Saturday, 14 March 2015

CNR's Montreal-Vaudreuil Commuter Trains

The Canadian Railroad Historical Association 'News Report' of June 1958 stated:

In September 1958 a 'foamer' - rather, a dribbler - is there to take in the steam power before it is too late. The location is Lachine: 45th Avenue, at Rene Huguet. The train is westbound for Dorval in the afternoon - and probably after a nap.

For the sake of future Lachine historians, the photo book also records that the 'Lachine extension' streetcar (discontinued by this time) formerly came up 45th and followed Rene Huguet west to the track's stub end at 55th Avenue. There, the operator took his control handle to the east end (making it the 'forward' end of the car) and returned to the intersection of Broadway and St. Joseph where passengers could transfer to the main Montreal streetcar system. Elsewhere, this Lachine extension route was referred to as the 92.

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The West Island Suburban Commuter Service Originated with the Grand Trunk Railway.

As a matter of course, the Grand Trunk had local stops along the line leading westbound from its downtown Montreal terminal - Bonaventure Station - from the time the railway's operations began.

The map above, a fire insurance key map from 1907, shows the Grand Trunk Railway (later Canadian National Railways) line from downtown Montreal to Vaudreuil. The Grand Trunk/Canadian National suburban passenger service on this track segment is the focus of this post.

Without access to original timetables from its first 60 years of operation, I chose the announcement below from the April 23, 1908 Montreal Gazette to demonstrate that local transportation was an important part of the Grand Trunk's service long before the 1950s-style suburbs were built up on 'The West Island'.

Sadly, for yesterday's typesetters (and today's screengrabbers), a proper timetable was not printed in the newspaper - the GTR could have purchased an advertisement to do that. Instead, each change was labouriously presented as part of a long thin column.

Beginning with the revised timetable at GTR headquarters, and ending with the final setting and checking of type at the newspaper, one can only imagine the attention to detail required to avoid errors and subsequent complaints.

Going through the text gives today's reader an idea of the stations then in service and the relative frequency of the service. Obviously, eastbound long-haul trains would probably not be particularly dependable for commuting daily between Vaudreuil and Montreal - yours might be stuck in snow just outside of Toronto, for example. 

By the same token, with organizational efficiency, telegraph or telephone communication, and station-front chalk-actuated schedule boards .. intermediate passenger stations might have been just as good as modern transportation systems in keeping passengers informed about schedule delays. 

(To see the source of any of my purchased photos, simply 'right click, save as ..'  to read the photo's label.)

This is probably a builder's photo showing the suburban Forney as delivered by the Montreal Locomotive Works in 1914. In the US, Matthias Forney 1835–1908 invented this particular configuration of steam locomotive for use on New York's urban elevated train system.

The Grand Trunk numbered the engines 1540-1545 while the CNR renumbered them 45-50 after it took over the Grand Trunk in 1923. 

You can see that the locomotive was designed to offer the engineer almost equally clear views for both forward and reverse running. On such a short run, it was faster and cheaper to run the locomotive around the coaches for the return trip - rather than turning it on a turntable (and there was no turntable at either Vaudreuil or Dorval in any case).

Here are examples of changes made to this locomotive class, which can be seen in these photos: 
  • Addition of a powerful headlight for reverse operation.
  • Addition of an Elesco feedwater heater - between the illuminated number boards and the stack. This cylinder-shaped device was a heat exchanger - used to preheat the cold tender water before it was injected into the hot boiler. 
  • Shielding of the whistle (it was also moved forward on the boiler) and the safety valves from the cab - likely for ergonomic reasons.
  • Probably - boosting the capacity of the air pumps (fireman's side) to decrease the time required to recharge the brakepipe, release the brakes, and race off to the next stop.
  • Addition of a pilot (cowcatcher) on the rear end for reverse running.

Generally, the Montreal passenger terminal for the Grand Trunk was located above at Bonaventure Station (beginning in 1863. Another date: the Grand Trunk converted from Provincial to Standard Gauge in the Montreal area in 1873. And .. the line passing the old Lachine station to Dorval was double-tracked in 1892). Freight sheds were located here at Bonaventure as well. The station's history is discussed in a previous post on this website. This view is probably from the late 1920s. You can see the ghostly image of the CPR's Windsor Station headquarters in the background.

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Many North American railways saw their highest traffic levels during World War Two. This came after the track abandonments and cutbacks arising from the Great Depression. Below is the Montreal-Vaudreuil passenger schedule from my often-scanned 1944 Canadian National Railways public timetable.

