A Ride to Toronto

This was written under a nom de plume as at that time I was a Railway Safety Inspector.

As I climb into the cab, the radio crackles into life:

"This is the carman at Ottawa station calling the head and of VIA 47",
"This is the head end of VIA 47".
"OK to set up the brake VIA 47".

With a hiss of air the train brake lever is moved to the service position;

"Brakes applied on VIA 47".

We are in the cab of VIA locomotive 6416 in Ottawa station preparing to depart for Toronto as train VIA 47. 6416 is a F40PH-2 General Motors four axle diesel electric built in 1987 and we have a three car train of LRC (Light, Rapid, Comfortable) cars which came through from Montreal earlier in the day. The banking mechanism, which tilts the cars through curves, is operating and we can look forward to a good trip to Toronto.

"This is the carman, VIA 47 please release your brakes".

The air brake lever is moved to the release position with another hiss of air.

We have two fully qualified engineers who are going through the pre-departure check. Joe will be running the first leg as far as Kingston where Ernie will take over. Leaving Ottawa, we will pass over a short CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) signalled section of the Beachburg subdivision to Federal and will then enter OCS (Occupancy Control System) territory of the Smiths Falls subdivision as far as Smiths Falls, our first station stop. We have a clearance from the Canadian National Montreal Rail Traffic Controller for the run to Smiths Falls.

Joe and Ernie check their DOB (Daily Operating Bulletin). We have a rule 43, a speed restriction to 30 mph, between mile 2.6 and mile 3.3 on the Beachburg subdivision and a rule 42 (planned track work) between mile 14 and mile 15 on the Smiths Falls subdivision. Joe will do the running while Ernie does the radio work.

"VIA 47, this is the carman.   The brakes have applied and released on your train.   Have a good trip."

"Brakes all released and applied on VIA 47. Thank you very much.   Head end of VIA 47 calling the tail end."

The conductor replies:

"This is the tail end of VIA 47."
"We have carried out the brake test, Jack. We have an extra rider today so we'll need an extra coffee at Kingston."
"OK, Joe.  You know we always look after you guys!"

The cab of 6416 is quite roomy and the third seat is pretty comfortable. There is a step down into the nose which contains a toilet as well as a fridge which is well stocked with bottled water. The engineer sits at a desk on the right hand side of the cab. The controls are all placed within easy reach.

"This is the tail end of VIA 47. You may proceed on a clear door panel."
"VIA 47 proceeding on a clear door panel."

The bell starts to ring, the reverser is moved to the forward position and the independent (ie. locomotive) brake is released. A red light on a panel above the engineer winks out to indicate that the doors Have been closed and secured, the throttle is moved into the first notch and we begin to move slowly forward. These locomotives have a constantly revving engine to supply hotel power (heating and lighting) to the train. The engine tone doesn't alter when the throttle is advanced.

Ernie calls out:
"Slow to clear signal."

All signal indications have to be called out and repeated by the engine crew (Canadian Rail Operating Rule (CROR) No. 34). The green dwarf signal at the exit to Ottawa Station is indicating CROR rule No. 421 which means "Proceed, slow speed passing signal and through turnouts." The CROR was approved by the Minister of Transport in 1990 and is the rule book used by all Canadian railways.

We get a clear signal (green over red) and the throttle is advanced a couple of notches. The bell is rung as we move over a couple of crossings and Ernie calls:

"Yellow flag for 30",

to indicate the upcoming 30 mph speed restriction for the shoo fly (diversion) for bridge construction which is shown in the DOB as a rule 43. Clear signals follow until we approach Wass Junction where we receive a Clear to Limited signal (yellow over green over red) which means "Proceed, approaching next signal at limited speed" (not more than 45 mph). The train is pinched down to 45 mph as we cross the Rideau River on a high bridge and traverse Federal Junction on a Limited to Clear signal (red over green over red).

"Let's see what she will do," says Joe, as he moves the throttle into the eighth notch giving full power. There are several crossings on the outskirts of Ottawa. They are all protected with warning devices (lights, bells and gates) but only the bell is rung because the whistle will disturb residents. We approach the first (Merivale Road) at 70 mph and are doing 80 by mile two (two miles from Federal). The second crossing, Woodroffe Avenue, is passed at 92 and the throttle is eased so as not to exceed the maximum 95 which we reach at Fallowfield Road. 6416 is obviously a strong one.

Joe unconsciously demonstrates his skill. He makes one brake application and releases at just the right moment to bring speed precisely down to 60 mph for a curve. We are now out of Ottawa proper and must whistle at all public crossings. The signal is CROR rule 14(1), two long, a short, and then a long whistle to be prolonged or repeated until the crossing is fully occupied. A whistle post, exhibiting a "W, is set up a quarter of a mile from each crossing as a guide to the engineer. The whistle is deafening outside the cab but the sound insulation is so good that you have to watch Joe's finger on the whistle button to verify that he is carrying out the rule.

There are no signals in OCS territory. We have a clearance for the entire line to Smiths Falls but there is still work for Ernie to do as there is a rule 42 to worry about.

"This is the head end of VIA 47 calling Foreman Alan Bryerton".
"This is Foreman Alan Bryerton, VIA 47".
"Foreman Bryerton, VIA 47 is approaching your red flag at mile 14. What are your instructions please?"
"It is alright for VIA 47 to pass my red flag at mile 14 and pass through my limits with no restrictions."
"It is alright for VIA 47 to pass your red flag at mile 14 and pass through your entire limits with no restrictions. Is that correct, Foreman Bryerton?"
"That is correct VIA 47."
"Thank you Foreman Bryerton, VIA 47 out."

