arly in the Twentieth Century, the fastest trains on
the North American continent were the prestige Silk
Specials speeding bales of raw silk from Pacific
Coast ports to spinning and weaving mills in the
Chicago and New York areas. Before synthetic fibres
like rayon and nylon were invented, silk was the luxury
fabric. The baled raw silk fibre had to be delivered as
quickly as possible, to minimize the high daily insur
ance on this precious and perishable commodity.
Silk from the Orient always held a magic attraction for Euro
peans, both male and female, although the story of the silk trade
goes further back in history. The Chinese first discovered the silk-
worm spinning its cocoon of wild silk many centuries ago. They
established its culture as an industry and silk cloth was used as
currency, as well as a luxury fabric which they bartered with wan
dering traders allover Asia, until the Phoenician, Greek and Roman
sea and land wayfarers ventured to India and the silk and spice mar
kets of the East Indies, China and Cipangu (Japan).
Marco Polos Thirteenth Century travels over the Silk Road,
through Iran, Turkestan and Thibet resulted in the extension of the
silk trade via that overland route during the Middle Ages to Byzan
tium (Constantinople), Greece and Rome, thence into western Europe,
as urbanization and industrialization displaced warfare. The kings
of france encouraged a silk-worm industry at Lyon in the Rhone River
valley and this became the silk centre of Europe, finally eliminating
competition from Italy.
However, the Silk Road and the sea lanes to the Orient were
fraught with piracy and trade in that direction was discouraged th
ereby. But such was the fascination of the silk and spice trade that
it encouraged the search for a Northwest Passage to the East,after
geographers and map-makers finally realized that the world was round
and not flat. Navigators like Cabot, Columbus, Cartier and Amerigo
BACK IN THE 1950S -COULD IT HAVE BEEN 1955? -JIM SHAUGHNESSY VIS
ited Montreal t~ take a picture of Canadian National Railways fam
ous 4-8-4 steam locomotive Number 6157, coming back light to Turcot
Roundhouse from Eastern Junction. En route, Number 6157 crossed the
Canadian Pacifics main line west at Ballantyne. Today, the railway
archeologist would find it difficult to find this spot.
CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS 4-6-2 NUMBER 5116 HEADS A SEVEN-CAR-PLUS
silk special east out of Vancouver in 1928. The presence of a pusher
on the rear of the train gives an indication of the importance of
speed on all stages of the run.
CANADIAN 228 R A I L
Vespucci discovered various portions of the continent of North Amer
ica, when in fact they were searching for a short-cut from Europe
to China and Japan. Jacques Cartier named the present-day suburb of
Montreal La Chine, as he postulated that this would be the port a
bove the rapids in the St. Lawrence from which travellers would de
part for the trip across the Pacific to China~
Eventually, ships of the British East India Company did trade
in the Chinese ports of Canton, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Towards 1860,
the clever Japanese began to compete successfully in the silk trade,
having cleverly learned the ancient Chinese art of silk-worm culture
and the corollary techniques of silk spinning and weaving~ The Chi
nese, on the other hand, rapidly lost their share of the trade, due
principally to a silk-worm disease which devastated the industry.
From that time on, the Japanese led the world in silk production.
While ships still loaded silk in the ports of Canton, Shanghai and
Hong Kong, the Japanese ports of Kobe and Yokohama offered larger
cargoes of this marvellous natural fibre (1).
At first in the 1870s, ,the trans-Pacific and transcontinental
silk traffic was, of necess¥ty, routed through San Francisco. But la
ter, when the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railways and the
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad joined in the com
petition for the land portion of the haul, it was found that the Nor-
th Pacific route was about a day or so faster than the voyage to San
Francisco and overland transport onward. Thus, Seattle, Washington
and Vancouver, British Columbia became competitive arrival ports for
these time-value cargoes.
By the mid-1880s, silk shipments were being routed over the
Canadian Pacific Railway. According to George Johnsons First Things
in Canada (2), th. first shipment of tea and silk, 1832 tons, ar
rived in Vancouver on the S.S.Parthia at noon, 6 November 1889, the
ship being 13 days, 13 hours out of Yokohama. The shipment was un-
loaded from the ship and loaded into boxcars for the journey east
on the newly-built Canadian Pacific Railway.
The latecoming Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, while not a trans
continental line in the strict sense, together with its northern B. C.
port of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, was opened for traffic
in 1915. It never really figured in this competitive and racy trade.
It might well have been a competitor, had it not been for the lack of
return cargoes for the Asia-bound trans-Pacific ships. However, after
Sir Henry Thornton became the President of the Canadian National Ra
ilway Company in the early Twenties, the new management team was af
forded the opportunity of competing for this prestige traffic,to the
discomfiture of the other competitors. Speed in delivery of the
perishable raw silk to eastern United States mills was essential, as
insurance premiums were high and silk was sold on a market where
prices fluctuated rapidly and unpredictably.
Silk trains were always given the highest priority, with rights
over all other trains, including passenger expresses, and ran non
stop between terminals. Crews on these specials consisted of regular
engine and train crews, plus armed guards or special agents of the
Investigation (Security) Department. The train consists of the 1920s
varied from half-a-dozen to as many as twenty cars, on Canadian Na
tional Railways. Their scheduled time was the shortest of all trains
and, consequently, their speed averaged about a-mile-a-minute, which
was remarkable for that time.
CANADIAN 229 R A I L
The specials stopped barely five minutes at division points to
change engines, crews and, at times, cabooses of the chain-gang fr
eight crews who were regularly assigned to such specials, in chain
gang service. Carmen at these servicing stops barely had time to
inspect the running gear and journal boxes, which they lubricated.
From each terminal, the departure time of the special was wired to
waiting officials in Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, or to St. Paul,
Minnesota, Chicago and New York, in the United States.
