News & Reviews News Wire VIA: Need for ‘in-depth’ inspections led to buffer-car decision (updated)

VIA: Need for ‘in-depth’ inspections led to buffer-car decision (updated)

By Bob Johnston | October 19, 2022

| Last updated on February 13, 2024

Company asserts 1950s-era cars are ‘safe under normal operating conditions’

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Passenger train with empty coach behind observation car
VIA Rail Canada’s eastbound Canadian leaves Vancouver, British Columbia, with a buffer car behind its Park-class dome-lounge-observation on Oct. 14, 2022. Ian Smith

MONTREAL — VIA Rail Canada says in a statement to Trains News Wire that the addition of unoccupied cars at the rear of trains with its heritage stainless steel equipment was recommended by the third-party engineering firm it hired to conduct inspections.

The move — to provide protection in case trains collide — was made abruptly as a precaution last week [see “VIA Rail Canada adds “buffer” cars … ,” News Wire, Oct. 18, 2022]. It  will continue while the international consulting firm, Hatch, and VIA carry out a thorough inspection plan of the cars, known as HEP-1 and HEP-2 equipment to denote their rebuilding for head-end power operation.

A preliminary report “confirmed that our stainless steel (HEP) cars are safe to run under normal operating conditions,” the statement says, adding that the company “implemented a plan to proactively address structural issues with its aging stainless steel fleet [to] ensure continued safe railway operations.”

Hatch recommended the addition of the cars, VIA says, “at the front and back end of all trains with stainless steel equipment to reduce the consequences in the unlikely event of a train-to-train collision.”

VIA shared its plan with Health and Safety Policy Committees, union leadership, and the Canadian rail safety regulator, an arm of Transport Canada (not the country’s Transportation Safety Board, as News Wire originally reported).

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports Transport Canada issued a ministerial order requiring VIA to employ the safety measures even though the company had already taken steps to do so. That order is slated to be made public Thursday.

VIA says it “has also set up a joint technical task force (made up of current and former VIA Rail employees, and Hatch representatives) to assist in analyzing and implementing the engineering firm’s recommendations, including:

— overseeing the measures,

— interpreting the results of an in-depth inspection process, and

— participating in the development of a potential repair program.”

Sources tell News Wire that the focus will likely center on the structural integrity of each car’s center sill, which must withstand horizontal forces that would be greater in a collision.

The most visible impact falls on VIA service featuring end-of-train Park-series dome-lounge-observation cars, which include the transcontinental Canadian, and the remote service operation between Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and Jasper, Alberta. Another train serving rural areas without other land access runs between Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba, which currently carries a Park observation car during the polar bear-watching season.

A ban was also imposed on accepting pets, since they are carried in baggage cars that may run at the front or rear of consists. VIA passengers are normally given the option to enter those cars to care for their animals. VIA’s statement did not address if other arrangements are being made for pet carriage while the testing process continues or how long it is expected to last.

— Updated at 7:50 a.m. CDT on Oct. 20 with photo of Canadian with buffer car.

13 thoughts on “VIA: Need for ‘in-depth’ inspections led to buffer-car decision (updated)

  1. I am old, old enough to remember the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Penn Texas which carried Missouri Pacific sleepers. They were transferred to MP trains in St. Louis. So there was a New York to Texas market back in the 1950s-60s.

    I agree with Penelope that the next order for long distance cars should be single level.

  2. What is the concern with horizontal forces…which in my view would be more in line with being hit from the side and not the rear or front(yes, I know it’s the horizontal plane, but keep reading). With a rear end or front end collision you’re talking about the center sill crumpling like an accordian vs a side collision when it would just bend in half like a broken stick(exaggeration). Pretty sure you could test those cars up to a million pounds of pressure, if not the 800k the FRA wants from the ends and you wouldn’t get the compression it sounds like the Hatch thinks they would.