The Conductor comes on the radio to verify that he has overheard the conversation.

Foreman Bryerton's luminous red flag reflects well in the light from our headlight and he gives us a highball (wave) as we pass his gang working on a crossing.

August is a good time to ride this single track line. Between Ottawa and Smiths Falls there is a great deal of bush with many trees and much water. Ducks are plentiful in some places and we are lucky enough to see a deer before it gracefully jumps a fence and disappears into the undergrowth. The shy industrious beaver is nowhere to be seen. The beaver is probably the most dangerous animal the railway encounters. Beaver dams can occasionally let go suddenly and wash out the track structure. Dynamiting the dams only provides temporary relief and the only real solution is to trap the animals and move them away. Yellow water lilies dot the numerous lakes and the bright red purple loosestrife adds great patches of colour to the scene.

We are running at 95 mph and Joe doesn't miss a crossing. Ernie changes to the CP RTC channel and obtains a clearance to enter CP Rail at Smiths Falls. One good brake application brings us down to 60 mph for a left hand curve on the approach to Smiths Falls and we are then down to 15 mph on the interchange trackage to Smiths Falls. As we enter CP territory, Ernie calls the CN RTC at Montreal and gives the time at Smiths Falls East. This clears the section of track for the RTC.

We leave Smiths Falls after a short station stop with the radio tuned to the CP end-to-end frequency. This is again OCS territory to Brockville and we have to protect against a CP work train. Again this is bush with even more surface water. Some areas of dead and dying trees are known as beaver meadows because the high water levels will eventually kill the trees. Heron and hawk are very common in this area.

Still running in the low nineties, Joe is concentrating on crossings. Ernie makes a call over the radio to discover that the work train is in the clear and out of our way. A dip in the track at mile 10 indicates the location of a washout caused by a beaver dam collapse. CP has put much work into the area but we can still feel it as we pass over.

The work train, with CP RS-18u 1837, is in the siding at Brockville as we run in for the station stop. Brockville is where we join the CN main line between Montreal and Toronto, known as the Kingston subdivision. Once out of the station we call the CP RTC office to give up our OCS clearance for the Brockville subdivision and will run for the rest of the trip under CTC signals under the supervision of the CN RTC office in Toronto.

"Limited to clear". This indicates that we are to take the south track.

We pass the first of the hot box and dragging equipment detectors on this line. A disembodied computer voice on the radio says:

"C-N de-tec-tor mile one three eight point two King-ston sub-div-ision south track no alarms.  De-tec-tor out."

This somewhat disconcerting message assures us that all is well. We will pass this examination every 25 miles or so.

Between miles 146 and 147 Foreman Wayne Turcot is building a new crossing under the protection of rule 42 and a rule 43 30 mph speed restriction. The zone track speed is 95 mph with some restrictions to 80 and 90 mph for curves. Joe is coming to the end of his stint. He is relaxed but alert. The aspect of each signal is called out and repeated.

"Clear to limited" followed by a "Limited to clear" signal move us safely from the south track to the north track at Leeds and allows VIA 44 from Toronto to Ottawa to slide past us. The conductor comes on the radio and we give our sandwich orders, two ham and cheese and one egg. There is a quick glimpse of the historic Rideau Canal and then we prepare for the approach to Kingston. I always find this an exhilarating approach. We are doing 70 at Queens and there is a minimum brake reduction of 6 pounds. The brake is bailed off and the throttle is gradually reduced from 8 to 6 to 3. Still doing 70 mph, a 10 pound brake application, we pass under the cantilever signal mast at 60 mph and enter the platform at 40 mph. With no further brake action the train comes to a halt exactly where Joe wants it.

The station stop at Kingston is a period of intense activity. I find it easiest to stand either in the nose or behind the left hand seat until things return to normal. Ernie gets down and runs back to get the cardboard box which contains the care package prepared by the tail end for us. The two engineers change sides which entails moving not only their papers but also their bags from one side to the other.

As we leave Kingston I am given the task of sorting out the supplies of coffee, sugar, cream, sandwiches, mustard and ketchup as well as packets of cookies and peanuts. We are soon munching as we proceed at track speed. It is now early evening and there are no more rule 42 restrictions to observe although there are several rule 43 speed restrictions to watch out for.

There is an interesting crossing at Campbells Bay, This is close to an intersection with Highway 2 and vehicles occasionally back up on the crossing. When the gates started to operate the vehicles would be trapped with the potential for a collision. Transport Canada worked with the community and now the road is one way only away from highway 2. Ernie comments:

"We haven't had a close call at that crossing since the traffic pattern was changed".

VIA 47 has stops at Belleville, Cobourg and Oshawa. The train crew are quite finicky at where the train is spotted. They use the radio to ensure that Ernie stops just right. Just outside Belleville we hear a hot box detector message which is different from the others in being preceded by two beeps rather than just one. In an instant the relaxed atmosphere in the cab is replaced by one of strained urgency. A freight train on the other track has received a hot box alarm. We make radio contact and slow down. One must always be careful whenever there is a possibility of crew members being on the ground. We slowly pass the freight and can see a boxcar with a smoking journal. We relay this news to the crew who don't seem very happy about it as the brakeman will have to go back and take a look.

The last stop is Guildwood on the outskirts of Toronto. There is a good grade leaving and it is always interesting to feel the 6400 as it works at full throttle up to Danforth. The approach to Toronto is slow as we negotiate the complex track layout and arrive safely in Union Station. Joe and Ernie are anxious to get off as they both have to catch a GO train home.

Tomorrow is another day.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, November, 1995.

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