Self-propelled Railway Passenger Transportation in Southern Alberta

Article by Jason Paul Sailer.  Edited by Chris Doering.

Passenger service and rail infrastructure within Alberta had remained relatively stable for the past sixty years, but after the Second World War with increased competition from airlines, new roadways, and the affordability of personal vehicles the desire & need for rail passenger service started to decline.  In response, both Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Canadian National Railway (CN) began cancelling the smaller unprofitable routes and the consolidation of several of the larger routes to slow the loss of profits.  The steam trains that carried passenger cars were replaced with a new concept of passenger transportation, in the form of Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDC).  Although self-propelled railcars were not a new concept (both CPR and CN used different types of internal combustion operated ‘Doodlebug’ cars over the years), the RDC utilized an 85’ long streamlined stainless steel coach design and added two 275 hp Detroit Diesel engines that were coupled to a hydraulic torque converter derived from the M46 Patton tank.  The result was the RDC-1, a 90-seat model which Budd debuted at the Chicago Union Station on September 19th, 1949.


The first order for an RDC was placed in September 1953 by the CPR. This was for four cars, three RDC – I and one RDC-3. Two months later, November 1953, the CN ordered one RDC-1.  The CPR called their RDCs “Dayliners”, a name that appeared prominently on the car side in front of the number. CNR named theirs “Railiners”, but this name did not actually appear on their cars.  CN purchased 25 cars outright, and acquired many more second-hand from the Boston and Maine Railroad. CP purchased 53 cars – the first one ran on November 9th, 1954, between Detroit, Michigan and Toronto., Ontario.  It was the first stainless steel passenger train to operate in Canada.  It was not long before the basic RDC-1 was supplemented by the RDC-2 (a 71-seat model with baggage space), a RDC-3 (49-seat with baggage & post office space), and the RDC-4 consisted entirely of baggage and post office space.


From the very start the RDC was hailed as the savior of branch lines with low traffic density. At first this was, to a certain extent true, and it is likely that the RDC prolonged the life of many of these runs by several years. During the 1950s many old branch line trains, often steam hauled, were replaced by RDCs, often with a (temporary) increase in ridership. However in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became obvious that nothing could save these branch line runs; the automobile competition was too much. As trains disappeared, RDCs started showing up in service never planned when they were new.


So what about RDC’s in Alberta?


We won’t go into too much detail for the remainder of the province – fellow railfan & Galt Railway Park supporter Eric Gagnon covers the CPR RDC’s pretty well from 1954 right up to 1985 when VIA Rail ended the service between Calgary and Edmonton.  You can check them out at the links below:


In the Lethbridge area, ‘Doodlebugs’ were implemented around 1948 and would carry passengers daily either from Lethbridge to Coutts, or from Lethbridge to Glenwood.  A lack of passengers caused the Glenwood route to be cancelled in 1950, and the Coutts route in 1951.  Mixed trains (freight and passenger rail cars) continued to be the norm for several years.  For southern Alberta, the RDC’s debuted in the spring of 1955.  A Dayliner would travel between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, and from Lethbridge to northwards towards Calgary, AB (either through Fort Macleod or Vulcan).  In 1957, CPR would extend Dayliner service west from Lethbridge towards Hope, BC.  However, from that point on, information on the Dayliner operations is scarce.  We did find that there was an accident between a car and a Dayliner near Barnwell, AB on March 1st, 1958 with two people being killed in that accident.  Another accident between a truck and a Dayliner east of Monarch, AB occurred on October 16th, 1969, with both occupants of the truck passing away at the scene.  The downfall to the speedy Dayliners was that many were involved with accidents at level crossings with either people racing to cross the tracks in front of them or people were caught off guard on how fast the units were and misjudged the distance and timing of them.  The route west of Lethbridge through Fort Macleod into British Columbia was little used by the travelling public, and CPR applied to the Federal Railway Transport Committee to discontinue the route.  The committee approved, and on January 16th, 1964 the last Dayliner operated west of Fort Macleod.


The peak of Dayliner travel was in 1969 when a record 80,000 passengers were carried on three trains a day in each direction.  In 1970, CPR reduced it to one train an day in each direction, resulting in a drop of almost 50,000 passengers.  The number would drop to 23,400 in 1971.  As a result of the drop in passengers, the Federal Railway Transport Committee instructed CPR to increase the amount of trains to 2 per day in 1972.  However, the decision was already cast to cancel Dayliner operations in southern Alberta.  On July 2nd, 1971 the last Dayliner would run and all Dayliner operations south of Calgary would cease on July 17th, 1971.


Dayliners in Alberta struggled on since then; CN’s Railiner discontinued operation between Calgary and Edmonton in 1971, but would run between Drumheller and Edmonton until 1981.  The Federal Railway Transport Committee ordered improved services, and in 1981 passenger ridership was increased to 53,000!  However, at-grade collisions, and coordination issues with freight trains hampered ridership, and service began to be cut back.  VIA would continue the Calgary – Edmonton CP route until discontinuing it in September 1985.  Light-Rapid-Comfortable units were proposed by VIA as replacements to the RDC’s, but were never carried through.


Nowadays the two hour drive between Calgary and Edmonton seems like a breeze.  The former CP railway line that ran along Highway 2 is pretty much removed, almost removing the memories of riding a Dayliner…Imagine what it would feel like to cross the High Level Viaduct!




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All images and content are copyright Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park unless otherwise noted. Do not use without permission.



“Railways in Southern Alberta” by R.F.P. Bownman, reprinted by Lethbridge Historical Society in 2002


View of a ‘Doodlebug’ or ‘Galloping Goose’ – a gas / electric self-propelled rail car that was used on the railways in the area. This particular model was built in 1930 by the St. Louis Car Company and was equipped with a 75 hp EMC engine. The car was scrapped at the Angus Shops in Montreal, Quebec in December 1958. Date & location unknown. Bill Sanderson Collection –












Arrival of the first Lethbridge to Medicine Hat Dayliner in Lethbridge. This particular RDC was an -3 series model, which meant it held 49 passengers and included baggage / post office space. The individuals standing in front of the RDC-3 include (from left to right); Frank Lawford – ticket agent, H. Laying – trainman, David K. Shorthouse – engineer, John B. Murray – conductor, and J.J. Merrick – road foreman of engineers. RDC #9022 was delivered to CPR in 1955 who used it until ‘selling’ it to VIA Rail in September 1978. VIA would renumber it #9022. It would be re-configured as an RDC-2 in October 1981 and renumbered again as #6216. VIA would sell it to Industrial Rail Services in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2000. Galt Museum & Archives Photo 19851133000














Unidentified passengers on the platform at the Lethbridge train station standing in front of a Dayliner. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives










Unidentified CPR employees on the platform at the Lethbridge train station standing in front of a Dayliner. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives










J.E. Jones 47 year retirement notice. Date unknown. Great Canadian Plains Railway Society / Galt Historic Railway Park Archives












CPR Dayliners crossing the High Level Bridge in the late 1950s – photographer unknown. Vancouver Public Library 9586