Note: the images on this page were re-scanned from the negatives in June 2007 to get better quality images. Enjoy!

Where it all started

Once there was a small boy, hardly much more than two years old, playing on his grandparents' balcony, at 1649 Canora Road in the Town of Mount Royal (Montreal, Canada). Quite often, a commuter train would go by in full view, painted in the black-and-white Canadian National livery. He'd look up and marvel at this moment of technology before going back to playing with his toys, not realizing what a profound impact it would have on his future interests. He did not realize, either, what a historically interesting railway this was, nor that it would still be around some 30 years later, different, but basically still the same...

North-west to Deux-Montagnes


One of the more interesting railway lines in Canada is the line from downtown Montreal to Deux-Montagnes, a suburban area north-west of the city. The line operates through the 5km Mount Royal Tunnel, originally built by the Canadian Northern Railway in order to provide access to the lines north of Montreal without having to go around the city. The tunnel was opened for service in October 1918, having been delayed by the onset of World War I, and cost 5 million dollars, a considerable sum, especially in those days.

Because of the long tunnel, steam (and later diesel) traction was out of the question, and a series of General Electric 1100 HP electric boxcab locomotives (CN class Z-1-a) were built for hauling trains through the tunnel. Originally designed for 2400V DC overhead catenary operation, the electrical system was later upgraded to 3000V DC, generated by mercury rectifiers at three substations along the line.

The electrification originally stretched from Montreal to the station of Val Royal, originally called Lazard, (close to modern-day Bois-Franc station), utilizing double track. With increasing traffic, the electrification was continued out to Deux-Montagnes ("Two Mountains"), originally called S:t Eustache-sur-le-lac (same as modern-day Grand-Moulin ("Great Mill") station), although past Val Royal, single track remained. In the 1930's a short 2km branch from Val Royal was opened to Cartierville giving a total of about 30km of electified railway. From the timetables of the 1970's, it's evident that not many trains took this route; most trains went along the main line to Deux-Montagnes, some even turning around before they'd reached the terminus. However, one Sunday train actually left Montreal for Val Royal, carried on the branch to Cartierville, returned to Val Royal and finally continued out to Deux-Montagnes as the same train, making for interesting time table reading.

Declining service

For a long time, the line was operated entirely by the Canadian National, but the 1970's where tough times for many a railroad, and service declined slowly. I remember the trains becoming fewer and fewer with each year; the 1979 schedule only had two trains in each direction on Sundays, a definitive let-down from the 1977 schedule only a couple of years earlier with eight trains in each direction! In 1982 the Montreal Urban Community Transit Commission (MUCTC, later CTCUM and finally CUM) took control over the line, although CN still operated and owned the actual trains. Although one station was cancelled (Cartierville), service improved and the 1983 schedule has the Sunday score up to nine trains in each direction.

Modern times

In 1995, as part of a provincial improvement program, the line was completely redone. Stations were renamed and in many cases relocated and new rolling stock acquired. The track was relaid, and the electrical system was changed to 25000V AC, necessitating completely new catenary. The line was in fact closed from June to October while the work took place (it was again closed for a while shortly after reopening as the trains could not handle the winter cold). It was also extended by one station: former end station Deux-Montagnes was renamed Grand-Moulin and a new station called Deux-Montagnes built further north. Today, the trains are operated by CN for the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT), the commission responsible for commuter train services around Montreal. Sadly, the change of electric system means that the old rolling stock can never be used again on the line.

The Town of Mount Royal

One of the first stops for the train after it has left the tunnel on its way north is Mount Royal in the Town of Mount Royal. My grandparents lived on Canora Road just across the tracks, and I vividly remember the commuter trains on this line during the 1970's, both the long peak hour trains, made up of six-axle heavyweight coaches pulled by the same boxcab locomotives that pulled the first trains through the tunnel, to the three and six car EMU's that where built in the 1950's. A couple of times a week - it might even have been every day at some point - a diesel-hauled train from further north than the catenary stretched would be pulled through the tunnel by a couple of boxcabs, making a bit of a change from the routine. In the opposite direction, the pair of boxcabs would often leave the diesel train just outside the tunnel at Portal Heights, the first station after the tunnel; sometimes they would pull the train on past Mount Royal, later to return 'light' at high speed back past the station and through the tunnel.

