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by R. L. Kennedy

People often talk about what might have been, if only something had happened differently. One such thing most often thought about in railfan circles is what it would be like if the diesel had not come along to replace the steam locomotive. The superiority of the steam locomotive over diesels and the imagined over-zealous selling job done by diesel manufacturers to pull the wool over the eyes of the railways has long been a theory espoused by those who lived through the transition years. Unlike the proven conspiracy involving General Motors and tire manufacturers buying up urban and interurban electric railways in the U.S.A. and changing them over to busses; there was never anything seriously akin to that as far as steam locomotives were concerned. In fact, we know what happened to locomotive builders who did not embrace diesels fast enough. They went out of business when the competition got too far ahead of them.

It is true, that had development continued on steam locomotives, they would have been far more efficient engines. The Nickle Plate was famous for its fast freights hauled by modern Berkshire type steam locomotives. Norfolk and Western was even more famous for its fleet of very efficient home-built steam locomotives, serviced in modern run-through facilities unlike any other. Even Union Pacific's ordinary articulated Challenger type engine recently in excursion service, already over 50 years old and frozen in old technology, can still haul tonnage that no diesel could possibly handle. UP replaced diesels with it and easily handled 147 Double Stack container cars at full speed. Of course, multiple unit diesels with one engineer can do it, but it takes a lot of diesel horsepower to match the steam engine at speed.

Just look at the improvements that were made in South Africa and elsewhere with modern devices such as Giesl exhaust-ejectors and various other modifications. Had research kept on, there is no telling what would have resulted. It might even have been possible to come up with an automatic firing system allowing for a one-man engine crew. The brakeman would still have been on the engine for a safety lookout as well as his train related duties.

Even widespread electrification, (such as in Europe), would have offered better, and more efficient transportation than diesels, if the high cost of putting up wires could have been overcome with imaginative financing, perhaps even with the power company owning the wires just as they do with all other electric lines.

Atomic powered locomotives that were talked about in 1955, never got anywhere. Coal burning steam turbines, steam turbine electrics, and even gas turbines, all failed to oust diesel-electrics.

The reasons for the fast dieselization of the U.S. railways following World War II were a combination of factors. First, construction of new locomotives had been restricted due to the demand for military equipment. Heavy usage due to greatly increased war-time traffic had worn out many locomotives. There were lots of old and tired engines around, since the Great Depression that immediately preceded the war, had restricted railways from buying new engines, not only from the lack of funds but, there simply was no need, since many locomotives were not even required and were stored or scrapped.

When faced with all of this, plus the proven advances of road diesels over very early diesels, the decision was for dieselization in most cases. Therefore, had it not been for these conditions it is likely steam would have continued to be built for many more years, and improved accordingly. Of course, had the diesel simply not come along, it would have been an entirely different situation.

What really did in the steam locomotive was not so much its inherent inefficiencies compared to the inherent efficiency of the diesel; but, rather the very labour intensive nature of servicing and maintaining steam engines. For example, the C.P.R.'s Lambton roundhouse in Toronto had 222 men for its 3 shifts a day, seven days a week operation to maintain about 125 steam locomotives in 1955. Following dieselization in 1960, only 49 people were needed to service the diesels and that included the hostlers, table "boy", and even the clerks in the office. Note that only minor repairs were done there as all units were maintained elsewhere, but, still the total was greatly reduced as steam back shops and main shops had enormous staffs too. Coal and water facilities all over the place had to be taken care of too. It is said that dieselization cost 40,000 people to loose their jobs in Canada. Can you imagine the headlines and TV coverage today if that kind of job loss was proposed in any industry? But, at the time it happened nothing appeared in the press to tell of this human tragedy.

An article in Railfan and Railroad magazine, (Steam Versus Diesel-Today, June 1994) told how a 3600 HP GE diesel struggled to pull a 29 car excursion train up a grade at 30-35 mph and what happened when the Berkshire took over and the diesel was put on idle. The train rapidly accelerated to 50 mph with ease. And about going upgrade with 32 coaches and reaching 55 mph all by herself! A true comparison in modern times with an "old" steam engine.

Of course, Canada never got such modern and powerful steam locomotives mostly because there was not the demand for moving tonnage like that in the U.S.A. DM&IR ran 18,000 ton trains with 180 loads of iron ore with a single 2-8-8-4. NKP ran 8000 ton hot-shot freights at 50 mph with a single 2-8-4. Other modern engines were similarly impressive machines.

