher in SmithsFalls
signal maintainer to transfer 20 staffs from Ottawa West to Hull West
Saturday afternoon, so that Hull West wouldn’t run out. Saturday
when all the wayfreights came into Ottawa West from all the branches,
could be sheer hell at Ottawa West. The maintainer came down, extracted
staffs, and asked what was going to Hull West next. He was told that it
be the 1227, a light engine from Ottawa West to Ottawa Union, in 20
light engine had clearance, since the operator at UY had obtained
him from the Smiths Falls dispatcher, so when the switchtender brought
around to the station from the shop, and the engineer was told that the
maintainer was riding with him to Hull West to deposit 20 extra staffs,
assumed one of the 20 was for him, and off he went backing onto the
Prince of Wales
Bridge. (There was no wye at Ottawa Union, so all engines for passenger
leaving Ottawa Union for the Carleton Place, Lachute,
Maniwaki, or Waltham
subdivisions had to back all the way
from Ottawa West to Ottawa Union.) Around Lemieux Island, where CPR had
customer in the City of Ottawa’s water filtration plant, and cars of
were delivered to them, the engineer on 1227 was surprised to see a
coming towards him, and behind that some boxcars, and behind that a
D4g. The Waltham
backed out of Hull West and was backing his train towards Ottawa West.
Movements were very slow, about 10 m.p.h., and both trains stopped. The
reversed position, moving back to Ottawa West to clear the wye switch
424 on the Waltham
wayfreight could get his train put away, took the 424’s staff, and
Hull West, not in the best humour at the signal maintainer, who was
clutching his heavy load of 20 staffs.
fun time was when someone took the staff west of Ottawa West, which
happened about once every five years. About 1955, a conductor on No.
551, the Ottawa to ChalkRiver
which ran Sunday only, took a staff through to Carleton Place, and there were no
eastward trains until No. 8, The Dominion, Monday morning, so the staff
would have been immobilized for almost 12 hours. A yard clerk from
drove his car to Carleton
to retrieve the staff at
on a very dark night. I think he got some merit marks from the CPR for
feat, while I’m sure the conductor got some shares in the company
brownies). I wonder if Mr. Crump knew that this was how his CPR was
Ottawa West, Saturday afternoons were
the busiest time, when all the wayfreights were coming in, and trying
home for one day a week . . . this was before the 40 hour week. A quick
timetable 45, dated April
29, 1956, shows the following regular trains at UY on
Chalk River passenger No. 556 at 11:00; No. 558 due at 17:05; No. 562
from Toronto via Brockville; and No. 2, The
Canadian, at 19:00.
No. 555 to Chalk River, 08:30; No. 563 for Brockville and Toronto at
1, The Canadian, at 15:29; Brockville
train No. 559 at 15:45; and No. 557 to Chalk River at 16:25.
was all steam, and all passenger engines went from Ottawa West to
The Maniwaki passenger, No. 534, would arrive at Ottawa Union at , and the engine then
to UY. No. 556 from ChalkRiver
arrived at CD at
and his engine ran light back
to Ottawa West. No. 421, passenger from Montréal via the Lachute
arrived Ottawa Union at ,
and his engine would back, light to UY. The same would happen to the
from No. 562 after its
arrival at Ottawa Union. Train No. 503 would arrive at Union Station at
after its trip from Montréal via the M&O Subdivision and the
from Deep Cut, and then its engine would be cut off and move light to
light engine would have to make the same trek back from Ottawa West to
be at CD
about for the
departure of the Saturday-only
Maniwaki passenger, No. 539. Train No. 428, the Saturday-only
passenger via the Lachute Subdivision, would run light from UY to CD at
ready for its
departure. At ,
a repeat run would be made
with the engine for No. 559 to be prepared to haul the daily Brockville
passenger. Less than a hour later
at 15:20, the engines for No. 557 and No. 535 moved to Ottawa Union
together (No. 535 was Monday-Friday only). At , an engine for No. 424 headed to
Ottawa Union for
the run to Montréal via the Lachute Subdivision. Then the engine
from No. 505,
from Montréal over the M&O Sub., ran west after its arrival.
there were the wayfreights. There were two runs to Gatineau daily, at and ,
and they returned as their 12 hours were up. These trains ran as No. 72
78. An eastbound wayfreight ran down the Lachute Subdivision, Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday as No. 74, westbound with no number Tuesday,
and Saturday. Then there was a Waltham
wayfreight westbound, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as No. 95,
eastbound as No.
96 on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The Maniwaki wayfreight was
No. 79, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, returning as No. 80 on Tuesday,
Thursday, and Saturday.
Pacific had two transfers to Hull
daily to switch E.B. Eddy and the other industries there. This transfer
had a yard engine such as 7011, 7028, or 7089, which were the first
assigned to Ottawa.
Six days (nights) a week there were overnight freights No. 85 and No.
86 on the
Montréal run. No. 85 would arrive at UY about , and No. 86 would
depart for Montréal at .
