Atlantic Canada Passenger Trains – David Othen

In the early and mid 1970s passenger services within Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia & New Brunswick – PEI had no passenger trains by this time) were operated by both CN & CP (including Dominion Atlantic Railway) mainly using RDCs (Budd cars) which were subsequently purchased by VIA. Mainline trains to Montreal were operated using coaches pulled by full carbody units. VIA took over all passenger services in 1978.

In the 1970s Canadian National also used RS-18 hauled coaches between Sydney and Truro and Gaspé and Matapedia which were then combined with the Halifax – Montreal train. On the Halifax – Montreal service CN used a mixture of Alco and GM A & B units with the occasional RS-18 in the 3100 series (steam-line equipped). In emergencies a non-steam line equipped RS-18 was used on the point.

CP usually used the GM E8A units but an Alco FPA-2 or a GM FP7A or FP9A were sometimes substituted. 

Canadian National

For more photos and a preview of our book on CN & VIA Passenger Services in Nova Scotia 1972-2012 click here.

Here we see a pure Alco/MLW set comprising three different models – FPA-4 6789, FPB-4 6869 & RS-18 3108 (fitted with a steam line) passing Rockingham station on the outskirts of Halifax with the Ocean bound for Montreal in August 1975.  CN operated two passenger trains (Scotian & Ocean) from Halifax to Montreal each day.

The Halifax bound Scotian (train #12) leaves Campbellton NB bound for Halifax behind a GM/Alco mix: GM FP9A 6536 and Alco/MLW FPB-4 6866 & RS-18m 3105 on 31 August 1974.

More photographs of CN F units can be seen in Canadian National F units.

A shortage of locomotives has necessitated the use of RS-18 3667. Because it does not have a steam line to carry the steam for heating the coaches, it has to be the lead locomotive and is followed by F9B 6621, FPA-4 6765 (both equipped with steam generators), a baggage car and 10 coaches passing Fairview shops on 5 September 1976.

The Sydney to Truro train arrives at the magnificent New Glasgow NS station (now demolished) behind RS-18s 3858 & 3629 in July 1973. Because these locomotives did not have steam boilers a separate steam generator car was attached behind the locomotives. On this occasion the steam generator unit (SGU) is CN 15413 built by Canadian Car & Foundry in 1956.

Although not strictly in Atlantic Canada, at Matapedia QC the power off the Halifax-bound Scotian switches out the first coach behind the baggage car to form train #118 to Gaspé in January 1975.

When the Scotian’s power is clear RS-18s 3865 & 3852 together with a steam generator unit back onto the lone combination coach-baggage car.

CN RDCs ran from Halifax to both Moncton and Sydney. Normally two or three RDC1s were used. Here train 603-602 from Sydney NS is almost at the end of its journey as it pauses to detrain passengers at Rockingham in June 1976. The station is on the left and the freight car scale on the right.

In addition to the Halifax services, RDCs operated from Moncton to Saint John and to Edmundston mainly using RDC2s.

On 27 December 1976 a special train is running from Moncton to Mont Joli QC with four passenger coaches and two RDC2s. A slide had blocked the line and forced the Montreal trains to go via Edmundston. So to provide service to Campbellton and Mont Joli, this special was run. It connected with the Halifax train seen on the adjacent platform.

Canadian Pacific

Canadian Pacific operated a daily loco-hauled train the “Atlantic” from Saint John NB to Montreal. Power was usually one of the three E8s but an FPA-2, FP7A or FP9A were sometimes used.

photo unavailable – Steve

On 7 October 1977 we see the Atlantic being serviced at Saint John station prior to its journey to Montreal.

Two days later the power for the Atlantic – a single FP7A 4073 – is serviced at the shops close to the ferry terminal in Saint John. The ferry linked Saint John to Digby on the Dominion Atlantic Railway. However it did not convey railway cars so all equipment for the DAR had to be sent by CN. Often CP RDCs were carried on the tailend of the Ocean or Scotian.

Dominion Atlantic Railway

Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) operated a RDC service from Halifax to Yarmouth with one RDC running a round trip in each direction each day. In May 1977, CP 9059 is leaving Kentville for Yarmouth. The DAR shops were at Kentville NS and RDCs full of passengers were often backed into the yards so that they could be refuelled. The attractive wooden station has regrettably been destroyed. Another photo of the DAR RDC can be seen on the page Old Liveries.