Half-a-century later, it is difficult to find published informa
tion on these nearly forgotten specials, even in a library as large
as CNs Headquarters Library in Montreal. I could find but two ar
ticles published in the United States. In Canada, the late Ken Lid
dells book Ill Take the Train(3) has a chapter on the silkers,
E~en the Canadian National Railways Magazine carried very little
on these specials (4), which was unusual, since that magazine pub
lished some very good articles on railway history in the 1920s and
On one occasion, royalty was side-tracked to let a silk special
pass. In mid-December 1919 -that year, according to Freeman Hubbard,
Editor of Railroad Magazine(5) -Ken Liddel in his chapter on silk
trains (6) says that Prince George, Duke of York and later King
George VI, arrived at Vancouver aboard the S.S.Empress of Russia, en
route from Hong Kong, where he had been stationed with the Royal Navy,
to spend a Christmas holiday with his parents in England. The ship had
been delayed by bad weather and fog and a special section of the Can
adian Pacific Railways transcontinental passenger train was held at
Vancouver to take the Prince eastward to Montreal, where another ship
was waiting to make the trans-Atlantic crossing.
The special pulled out of Vancouver at midnight and hurried th
rough the foothills of the mountains. The S.S.Empress of Russia had,
in addition to her royal passenger, a cargo of silk, which was im
mediately trans-shipped at Vancouver to special silk cars on the
CPR. By noon of the following day, the silk special had overtaken
the Princes train and the latter had been held on a siding in the
Rockies to let the silk train pass. The Prince asked the rear-end br
akeman why the train was stopped on such a remote siding.
To let the silk train pass, sir, replied the brakeman.
A stuttering ejeculation brought further explanation from the
brakeman. The Prince had not known of the ships cargo of precious
silk which, after an initial delay in trans-shipment, had now over
taken the Royal train, over which it had precedence.
Ken Liddell (7) and Freeman Hubbard both tell the story about
the time when Port Arthur, Ontario, then a small town on Canadas
first transcontinental railway, claimed that the Canadian Pacific
Railway Company owed it $ 14,000 in back real estate taxes. The
railway claimed that, under the terms of its charter, it was not
taxable locally. That did not prevent Port Arthurs tax collector,
BALES OF RAW SILK FROM JAPAN, CONSIGNED TO COMPANIES IN CHICAGO AND
New York -and individually numbered, for strict accountability -are
being unloaded by sling and crane to be transshipped to waiting ex
press/baggage cars for the trip east via the CNR.(1930)
THE SLING ON THE DOCK CONTAINS BALES FOR CUSTOMERS IN CHICAGO AND
Hoboken, New Jersey.(1930).
R A I L
Mr. William Beaver, from doing something drastic to collect the tax
money. When the CPRs next silk special arrived in town and stopped
for servicing, Bill Beaver attached the train for the debt, both
figuratively and in reality, by chaining the trains engine to the
track and securing the chain with a padlock, preventing it from its
onward journey until the municipal tax was paid.
It is said that President William C. Van Horne gave hurried in
structions to the towns one bank to transfer the cash to the Town.
Alas, the bank had but $ 12,000 cash in its vaults, which was $ 2000
short of satisfying Mr. Beaver. The railway companys employees were
able to raise the balance around town and the delayed silk train was
released and allowed to depart for the east!
While delays and accidents to the silk specials were rare, be
cause of the extraordinary precautions taken -at first, CN adopted
the practice of spiking the switches of all sidings/passing tracks
off the main line, ahead of these specials -there were some in
cidents. This spiking of switches had the effect of interlocking all
opposing trains and superior trains in the same direction. It was an
expensive and time-~onsuming process, even in those days.
The Canadian Pacific had a silk train derail in the Fraser River
canyon between Haig and Yale, British Columbia. One express car sank
in the turbulent river and was never found. This accident became re
nowned as the Million Dollar Wreck. But bales of silk from the se
cond car, which broke open at the waters edge, kept floating down
stream and continued to be found for months afterward. Local Indians
were paid $ 10 per bale for each one found and turned in, although
the value of the contents was, by this time, questionable.
On one occasion in December 1928 or 1929, according to my memory,
Canadian National lost several cars of silk in the Fraser valley. Due
to record-destruction programs, it has been impossible to locate any
record of this accident. Even Vancouver newspaper morgues failed to
produce any clippings or microfilm of the derailment. In 1926-1930,1
was working as a stenographer in the Dispatchers Office in Edmonton
(DK). The bales of silk were picked up at the derailment site, load
ed into box cars and moved to Edmonton by the first through freight
available. There, they were to be trans-shipped to express-baggage
cars at the old GTP freight shed back of 97th. Street on 104th.Avenue,
under the supervision of local Freight Agent J.C. Low.
the accident occurred just before Christmas, Edmonton shed
freight-handlers were called to work overtime on December 25, hauling
the boles of silk from freight cars to passenger-service cars. Jim
Low; who loved a challenge, told the Chief Dispatcher Arthur McRae, known
as A.M., that he would have the freight-shed crew fired if
they did not transfer that rush cargo pronto, even on Christmas day~
Well, he did not have to carry out his threat. The silk bales were
trans-shipped and the. special departed promptly from Edmonton, with
In February 1926, being curious to see a silk train, I learned
that one was to leave Calder Yard, Edmonton, at 1800k.We then work
ed until 17.30 hours ( 5.30 p.m.). I took my bicycle up the old Can
adian Northern line to North Edmonton and, by pedalling hard, I got
there in time to hear the 5100-class steam engine whistling off for
its departure, two miles to the west. As I stood near the signal tow
er, the towerman cleared the main-line signals for the special. In
two minutes, the headlight of the locomotive had expanded from pin-
CANADIAN 233 R A I L
point size to a solar dimension and the engine blew up a cloud of
steam in the wintry twilight, as it roared ~y. The train raised a
considerable cloud of cinders, clattering away over the diamond into
the twilight; soon, only the twin red eyes of its last-car marker
lights were visible, as the special increased its speed, heading for
Wainwright and the East.
