See also 1915 article on the Staff System written by E.S. Taylor.
Rick 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. The system was often used on short segments of lines with heavy traffic. There have been several other articles published in recent years.
First, for those less familiar with the electric train staff system, there are three common types:
Absolute block – A block in which but one train is permitted at a time. It is governed by an absolute staff, which is a steel rod turned into rings.
Permissive block – A block in which one or more trains are permitted to follow or to meet as instructed. It is governed by a permissive staff, which is either a divisible steel rod equipped with eleven removable rings.Pusher block – A block in which a pusher engine is permitted to enter and assist in the movement of trains. It is governed by a pusher staff of special design.
One of the busiest and longest-lasting of the staff systems was the absolute block system used by the Canadian Pacific Railway in controlling trains in the Ottawa Terminals. Prior to the relocations made in the early 1960s, rail lines ringed and criss-crossed the central area of
In 1956, the CPR had three subdivisions feeding into Ottawa Union Station across the Alexandra (Interprovincial) Bridge from the north. About a mile to the south of the station was the junction at Deep Cut. Over this joint south access line from Deep Cut the trains of the Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and 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
is a junction that was added when a wye was constructed at the
a train were to leave Ottawa Union, say Train No. 1, the operator would
that train with the dispatcher in
1 would leave Ottawa Union (office signal ‘CD’), proceed over the
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
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
When the Hilton Mines opened, and the new junction was constructed at Wamo, another “dummy” machine with ‘D’ staffs was constructed within a little typical CPR wooden shack at Wamo, where the train crews were to try to extract the staffs from the machine. They were not used to trying to wrestle with the machine, and there were plenty of train delays while that happened. In addition to Hilton Mines, there was also a gravel pit at Franceschini Pit about five miles west of 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, this train also used it, instead of pulling into Hull West for his own staff and orders. Trains from the Waltham Subdivision using the staff did not have to get any train orders when re-entering the Ottawa Terminal trackage to return to Ottawa 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
One 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 fireman were in Hull West chewing the fat with the operator, just having given him their ‘A’ staff. As they were leaving, they picked up the staff, and were proceeding over the Prince of Wales Bridge towards Ottawa West, when they looked at their staff and saw that they had picked up their original ‘A’ staff, which had only given them authority to go from Ottawa Union to Hull West, not from Hull West to Ottawa West. They made a hasty return to Hull West (not according to the rules) and picked up the proper ‘D’ staff.
time, due to an accumulation of staffs at Ottawa West, the Chief Train
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
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.
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
Eastbound: Chalk River passenger No. 556 at 11:00; No. 558 due at 17:05; No. 562 at 17:25 from Toronto via Brockville; and No. 2, The Canadian, at 19:00.
Westbound: No. 555 to Chalk River, 08:30; No. 563 for Brockville and Toronto at 09:30; No. 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
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
there were the wayfreights. There were two runs to
Pacific had two transfers to
were also the
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
Should the staff system have become inoperative, all movements were by train orders. Regular trains proceeded with 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 other westward trains. Westward trains would have to know where the eastbounds were before proceeding. The fun started when you tried to move all the wayfreights and light engines.
of all, the train dispatcher in
was said that the train dispatcher in
Another pain to the 1950s train operations at Ottawa West was a red train order signal. It was red all the time, and could not be moved to another position. Four 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 train in the direction indicated, the operator will, on the approach of the train, in addition to the stop signal, display a yellow flag by day or a yellow light by night.” So when hooping up orders to the head end of No. 2 or No. 8 at Ottawa West, the operator was holding his hoop in one hand, a yellow flag or light in the other, plus the ‘D’ staff and orders for the conductor in the trailing 500-series dome car – quite a handful when a train is cruising by at 30 or so m.p.h. If the operator dropped the hoop, the train dispatcher was none too pleased with his performance.
‘A’ staff was abandoned when the new Ottawa Station opened on
The last staff
system in service on CP was
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
2.2 miles from
of course we cannot overlook the 3.3 mile absolute block staff system
in place in
Upper Canada Railway Society Newsletter, December 1989.From Bruce Chapman 10 April 2018
In the articles that members had written in your website, in the list of my stories, in item #4, it is about this staff system.
I had written that it was last used when Ottawa West closed at 0001, Sunday October 29th, 1967.
I had taken all the train orders, register books and other requirements from Ottawa West to Walkley Yard office, and I figured that was the end of that staff system at 0001.
However, it seems that CP had worried about the crossing of the Prince of Wales bridge, and so kept an operator on duty at the old Ottawa West station to take a staff over to the new wooden station on the new alignment when a northward train was approaching from Walkley Yard.
So this continued on the Sunday 29th, Monday 30th, Tuesday 31st, Wednesday November 1st and until noon on Thursday November 2nd. when the CTC was completed from Ottawa West to Laman, and the abolishing of the staff system then ensured.