Monday, July 1, 2013
Today's Train of Thought- Scout's Honor, July 1st 2013
Just in time for Canada Day, today's Train of Though takes us north of the border for a shortline that was a bit ahead of its time.
Starting in the mid 1990s, Canadian Pacific began undergoing some drastic changes, starting with the move of their headquarters from Montreal out west to Calgary. The CP began selling off or abandoning lines that it considered marginal or unprofitable, often with local or US-based interests buying up the lines and forming shortlines or regionals such as the Goderich-Exeter Railway in Ontario or the New Brunswick Southern on the former CP line from Brownville Jct, ME to Saint John, New Brunswick.
Out west, on the prairies and badlands of southwestern Saskatchewan, the Great Western Railway began operations on a 700km cluster of former CP lines out of Shaunavon, SK in late 1999. The lines were purchased by WestCan Rail contractors of Abbotsford, BC, but within five years the line was sold off to shippers and local interests.
Interstingly, power for the Great Western is predominantly Canadian, although many of the units were purchased secondhand from American shortlines and regionals. The M420 (4 axles and 2000 HP) was introduced by the Montreal Locomotive Works in the early 1970s and was one of the first models to sport the 'comfort cab' or 'Canadian cab' on the Canadian National roster. Although Canadian Pacific didn't purchase any of the M420s, MLW found purchasers from as far away as Venezuela and Rhode Island. British Columbia Rail also ended up purchasing 16 brand new M420s, although those would be sold off by the time the CN acquired BC Rail in 2004.
As they began approaching the end of their service life with newer GEs arriving on the roster in the 1990s, CN began selling their M420 fleet off to shortlines on both sides of the border, including the Great Western in Saskatchewan. However, the GWR purchased two additional M420s from Michigan's Lake State Rail (formerly Detroit & Mackinac) in 2008 when the Michigan line was switching and three years later, a pair of former BNSF B40-8Ws arrived on the roster.
But the 4-axle MLWs continue to soldier on in southwestern Saskatchewan. Here, Fredrick Wolter caught GRW M420 #2000 leading a trio of MLWs through an S-curve at Scout Lake, SK as they take an 18-car train to the Canadian Pacific interchange in Assiniboa, SK on July 12, 2010- less than two weeks after Canada Day. Besides the MLWs, the often overlooked shortline also features track that traverses gently rolling hills and classic wooden grain elevators along the line.