Saturday, March 17, 2018

CN 398000 Articulated Grain Car

In 1985, a unique articulated covered hopper intended for grain service was built at CN's Transcona Shops in Winnipeg. The concept and design engineering originated with CN's Equipment Department in Montreal and Winnipeg. CN designer Kelly Arrey had already designed other equipment sudh as Toronto's 75-foot aluminum subway car of 1958. Construction of CN 398000 began on March 18, 1985. Mark Perry kindly shared a photo of the fairly pristine (then!) car at Dauphin, MB in 1988 (top photo).

Intended as a prorotype for further such cars to carry grain on the light rail to the Port of Churchill, CN 398000 remained only a prototype. The line could not accommodate 100-ton-capacity covered hoppers. Design costs were covered by CN, with construction costs paid by the Government of Canada and the Province of Manitoba, under an Economic and Regional Development joint agreement. Artist's conception:
Typical axle load of a conventional covered hopper of this capacity would be nearly 66,000 pounds. CN 398000's axle loading would be 44,000 pounds on each of the end trucks and 55,000 pounds on the centre truck. The overall centre-of-gravity was seven inches lower than conventional covered hoppers. This provided good dynamic stability, ideal for rail lines with severe surface irregularities. The car's uniform track load distribution would subject the rail and track structure to lower stree, thereby decreasing maintenance costs.

The car was tested under load to Churchill in July, 1985. It apparently rode much better than  its standard boxcar companion, with much faster unloading time by gravity at the port. CN would design and build a second articulated covered hopper in 1993 -  CN 399000 for potash service. But CN, the federal government and the Province of Manitoba decided to refurbish a fleet of 'Buffalo' boxcars for Churchill (and Thunder Bay) service, rather than produce a fleet of articulated covered hoppers! The Buffalo boxcars would remain in service for another ten years, amid continuing Churchill controversy.

CN 398000 statistics:
  • Length: 66'6"
  • Trucks: three 70-ton
  • Cubic feet: 4750, each half 2375
  • Hatches: trough
  • Built: June 1985
  • Light weight: 70500 lbs
  • Load limit: 216500 lbs
  • Capacity: 108 tons
  • Centre-of-gravity: 84 inches above top of rail              

CN public car tracing allowed easy tracking of CN 398000's real-time location (see list below). I was at work but tracking when the car finally made its way east. Just my luck, after tracing it for over two years!
Tracking results....Toronto MacMillan Yard 0811; Oshawa 1018; Clarke 1041; Belleville 1233-1315; Kings 1443. My Dad kindly took to the tracks at Mi 182 Kingston Sub to try to snap the speeding car at Amherstview, at 1415 on November 23, 2000 (above and below):
On Feb 1, 1992 CN 398000 was at the CN transload facility just west of Central Station. Again by tracing, I was able to catch CN 398000 on CN No 306 in May, 2001 at Mi 178 Kingston Sub. After a harrowing drive south to the Gardiners Road underpass, I gained track level and photographed it along with 15 CNWX covered hoppers heading for Pointe St Charles, likely the same spur as above in 1992.
Randy O'Brien kindly shared these detail photos of CN 398000 at Yorkton, SK in August, 2009, looking like it had been in a bit of a scrape somewhere:

BUDX 6250 was an American Budd-built articulated covered hopper. Still running the rails in 2002 as FSIX 6250, here it is in Peoria, IL in 1989 Facebook scan:
This car was designed by Transit America (Budd's railroad division) and christened the HiCube 2000: a car slightly larger than CN 398000: 72' 3", 131-ton capacity, 70-ton outer trucks and common 100-ton centre truck. The car was to be offered in covered and open-top versions!

