Hong Kong Metro – 40 Years On

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It was once described as the largest building project in Asia, and it carried its first fare paying passengers on 1 October 1979 when the 8.5km section of the Metro between Kwun Tong and Shek Kip Mei was opened to the public.

Mtrc79It is also 40 years ago this month that another order was placed with Metro-Cammell for the growing Hong Kong MRT, just three years after they were awarded a £35 million order for 140 trains in November 1976. GEC traction and Metro-Cammell’s combined success with the first orders, was followed in November 1979 by another £40 million order for a further 135 multiple unit vehicles for the Kowloon-Canton railway.   This came hard on the heels – just five weeks later – of the order for a further 150
 metro cars worth £50 million for the MTR routes.

Original MRT train - from Railpower 39

Almost straight out of the box. An original Metro-Cammell built MRT train for Hong Kong. Though much changed in appearance, passenger facilities and traction control systems, they are still at work today.

By that time, contracts worth over £100 million for electrical, mechanical and civil engineering work had already been placed with UK engineering firms. The initial multi-contract E11 awarded by the MRTC involved GEC Traction and Metro-Cammell, requiring close co-operation between the three organisations for the supply and installation of the electrical and mechanical equipment.

The first contracts on the Modified Initial System were placed almost ten years after a report on the problems of road traffic congestion was published by the Hong Kong Government. This was aimed at resolving the territory’s transport question further.

Hong Kong MTR MapThe mechanical and electrical contracts placed by the Hong Kong Government for the Modified Initial System (MIS), were awarded against an extremely tight schedule. The first train set was scheduled for delivery in 1979 and the whole 15.6 route km system was planned to open early in 1980.  The MIS for Hong Kong was swiftly followed by the Tsuen Wan extension, with the obvious demand for more rolling stock, and by 1982, GEC Traction had supplied more than 400 sets to the MRT Corporation.

Alongside this, the 34km route of the Kowloon to Lo Wu line was being doubled and electrified at 25kV a.c. using a simple, overhead catenary construction, similar to that used by British Rail in the UK.

In the export market, the Hong Kong MRT was considered the first major project success for GEC Transportation Projects, established as a subsidiary of GEC Traction and based in Manchester, to design and manage such turnkey projects. The Mass Transit system was entirely new, with two lines providing links between the Central District of Hong Kong Island and the business and residential areas of Kowloon. The mass transit railway used an overhead contact system, electrified at 1500Vd.c. It was intended at one time that this line would be
 electrified using a shrouded conductor
 rail, but it was decided that safety
 margins would be improved using 1500Vd.c. catenary. At the same time, two extensions to the MRT were planned 10.6km to Tuen Wan, and the 12.5km Island Line, with completion in 1986.

Kowloon to Canton (Lo Wu)

Work began on the modernisation of the 34km Kowloon-Canton Railway, in early 1980, with the design, installation, supply and commissioning of the overhead equipment awarded to Balfour Beatty Power Construction.

KCR Car as new

The original emu’s for the Kowloon-Canton Railway, built by Metro-Cammell, with GEC Traction power equipment. Initial tests were carried out on the Tyne & Wear Metro in the UK, before being shipped out to Hong Kong.                    Photo: RPB/GEC Traction Collection

Metro-Cammell
 had also signed a contract with the Hong Kong
 Government to supply 135 electric
 multiple unit vehicles, to operate 
inner and outer suburban services on the
 Kowloon Canton Railway, which was being
 modernised and electrified. The fleet of rail
cars, worth £40million, were designed to be operated as
 three-car sets with up to four sets running in 
multiple.

The electrical equipment and traction power infrastructure was again being supplied by GEC Traction, from Preston and Stafford, with the MRT and extension lines electrified at 1500V d.c overhead, and the Kowloon to Canton route at the standard 25kV a.c., overhead.

Rolling stock

The trains for both the
 Mass Transit and Kowloon-Canton 
Railways, were built by Metro-Cammell. The original mass transit cars
 had a very high capacity, with seats 
for 48 passengers, and standing room
 for more than 300, in a length of 22m
and overall width of 3m. At the time, the MRT cars were believed to have the highest capacity of any metro car in the world. With such high density, getting passengers on and off required the provision of five pairs of sliding doors on each side of the car.

