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Nightstar in Ontario - here we go!

Via Rail Canada just started running tests of it's "Nightstar" train, to evaluate it to study the possiblity of using it to replace their tilting LRC trains.

I saw it the most blunt way possible, yesterday, by glimpsing it in a passing siding at Casselman, in Ontario, as I was travelling between Ottawa and Montréal.

Returning today at Ottawa, I was disappointed not to see it at Casselman, nor elsewhere on the line, but immensely fulfulled to see it at the Ottawa station, coupled to LRC engine 6905!!!

Of course, I started to examine it attentively at once...

The cars are nice. They are dark and light green, with the "Nightstar" logo (a sun and moon) grace the side of each car, at the geometric center. The line is clear, but bulging, as needed by the british loading-gauge. And they are at least 30cm narrower than the engine... This looks promising for the inside...

A few wires dangle here and there on the engine side, stuck with duct-tape. But what I wonder the most about is how they coupled the train to the engine... So I get to the rear of the engine and see an abominable contraption.

A railroader going by is scratching his head of consternation... And there is good reason for it! It oozes all over the place! It hurts the sensibility! It is glaring! It looks like it was designed by Heath Robinson (or Rowland Emmett or Mr Bean)!!!

First of all, the coupler axis is about 20 cm above what is normal here. So, a bastardy splinter has been fashioned, looking like a good old knukle on the occidental end, and a flat plate with four holes on the oriental end.

That's because the Nightstar coupler doesn't looks like whatever I've seen so far... No Janney, Miller, Sharfernberg, Boiron, buffers and screw, but a very strange sexed coupler, whose female side has four articulated bolts (of about 2 cm diameter) and a large pin of about 15 cm diameter.

As everything is of british design, just to do not like everyone else, they decided that the locomotive would be female. (Note: in French, the word "locomotive" is of feminine gender)...

So, the beautiful adaptor is completed by a makeshift head-end power transformer, all nicely installed in the walk-through buffer.

I look at the trucks, lightly instrumented. Primary spring suspension on each side of the axles, and secondary air-bag suspension. Rather ordinary, in fact.

The doors, at each end of the car, are made for high platforms. But what looks like an elaborate foldable stair leaves hope for low-platform compatibility...

I walk alongside the train, and, in fact, the only ugly thing is a battery charger connected directly to the battery terminals.

At the end of the 3 car train (a coach, a baggage-office-bar-lounge-take- out- counter-handicapped bedroom and a sleeping car) I examine the end of the last car.

Of the wide-open walk-though buffer, a few wires emerge that go into the truck, through the air hoses and electrical connectors. The brake line goes under the coupler to couple back to the car on the opposite side. The only concession is a standard air brake connector with a pressure gauge hastily installed in the air hose.

There doesn't seem to be a service air line.

The walk-though buffers are quite wide; at least 1m50. They have a rather smallish rubber gasket, but 6 screws allow to securely fasten each half to the other. I suppose that if you have to unscre4 four large bolts to uncouple the car, 6 small screws are nothing at all...

Three electrical lines complete everything; given the size of the connectors, I'd say that there aren't more than 3 conductors in each.

Most strange is that lateral arm that links the "coupler" to the side-sill, most probably with a spring or some shock absorber as it is telescopable.

To complete everything, the lifting crane holes are UNDER the car floor, rather than near the roof (at least, like it is done here).

Really strange rolling-stock.

Comes the test supervisor, who merrily greets me; he seems glad to see a new face. We start to chat.

They run their tests between Alexandria (I'd rather say Glen Robertson, as there is a turning wye there) and Smith Falls; the line between those two stations (except the section around the Ottawa station) belongs to VIA Rail.

The test programme checks the rolling characteristics at different speeds, as well as the braking behaviour.

Positively responding to my request to peek at the insides, I manage somehow to climb aboard, as the car does not have the customary steps and grab-irons, but the lifting crane holes make do well enough...

The inside is well-lighted, finished of white. The walk-though buffer is closed by two half-doors made of glass. As this is the sleeping car, the very narrow passageway directly emerges on the right side of the vestibule.

