|LRC-2 and LRC-3 locomotives|
|LRC #6917 at Brockville, Ontario. Photograph by Randy Plunkett.|
|Order number||M6109, M6125|
|Serial number||M6109-01 to M6109-21, M6125-01 to M6125-10|
|Total production||LRC-2: 21,
|AAR wheel arr.||B-B|
|Gauge||4 ft 81⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
|Weight||250,000–256,000 lb (113.4–116.1 t)|
|Prime mover||Alco 16-251F|
|Engine type||Four-stroke diesel|
|Top speed||Service: 95 mph (153 km/h)|
|Power output||3,700 hp (2.76 MW) ñ 2,700 horsepower (2.01 MW) for traction, remainder for locomotive auxiliaries and HEP|
|Train heating||HEP 480 Volts|
|Number||VIA 6900-6920, 6921-6930|
|Disposition||Most scrapped, some for sale|
LRC is a bilingual acronym for Light, Rapid, Comfortable or Lèger, Rapide, et Confortable, the name of a series of lightweight diesel-powered passenger trains that were used on short- to medium-distance inter-city service in the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The LRC family includes both locomotives and passenger carriages designed to work together, though the two can be, and now are, used separately. Although the last LRC locomotive was removed from service on 12 December 2001, the passenger cars are still in widespread use and form the backbone of VIA Rail's services. The same basic car forms the basis of the Acela Express in the U.S., and the British Class 221.
The trains were intended to increase the speed of passenger train service over conventional non-high-speed railway tracks. They do this using active-tilt technology to reduce the forces on the passengers when a train travels at high speeds around a curve in the railway tracks, thereby increasing passenger comfort without the need to build new, straighter tracks as is required for high-speed trains such as France's TGV and Germany's ICE.
LRC was designed to provide 125 mph service on the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor, and many sections of the Corridor are signed for higher speeds when the LRC's tilting system is activated. However, during development the locomotive weights increased to the point that service at this speed would produce too much wear on the rails. LRCs have reached speeds as high as 130 mph (208 km/h) on test runs, but in the Corridor the wear concerns and signaling issues limit this to 100 mph (160 km/h) or less.
As a vehicle turns it generates centrifugal force. Even a small amount of force, acting across the length of the human body, creates a moment that can make moving about difficult. This is not normally an issue in a car because the occupants are seated, nor in an aircraft where the fuselage tilts so the centrifugal force lies in the same line as the floor. It is primarily a problem in high-speed trains, where passengers often move about while the train may be rounding bends in the railway.
One solution to this problem is to bank the railbed so the net force is straight through the floor of the coach. This concept, known as "superelevation" or cant, was being applied to new lines in Japan in the 1960s, and France and other European nations were planning to introduce their own canted lines in the 1970s. However, canting can only be used in limited circumstances where the speed of the train is known in advance. If slower traffic shares the same line there is no single angle that will properly balances out the forces for all trains.
Another solution to this problem had been developed in the 1950s but not widely used, the tilting train. Tilting trains rock outwards to tilt the passenger cars the same way that a superelevated track would tilt it inward, but does so on flat tracks. Tilting systems had been introduced in service by the Spanish Talgo, but this system was "passive" and took some time to respond to curves. A great improvement could be had by making the system "active", reading the forces on the cars and quickly rotating them to the proper angle using hydraulic rams. British Rail ran an extensive experimental program on active tilt systems in the 1960s that was highly influential, and followed these studies in the 1970s with a new tilting train design, the Advanced Passenger Train (APT).
While tilting reduces the problem for the passengers, it does not change the forces on the rails. A train going around a bend at high speed rides up onto the rails, and if the flanges on the inside of the wheels contact the rails they cause considerable wear. Eliminating this effect is difficult, but it can be reduced by lowering the weight of the locomotive, or eliminating the locomotive entirely and distributing the motive power throughout the train. APT took the former route, and originally used gas turbine power. Gas tubines have an excellent power-to-weight ratio, perhaps ten times that of a conventional diesel engine, with the downside that they use considerably more fuel at idle. This was not a concern when the APT was first being designed, but after the 1973 oil crisis they quickly changed to an electrically powered design, even lighter but requiring the lines to be electrified. As a result, only the West Coast Main Line from London to Glasgow Central Station used the APT.
