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Dieselization of the Schreiber Division

The rugged 517 mile long Schreiber Division in northern Ontario was a testing ground for the diesel locomotive on the CPR. The 517.7 miles between Cartier, near Sudbury and Fort William made up of four subdivisions included what W.C. Van Horne once described as "200 miles of engineering impossibilities." If they could make it here they could make it anywhere.

Initially the CPR was very cautious about the use of diesels preferring the dependability of steam locomotives, letting American roads work out the many engineering difficulties of diesel engines and the complexities of their electrical systems especially when it came to road engines. The early road diesels in the US were assigned to passenger trains as streamlining and new rolling stock replaced heavyweight cars and dirty steam locomotives as railroads sought to portray themselves as being the modern way to travel, especially important following the demands of World War Two with its restrictions on travel including gas and rubber tires. Freight road diesels operating in multiple with only one engine crew rewrote the book on railroading as they ran on past normal engine districts without change off hauling longer, heavier trains usually without the need for assist engines to help them up grades.

Aside from a small number of yard diesels the first serious effort to replace steam locomotives was undertaken on subsidiary Esquimalt and Naniamo. Located entirely on Vancouver Island and thereby isolated from the main CPR system any serious difficulties in operating with only diesels would not affect the rest of the railway. It was a success.

Next, diesels were introduced to the main line east of Montreal to Wells River, Vermont a 171.6 mile portion of the route to Boston. Here the first true road units joined the CPR roster to replace 41 small, old steam engines double and tripleheading up the heavy grades. Mostly D-10's, some G-1's and G-2's, as well as some old M-4's. Bridge restrictions prevented the use of heavier engines such as P2's. Twenty three diesels were acquired to replace the steam engines; three E8 A units for the passenger pool with Boston & Maine, 8 A and 4 B units for freight, plus 5 RS-2's for local passenger and freight as well as 3 S-2 yard engines all from Alco. Diesels also eliminated the use of pushers.

Now came the real test! The main line between east and west, complete with grades and the worst weather possible where failure would seriously affect the railway. The CPR chose this ultimate test by assigning 58 diesels to the Schreiber Division of the Algoma District. There were 77 steam locomotives working there at the time although not all were immediately eliminated. The order was for ten A units and four yard switchers from GMD plus twenty A and twenty B units along with four road switchers all from MLW. At the time about 8-10 freight trains operated daily in each direction. The four road switcher units would handle the way freights with single units. Yard units were to be assigned one each to Schreiber, White River, Chapleau and Cartier although existing Alco 1000 hp units were assigned for maintenance ease while the newly purchased 800 hp GMD's went elsewhere. Note: Alco RS-1 1000 hp road switchers had also been considered instead of the GMD yard units. Steam continued to handle passenger trains while the CPR further tested the dependability of diesels in mainline service. Then, early 1952 the ten A units were returned to GMD for installation of steam generators following which they were transferred to Western Lines for passenger service and new MLW A units were acquired for the Schreiber Division. Steam protect engines (including 2419, 2421 and 2819) remained at Schreiber along with some others (including yard engine 3426 and 2334, 5185, 5325 and 5383) to handle what the diesels couldn't such as work trains, snow plows etc. Steam at Schreiber roundhouse lasted at least until the Summer of 1957.

Keeping diesels working was very important because of their high cost. Utilization had to be high to get the required return on investment. Therefore, when one came in off its run it was necessary to assign it to another job as soon as possible; they simply could not be left sitting around. In Schreiber when a road switcher came in off the way freight it was put to work in the yard. In one particular early test 8405 worked the weekend in the yard consuming the equivalent of 1 ton of coal compared to 4 tons per shift used by the regular yard engine M4 class 2-8-0 3426. Coal cost $17 per ton at the time so, considerable savings were had on that expense alone.


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