Up in the northern wilderness, the stroke of a pen had set in motion one of the most ambitious industrial enterprises British Columbia had seen since the Kemano Project put Kitimat on the map. While mines load outs, a railroad, and a new town site - Tumbler Ridge – were being constructed, a contract had been let in August 1982 for seven electric locomotives to be designed, proved, and delivered to BC Rail by December 1983.
An army of draftsmen and engineers were pouring over the drafting tables at General Motors Canada Limited – Diesel Division (GMDL-DD) in London, Ontario. Collaborating with Allmänna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA) of Sweden, drawing upon their vast electric locomotive expertise, working together against an uncompromising schedule to design, build and deliver a fleet of electric locomotives for a remote northern British Columbia coal hauler.
Power was drawn from an overhead catenary system supplying 50kV AC, sent from the WAC Bennet Dam up on the Peace River. The ceramic insulators on the roof were hand made, exactly like you've seen pottery being hand shaped! The 48” fan draws heat from the dynamic braking resistance. And notice only Spiderman can get up on the roof, a deliberate design feature to keep maintainers away from the "hot stuff."
Once inside the locomotive, Thyristor - diode bridges converted the 50kV AC to Direct Current (DC) to power the six - axle mounted E-88 DC traction motors. HTC trucks such as those found on the SD40-2 were also utilized.
The GF6C units were rated at 6,000 horsepower, delivering 90,000 pounds continuous tractive effort to the rails, at 21.5 miles per hour, with a top speed of 56 mph.
Built on the same single solid steel 1” thick deck plate as the SD40-2, the units weighed in at 398,720 pounds. This worked out to 67,118 pounds per axle. Electric locomotives have some heavy components. Take for example the transformer, at 35,500 pounds – 17+ tons! The Thyristor converter cabinet; a hefty 7,700 pounds.
The overall length of each unit was 68’10”, 16’10” from top of rail to lock down pantograph. With pantographs fully extended to the catenary wire, 23’7”
Unlike the Milwaukee Road electrics, dynamic braking instead of regenerative braking was utilized on the GF6C. The Milwaukee Road electrics traction motors became generators on the downgrade, sending electricity back into the catenary and public system.
The GF6C used dynamic braking similar to diesel-electric locomotives. On the downgrade, the traction motors became generators sending current to a resistance regulated at 760A. A 48” roof mounted fan dissipated heat, often approaching 700 degrees Fahrenheit, into the atmosphere.
A wheel creep control system allowed each wheel to achieve maximum tractive effort by allowing the wheels to creep, that is, to rotate slightly faster than ground speed, at a controlled rate. Under severe conditions, sanding was applied automatically to increase adhesion. Above 5 miles per hour, manual sanding is disabled, yielding to the automatic system.
The cab layout included a "desk console" engineers and conductors position. Two additional “jump” seats are located on the machine room bulkhead. A Pacesetter Control was installed to maintain a constant creep speed on the car loading and unloading loops. Constant speed was maintained regardless of load conditions.
Designers cleverly created an 8 notch throttle control, designed to give engineers the “feel” of diesel-electric locomotives. Operating procedures will demonstrate the wisdom of this design. As a point of reference, Milwaukee Road EF units had a 32 notch throttle. As you may recall, Laurence Wylie, Milwaukee’s electrical wizard, came up with the “Wylie Throttle” to allow mixing of electrics with diesel-electrics, through a ratio handle.
The GF6C was equipped with schedule 26LUM air brakes, including a model 30-CDW brake valve.
All areas of the locomotive were protected with a fixed Halon system. In the event of fire, a warning horn and warning lights, gave operators 15 seconds to evacuate the cab or machine room, before the oxygen starving gas was applied.
The agreement with GMDL-DD called for seven units, which were delivered as follows with delivery month and serial number: (Ed note: following data verified, Extra 2200 South, Volume 92.)
- BCR 6001 11/83 A-4340
- BCR 6002 11/83 A-4341
- BCR 6003 12/83 A-4342
- BCR 6004 12/83 A-4343
- BCR 6005 12/83 A-4344
- BCR 6006 12/83 A-4345
- BCR 6007 12/83 A-4346
Equally important to the power packs – the rolling stock. In the early days of operation, 98 car unit trains were assembled, machine loaded under a silo, and machine unloaded at a rotary dumper. More than 600 custom coal cars were ordered with Dresser Radial self-steering trucks and rotary couplers. These cars, based on a Canadian Pacific design, AAR Type GT, with open top and solid bottom, designed for machine or rotary unloading only.
These cars, numbered 900000 through 900639, were manufactured at Canadian National’s Transcona Winnipeg yards, between August of 1983 and February 1984.
The first series of cars had a single rotary coupler, the end of the car painted with an indicator. Operators had to be certain that two un-marked cars were not coupled, which would have resulted in drama on the rotary table! Subsequent car orders included double end rotary couplers.
The Canadian National Research Center, in conjunction with Dofasco and Dresser Industries developed the so-called "self-steering truck." The “self-steering” design put flexibility into the wheel sets, countering the wheels desire to climb over the rail head on curves, thereby reducing flange and rail wear. A comprehensive study was conducted on the Tumbler Ridge Subdivision, as all the new coal cars were fitted with Dresser DR-1 “self-steering” truck. This study yielded further refinements.