The busiest year for the silk traffic, both in Canada and the
United States, was 1929, when half-a-million bales of silk fibre,
valued at some $ 325 million, were moved from west coast ports to
New York. The shipping revenues of some $ 6 million were divided
among 20 participating railways in both countries, and 9 steamship
lines (8). The longest silk train moved over Canadian National Rail
ways in 1927 consisted of 21 express cars containing 7,300 bales of
silk, valued at about $ 7 million.
Freeman Hubbard, present Editor of RAILROAD Magazine, wrote the
longest article on silk trains that I have found: There Was Never A
Signal Set Against A Silk Train (9). He quotes a Council Bluffs,Iowa
newspaper of November 24, 1876, reporting the passage of 49 rail
road cars of tea and 2 of silk, and that HARPERS WEEKLY of Novem
ber 27, 1909, published the first record of a silk special, describ
ing the train as dull-painted and windowless, yet the Emperor of
At four cents per pound, there was more profit in hauling silk
than there was in carrying passengers. The raw silk, a conglomeration
of fibres and cocoons, the latter with silk worms still alive inside,
was shipped in tightly-bound bales weighing 133 to 220 pounds each,
tightly bound with straw matting on the exterior.
Market prices for raw silk varied, exceeding $ 7 per pound in
the period between the two World Wars. According to Mr. Hubbard, the
first through passenger train from Vancouver to Montreal over the
newly-completed Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 had carloads of
silk in its consist.
While todays cross-Canada diesel-powered trains, like the CN s
SuperContinental and the Canadian of CP RAIL average about 40
miles per hour between Vancouver and Montreal, counting station and
servicing stops and operating delays, engineman Jack Davidson at the
throttle of a CPR D-10-class tenwheel coal-burner ticked off 110
miles in 77 minutes, according to Freeman Hubbard. And that was be
fore the advent of mechanical stokers or oil burners~ Unfortunately,
the name of the overworked fireman was not recorded.
Canadian National Railways scheduled more than 100 silk specials
between 1925 and 1932, from Vancouver to New York, via Toronto,Niag
ara Falls and Buffalo, New York, where a conntection was made with
the New York Central Railroad. The actual running time of these spec
ials averaged 70 hours 40 minutes, Vancouver to Toronto; 73 hours to
Buffalo and 85 hours to New York City. The time allowed for changing
~STEVEDORES TRUCK THE HEAVY BALES FROM THE DOCK THROUGH THE FREIGHT
~ shed to the waiting express/baggage cars for the fast trip east via
Canadian National Railways.(1930).
THE BALES OF RAW SILK WERE IDENTIFIED BY NUMBER AND INDIVIDUALLY
checked before being loaded into express/baggage-cars for the long
haul east. This consignment in 1931 was destine~ for New York.
. . ..
–:. – –
I – —
CANADIAN 236 R A I L
engines at terminals was two (2) minutes, during which time journal
boxes were inspected and oiled. Simultaneously, the guards inspected
the seals on all car-doors.
After the silk trade began to use the ports on Puget Sound, the
Canadian Pacific Steamships Empress boats carried a share of this
traffic from 1898 onwards, competing with the Dollar Line ships to
San Francisco, the Nippon Yussen Kaisha to Portland and Seattle. On
one voyage, the S.S.Empress of Japan crossed the Pacific, Yokohama to
Victoria, in 10 days, 10 hours.
The Empress ships were about a week faster than their rivals
in the trans-Pa~ific crossing. In 1913, the new CPSS Empress of Rus
sia made a record crossing in 8 days, 18 hours and 23 minutes. The
S.S.Empress of Canada bettered this time in 1924 by covering the
4,200 miles in 8 days, 10 hours, 9 minutes. Thereafter, the Canadian
Pacific Railway Companys transport system was able to deliver silk
cargoes in New York 13 days after leaving Japan. On one run, a CPR
silk special passed through Fort William, Ontario 48 hours after
leaving Vancouve~. The train travelled the 133 miles between &randon
and Winnipeg in 131 minutes, so it is said.
In the economic depression which followed the 1929 financial
crists, the operation of these legendary trains of raw silk across
the North American continent became unprofitable. Moreover, the en
gine and train crews contributed to this deteriorating economic sit
uation by claiming and holding out for freight-mileage pay, instead
of passenger-train rates, owing to the relatively short times invol
ved in these fast runs. Thus, they helped to kill the goose that
laid the golden egg, as special high-speed trains became uneconom
ical to operate. The lower rates available from water-transportatian
companies made the voyage via the Panama Canal more attractive to
shippers, despite the railways efforts to compete by lowering their
The introduction of synthetic fibres, such as celanese and rayon,
and later, nylon, sounded the death-knell of the silk trade to North
America and the silk trains had disappeared from North American rail
roads by the 1930s.
The last silk shipment from Japan reached the United States in
the summer of 1941, not very long before the attack on Pearl Harbour,
Hawaii, terminated all trade between Japan and the United States. The
last shipment of silk from China was made in September 1941. After
World War II had ended, some raw silk was flown across North America
in chartered aircraft and some was carried as air-freight on regular-
ly scheduled airlines (10). Similarly, regular airlines also flew
raw silk from the Far East, through the Middle East to Europe (11).
The Author would like to acknowledge the kindness of Mr. L. G.
Perry, Supervisor, Visual Redesign, Canadian Notional Railways, Mon
treal and Mr. K. Hand, Manager, Photographic Deportment, Canadian
National Railways, Montreal, in providing the photographs which il
lustrate this article.