The only route suitable for high-speed service in Canada at the time was the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor, especially the 500 km portion from Toronto to Montréal that carries the bulk of the Corridor passenger numbers. Unlike the East Coast Line, the Corridor was being used both for freight and passenger service, so electrification was not an attractive option for its owners, CN Rail (CN). Nor would it be possible to use superelevation, as the freight services ran at much lower speeds and did not want any cant in the roadbed.
The TurboTrain, or simply "Turbo" as CN preferred, was CN's first attempt to provide higher speeds along the Corridor. Designed in the early 1960s by Sikorsky Aircraft, the TurboTrain used a licensed version of Talgo's passive tilt system and a new turbine-powered locomotive to address the problems of high-speed travel on the existing lines. The CN trainsets were built in Canada by a consortium of Dofasco for the bogies and suspension system, Alcan for the car bodies, and Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) for the engines and power systems. All three companies gained valuable experience with modern passenger train design as a result of the project.
CN was attempting to bring the new trains into service for Expo 67, and rushed the testing period to meet this goal. Initial service was plagued with problems, and they were quickly withdrawn from service for refitting. The Turbos were just being re-introduced in 1969 when CN and CP Rail formally requested that they be allowed to drop all passenger service. In the few years since the Turbo project started, cars became much more widespread and the highways along the same route had greatly improved. Passenger numbers on rail were plummeting, quickly rendering it unprofitable. The government considered rail access to be an essential service, and refused to allow CN, then still a Crown Corporation, to drop the service. Instead they arranged the National Transportation Act that agreed to pay 80% of any losses. This meant the railways were still losing money, just less of it, so they made little to no investment in rolling stock into the 1970s.
The Turbo project went ahead, resulting in a split within CN between the executives who believed the Turbo would reinvigorate passenger services, and those who continued to push for it to be dropped entirely. In service the Turbo had practical problems as well; although it was fast, routinely hitting 100 mph, its articulated design meant it was very difficult to change train lengths. This made it somewhat impractical as it was not possible to change the number of coaches based on demand. Additionally, if there was a problem with one of the cars, the entire train had to be taken out of service. The trains also suffered from a wide array of reliability problems when they were first introduced. Throughout, it was the subject of differences of opinions on the part of CN's management.
A competitor to the Turbo had been brewing for some time at this point. As early as 1966 an engineer in Alcan had been formulating ideas for a new lightweight train and introduced the design to CN. In January 1967, the two companies approached Dofasco and MLW about the possibility of a new joint venture to develop the design. In December, the group presented their design to Transport Canada, and in January another was made to the Department of International Trade and Commerce to gain funding. The Canadian government's Transportation Development Center (TDC) outside of Montréal agreed to provide development funding for the technology under the Program for the Advancement of Industrial Technology (PAIT). The effort found strong support within the government. The Canadian Transport Commission studied the problem of offering Corridor service and concluded that "the most profitable strategy to adopt involves maximizing the potential of existing railway facilities through the introduction of new vehicle technology."
The first consideration was whether or not a suitable tilting mechanism could be built into the bogies that would not require extra space or project into the car. Dofasco, a major steel manufacturer in Hamilton, won the majority of the bogie development contracts. They developed a system that consisted of two parts, a relatively standard bogie and suspension on the bottom, and a separate tilting mechanism on top. The coach rode on rollers on top of two U-shaped arms at the front and back of the bogie, with hydraulic rams moved the car from side to side along these arms. This made the bottom of the coach slide sideways while it rotated, so that the axis of motion was in the middle of the car body, instead of the top (like the Turbo) or bottom (like most tilt systems). This reduced the feeling of motion on the passengers by keeping the rotation close to their center of gravity. Each bogie was equipped with its own accelerometer and operated as a completely self-contained unit. The tilt mechanism was developed by SPAR Aerospace and Sperry Rand Canada.