DAR mixed train, Clarksville NS, May 18 1974

DAR operated a mixed freight train from Windsor NS to Truro NS where there was an interchange with CN. The train left Windsor in the afternoon and returned from Windsor at night. The freight originated at Kentville and then stopped at Windsor NS to pick up an old wooden clerestory coach (latterly 1720) which was equipped with an oil heater and bus style seats. It was coupled ahead of the caboose.

In the picture above we see CP 8137 with the mixed after arriving at Truro NS in August 1973 and below we see the train passing Clarksville at 4:50 pm on 18 May 1974 led by CP 8139.


In 1976 CN introduced the new marketing slogan “VIA CN” and the bright yellow and blue colour scheme. On 31 March 1978, VIA acquired all CN passenger services and the next day became a separate Crown Corporation. In September 1978, VIA acquired CP’s passenger services and equipment. Initially services continued as before but in October 1979 the eastern services were integrated. The Scotian & Atlantic Limited were replaced by the Atlantic and the Sydney-Truro trains were replaced by RDCs. RDC service continued between Halifax and Yarmouth but the trains were based in Halifax not Kentville.

During the next 10 years many schedule modifications were made to try and increase ridership and cut costs but in 1990 all RDC service in Atlantic Canada was discontinued. More information can be found in our books Dominion Atlantic Railway – the final 25 years and CN & VIA Passenger trains in Nova Scotia 1972 – 2012.

Mainline trains to Montreal were reduced to a single train from Halifax (Ocean) six days per week and this in now three days per week. The Montreal – Gaspé train is currently suspended. Renaissance cars have been introduced on the Ocean and it is hauled by two or three F40PH-3s (see my videos on YouTube).

Here we see FPA-4 6765 in its new CN – VIA livery at Fairview, Halifax on 23 November 1976. Later the red CN was discontinued and eventually when VIA became independent a red VIA was added on the nose but eventually this too was dropped. For more photos including a passenger extra and a second section see Canadian National F units.

VIA 6419 in Moncton, April 20, 2007
VIA 6419 in Moncton, April 20, 2007

In 1986 VIA introduced the F40PH-2s. On 2 February 1987 6408 left Montreal with The Atlantic and was the first F40PH-2 to bring a passenger train into Atlantic Canada (thanks to Brian Barchard for this information).

Initially they were paired with an older unit which provided the steam heating to the cars. Here we see 6456 with FP9A 6506 leaving Halifax station in February 1990. Behind the FP9A is a steam generator car.

Here F40PH-2 6440 is paired with F9B 6618 and they are seen from the rear of the “Atlantic” as it climbs to the summit at Folly Lake on 13 September 1989.

Since the 1990 cutbacks and the conversion of the coaches to electric heat two F40PH-2s have been used with both units facing forwards. A VIA official told me that this was so that if one unit fails it can be removed and the train can continue with the other unit. Here we see two F40PH-2s (6450 leading) with the eastbound “Ocean” near Nappan NS on 18 August 1997.

This photograph shows the desktop control stand of F40PH-2 6442 on 26 September 1995 while it was undergoing routine servicing in the now closed Halifax shops. The desktop control panel was fitted to many locomotives in the 1980s & 90s. Subsequent CN deliveries have vertical control stands (apparently at the request of the engineers who found the desktops uncomfortable) but VIA’s new deliveries of the P42DCs have desktop controls.


The RDC services from Halifax to Yarmouth, Sydney, Moncton NB and beyond (Saint John & Fredericton had RDCs service from Halifax at certain periods) were continued by VIA Rail until the cutbacks in 1990 when all RDC operation out of Halifax and Moncton ceased.

Here we see three RDCs led by 6219 leaving Halifax station and passing the VIA maintenance shops on 11 November 1988. On the left the remnant of the station canopy is being used as an unloading platform for less than carload freight for road delivery mainly by Clarke Transport.