Let's take a look at what might have been had things gone a little different in Canada's history, especially as it applies to the C.P.R.'s motive power. We will start in the late 1920's following the creation of Canadian National Railways. This resulted in a railway bigger than the C.P.R. and the C.P.R. was under pressure like it had never been before to compete for traffic. A speed-up of the general pace of things along with the growing demands of heavier trains of steel equipment in both passenger and freight service combined with the C.P.R.'s conservative power policy meant that old and under-powered locomotives were trying valiantly to haul bigger and heavier trains. Management was slow to react to the situation preferring to "make do".

Early in 1929 H.B.Bowen, Chief of Motive Power and Rolling Stock, advised the Vice President of the critical need for bigger yard engines. In 1930 he proposed a 10-year Program to correct deficiencies throughout the roster. The onslaught of the Great Depression began to be felt and caution was the Board of Directors pass word even though big economies were being had with the new 2800's and would likewise result from other modern power.

Had the start been made sooner, or the Depression not come along, or not been so severe, or had C.P.R. Management not been so frugal, or if they could have gotten Government assistance with make-work projects, things might have been a lot different. Let's start with Bowen's proposal and expand from there.

He recommended the purchase of 30 more 2800's (4-6-4 passenger engines), to add to the first 10 on the roster. Only 10 were approved, and it would be 7 years before more were built, (and 8 years before any other engines were built), but eventually there were 65 of them including the famous Royal Hudson's. He asked for 50 new heavy freight engines of a new wheel arrangement, 2-8-4's with 63" drivers. None were approved. 10 years later the 105 existing P2 class, heavy 2-8-2's were added to with a mere 12 engines, plus continued small quantities until by 1948, there was a total of 174 P2's. He also wanted 27 very heavy 0-8-0 yard/transfer engines, but got only 10; furthermore these were the only ones ever built. These 6600's were the most powerful yard engines ever built for any Canadian railway, even stronger than the C.P.R.'s 0-10-0's. He also had in mind a new light freight engine, class P3 2-8-2's for the future. It was not until near the end of steam construction that anything resembling this came about with the building of the 5200 series 2-8-2's.

Drawing of proposed Q1 class 2-8-4 never built. It would have utilized the same boiler as the 2800's (4-6-4's).

The Q1 class 2-8-4 was to feature the same boiler used on the 4-6-4's, carrying 275 lbs. boiler pressure, combined with the same 63" drivers used on the 2-8-2's, and a 6 wheel-trucked tender holding 21 tons of coal and 12,000 gallons of water. Rated at 60,000 t.e. compared to 56-57% for the P2's, their biggest advantage would have been the larger firebox and associated higher steaming capacity, resulting in increased stamina at speed.

In 1928 the Toronto Hamilton & Buffalo had two 2-8-4's built by MLW which were to become the only Berkshire type engines on any Canadian railway ever. They were similar to the first Berkshires built, Boston & Albany's A1 class engines, which got their name from the Berkshire Hills they crossed. The TH&B engines were 240 lbs. 28x30 cyl. 63" drv. 100 sq.ft. grate. with a total heating surface of 7300 sq.ft. and 69,000 t.e.

The C.P.R. Berkshires; (or if we wanted a Canadian name as was done with the 2-10-4 Selkirks's, how about Laurentian?) The Laurentian Plateau of the Canadian Shield covers most of Canada, eastward from Fort William (Thunder Bay) to the St.Lawrence River's Atlantic outlet; which would be much of the area they would work in. They would not have been as big as the TH&B engines which were really a U.S. engine since the TH&B was controlled by the N.Y.C. and many aspects of a U.S. nature were seen on the TH&B rather than C.P.R. or Canadian things. It is likely the C.P.R. engines would have been only slightly bigger than the P2 and perhaps not all that better a performer than the final P2's which were no slouches, being capable of 65 mph with 58,000 t.e. they were the best freight engines the C.P.R. ever had for tonnage except for the Selkirks, which were less versatile due to their huge size and weight. However, if there were to have later been a Q2 version based upon U.S. sized Berkshires, it would have been a different situation. This might have started by the CPR borrowing a TH&B engine, (CPR owned about 1/3 of TH&B), for comparison, and then a newer US Berkshire, to test their performance.