With Dofasco's successful demonstration of a tilting system, additional contracts were offered to build a prototype train. The name LRC was carefully selected to bilingually define the project's goals; a lightweight train, operating at high speeds, and more comfortably than existing sets. Alcan of Montréal won the contract for the aluminum passenger cars and the carbody of the locomotive, while MLW developed the new diesel-electric system. The monocoque aluminum coaches were particularly noteworthy; they weighted 105,000 lbs empty, about one-third less than CN's existing fleet, and were somewhat lighter than the 115,000 lbs Amfleet coaches being introduced at the same time in the U.S. In spite of being built to much more stringent North American crash standards, the new cars were competitive with similar designs from Europe.
The companies had predicted that development of the prototype would cost $2.48 million, and the government provided half of that under the PAIT agreements. The project overran the budget by $77,000, which the companies supplied out-of-pocket. The prototype coach was completed in 1971 and started testing with conventional locomotives. By the summer of 1972, it had seen 5,000 miles of service, and a few relatively minor problems cropped up. Issues with the tilting mechanism were studied by a group at SPAR and McMaster University, and several fixes incorporated into the design. By that point the prototype locomotive was 85% complete.
CN executives started expressing concerns about the cost of the equipment, while their engineers stated a preference for electrically powered tilting in place of the hydraulic system. Dofasco stated that such a change would be impractical, further upsetting CN. In response they started requesting a series of additional tests, delaying their decision to order the design. This was also likely a response to the problems encountered on the Turbo, which had been rushed into service for Expo '67 before rigorous testing had worked out its problems.
With the PAIT funds exhausted in 1972 and the launch customer delaying its orders, the project went into a lengthy hiatus period where little progress was made. In order to continue testing without an order from CN, the consortium was forced to turn to the TDC for additional funds. It was not until July 1973 that an additional $460,000 was released to finish the locomotive and start testing. A four-phase program was envisioned to bring the LRC to production. The first two phases would have the coach running on normal mainline service through April 1973 as part of Phase 1, and runs at higher speeds in Phase 2 through to July 1974.
Testing was further delayed due to a railway strike in Canada, which led the consortium to explore moving the high-speed tests to the U.S.'s facility in Pueblo, Colorado. Although a deal was arranged in January 1974, testing continued in Canada. Later that year the consortium learned that the U.S. was considering foreign designs for service with Amtrak, so the contract was revived and the LRC prototype was sent for a six-week period starting in November 1974. During the testing the train covered 35,000 km at speeds of up to 200 km/h. The testing was considered a great success by everyone involved, although the U.S. eventually purchased locally made versions of the Turboliner.
With Phase 1 and 2 complete, additional funding was provided in 1975 to complete the last two phases. Phase 3 started with the LRC entering service on the Toronto-Sarnia portion of the Corridor, replacing the existing Tempo trains, running at the Tempo's lower speeds. The locomotive ran for another 100,000 km in these tests, and the coach 80,000 km. Simultaneously the last phase, Phase 4, had to demonstrate high speeds on Canadian rails, not test sites. On 12 March 1976 on a stretch of CN line outside Farnham, Quebec, the prototype reached 208 km/h (129 mph), a Canadian record to this day. With those tests successfully completed, the LRC had passed the entire four-phase testing program and was cleared for Canadian service. The total cost for testing, including the funds released in 1973 and 1975, reached $1.1 million.
Bombardier purchased MLW in 1975, in part to gain access to the LRC. At the time, there were high hopes for the system both in Canada and the U.S. As development continued, problems quickly became apparent. Although development of the cars went largely as planned, the locomotive suffered continued weight overruns. The prototype locomotive weighted 236,000 lbs, about 14,000 less than a conventional low-speed loco. However, while development turned into production the weight grew to 245,000 lbs, eliminating any difference. By 1980, the National Research Council published a report noting that the weight had grown so much that service above 100 mph would cause unacceptable wear on the Corridor, thereby limiting the new LRC to the same speeds of the Turbo it was meant to replace. Alcan and TDC were also highly critical of Bombardier's management of the MLW portion of the program, suggesting that their mid-level management lacked the know-how to conclude the project rapidly.
