Trains.com

Why were RDC's not generally used in commuter service?

1993 views
24 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,512 posts
Why were RDC's not generally used in commuter service?
Posted by Ulrich on Thursday, August 18, 2022 1:17 PM

Why were RDC's not used in commuter service? As an example, both CN and CP purchased them, yet both used locomotives and heavy coaches in their Montreal and Toronto commuter operations. RDC's were supposed to be a cheaper alternative to locomotive pulled coaches, and the bidirectional nature of the RDC would have made them that much more suitable for commuter work as well. 

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,212 posts
Posted by Overmod on Thursday, August 18, 2022 1:46 PM

RDCs were new equipment, of fairly restricted potential use, and therefore would have had to be capitalized accordingly.  It was from Budd, so expensive stainless expensively fabricated.  Meanwhile, commuter service was turning into more and more of a money hole, and in those days there were no government commuter agencies to pick up the tab.

Meanwhile, here came the great die-off of passenger service.  All sorts of E units and all kind of rolling stock was available cheap, and could be kept running with minimal expense to serve the mandated clientele.  

I have read that a number of railroads were enthusiastic about using the early Alco 2400hp C-C in commuter service... but of course didn't have either the money or the revenue prospect.  Lightweight commuter equipment of striking design was developed by GO transit... note: Government of Ontario... and the EL got wonderful new engines and lightweight HEP equipment for them to pull.  One of those trains compares handily with the RDC equivalent of at least 16 to 20 separate Detroit 6-110s and all the complicated doodads to make each car self-powered, MU capable, etc.

I don't consider them particularly unsafe, no more than, say, Silverliners.  ATSF swore off them after a wreck, but NYC found out that one could go 183mph on the stock trucks...

Most gas-electrics were built to haul trailers if demand warranted.  That was emphatically not the case with the first-generation RDCs; I believe Budd went so far as to say any warranty was void if you 'towed' with them... even special lightweight cars.  I often wondered whether using 'trailer-towing-grade' transmission coolers for the torque converters would let a couple of cars be towed with AEM-7-style initial acceleration... but I think if a number of railroads that really 'needed' that kind of economy could have done it, they would.

NYC and a couple of other roads did a somewhat GWR-slip-coach-in-reverse thing with RDCs: they coupled them to the rear of regular trains (in the NYC's case, electric MU trains, so that they could be run self-powered to off-main-line destinations or as off-peak service, then coupled in and run without crew expense as coaches.  Something I still haven't gotten a full answer on is whether one of the car's diesel engines, which was necessarily running for lighting and air conditioning, was left on down the Park Avenue Tunnel into Grand Central when so towed.

The one place RDCs were 'embraced' for commuter service was Boston, where used cars were actively purchased to increase the 'fleet'.  Dave Klepper or another of our members familiar with Beantown operations can tell us what was special about those operations -- I suspect some of the attraction was that no more than two or three cars would be necessary for many services, especially for off-peak services, but something more than an FCD-style railbus (essentially a motorized PCC) would be needed.

  • Member since
    March 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 12,872 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, August 18, 2022 1:58 PM

It should be noted that CN and CP used their RDC's primarily in secondary and branchline service not unlike prewar motor cars.  They were also in similar service on various other roads.  As time passed, many of them did wind up in suburban service, especially on B&M on RDG.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 22,902 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, August 18, 2022 3:41 PM

The B&O used their RDC's in commuter service at both Pittsburgh and Baltimore/Washington/Brunswick service.  Additionally they used RDC's for their Daylight Speedliner that originally operated between Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and when the service to the New York market was ended at the end of April 1958, the Speedliner operated between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

RDC's continued in commuter service into the 1990's after the service had been handed off to MARC.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 1,011 posts
Posted by BEAUSABRE on Thursday, August 18, 2022 3:53 PM

The CNJ operated RDC's as part of its commuter fleet and they also covered the off peak runs during the middle of the day. Some of the RDC's were second hand cars that the Susquehanna had used for commuter service before they got out of the passenger service.                                                                                                                                                                                                           If you are asking "why didn't they completely replace locomotive hauled trains?" the answer is cost. Commuter services lost money, but the ICC and PUC's wouldn't let them drop the service. The commuter lines already had fleets of commuter coaches that were perfectly fine (in their opinion) for hauling commuters. So why spend a huge sum of (borrowed) money to replace them on a money losing operation?

PRSL had a fairly unique way of operating its RDC's. A six car train would leave Camden and at an intermediate point (Winslow Junction? Newfield?) it would split into three seperate two car trains to Atlantic City, Ocean City and Cape May. Headed back to Camden, the three trains would be recombined. They owned twelve cars, enough for an eastbound out of Camden and a westbound to Camden to operate at the same time. Pretty slick

 

  • Member since
    August 2022
  • From: New England (Cape Cod)
  • 32 posts
Posted by DonRicardo on Thursday, August 18, 2022 7:40 PM

Check out the New Haven for RDC services.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,946 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, August 18, 2022 8:02 PM

As many of the above examples illustrate, the RDC was best suited to "longer run, low volume" commuter service where no electrification existed.