Two rooms are unlocked. The test supervisor shows one to me: spacious, it offers two beds (perpendicular to the track) and, accross, a bathroom with showe. The rooms are at least as spacious as the rooms we have here. But the bathroom is really nice: sink, mirror, toilet, and most importantly, shower. The whole bathroom is the shower stall, like on a pleasure yacht. The window is generous. But we can't put two bedrooms en suite to make a larger one.

The finishing is luxuous, like a luxury yatch. Given the british loading-gauge, this is a rather unexpected arrangement. But there are only 10 rooms bet car, which is a disadvantage compared to our sleeping cars that can accommodate up to 24 people (or 44 on the double-deck Superliners).

We move onto the next car, very strange: the vestibule gives to a handicapped bedroom. Two superposed beds, parallel to the track, face a large window. At the end, a bathroom that looks as big as the bedroom... In all cases, the lowe bed, when raised, is a sofa that looks comfortable.

It is obvious that we're in brand-new rolling-stock: the floors and cushions are covered by a transparent polyethylene sheet... Only the absence of a "new car" odour hints that the cars are not quite new: 5 years. But otherwise they are totally virgin...

Always on the right, the corridor goes on and goes by what looks like a conductor's office, a baggage compartment with a corresponding door on the right side on the car, and another closed office compartment. Follows an elegent salon with red velvet sofas and seats, of very nice looks, of the backs of which emerges strange bronze handles, looking like giraffe horns. Probably a british tradition... The seat shape is very retro, a bit like 1930's auto seat. But the pure line of the ceiling that follows exactly the roofline clearly hints that we're in very modern rolling-stock.

But most surprising is that each table is illuminated by a very small and very handsome light, which is a miniature reproduction of a classic american sleeping-car light: imagine a frosted glass hemisphere, from the axis of which emerges two half-cylinders each capped by two half-hemispheres. Really classy and nice.

At the end of the car, an important take-out counter and very well arranged: cash register, a lot of sinks and ice compartments and a lot of refrigerators. Two surprises: two generous windows, and a microwave oven with a "Menumaster" sign with the good old British Rail logo!!!!

The galley has, in fact, two counters, the other being directly in the vestibule.

As I contemplate all this, the three engineers that run the tests are busy calibrating their measuring instruments, that are based on a PC with a well-known data-acquisition system... The test supervisor tells me to go see the third car, which I do right away...

There, the universe squartely tumbles.

It is a 2+1 coach car. Nothing unusual so far. Above each seat, a wierd transverse block that looks like a baggage rack. But as I go on, I notice that the seats are rather high relative to the floor. Well, that's because each seat is above an oblique baggage space that extends under the feet of the seat behind. Really odd.

About 2/3 of the seats face forward, and the other third face backwards.

With the blocks above each seat, this looks cramped. But each seat is generous and comfortable. Claustrophobes will have problems, though. And each seat has it's own window blind, which has the disadvantage of cutting each window it two, rather like the old Santa-Fé cars.

I go back to the bar-car and, after talking about the test parameters being monitored (X-Y-Z travel of the various suspensions), I say good-bye to the sympathetic test team, that was nice enough to let me see the train.

I've been told that the ride leaves nothing to be desired, and that the cars are not tilting (but that, I was guessing)... The test runs are progressive: they go for about 10 km, stopped start, and they stop. They go like that to the end of the line, turn the train and go back the other way around, gradually increasing the speed. Today, they almost went to 120 km/h... The engine can go up to 170, but the line allows at most 150 km/h. But maybe they can take some liberties here and there...

Well, that's nice all that, the rolling-stock is available at a good price.

However, I'm afraid that the rolling-stock is ill-adapted to our climate, and more importantly, for a large quantity of such cars to be allowed to run here, the Railway Act will have to be changed to allow them to run, since they don't have the needed buffing strength.

For now, a special waiver can do...

And if it is done, positive train segregation systems will have to be instated, to be absolutely, totally, wholly assured that no freight train will run into one of those trains...

Other Nightstar links:

Nightstar Channel Tunnel Sleepers (By Jonathan Hall).

History of Nightstar (By John F. Legg)

Hotel on rail plan fails (By Kees Smilde)

© 2000, Marc Dufour