Posted on 28-12-2009
Filed Under (Calgary 1970s, CPR, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

I was required to take 10 student trips on various assignments in the Calgary terminal, these trips were made on different shifts as the Calgary terminal was a 24-hour a day, 365 days a year operation. This was to familiarize myself with the requirements of my employment.  I would accompany regular crews on their assignments, but before I would be allowed to go out with them, I had to get the Yard Foreman to sign a release form that freed the CPR from any liability, should I be injured on my student trips.  Some of the Yard Foreman were leery of students getting hurt, and would have me ride around on the yard locomotive, observing what was going on, saying that you will learn plenty when you’re marked up on the scoreboard.  On assignments that went away for the day on industrial territories, the Yard Foreman would usually send you home early and tell you to write your “B” Book

One of the first trips I made was on  the 14:30 Hump, this assignment consisted of a three-man crew with a Locomotive Engineer, a Yard Foreman, and a Helper (or Yardman). the shift started at 14:30,  (or 02:30 PM) as the CPR worked on a 24 hour system, we worked out of the General Yard Office (or GYO) at Alyth.  Alyth is a large yard on the CPR’s system, it is located on the main line between Halifax, Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver, it is also a junction for CPR traffic from Edmonton and Red Deer in the North, and from Lethbridge Fort MacLeod  and the United States in the South not to mention many Prairie branch lines.  The yard has a capacity of holding 3000 cars, with traffic coming and going in four directions it is a very busy terminal.  The freight trains arriving, must be sorted out, to send the cars to their proper destinations.  In 1971, the CPR built a modern computerized Classification yard, this is where the Hump assignments come in to play, when a train comes into the terminal from let’s say the West from Vancouver with 110 cars of assorted freight that has to be classified for forwarding. The Train Yard Coordinator will instruct the incoming train to yard in track P-8 the incoming crew will yard the train, secure it with hand brakes, and take the road power to the diesel shop for servicing.   On its way into the yard the train will pass by an Automatic Car Identifier  scanner (or ACI) these scanners read bar codes that are attached to all railway rolling stock and feed this information into the main computer at the General Yard Office. In the meantime another yard assignment will remove the caboose, and the car department that maintains and repairs rolling stock will examine the incoming train for any defective cars, a Yard clerk called a “Checker” would walk the train making a list of the car numbers to verify the ACI’s scans, as the system was only about 90% accurate at the time, this would save time delays in finding information for routing cars to their proper destinations, another Yardman called a “Bleeder” will manually bleed off the air reservoirs from all the cars on the train.  When the train inspection is finished the TYC will call the Hump Crew and instruct them to bring P-6 to the Hill for classification.

Alyth P and V departure, and receiving yard tracks.  The main track P-1 is located on the right-hand side of the picture, and in this view is occupied by the Canadian Passenger train arriving at Calgary. Yard tracks are always counted from the main track, in this view from the top of the picture which it is the East end of the yard, where trains arrive and depart for medicine hat, Alberta we see tracks P-1,2,3,4,5,6, a roadway then tracks P-8,9,10.  Next we see Victor or V yard tracks V-1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 8. the next track is V-9 it is always left clear for yard and road engines so they can access other parts of the yard, that include the caboose servicing tracks, and the car repair shops. P yard tracks hold from 120  to 100 cars, the V yard tracks hold from 90 to 70 cars.

Train Yard Coordinator’s room on the 6th floor of the General Yard Office, this is the nerve center of Alyth yard. Seated at the right is Train Yard Coordinator Toby Frewin, seated to the left is his Train Yard Clerk, from this vantage point the TYC has a birds eye view of the whole yard.

I am working with Yard Foreman Dennis Bowen, and his helper Cliff Griggs, and Locomotive Engineer Vic Currie we are in the lunch room on the main floor of the General Yard  Office.  The TYC phones us and instructs us to bring P-8 to the Hump, I accompany Cliff and Vic to the Hump shop track located outside of the General Yard Office, here there are two  locomotives, one a 1500 hp General Motors unit numbered 8633, the other a 2000 hp Fairbanks Morse, baby trainmaster numbered 8909.  We are equipped with walkie-talkie, Motorola radios to communicate with the locomotive engineer, we tell Vic to come ahead in a westerly direction down to a track switch that we have lined for the locomotives.  At the switch is a signal displaying red, where he stops the two locomotives, after a couple of minutes, the signal indication turns to yellow, when Vic has cleared the switch points we radio him to stop and restore the switch points to the normal position.

CPR Alyth Hump & Tunnel

We proceed westward through a tunnel that takes us underneath the Hump (The Hump Is an elevated track that is located along the side of the General Yard Office). We emerge on the west side of V yard and P Yard leads, where we have to stop and reline a track switch that leads toward the tunnel and the caboose servicing tracks.  We then proceed westward up the lead to a switch, which we line for P-8, we radio Vic to come back 10 car lengths to a coupling on the west end of P,8, after making a successful coupling to the cars in the mean time another Yard assignment called the 14:30 Pusher a single locomotive has coupled on to the east end of the train and are releasing the hand brakes that hold the train secure in the track, as all the trains automatic air brakes have been released.  When the pusher crew is ready we ask them by radio.  If they’re ready for a stretch in P-8, when they acknowledge Vic opens up the throttle and proceeds westward, when the pusher engine starts moving westward they radio us and we know the train is altogether.