In November, 1998 the CNET online chat group alerted members that the car was making a rare trip east! It went through Buffalo, NY destined Silver Lake, NJ on Conrail, sadly avoiding CN's Kingston Sub. Here are my tracking results for CN 398000 between November 16, 1998 and February, 2001.
  • Red River South Track LE50 to Minneapolis, MN on BNSF
  • Stored Allan Mines SK January 22-February 18, 1999
  • Melville to North Vancouver on CN train No 755 (potash train)
  • Sylvite, SK Tk RS24 then Winnipeg twice, stored Melville
  • Stored Dauphin May 19-October 1
  • Humboldt, SK to Chilliwack, BC Tk YG07
  • Bashaw AB Tk CC32 to Ridley, BC
  • Unity SK Tk WR38 to Ridley, BC
  • Duncan, SK Tk AB04 to Vancouver
  • Kindersley, SK Tk KS12 to Ridley, BC
  • Carlton Train Railway Warman, SK to Vancouver
  • Duncan, SK Tk AB06 to Spiritwood, ND on BNSF
  • Morris, MB Tk LE33 to Destrehan, LA on IC
  • Morris, MB to Thunder Bay
  • Stored Fort Qu'Appelle, SK May 3 to July 6
  • Rowatt, SK Tk LW93 to Vancouver
  • Edmonton to Vancouver
  • Humboldt, SK to Duluth, MN
  • Moose Jaw, SK Tk CE46 to Minneapolis, MN
  • Saskatoon, SK to Pointe St Charles, QC on No 856 Saskatoon to Winnipeg, No 304 Winnipeg to Toronto, No 306 Toronto to Montreal
  • Duncan, SK to York, PA on NS
  • Morris, MB Tk LE35 to Superior, WI on BNSF
  • Hamlin, SK Tk TR09 to Limoilou, QC on CN No 894

Thanks to Randy O'Brien and Mark Perry for sharing their photographs in this post. More information on CN 398000 can be found in the following magazines:
  • August 1986 Mainline Modeler
  • T18/T4-5 Canadian Railway Modeller
Running extra...

Non-fast Food and Trains! This past Tuesday night was a most pleasant evening with the Associated Railroaders of Kingston. I presented my Kingston Platform Scenes talk to a receptive room of fellow Denny's diners. Thanks to Andrew C., Bob and Greg for the invitation and assistance, and Chris, Andrew J., Paul, Andre and the whole group for lively discussion, ideas and reminiscing!

British Columbia's Royal Hudson came east in 1978. Watch for an upcoming Trackside Treasure post. In the meantime, PWRS and Rapido Trains are producing the virtually invisible B-units that accompanied it. Fifty pairs, that's it!

Speaking of Rapido, their 3800 cu.ft. covered hoppers are now in modeller's hands. Meanwhile, on the Green Mountain Lines, CP 386457-386889-385130 are bringing Canadian grain to the Ide feed mill in St Johnsbury. Mine are classic Model Power cars now soldiering on in their fourth decade. At last weekend's Kingston Rail-O-Rama, I even found a Model Power Winnipeg aluminum & yellow car for sale, produced for the 1983 NMRA convention in the Gateway to the West!

Friday, March 9, 2018

ACI Labels

In the Sixties, railways began adopting electronic data management and automation to manage car fleets and serve shippers more efficiently and at less cost to:
  • provide rapid location of specific car types to meet traffic needs 
  • enable faster and more accurate transmission of information
  • exchange up-to-the-minute records of car interchange between railroads
  • lower per-diem costs
  • reduce labour costs of car checkers and clerks
  • reduce the number of cars in hold tracks
  • automatically collect and store car data for maintenance purposes
  • improve overall better customer service
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) formed an Automatic Car Identification (ACI) Committee in January 1966, chaired by Illinois Central's director of data control, W. H. Thompson. In September 1967, the AAR Board of Directors announced that Sylvania's KarTrack system would be the industry standard. Up to two million freight cars and other pieces of North American rolling stock would be labelled, at a cost of $20,000,000. ACI labels are applied at Pullman-Standard's Bessemer, AL plant (top photo) and by Southern Pacific painters at Sacramento (below) in 1968:


The ACI system comprised three parts: label, scanner and decoder. 


The scanner was housed in a weathertight steel case containing colour-sensitive optical and electrical equipment. A beam of high-intensity light, projected through a window, formed a 9-foot curtain on car sides. Reflectorized stripes on the labels bounced light back to the scanner in the same path as the original beam. The scanner read the reflected light from the stripes on the ACI label, scanning them at high-speed from bottom to top, one digit at a time.


The decoder received optical data from the scanner's reading of the label in the form of electrical signals and translated this input into meaningful numbers fed into a central computer or converted into a printed list. A car counter counted cars passing the scanner, notifying the decoder of any cars without labels and correlating TOFC/COFC to the flat cars they were carried on.