GEC Traction Hong Kong BrochureThe cars for
 the Modified Initial System, and Tsuen
Wan Extension were arranged in six-car formations, and due to the demanding operating requirements, all axles were motored, to give a nominal acceleration of 1.3m/s 2. Though this was increased in practice, because many of the stations along the route were constructed on ‘humps’. The MRT cars, ultimately in eight-car formations were required to operate at 90 seconds headway between trains, and a two minute intervals with ATO (Automatic Train Operation) in use.

The body shell was common for the three types of car on the KCR, and similar to that for the Hong Kong Mass Transit cars. They differed largely only because the KCR sets had fewer side doors, and narrower gangways between cars than the MRT vehicles. Electrically the KCR propulsion equipment was almost entirely derived from that supplied to British Rail.

GEC Traction supplied the propulsion equipment, which included conventional, camshaft control systems,· although consideration had been given in the early stages to using more advanced, thyristor chopper control. An important advantage of using chopper control is the system’s ability to regenerate during braking, but the hump layout ofmany ofthe mass transit stations rendered its application less useful. By 1982, Metro-Cammell had received orders for 558 vehicles for the mass transit system, with the final contract covering 22 power and 106 trailer cars for the Island Line extension. A total of 18 powered cars were ordered with thyristor control equipment in later years, in orders worth some £l0m.

In the UK, during the 1970s, the Tyneside Metro was constructed, which proved beneficial for both Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction, since te first Hong Kong MRT cars were sent for trials on the Tyneside Metro’s test track, prior to dispatch to the Far East.

MTR-train

Still recognisable as a Metro-Cammell MTR train, despite the modifications to the front end, as the train enters one of the elevated stations on this hugely busy system.                 Photo: ThomasWu726 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6005011

The orders for Metro-Cammell and GEC Traction continued to come in during the 1980s, with additional MTR trains for the Island Line extension, and more three-car trains for the KCR. The last order for what was later classed as M-Class trains, were delivered from Metro-Cammell in Birmingham in 1988/89. However, it was not the last order, as in 1992, and order was placed with GEC Althom (who had by then acquired Metro-Cammell), for another 64 cars, for the MRT.
The MIS trains built by Metro-Cammell were – indeed are – classified as “M-Stock” by the MRT in Hong Kong, and they have undergone various improvements and changes. The initial modifications included altering the front end, to “modernise” its appearance, and the fitting of passenger information systems. All of the original builds were fitted with GTO Chopper control between 1992 and 1995.

This final order included an option for 24 further vehicles, and all 88 were supplied to Hong Kong as a set of parts, which were assembled at the Kowloon Bay Depot. Some of these – by now classed as H-Stock – were refurbished for use on Hong Kong’s Disneyland Line.

The original Kowloon-Canton units were designed for longer journeys, and included slightly different layouts or inner and outer suburban trains, but the general construction is similar to the mass transit trains, with main structural profiles common to both designs. In three-car sets – up to four sets could be coupled in multiple to give a 12-car train), the outer suburban sets have a capacity for 884 passengers and 961 for the inner suburban sets. With full width driving cabs at each end, every three-car set is a self-contained unit.

We see climate as a 21st century issue, but of course in tropical, and sub-tropical climates, there has always been the ever present problem of torrential downpours, from storms – be they hurricanes or typhoons, along with dramatic temperature variations. The climate is such in Hong Kong, that the vehicles, and their passengers were expected to withstand extremes of temperature, from 0 to 40 degrees, up to 100% humidity, and even required to run through flood water in some sections, as a result of the impact of Typhoons.

hong_kong_metro

The original Metro-Cammell built KCR trains were refurbished in the late 1990s by Alstom. This view taken in the Hong Kong Kowloon Bay Depot workshops shows work being carried out.      Photo: Alstom/RPB Collection

These trains are still in service today, but have undergone a number of changes, and the original Hong Kong MTR and Kowloon-Canton Railways have seen considerable changes and modifications since the 1980s.  The original KCR trains were converted by Alstom to 12-car sets, and the original 3 sliding doors were increased by the adition of a further 2 doors per side, and an emergency door in each cab front. The cab fronts were also modified, and entirely new passenger information systems were installed – all of this work was carried out between 1996 and 1999, to extend the life of these trains. Further changes included the fitting of ATO/ATC control systems, and today, 20 years later, they are still in use – now classed as Mid-Life Refurbishment Train (MLR).

