Apr 032013
BC Rail CRS-20

In 1990 I was living on the west coast and on days off (few and far between) you might find me poking around rail lines and industrial areas looking for adventure. On this day I headed to North Vancouver to check out the action at the BC Rail yards. You could always count on something interesting there and this day was no exception.

And my first discovery, sitting on an industrial lead near the yard throat, is BC Rail 609 looking shiny and new. It was built as a model RS-18 (as Pacific Great Eastern, as the railway was called then, #595) by the Montreal Locomotive Works, or MLW, in the summer of 1962. The once tired engine has recently emerged from the company’s Squamish shops, having been converted into what they call a CRS-20 (sometimes refereed to as a CRS-20Cat, RS-18c or RS-18m). The main changes entailed replacing the old and likely well worn 1800hp ALCO model 12-251 engine with new 2000hp example from Caterpillar.

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In addition, modifications were made to the electrical and cooling systems and many mechanical bits. Those parts retained were then completely rebuilt and in the end they had essentially a new locomotive, but for less money than a new one. After conversion this engine, and any like it done after, was assigned to yard service.

In spite of all the changes, it still looks very much like the engine prior to the rebuild. The main visual difference was the larger radiator assembly in the back.

BC Rail 609 was actually the prototype for a planned series of conversions. If everything went well, the railway’s extensive fleet of RS-18 models, built from 1957 to 1966, would be converted. And from all indications it was a success and in years following there were many more of these conversions done. A couple per year, give or take, with the last emerging in the late 1990s.

At the time of my visit the locomotive was fresh out of the shops and was likely being monitored closely. This example differs from subsequent conversions, the most obvious being the radiator section which was changed on “production” models.

This locomotive, tethered to its attendant slug (more on this in a moment), could be seen working up and down the government owned BC Rail system, which ran from North Vancouver, up to Prince George and to points beyond. This author has seen pictures showing it working at nearly every yard on the system – North Van, Williams Lake, Prince George, Quesnel, etc.

BC Rail was purchased by Canadian National Railways in 2004 and since the CNR does not like old, non-standard or orphan locomotives, 609 and its brethren were slowly rounded up for scrapping with our unit ending up the company’s Woodcrest Shops in Homewood IL. It was seen in route in the summer of 2006, it languished in the deadline throughout that same year, before finally disappearing not long after.

Seen with 609 is its “slug”, S-402. In simple terms this is a complete locomotive minus an engine which draws power from the “mother unit” (609), adding greatly to the tractive effort. At slow speeds, a locomotive produces more energy than can use itself, and by adding a slug, you get close to the power of two units, but without the complexity or cost. This arrangement could only be used for yard service or very slow speed applications. At higher speeds the mother unit needs all the energy it produces and so can not share with the slug.

This unit was cut down from another locomotive, this one being 571, a MLW model RS-3 built in 1953. It was one of ten such slugs on the BC Rail system. This modification was done by the Squamish shops in 1983 and with the sale of the railway to CNR it became yet another orphan and was quickly dispatched. It was listed gone by 2007, although it was likely out of service some time prior to that.

In reading reports online, it seems that crews did not like these so called franken-engines. I guess they did not load quickly and their electrical system was not as robust. The bean counters thought they were good enough though!

BC Rail dates from 1912 and was built to tap the vast timber and mineral riches of the province. Its mainline heads north to Prince George with number of branch lines continuing from there. It was noteworthy amongst train geeks since it rostered a very large fleet of MLW locomotives well into the 1980s and beyond. Locomotives from that maker were rare out west, on any railway.

In the past the line was known as The British Columbia Railway and earlier the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE), so named for its association with the Great Eastern Railway in Britain. They had a large shop complex just north of North Vancouver, in the town of Squamish which was capable of rebuilding or repairing anything the railway owned. It was closed not long after CN took over.

I know I had shot more pictures in and around the yard here, however so far this these are the only images from this trip I’ve found. If more turn up I will post them here. I do recall the yard being busy with lots of trains coming and going.

These pictures were scanned from 35mm prints.

To see some other locomotives we’ve seen in our travels, follow these links…
Canadian Pacific Railway Alco S2 7109.
CPR Selkirk Locomotive 5931.
Fairbanks Morse H-16-66 Locomotive.

If you wish more information on this locomotive, by all means contact us!

Date: Summer 1990.
Location: North Vancouver, BC.

BC Rail CRS-20

Fresh out of the shops, we see BC Rail CRS-20 609 and its attendant slug.

BC Rail locomotive 609

A close up of the shiny engine, a converted Montreal Locomotive Works RS-18.


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I have a picture of 609 at the deadlines in Homewood taken in late 2006. When I revisited it in March 2007 it was gone and presumabled scrapped.