At times when there was extra
switching on the Lachute Subdivision, CP would run a No. 54 leaving
at noon, usually with steamers fresh from an overhaul at Angus Shops,
out for a
test run, often the standard Hudson 2800s.
were also the Waltham
mixed trains. Saturday one would arrive at Ottawa Union at , and then its D4 would
run light to UY;
Saturday afternoon it left CD at ,
and so the engine would run light from Ottawa West to Ottawa Union at .
of these movements were made under the control of the absolute electric
block system. Only one train at a time with one staff was permitted in
block. Sometimes, if there were two or three light engines going to or
Ottawa Union, they would be coupled up. One picture in my collection
Waltham steamer 425, Maniwaki gas car 9005, and Montréal E8 1800
together moving light over the Alexandra Bridge back to Ottawa West for
When the staff was out of
action the train
dispatcher in Smiths Falls would have to issue a train order, such as
this, to all trains between the affected points, which would then
reintroduce the superiority of trains by time table and train order. In Canada,
Eastward and Southward trains were superior to Westward and Northward
trains, but there were also first, second third and fourth class trains
to come into the picture. And if there were extra trains and
engines in the mix, it was quite a chore moving trains when the staff
system went down.
This was the only time that we saw white flags in this territory. Green flags were more common, when sections of passenger
trains ran, during holiday periods and summer vacation time.
Should the staff
system have become
inoperative, all movements were by train orders. Regular trains
eastward and southward trains superior to northward and westward
trains, so No.
2, or other eastward first class trains had right over No. 1, and all
westward trains. Westward trains would have to know where the
before proceeding. The fun started when you tried to move all the
and light engines.
of all, the train dispatcher in SmithsFalls
would put out a 19Y
train order saying “Electric staff block system between Ottawa West and
is inoperative. Trains will be governed by time table and train
say, the light engine for No. 425 was ready to leave Ottawa West for
The train dispatcher would have to put out another order saying “Engine
extra Ottawa West to Hull West with right over westward extra trains.”
this order could be issued, the dispatcher would have to ascertain that
the westward extra trains had arrived at Ottawa West. Once No. 425
Hull West, he could then let another eastward go with another similar
he could let a westward train leave Hull West for Ottawa West with an
“Engine 1800 run extra Hull West to Ottawa West,” making sure that no
extras still had right over the 1800.
4097 is a passenger special which came from Toronto, I
believe, on the CNR, and was given to CP at the new Ottawa Station and
headed to Montebello Quebec, but with CP power. This is the
return move to Ottawa Station from Montebello showing the special
arriving at Ottawa West on 10 October 1967. As the electric staff
block system went down, it had to be run as a passenger extra west from
Hull West to Ottawa; hence the white flags on the engine.
Train No. 85 from Montreal via the Lachute Subdivision
is arriving at Ottawa West on 14 January 1966. Again, as the
electric staff block system was inoperative, it had to be run as an
extra west from Hull west to Ottawa West.
was said that the train dispatcher in SmithsFalls
controlled this operation, but actually it was the operators themselves
it, the train dispatcher only “cleared” the trains on the green
let the operators run the show, except when first class trains were in
pain to the 1950s train operations at Ottawa West was a red train order
It was red all the time, and could not be moved to another position.
passenger trains a day did not stop at Ottawa West, Nos. 1 and 2, The Canadian, and Nos. 7 and 8, The Dominion.
The Uniform Code of
Operating Rules states “. . . when no 19R train orders are held for any
in the direction indicated, the operator will, on the approach of the
addition to the stop signal, display a yellow flag by day or a yellow
night.” So when hooping up orders to the head end of No. 2 or No. 8 at
West, the operator was holding his hoop in one hand, a yellow flag or
the other, plus the ‘D’ staff and orders for the conductor in the
500-series dome car – quite a handful when a train is cruising by at 30
m.p.h. If the operator dropped the hoop, the train dispatcher was none
pleased with his performance.
‘A’ staff was abandoned when the new Ottawa Station opened on July 31, 1966. The
staff section was abandoned when the operations at Ottawa West moved to
Yard, October 31,
Two staff machines are in the National Museum of Science and Technology
along with some
staffs. The machines were built in Liverpool, England
The last staff
system in service on CP was
one near Sudbury, Ontario, on a 1.7 mile section of
Subdivision between C.N.R. Junction and Clarabelle. This was an
also used the staff system on 2.1 miles of the Québec
Québec and Cadorna. Again, this was an absolute block staff
system. A pusher
block staff system was used for the four miles between Orangeville and Fraxa, Ontario,
on CP’s Owen Sound Subdivision.
2.2 miles from Edmonton to South Edmonton, Alberta
on the Leduc Subdivision used an absolute block staff system. A
block staff system was used on the 3.8 miles from Saskatoon to Sutherland on the
Subdivision. Saint John,
New Brunswick, had
combination over 2.2 miles of the Saint John Subdivision to Fairville.
an absolute block system with pusher block override.
of course we cannot overlook the 3.3 mile absolute block staff system
in place in Toronto
between Don and Leaside on the Oshawa Subdivision.
Upper Canada Railway Society Newsletter, December 1989.