A196 葵芳南咽喉

A196 entering Kwai Fong Station – March 2019    Photo: N509FZ – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76984682

So much has changed over the years in Hong Kong, what with the new airport at Chek Lap Kok, and the suspension bridge carrying the metro to the airport, along with further new lines, and a link to the Disney resort. On the railway, several refurbishments of the original M-Trains – which are still running, and the fitting of automatic train Control (ATC), the now almost universal Platform Screen Doors on metros around the world – but the trains from Washwood Heath are still running – for now.

MTR_first_Q-train_in_Qingdao_Sifang_factory_test_track

First of the latest Q-trains that will replace the old Metro-Cammell stock for Hong Kong’s MTR. Here seen at the Qingdao Sifang factory test rack. Photo: Zhongqi Qingdao Sifang Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., Ltd. – http://www.crrcgc.cc/Portals/36/BatchImagesThumb/2018/0129/636528335151471991.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0  https://commons.wikimedia.org /w/index.php?curid=81272688

According to reports announced in 2015, the MTR Corporation is to spend HK$6 billion on its largest- ever order of trains from a mainland manufacturer. 93 eight-car trains will replace all of the Metro-Cammell currently operating on the Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island and Tseung Kwan O lines.

Mainland maker CSR Qingdao Sifang is delivering the trains between 2018 and 2023.

Links:

 

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Electric Traction Revolution?

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60 years ago on the 27th Nov
ember this year, Britain’s pioneer 25Kv a.c. electric locomotive was officially handed over to British Railways. Then numbered E3001, it
was to be the first of a long series of successful 
locomotive designs for the West Coast Main
Line (WCML). Within this series there have
 come to be seven basic designs, and a number of sub-divisions of the classes ALl to AL7. Although the last of these was never actually
 introduced under the old title of AL7, but
 designated Class 87 with the new “TOPS”
 locomotive codes, the family likeness remains
 very strong despite the detail alterations to the appearance of the latest type.

gec092

87005 – the final design of the 1st generation electric traction for British Rail, provided the motive power for the completion of the 400+ miles of route from London to Glasgow in 1974.

The choice of 25kV a.c. electrification to be used on B.R. was the subject of exhaustive investigation and comparative examination with other arrangements. Indeed, as there was no a.c. overhead
 main line contact system in regular operation, B.R. decided in 1951
 to convert the Lancaster-Morecambe-
Heysham section to 50 cycle, 6,600 volt, to
 evaluate the potential. The only alternative to 
an untried a.c. system was the l500v d.c. arrangements favoured by the former LNER for its Manchester-Sheffield-Wath and Liverpool St.-Shenfield lines.

However, by the time of the announcement in 1955 of B.R.’s multi-million pound modernisation and re-equipment programme, a not inconsiderable degree of experience of operation of an a.c. system had been acquired. It was perhaps the potential of the system, using 25,000V from the National Grid, rendering it economically superior to the d.c. system that finally won the day.

The decision was announced on 6th March 1956, that 25Kv a.c. would be the system of electrification used by British Railways on the WCML between London (Euston), Manchester and Liverpool, and additionally on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), between London (King’s Cross) and York and Leeds. The optimism generated through the Modernisation Plan for the electrification of two main routes was relatively short lived however. By 1959, it was seen that this would not be possible within the time limits proposed in the 1956 White Paper, and consequently a re-appraisal of the Modernisation Plan provided for the introduction of diesel
 traction “without prejudice to eventual electrification” on the main line where this was to be deferred. Another factor in this re-evaluation was the enthusiasm with which the private car, road building, and the removal of some restrictions on licensing of road haulage, and goods transport.

