Saturday, October 1, 2022

CNR 1955 The Super Continental - The Train of '55


CNR and CPR Compete ...

While many know the date the Canadian Pacific Railway inaugurated The Canadian, it is interesting to see that the Canadian National Railways activated their answer to CPR's eye-catching stainless steel equipment on the same day ... (Trivia, below: The CNR even enlisted the help of Edith Piaf.)

CPR's equipment had been capturing 'earned media' in some Canadian cities as the public was invited to view and tour examples of its shiny aeronautical-style tubes and horizon-to-horizon glassed domes as April 24th, 1955 approached. 

CNR, on the other hand ... had recently taken on the Newfoundland Railway's transportation assets in its role as a crown corporation. It certainly was not free to compete with CPR President Norris Crump's daring project to make one last try to recapture the railway's traditional share of transcontinental travel. 

The term 'daring' implies that the conservative CPR Board of Directors would have needed some convincing by 'Buck' Crump. However, at the time, The Canadian was not unique - a number of US railroads already owned Budd stainless steel passenger trainsets.

Envisioning the Future of Railway Passenger Business, in the 1920s, in the 1950s

Some railway officials had first foreseen the sad demise of their passenger business a few years after the successful application of internal combustion powerplants in World War One. In particular, these were used on narrow gauge 'field railways' (near the front lines where coal smoke attracted artillery fire), in combat aircraft, and in heavy trucks and battle tanks. 

The dimly-seen visions of the 1920s had been clearly elucidated by the time the 1950s arrived - thanks to both the great advances in transportation technology and the mass production techniques perfected during World War Two. The ubiquity of 4-wheel drive Jeeps and the tens of thousands of 4-engine bomber aircraft produced illustrate these advances. The heavy construction equipment used to produce improvised roads and massive landing strips on Pacific islands would also find a peacetime application - building the highways of the 1950s.

The Real Competition

In 1955, automobiles were often cheaper for personal transportation (i.e. for vacations - if already owned for commuting to work from the suburbs) and cars provided great flexibility for families. And planes were much more time-efficient for important people with important business to conduct.

As has often been pointed out, the railways already knew how to compete with each other and that was the easy choice being made here by the CNR. However, the real competition would be coming from the airlines, publicly-funded roads which were generally free to use, and low-priced gasoline.

A Moment in History

Different readers will probably feel nostalgic for various artifacts shown in the Canadian National Magazine article and the Super Continental pamphlet: the equipment paint scheme, the car interiors, F-units, dining cars, people getting dressed up to travel, being allowed to leave one's coach seat, etc.

One could also be nostalgic for a time when any major North American railway seemed to be this proud of the passenger service operating on its rails.