This day in 1989 found me wandering along the riverfront in New Westminster BC. At that time the area was still mostly industrial, with gritty old dockyards and such. Even by that time however, gentrification of the area had already started and some former factory lots were being converted to condo sites.
This section of land was, and still is, home to a busy rail line and there are numerous level crossings, busy ones at that, to make the railway’s life difficult. Time and time again, one can see people making dangerous choices and it’s not uncommon to see a car try to beat a train. There are many close calls and to so highlight these dangers, the CPR was invited to crash into a stationary (and unoccupied) van, allowing people to see how much damage even a slow moving train can inflict on a vehicle.
This was not a real crash, it was staged and no one one hurt. Local media was on the scene, recording the event for newspapers and TV news.
I unfortunately did not arrive on the scene quick enough and while I witnessed the impact, I was still struggling to get my camera out and missed shooting that part. Regardless, the mangled mess that was once a van demonstrates how bad a situation like this can be. It was wrapped around the front of the locomotive, bent in a great U shape and crushed as though it were a pop can. And this train was moving slow – imagine if it had been going faster?
From the point of impact it took at least a hundred metres for the train to completely stop. After the crash the local fire department and rescue team demonstrated mock victim extraction techniques and hazardous materials clean up.
From what I could see the locomotive suffered a bent coupler release lever and some scratches and small dings. In other words, nearly no damage. The van was a total write off as you can see.
It’s not clear how effective this demonstration was – in my opinion it did nothing. On other trips to the area, one would see the same stupid people making the same stupid decisions, driving around the gates with a train fast approaching. The whole time the poor crew is blasting on the horn and hoping like hell the idiot passing in front of them makes it in time. This is a scene that would repeat time and again.
Of interest to train geeks are the locomotives. The front engine, 8665, is a General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD London Ontario) model GP-9. Built in 1957, it was a general purpose machine (hence the GP in GP-9) and it it served the company well for many years. It would be equally at home on heavy mainline freights, often in large lash ups, or singly on short branch line trains.
By the 1980s this locomotive and her sisters would be found mostly roaming yards and industrial spurs, having been usurped from their previous positions by newer and more powerful engines. Our locomotive seemed to spend most of the 1980s near the coast and many pictures can be found showing it here, although it it did made forays out east too at times, as demonstrated by some pictures we’ve found online.
In 1990, so shortly after these pictures were shot, the unit was completely rebuilt in house, emerging later that year as a model GP-9u (“U” for upgraded). In addition to an rebuilt engine, everything was reworked and the front nose chopped. While many original parts were reused, in essence the CPR had an entirely new locomotive when they were done. Back at work, it returned to a job it knew well, being assigned to yard service, with an occasional short road trip thrown in for good measure. At that time it was renumbered 8239 and seemed to be assigned to the Southern Ontario area. This engine was retried in mid 2012.
The second locomotive, CPR 8669, is also a GMDD GP-9 and was built at the same time as her sister. It too was rebuilt in 1990 as a GP-9u and given the number 8238 (one number different from 8239 above). This locomotive is still hard at work, at least as of January 2013, the most recent sighting I have heard of. It too seems to spend most of its time in Southern Ontario, and has even been spotted in London, very near it’s birth place (the former GMDD locomotive factory was closed in 2012). How much time does this one have? Probably not much – it is well over fifty years old after all.
The GP-9 was a popular model with Canadian Railways with the CPR owning two hundred of them. In spite of recent retirements, many still toil away and some are destined to live on further, at least to some degree and some parts from retried units will be used to build new SD-20C-ECO locomotives. Talk about getting good use out of your equipment.
Not all the track seen here belongs to the CPR and some are actually property of BC Hydro, a former trolley/interurban line. This railway is now called the Southern Railway of BC. The area around these tracks is now almost totally residential now (some might say yuppified).
After all this if there is anything to be learned from this report…remember, anytime is train time and if you choose to fight a train you will lose! Great advice.
These pics were scanned from 35mm slides taken on my trusty Yashica FR2. The toughest camera ever – dropped, submerged it just kept on going.
If you wish more information on this crash, by all means contact us!
Location: New Westminster, BC.