Between 1981 & 31 May 1985, RDC services from Halifax were extended as far as Fredericton. Then from 1 June to 14 September 1985 there was RDC service every day except Sunday from Fredericton to Saint John, leaving each morning at 08:30 and returning in the late afternoon.  This allowed people to attend the Canada Summer Games. Thanks to Brian Barchard for the information. 

Here VIA RDC-2 6218 is laying over at Fredericton station on Sunday 18 August 1985.  

In the snow on 17 January 1990 two RDCs wait at Sydney before returning to Halifax as train #608 in the last week of service on 7 January 1990. 

VIA RDCs 6137 & 6214 provide the last RDC passenger service to Moncton NB as train #613 on 14 January 1990.

However thirteen years later another VIA RDC, 6135, came from IRSI in Moncton, after upgrading, to Halifax station on a freight train before returning to Vancouver Island on the rear of the Ocean and Canadian. It is seen at the station on 23 March 2003.

In December 1994 the Atlantic was discontinued and the Ocean was the last VIA passenger train left in Atlantic Canada. It still operates six days per week between Montreal & Halifax via Campbellton & Moncton. It does not leave either terminus on Tuesdays. Three trainsets are required to operate the service.

VIA F40PH-2s 6432 & 6420 with train #14 have just passed Shubenacadie and are approaching Milford on 20 June 2003. Compare this photo with one taken at the same location four years later – see page 52 of CN & VIA Passenger trains in Nova Scotia 1972 – 2012.

The Ocean is normally turned on the balloon track at the Halterm container pier. However if the track is not available the train has to be backed 16 miles to Windsor Junction where, with much squealing, it is turned on the wye before backing the sixteen miles to Halifax station. In recent years the last car is specially fitted with temporary ditch lights if the train has to go to Windsor Junction.

Here, on 3 June 2003, F40PH-2s 6432 & 6420 and their train of about 12 cars are entering the gates of the Halterm container pier where they will meet an escorting truck with flashing lights that will lead them around the balloon track.

Normally the Ocean & the Gaspé train are run as a single train from Montreal to Matapedia where the two trains are separated (see the photos in the CN section). One locomotive and about five or six cars go to Gaspé.

Occasionally because of equipment failures or track problems this does not happen an the entire train comes to Halifax with the three locomotives and two baggage cars on the head end.

On 12 January 2003 the combined train prepares to leave Halifax behind 6408, 6414 & 6428.

As the F40PH-2s got older, locomotive failures became more common. When this occurred  a CN locomotive was leased if one was available. Models used included GP38-2, GP40-2, SD60F, SD70M-2 but perhaps the most surprising was the GP9R 7003 that was picked up at Charny and came all the way to Halifax. Because of the requirements to provide electrical power to the passenger cars the leased locomotive has to be on the front. It is seen here leaving Halifax on 19 January 2003.

The Bras d’Or

A summer only tourist train, the Bras d’Or was introduced between Halifax & Sydney Nova Scotia in 2000. It operated until the fall of 2004 and used equipment, including the Skyline & Park dome cars, from the Ocean during its layover in Halifax.

The Bras d’Or with VIA 6433 and 5 cars passes Bedford Quarry & Rocky Lake about 7:30 am on 8 July 2003.

Here, the Bras d’Or with 6432 with four VIA cars and a private car on the rear crosses a bridge at Sutherlands River on 19 August 2003.


In December 2000 VIA purchased 139 British-built Nightstar coaches. After modifications they became the Renaissance cars. However they had many problems especially because of our cold winters and so many modifications and repairs have had to be carried out.

The first Renaissance Ocean left Montreal on 30 July 2003. Here it is seen crossing Elmsdale bridge on 1 August 2003.


In 2006 the first of the VIA F40PH-2s 6400 was rebuilt. It was tested for two years, quite often on the Ocean, before other units entered the rebuilding programme at Canadian Allied Diesel in Lachine QC. Now the majority of units have been rebuilt and all these have had  their carbodies modified to accommodate a Head End Power electric generator.

Rebuilt F40PH-2s 6417 & 6410 head the Ocean with 14 Renaissance cars and a Park car out of Halifax on 2 September 2010.

Back to David Othen’s Canadian Train Photographs

Material on this page copyright 1997-2015 by Pat and David Othen. Reproduced with permission.

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