If you couple too many RDC's together you have to start considering fuel and maintenance costs vs a conventional loco and coaches consist.

I would the think that the PRSL example with a six unit train that then split up is the limit of that economy. 

The B&O Speedliner was seldom more than 4 units and often only 3.

The B&O leased two RDC's to the Baltimore and Annapolis RR in the mid 60's to test the market for reviving passenger service from Baltimore to Annapolis. After the novelty wore off ridership did not even support the idea of one RDC. An ironic end for passenger service on an Interurban that litteraly built the southern suburbs of Baltimore.

One of my earliest train rides was on an RDC.

Sheldon

 

    

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,854 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, August 18, 2022 8:58 PM

Overmod
NYC and a couple of other roads did a somewhat GWR-slip-coach-in-reverse thing with RDCs: they coupled them to the rear of regular trains (in the NYC's case, electric MU trains, so that they could be run self-powered to off-main-line destinations or as off-peak service, then coupled in and run without crew expense as coaches.  Something I still haven't gotten a full answer on is whether one of the car's diesel engines, which was necessarily running for lighting and air conditioning, was left on down the Park Avenue Tunnel into Grand Central when so towed.

I rode a NYC commuter train out of GCT with a couple of EMUs hauling an RDC in 1969.  I don't remember sitting in the dark going thru the terminal tunnels, so lighting was provided somehow.  The train pulled upto the platform with the EMUs in the lead, and then went thru a balloon track to reverse direction and out of the terminal as the EMUs were driving the train.  At North White Plains, end of 3rd rail at that time, the RCD was uncoupled from the rest of the train, and continued on its way north.

  • Member since
    September 2017
  • 5,094 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, August 18, 2022 10:41 PM

C&NW briefly used three RDCs in commuter service but quickly traded them for C&O stainless steel coaches.

  • Member since
    July 2008
  • 1,991 posts
Posted by rdamon on Friday, August 19, 2022 1:05 PM

Didn't DART (Dallas) run RDCs till 2017 for Trinity Rail?

  • Member since
    December 2017
  • From: I've been everywhere, man
  • 4,055 posts
Posted by SD70Dude on Friday, August 19, 2022 1:08 PM

CP did end up using RDCs in local or commuter service around Montreal, and in very large numbers.  I'm pretty sure I saw a photo of a 10 RDC consist, but I can't find it at the moment so this 7 car train will have to do.  This is at Montreal West, either in commuter service or arriving from Ottawa.

http://www.trainweb.org/oldtimetrains/photos/cpr_self-propelled/9116.jpg

As Overmod mentioned GO took over CN's Toronto commuter operations and introduced new equipment at a fairly early date (CN still had a lot of other passenger routes to keep their RDCs occupied), and their busiest Montreal commuter route was electrified and had its own fully depreciated fleet, using DC boxcab electrics and heavyweight coaches into the 1990s.  

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,512 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, August 19, 2022 2:25 PM

I remember the boxcabs.. they were a Montreal fixture for decades..I guess the RDCs didn't work out long term as most commuter trains were pulled by F units beginning in the early 70s.. Perhaps bilevels pulled by conventional locomotives proved more efficient than RDCs, and likely these older locomotives could be purchased cheaply by the commuter agencies. 

 

  • Member since
    October 2008
  • From: Canada
  • 1,748 posts
Posted by cv_acr on Friday, August 19, 2022 2:57 PM

SD70Dude
As Overmod mentioned GO took over CN's Toronto commuter operations and introduced new equipment at a fairly early date (CN still had a lot of other passenger routes to keep their RDCs occupied)

Some of this original GO equipment was self-propelled diesel cars. While not "Budd RDCs", effectively the same thing. But they primarily went with diesel-hauled trains.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_Siddeley_RTC-85SP/D

  • Member since
    December 2008
  • From: Toronto, Canada
  • 2,435 posts
Posted by 54light15 on Saturday, August 20, 2022 9:54 AM

The Metro-North used them between Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie up until the early 1980s. You could see how the New York Central name above the windows had been ground away with a body grinder but it was still readable. 

  • Member since
    October 2008
  • From: Calgary
  • 2,017 posts
Posted by cx500 on Saturday, August 20, 2022 11:18 AM

As Dude says, CPR heavily used RDCs for a while in Montreal.  They had quite a large fleet, purchased originally for various branchline passenger services that were now history, and then redeployed to the Montreal commuter pool.  I believe 12 cars was the record train length once or twice at Christmas.They mostly went to VIA as CP fought to eliminate that commuter money pit.

CN had a number of regional passenger services that were well suited to RDCs, especially in southern Ontario, once the head-end mail and express business left the rails.  VIA took over those.  

Commuter trains in Toronto were largely non-existent until the start-up of GO Transit about 1967.  GO had a mix of new self-propelled cars built by Hawker-Siddley and coaches from the same builder hauled by GP40TCs.  They soon discovered that about three cars were where the maintenance and fuel costs crossed for operating a train; for anything longer locomotive and coaches was cheaper.  The self-propelled cars were converted to non-powered control coaches and continued expansion of GO Transit used only locomotives and coaches, eventually bi-level coaches.

At the time the bilevels were introduced the rumour was that the unique design at the ends was to provide a location for a pantograph should overhead electrification be introduced.  I will leave it to others to comment on whether this would have been feasible.

John

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,512 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Saturday, August 20, 2022 12:23 PM

Apparently the premise to my question is incorrect.. RDC's were in fact used in commuter service in Montreal and elsewhere. Interesting.. I lived in Montreal for some time and wasn't aware of that..likely before my time. To my recollection the bilevels used in Montreal were not tapered at the ends..the ones used today are, as are the new GO bilevels in Ontario. 

  • Member since
    May 2010
  • 179 posts
Posted by northeaster on Saturday, August 20, 2022 2:54 PM

Atlantic Central: I was in collage in the early 1960's and after seeing an article about the Baltimore/Annapolis RDC's, wrote to the president of that railroad and got a very nice letter from him explaining his ideas. I believe the fare was about 25 cents! As far as I know, that route is now gone. I also had a great nighttime ride on a NYNH&H RDC from Springfield, MA to Boston, very fast and very bouncy.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,946 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Saturday, August 20, 2022 3:09 PM

northeaster

Atlantic Central: I was in collage in the early 1960's and after seeing an article about the Baltimore/Annapolis RDC's, wrote to the president of that railroad and got a very nice letter from him explaining his ideas. I believe the fare was about 25 cents! As far as I know, that route is now gone. I also had a great nighttime ride on a NYNH&H RDC from Springfield, MA to Boston, very fast and very bouncy.

 

Yes, the northern part of that right of way is now light rail, the southern part is now a walking trail.

Sheldon

    

  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 1,251 posts
Posted by Erik_Mag on Saturday, August 20, 2022 8:17 PM

Ulrich

I remember the boxcabs.. they were a Montreal fixture for decades..

The original CN boxcabs were slightly younger than the BA&P boxcabs, sharing the 2400VDC electrical equpment.

  • Member since
    June 2002
  • 19,104 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 10:11 AM

For many years, RDCs handled the vast Boston & Maine commuter service out of North Station, Boston, exclusively. About 75 RDCs were used.  Many survived into the "T" era, some  ending up as regular de-motored coaches in push-pull service with locomotives.

But remember, a ten car train of self-powered  MUs of any type takes a  lot more maintenance and inspection time than ten coaches and a locomotive.

  • Member since
    January 2009
  • From: Maryland
  • 11,946 posts
Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 2:46 PM

daveklepper

For many years, RDCs handled the vast Boston & Maine commuter service out of North Station, Boston, exclusively. About 75 RDCs were used.  Many survived into the "T" era, some  ending up as regular de-motored coaches in push-pull service with locomotives.

But remember, a ten car train of self-powered  MUs of any type takes a  lot more maintenance and inspection time than ten coaches and a locomotive.

 

Agreed about operating/maintance costs, I suspect the 3-4 units is the max with a cost advantage, 6 was likely close to the tippng point. 

Like lots of things railroads do, it only worked for the B&M because they invested in lots of RDC's early on.

The 3-4 unit B&O Speedliner, or the PRSL runs, were problably the most cost efective use of the RDC. Long enough runs to see significant savings over conventional consists, with just the right passenger capacity, without the "wear and tear" of urban/suburban daily communter service.

Sheldon 

    

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • 19,212 posts
Posted by Overmod on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 3:21 PM

Don't forget the Reading RDC train competing with the NEC between New York and Philadelphia.  I only had the chance to ride it once, in the early Seventies, but it was a reasonable use of the technology.  I believe Conrail continued to operate it into the '80s, and did not have a cost-effective option (including what by then was a market in "improvable" seldom-propelled vehicles) as a replacement.

  • Member since
    September 2011
  • 5,854 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 8:12 PM

The Newark-Phily RCDs were sidelined by the bypassing of Reading Terminal to an electrified Phily center city tunnel connection to the ex-PRR terminal.  Apparently for a while (1981-82) NJT operated the north leg to connect with SEPTA electric at West Trenton, but discontinued it because of poor patronage.

  • Member since
    June 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 6,093 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Friday, August 26, 2022 3:50 AM

Ulrich
GO bilevels in Ontario. 

Which actually have three levels of seats vs two and that is the reason for the taper at each end, it is a mid-level of seats and the stairs going up and down at that point are far less than if they were an actual bilevel.

  • Member since
    June 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 6,093 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Friday, August 26, 2022 3:54 AM

rdamon
Didn't DART (Dallas) run RDCs till 2017 for Trinity Rail?

Yes and generally they learned as well they were a money pit in above 2-3 car trainsets vs loco hauled coaches.   TRE did not buy them for efficiency but because of price and availability and they needed more trainsets.    Once they obtained enough second hand GO transit cars and locos the RDC's were shifted to Reserve or back-up duty.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy