Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jet engines take to the rails, in 1970

In the 1970's Canada added five turbine powered trains to their rail system. Known simply as the Turbo it had several innovative features such as articulation and tilting as well as state of the art power and control systems. The video below was shot in 1970 and outlines the construction process, technology and performance of the new system.

From Wikipedia:

In May 1966 Canadian National Railways ordered five seven-car TurboTrains for the Montreal-Toronto service. They planned to operate the trains in tandem, connecting two trains together into a larger fourteen-car arrangement with a total capacity of 644 passengers.

The Canadian trains were built by Montreal Locomotive Works, with their ST6 engines supplied by UAC's Canadian division (now Pratt & Whitney Canada) in Longueuil, Quebec. CN and their ad agency wanted to promote the new service as an entirely new form of transit, so they dropped the "train" from the name. In CN's marketing literature the train was referred to simply as the "Turbo", although it retained the full TurboTrain name in CN's own documentation and communication with UAC.

A goal of CN's marketing campaign was to get the train into service for Expo '67, and the Turbo was rushed through its trials. It was late for Expo, a disappointment to all involved, but the hectic pace did not let up and it was cleared for service after only one year of testing - most trains go through six to seven years of testing before entering service.

The Turbo's first demonstration run in December 1968 with Conductor James Abbey of Toronto, Ontario in command, included a large press contingent. An hour into its debut run, the Turbo collided with a truck at a highway crossing near Kingston. Despite the concerns that lightweight trains like the Turbo would be dangerous in collisions, the train remained upright and largely undamaged. Large beams just behind the nose, designed for this purpose, stopped the collision and limited the damage to the fiberglass clamshell doors and underlying metal. The train was returned from repairs within a week. No one was killed, though this event has been cited as a main deterrent to Canada’s efforts to develop modern passenger rail.

Initial commercial service started soon after. On its first westbound run the Turbo attained 104 mph (167 km/h) 10 minutes outside of Dorval. During speed runs, it achieved 140.55 mph (226 km/h) near Gananoque, Ontario, the Canadian record to this day.

Technical problems, including brake systems freezing in winter, required a suspension of service in early January 1969. During the "downtime" CN changed their plans, and in 1971 a rebuild program began, converting the five seven-car sets to three nine-car sets. Several minor changes were added. The engine exhaust fouled the roof windows of the power car, so these were plated over, and a grill was added to the front of the engines just behind the clamshell doors. The remaining power and passenger cars were sold to Amtrak as two 4-car sets. One of those sets sideswiped a freight train on a test run in 1973 and burned before delivery. The three rebuilt 9-car sets entered service for CN in late 1973. CN ran the Turbos from Toronto-Montreal-Toronto with stops at Dorval, Quebec, Kingston, Ontario and Guildwood, Ontario on the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.

Original train numbers were Train 62 which left Toronto at 12:45 p.m. and arrived in Montreal at 4:44 p.m. Train 63 left Montreal at 12:45 p.m. and arrived in Toronto at 4:44 p.m. (Both were daily trains.) Train 68 left Toronto at 6:10 p.m. and arrived in Montreal at 10:14 p.m., while Train 69 left Montreal at 6:10 p.m. and arrived in Toronto at 10:14 p.m. (The evening trains did not run on Saturdays.) The trip took 3 hours and 59 minutes downtown-to-downtown on trains 62 and 63, while the evening trains were slightly slower, taking four hours and four minutes to complete the run. Turbo service was about a full hour faster than CN's previous express trains, the "Rapido".

CN operated the Turbos until 1978, when their passenger operations were taken over by Via Rail, who continued the service. The Turbo's final run was on October 31, 1982, when they were replaced by the all-Canadian LRC trainsets from Bombardier Transportation, which employed conventional diesel-electric locomotives. Although they had an early reputation for unreliability, according to CN's records, the rebuilt TurboTrains had an availability rate of over 97% for the their careers with CN and Via. The LRC suffered from similar teething problems, notably with the tilt system locking the cars in a tilted position.