Saturday, February 13, 2010

Transport: The Sound of 645's

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Despite being located more than a kilometer from the Canadian Pacific tracks, soon after moving in to my current apartment, I discovered that I could hear trains going by, especially in quiet night and weekend hours. The rumble of the big diesel motors made a sound that, as a railroad enthusiast, I found quite comforting.

As railfans go, I'm not particularly auditory-oriented. The sound of a steam locomotive whistle (or even a well-tuned diesel chime horn) does make me smile, but the normal sounds of diesel locomotives working does not. I have friends who consider the noise of trains to be a fundamental attraction; they will travel miles to hear diesels that they like struggle up a steep grade, and get excited when they hear the same prime mover as used in a locomotive in other applications, usually a ship. Others can identify any train horn that they hear and know what locomotive they might be on.

Despite not really being attracted to the noise, I have been around enough trains that I can usually identify the most common types of engines by ear. Most locomotives produced by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (once the dominant locomotive builder, now independent) had either 567, 645, or 710 prime movers, which while certainly having a family "sound" are distinguishable. The 645, introduced in 1965, is the most common, used for example in the ubiquitous SD40-2 locomotive (featured in a previous blog post). The 645 stands for cubic inches of displacement for each cylinder--to put that in perspective, each cylinder in a typical sixteen-cylinder locomotive with a 645 has more displacement than the entire legendary General Motors 427 cubic-inch motor (which, in modern terms, was a humongous 7 liters). It isn't surprising that these prime movers create quite a rumble.

Last year, I began to notice that I wasn't hearing as many trains anymore. While the Canadian Pacific was running fewer trains because of the recession, that wasn't the primary reason. Most trains were being powered by newer General Electric locomotives that were much quieter than a 645; their sound didn't carry to my apartment. I no longer heard the comforting sounds of a train rolling by on a regular basis.

In recent weeks, the Canadian Pacific has apparently seen a surge in traffic, and they have had to bring older power out of storage, even activating SD40-2's from leasing companies to meet their demand. Suddenly, I am hearing 645's rumbling through the neighbourhood all the time--the majority of trains seem to have at least one. The comforting rumbles are back, and now I really appreciate it.

No comments: