Over the Top on the Royal Canadian Pacific

Posted by Roy Blanchard
on Monday, June 28, 2010

By Roy Blanchard

It's early June and I'm in Calgary, Alberta to attend the 2010 Canadian Pacific Investors Day program. Day One was the usual collection of presentations from the CP senior staff about matters marketing, financial and operations. Today is Day Two, the Royal Canadian Pacific (www.royalcanadianpacific.com) train ride to Field, BC from Calgary, over the continental divide.

My wake-up call comes at 0530 so I can be downstairs, full of coffee and ready to go when the bus comes to carry us to the Royal Canadian Pacific pavilion and enclosed train shed adjacent to the old Palliser Hotel, once owned by Canadian Pacific Limited. After more coffee, ogling the historical displays and meeting more CP staffers, we are escorted to our assigned seats in our train's consist of 1920s-vintage business and parlor cars.

Car interior
















I'm in the lounge section at the obs end of the Royal Wentworth, a 1926 product of Angus shops costing the grand sum of C$73,535.95 and taking five and a half months to build. In addition to the six passenger-carrying cars there's a full baggage car and a back-to-back pair of FP9s, the 4106 and 4107, on the point.

The train pulls promptly at 0800.  We gather croissants, breakfast rolls, a variety of juices and yet more coffee in the diner-buffet and return to our seats. By 0830 we're ready for the roving team of presenters, of which there were four. This was a brilliant stroke on CP's part. They wanted to do a rolling show-and-tell of How It Works in four technical aspects of CP operations and what better way than to have the presenters moving among the groups with story boards pre-positioned in each group's area.

Of the 60 souls who came to the presentations, 50 of us stay for the train ride, and we who stayed are all the richer for it. By not shoehorning us into a theater car, CP created small groups where Q's could be asked and A's given in a much more personal manner. Judging from the post-mortems on the bus back to Calgary following the train trip,  a lot of it stuck.

The fist topic is Automated Train Inspection (some of us have track charts so we know where to look for the hardware as we pass it). Then we are briefed on the advantages of Distributed Power and the several DP trains we pass -- including a 14,000-foot monster with two units on the point and three more throughout (one's just ahead of second box from camera in photo)  -- provide an impressive first-hand view.

Pig train
















The Friction Management message is driven home with the help of the track-side lubricators we can see from the rear platform and and the Long Train Strategy presentation is supported by the merchandise, sulfur, intermodal, grain trains we see -- all big and fast, everybody meeting where they should. The presentations conclude on schedule at 1045.

It's a steady one-percent climb toward the Continental Divide, elevation 5,800 feet, from Calgary, elevation 3,500 feet. The F's never once lose their footing and the CWR gives us a smooth ride as we roll along at speeds from 25 to 50 mph depending on the grade and traffic density.

The highlight of the trip is the two spiral tunnels as we drop down into Field from the Top of the World. I didn't see a soul reading their financial papers or studying their shoes through any of it, which reinforces my belief that there's no better way to tell the story of how you're working on the railroad than to take people out and let them see How It Works first hand.  

To set the scene, take a look at Page 15 of Canadian Pacific time Table 60 for the Alberta Service Area, Laggan Subdivision. The chart gives you seven graphic steps for getting trains successfully down the western slope of the Continental Divide. As noted above, the purpose of this trip was to give our group a practical lesson on the application of many recent CP developments in operating practices and technology. And what an apt lesson it was. This is serious railroading and not for the faint of heart.

The Page 15 "Train Handling Instructions" begin as you start down the hill at Stephen, Alberta, MP 123.0 (Calgary is MP 0.0; the actual Continental Divide is MP 121.5). Step One is to "make a minimum automatic brake application before lead locomotive passes the radio tower Mile 122.7, not to exceed 15 MPH at Stephen, Mile 123." There are another six train handling instructions to get you down the next 13 miles to Field, BC, down a grade that runs from 2.0 percent to 2.4 percent and through two spiral tunnels.  

The train is heading compass west as you approach the first spiral tunnel. You can see the railroad and parallel Trans Canada Highway as tiny specs waaay down the hill to the north. You duck into the 3,225-foot long "Upper Spiral Tunnel" at Mile 129.7, and come out heading more or less east. At Mile 131.2 you're into the 2,922-foot "Lower Spiral Tunnel" and emerge pointed in a westerly direction.

Now you look back up the mountain and see the slit in the trees where the railroad approaches the first tunnel and you wonder how you could have been waaay up there not that long ago. But you do not have to wonder why Page 15 is so explicit about train handling down this mountain.

Hats off to the fine folks at Canadian Pacific for the hospitality and the Practical Lessons in high-tech railroading. I feel for the folks who had to flee back to their desks and miss the experience. Those of us who stuck around will not forget the experience and our CP reports will be the better for it.

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