ProtoFile: Agawa Canyon Tour Train F40PH Locomotives

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CN 105 on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

In 2009, CN acquired the equipment that had been in use on the former Ski Train out of Denver, Colorado. This purchase consisted of 3 ex-Amtrak F40PH locomotives and 14 coaches, which ironically were originally built in 1968 for CN where they saw regular service on the Toronto-Sarnia/Windsor corridor.

Initially pushed into service in 2009 still in their old yellow-orange Ski Train colours, the equipment was extensively refurbished in 2011-2012 and repainted into a handsome new interpretation of the Algoma Central’s traditional wine red and grey passenger colours.

The red main body on the locomotives and cars are nicely accented by a yellow and black stripe and a grey lower body and roof. The lettering used for the road numbers (and the small CN logo above the number) is a light grey.

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Broadside view of CN 105 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

Part of the refurbishment of the equipment included TV display screens in the coaches featuring a live cab view transmitted from a camera in the engine. Look closely in the windshield of the 104 in the below photo, or the 105 in the photo at the top of this post and you can see the video camera mounting next to the centre divider between the two front windows.

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Nose view of CN 104 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

When we come to the rear of the units, close observation reveals a couple of minor differences.

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CN 105 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

While on CN 105 (the first unit refurbished and repainted into the new colours in 2011) above, note that the black along the angled part of the roof also carries directly across the end of the locomotive, and the unit’s road number in grey is lettered at the top of the carbody, above the read headlight.

On CN 104 (and 106 exhibits the same pattern – these two units were repainted in 2012) note that the black does not carry over onto the end of the unit, and instead of a large road number at the top of the body, there is a small CN logo and number below on the headlight, on the door.

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Rear detail of CN 104 at Sault Ste. Marie, July 2013.

During the peak fall colour season, all three units are used together on the tour train. When I was in the Sault at the end of September, the Agawa Canyon Tour Train ran north with 105 and 104 on the head end, and 106 bringing up the rear. At Canyon, the 105-104 had run around the train and the tour train returned to Sault Ste Marie with all three units in consecutive order on the head end, 104-105-106.

Having units at each end of the train means that there is always a unit coupled to the coaches to provide electrical power at Canyon. (And also there is no way to turn an engine at Canyon.)

During the slower summer season, the Tour Train runs with one F40PH at each end (and returns south in this configuration with no runaround at Canyon). During this season, the unused third unit is freed up to provide locomotive power to the regular passenger service.

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CN 106 on the southbound passenger train at Hawk Junction. July 2013.

These three units were all originally built for Amtrak in 1977-1978. They were built by GM’s Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and given the model designation F40PHR, with the ‘R’ indicating that these units were built at least in part using in parts from SDP40F locomotives that Amtrak was replacing in the 1970s. Otherwise these are the same as a standard F40PH.

The three locomotives were sold to Ski Train in 2000, where they operated until the spring of 2009 and were acquired for the Algoma Central Railway.

CN # Model Builder Date Serial Lineage
CN 104 F40PHR EMD 10/1977 777001-13 ex-SKTX 242, ex-AMTK 242
CN 105 F40PHR EMD 4/1978 777063-4 ex-SKTX 283, ex-AMTK 283
CN 106 F40PHR EMD 6/1978 777063-10 ex-SKTX 289, ex-AMTK 289

Rapido FP9A Arrived

Today I got a package in the mail from my dealer containing one of the new Rapido FP9A locomotives factory decorated for Algoma Central #1750. Acquired by WC in 1995 for the ACR passenger trains, it’s a little completely out of my era, but I just “had” to collect a couple of Rapido’s models to put together a “modern” (1995-2000) version of the ACR’s regular passenger train. It’ll mostly reside on a display shelf, but be fun to run through every once in a while.

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In the box, with solid protective packaging.

The model comes packed in a protective plastic holder that securely wraps around the engine and holds it tightly, and did a good job of protecting it from any damage in shipping. Every little bit and piece appeared to be completely intact.

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Additional parts bag.

Little parts baggy including extra re-rail frogs, steam line connections and extra couplers and a part for a rear diaphraghm. The AC units didn’t have them (and neither did the majority of the old CN units, and many that did had them removed later), so that piece won’t need to be installed.

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The model, out of the box!

Here’s the model taken out of the box and set on the rails of my in-progress switching layout. You’ll have to excuse the background and the quality of some of these photos; this small layout isn’t very finished and the lighting in this room isn’t the best.

