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1989: Railways reduce caboose use

The Story


It's the end of the line for the caboose. On Nov. 14, 1989, the first cabooseless Canadian Pacific train leaves Winnipeg, bound for Thunder Bay. The railway has opted to replace the traditional last car and its crewmembers with an electronic safety device the size of a typewriter. The controversial decision to reduce caboose use has union officials and railway purists steaming. But as we hear in this CBC Radio clip, the decision is all about the bottom line.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Nov. 14, 1989
Guest(s): Janet Felstad
Reporter: Scott Dibble
Duration: 1:30

Did You know?


• A caboose is a manned railway car attached to the end of a freight train. It allows railway crew to monitor the train from the rear and apply brakes if cars accidentally separates from the train. The caboose is also outfitted with red marker lights to make the end of the train visible at night.

• In Britain a caboose is called a brake van or guard's van.

• The earliest cabooses were simple wooden shacks built atop flatcars. As the use of cabooses became standard, most were built with cooking, sleeping and washroom facilities for railway crew.

There are several types of cabooses:
• A "cupola" or "standard" caboose has a small turret raised above the roofline so crew can look out over the length of the train in front of them.
• A "bay window caboose" has a middle window that pushes out over the side of the car.
• A "transfer caboose" is a simple flat car with a box bolted to the top. It is used only near rail yards.

• Cabooses were required by law in Canada and the United States until the 1980s, when new technologies allowed trains to be electronically monitored. Electronic end-of-train devices were developed to detect separating cars and apply brakes remotely.

• Train crew now ride in the locomotive, which is usually equipped with a toilet.

• In February 1988 the Canadian Transport Commission allowed railways to phase out cabooses in favour of end-of-train electronic devices. Within a year, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways were phasing out cabooses.

• In the United States, caboose laws were removed in 1989 and many retired cabooses were donated to museums and communities.

• Railways around the world eliminated cabooses around the same time, and now they are almost entirely obsolete.


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