The Canadian-designed LRC cars have a more streamlined and unconventional look compared to traditional BUDD coaches built in the 1940s and 50s, which they replaced. They even look different from the more conventional Amtrak single-level Amfleet and Horizon cars. They are made mostly of aluminum, are wider, built two inches lower to the ground, and are one-third lighter than conventional equipment — all to cut down on wind resistance as part of the original goal to make for a faster train.
Originally intended to run 125 mph, the trains, ironically, when matchinglocomotives were attached, were found to be too heavy for existing tracks so speeds had to be reduced. Operating speeds these days often reach 90 mph, and in certain route sections are permitted to be as high as 100 mph.
“The LRC is very, very comfortable equipment,” says Jason Shron of the Toronto Railway Heritage Association. “It’s spacious, it’s about a foot-and-a-half wider than conventional passenger cars so it’s a very spacious car and it feels that way when you’re in it.”
Shron says VIA made the “absolute right decision” to overhaul the LRC equipment for about $1 million a car vs. purchasing new at $3 to 4 million per unit. “For $100 million they’ll get 98 cars as good as new whereas $100 million is going to buy them 25 brand new cars.”
The overhaul, however, will remove one of the LRC cars’ most innovative features.
The cars had banking systems built into the bogies to counter centrifugal forces on curves and create a better passenger experience. But the systems were fully deactivated a few years ago because of repeated problems of locking in cold weather. The overhaul will now see the systems “totally removed,” according to VIA’s Daniel Nobert, senior manager, equipment programs for capital projects.
This will also make the cars lighter and result in fuel savings.
Shron said it’s unfortunate the banking systems failed to function. He suggested the deactivation might have been because of VIA’s anemic repair budget.
“I wonder how much that has to do with the age of the equipment because banking was not unreliable in the 1980s and 90s,” he said. “What I understand is that it was very expensive to maintain.”
When the systems were working they resulted in a ride that was “much smoother” than, say, even Eurostar trains, he said.
Meanwhile all the original LRC matching locomotives were removed from the fleet by 2001 because they also were “plagued by electrical problems,” Shron said.
“There were so many electrical problems that 45 percent of the time locomotives were not available. They were of a unique design, so getting parts also became more and more difficult.” The locomotives were replaced by P42 DCs followed by GE Genesis class locomotives.
Shron’s group recently purchased an LRC locomotive as part of its “Save the LRC” campaign and hopes to eventually display it.
Shron said that besides the LRC train’s wonderful passengerexperience, the LRC is really what has sustained VIA’s important Corridor routes after significant funding cuts and then uncertain government financing during the 1990s.
“VIA really has been starved” by lack of funds, Shron said. Nevertheless, he said, the rail company had the ingenuity to create “innovative new services and increase ridership.” This included acquiring U.S. railroads’ heritage BUDD equipment and then gutting and refurbishing it. It also acquired the European Renaissance carriages, bought at the “ridiculously cheap” price of $1 million a car, he said.
Shron, in fact, remembers a meeting with a VIA executive shortly after the early 1990s cuts who told him “and her exact words were, ‘Thank heaven for the LRC.’” This was after VIA was “forced to dispose of most of its fleet, and the LRC was basically what kept VIA alive in the corridor because they’re comfortable equipment; they’re reliable equipment.”
On March 3 of last year, LRC car number 3315 was the first overhauled unit to roll out of the IRSI shop and then sent on its way to the Montreal Maintenance Centre (MMC), hundreds of miles west. An additional 1,000-mile test run took place before the unit was returned to service.
Moncton is 547 miles east of Montreal. To move the equipment to IRSI the LRC cars are attached to VIA’s name train The Ocean, which runs almost daily between Montreal and Halifax on Canada’s Atlantic coast.