Vic then radios the operator at 12 Street Tower and asks for a lineup from P-8to Hump lead No. 1 The operator then lines the switches, electrically from the tower, and we proceed westward, Cliff and I jump off at the crossover switches for Hump Lead No.1 and visually inspect the train as it pulls by us for any sticking air brakes, hand brakes, or other defects such as shifted loads. The train over 1 mile long passes by us, and the Pusher engine clears the crossover. The crew on the Pusher engine are communicating with Vic giving him car lengths and telling him to come to a stop when we have cleared the crossover switches. The yard foreman on the pusher then changes to the open yard channel and communicates with 12 Street Tower and requests a lineup for Hump Lead No. 1, the operator lines the crossovers to normal and we have a line up for our eastward movement to the Hump, the Pusher foreman switches back to the Hump radio frequency we are working on and tells the 8633 that it is okay to proceed eastward 30 car lengths about 1200 feet. Cliff and I jump onto the  Pusher engine as it goes by. The track adjacent to us on our left side is called  Hump Lead No. 2, the two Hump run parallel to each other from 8th Street East to about 1500 feet from the crest of the Hump where they merge together at a set of switches controlled by the Train Yard Coordinator, at this point there are 2 switch point derails that have to be lined correctly for our movement. As we proceed eastward these switches become visible, and the Pusher forman radios the TYC for a lineup, as previous assignment the 08:00 Hump were using Hump Lead No. 2. The TYC lines to derail crossover to the correct position, that we can see from a distance by the electric color lights of the  switches. The Pusher foreman communicates with the 8633 and says that we are all lined up for the Hump, and good for 50 car lengths to a stop. When we come to a stop about 10 car lengths from the crest of the Hump, the helper on Pusher Crew uncouples the locomotive, and we proceed to the crest of the Hump where Cliff and I get off at the Hump shack a sheet metal building, where Dennis our yard foreman is waiting. The TYC gives the Pusher engine instructions, and a Trim Signal so they can exit the classification yard.

In the Hump shack is a table, a couple of chairs, there is radio equipment and speakers to keep in contact with the other crew member outside, and with the TYC, and the Retarder Operator. There is also a teletype machine that the TYC clerk has sent us a list of the train that we are going to classify. When the Pusher engine has cleared the classification yard, the TYC sets up the Hump for automatic control, he contacts the Car Retarder Operator on the third floor of the General Yard Office and tells him he is ready to start. We hear 2 blasts of an air whistle located on a signal mast, and the Trim signal turns from “T” to “H” for Hump, we call our locomotive engineer Vic and tell him we are ready to start humping, he sets up some switches in the cab of the locomotive, that turns the control of the locomotive over to the control tower. We radio him to proceed eastward when he is ready, he in turn releases the independent air brake on the locomotive consist, and the computer takes control of the train and brings it up to the crest of the hill at a speed set by the computer of 1.5 mph, this sophisticated control systems is like Cruise control on an automobile but on a much larger scale. There is a wooden walkway all along the crest of the hill, and it is my turn to pull pins I walked back to the upward slope and as the first car goes by me I manually uncouple it from the car behind it with a lever that is located for that purpose on each end of every car, I walked alongside the car until it is on the down slope and gravity takes over and the car separates from the train, I intend to reverse my direction and go back to uncouple the next car coming up, while this goes on one of the crew checks the list to make sure the car number corresponds, the next few cars are tank car loads Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) that is a special dangerous commodity, the computer automatically cuts the humping speed to 1 mph as a safety factor.
Alyth Hump indicator mast & car of LPG on scale

Here is a picture of a carload of LPG leaving the Hump, the signal mast displaying “H” for Hump is visible on the right-hand side, the tank car is now rolling over the scale that will weigh the car, further down you can see the Master Retarder that clamps the wheels of the car as it goes through to control its speed entering the classification yard tracks

Alyth Hump grain hopper leaving master retarder

A hopper car loaded with grain leaves the Master Retarder, and enters the bowl of the Classification Yard. The control tower is visible in the background, the Retarder Operator’s room is located in the overhang on the third floor, the Yard’s central computer occupies the rest of this floor.

Alyth Hump bowl of C-yard

A view of the 48 Classification Yard tracks, and 5 of the 6 Group Retarders that control the speed of cars rolling into their tracks. The track switches our pneumatic operated from the computer. So when a car leaves the crest of the Hump the computer takes over and weighs, controls the speed of the car with the Retarders, and lines the car into it’s proper destination track.

We carry on humping, watching the cars as they go by, always vigilant for hand brakes not properly released, and air brake cylinders not totally bled off, as this could cause a car to stall halfway down one of the tracks, and create more work for us later by having to shove the car later. If an extra car
shows up we have to stop the movement by calling Vic on the 8633, he applies the engines air brakes and brings the train to a stop. We then contact the TYC, and it will check the computer for the cars billing, if it is not able to determine its proper routing, the car will be placed into a sluff track, until the information can be found. Occasionally a car will come up that can’t be run over the hill such as cars of explosives, badly damaged cars, or shifted loads, they must be set off to a stub track that is located beside the Hump. Other reasons for stopping can be a defective operating lever, in this case the movement must once again be stopped, and if the car has gone over the crest the movement will have to go westward and the pin puller will have to go to the other side of the train and use the operating lever on the other end of the car when the movement stops to uncouple the car. When the last car of the train leaves the hill we stop the engines by radio, and await instructions from the TYC, he might give us a couple of tracks to show down, or if all goes well send us for our coffee break. The Car Retarder Operator from his control panel will disengage all the retardes, and manually line the switches for the route we have to take, in this case we are going out C-48 that will take us to the shop track for our coffee break, in the meantime another assignment the 16:00 Hump has already left the shop track to bring another train to the Hump. We do three trains on our shift for a total of about 300 cars, the other 16:00 assignment does about the same so about 1800 cars go over the hill in a 24-hour period.

This is a view I took during the winter from the Train Yard Coordinator’s office looking westward at the Hump, you can see the caboose servicing tracks on the left-hand side, the Hump shack, and grain hoppers coming off the hill, in the distance on the right-hand side are the Alyth Diesel Shops.

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