Thursday 26 March 2015

Throwback Thursday

CN 9488 East threads its way through the crossover switches in front of the 9550.
A Visit to Princeton in March 1983
Reminiscences and Photos by Peter Mumby

In his rymalstation blog, our friend Peter MacCauley has a feature he calls "Throwback Thursday" where in he presents a vintage railway photo and analyzes the contents of that photo.  Contrasts are made between what was visible then and what, if anything, remains of the particular scene today.  It's a neat turn of phrase, and I hope he'll take as a compliment that I have chosen to borrow it for use in today's post.

In this series of photos we are situated along CN's Dundas Subdivision mainline east of downtown Princeton ( located between Woodstock and Paris).  CN Extra  9550 West is found standing on the north track.  A switch-tender's shanty and temporary train order signal has been set up on the south side of the right-of-way.  There must be a work block ahead on the south track.  Our train is waiting for two eastbounds which will be travelling on the north track against the flow of traffic. 

Your author got to play "conductor" in the cab of 9550.
 While awaiting the eastbound traffic, there is time to accept an invitation into the cab of 9550 and pose for a "conductor" shot.  A look down the track shows the two hand-thrown turnouts of the crossover and spurs running off each main further to the west.  Our first train arrives, Extra 9488 East, and crosses in front of us to the south main.  The last few cars (open auto racks) and the caboose clear and we are left alone again for another few minutes.  The next headlight we see belongs to Via 6780 and it soon rattles through the crossover.  It's baggage car and string of coaches follow along, leaking wisps of steam at every joint.  The switch-tender quickly realigns the turnout on the north track and 9550 starts to pull towards Sarnia.

So what shows up in this series of photos to justify the "throwback" moniker?  As it turns out, there are lots of differences between the railroad practices and equipment of 1983 and what is in place in 2015.

First of all - I was invited up into the locomotive cab.  I'm not expecting this to happen again any time soon on CN!  Operationally speaking, at that time directional running on CN's double track mainline was governed by ABS signals (Automatic Block Signals) and train orders.  This made for much more chatter on the scanner and offered more clues as to the whereabouts of traffic.  Now, CTC signals and systems allow trains to run on either main in either direction, and power turnouts controling the crossovers.

All freight trains at that time ran as "extras," hence the white flags on each lead unit.  3000 hp 4-axel units were the preferred mainline power in 1983, as opposed to today's high horsepower 6-axel locomotives. Via trains were typically powered by MLW FPA-4 or GMD FP9-A units, and coach heating was provided by steam generators.  Today such units would only show up on tourist operations, executive trains, or the Ontario Southland Railway!

Seeing a switch-tender today would be a rare occurrence - and he (or she) would certainly be wearing a bright orange reflective CN vest!  The westward views show a spur tracks running off the south main and a double ended siding off the north. Today the south side spur still exists, while the siding on the north has been lifted and the crossover removed.

So, there you have a brief visit to Princeton 32 years ago.  In a later post we'll illustrate a meet between similar units on the White River Division.

CN Extra 9550 West is on the north track at Princeton in March of 1983.
Visible in the shot are the switch-tender's shanty and the temporary train order signal.
CN 9488 East threads its way through the crossover switches in front of the 9550.
The switch-tender (red jacket) is visible in this shot as Via 6780 approaches.

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