CANADIAN 237 R A I L
THE SILK ROAD Boulnois, Luce; Dutton, New York, 1966.
FIRST THINGS IN CANADA Johnson, George; Mortimer, Ottawa, 1897.
ILL TAKE THE TRAIN Liddell,Kenneth; Modern Press,Saskatoon, 196~
SILK TRAIN (Poem) Knelles, V.G.; Canadian National Railways
Magazine, August 1937.
RAILROAD Magazine, April 1965, pp. 13-24.
Op.cit. 3 • Op.
cit. 3, pp.115 and 5.
Op. cit. 3.
RAILROAD Magazine, April 1965, pp. 13-24.
f 1111 ~
« 0 I~II~I ~« f II 0 I~I
anadian National Railways new white, black,
~ orange, blue and mauve system timetable that
appeared just before April 25, 1976,contain-
ed a number of sprprises, not the least of
which was a dramatic rearrangement of passen
ger services, by train and highway bus, between
Ottawa and Toronto, along the shore of Lake
The last day of operation of Trains 40 & 41, Ottawa to Brock
ville, Ontario, was April 24, 1976. These were the trains that pro
vided the connection with Train 51 for Toronto and Train 50 from
Ontarios Queen City to the Notions Capital. Through coaches used
to be handled on the rear of Train 51 westbound, coming down to Br
ockville on the eastbound Train 50 in the some position.
In the new timetable, the Ottawa-Brockville train runs straight
through to Toronto, with the Montreal-Brockville service being sup
plied by Trains 650 and 653 which are ROC RAILINERs.
The new train is called the Capitale and is Trains 43 & 44 •
The service will operate via CP RAILs Brockville to Smiths Falls
trackage (Brockville SiD, Smiths Falls Division), 27.8 miles, after
which it covers the remaining 35.1 miles on its own trackage (Smiths
Before the reorganization of passenger train service,
Trains 40 & 41 were wyed on the CP RAIL spur which leads to
harbour front at Brockville. This track, seldom used, has a 6 mph
less speed restriction. Normally, the diesel unit and one coach
all that stayed at Brockville between the departure of Train 51
the crrival of Train 50.
During the week, the Brockville switcher added the through cars
to the rear of 51 westbound and 50 eastbound. On weekends there was no
yard switcher, so the road engine from Ottowa did the job.
After the train -the diesel unit and one coach -was wyed, it
returned to the station and backed into the stub-end siding, where it
awaited the arrival of Train 50 from Toronto.
When Train 50 arrived, it uncoupled the lost two coaches in its
consist and, after discharging and loading passengers, uncoupled the
last two coaches. The diesel unit and coach for Ottowa backed down
the main line as soon as Train 50 hod departed and picked up the two
coaches on the main line. It then deported for Ottawa.
In the first of the accompanying photographs, Train 51, the
westbound Lakeshore, makes its lost stop at Brockville on 24 Ap~il
1976. The second photo shows Train 41, the Ottowa connection, arrl.V
ing at Brockville on the same day. In the last picture, Train 41 is
CANADIAN 239 R A I L
being wyed for the last time, preparatory to making a last run to
The Capitale makes the 277-mile Ottawa-Toronto trip in 350
minutes with eight intermediate stops, while the eastbound run takes
345 minutes with the same number of stops. Westbound, it leaves
Ottawa at U8 30, arriving in Toronto at 14 20. The corresponding
Toronto-Ottawa service leaves Union Station at 09 30 and arrives at
( Ottawa at 15 15
~ether you travel in Europe for pleasure
or business, you cannot fail to be im
pressed by the convenient, efficient pas
senger train services, a network which
is at your disposition twenty-four hours a _.
_day, seven days a week. No European city,
from Scandanavia to Spain, is more than 24
hours by train from any other, with per
haps a few exceptions. Short, intermediate
and long-distance railway travel is fast
and arrivals and departures are punctual,
due primarily to the excellent time-keep
ing of express passenger trains.
The most famous of these expresses are the TEE (Trans-Europe
Express) trains, providing fast day service by luxury diesel or
electric train between important European cities, north, south,
east and west. A first-closs fare, plus a special supplement, is
required to travel on these trains, since all seats are reserved.
Prior reservation is normally obligatory and a special telex net-
work has been established to facilitate onward or r~turn reservations.
Linking the industrial centres of France, Switzerland, Belgium,
Holland and West Germany is a secondary network of doily express tr
ains, one of the best known of which, the Hispania Express, in the
summer months departs doily from Hamburg (Altona) and Dortmund in
West Germany for Basle, Lausanne and Geneva, Switzerland, Lyon, Avig
non, Narbonne and Cerbere, France and Port Bou and Barcelona, Spain.
Many workers from the Spanish manpower reservoir travel by this tr
ain to West Germany; in the southbound direction, holiday-makers from
northern Europe, attracted by the sunny skies and sandy beaches of
the Costa Brava, come to Spain.
Northbound, the Hispania Express deports Barcelona doily at
1800 as RENFE Train 113, with first and second-class coaches for
Cerbere on the Franco-Spanish frontier, where passengers must change
from the 1.651-m.-gauge RENFE to the 1.435 m.-gauge French National
Railways at 2200.
From Cerbere, first and second-closs SNCF sleeping cars are
available to Geneva and first-class Swiss Federal Railways (CFF/SBB)
sleepers run through to Basle. First and second-closs coaches are
provided on a rotating basis by the SNCF, CFF/SBB or Deutsches Bun
desbahn for Geneva, Basle, Dortmund and Homburg, with a dining cor,
generally from the DB, between Geneva and Homburg. This is SNCF
Train 376, as for as Geneva, where, running on CFF/SBB roils, it
becomes CFF/SBB Train 376 for the northward journey to Basle.
