Orford Express 26th August 2012
Having left the Train of Le Massif de Charlevoix behind in Quebec City we used VIA Rail to get back from Quebec to Montreal via a short detour at Drummondville. Our train 23 0745 Quebec City – Montreal arrived almost to time, which was 0937, giving us enough time to photograph it departing then walk the mile or so to the car hire place to collect our car. Which amazingly, we managed to do in French.
The 90km journey from Drummondville to Sherbrooke took 1h05m, without SatNav and we weren’t hammering along that much. We had 90 minutes to spare when we got to Sherbrooke, which we used to purchase our tickets from the caboose that is the ticket office for the Orford Express and then photograph Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) GE B23-7 #2001, which was sat in the sidings opposite the Orford’s Depot. The very same MMA GE had actually worked the Orford Express the previous day (25th August) due to the Orford Expresses own MLW M420TR #26 failing with an electrical fault.
Taking into consideration our sole purpose for visiting Sherbrooke was to get the MLW M420TR in, the only remaining working member of the type, we had a bit of a job confirming it was actually going to be out, which started way back in July.
I’d managed to contact the Orford Express direct through their website contact page to ask if the M420 would be working the passenger train on the day we’d be there, obviously 26th August. This was in response to information I’d heard that confirmed that EMD FL9 #484 had been bought by the Orford Express and would be replacing it very soon, which at the time very soon meant the start of August.
Even a week before we departed the UK we still didn’t know if the M420 would remain on the passenger train by the time we got there. Once the FL9 arrived the Orford guys had already confirmed that the M420 wouldn’t be used specifically for us on the 26th August and that the FL9 would be pressed straight into service.
By the 1st August we had a 90% chance of the M420 still being in service, I wasn’t sure of the delay with the FL9 but of course I wasn’t bothered either. By the 9th August we were told that the FL9 would arrive at Sherbrooke on the 16th, which spelled disaster of course, yet by the time we departed the UK on the 23rd the FL9 still hadn’t arrived at Sherbrooke. It wasn’t until Friday 24th, while in Quebec City that we had e-mail confirmation that the FL9 wouldn’t arrive until Monday 27th at the earliest, which meant we could relax, or could we……..
The girls in the office at Orford’s Caboose in Sherbrooke had done a sterling job in keeping me up to date with on-goings and it didn’t stop the next bombshell falling, just when we thought we were safe, an e-mail came though the day before our trip to Sherbrooke, to say that the M420TR #26 had failed and had been replaced by an MMA loco, of course that was what we discovered to be GE B23-7 #2001. At that point the girls didn’t think that the #26 would be repaired with the imminent arrival of the FL9 expected. I mean just how cruel could it be that we’d spent all our time thinking we might not get it in as it was being replaced, only for it to give up the ghost itself!
As everything was booked up we decided to make the journey anyway, expecting to have the MMA GE on the train, which lets face it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, they hardly ever worked passenger trains so it was quite a rare working. It wasn’t until we walked into the caboose at Sherbrooke to collect our tickets that the girls told us that the #26 was actually back in traffic and working the train………….
It was well worth making the trip, the tickets only cost $248 for all three of us, which was less than we’d paid each for the Le Massif’s train. The trains interior wasn’t as up-market as Le Massif’s but felt more relaxed in its older style surroundings. Again the food was served freshly prepared and it was excellent too. We couldn’t hear any thrash from the little M420TR though but we could tell it was there as every now and again clag drifted past the window, which turned out to actually be the locos downfall. Mr Thompson, who owns the Orford operation, told us that he had to replace the M420TR due to complaints from people about it’s pollution basically. He had no clue at that point what would happen to it once the FL9 arrived, as to whether he’d keep it or sell it on. He went on to say that it had been a sterling performer and that it hardly ever failed, recalling only two occasions since they’d got it, including the previous days of course. They’d only managed to batter it back to life that morning, once they’d found the electrical fault and we were given a tour round it while the train paused for its afternoon stop at Magog on the return from Eastman. I have to say it was in pristine condition, paint work, power unit, cab, the lot. Mr Thompson was going to Montreal the following day to inspect the FL9 and fully expected it to be in Sherbrooke by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Having had a thoroughly enjoyable time we did hammer it back to Drummondville, as time was quite tight for our VIA train into Montreal that evening, departing Drummondville at 1929. We departed Sherbrooke just after 1730 and were back at Drummondville station for 1915, leaving 14 minutes to spare, after the mile walk back from the car hire place. Everything turned out quite nicely.
In the end the FL9 arrived at Sherbrooke in early September, 1st or 2nd, the girls in the office were still keeping me updated, even after our trip. It appears that it worked its first solo trip on Wednesday September 12th’s Orford Express but may have done a few test runs with #26 still in the consist prior to that. We were so close to missing the #26 and now its fate hangs in the balance……………….
I still recommend this trip to anyone, even if the train is now worked by a GM.