Another interesting statistic is the total route mileage electrified in Britain. There is a Wikipedia entry that states: “In 2006, 40%—3,062 miles (4,928 km) of the British rail network was electrified, ….”   But, in a BR publication (“Railway Electrification – A Discussion Paper”), dated May 1978, the route mileage electrified was 2,341 miles, or 21% of the total network.

So, does that mean that between 1978 and 2006, the increase in the electrified network was only 721 miles, and the 2006 total route mileage was just over 7,600 miles, but 38 years earlier the route mileage was 11,100 miles. A reduction in the size of the network of 3,500 miles, and at the same time adding just under 400 miles to the electrified main lines with the East Coast Main Line project – delayed from 1956.

There was of course a Department of Transport / BRB report on the subject of main line electrification in 1981, which offered a number of options to expand the network. From the perspective of the 25kV a.c. schemes, the final report’s “Option II’ – the ECML, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh, and Edinburgh to Carstairs was the option followed.   This was described in the report’s accompanying table as a “modest” expansion of the network. Ironically the recently completed electrification from Preston to Blackpool was included in the “Base Case”, and for completion in 1984 – a mere 35-year delay for that particular line. Slightly less of a delay was incurred by the Western Region (now GWR) main line out of Paddington. That scheme was included in the more advanced “Option III” ‘Medium Case’ for completion by 1996 to Bristol, and by 2002 to Plymouth – ah well, some of it got completed, but all has been hampered by the tragedy of privatisation.

87034 - William Shakespeare at Carlisle

Penultimate days of British Rail operations, with the classic motive power for the West Coast Main Line, here seen at Carlisle in the late 1980s.

 

 

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

Looking back at the 1978 BR discussion paper, the current routes and electrified network was covered then by Options B and C for the Inter City Routes strategy. Had the strategy been implemented back then as Option C – the electrified network would have reached 5,300 miles, some 2,200 more than was achieved by 2006. However, the real issues that delayed the strategy was the lack of will to invest, and the mounting subsidies paid to BR during the later 1970s and 1980s.

So this was Richard Marsh’s plan in 1978:

InterCity Route Miles Strategy


In the nearly 40 years since, some work has been done, but the UK’s once extensive railway industry – both private and BR’s own workshops – has largely disappeared, and any achievements have been wholly dependent on the success of imported technology. One of the most telling observations in the 1978 discussion paper was in the concluding paragraphs, where the BRB stated:

“A railway system needs to be provided which enables our successors to run an economic transport system in the year 2000 and beyond If railway electrification is to be part of that, as now seems probable, a start needs to be made now. If the country has available the capital for regeneration of industry and preparation for the energy conditions of the next century, it would require only a very small proportion of this investment to convert the main public bulk transportation system to electric power.”

In that same booklet, it was pointed out that the UK was well behind in the proportion of its network that was electrified, coming 17th out of 21 countries, from Norway to Belgium and Japan.

Table A1

Today we are still waiting on the possibilities of the HS2 / HS3 developments, and have pressed ahead in the last 10 years or so with the Paddington to South Wales, Midland Main Line, Glasgow to Edinburgh central belt, and a number of smaller connecting lines. These latter have mainly been around big cities; Manchester, Leeds, etc., with additional links to Blackpool, and specialist lines such as that connecting London with Heathrow Airport, or the Crossrail projects.

By 2016/17 that position had changed, and the UK had slipped 3 places to 20th, or second from bottom, and yet the % of the network now electrified had risen to 33%.

Country Network Length Electrified length % Electrified
 Switzerland 5,196 5,196 100%
 Luxembourg 275 275 100%
Sweden 10,874 8,976 83%
 Belgium 3,602 2,960 82%
Italy 16,788 13,106 78%
 Netherlands 3,055 2,314 76%
Japan 27,311 20,534 75%
 Bulgaria 4,030 2,880 71%
 Austria 5,527 3,826 69%
 Norway 3,895 2,622 67%
 Portugal 2,546 1,633 64%
Poland 19,209 11,874 62%
Spain 15,949 9,699 61%
France 29,273 15,687 54%
Germany 38,594 20,500 53%
Russia 85,500 43,700 51%
 Slovakia 3,626 1,587 44%
 Hungary 7,945 2,889 36%
 Czech Republic 9,567 3,237 34%
United Kingdom 16,320 5,357 33%
Romania 10,774 3,292 31%

Source of table: (Wikipedia) List_of_countries_by_rail_transport_network_size

So according to this latest table, another 5,120 miles of route have been electrified in the UK since 1978. By far the longest route to receive its 25kV a.c. overhead contact system was the East Coast Main Line, from London (Kings Cross) to Edinburgh, which was completed in 1991 – so that was another 400 miles. After that, there was a plan to electrify the route from London (St Pancras) to Sheffield – although that’s only reached as far north as Leicestershire, before being controversially abandoned. The completion of the Channel Tunnel was the driver to construct a high-speed link between the tunnel and London (Waterloo), and with minor extensions added a further 100 miles by the time HS1 was opened in 2003.

The Western Region main line, or after privatisation, the GWR main line from London (Paddington) to Bristol and South Wales has only been completed in the last couple of years – but only as far as Bristol Parkway. The piecemeal, stop-start nature of progress on electrification of main lines since the mid 1990s has spectacularly affected interoperability across the whole network. The latest trains on the old Western Region main line to Bristol are hybrids, and have to operate as diesel trains in the non-electrified sections, obviously at lower speeds. The plan to electrify the main line to South Devon, Plymouth and possibly Penzance is not even on the horizon in the 21st Century.

The additional 4,000+ miles that have been electrified since 1978 includes the completion of the Edinburgh to Glasgow corridor, and the link to the West Coast Main Line at Carstairs, together with numerous other ad-hoc changes and extensions. This activity included work to extend the overhead out of London (Liverpool Street) into East Anglia; Cambridge and Kings Lynn.

In 1981, the Government published a final report advocating the case for main line electrification, and in a couple of key points made a recommendation that more, and not less electrification at a faster rate would offer best value for money. These are two of the key paragraphs that make those points:

Para 13 - 1981 DoT ReviewPara 14 - 1981 DoT Review

So how did we do? Well, not so good really.

Currently, in 2019, Crossrail – which links in to the GWR main line west of London – is still not complete, and the plans for a route between Oxford and Cambridge, and a north-south Crossrail2 are still only on the drawing board. The very latest activity on the London (Euston) to Birmingham – HS2 – is looking more likely to be cancelled than progressed, whilst the demand for increased electrification between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and beyond is growing by the day. The so-called Northern Powerhouse Rail is clearly an essential need, to link the economic centres in the North of England, which, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, and Tyneside/Wearside has a population of well over 7 million.

In February 2019, “The Engineer” carried out a poll of its readers to see what form of motive power would be 1st choice to replace the diesel trains – all of which will be gone by 2040. In the poll some 43% of respondents advocated full electrification.

Another 29% were in favour of batteries+hydrogen power, with another 12% advocating pure hydrogen powered trains.

If the recent progress of electrification is anything to go by, I doubt if any of these will progress very far, and we will, as usual be subject to the same uncertain, start-stop process that we have seen for the past 20 years. But, electrification is, and remains the only sustainable option – both in energy cost, and environmental impact.

So, 60 years on from the handover at Sandbach in Cheshire, in November 1959, we have come so far, but there is still a long way to go. The ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ proposals include some aspects of planned 25kV electrification from the 1950s, 1960s, and late 1970s, and the line from Manchester to Leeds is more than 40 years late. There has been very limited activity on rail, and especially electrification work over the past 20 years, and today’s ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ ideas are not a fitting reflection of the work completed in 1959.

Northern Powerhouse Rail Map

The lines shown on this map in light green are for new electrified routes, and the connection from Manchester to Leeds was identified as needing electrification almost 40 years ago – and it is still pending!

Useful Links:

 

Azuma_and_HST_at_Leeds_station_(geograph_6187255)

One of the new generation Azuma high-speed trains alongside one of the remaining IC125 (HST) sets at Leeds Station. By Stephen Craven, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79978602 

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Electro-Diesels & Hybrids

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There has been much talk, and quite a few examples in recent years of what are described as “Bi-mode” trains – in the UK, these are the 800 Class multiple units on the GWR, together with the 10 DRS Class 88 locomotives.  Across Europe these are becoming more common too, and Bombardier’s “Mitrac” is another recent hybrid offering, with power from overhead contact systems, and a diesel engine.

