Monday, December 9, 2013

Moving forward!

Some would think that switching eras, particularly moving from the 50s to the 70s, would mean a loss in charm and historic background. But when you think about it, you find out this era was thriving and full of details that make model railroading so exciting and fun...

The 1960s and 1970s were tough years for railroading in Quebec City area. At that time, important cuts affected passenger services prior to VIA Rail, including the closure of St. Raymond and Murray Bay Subs and discontinuation of service on Quebec Central. But the most drastic change was closure of historic CPR Palace Station in the wake of an ill-conceived urban renewal projects featuring highway junctions sprawling over the former transportation hub. Tracks in downtown were removed up to Cardona junction, now a simple track leading to Wolfe’s  Cove tunnel. Lack of interest about sustainable transportation, in particular railways, was underscored by the new location of Quebec City passenger terminal in a decaying WW2 industrial neighbourhood located in the middle of nowhere and not linked to bus routes. That new station’s life would be as short as can be and was quickly closed by VIA Rail. That epoch also saw the destruction of most railway structures still standing in the area, including virtually all train stations and service facilities. One could have though was definitely done over railways.

At the same time, CPR was trying to diversify its activities by implementing an important container business at Wolfe’s Cove. It didn’t last long but still was a thriving source of traffic for the time. At the same time, CPR was also fancying the idea to ferry cars to Quebec North Shore. A new pier was under construction when the deal fell through. The new ferry would be located in Matane and operated by arch-rival CNR.
Meanwhile, CNR operation in the area were still the same as the 50s, even if the downtown core businesses were closing down one after another.  Most subdivisions were intact and profitable at some extent, including textile, cement and paper industries. At this time, a decade before Ultramar built a refinery at St. Romuald, Wolfe’s Cove was covered by dozen of oil tanks were another source of recurrent rail traffic.
This era was also best characterized by many attempts by CNR and CPR to modernize their corporate image with mixed results. The colourful new schemes, side by side with older designs weathered by times, created a mosaic bringing together two worlds. It wasn’t unusual to take a glimpse at a glamorous but faded yellow and green CNR locomotive lashed up with a dramatic and contrasting orange and black engine sporting the undying “wet noodle” cleverly designed by Fleming. Later, CPR would make its own bold statement by unveiling the CP Rail era with its mind boggling Multimark logo. Ill-fated and despised by hard core followers, one must still admit it was the most coherent answer to CNR made by CPR executives since the 50s.

At the same time, car designs evolved quickly in size, specialization and shape. Iconic Canadian rolling stock like slabside hoppers, cylindrical hoppers, modern all-steel caboose were shaping a truly indigenous railway landscape. It was also the last days of large scale competition on diesel locomotive market with manufacturers such as MLW and CLC still in business. In that respect, another Canadian feature, now a staple of North American railways was introduced: the safety cab, known as the wide nose cab. Appearing on iconic locomotives such as M420 and GP40, it spread like a wildfire across the continent. Meanwhile, larger 3-axle designs were hitting the rail, including Alco Century series.
No wonder the 60s and 70s were a pivotal era of railroading, as much as the golden 50s. It was a time of modernization, rationalization and reorganization that would bring our actual understanding of a freight-oriented train world.

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