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The real 1750 arriving at Steelton Yard on the head of the southbound Agawa Canyon Tour Train. Blair Smith photo, August 1996.

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Winterization hatch detail, with stack extension.

The model has a lot of gorgeous detail, although a couple of things stuck out. On the large winterization hatch over the radiator fans, there’s a tall exhaust stack extension which doesn’t appear to have been present on the AC units. This may have been applied at some point in the past to the CN units that eventually (by way of VIA) became AC 1750 and 1751, but weren’t there under ACR ownership. Fortunately with a bit of firm but careful pressure, this stack extension can be pulled out. The hatch also doesn’t appear to be quite fully seated all the way down on the close side, but this should be fixable.

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Rear detail, also showing exhaust stack extension removed. The back-up light to the left of the door lights up when the engine is set in reverse.

Since I got the DCC/Sound version, naturally I wanted to get the locomotive fired up on the NCE PowerCab I’m powering the switching layout with. At first – nothing happened. I checked the manual with the model, and the text indicated that the decoders are set by default to address “3”. (3 is the standard default address for a decoder, but I kind of expected the installed decoder to be set to the model’s road number in this case. No big deal, reprogramming a decoder address is a pretty standard task.) Once I was able to select and send a command to the engine, a quick tap of the F8 function key on the throttle (Function 8 is the standard mute/un-mute function for most sound decoders) brought the sound to life. The sound sounded quite agreeably like the EMD 567 engine in the FP9, which it well should – Rapido has a couple of videos on their YouTube channel of their antics in recording the actual sounds off a pair of real FP9s on a tourist railroad in the US. The sound volumes will probably eventually be adjusted down, but aren’t nearly as loud as many other sound decoders are on their factory settings, which usually seem to be set to “max”, when 25-50% level would probably sound much better.

I haven’t quite finished the points on several switches on this layout, so I was only able to run the engine back and forth about a foot or two. It seemed to run reasonably well (although it was a little jerky on speed step 1, but smoother on step 2), and the sound revved up and down nicely, but I think I’ll need to take it out to the club layout sometime to really give it a good breaking in.

The engine has some nice lighting functions as well. Headlight and ditch lights are independently controllable, as are the class lights and numberboard lights (although the numberboards end up being just about as bright as the headlight). The headlight, ditch lights and numberboards appeared to have a slight greenish tint to them, when I’d prefer a more “natural” incandesant-looking warm yellow. Note sure yet if I’ll look at possibly replacing the LEDs used.

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Powered up with headlights, ditch lights and white class lights lit. Numberboards are also able to independently light up, but turned off in this photo.

The class lights lit up nice and bright white; the instructions indicated that the F10 function should switch them between Off, White and Green, but I seemed to only be getting them rotating between Off and White. No green. Not sure if I did something wrong, or if it’s something in the programming setup of the decoder, but it’s not too likely that I’ll ever be running this particular unit on the head of a train with additional sections following.

(Edit: Jason from Rapido pointed out in a comment that the decoder on this model is changed and the white and green lights are separately controlled on F10 and F11. This was actually indicated on a technical reference insert sheet for the decoder, which I hadn’t closely read at the time as I didn’t realize the functions would be mapped differently from the information in the original instruction manual for the FP9s.)

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A full set of Rapido Algoma Central passenger equipment: FP9A locomotive, steam generator car, baggage car and coach.

The silver paint on the locomotive is a good match to the shade used on Rapido’s previous offerings: the steam generator car, baggage car and second run of coaches (the original run of AC coaches came out in an odd tan colour, which was changed for the later run(s)). With one of each, it makes a nice solid train.

The lettering and decoration looks pretty good. The model does not have the reporting marks and numbers on the sides near the rear – these were added a little bit later, not when they were originally painted, so it’s not inaccurate, although the units would have spent more of their lives with the numbers than without. So it might have been nice if the side numbers were included, or if a small decal sheet with the numbers was included so modellers could choose. Since I actually model the 1980s, I’m not running this set as any particular year, but it is something that some might wish to note.

Postscript:

Included in the box was a flyer for Rapido’s upcoming CN/VIA F9B models. The fine print at the bottom is a classic example of the geeky institutional humour brought by Rapido’s founder and owner, Jason Shron:

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Always read the fine print…