Jul 162013
CNR GP-9 locomotive

For a time, in 1989 and 1990, I lived in Vancouver. Actually I did not live but rather I worked and did little else, sometimes seven days a week for months on end. It was a horrendous pace, a classic case of working harder NOT smarter. Occasionally, as I neared exhaustion, I’d take a day off, but being my can’t-sit-still self, I’d head off on an adventure. Like what we see here, where I wander around the North Vancouver waterfront, snapping photos of trains and trucks.

While a gritty industrial area like this may not seem like a good destination to relax on my day off, I am drawn to these environments. Urban exploration is to me as much fun as hiking in the wilderness. The raw and busy nature of these subjects is fascinating to me.

Starting my adventure below the towering Lions Gate bridge, my first stop is to photograph the action at Vancouver Wharves. This company has a large tract of land just to the east of the bridge where they trans-load bulk materials, both liquid and solid, from train to ship. A huge operation with space for hundred and hundreds of freight cars, they have their own switching locomotives to serves the sprawling facility. These engines are used spot the cars under various unloading stations.

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Seen working hard are units 21 and 26. Both of these are Alco (American Locomotive Co) model S-6 yard engines. Built in the mid 1950s, they originally worked for the Southern Pacific Railway in the US before coming north in the early 1980s. This model was/is a rarity in Canada, and in fact none were sold new here – similar looking units of a different model however were made in Canada by Alco affiliate Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW). Back to the S-6, a few manged to find work on the North Vancouver waterfront, the ones we see here, and others not far away working for another bulk transfer company.

These two engines were retired and sold off in the mid 1990s and presumably were scrapped. They were replaced by other newer (used) locomotives.

Next we find a BC Rail MLW RS-18 610 and its attendant slug, switching an industry. This engine was built in 1962, completely rebuilt in 1992 and retried by new owner CNR (who bough out BC Rail in 2003) in the late 2000s. Keeping the locomotive company is “slug” S407. This was a former engine itself (MLW RS-3) cut down in the 1980s and its engine removed. It draws surplus power from its “mother unit”, essentially becoming a second locomotive. A powerful duo, they switch the heaviest trains. This unit was also retired in the late 2000s.

Next up I visit the Pioneer terminal. It’s here where train loads of prairie grain are emptied and the contents transferred to waiting ships. A colossal building, handling huge number of rail cars, oddly it’s switched by two tiny locomotives. These engines, of which we see one, were made by Plymouth and are model MDT. It was fun to watch them move long strings of cars – they were the little engines that could. This unit and its sister was built in the late 1970s and retired at an undetermined date. Today the elevator, now known as James Richardson International, is switched by a different much larger locomotive.

Right next door to the Pioneer elevator is the equally massive Saskatchewan Wheat Pool terminal (later sold to Cargill). Like its neighbour they empty long trains of grain cars for loading into ships. On my visit a CNR General Motors Diesel Division (GMD or GMDD, London Ontario) model GP-9 mother unit and slug were switching the facility. Like the BC Rail duo seen earlier, this pair is a mother unit along with a second old locomotive cut down (another GP-9), which draws power from the first. This engine, number 7222, was built in the mid 1950s and rebuilt in the late 1980s. This unit was listed as wrecked in 2007 and retired. The slug is unidentified but is probably #256 I am told.

Nor far away is a CNR transfer caboose, #76656 and this a special service car used in switching manoeuvres. For example, a crew member will man it, keeping in contact with the head end crew, when the train backs up. According to any data I can find, this caboose (and her many sisters) is still on the roster. On mainline trains these cars are not needed, but in congested yards and terminals, they still serve a purpose.

Just down the waterfront from the Saskatchewan Pool elevator is the massive Neptune Bulk Terminals. Like Vancouver Wharves, they also deal in the trans-loading of bulk materials, coal mostly. Long trains of the black material are offloaded at the site and the contents transferred to waiting ships. One locomotive is seen sitting between jobs, another Alco S-6 number 80, one of two of this model working at the site (along with an Alco T-6). This one too came from the US in the early 1980s but I have been unable to find when it was retried however. Today, newer engines switch the facility.

A little further east now, and in shadow of the huge Second Narrows bridge, I come to the Lynnterm docks. No trains are seen this time but I do spot some mining trucks, disassembled what for what I assume is transfer to a ship. They appear to be older models, retired, and perhaps sold to an offshore mine.

These “Lectra Haul” trucks were made in the US by the Unit Rig Company and would typically work in large open pit mines, transporting material from the working face to the mill or processing plant. These appear to be fairly modest sized units, by open pit mine standards that is, where the trucks can carry many hundreds of tons of material or more – these ones seem to be sub-100 ton models.

Instead of a mechanical transmission like in your car, these use a combination of engine and generator driving electrical motors in the wheels. Much like a locomotive.

Not far way I find an ancient dump truck at an industry. It looks like they use it to move material around their yard. I have as of yet, been unable to reliably identify it (a WW2 era Autocar?) and welcome feedback from our readers. One thing is for certain, with its single cycloptic window and brawny no-frills design, it’s something pretty unique.

So ends my pictures – but not my day and I spent more of it simply wandering around. However my budget for film was severely limited, so only what you see here got photographed. There was much more I could have shot, had I been able.

I would love to return to revisit these places and perhaps some day I will. I am crazy about heavy industry and train yards – that’s odd I know. I think however today I’d have trouble doing what I did and with the rampant paranoia so common now, shooting these places, even from public streets, might be a challenge. I’d almost expect to be confronted by police since after all, you’d have to be up to something nefarious if you are photographing large industrial sites – NO ONE would do that for fun…but I do.

These images were scanned from 35mm slides.

On another trip I photographed BC Rail RS-18 609 (rebuilt) and its slug, and to see that report, click the link below…
BC Rail CRS-20 609.

To see some other train themed reports on this blog, follow these links…
Hanna roundhouse and turntable.
Princeton BC train station and rail yard.
Reading a section of rail.

If you wish more information on these locomotives and trucks, by all means contact us!

Date: 1989.
Location: North Vancouver, BC.

Vancouver Wharves S6

Vancouver Wharves Alco S6 21 and 29 under the Lions Gate bridge.

BC Rail RS18

BC Rail’s Montreal Locomotive Works RS-18 610 and attendant slug.

Plythouth MDT locomotive

Pioneer Grain’s tiny Plymouth locomotive switches cars at the elevator.

CNR transfer caboose

A transfer caboose, used for switching moves.

CNR GP-9 locomotive

CNR GP9 7222 and mate switch grain cars.

Neptune Terminals Alco S6

Another Alco S6, this one working for Neptune Bulk Terminals.

Letra Haul trucks

Some “Lectra Hual” mine trucks in pieces at the Lynnterm docks. Second Narrows bridge in back.

Old dump truck

An ancient dump truck.


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10 Comments on "North Vancouver waterfront trains 1989"

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John BC
John BC

The two small locomotives at the Pioneer terminal are still there, at least they were a few months ago. They are parked out back inside the engine shed. They have not been used for a few years at least.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the bridge in the background of the Lynnterm docks photo is the Second Narrows Bridge, not the Port Mann Bridge.

Train Geek
Train Geek

I dropped by Neptune Terminals last week and have some pictures to share if you like. The loco you photographed is of course long gone.

Byron Robb
Byron Robb

(via Facebook)
I also enjoy urban hiking. More than nature hiking, in fact. A very enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing it.

Eric Gagnon
Eric Gagnon

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No money and I didn’t shoot much either in the 80s. Film was nearly rationed out. Great shots for this Vancouver HO modeller, though.