Bowen's predecessor, C.H.Temple had, in addition to continuing acquisitions of W.H.Winterrowd's G3 Pacifics and P2 Mikados, also carried on a great deal of upgrading/modernizing of existing engines, many with new boilers, including the converting of 30 M4 class 2-8-0's into 0-8-0 yard engines. All of the modifications resulted in only minor betterment of the roster. A more aggressive policy of motive power improvement would have brought about many differences that would have not only resulted in greater efficiency but, would have permitted a better wartime capability when everything, men and machines alike, were pressed to the maximum.

Let's begin by assuming Bowen got what he wanted, and see what happens to the roster.

1. Stop P2 class 2-8-2's at 5404 (105 engines instead of 162)

2. Order Q1 class 2-8-4's. 50 engines 5500-5549.

3. Order H1 class 4-6-4's. 30 additional 2810-2839. (Standard Hudson's)

4. Order V5 class 0-8-0's. 30 engines 6600-6629.

0-8-0 type switching locomotive sales brochure.

A rebuilding program just finished resulted in 30 M4 class 2-8-0's being converted into lower-drivered 0-8-0's. But, in reality nothing much was gained since these engine were already in yard service.


Before and after versions of rebuild program.


Another rebuilding program had been considered but, the above was chosen instead. Let's assume this other one was approved also, and all 6 R2 class 2-10-0's, (which themselves had been rebuilt from 0-6-6-0's) were converted to 0-10-0's for yard service. Also, an unknown number (24?) of the 34 R3's were to be done as well, so let's do them as well and leave 10 for transfer work. This would eliminate 2-10-0's from the mainline, requiring replacements, so perhaps bigger orders for 2-10-4's would be appropriate.

The S2 Class 2-10-2's while fairly new and very powerful, (66% t.e.), were ponderously slow, so much so they actually impeded trains. It might be worth replacing them with the more successful 2-10-4's and demote them to transfer service, some possibly as 0-10-2's. This would allow the last 10 of the 2-10-0's to be converted into 0-10-0's.

Let's also continue converting those old 3400 and 3500 2-8-0's into yard switchers, (136 more of them will eliminate the M4's), to retire all but a handful, (15) of 0-6-0's kept for small yards. We'll number them leaving spaces for the ones already rebuilt (6920-49) and renumber those again. This way each engine will carry its own last two digits, only the series will be different. 3401 becomes 6401. 3505 becomes 6505 etc.

At a later date, another 60 more new 0-8-0's will replace 52 old 6800 V1 and V2 0-8-0's which had already been converted from 2-8-0's built in 1898.

Yet another option to cure the yard engine problem might be to convert large numbers of N2 class 2-8-0's into heavier 0-8-0's. (63" drv. 43% t.e. would change to perhaps 58" drv. and 50% t.e.). The balance of the N2's could then be rebuilt into 5200 series 2-8-2's. This would reduce the new 6600's substantially and thus cut costs, it would however produce a less effective locomotive. One of the advantages of the new 6600's was their modern multiple throttle which provided instant response and thus faster switching. Another was their brute force of 59,500 t.e. (60%) more powerful than any other yard engine in Canada and thus able to deal with the increasing demands of marshaling longer and heavier freight trains.

5. Rebuild W2 Class 0-10-0 6 engines 6953-6958 (ex 5750-5755)
( 52" drv. 58% T.E. formerly 58" drv. 52% T.E.)

6. Rebuild W3 Class 0-10-0 24 engines 6959-6982 (ex 5756-5780)
( 52" drv. 60% T.E. formerly 58" drv. 54% T.E.)

7. Rebuild W3 Class 0-10-0 10 engines 6983-6992 (ex 5781-5790)

NOTE: Last 10 rebuilt only if 2-10-2's assigned to Transfers

ALTERNATE CHOICE: Convert 2-10-2's into 0-10-2 hump/transfer engines.

5806 yard 0-10-2 . . . 5800 transfer 0-10-2

8. Rebuild V4 Class 0-8-0 136 engines 6400-6565 (ex 3400-3565)

NOTE: Renumber previously rebuilt engines 6920-6949 into 6400-6565 series.