Most of the trains in those days were in the black-and-white CN livery, with the red CN 'wet noodle' logo on the sides. I do remember some of the heavyweights still being in the old dark green livery though, probably just at the start of the 1970's.

In the summer of 1980, as a young teenager with a definite interest in trains, I decided to document the area around Mount Royal station. After almost twenty years, these images are now becoming historical. Hopefully you'll find them interesting; if you knew the area in those days they might even provoke a smile of remembrance or two. What can't be conveyed here are the other senses: the 'clang clang clang' of the engine's bell as it entered and left the station, the perpetual smell of impregnated ties in the hot sun or the combined smell of hot grease and ozone as the engines pulled by, nor the sound of the traction motors of the accellerating engines struggling to pull their load.

Boxcabs and heavywights bound for Montreal

This 1980 summer morning peak hour train is pulled by Z-1-a class engines 6710 and 6715 on its way towards Montreal. Note the heavyweight passanger cars; although the end of the train can't be seen, it probably consists of about ten cars. Leading the train, 6710 is the oldest of the two, built in 1914, although her younger sister 6715 is only two years younger. Most engine-hauled trains were pulled by two engines; I remember seeing British-built English Electric class Z-4-a number 6716, similar although not identical in appearance, on her own with a rake of heavyweights several times.

Those of you with sharp eyesight (and a good memory) will notice that the engines have not yet been equipped with rounded-corner rubber-mounted front windows.

In 1999, the station house had become a restaurant, and the ticket booth at the top of the stairs has been replaced with ticket machines and 'paid fare zone' signs. In 2003, the station building was empty with no indication as to its future fate. I've since been reassured (thanks to M. Dufour for this one) that it is once again occupied by a restaurant.

CN 6710 side view

In 1980, Z-1-a number 6710 is the second engine double heading a morning train bound for Deux Montagnes, here waiting at Mount Royal station while passengers board the heavyweight cars. In 1995, the new 25000V AC electrical system will make it impossible for her to run on her original tracks, but sister engine 6714 is now at the Connecticut Trolley Museum and will be rebuilt to suit the 600V DC system used on the line operated by the museum. Another sister engine, 6711, the first engine to traverse the line, is preserved at the Canadian Railway Museum in Delson/S:t Constant, Quebec (just south of Montreal) together with one of the EMU's, although there are no provisions there for allowing them to operate under their own power.

EMU's bound for Deux-Montagnes

Yet another morning train bound for Deux-Montagnes, this one consists of an EP-59a class EMU followed by an ET-69a class non-powered trailer. Not visible in the picture is definitely another trailer unit as the EMU's were always operated in sets of three (one motorized unit and two unmotorized trailers). Being a peak hour train, most likely another three car set follows the first three, making up a six car train. Although few travellers will take the train in this direction, many more will have boarded by the time it makes its return journey to Montreal.

EMU on level crossing north of station

Built in 1952, EP-59a class EMU 6734 has left Mount Royal station and is headed across the level crossing just north of Mount Royal station. Number 6734 is heading an early afternoon train, carrying workers returning from work in downtown Montreal back to their homes in the suburbs. The level crossing joins Canora road (running paralllel to the tracks on the far side of the tracks) with Dunkirk (running parallel to the tracks just behind the photographer). My grandparents house was on Canora facing the tracks, a few car lengths to the left of this picture.

In 1980 when this picture was taken, the level crossing was still open to road traffic. A couple of years later, it would be open only to pedestrians, alleviating the traffic jams which would occur on both sides of the railway lines as lines of cars had to wait for the trains to cross, sometimes in both directions.

(A historical note: Canora actually stands for Canadian Northern Railway, the company who built the line).

