BC Rail by David Othen


BC Rail (formerly Pacific Great Eastern) was initially dieselised with Alco/MLW units and they appeared in the well known two-tone green livery (in most cases with a zig-zag) and with yellow/orange ends below the frame.

In 1980 the railroad began to purchase new General Motors SD40-2s. Later they also bought some second hand. In 1984 seven GM electric GF6C units were purchased for use on the new Tumbler Ridge line where the tunnels and remote location made the use of electric units more cost-effective (although occasionally Canadian National and presumably BC Rail diesel units did travel the line). The GF6C units appeared in an attractive new red, white and blue livery with BRITISH COLUMBIA RAILWAY in blue and the BC flag on the white band.

Soon after, an Expo 86 version of this colour scheme appeared. The white band was narrower, two white lines crossed the red band near the rear of the unit and BC Rail in white block lettering was placed on the red band. The Expo 86 was in black on both sides of the silver fuel tank.

After Expo 86 was over, a modified scheme was introduced with a wider white band with a small BC flag and the BC Rail logo in red and blue on this band. There were no white lines crossing the red band.

Between 1995 and 1999, BC Rail purchased several 4 and 6 axle second hand GE locomotives and these were repainted in plain dark blue livery, sometimes with yellow or silver frames and silver trucks. Later white BC Rail logos were added. The second order of new Dash 9-44CWL were also delivered in this livery in 2000.

BC Rail has now been purchased by CN but in 2012 the Dash 8 and Dash 9 units were still operating across North America in their BC Rail liveries. All other units had been withdrawn and most have been sold or scrapped.

The Route

The 462 mile trip on the BC Rail RDC from Prince George to Vancouver was, I think, one of the most exciting standard gauge train trips in North America. However it did not cover all the BC Rail system which went north to Fort Nelson (see the map below from the back page of Employee Timetable 19).The RDC made its last run on 31 October 2002 and BC Rail was leased by CN for 999 years from the Government of British Columbia in 2004. Most of the BC Rail locomotives were sold or scrapped but the GE Dash 8 and Dash 9 units were kept and in 2012 are still operating on CN in their BC Rail liveries.

BC Rail timetable map

In this brief overview, we start at Dawson Creek (close to the Alberta border) and attempt to show some of the rugged and beautiful country that BC Rail traverses.

BCR 3901, 605 & 3903 (two B39-8Es with a CAT engined RS-18M in between) are pulling  a freight train, mainly loaded grain cars, out of the yards at Dawson Creek heading for Chetwynd to the south-west on 27 May 1999.

En route the train has to descend into (and climb out of) the East Pine River Valley and it can be seen clinging to the sandy hillsides before it reaches this spectacular bridge.

At Chetwynd the main north – south line, from Fort Nelson to Vancouver, is reached.

Twenty one years earlier on 16 May 1978, M-420 647 (in the earlier two tone green livery without zig-zag) is making a smoky departure with a southbound freight. There are five locos on the head-end – M-420s 647, 644 & 641, RS-18 621 and RS-3M 569. I am not sure whether there were any mid-train helpers but I don’t think so.

Below we see the RS-3M 569.

All the time Alco C-420 632 (one of only two owned by BC Rail) was sitting forlornly in the yards.

June 8, 1989

Eleven years later, a northbound freight led by M-420 646 in the zig-zag livery, 644 in the red, white and blue livery and SD40-2 763 is preparing to leave the Chetwynd yards early on the morning of 8 June 1989. BC Rail were kind enough to allow me to travel in the cab.

After travelling up the Pine River valley we reached Septimus, where there is a 5200 foot siding, and we met the southbound train from Fort St. John. Here, crews exchanged trains but not locomotives and returned to their starting points.

The two sets of locomotives are preparing to exchange trains at Septimus. Our train will return southbound with SD40-2 763 now in the lead.

BC Rail caboose 1880 in Septimus, BC, June 8, 1989

On arrival at Chetwynd M-630 718 (with a Locotrol remote control transmitter) was attached to the front and after some shunting two mid-train helpers were also added – M-630W 729 and cabless M-420B 688 (which had the Locotrol receiver – hence its RCL designation)

The train was now ready to leave for Prince George. After cresting the summit of Pine Pass about 70 miles south of Chetwynd it began its descent. The photos show both the leading locomotives and the mid train units.

May 27, 1999

On 27 May 1999 we followed another southbound freight through the Pine Pass. By now the Alcos had been replaced by GE locomotives DASH 8-40CM 4622 (purchased new as an add-on to a CN order) and C36-8 3622 (purchased second-hand) with Dash 8-40CM 4620 as mid-train helper. However there was still a rain storm in the pass!

In the photo above the train is climbing the north side of the Pass. Below it is descending the south side of Pine Pass.

BC Rail Electrics

At Wakely the electrified Tumbler Ridge branch from Quintette joins the main line. This line carried metallurgical coal from the Quintette and Bullmoose mines through a long tunnel to the junction at Wakeley. The line was electrified in order to reduce the costs of tunnel ventilation. The mines closed in 2000 and 2003 and subsequently the electric equipment was removed and the locomotives sold and later scrapped. Recently new mines have been opened and coal trains will be hauled by diesel locomotives.

GF6Cs 6001 & 6004 are at Quintette with a loaded coal train. The units have slow speed settings for operating through the coal loader and remote control that allows them to be operated by the coal loader staff.