But, these are not a new idea, just the latest incarnation of an idea more than a century old, with the first claim being made in 1889.  This was the “Patton Motor Car”, which was followed in what was known as a “gas-electric hybrid system” applied to a tramcar at Pullman, Illinois.   Also quick on the take up was Belgium, where in the 1890s, a petrol-electric vehicle was taking to the rails, also fitted with a generator and traction motors.  British Westinghouse built a similar example, with a 100hp diesel engine, for the Great Central Railways in the early years of the 20th century.  After the First World War, the hybrid approach took a step further forward in Belgium, with batteries – a collection of accumulators – an equally important step in hybrid developments.

Electro Diesel in Rail Blue liveryIt was not until the 1950s that a class of main line locomotives able to operate on electrified and non-electrified lines.   During the early British Railways era, there was no example of main line ‘hybrid’ or electro-diesel locomotive, although the former private companies had begun experiments in non-steam traction, but with little significant growth.

Many of British Railways’ electro-diesel locomotives for the Southern Region are, amazingly perhaps, are still in regular operation.  It was a unique solution to implement in the early 1960s, to provide go anywhere motive power, for a wide range of mixed traffic and shunting duties.  The BR Modernisation Programme was in full swing, and diesels were replacing steam, but future electrification was on the overhead system, and the Southern’s 3rd rail network had limited potential.

This is a brief look at what BR developed, and its operations over many years:

Electro-diesels cover

 

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From Preston to Montreal

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The first efforts to electrify the railway in and around the harbour at Montreal in Canada came after 1915, and in part were driven by the British Government’s desire to increase its trade within the empire, and expand and develop resources.  They even set up a Royal Commission to look into how that could be achieved just before the start of the First World War.  One of the commissioners appointed was Sir William Lorimer, Chairman of the North British Locomotive Co., and yet it would be one of his company’s newer competitors who won an order for locomotive power for the Montreal Harbour Commissioners’ impressive project.

In 1915, the Harbour Commissioners had had a report prepared on the benefits of electrifying the railways around Montreal Harbour.  The following year, 1916, in the company’s annual report, they made this statement:

“It was ascertained that, in addition to the primary object of overcoming the smoke nuisance, the application of electricity would prove to be economical and flexible and especially advantageous for the elimination of the corrosion of steel and galvanized iron by acid gases.   Although preparations were made to urge forward the completion of this important work, the Commissioners decided that under existing conditions it would be advisable to postpone the expenditure for this undertaking until after the War.”

The “corrosion of steel and galvanised iron by gases” might well have been an early reference to acid rain.

Prior to the electrification of Montreal Harbour’s lines, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) had constructed a new line from the town of Mount Royal, to downtown Montreal, and had also introduced the first main line electrification to Canada.  Mount Royal is a town to the North West of central Montreal, and lies on the north west of the mountain from which it takes its name. In 1910 the CNR first proposed constructing a 5-km-long tunnel under Mount Royal, and developed the town as a “Model City”, originally laid out after the style of Washington, DC.  The line then made a connection with Montreal’s harbour lines, and a new central station was built, with a freight station located near the Lachine Canal and what is now described as Montreal’s old Harbour.  The newly electrified track to downtown Montreal used Bo-Bo electric locos built by General Electric at Schenectady, New York, whilst the Canadian GEC supplied the overhead equipment and power systems.    The point of this first scheme was to handle both suburban and main line trains from the new passenger station in Montreal to the suburban territory beyond Mount Royal, wherethe mainline traffic wastransferred to steam haulage.  

The electrification of the Mount Royal Tunnel section was electrified at 2,400V d.c., completed in September 1918, with the first train running through on 21stOctober that same year.

This period – marked both by enormous growth in freight traffic, and by the collapse of the Canadian Northern Railway (amongst others) – was a very difficult time.  The Federal Government nationalized the railway, and later took on board the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR), alongside others, and by 1923, Canadian National Railways became the major Railway in Canada. 