(Footnote: Number 6734 is now preserved at the Canadian Railway museum at Delson/S:t Constant, although it is currently not on public display, at least not when I was there in the summer of 2003, being stored in a shed with other equipment to be renovated.)

Until recently

modern EMU stopping at Mount Royal

Not many people are getting ready to board train 994, headed by EMU 450, bound for Montreal on Canada day (July 1st) 1999, as it pulls into Mount Royal station, now called Mont-Royal. Although hardly visible in the picture, a little boy and his grandmother have come down just to look at the train come and go, just as I remember going for a walk with my grandfather to "look at the trains".

Built in 1995 by Bombardier, number 450 will soon have reached the same spot that 6710 and 6715 are depicted in further above; note how the large platform canopy has been removed and replaced by smaller 'huts'; and the wooden telegraph poles from which the DC catenary was suspended has been replaced by steel gantries carrying the 25000V AC overhead wires.

And finally...

end of heavyweight train

Gleaming in the hot afternoon sun sometime in the summer of 1980, this rake of heavyweight cars has just cleared the level crossing north of Mount Royal station on its way to Deux-Montagnes.

1976 film

In the summer of 1976 I got my father to take a 3 minute Super 8 film of the trains at Mount Royal station. The film depicts z-1-a boxcabs 6713+6712 pulling a heavyweight train out of the station, as well as EP-59a multiple units with ET-69a trailers coming and going. At the end of the film boxcabs 6711+6710 pull a long train going north over the level crossing north of the station.

The film was shot around 9 o'clock in the morning, which I remember well, as I gave up one of my favorite shows, Captain Kangaroo, in order to go out with my father.

There is no sound for this film; it was shot on silent Super-8, and I decided to leave it that way. I wish I had a recording of the characteristic whine of the locomotives as they accelerated, or the locomotive bell being rung as the trains entered and left the station. But the experience still wouldn't be complete without the smell of warm grease and ozone together with the creosote-impregnated track sleepers. You'll have to use your imagination...

Other sources of information

Although historically interesting, there doesn't seem to be a lot of literature on the line. On the 'net, those of you who can read French will find Marc Dufour's pages very interesting; they also include several pictures of the old and new rolling stock (as well as a presentation of the rubber-tyred Montreal Metro system).

Mark Walton, a member of the Bytown Railway Society, has held a presentation on the history of the line, a large part of which is available on the Internet. Mark has also included a list of new homes of the old rolling stock as well as a wealth of other information.

Although rare, there are pages depicting boxcab electrics. This one used to show Z-1-a 6714, as well as a Z-4-a in the old CN livery with the 'stamp' logo on its side. However, those pictures appear to have been removed for whatever reason, although there are a number of other boxcab electrics from other North American railroads, of special interest being the boxcabs from the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific, which predate and largely resemble the Montreal boxcabs. Boxcab diesels are more common and there seem to be several pages on the 'net about these.

For those of you who are into modeling but not too hot on building building from scratch, Model Die Casting make an H0 boxcab diesel kit which I'm attempting to convert into something resembling a Z-1-a. (If you do get hooked on this idea, note that MDC offer a track cleaing locomotive which is not shown on their web page; it's basically identical to their boxcab diesel although it has an additional door at each end like the CN boxcabs had.)

Several books on Canadian railways mention the line, for instance Greg McDonnell's Signatures in steel and Keith Littlewood's Canadian National in the East, Volume Four. Anthony Clegg wrote a 30-page book(let) on the line in 1962 (The Mount Royal Tunnel); it is long out of print although a copy of it can still be found be found at the Town of Mount Royal public library.

The Canadian Historic Railway Association (CHRA) publishes a bi-monthly magazine, Canadian Rail; in the 1995 May-June issue, Fred F. Angus wrote an interesting article on the line on occasion of its closure before the 1995 reconstruction. A couple of other issues of Canadian Rail also have other information on the line and its rolling stock.

If you have any other information on the line, rolling stock, literature or suitable models, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

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