16,000 tons on the Mountain Subdivision
I was so excited I hardly slept all night and certainly didn't need a wake up call. We went to bed at a motel in Golden, B.C. secure in the knowledge that a CP westbound coal train would be ordered for about 0600 next morning. A quick call to the station verified that the train would arrive over the Windermere Sub. at about 0700.
After a good bacon and egg breakfast, we returned to the station to learn that one of the units to be added to the coal train had to come off eastbound KCS which arrived at 0752. SD40-2 5631 was taken to the shop and added to 5649. Both were brought to the station where we boarded for the short run down to the yard to be added to the rest of the train. The 5631 and 5649 were cut in behind SD40-2 5815 and 5843 that had brought the coal train from Fort Steele. 5815 had to be in the lead as it is fitted with the master control equipment. Before being coupled to the train, 5843 needed water so our four units were moved down the main and were conveniently spotted next to the mid-train slaves (SD40-2 6012 and 5986) controlled from robot car R1012. Sun OK and no poles - just right for photography!
Back on the train the engineer tested the remote unit controls which were verified by a shop man on the slaves. This was followed by a brake test and then we asked permission to enter the Mountain Sub. We started to pull at 0940 and passed Golden at 0951.
The mid-train units can be controlled either in multiple with, or separately from, the head end units. For the first part of the journey they are run in multiple. Very soon we are in run 8 and our six units are putting out 18,000 horsepower to move over 11,000 tons of coal towards Japan at 40 mph. Not for long, however, as we have to take the siding at Moberly to pass Train 482 with four SD40-2 units on the point.
Hardly had we started to get underway again when a radio message told us to stop east of the siding at Donald because the Speno rail grinding train had set some ties on fire. After at ten minute delay we moved to Donald where we held the main for the Speno train to clear. The signal at the west end obstinately stayed red, however. A track crew was slow in giving up a Track Occupancy Permit changing defective rails discovered by a Sperry car. There were muttered comments about the ancestry of the track gang. We waited 45 minutes at Donald and I put the time to good use with my camera while the train crew sat in the shade and swapped yarns. The Track Occupancy Permit was finally given up when the gang decided it was time for lunch. We passed them at Redgrave sitting in the shade of some trees eating lunch - the Foreman was predictably nowhere to be seen.
We were climbing now. An eastbound train of coal empties was safely in the hole at Beavermouth and we took the siding at Rogers for six pusher units to be inserted into our train. As the six SD40-2 units are added to our 16,000 gross tons for the 10.5 mile climb to Stoney Creek, an eastbound train with four units hurries past.
We get the light next and the Dispatcher was on the radio to get us to hurry up. Very soon 12 3000 horsepower locomotives are in full throttle to move that load up the hill at a steady 15 mph. This is true mountain railroading with the line snaking around seemingly impossible curves on a ledge with impressive views but equally impressive drops to the valley below. Once over Mountain Creek Bridge I went out front to see the Stoney Creek Bridge. It's a terrifying sight from the front of an SD40-2 at the head end of 110 coal cars. We take the siding to set out the pusher units and a black bear slowly ambles out of our way. As we come to a halt VIA's eastbound CANADIAN quickly passes downhill - no wonder the Dispatcher wanted us to get a move on - mustn't delay the varnish! As we do an air test a train of grain empties glides smoothly downhill over the ribbon rail - except for one car near the caboose which has bad wheel flats. We radio the conductor to be on the lookout at the next stop. As the grain empties clear, the switch changes and we get a green light. Saying goodbye to the pushers, we continue the climb to Glacier. Nobody fancies their chances of getting to Rogers in a hurry. There's a grain drag following us and with all the trains around they may be in the back track with the bears for some time.
A couple of miles uphill we come to the worst part of the trip - the Connaught Tunnel. The six units maintain a steady 18 mph as we enter the gloomy hole still smoking from the two trains that have just passed through. Ref1ectorized signs mark our progress every half mile. These have been wiped clean so that train crews can see them in the dirty atmosphere. The slaves are put in run 8 before we enter so that when we lose radio contact they will continue to push at full power. About two thirds of the way through one of the slaves overheats and shuts itself down. Our speed drops to 1.3 mph. With all the windows closed it is hot and smokey in the cab. It takes 2O minutes to traverse the five mile tunnel and the crew are not too enthusiastic about the prospect of a nine mile alternative. Can't say that I blame them either!
As we break out of the tunnel into bright sun an army of rail fans records our progress. Glacier station marks the summit of the grade and the lead units are quickly put into dynamic braking to slow the front of the train while the one remaining faithful slave unit and its hot sister are put in dynamic as they too breast the summit. For a time the front is being slowed down while the back is being dragged up to the summit. A service brake application is made to slow the train and the next 2O miles or so are made with the dynamic brakes controlling the speed. Looking back, the brakeshoe smoke is quite visible. The engineer then tried (and succeeded) to frighten me by telling about, a student trip of his on such a train which ran out of control and piled up 79 cars. I tactfully asked how much control he has today and I am reassured when he tells me that a three pound brake application would bring the train to a complete stop.
We pass trains waiting for us at Flat Creek and I11eci11ewaet and take the siding at Albert Canyon to pass a work train and Sperry car 119. There is some talk about whether we can make Revelstoke within the ten hours allowed for train crews to be on duty. There is some muttering about tieing up the train and calling for a cab. With no other trains to pass our progress is slower than would be expected because of slow orders on a section that is being double? tracked. It is beautiful scenery and I keep a sharp lookout for bears and hope that I will be able to finish a memorable day in the cab of a locomotive and not the other sort of cab. It's peaceful and the whine of the dynamic brakes doesn't bother the bears who continue to graze the newly seeded clover on the right of way. The new fences certainly do not stop the bears one bit. We hit the east switch at Revelstoke just about on the ten hours and there is speculation as to whether the dispatcher is brilliant or just lucky. The concensus is with the latter.
We've covered just 9O miles in seven hours using up to 12 locomotives to haul and retard over 11,OOO tons of coal. In this time we have passed one passenger train, five freights, two work trains, a rail grinding train, a Sperry car, three bears and one cub. We've had no food and very little to drink. All I can think about is to get off - the wonder and awe will come later. Would I do it again? Of course I would!
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, July/August 1984.