Saving VIA 6539

Train with text Saving 6539 VIA Historical Association
Photo by David More, collection of Helmut Ostermann.

The VIA Historical Association (VHA) is excited to announce its first major fundraising campaign. We are purchasing and restoring VIA Rail Canada FP9A locomotive 6539 (later numbered 6303) to lead our 2028 VIA 50th Anniversary heritage train. This will be the first time in history that an F-unit locomotive has been restored to operation in VIA colours.

Freight train led by OSR 1400
Photo by Brad Joliffe

The Details

The VHA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ontario Southland Railway (OSR) to purchase OSR 1400, which began life as 6539. As long-time supporters of heritage railway preservation in Canada, OSR places a high value on saving and restoring Canada’s unique and historic railway equipment. OSR has generously offered to donate back almost half the purchase price to the VHA.

VIA Rail train beside a station platform
6539 leads the Canadian through Kingston, ON circa 1982. Photo courtesy Rapido collection.

The History

6539 was one of 43 FP9A locomotives built by General Motors Diesel in London, Ontario, between 1954 and 1958. Originally built for Canadian National, the FP9A locomotives hauled trains all over Canada. Mostly used for passenger service, FP9A locomotives could also be seen leading priority freight trains.

In VIA service, the FP9A locomotives operated on almost every single route, including Halifax to Montreal; the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor; northern Quebec services; all transcontinental trains including the Canadian and the Super Continental; services to northern Manitoba and Prince Rupert; and even on Ontario Northland rails to Kapuskasing!

VIA locomotive 6303 in Dauphin, Manitoba
Rebuilt and renumbered 6303, our locomotive leads the Hudson Bay in Dauphin, MB in 1996. Photo courtesy Mark Perry.

Transferred to VIA in 1978, 6539 was one of 12 FP9A locomotives remanufactured in the early 1980s by CN’s Pointe St. Charles shops in Montreal, becoming VIA FP9ARM 6303 in 1983. (Three additional VIA FP9As were rebuilt under this program by CN at Moncton, N.B.)

Among the major aspects of this rebuilding was the application of 645-series power assemblies, upgrading the unit’s original 567-series engine and increasing horsepower from 1,750 to 1,800.

VIA’s first five FP9ARMs (6300-6304) retained their original side-panel configuration, with horizontal and vertical batten strips, after remanufacturing, while later units emerged with welded side panels. This means that the VHA can backdate OSR 1400 very close to its external appearance as VIA 6539, while enjoying the mechanical benefits of its upgraded engine and
electrical system.

Mirror image of two trains, with caption Double Your Donation

Fundraising Goal

Our goal is to raise $250,000 to purchase, restore, repaint, move and maintain 6539. An anonymous benefactor has very generously offered to match any donation up to $125,000. That means if you donate $500, they will also donate $500, making your donation doubly effective. With your generosity and the generosity of our anonymous donor, we are confident we can reach our fundraising goal.


Please help us reach our $250,000 goal. The VHA is a Canadian charitable organization. If you are a Canadian taxpayer, your donation is tax receiptable. U.S. residents seeking to make substantial contributions can contact us to facilitate donations through an allied U.S. charity.

We’re grateful for any support you can provide. Please share our campaign and join us on this historic journey.

Best regards, Jason Shron, President, VIA Historical Association

Advertising image of conductor at the end of a train with a cheering crowd. Caption "fare for all plan"

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