This photograph originally appeared on the cover of English Electric booklet No. 55 of its ‘Railway Electrification’ series, and published in 1931, shows some indication of the harsh conditions faced by electric traction in Canada.

It is speculation to suggest that this work and the GE built locomotives – which were completed between 1914 and 1918 – encouraged the Montreal Harbour Commissioners to press ahead with their plans to electrify the harbour lines.  It was 7 years later that the Harbour Commissioners were able to complete the electrification of the harbour lines, in 1925, and in order to conform to the standards adopted by CNR for the Mount Royal Tunnel, again, 2400V d.c. was adopted throughout.

However, and perhaps due to British Government influence, the Harbour Commissioners looked to the UK and English Electric for their project.  The Preston based company not only provided the nine, 100 ton locomotives, but also the motor generator sets for the substations that provided the traction power supply.   For the infrastructure work, three 1000kW motor generator sets were supplied to the initial installation, with the last two being manufactured at English Electric’s Stafford Works.  Subsequently, the Harbour Commissioners ordered two more machines from English Electric, each of which consisted of a 2,300kW, 63 cycles, synchronous motor, coupled to a pair of 1200V d.c. generators, connected in series.

The locomotives

No. 103 in original condition, and newly arrived from Preston, prior to embarking on its 70+ years of work in and around Montreal Harbour, and the Mount Royal line.

The new locomotives were a Bo-Bo design of 1720hp, and were supplied against two orders, and at the time, considered to be the most powerful units of their type, anywhere in the world.  The orders were placed in 1923, with the first four locomotives entering service in February 1925, and the second batch of five in operation from August the following year.  The locomotives were built at the Preston Works, and shipped across the Atlantic to Montreal.  In design, the units were a simple box cab layout, with a driving cab at each end, although one of these was provided with projecting lookouts so that the driver could have unobstructed vision during some shunting operations.  The cab with the projecting lookouts had duplicate controls, a further advantage for shunting service, whilst the cab at the opposite end, with only a single set of controls, and no lookouts, would be used predominantly for long haul operations.

Up until the completion of electrification works around the harbour, and arrival of these new locomotives, the Harbour Commissioners had been renting two electric units Canadian National Railways. It was a temporary measure, and to some degree an experiment in the use of electric traction, and the rented locos were from the six boxcab units built at GE’s Schenectady Works.

CNR blueprint diagram of the EE locos for Montreal Harbour. This diagram – also showing the position of the illuminated number board fitted in later years, was originally published in the journal of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society in January 1962.

Power equipment layout consisted of four; 430hp force ventilated traction motors, each being axle hung, and driving the wheels through single reduction spur gearing.   Given the harsh winter conditions in Canada, the traction motors received some interesting design attention.  To avoid condensation in the traction motors in cold weather, after the locomotive had completed its roster, all the field coils were connected in series, and heated through a connection to an external 220V power source.  Not without some irony perhaps, but the UK’s own problems with electric traction some 60 years later surfaced with a newspaper headline about service failures due to the ‘wrong kind of snow’ falling in Britain!  Most European rail networks – especially in Scandinavia – paid far more attention, like Canada, to the effects of freezing weather on traction systems than British Rail.

The locomotives were capable of exerting a tractive effort of 70,000 lbs at the wheel treads, and soon after their introduction, one of their number demonstrated these abilities, by hauling a train of some 5,240 tons, the heaviest then recorded.  Within the body of the locomotive, the remaining equipment was installed in cubicles along either side of a central gangway. This hardware consisted of a motor generator set, air compressors and banks of resistances, with standard English Electric camshaft control.  

With the English Electric version of this form of control, the operating current was not switched at the camshaft itself, but on line breakers, connected in series with the camshaft controller.  Special provision was made for the high-tension equipment, which was housed in a separate compartment, included access through substantial, interlocked, sliding doors, and which could not be opened unless the main switch was closed, isolating the equipment.

In view of the harshness of the Montreal climate in winter, important amongst the numerous design considerations, was the provision of adequate ventilation and heating. Provisions were made to guard against condensation in the traction motor field windings, which could be connected in series to a 220V shore supply, and the driving cabs were double glazed, and heavily insulated against the cold.