After Basle, on DB metals, the Hispania Express is Train D376
to Hamburg via Hannover and Train D1204 to Mannheim, Koblenz, Koln
On its northward run, the Hispania Express travels through
some of the most beautiful country in western Europe, particuiarly in
the valley of the Rhone River, through the mountains of the Vercors
and the Chartreuse, by the lakes of Geneva, Neuchatel and Bienne and
through the wild gorge of the Birse River in the Swiss Jura Mountains.
CANADIAN 24 1 R A I L
COACHES AND SLEEPING CARS ON THE RAILWAYS OF EUROPE NORMALLY CARRY
destination signs; here is the destination sign for the through cars
of the Hispania Express from Cerbere to Hamburg (Altona).
Photo courtesy La Suisse -Moutier.
In this latter region, the direct line of the CFF/SBB from
Lausanne to Basle takes a short-cut through the southernmost rampart
of the Jura Mountains, from the valley of the Aare River, via the
8.45 km.-long Grenchenberg Tunnel, to the valley of the Birse River,
which the railway follows northward to its junction with the Rhine
Turning northwest at Grenchen, 15 km beyond Bienne, the rail
way passes through the Grenchenberg Tunnel, emerging near Moutier in
the narrow gorge of the Birse between high limestone cliffs. From
Grenchen to a point a short distance north of the town of Choindez,
about 5 km from Moutier, the main line is single-tracked; onward
from Choindez to Basle, it is once more double-tracked. The switch
at the point where the single track becomes double is electrically
operated and normally automatic, being activated by approaching tr
ains entering the circuit. Southbound trains pass through the switch
to the single track, while northbound trains are automatically di
verted to the left-hand track of the double-track line, since CFF/
SBB trains run to the left. This automatic switch is monitored from
the station at Choindez.
Despite the difficulties imposed by heavy traffic, weather con
ditions and curving and heavily graded lines, the Swiss Federal Rail
ways have achisved and continue to maintain an excellent standard of
safe, on time passenger and freight train operation. Moreover, the
CFF/SBBs safety record is an enviable one. Between 1949 and 1972, a
period of 23 years, only 28 persons, exclusive of railway personnel,
lost their lives as a result of collisions or derailments. Most of
these casualties occurred in one accident at St-Leonard (VS), km 98
on the Lausanne-Simplon Tunnel main line, where 10 persons perished
in the head-on collision of two passenger trains.
CANADIAN 242 R A I L
The northbound Hispania Express of 26 March 1974, composed of
eight cars, including a Deutsches Bundesbahn dining car, was winding
its way through the Birse Gorge toward Basle, having just emerged
from the Grenchenberg Tunnel. The express had left Geneva (Cornavin)
at 0754 and was due at Delemont, in the Swiss Jura Mountains, at
1019. Most of the passengers had had breakfast after the train left
Lausanne and the dining car, midway in the train, was relatively em
pty. A few passengers were having a mid-morning cup of coffee.
At Choindez, about 6 km south of Delemont, work on a section of
track was in progress and the automatic electric switch at the point
where the single track becomes double had been isolated to non-auto
matic operation and was being operated by the signalman at Choindez.
The operator could not see the switch from the station and therefore
was controlling and changing the switch either on direction from the
train-control office or by time-interval, based on the passage of
t ra ins.
A section-man, working on the track, heard the whistle of the
approaching express and crossed the right-of-way from the left-hand
to the right-hand track, where he would be away from the train. The
CFF/SBB, like most railways in Europe, run to the left.
The express, hauled by a green B-B electric locomotive, came on
at a steady speed of about 60 km/h , despite the fact that it was
running a few minutes late. In a few seconds, this one or two min-
CANADIAN 243 R A I L
utes was to result in an unexpected and calamitous occurrence. As
the train approached the electric switch, the engineman looked ahead
to the double-track, with its 4 m separation, through one short rock
tunnel to a second tunnel for the northbound or left-hand line. Be
tween the tunnels, the two tracks spread apart to about 15 m.
Reducing speed slightly, the locomotive and the first three
cars of the eight-car train clattered over the switch and swung sli
ghtly to the left to enter the first short two-track tunnel. The
front truck of the DB dining car, midway in the train, followed smo
othly through the switch, but the section-man was horrified to see
that the rear truck and the four coaches on the rear of the train to
ok the right-hand track, which runs through the first short tunnel
alongside its companion and then separates from it to run along the
face of the high limestone cliff, beside but outside the tunnel.
As the train rolled onward, its front portion on the left track
and its rear portion on the right, with the DB dining car on both,
no one on the train was aware of anything being wrong. The cars did
not uncouple, because the 26.4-meter-long dining car was able to span
the 15-meter distance between the tracks. Afterwards, some of the
passengers who were riding in the dining car said that there was some
roughness, but nothing out of the ordinary.
CANADIAN 244 R A I L
The two portions of the train sped onward for about 1 km, troe
dining car linking them and the whole passing through the first, short
rock tunnel in which the two tracks were not separated by a rock
wall. The next tunnel, however, was for the left-hand line only, the
right-hand track running outside along the face of the cliff.
My God, we will crash~, one of the dining-car passengers sud
denly cried out and, at the same instant, the dining car, now
running almost at right-angles to the direction of travel, crashed
broadside into the cliff face, impacting about one-third the length
of the car on the right side.
The whole train stopped with a tremendous jerk. Passengers in
all of the coaches were thrown from their seats. The coach immediate
ly behind the DB diner was partially derailed. One side of the heavy
steel diner was crushed in and the frame of the car was bent severe
ly. Three people in the diner died, two being killed outright and
the third later. Twenty-seven other passengers were injured.
