The LRC locomotives and passenger cars were introduced by VIA Rail Canada in 1981 as a made-in-Canada, next-generation passenger train, featuring low-profile, locomotive-hauled trains with active tilting to increase speed and comfort around curves. In addition to employing head-end power (HEP) they offered many other improvements over earlier conventional equipment, including significant reductions in weight and fuel consumption.
Developed by the consortium of MLW (later, Bombardier), Alcan and Dofasco, the LRC’s origins date to the late 1960s. Evaluation of a test-bed locomotive and coach by CN followed in the mid-1970s. After the construction of two locomotives and ten cars for lease and evaluation by Amtrak in the United States, the LRC went into full production when 50 coaches and 10 locomotives (later increased to 21) were ordered by VIA Rail Canada in 1977. They constituted VIA Rail’s first brand-new equipment, and began entering scheduled service on the Quebec-Windsor Corridor in October 1981. In 1984, VIA’s LRC fleet grew with the addition of 50 more coaches and 10 more locomotives.
Mechanically, the LRC locomotives had much in common with earlier MLW diesel-electric models operated by VIA, including the FPA-4/FPB-4 and RS-18. All were powered by variants of the 251-series diesel engine, with 16-cylinder prime movers in the LRC and 12-cylinder versions in the earlier models. The LRC locomotives, of course, included provision for HEP.
Having gone through several upgrade and rebuilding cycles in the four decades since their debut, the LRC cars will remain as the backbone of VIA’s Corridor fleet until new Siemens trainsets enter service beginning in 2022. Despite the LRC cars’ longevity, it’s been 20 years since an LRC locomotive operated in VIA service, following retirement of the last examples in 2001.
Two LRC locomotives have been preserved: No. 6921 resides at the Canadian Railway Museum (Exporail) near Montreal, and 6917 was purchased from VIA Rail Canada in 2010 by the Toronto Railway Historical Association, following a successful “Save The LRC” campaign. Because 6917 could be restored to working order, it was not moved to the TRHA’s John Street Roundhouse museum site for static display. In 2014, the locomotive was successfully restarted, and pulled a rake of three LRC coaches for a demonstration run and to record sounds for the model of the LRC produced by Rapido Trains. No. 6917 is currently housed alongside VHA’s equipment at TMC.
—Kevin J. Holland and Terry Johnson