ACI labels were produced using 13 stripes measuring 5 3/4" x 1" on steel plate measuring up to 10x22 inches. Horizontal strips of black, red, blue and white reflectorized Scotchlite material, more than 200 times brighter than the brightest available paint were arranged vertically 3/8" apart. Each label had a coloured stripe for each of the 13 digits that identified each car in five sections:
  • a validity check digit to confirm that the scanner had read the label properly, based on a mathematical calculation derived from the stripes applied to each label
  • "stop reading" stripe
  • six stripes one for each digit in the car number 
  • four stripes for each letter in the car owner and a numberical code for the car type
  • "start reading" stripe
There were four steps in producing every pair of ACI labels for each car. CN shop forces at Toronto Yard (above) were training, preparing and applying in 1968. The four steps:
  • apply protectively-coated adhesive-backed horizontal stripes to the steel label plate
  • paint the plate with rust-resistant black paint
  • remove the protective coating from each strip
  • fasten the completed painted ACI plate to each side of a car (below) as at Illinois Central's Markham Yard in 1968

In 1968, 38 railroads including CN were applying ACI labels, and 10 railroads had ACI installations along their lines. Illinois Central planned to label 8,000 of its 51,000 cars by January 1, 1969. CN planned to label 200,000 pieces of equipment by January 1, 1970. Southern Pacific fed ACI data into its Total Operations Processing System computerized car information system.


ACI was abandoned in the late 1970s due to problems with reading the labels. Up to 20% of cars' labels had become unreadable due to dirt, grime, damage or missing labels. Railroads continued manually entering car data into their car fleet management systems. Within a few years, a new system of wayside car readers would be implemented.  In the 1990s, Automatic Equipment Identification tags would become the state-of-the-art car identification system, reaching full implementation in 1994.

Running extra...

Big week coming up! Saturday is the annual Kingston Rail-O-Rama train show. Next Tuesday it's off the Associated Railroaders of Kingston March meeting at which I'll be presenting some Kingston Platform Scenes. Through all the changing scenes of life!

Ever been to a plowing match? I hadn't until the city plowed an unusually small amount of snow on an unusually warm day on our street. The result is enough to make me furrow my brow!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Snow day at Kingston, January 1999

Before winter finally makes its anticipated actual exit, it behooves us to remember what a Canadian winter can throw at the railways. On January 16, 1999 a record January snowfall made CN operations on the Kingston Sub problematic. Switches froze, crossovers were inoperable. VIA train frequencies were reduced (VIA No 650/651 stored on Queens and annulled: VIA 6427-4102-4125-4115). CN freights were delayed or annulled. Numerous Form 564's were given to crew to hand-throw automatic switches. At Kingston's VIA station at 1345, CN 7074-7041 was backing CN No 590 east to Queens along the south track from the Invista plant; vigilant trainman riding the leading car. Intermodal train CN No 126 from Winnipeg approaches on north track at right, visible under overpass (top photo).
CN 7074-7041 are nose-to-nose Cataraqui Spur power (above) pushing caboose 79473R, tankcars PROX 77754-70215 and DOCX 23503-23509 and covered hoppers NAHX 455031-DUPX 38407-NCHX 43514-NAHX 455309, while CN No 126 with CN 2550-2423-5613 also eases east, stopping at the station.
Wheel container CNSU 300507 was perched high up on red Trailer-Train well car DTTX 432110. A more flexible means of shipping smaller quantities of wheels than a full flatcar load! Also on the train were similar containers CNSU 300575, 300538 and 300576.
CN No 126 has a signal to crossover to the south track. A dead freight is east of the Queens West signal bridge as CN No 590 has entered the south service track before running the power out and on to the east end of Queens before coupling up and heading farther east to Brockville. The dead westbound freight was not recrewed and westbound for over an hour.
Within the hour, CN No 519 with unusual, road power: 9456-9462 made its way east to Queens with 26 cars: EOGX and CGBX tankcars, CELX and AMCX covered hoppers from Millhaven before returning west at 1513. Anticipating disruptions, delays and mechanical difficulties, VIA had pre-positioned its Emergency/Mobile Unit in the station parking lot.
Tim Hayman shared the next generation of VIA mobile response units, taken at Brockville, ON station, December 23, 2008. Thanks, Tim!

Running extra:

Speaking of weather, the topic of whether or not to weather model rolling stock is a worthy one. Indecisive as always (or, am I??) I decided to work on several cars - weathering one side only. The cars congregated on my Rutland interchange tracks near Allen Lumber:

Speaking of being out in the weather, several weathered Hollywood stars will be attending the Oscars this weekend. Not sure why they named an award after a garbage can-dwelling, green furry monster, but there you go. The red carpet pre-show is OK, but I prefer to watch the never-ending parade of high-end SUV's that seem to have replaced the stereotypical stretch limos!