    As for Penelope’s comment about no more Superliners…first off, Superliner 3’s could easily be made to be high level platform compatible. As for the issue with disabled and the infirmed not having access to the entire train, the only thing it prevents is them actually visiting the diner(they can order the food served in the room) and whatever the replacement for the Siteseer lounges end up being. The other advantage to having the Superliner which she seems to forget is that those particular rooms are FULL WIDTH, something you can not do with single level cars unless it was the last room in the train(which you would never have unless it was a squared off observation, which you wouldn’t do because that restricts it to the disabled/infirmed only). Either way, it’s a tradeoff and you have to decide which is the better tradeoff…in this case, I think you’re better off with the situation you have now…except that if they go with a Superliner 3 there could be many improvements to them…and a reduced height one could be designed for some of the Eastern lines(especially those that have been rebuilt for double stacks).

    One final comment…you might find people wanting to go from those East Coast cities to the West Coast, but I highly doubt they’d want to take the train to Texas. Just how many people do you think actually to to Texas from Boston, New York and Washington D.C.(other than politicos for D.C.). I personally visited there a couple of decades ago…but I’d never go back now.

  3. Via Rail Canada and Amtrak are overdue in the system wide renewal of their respective long distance passenger train fleets. Siemens can adopt its Venture cars for long distance assignments possibly with full skirting and sleek-nosed locomotives as on Brightline for some optical restoration of glamour to long distance train travel.

    No more Superliners! They are incompatible with high-level platforms. The handicapped and infirmed are limited to the lower level of their assigned car while single-level cars offer them access to most of the train.

    With a system wide single-level roster, passengers may travel directly without change of accommodation from Boston, New York or Washington to the Pacific Coast and Texas.

  4. VIA’s Renaissance cars are also wearing out but I can’t see the Govt shelling out for for new trainsets for either with the mediocre frequency the system offers. Ideally they should offer daily (less frills Amtrak style) service to serve the on line communities & probably leave the Alberta/BC tourist trade to private operators who aren’t interested in traversing Ont., MB & SK. Instead of running super long trains 3 days a wk or less they could maybe return daily service to both CP & CN routes with shorter less frills service to serve their citizens with another transportation option which they could surely use.

    1. VIA’s Renaissance cars were cast-offs no one in Europe wanted. That they have lasted this long is shockingly surprising.

      As for VIA’s trains running tri-weekly or once in a blue moon or once per solar eclipse or once per millenium, or maybe not at all, who even cares any more?

  5. For the record I have no idea what’s going on here. That said, when I was teaching my QP/QMP/QMI students I would give an overview of coach construction and the basic structural theory that as maintainers they have no say on but should know. Specifically, the center sill. Your car’s buff strength is dependent on the integrity of the center sill. Class, repeat after me: Thou shalt not weld, drill, grind nor alter the center sill in any way shape or form. Doing so will condemn the car.

    1. If you’re talking about impacts from the front or rear you are talking about buff strength which I agree would be the center sill. If there was a car with a defective center sill, would it matter if it was at the end of the train or in the middle? Seems like that car would fail no matter where it is in the train.

    2. Again, I am not a party to any of these proceedings. That said, a “third party” was brought in for a reason. A third party has to find something otherwise it makes them and whoever hired them look irresponsible with the public funds.

      To your point: AMTK 28002, 2/4/2018, Cayce, SC, NTSB Number: RRD18MR003. This has been on the radar for all of us in the business for four years now.

  6. I think it’s about time Via purchased a new LD fleet for it’s LD trains. Maybe they could also include enough LD cars to make a Daily Canadian and maybe even bring back the Super Continental (or a train similar to the Super Continental) so that the Canadian could be brought back to it’s home rails. The Daily Canadian part and the Super Continental return part are just a thought though.

  7. Does VIA need to do a compression test to determine whether the cars still meet compression strength requirements? What has created this boondoggle?

  8. All those millions of loonies poured into rehabbing and upgrading these cars …. while never buying anything new for the LDs.

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