By Stephen Host/photos by the author
In 2020, Canadian National Railway without question has the most diverse motive power roster of any Class I railroad. Despite CN being one of the first to implement Precision Scheduled Railroading, the roster still consists of a diverse mix of six- and four-axle power. Even first-generation motive power representation is strong, with rebuilt GP9s numbering almost 100 and still ubiquitous at many terminals. Rarer still is the uniquely Canadian GMD-1. With only 14 left active on the roster, these have been high on the hit list of most Toronto-area fans for some time. As the number of GMD-1s dwindled, we found ourselves chasing them strongly in 2015, but by 2016, all in the area were stored at Macmillan Yard with stacks capped.
Fate would give these locomotives a second chance. By mid-2018, they had been brought out of storage and repaired for local service, and in the ensuing months the GMD-1 has been found at many terminals in the southern Ontario area. Let’s dive into where you can find these old soldiers and take a closer look at the action.
We’re seeing double as two GMD-1s lead power sets in Hamilton Yard on April 11, 2020. The 0600 job is switching cars while the 0800 job has not yet come on duty and sits on the oil track.
A true Canadian product, the GMD-1 was built only at the London, Ont., General Motors Diesel plant between 1958 and 1960 for Canadian National and Northern Alberta Railways. Built originally for branch line service, the GMD-1 design is based off the SW1200 with a 12-cylinder 567C prime mover but with a longer carbody and A1A trucks (six axles) to spread weight over lightweight prairie rails. The end result of these and other changes made the GMD-1 a unique-looking locomotive, unlike anything else on the EMD roster. Only 78 were built for CN with the A1A arrangement, while 18 were built with B-B (four-axle) trucks for passenger service complete with steam lines for heating coaches. Northern Alberta Railways ordered five of its own of the A1A type, for a total of 101 units produced. All GMD-1s ended up on the CN roster when NAR was absorbed in 1981.
Canadian National rebuilt the GMD-1s between 1983 and 1988 and assigned them to the 1100-series. There was another rebuilt group in 1988 assigned to the 1600-series, these with A1A trucks, and more were rebuilt in 1989 to the 1400-series with B-B trucks. What emerged was markedly different, with 12-cylinder 645C power assemblies and upgraded amenities in the cab and a new paint scheme with a distinctive red cab. As CN culled its branch lines, not as many units were required. While some units ended up scrapped, a few were sold in the used market and picked up by short lines and international customers. Canadian National converted the remaining 1600-series GMD-1s to 1400s by the year 2000 by replacing A1A trucks with B-B trucks and giving them new 1400-series numbers. The last 1100-series GMD-1 was reportedly retired in 2006.
A pair of GMD-1s sits behind the fence at the Aldershot GO Transit station on May 28, 2015. The two were assigned to locals at the time, awaiting the call to duty.
Since the last rebuilds, numbers have been slowly dwindling as CN continued to thin the fleet of four-axle power. By 2016, the tired 1400-series GMD-1s found in Toronto — 1412, 1437, 1439, and 1444 — would end up in the storage line at MacMillan Yard with their stacks capped, and railfans feared it was over as CN has a habit of eliminating an entire locomotive series in one fell swoop. But the units languished in Toronto for years and not much else was heard until 2018…