Help was summoned immediately from Choindez, the steel foundry
there sending its medical emergency team and doctor by special train
hauled by the foundry companys steam switch-engine, since the caten-
ary on the main line had collapsed and the power had been cut off
The injured passengers were taken by special steam train to the
ambulance station at Choindez and thence by road ambulance to hos
pitals at Moutier and Delemont. The badly injured steward of the DB
dining car was taken directly to Berne, but he died before reaching
the hospital. The passengers in the other cars were bruised and
shaken by the crash and s.ome had broken bones, but, fortunately, none
were seriously hurt.
The electric locomotive and three cars on the head-end of
train and three of the four rear-end passenger cars, still on
rails, were brought forward to Delemont about an hour after the
cident. By the evening of the next day, 14 of the 27 injured
sengers had been discharged from hospital and had returned to
At the scene of the wreck, while the derailed coach and smashed
dining car were being removed from the right-of-way and the broken
catenary supports, signal masts and tangled wires were being cleaned
A GROUND-LEVEL VIEW OF THE ACCIDENT AT ROCHES ON 26 MARCH
dining car is from the German Federal Railways, while the
coach coupled to it is a French National Railways (SNCF)
second-class couchette car. Photo courtesy La Suisse
FROM THE PARAPET ABOVE THE SINGLE-TRACK TUNNEL, THE DISASTEROUS RE
sult of the sudden switch movement are clearly visible. The DB din-
ing car is still coupled to the half-derailed SNCF couchette car.
The victims of the accident, on stretchers, lie beside the track
at the bottom right of the picture. Photo courtesy La Suisse-Moutier.
LOOKING BACK TOWARD CHOINDEZ, THE ROCKY DEFILE THROUGH WHICH THE RA
ilway passes is obvious. While the catenary on the northbound line
was completely demolished, the wire above the southbound line outside
the tunnel was still up, although the supports were weakened and, in
some cases, broken. Photo courtesy La Suisse -Moutier.
CANADIAN 248 R A I L
up, a highway bus shuttle-service was instituted between Moutier and
Delemont. Meanwhile, through express trains from Lausanne to Basle,
via Bienne, were routed down the Aare River valley line to Olten,
reaching Basle via the Berne-Basle main line and the Hauenstein Tun
nel. Rail service was restored a few days later.
The inquiry into the cause of the accident revealed that the
signalman at Choindez had activated the relay for the electric switch
at the entrance to the double track at the precise instant when the
front truck of the DB dining car had passed through it, but before ~
the rear truck had reached it. Inasmuch as the switch was not visible
from Choindez, the signalman had thrown the switch at the exact
time he was required to do so, but without assuring himself pos~t~ve
~hat the train had passed through the switch. The express, being
one or two minutes late, did not pass through the switch completely
before the time the latter was scheduled to be thrown.
There is a saying on the CFF/SBB which is valid and important
on any railway anywhere in the world: Mann sacht, Dienst ist dienst.
The work on the right-of-way between Choindez and Delemont has
now been completed and it is understood that the CFF/SBB are studying
very seriously the possibility of double-tracking the entire single
track portion of this imp6rtant main line.
While the accident of 26 March 1974 at Choindez was indeed most
unfortunate, there is no doubt that the Swiss Federal Railways will
take the appropriate measures to prevent any such occurrence in the
future. Meanwhile, the Hispania Express has been making its double
daily run between Hamburg/Dortmund and Barcelona, rapidly and safely.
The author would like to thank M. J-M. Leclercq, European Rep
resentative of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, for his
valuable assistance in verifying information and Monsieur Charles
Wisard, Redaction jurassienne de LA SUISSE, 2740-Moutier, Switzerland
for the photographs and drawings accompanying this report.
AN ARTICLE IN THE TROY, NEW YORK RECORD DATED 21 APRIL 1976 ADVISED
readers that, come August, the ADIRONDACK service from
Albany to Montreal, via the Delaware and Hudson Railway,
might cease -again. On 5 August, the contract providing subsidies
to keep passenger service going would expire and, in April,officials
at the Department of Transportation of the State of New York had not
decided whether or not the State should sign a new contract.
The present contract between the State, AMTRAK and the
D&H requires the State to pay two-thirds of the operating deficit of
the service, while AMTRAK pays the other one-third. A new federal
law changed the sharing of the subsidy to a 50-50 basis, which would
cost the State about half-a-million dollars annually.
Despite the increase in riders which is bound to occur as
a result of the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, it was quite
difficult to imagine an increase in passengers sufficient to defray
the current $ 65,000 per month deficit, roughly $ 1,000 for each of
the twice daily trips.
By the time this item appears, the problem will have been
solved. At the risk of being wrong, it is probable that the State of
New York and AMTRAK will decide to subsidize the service for one
additional year, to see how things shape up after the Summer Olympics
SOME IDEA OF THE SUCCESS OF ONTARIOS GO TRANSIT OPERATION CAN BE
obtained from the fact that, in April 1976, a fourth GO
TRAIN was added to the northwest run of GO TRANSIT. The
Toronto-Georgetown five-day-a-week schedule was augmented by one ad
ded troin in each direction. The added train, plus 0 slight re
scheduling of existing trains, enabled commuters to choose between
earlier and later departures both morning and night.
Since the introduction of this GO service in May 1974,the
average number of passengers carried daily has risen from 1,500 to
Later in April, Ontario Transportation and Communications
Minister James Snow announced that an extra morning and afternoon
rush-hour lrain would be added to GO TRANSITs Lakeshore West ser
vice beginning April 26, to replace the seating capacity to be lost
when GOs rented (from the Chicago & North Western Railroad) bi-level
coaches returned to Chicago.
When rescheduling was completed, the run from Toronto Un
ion Station to Hamilton would take 51 minutes instead of the normal
67 minutes used by regular trains which make all intermediate stops.
