© 1999 Glenn F. Cartwright
At a time when there has not been regular passenger service to Rawdon, Quebec since the 1950s, it seems hard to imagine that the village was once served from Montreal by an electric train. In 1924, Canadian National Railways took possession of six new storage battery cars (numbered 15794-15799) ordered from the International Equipment Company of Montreal, agents for the Railway Storage Battery Car Company, and built at Canadian Car & Foundry, Montreal (Clegg, 1962). Each weighed some 30 tons and was similar to number 15796 pictured above. Sister car 15795 was received April 30th 1925 and was assigned to the Montreal-Rawdon route. The car, designated class ES-53A, had an Edison (250 cell) motor, was 53’ 2” long, weighed 73,800 pounds, and seated 50 passengers. The car was 53' 2" long, built on steel underframe with steel superstructure, with a wooden roof vcovered with canvas embedded in white lead (Candadian Railway and Marine World, January, 1924, p. 19). Though powered by storage battery, it was heated by a coal stove.
In those days, the car would have left St. Catherine Street East (Moreau Street) Station on the l'Assomption Subdivision (Montreal Division, Quebec District) and stopped at Maisonneuve and Pointe-aux-Trembles before rumbling off the eastern end of Montreal island over the bridge to Charlemagne. After l'Assomption, the car would turn onto the Rawdon Subdivision for the remainder of the trip to Rawdon, a total trip distance of 41.2 miles. . Though the assignment of this single car to the route suggests a pattern of light passenger traffic, the car made two round trips a day, leaving Montreal at 7 am with the last return trip from Rawdon at 5 pm . On Sundays between June 15th and September 7th, the service was supplemented by a conventional steam train (Candadian Railway and Marine World, June, 1924). Battery power had its limitations, the chief one being restriction of range, and 7 to 8 hours to recharge the batteries fully though this could be spread over two or three shorter charges in a 24-hour period. It is not known if the car’s storage batteries were recharged in Rawdon but this was probably unlikely. The car was equipped for double-ended operation obviating the need for turning the car on the “Armstrong” turntable at Rawdon. Neither end of the car appears to have had windshield wipers.
Few photographs are available of the operations at Rawdon but one that has often been reproduced (cf. Brady, 1987) shows a single car at the quaint Rawdon station. Though the photographer and date of the photo are unknown, it is now possible to interpret the picture in the light of Rawdon’s electric car. Since only one car was assigned to Rawdon, commencing in May 1924 and terminating by September of that year (Candadian Railway and Marine World, June, 1924, p. 511), it is likely that the photograph was taken during that period and that the car pictured is indeed 15795. It is supposed that either the inauguration or termination of the service might have been an occasion for a photograph, with the inauguration being more likely. Thus, the photograph may be tentatively dated May, 1924.
The cost of running the battery cars was of some interest to the members of the Commons Committee on Government Railways and was estimated to be approximately $0.40/mile according to Mr. S. J. Hungerford, Vice President, Operation and Construction Departments. This compared favourably with the cost of running gasolene cars at between $0.30-0.50/mile, including depreciation. Compared with the capital cost of diesel cars, the battery cars cost slightly less.
Another sister car, 15794, shown here in 1941 after conversion to gas-electric propulsion, is pictured here at Calumet Beach, Quebec.
Rawdon's electric car 15795 was replaced by gasoline motor car 15816 which made twice daily trips (except Sunday) and once on Sunday until it was withdrawn on July 14, 1925 (Candadian Railway and Marine World July, 1925, p.335). By June 1926 the Rawdon car is shown on the Blackrock-Bridgeburg, Ontario route (Candadian Railway and Marine World, June, 1926, p.288) where it made 10 roundtrips a day (12 on Saturday and some on Sunday) on the 0.8 mile line. By December 31st, 1938 it was listed as a spare kept in Toronto. The car was retired in October 1939 and converted to Trailer 15770 in 1940.
Rawdon’s electric train was no more.