Chasing an SD90

It’s not every day that you get to see a big SD90MAC locomotive rolling down a branch line. I didn’t want to lose that opportunity.

These big beasts are the largest locomotives that EMD ever produced, other than the DDA40X gas dual engine locomotives, with a frame length of 80′ 2″. They were originally designed for a 6,000 HP (horsepower) prime mover, but problems with that new diesel engine forced EMD to ship them with a 4,300 HP 16 cylinder 710G prime mover. The intention was to upgrade them later to the new prime movers. That never happened, due to continuing problems with the 6,000 engine.

Canadian Pacific Railway originally purchased 65 SD90MAC locomotives, 61 of which were delivered with the 4300 HP prime mover (CP 9100-9160) and 4 were delivered with the new “H” engine (CP 9300-9303). The “H” engine was a real dud and the 9300s were eventually scrapped.

The 9100s ended up parked for a long time and offered up for sale. In the end, CP elected to have them rebuilt to SD70ACu locomotives and that program is ongoing. Recently, CP bought 40 more SD90s from Union Pacific to continue the conversion.

I was driving around the Perimeter Highway late in the morning of September 4, on my way to a yard sale that advertised “model railway items”. As I passed over the CP La Riviere subdivision, I noticed two locomotives “running light” south of the crossing. One of those was a yellow SD90, one of the ex UP engines.

I didn’t have the opportunity to turn around for a few kilometres, so I gave it some thought and elected to continue on to the yard sale – it wasn’t far away – and then chase these locomotives. I knew the La Riviere sub had a fairly low speed limit so I was confident that I could catch up to them.

The yard sale was a bit disappointing, but that was my fault for being relatively late (10:30 AM) and the owner said most of the items had already sold. I did end up buying a good gondola for a toonie ($2) so it wasn’t a waste of time.

I returned to the La Riviere subdivision and drove south along highway 330 through La Salle and Domain in search of the two locomotives. No dice! I kept going through Osborne and into new territory for me. As I approached McTavish, I saw them in the distance. Hooray!

After pulling ahead of them, I jumped out and grabbed a few shots as they rolled by. CP 3712’s Union Pacific heritage is obvious.

CP 3712 and 6256 on the branch line
CP 3712 and 6256 on the branch line

The other unit was CP 6256, an SD60 originally built as SOO 6056. Two EMD products together, somewhat rare, I think, given that most of CP’s fleet are GE products.


After photographing them, I put enough distance between them and myself that I could fly my drone and set up my video camera. It was pretty windy, and naturally my tripod blew over after the locomotives passed. No damage this time… I really need to carry a weight to dangle underneath the tripod to keep it from doing that.

I wasn’t sure if they were going to stop in Morris or keep going south to the big Viterra grain elevator at Agassiz between Morden and Winkler. I figured I could catch them in Morris, and as I approached Morris I saw that they were still north of the town and slowing down. Yay!

I chose to capture them crossing the diamond crossing of the CN Miami spur. This crossing is protected by signals and is used by CN to serve the Cargill grain elevator in Morris.

Crossing the diamond
Crossing the diamond

I had the “long lens” out for this one! Note the diamond “10” sign showing the speed limit in MPH.

I like the patch job done to reletter this unit for CP. It’s clean and simple, just big black “CP” lettering, but whoever did it matched the UP paint nicely. There’s no point in spending much money on repainting the whole locomotive when it will be repainted after conversion to an SD70ACu.

Pulling back
Pulling back

Here’s a wider view from the same location, showing the searchlight signals protecting the diamond crossing.

The two locomotives ended up stopping at the Paterson elevator in Morris to pull some cars. I didn’t hang around to watch any more, as it was getting late and I hadn’t eaten lunch.

Here’s the video combining two different locations – outside Morris with the drone and inside Morris passing the grain elevator.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time I chased an SD90 on that subdivision. Twice in 2011, I spotted an SD90 on a train near La Salle. The train I saw in July 2011 had two SD90s! Later that year in November, I caught an SD90 leading and an SD40-2 trailing.

Just One More Thing

I just finished reading “The End of Men” by Christina Sweeney-Baird. The premise of the novel is simple: a highly contagious, highly fatal virus emerges that only kills men. The story is told from the first-person viewpoint of several women across the world as the virus spreads and society reacts and learns how to deal with loss and the rapidly changing world.

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It’s interesting that this novel was written in 2018, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. I don’t think the author would say she was prescient – many people wrote about pandemics before this one started – but it was interesting to compare the way governments and society responded to the spreading virus in her novel against how our real world responded.

The novel deals a lot with grief and loss, as husbands and sons die, the women who survive have to deal with guilt, loss and how to carry on with their lives. There are a lot of interesting characters in this book and they have a lot of different viewpoints.

This book was both enjoyable to read and a bit hard to read… due to the emotions it invoked in me. It’s a good book. Recommended.

2 thoughts on “Chasing an SD90”

  1. The paint on the 3712 looks to be in good condition, which is a little surprising to me considering that UP was planning to sell it. As you say, someone did a good job in matching the paint when painting out the Union Pacific name, rather than just using whatever was handy at the time. I think that the placement of the CP initials on the locomotive’s nose looks better below the headlights compared to the usual placement on CP’s locomotives.

    In the picture of crossing the diamond, are there really a lot of joints in the rail, or is it an illusion created by the long lens?

    • Hi Brian, I too like the placement of the CP on the nose.

      I think the number of joints is an illusion; this is a crop of a telephoto shot so there’s a lot of compression.

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