The extra morning train from Oakville at 07:40 hours will
make all stops into Toronto Union. The extra afternoon train at 17: 19
will run non-stop to Oakville, arriving at 17:42 and will run through
to Hamilton, arriving at 18:10.
CANADIAN 250 R A I L
OUR THANKS TO RICK SHANTLER AND THE NEWSLETTER OF THE PACIFIC COAST
Branch of the Association for the following first-half re
ports of railway doings on the West Coast.
-CP RAIL has filed its intention to abandon 24.5 miles of the
Osoyoos SiD, Canyon Division, which would reduce this line to
a spur from Penticton to (about) Okanagan Falls, British Col
umbia. It is claimed that operation has resulted in an annual
loss of $ 125,000 since 1972, with car-loadings falling from
1,125 in 1970 to an abysmal low of 213 in 1974;
-BCR purchosed four Budd RDCs from AMTRAK -ex Great Northern
and Northern Pacific Railway equipment -to replace BCR Num
bers 31 and 32. BCR hopes to salvage enough usable parts to
remanufacture at least three new RDCs this year;
-the Spring 1976 issue of Beautiful British Columbia featured
a six-page illustrated article on British Columbias Museum
Train, with several views of ex-CPR Number 3716 heading the
parade~ Plans then were for the Museum Train to visit one-
third of British Columbia each year. In 1976,this would be
Prince Rupert, Prince George, Jasper, Kamloops and the Lower
Mainland, running over CNR rails;
-the new 386-foot span for the 74-year-old New Westminster rail
bridge is being fabricated on the south shore of the Fraser
River, just east of the bridge. You will remember that this
span was destroyed by a wayward barge on December 26, 1975.
The new span was due to be floated into position by late
CP RAIL work crews recovered two open-top hoppers loaded with
copper concentrate that fell into Burrand Inlet at the foot of
Burrand in Vancouver. The cars were being pushed onto a barge
for transport to the North Shore, when excessive push shoved
the barge out from the pier and the cars fell into 25 feet
of water. They were raised individually by cable and crane
on 1 April 1976;
-British Columbias relatively new government, under the lead
ership of the Honorable William Bennett, is showing a degree
of coolness to the proposed BCR-Canadian National link-up in
the Ashcroft-Lillooet area and in the region northwest of
Prince George. It appears that Mr. Bennett and his cabinet be
lieve that they can negotiate a more advantageous arrangement
with Canadas federal Government than that arranged by Mr.
Barrett and his colleagues;
-as a result of the closure of the Burlington Northern-Canadian
National bridge across the Fraser River at New Westminster, CP
RAIL has had to spend $ 250,000 in extra maintenance work on
the Coquitlam-Mission portion of the Cascade SiD. Extra move
ments by CN, BN and BCHydro over this stretch have multiplied
the wear and tear on the track and roadbed.
LAST APRIL, PAT WEBB WROTE FROM LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA, THAT THE 20TH.
Century Fox Film Productions had been indulging in some
capers with CP RAIL passenger equipment. The equipment,
one set of stainless-steel Canadian stock, was rented and painted
Silver Streak, for use in some film segments for a new Gene Wilder
comedy called -what else? -The Silver 5 treak •
CANADIAN 25 1 R A I L
The first sequences were filmed between Lethbridge and Cr
owsnest Pass, with some of it on The Ledges near McGillivray. Later
footage was filmed near Calgary, Okotoks, High River and several other
points in Alberta, before moving east to Ontario.
Units Numbers 4067 and 4070 were redecorated with large
AMRoad logos behind the doors and a series of red,white and blue chev
rons horizontally, superimposed over the CP RAIL multimark at the
rear of the unit.
The comedy, directed by Arthur Hiller of Edmonton,records
the adventures of Gene Wilder travelling from the West Coast of the
United States to the middle west, via the AM Road (Railroad).
CP RAIL leased two units, an A and a B, one baggage car,
and seven passenger cars. The equipment came from Montreal to Cal
gary and was redecorated at Ogden Shops for use in the movie.
FROM NIGERIA, THE ASSOCIATIONS WEST AFRICAN REPRESENTATIVE R.E.AL
Leggott writes that the Nigerian Railway Corporation had a
spot of bad luck on 10 April 1976, when two MLW-built
export-type units, Numbers 1720 and 1751 met head-on a caple of miles
north of the Ibadan yard at Mokola. Damage to both units appeared to
be extensivei they were re-railed by the Ibadan auxiliary and towed
back to the yard to await repairs.
EARLY IN MAY, CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAYS ANNOUNCED THE FORMATION OF
a sixth division of the Company, CN MARINE. The new div
ision, under the leadership of John Gratwick, Vice-Presi
dent, will operate the East Coast Marine and Ferry Service, on be
half of Canadas Department of Transport and the Newfoundland Dock
yard. East Coast Marine & Ferry Service employs 5,000 people in the
Maritime Provinces, operates 24 vessels, charters others and, last
year, carried more than two million passengers and 1.4· million tons
of freight. Last year, Newfoundland Dockyard employed 300 people and
repaired and maintained 231 domestic and foreign vessels.
JUST BEFORE THE CHANGE OF TIME AND THE NEW TIMETABLE LAST SPRING,
Canadian National Railways announced that full-dome Sc
eneramic observation cars would operate in transcontin
ental passenger train service this summer. In the announcement, Mr.
Garth Campbell, Vice-President of Passenger Marketing, said that
this Winnipeg-Vancouver operation would become a year- round one.
Mr. Campbell also noted that Super Continental sched
ules were being improved to provide more convenient arrival and
departure times at key cities across Canada. A perusal of the summer
1976 public timetable showed that this was true.