Leading Dimensions, Numbering & Withdrawal

For their time and size these were very powerful machines, and the maximum tractive effort they were able to exert was actually a little more than one of English Electric’s most famous diesel locomotive from the 1950s – the 3,300hp “Deltic” prototype.

CN No. 186 with commuter train in Montreal with the running number applied in 1949, and renumbered 6722 after 1969.
Photo © A.J.Schill/Joseph Testagrose Collection

The locomotives were numbered 9180 to 9188 when they were taken into CN service, as Class Z-4-a and renumbered as 180 to 188 in 1949, before a final renumbering in 1969, with numbers 6716 to 6724.  They were finally withdrawn from service in 1995, when carrying this number series.

In the same year, 1923, English Electric also received an order for a pair of 760hp Bo-Bo electric locomotives, for operation on the Niagra-St Catherines-Toronto route, which was electrified at 600V d.c., and used a ‘trolley pole’ form of overhead contact.  The 1920s were perhaps the last decade when electric tramway, inter-urban or other light rail networks used this form of electrification.

The petrol-electric crane/servicing locomotive built and delivered by English Electric in 1929.  Seen here in Preston shortly after completion, and before shipping to Montreal.

The Petrol-Electric Locomotive

Even these were not the only motive power designed and supplied by English Electric for Canada’s early electrification projects. In 1929 the Montreal Harbour Commissioners ordered what was described as a general service locomotive for repair and construction work – this was a 54ton petrol-electric locomotive, fitted with a 100hp 6-cylinder engine.  Attached to this petrol engine was a 52kW, 500 volt main generator and a 120 volt auxiliary generator, powering the traction motors through a 12-notch controller that provided fine control over the loco’s speed, up to a maximum of 12 mph.   Its unique feature – clearly because of its intended use – included a roof mounted jib crane, and a swinging/collapsible gantry, for maintenance and service personnel to reach whatever equipment was in need of attention on the overhead system.

 English Electric received yet another order from Canada – the company’s last, in 1952 – but this time for the Toronto Transit Commission, and perhaps sadly from Preston’s view, the order was only for motorcoach control equipment. That said, the 1952 order consisted of no less than 140 sets of that control equipment, with the mechanical parts and assembly from Canadian Car and Foundry (CC&F), from its factory in Montreal.  Today, CC&F is part of the Bombardier Transportation business, as its railcar facility in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The original nine locos for Montreal Harbour had a very long service life, and were only withdrawn fully in 1995 – more than 70 years after their delivery and initial operation.  In later years the class ceased working around Montreal Harbour after 1940/41.This extract from a discussion on these locomotives appeared in the January 1962 edition of the newsletter of the Canadian Railroad Historical Society:

“The Montreal Harbour electrification, however, did not prove to be too successful. Technically it was fine but the financial burden was too great and at the close of the 1940 navigation season, electric operations were brought to a halt. During the following months, the National Harbours Board wire crews took down the expensive overhead and dismantled the electrification works. The electric locomotives, however, fitted admirably with the CNR’s need for additional motive power for the National System’s expanding Montreal Terminals electrification. The locomotives, therefore, were transferred to the Canadian National Railways in 1942 in exchange for nine steam-powered 0-6-0 switchers numbered 7512 to 7518 inclusive.”

In its final guise for CN, No. 6716 and a sister locomotive head a commuter service near Mount Royal in July 1983.  Although the headlight is still in the original position, the loco now has an illuminated number board just above the central cab window.
Photo © Clayton Langstaff

The electrification work, and the provision of these new boxcab locomotives was an important milestone for English Electric, and whilst the mechanical parts were sub-contracted to Beyer-Peacock in Manchester, this marked a major success for the company. These first orders for substation power equipment and locomotives were received only 4 years after the company came into existence, brining together the years of experience, and expertise already shown by the Dick, Kerr Co., pushing forward with electric traction. 2019 marks the centenary of what was for half a century perhaps the most famous electrical engineering company in the UK, and it was only just over a year ago that the doors on the factory in Preston, Lancashire were closed for the final time.

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