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For a short, wonderful couple of years, central British Columbia was home to two exclusively MLW (Montreal Locomotive Works, licencee of Alco) railways - The Okanagan Valley Railway and the Kelowna Pacific Railway.
These shortlines took over the former CP and CN trackage in the Okanagan in the late 1990's. For decades Canadian National operated their MLW fleet almost exclusively in eastern Canada with few of these locomotives sneaking west of Winnipeg. When CN retired the majority of their MLW fleet around 1997 many units found their way into the rosters of shortline railways, often because they were cheap relative to GM locomotives as anything else. Suddenly places that had rarely if ever seen an MLW were home to sizable fleets of M420, RS18 and other locomotives.
The KPR and OVR are a short 3 hour drive from the Lower Mainland (otherwise known as the Greater Vancouver area) so it became a major attraction for Alco-philes worldwide. In January 2001 I met up with my friend Rolf Stumpf (owner of Alcoworld) from Germany and Brian E from the US in Vernon, BC to photograph the M420 that were running on the two railways based out of Vernon.
KPR 3500 sits on a siding in Vernon BC waiting for a crew. This was the only unit painted for the KPR
KPR 3571 returning from Kelowna BC passing KPR 3500 January 21, 2001.
KPR heading to the Lumby mill.
Switching the Lumby lumber mill in the fog.
KPR 3571 at Coldstream heading east. I nicked this from Alcoworld as I haven't relocated the negative for this shot yet.
Pacing the 3571 in Brian E's car. Another shot nicked from Alcoworld. I really need to dig up my negatives...
Okanagan Valley Railway - 3557 and 3558 - both units were wrecked in March 2001 returning north from Kelowna January 2001.
3557 and 3558 head a short northbound freight near Oyama. The locals said there was too much business for one railway but not enough for two.
Passing through Oyama
One of the few spots we could find off the highway with a good view of the tracks. The big hook sits on a siding in the background.
Returning from the Lavington glass plant.
Heading south from Vernon to Kelowna. This right of way is now a bike trail. Unforunately there was not enough business to keep the line to Kelowna in place. Short sightedness on the part of local governments in the Okanagan.
Switching the Lavington glass plant. Pushing cars up that hill gave the locomotives a good workout.We spent a couple of days chasing the M420 from both railways between Vernon, Kelowna, Armstrong, Lavington and Lumby in mixed conditions. Unfortunately the days were short so the runs to Kamloops (KVR) and Sicamous (OVR) were in the dark so we didn't photograph those. Listening to 4-5 M420 climbing the grade out of Armstrong with a long train was unforgettable however. KPR 3515 heading north out of Kelowna in October 2002 after switching the lumber mill. The teenagers on the left of the first car had flashed the engineer and cleared the trackage just in time. They would now be in their early 30's; I wonder if they knew they were shot "in the act"...I returned to the Okanagan in October 2002, ostensibly to attend the wine festival but in reality to again photograph the rail operations. There was only one MLW operation by that time as the OVR units (3557 and 3558) had been wrecked shortly after my January 2001 visit by a collision with a wayward tank car. This was made up for in a way by their replacements, a GP20 (one of two in Canada) in Hudson Bay Railway paint and a GP10 in Carleton Trail colours.My understanding wife chased trains with me for part of our time there with some nice results:
Long hook forward return from Kamloops must have made the engineers neck a bit sore.
Alco Smoke in the autumn leaves
OVR power switching the Lavington glass plant. ex Hudson Bay Railway GP20 2506 and an ex Carleton Train GP10 were the power this day. Later on ex HBR M420 3550 would join the 2506 on the OVR roster
KPR freight passing the OVR deadline with 3558 showing the damage from it's unfortunate March 2001 accident. The GP9 in the back was an ex New Brunswick Southern unit
Returning from Lavington KPR 3515 switching the lumber mill in Kelowna. This industry and track is long gone to make way for the main industry of the Kelowna area - condominiums.
Road power for the train to Kamloops
KPR big hook in Vernon
Southbound freight from Vernon to Kelowna
I have since been back to the Okanagan many times, but with the departure of the KVR fleet around 2003 and the abandonment of the line to Sicamous it has become somewhat less interesting, although the wineries make up for some of it. CN has since taken over the KVR operations so CN 6 axle power is now used to service Vernon and area from the CN yards in Kamloops.
This article first appeared on ageologistchasingtrains.blogspot.com
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