CN and BC Rail at Quintette, June 1989

The trains and sometimes locomotives are interchanged between BC Rail and Canadian National at Prince George. Two Dash 8-40CMs, one from each railroad, are leaving the CN yards in Prince George with a train of empty coal cars for Wakely & Tumbler Ridge on 28 May 1999.

BC Rail also has extensive yards at Prince George and in 1999 these were switched by mothers and slugs. On the 28 May two mothers and two slugs form a team.  The mothers are RS-18Ms 603 & 610 and the slugs are S405 & S406 created from old RS-3s.

On the same day, in the same yards, a wood products train was preparing to depart south behind B36-7s 3604 & 3612 (both recently purchased second-hand – they have been painted but have yet to receive their logos). Note that one locomotive has a blue frame and one a silver frame.

South of Prince George to Quesnel there is more rugged terrain with forested areas and several steep valleys requiring trestles including the well-known Cottonwood trestle.


At Quesnel there is a large pulp mill, a yard and station and often a lot of switching activity. From Quesnel south to Williams Lake, the line travels on a plateau above the Fraser River. There is fertile agricultural land on the plateau as seen here near Kersley.

Dash 8-40CM 4613 & Dash 9-44CWL 4644 were on the point of this southbound train and Dash 8-40CM 4605 was the mid-train locomotive remotely controlled from 4613 on 2 June 1999. We followed this train to Williams Lake.

Other parts of the Fraser River Canyon are steeper and more wooded. The mid train helper of the same train is seen below near Soda Creek.

Several tributaries join the Fraser River and these have to be crossed. At Hawks Creek the 312 foot high steel trestle, seen below, is one of the highest railway bridges in the world.

Finally the train enters Williams Lake.

From Williams Lake the line follows the San Jose River through ranching land to Exeter (100 mile house) and Lone Butte and then on to Kelly Lake.

BC-21 and two other RDCs are seen below at Exeter station southbound on 11 June 1989.

At Kelly Lake the line descends for thirty five miles at a 2.2% grade into the Fraser Canyon and eventually crosses the river on a high trestle before arriving at Lillooet. The journey up or down this grade in the RDCs certainly provides splendid sights of the canyon and its steep sides. Often the track seems to be on a ledge of sand with nothing to stop it plunging into the river thousands of feet below. Regrettably, on 29 June 2006, a CN locomotive and flat car of lumber ran away on the grade and derailed with disastrous consequences.

In the picture above, three DASH 8-40CMs (one of which is mid-train) are using their dynamic and regular brakes to control a heavy freight on its descent. Below the train has arrived safely at the trestle on 30 May 1995. A suburb of Lillooet is seen  on the plateau.


Lillooet is an important yard and the terminus of many RDC services.

On 19 May 1986 six RDCs (33, 20, 31, 10, 11 & 21) are loading passengers before proceeding south to North Vancouver. The first two RDCs have come from North Vancouver and the other four from Prince George. All six are returning to North Vancouver.

South of Lillooet the tracks hug the shoreline of Anderson and Seton Lakes where there are frequent rock slides. For this reason all trains are preceded by a speeder or more recently a highrailer (BC Rail also did this north of Lillooet) but the practice may have been discontinued by CN.

Dash 8-40CM 4607 & SD40-2 756 are heading a northbound freight  beside Seton Lake on 30 May 1995.

There are many more spectacular sights along the lakes and then on the descent into and the climb out of Pemberton towards Whistler. Often freight trains had both mid-train helpers and pushers here. Now because of higher-powered locomotives pushers are rarely used.

In this picture taken on 19 May 1986, from the window of a southbound RDC, three M-630s 714, 702 & 705 together with mid-train helpers (704 & 706) and pushers (726 & 763) are getting a northbound freight underway using all their 21,000 hp. Look at the exhaust haze!

From Whistler the line travels through more well known territory (but nevertheless very attractive) as it descends through tunnels and across raging rivers to the coast at Squamish. The main workshops for BC Rail were located here and major repairs and rebuilds were carried out in these shops  On 1 June 1995 slug S408 and Dash 8-40CM 4626 were being repaired (4626 had been involved in a sideswipe).

RS-18M 626 had just been rebuilt with a CAT engine and new ventilators and was being steam cleaned prior to painting.


At Squamish on 1 June 1995, the northbound train # 1 with RDCs 31 & 33 passes Stawamus Chief Mountain and a few minutes later a southbound freight passes the same location.

The Vancouver-bound freight is hauled by DASH 8-40CM 4609, SD40-2 766 and 629 a CAT re-engined RS-18 (RS-18M).

From Squamish the line travels along the rugged coast to North Vancouver. It is along this stretch of track that the Royal Hudson 2860 used to haul its tourist train. At North Vancouver there were extensive yards, shops and wharves.

On 21 May 1986, RS-18 612 and S-13 1003 were switching the wharf.

On the same day S-13s 1001 & 1002 were switching the yards. All three S-13s have different liveries.

The same day Alco C-420 # 805 was at the North Vancouver shops.


Here’s a long BC Rail video of David’s from May 1995.

BC Rail May 1995


The British Columbia Railway Volumes 1& 2 by Timothy J. Horton published by BRMNA Calgary
BC Rail – British Columbia’s Great Train Adventure by Chris Harris published by Country Light Publishing.
BC Rail Condensed Profile No 3
BC Rail Timetable 19

Back to David Othen’s Canadian Train Photographs

Material on this page is copyright by David and Pat Othen. Reproduced with permission of David’s widow Pat.

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