9. Order T1 Class 2-10-4 40 engines 5920-5959 (Standard type)

10. Order T1 Class 2-10-4 15 engines 5960-5974 (Standard type)

NOTE: Future orders would be for semi-streamlined T1b,c sub-classes (16) higher numbers 5975-5990

11. Order V5 Class 0-8-0 30 engines 6630-6659

12. Order V5 Class 0-8-0 30 engines 6660-6689

NOTE: One or both of these orders would be reduced or eliminated if N2's were converted to 0-8-0's.

13. Order H1 Class 4-6-4 30 engines 2865-2894 (streamlined)

14. Order Q1/Q2 Class 2-8-4 50 engines 5550-5599

Retire all V1 Class 0-8-0 35 engines 6800-6834
Retire all V2 Class 0-8-0 17 engines 6860-6876
Retire 196 U3 Class 0-6-0 196 engines 6100/6304 (Retain 15)
Retire all T3 Class 0-6-4T 2 engines 5996 5997

Total engines retired 250

The finest steam locomotives on the C.P.R. were the new G3 Class 4-6-2 Pacific's built from 1938 to 1948. 2351-2472 were a vast improvement over earlier G3's so much so they deserved their own class and number series. They were a true dual purpose engine, suitable for either passenger service or fast (but not heavy), freight service. There were only 122 built, many more should have built; so let's add another 25 for good luck. 2472-2497. Better yet let's give them their own identity and add another 100 engines (we will reduce newer G5's later), Class G6 2400-2499 and 2000-2121, for a total of 222. Two number series are necessary due to the 2200's and 2500's, although these would be retired.

CLC 2000 builders photo at Kingston.
This was Canadian Locomotive Company's 2000th locomotive. July1942
It was so painted only on one side! Soon renumbered CP 2396 before delivery.

Click here for CLC 2000 spec card

NOTE: G6 class 4-6-2 2000-2121 All engines equipped as follows:
Welded boiler, one-piece cast bed, all roller bearings (inc. motion), six-wheel truck tender. 10 engines equipped with Baker valve gear. 1 engine equipped with poppet valve gear. 5 engines equipped with Giesel exhaust ejector. Extensive testing would be undertaken on engines specially equipped.

The G5 was the only modern, light Pacific dual service engine built anywhere in North America, and its design was such that it was intended to replace all old G1 (39), and G2 (163) Pacific's, plus hundreds of 4-6-0's. After the C.P.R. built two "demonstrator" engines, they ordered 100 engines from Canada's two locomotive builders, Montreal Locomotive Works in Montreal, and Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston, in a long-term program that was to see 600 of these engines bought (1200-1799). Incredible, is the only word to describe what the C.P.R. had planned. This would have caused railfans to complain that all-those-engines-look-the-same, long before diesels came along to be scorned. So, let's assume the program got started a few years earlier, (war-time necessity), and production was higher, so that all did get built. Except that we may reduce it 100 engines in order to add 100 G6 class heavy Pacific's for secondary passenger trains and fast freights, while adding 30 more 2800's to handle all of the main passenger trains.

15. Order G5 Class 4-6-2 500 engines 1200-1699

16. Order G6 Class 4-6-2 222 engines 2400-2499 2000-2121

Retire all G1 Class 4-6-2 39 engines 2200-2238

Retire all G2 Class 4-6-2 166 engines 2500-2665

Retire all D&E Class 4-6-0 c.800 engines 417/2120

The need for light 2-8-2's was recognized early on but, it wasn't until 1946 that anything was done, and then it took until the end of 1949 to finish. This was a rebuild program whereby 65 N2 class 2-8-0's were turned into 2-8-2's. New boilers and stokers resulted in a mostly new locomotive. These were built at Angus Shops, at a time long after the C.P.R. had turned to outside locomotive builders for all of its motive power.

We have two choices: first convert all open-cab N2 engines 3600-3690 (91) Re# 5200-5290 and then, if desired extend the program to include all vestibule cab N2's 3691-3760 (70) Re# 5420-5489. (Remember we had already stopped the P2's at 5404 opting instead for 5500 2-8-4 Laurentian types.

The second choice would be to build all new P3's and retire the old N2's, which had already been rebuilt once from 3800's. In either case we would start sooner and speed up the program to get all 161 built before 1950.

We might also retire all of the 5100's in the second of two ten year programs since they were originally built 1912-13 as hand-fired engines and rebuilt once. These would be replaced by the expanded rebuild of N2 class 2-8-0's or the new P3's whichever choice is made.