While work progressed on the LRC, the Canadian government was in the initial stages of fulfilling an election promise made by Pierre Trudeau in 1974 to implement a nation-wide carrier similar to Amtrak in the U.S. Any plans to purchase the LRC were put on hold while newly forming VIA Rail was setting up. CN, who had been wanting to rid itself of passenger service since the late 1960s, started passing off its existing passenger rolling stock VIA starting in 1976. CN hadn't upgraded any of their trains since the 1960s, and VIA management was extremely interested in newer equipment.
In January 1977, Amtrak signed a $10 million lease agreement for two locomotives with five coaches each, with an option to buy the trains at any time, or return them after the two years were up. Amtrak was in the process of investigating high-speed service on their own Corridor, the Northeast Corridor, especially between New York City and Boston. This portion of the line contained numerous curves, and they were investigating active tilt for at least this portion of the route. The "LRC 1" batch for Amtrak was completed in the fall of 1980. They ran in revenue service as Amtrak #38 and #39, where they were known as Beacon Hill (New Haven-Boston) and Shoreliner (New York-Boston).
The Government of Canada had agreed in principle to buy several trains as early as 1975, but had to wait until VIA was fully formed. In 1978 they formalized their first order for 10 LRC locomotives and 50 coaches. The total price for the project to this point was $90 million, less than the APT project in the U.K., and less (inflation adjusted) than the successful Metroliner project in the U.S. This order was then expanded for another 10 locomotives. This batch of 20 became the "LRC 2" (loco serials 6900 to 6920). In 1981 they placed another order for 9 locomotives (6921 to 6930) and another 50 coaches, the "LRC 3" batch.
The first Canadian production set was delivered to Montréal's Windsor Station on 1 June 1981. Initially, the LRCs were plagued with problems. One common problem was that the cars would "lock" in the tilted position even after the track had straightened out from a curve.
At the time, Bombardier was estimating total sales of another 80 LRC sets, for up to $500 million. Their calculations showed that the LRC would have a cost per passenger of $23.26 over a 335 mile trip, only slightly higher than conventional trains. Although the LRC used much less fuel per passenger than conventional sets, even less than a bus, no further sales were forthcoming.
Amtrak's declined to take over the trains and they were returned to Bombardier in 1982. In spite of Amtrak not taking up the LRC design, there was some consideration, even at that early date, of an electric version of the same basic design. There were significant differences between these machines and the later Canadian sets, so they could not be easily mixed. VIA used the Amtrak coaches for their International service to Chicago, retaining their original Amtrak paint job. The locos returned to MLW before being scrapped in 1990, the ten coaches are currently parked at VIA's headquarters in Montréal.
VIA Rail put the trains into service, persisting through their initial teething pains and coming to depend on the LRC for the majority of VIAís intercity service in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. The original LRC locomotives were gradually retired after ten to fifteen years of service, although #6905 was used during test runs of the Nightstar "Renaissance" carriages between Glen Robertson and Ottawa in 2000. The last run of an LRC locomotive was in 2001.
Most of the carriages remained in service after the withdrawal of the LRC locomotives, though pulled by newer locomotives, usually P42DCs and often with the tilting mechanism disabled. From 2003 onwards, VIA installed wireless internet on all Corridor trains, with distinctive white domes for the satellite downlink being installed on top of the first class carriages. A new capital programme announced by the Canadian government in October 2007 includes funding for the refurbishment of VIA's remaining LRC carriages.
Bombardier have since used updated versions of the LRC carriages and their tilt systems in the Acela Express electric high-speed trains they developed for Amtrak in the late 1990s, the Super Voyager in the United Kingdom, and in the experimental JetTrain recently proposed for several corridors in Canada and the United States.