GERALD BUCK OF THE TORONTO & YORK DIVISION SENT IN THE FOLLOWING AD
ditional notes about the Canadian National Railways self
propelled cars pictured on pages 124-5 of the April 1976
issue Number 291 of CANADIAN RAIL. Car Number 15791 was a motor
coach sub-class ED53B. originally Number 15799, converted from a
trailer Number 15761 in 1930, rebuilt in 1942, retired in 1952. Car
Number 15748 was a trailer cur, sub-class EPS56-C, built in 1912 by
General Electric Company for the Canadian Northern Railway as their
Number 500. It was rebuilt in 1931 and dismantled in November 1940.
A picture of Number 500, as built, together .. with addition
al information, may be found in SELF PROPELLED CARS OF THE CNR, pub
lished by A.A. Clegg in 1962.
CANADIAN 2S 2
R A L
Cities and T olvns
CANADIAN 2.53 R A I L
~ONTARIO NORTHLAND RAIL SERVICES PUBLISHED A VERY ATTRACTIVE PAMPHLET
in white, blue and orange, for their 1976 Polar Bear Ex
press service to Moosonee, Ontario, on James Bay. Rates
and schedules were designed to attract visitors to take the trip to
this far-northern Ontario point.
The diagrammatic map presented in the interior of the pam
phlet was a masterpiece of clarity and designed to interest the cur
What is of considerably greater interest to the railway
enthusiast is the inset map, showing the line of the ONR from Tor
onto to North Bay, with alternate east-side, west-side lines around
Lake Simcoe, south of Orillia.
It has not been publicly announced that this portion of
Canadian National Railways has been leased or sold to Ontario North
land Rail Services. Nevertheless, and in consideration of the very
excellent degree of cooperation which has been achieved between the
Government of Ontario, Canadian National Railways and Ontario North
land Rail Services in recent years, a little latitude in the owner
ship of rail lines in central Ontario may be permitted.
AT THE BEGINNING OF APRIL 1976, THE CANADIAN TRANSPORT COMMISSION RU
led that AMTRAK could operate a domestic (Canadian) rail
passenger service in southern Ontario. Commissioner E. H.
LaBorde told Douglas Golden, AMTRAKs government affairs officer in
Washington, D.C. that AMTRAK could carry Canadian residents between
points on the former MC/NYC/Penn Central line through southern On
tario. Golden said AMTRAK would get right on it, since its passenger
trains from Buffalo, NY to Detroit, Mich., already stop to detrain
passengers at Fort Erie, St. Thomas and Windsor.
ON THE FIRST OF MAY -NOT THE FIRST OF APRIL -MARITIMERS RECEIVED A
shock when they found out that ferry service rates th
roughout the Atlantic region would rise by anywhere from
20 to 69 percent, effective in June. In PEl, cost of ferry service
per car rose from $ 2.50 to $ 4. The passenger price escalated from
65¢ to $ 1 per person. The rates on CNs Yarmouth-Bar Harbour, Maine
ferry were expected to jump by 33-40% for passengers and at least
20% more for automobiles. Perhaps the Ministry of Transport,of which
the Honorable Otto Lang is the head, will make these rates seasonal;
that is, summer only. If they are maintained on a year- round basis,
they will represent an additional hardship which the citizens of
Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland will have to suffer.
HAVING INCURRED OPERATING LOSSES OVER THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS AND PRE
dicting an unprecedented deficit of $ 6.6 million in 1976,
Canadian National Railways began in February of this year
to try to reduce these losses by increases in commuter fares on their
Montr~al-Deux Montagnes line. Unfortunately, a significant decrease
in commuter traffic was recorded and consequently CN reduced the
number of trains operating in off-peak periods. In fact, off-peak
service to Cortierville station, at the end of the branch from Val
Royal, was cancelled.
There were further reductions in off-peak services
the change-of-time timetable issued on April 25. It should be
that CN receives no subsidies for these commuter services and
Company cannot be expected to assume deficits arising from the opera-
tion of these services. The GO TRANSIT system in Toronto, on the
CANADIAN 254 R A L
CANADIAN 2 55 R A I L
other hand, is subsidized by the Government of Ontario and has de
monstrated that it is possible for a railway to operate a modern in
tegrated commuter train service.
In the present circumstances, the future of CNs commuter
services after 1980 is questionable. That will be the year in which
the extension of Line 2 of Montreals METRO will open and, by that
time, the TRAMM service to Mirabel Airport will also probably be
The two photographs accompanying this report were taken at Deux
Montagnes, Quebec, on a sunny April 9, 1976.
IN YET ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO SECURE SOME FAVOURABLE PUBLICITY FOR THE
LRC vehicle, CP RAIL announced that the engine and car had
set a new Canadian rail speed record of 129 mph on a test
run between Montreal and Trois-Rivieres. This superceded the 1936
record of 112 mph, established with a 4-4-4 Jubilee-type steam en
gine between Montreal and Smiths Falls on a test run.
A few weeks later, CN bounced back with a dash by TURBO to
a top speed of 139.4 mph on a test run between Brockville and Mon
The last word was had -apparently -by the Canadian Tr
ansport Commission, which said that, for safety reasons, it would be
glad to be informed of any future test runs of high-speed trains.
ON A SUNNY APRIL 29, 1974 AT 14 30 HOURS, JOHN SUTHERLAND CAPTURED
on film CP RAIL freight Train Extra 8703 west at Okotoks, Alberta.
Unit Number 8703 led Numbers 8481, 8781, 4025 and 8700 north towards
Calgary; at that time, this much MLW power on one freight in this
region was unusual.
ISSN 0008 -4875
is published monthly by the
Canadian Railroad Historical Association
p.o. Box 22. Station B, Montreal,Ouebec,Canada/H3B 3J5
Editor; S.S.Worthen Production; P. Murphy
CALGARY & SOUTH-WESTERN
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Visit the Canadian Railway Museum St.Constant;0.uebec, Canada.
100 pieces of equipment on display-