CN and CP Switchers – David Othen

A varied mixture of Alco/MLW, GM and a few GE diesel locomotives have carried out
switching duties in Atlantic Canada.

Switching on Canadian Pacific was performed by Alco RS-23s in New Brunswick and by GM SW1200RSs, in either their original or rebuilt states, on the Dominion Atlantic Railway (DAR) in Nova Scotia.

CP has now sold its trackage in Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick Southern operates on former CP trackage in New Brunswick and the Windsor & Hantsport Railway took over part of the DAR trackage in Nova Scotia (the rest was abandoned). See Shortlines in Nova Scotia.

A very dirty RS-23 in need of cleaning and painting! Seen outside the old shops at Saint John NB 9 October 1977. Most of this trackage has since been removed.

Here we see two cleaner RS-23s outside the new shops at Saint John, NB on 15 September 1989. The first is in the livery of the short-lived CP Rail subsidiary – the Canadian Atlantic Railway. The trackage has now been sold and the New Brunswick portion is owned by the Irving interests and is called the New Brunswick Southern Railway while the Maine & Quebec portions were purchased by Iron Horse Railroads and were called the Canadian American Railroad – it too was purchased by the Irvings and became the Eastern Maine Railway.

The DAR in Nova Scotia was separate from the CP Rail lines in New Brunswick and used SW1200RSs for all duties (except passenger services which used two Budd cars as single units). Here we see 8138 & 1273 at Hantsport on 18 August 1990. When the DAR was sold to the Windsor & Hantsport Railway the SW1200s were kept by CP and instead the W&H received RS-23s (see page on shortlines & industrial operations in Nova Scotia).

A mixed train ran from Windsor to Truro and back until the end of the 1970s. Here we see SW1200RS 8132 bringing the mixed into Windsor NS on 17 October 1979. Further information and pictures can be seen in the page on Passenger Operations in Atlantic Canada.

The main freight operations for the DAR and its successor the WHRC were the haulage of gypsum from the mines near Windsor NS to the shipping terminal at Hantsport for which a series of air operated dump cars were used in trains of 25 cars (less in WHRC operations). CP & WHRC had a connection with CN at Windsor Junction. From there CP (but not WHRC) had running rights to Rockingham and Ocean Terminals in Halifax which they used until the late 1970s.

Here CP 8133 & 8137 (in new & old liveries) are returning with four grain cars of flour for a bakery and a box car in June 1973. WHRC 8042 and 8041 approaching Windsor Junction on April 24, 2006.

In the 1970s and 1980s Canadian National switching was generally performed by Alco/MLW S-4, S-7, S-12 and S-13 units as well as GM SW1200RSs.

Two late model S-4s – 8193 & 8192 are switching cars in the Moncton yards on 14 June 1982.

CN 8233 is an S-7 and is entering the yards at Rockingham with a car carrier and two cabooses in April 1973 (or 1975?). The S-7 was a Canadian version of the S4 and was only built by MLW for 3 months in 1957 and all 29 were sold to Canadian National.

Here we see S-12 8238 with COFCs at Ocean Terminals Halifax NS in May 1975. This model was also unique to Canadian National and only 11 were built by MLW over four months in 1958.

One S-12 unit, 8245, is preserved at the New Brunswick Railway Museum.

The S-13 was similar to the S-12 but the 539 turbo engine was replaced by a 251C. Both units can be distinguished by the higher body which necessitates a step in the walkway towards the front of the locomotive. 8518 is seen at Moncton shops on 24 March 1989.

The size difference between the S-4 8192 and the S-13s 8606 & 8612 is clearly seen as they shunt cars at the Moncton yards.


From the mid 1970s to the late 1980s SW1200RSs dominated the local scene in the Halifax area performing switching and transfer duties as well as freight haulage along the South Shore to Bridgewater and Lunenburg. A few returned to the area in 1998.

SW1200RS 1330 switches the maintenance and piggyback yards at Fairview NS in June 1976. Note the wide assortment of freight cars.

SW1200RS 1334 with two cabooses and a string of oil tanks leaves the Dartmouth yards for the Imperial Oil refinery and passes the old Dartmouth station probably in the fall of 1972.

SW1200RS 1335 (note old style number) arrives at Southwestern Junction with two empty FGE/UP reefers in May 1974. The crew are using the telephone in the hut to request permission to enter the mainline near Fairview and will then back their train into the Rockingham yards.

In this picture we see SW1200RS 1329 paired with RS-18 #3661 on a transfer freight between Dartmouth and Halifax via Windsor Junction, NS in August 1974.

When the S-7s & S-12s were retired some of the S-13s were rebuilt into the 8700 series as switchers and into 100 or 300 series as hump yard units which were paired with slugs built from S-3s. All of these units have now been retired.