It would have been interesting to see the wartime traffic associated with Y Depot, RCAF and the airport at Dorval. A large veterans' hospital had also been established at Ste Annes near the end of World War One.

The commuter trains are shown with numbers in the 200 series. In many cases, we can conclude that immediately after arriving at Bonaventure or Vaudreuil, equipment reversed and returned under another train number.

The photo above was taken in 1944. It shows an afternoon westbound at the Lachine station.

Before 1914, a variety of small locomotives powered these local trains. From 1914 until almost the end of the service in 1960, this specially-designed class of Forney-type locomotives was used.

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The fenced railway line through Lachine (along today's Victoria Street) was the mainline between Montreal and Toronto and trains travelled at a high rate of speed - even in the early 1960s when western Lachine was well built-up.

A Gazette article from October 31, 1932 records the consequences of not looking carefully for high speed trains before venturing across the tracks.

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The photo above, taken at Ville St Pierre in the 1950s, shows a CNR suburban train with its locomotive reversing eastbound toward the Bonaventure terminal. In the foreground is a Lachine, Route 91 streetcar - it is travelling on the separate railway system used by the Montreal streetcars. A CNR freight train is on the far track.

CNR posed publicity photographs were often taken at Dixie station - just west of today's 55th Avenue, Lachine. The Lombardy Poplars, tangent track and clear skyline helped show off any train's 'lines'. Beginning with the club's opening here in 1890s, golfers travelling to the Royal Montreal Golf Course would use this stop.

Looking at this westbound suburban train in an undated photo, you may have concluded by now that normal procedures involved running the suburban locomotive 'forward' westbound and 'backward' (coal bunker first) when returning to Bonaventure.

Having thought about the reason for this, I think perhaps this would give the engineer the best possible view of trackside signals when operating in either direction ..

Westbound, all steam engineers on CNR engines would have to look along the long obstructive barrel of the boiler to find their signals.

Eastbound, when reversing the Forneys, only the small coal bunker would block the engineer's view as he looked from the left side of the reversing locomotive to the right side of the track where his signals were displayed. While firemen routinely assisted in relaying signals, having the engineer in the best position to read them himself was probably preferable.

At Vaudreuil, an intercity westbound passenger train is shown at the western terminal of the GTR/CNR suburban service.

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The 'You Don't Have to Ask Twice' Department

It was surprising to find this Gazette article from November 9, 1949. Usually, today's consumers seem to want 'more competition and more choice'.

In this case, the request was made by people not served at all by the CNR line.

The extraordinary wartime demands of the early 1940s were the exception. Beginning in the 1920s Canadian railways foresaw that private autos and commercial aircraft would eat away at their intercity passenger business.

.. Eventually, they got their wish.

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As the following extract from a CNR employee timetable from 1957 shows: In the late 1950s, the CNR 200 series trains providing commuter service to the 'West Island' went no further than Dorval. As well, their eastern terminal had become Central Station, rather than Bonaventure Station.

In the 'Train Order Office' columns above, notice how many of the stations still had (D)ay and (N)ight operators to support train operations.

A few more details on local operations follow below.

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Doug Wright did wonderfully accurate editorial cartoons for the Montreal Star newspaper which regularly featured railway subjects. This 1950s cartoon was reprinted in CRHA's Canadian Rail newsletter in the early 1960s. My father captioned the location and identified the train.

In the cab, the fireman is watching the passengers on the platform and waiting for the highball from the conductor.

The topographic map above is updated to 1952 and shows the CNR right-of-way through Lachine along today's Victoria Street. The 'Victoria' name was not a 1960s selection - the street name already existed on a shorter segment of street which paralleled the railway line in the east end of Lachine around the time of World War One.

On the map above, I have made the following marks, running east to west:
  • Green Dot - top right corner, marks the location of Bonaventure Station
  • Red Dot - shows the location of the wye at St Henri Station. Its south leg led to Central Station, the Victoria Bridge etc.
  • Blue Dot - marks the almost complete circle of the Turcot roundhouse
  • Red Dots - four of them - are positioned beside the station buildings which are shown on the map. Notice that these stations are not located near the CPR line through 'Forest Hills' - so local residents could not use CPR commuter services as an alternative.

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Here is detail from a larger photo of the Turcot Yard facilities. Today the Turcot highway interchange towers right over the area formerly occupied by the roundhouse. One of the CNR Forney locomotives is ready to return to service and is waiting its turn for a spin on the turntable.

We meet again.
With its main rod removed a CNR Forney awaits its fate at Turcot Yard, July 1961.