A Visit to the Hump

Every now and then I like to drop in at the south end of CN’s Symington Yard in Winnipeg to see what’s going on at the hump yard. There’s almost always at least one train being pushed over the hump and sometimes two trains at once.

CN usually has three hump sets in the area – one or two in action and the other on standby. On July 24 there were these three:

  1. GTW 5946, GTW 5948, CN 6015, CN 255
  2. CN 6016, IC 6204, CN 200, CN 6005
  3. GTW 5945, CN 6xxx, CN 5xxx, CN ???

Let’s look at each set.

GTW 5946 et cetera

GTW 5946, GTW 5948, CN 6015, CN 255

The “left” two locomotives are both Grand Trunk Western units, GTW 5946 and 5948. 5946 has been painted in standard CN colours but 5948 is still in its gray and yellow from when it was shared with the Kansas City Southern. Apparently CN and KCS leased a group of SD40-3 locomotives from Alstom and shared them, with CN getting them for 6 months and KCS getting them for the rest of the year.

GTW 5948 in Winnipeg
GTW 5948 in Winnipeg

Looking closely you can still see the “Owned by ALSTOM” and “P.B.M. By ALSTOM” lettering, and the “G.T.W.” in faded duct tape under the cab number. I have no idea what the “P.B.M.” is.


I wrote a separate post on these ex Alstom units.

CN 6016 et cetera

CN 6016, IC 6204, CN 200, CN 6005

A pair of standard CN SD40-2 locomotives bracketed a slug (CN 200) and an Operation Lifesaver unit, IC 6204.

IC 6204, an Operation Lifesaver unit
IC 6204, an Operation Lifesaver unit

IC 6204 is another SD40-3, built in November 1976 as BN 6755 as an SD40-2. At some point it was acquired by the Illinois Central, and later rebuilt with new electronics to gain that -3 suffix.

It has the Operation Lifesaver logo on the long hood and the Illinois Central logo on the nose of the short hood.

Note the crew working the hump in the background. They “cut” cars at the appropriate place so they can roll down the hump onto the right track. I don’t know the meaning of what the display board is showing but I assume it’s telling them where to cut.

If you really pay attention you’ll see a tank car rolling down the hump on the right, and you can tell which photo was taken first by the position of the tank car!

GTW 5945 et cetera

GTW 5945 and friends
GTW 5945 and friends

From the location I was at (Fermor Avenue), I couldn’t see what the other locomotives behind GTW 5945 were. The closer one is CN 6xxx and the other is CN 5xxx, and I assume there is a slug behind these three.

I can’t guess what the other units are because these hump sets are often shuffled around. For example, in September 2018 I saw three GTW units together (5945, 5946, 5948) yet here they are separate.

Whither the GP38s?

It was a little unusual that there were no GP38 sets here. If you visited Symington in past decades, the CN 75xx locomotives were the hump locomotives (usually two GP38s with two slugs) but those are much rarer now. I think some of the CN 75xx locomotives and slugs have been lost due to accidents, and I’ve heard that they just aren’t powerful enough now to push longer trains over the hump. CN extended the pullback tracks to Navin several years ago to be able to hump longer trains.

If you want to see some GP38s at Symington, read Humpyard Dogs and More Humpyard Dogs.

Just One More Thing

I took the photos in this post from Fermor Avenue and Plessis Road, which run across the south and east sides of the yard respectively. The unusual thing was I did it from my bicycle!

I’ve been doing a lot of cycling this summer, both to get more in shape and also because I enjoy it. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing how far I can go and how fast I can go. I’m not a slow cyclist, just like I’m not a slow walker.

As a data guy, I like to track my progress. I use Strava (follow me there) to record my routes and distances and give me some stats, and I have a FitBit Charge 2 on my wrist that records my heart rate, steps, and so forth.

Biking progress

You can see I’ve been doing a lot in the past month. Why didn’t I bike much in June and early July? Two reasons – I hurt my back in June, and in early July we went to Banff.

Do you bike? Leave a comment!

11 thoughts on “A Visit to the Hump”

  1. I also saw the IC unit that day and was shocked to see it working the hump. Unfortunately I was playing “driver ed instructor” lol and wasn’t able to stop for a picture, so thank you for catching that, Steve.
    I also enjoy cycling and am set to start back to riding to work, I’m hoping the smoke is not a factor. I use the Run Keeper app on my phone to track my rides as you can overlay your route onto a map if you’d like and it also provides elevations.
    Take care out there!!

    • Hi Grant, my pleasure. It looks like a lot of SD40s will be working the hump as the GP38s/7500s go on to other things. I like the variety of predecessor railways.

      I’ve never used Run Keeper – I don’t run because it hurts my back – but I’m glad it works for you.

      • I am not a runner either, Steve. Runkeeper allows you to select from a variety of exercise activities, walking, cycling, rowing and even a wheelchair setting. Since I’ve started using it they’ve added skating and swimming as well and the skating one was nice to use to measure the trails around the Forks and the river paths. I primarily use it for cycling and kayaking, mainly for the information provided, I’m not a great athlete by any stretch. Before Fitbits became a thing I found it handy.
        Funny story-using the app to plot a snowmobile ride years ago while on the cycling setting it told me I burned 8000+ calories riding to Westhawk lake from St.Anne MB lol. Was not true. Calorie burn was also nullified by having Chinese food for lunch that day lol. Now the app has a “other” setting for such activities.

        • Hi Grant, thanks for the detail on Runkeeper. Interesting!
          My Fitbit sometimes miscounts steps when I am driving on gravel roads, crediting me when I wasn’t walking at all. I think it has “given” me a lot of steps on a few flights too.

  2. You are correct about the display board informing the hump “pin-puller” crew where to uncouple the cars in to cuts to roll down the hump. The board displays the next five cuts to be made in succession, one per row from the top down. The left-most column displays the last three digits in the number of last railcar to be included in the cut. In this case, the top line displays “072”, so the crew will make a cut after FURX 842072 by lifting the uncoupling lever on the leading end of the next car (as shown in the photo). The right column typically displays the track number where that car/cut is destined, but there are sometimes other yard-specific codes conveying other information regarding cars requiring special handling etc.

    • Thanks, Tyler, for the confirmation! I was wondering about the numbers but it makes sense that the last 3 digits are probably all that are required. I hope there aren’t adjacent cars that happen to have the last 3 digits; the odds of that happening are pretty small.
      I wonder why the track number is shown – do the “pin pullers” actually select the track or is that done by computer or someone else?

  3. It’s interesting that CN has one of the locomotives in each of the hump sets paired with a slug while the other two are not. Given the low speed of operation in pushing trains over the hump, the locomotives should be able to develop far more power than they can put down onto the rail. A slug would be able to utilize some of that power. But, there must be some reason why CN is doing what they are doing. Maybe two SD40-2/3s, each with a slug, don’t quite have enough power for the task.

    • Hi Brian, I believe someone told me that the slugs with the trio of SD40s aren’t paired with any locomotive but are just providing additional braking power as another set of wheels with brakes. They said the SD40 locomotives provide enough tractive effort to move the cars but CN felt they needed more braking action.

      • That makes sense. I didn’t think about the need for additional braking power when operating over the hump.

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