S-13R 8700 is switching the Dartmouth NS yards with 8705 in February 1996.

Here we see two S-13s which have been rebuilt for hump yard duties pausing on the Moncton hump on 4 August 1990. 110 is set up as a lead unit and 119 as a trailing unit; the two slugs are 164 & 356 (both built from S-3s).

Yard duties in the 1980s at Moncton, New Brunswick, were also carried out by GP38-2ms with slugs. Initially these were numbered in the 7500 series but were later renumbered into the 200 series. The slugs were specially built by GMD in 1978 & 1980. Here we see Geeps 224 & 222 with slugs 282 & 280 pushing cars up the hump in February 1981.

Hump use at Gordon Yard Moncton was discontinued about 1997.

For a brief period in September 1993 mother GP38-2m 7530 and slug HBU-4 526 appeared in Dartmouth.

A few rebuilt GP9s with slugs have occasionally appeared in the region. Here we see “mother” GP9RM 7271 with “daughter” (slug) 271 in the Moncton yards on 1 July 1994. In 1999 and 2000 a mother and slug operated at Ocean Terminals in Halifax.


In 1994 GMD1s 1900 – 1902 & 1910 arrived at Moncton. Then in 1997 GP40s in the 9300 series took over many of the switching duties in the Moncton yards. These were withdrawn and sold in early 1998 and were replaced for a short while by rebuilt GMD1s in the 1400 series then by 7100 series “Sweeps”. These were then followed by GP9RMs, some with slugs, but other life-expired units such as GP38-2s and GP40-2s have been used, presumably until they have a major breakdown. By 2010 very little switching was done at Moncton and usually GP38-2 and GP38-2Ws were used.

By 1998 switching in the rest of Atlantic Canada was briefly taken over by a few GM SW1200RSs, by the rebuilt version (without the characteristic cylindrical exhaust manifolds) in the 7300 series and by SW1200RMs “SWEEPS” in the 7100 series (SW1200RSs with components from scrapped GP9s including a cut down front hood). In late 1998 a number of GMD1s appeared in the Halifax area but within a year all four models had left.

By 2000 rebuilt GP9Rs in the 7000 or occasionally 4000 series and an occasional GP38-2 carried out switching, yard and transfer duties. A few years later, GP38-2 & GP38-2Ws and sometimes a GP40-2 predominated. 

The number of switching operations has been reduced and now there are usually two GP9, GP38 or GP40 locomotives (or their variants) in Halifax, Dartmouth, Truro, Moncton & Edmundston. When necessary mainline freights stop to pick up loads from remote locations not easily serviced by these yard switchers. However, since about 2010, high horsepower mainline units including GE Dash 8s and GM SD70Is and SD75Is have often been used as yard switchers at Rockingham and sometimes in Dartmouth.

Here two unrebuilt GMD1s 1901 & 1900 originally equipped with steam generators (hence the grilles on the end of the short hood) are attired in different liveries at Moncton on 3 August 1996.

GP40 9304 is switching Moncton yards on 2 August 1997.

Two GMD1s 1418 & 1421 are switching Moncton yards on 9 July 1998. Note the absence of grilles allows the CN logo to be placed higher on the short hood.

SW1200RM (SWEEP – SW & GP units combined) 7101 is seen at Dartmouth on 4 February 1998. The GP9 body is clearly evident and the dynamic brake housing has been opened up to allow an air-filter to be installed.

Rebuilt SW1200RS 7304 is seen at Dartmouth coupled to 7101 seen in the picture above. Note that the cylindrical exhaust manifolds have been removed.

7069 was one of the first rebuilt GP9s to work in the region and is seen at Moncton yards on 15 August 1998. Note the unusual location of the bell on these units.

CN GP9R 4119 & GP38-2 4728 switch Dartmouth yards on 25 March 2009.

CN GP40-2W 9670 & GP38-2 4727 switch Dartmouth yards on 21 February 2003

GP38-2 4720 switches Truro yards on 19 August 2003. HATX SD45-2 914 on lease to the CBNS is in the background.

GE Dash 8-40CM CN 2417 is in use as the yard switcher at Rockingham on 30 March 2011.

Dash 8-40C 2125 (ex UP) is the Rockingham switcher on 17 August 2011.

Photo unavailable – Steve

SD75I 5701 and a sister unit are switching Dartmouth yards on 29 May 2006 before taking cars to Burnside. On some occasions the power from the gypsum train is used for local switching duties in Dartmouth or even Halifax.

Back to David Othen’s Canadian Train Photographs

Material on this page copyright 1997-2012 by Pat and David Othen. Reproduced with permission.

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