By all accounts, the era of F units hauling revenue freight in Canada should have ended about half-dozen years ago when Goderich-Exeter sidelined its pair of ex-VIA FP9s (RaiLink 1400 and 1401), the last cab units in the country assigned to freight service. Indeed, GEXR did close the book on cabs working freight in Canada — until Ontario Southland opened it back up.
In the summer of 2012, OSR purchased not only RLK 1400 and 1401, but also long-dead sister FP9 No. 6508 from the defunct Waterloo-St. Jacobs tourist train. All three were originally built for Canadian National: the oldest, OSR 6508 rolled out of London in December 1954 as CN 6508; OSR 1400 was built in July 1958 as CN 6539; OSR 1401 emerged from London in March 1957 as CN 6523. The trio was also among 15 VIA FP9s upgraded to Dash 2 specs in the mid-1980s. They’re FP9s on the outside, but essentially GP38-2s on the inside.
First to arrive at the OSR shop in Salford, No. 6508 was a cosmetic basket case. The once-handsome rendition of her original CNR passenger colours, applied in 1997 by post-VIA owner Trains Touristiques du St-Laurent in Quebec, showed the ravages of more than a decade on the deadline at Mimico. But behind the blistered paint and patches of rust was a mechanically sound machine.
Requiring little more than a gasket here, a trio of injectors there, and a lot of hard, dirty work, Craig Jolliffe carefully prepared to awaken the old cab from her 12-year slumber. And on a cold December morning, he did just that. OSR 6508's 16-645C engine (that's a bona-fide 567 block updated with 645 power assemblies) roared to life.
The F unit era on OSR had begun.
Pronounced in good health, but given only a promissory note for that much needed coat of paint, No. 6508 entered regular service with OSR’s eclectic fleet of hand-me-down Geeps and MLWs. The faithful celebrated, and looked to the day that OSR could field a freight with a matched A-A of FP9s.
It took a year and a half, but that day arrived yesterday as engineer Joe Dennis notched out the throttle of FP9 1401 and pulled away from the Salford shop with OSR’s first working A-A lash-up, and the first all-cab consist to work freight in Canada in nearly a decade.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how long, or how often the two As will work together, or how long it might take OSR to muster the time and money for paint. But take in the sight and sound of an A-A of FP9s accelerating a heavy train of Cami-built Chevys out of Ingersoll, or drive alongside the matched pair as they cruise along old Highway 2 east of Beachville and you’ll quickly dismiss cosmetic considerations.
Oh, and if all goes according to plan, OSR intends to get sister 1400 on the road “sooner than later.”
CP’s Woodstock branches were never cab unit country, but they are now.