Since many engines worked local assignments it would be necessary to equip a suitable number with a style of tender with cut down sides to improve visibility for backup moves. This type of tender was only applied to some of the 4-6-0's and 2-8-0's used in yard and road switching work. True yard engines were equipped with slope back tenders (except V5 6600's). All of these were open cab designs, therefore new engines with vestibule cabs will require modifications including rear windows and shortened clothes/tool locker behind the engineer. Also combination pilots, (road/yard) having footboards for switching work along with full size rear headlight, firehose would be added only if used in yard service. Since the 600 new G5's were intended to replace the 4-6-0's, many of which worked local jobs involving backup moves, it would be reasonable to equip large numbers of the 4-6-2's in the same manner. This would indeed produce some unusual looking 2-8-2's and 4-6-2's, but remember, some vestibule cab 2-10-0's and the 0-10-0's had such tenders.

The Jubilee type 4-4-4's were special engines in many ways. The 3000's were race horses, reminders of the earlier 4-4-2's (built 1899) that enabled the C.P.R. to make speed records. Newer 4-4-4's were hand-fired with smaller drivers and not intended for maximum speeds, but rather for fast and short passenger trains, even on secondary lines. A few more 3000's might have been useful but the light 2900's were so limited in their uses it might well have been more versatile to simply build the G5 class 4-6-2's. Had the effort been so directed the G5's might have hit the rails years earlier and thus resulted in many more being built. The 2900's were built in 1937 and 38, while the 1200's didn't come along until 5 years later.

Suburban passenger trains running out of Montreal were powered in part by 3 tank engines of 4-6-4T wheel arrangement. These might have been replaced by newer 4-6-4T's, maybe modified versions of G5's or better yet G3's. Can you imagine a 2400 tank engine? What a snappy performer that would have been!

A 4-6-6T wheel arrangement might have been used as was done on some Boston & Albany RR engines in the U.S. built in 1928 with 63" drv. 41,600 t.e. weight 175 tons.

Another important rebuild program would have resulted in some very unique steam engines; these would have been cab forward engines converted from 2-10-4 Selkirks. These proposed 4-10-2 Connaught type engines were reported in Trains magazine (June 1987) by its proponent, F.H.Howard of the C.P.R.'s Motive Power Department. Large numbers of these 4-10-2CF conversions would have been possible with our proposed larger quantities of early Selkirk's.

Retirement of old engines would, in addition to the above mentioned engines include: most of the Class A & B 4-4-0's, (except 29,30,105,136,144,158); all Classes of 4-6-0's (including most of those tiny D-4's, perhaps retaining a few for light branches); most of the J Class 2-6-0's (except 3011, 3051, 3063); all of the L, M1, & M2 Class 3100 and 3200 2-8-0's, along with most of the M3 Class (except 3360, 3362, 3369, 3379, 3383, 3387, 3388, 3390). All of these exceptions were required for use on light branch lines, mostly in New Brunswick, and through Brockville tunnel, the latter using 2-6-0's.

January 1950 actually saw a mere 34 road diesels on the C.P.R. along with the earlier 99 yard switchers, 1000 HP Alco & Baldwin 7010-7108. E&N assigned Baldwin light 1000 HP road switchers 8000-8013 (14), and International of Maine assigned Alco A & B units 1500 HP 4000-4007 (8) and 4400-4403 (4), Alco 1500 HP RS 8400-8404 (5) and EMD passenger A units 1800-1802 (3).

What newer semi-streamlined 4-8-4's might have looked like had 3100 & 3101 been more successful.

What if the experimental 8000 had been a 2-12-4 instead of just another 2-10-4? Its tractive effort might have gone from 83,300 (T1's 76,900 & 77,200) to 100,000 plus 12,500 for booster. Even with some blind drivers, would it have gotten around curves in the mountains?

This unique type of locomotive, widely used in South Africa, was considered by the C.P.R. for use on the rugged line east from Montreal to St.John, New Brunswick. Double-headed P2 class heavy 2-8-2's were the heaviest engines used on account of bridge restrictions.

Most of the changed steam locomotive orders could have resulted if only some things had happened differently. Even if the yard diesels came along as they did this would have only resulted in fewer new/rebuilt switchers.

This alternate history assumes that no diesel yard engines were ever purchased except 7000 whichwas considered to have proven that diesels were failures. Just a passing fad! Don't we wish!!

Alternate Roster Diesels


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