Thursday, August 10, 2023

Happy 21st Birthday, Fallowfield Station (Part I)

Here's a quick trivia question. How many Canadian cities have more than one active passenger railway station? This is easy for many railfans. Montreal has its Central Station downtown as well as Dorval Station to the west. Toronto has Union Station as well as Guildwood Station in Scarborough. And, for the last 21 years, Ottawa has had its Central Station on Tremblay Road, which is east of the downtown, as well as Fallowfield Station in the southwest neighbourhood of Barrhaven.

The story of this suburban station is an interesting one, and it requires a little bit of local and national history to understand how it came to be. After all, it's a rare feat for any city to open a second railway station in the 21st century, never mind an urban centre like Ottawa, which had a population around 800,000 when Fallowfield was opened in 2002.

I began taking shots at Fallowfield Station in 2012. This is a shot of Fallowfield Station at dusk in 2013 as a P42 leads an eastbound corridor consist into the station before finishing its run at Via's main station on Tremblay Road.

So how does a station get built in an urban centre in what was then known as Ottawa-Carleton? Well, that is your first clue. Up until 2001, the City of Ottawa as we now know it was an urban centre that housed 11 separate municipalities, including the old City of Ottawa, Gloucester to its east, Nepean to its west, as well as Kanata, Vanier, Rockcliffe Park and some other townships and smaller municipalities. 

Nepean, for our purposes, is the most important of the former municipalities, since it encompassed a huge chunk of land to the west of the old City of Ottawa. Given its massive suburban neighbourhoods and communities, the issue of transit in this geographically large former city was critical. In the 1990s, the city council for Nepean put great emphasis on transit as one of its priorities. There were also strong voices for better regional transit at the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, which was the senior level of local government that handled issues that transcended the boundaries of the old municipalities.

One area that required transit solutions was the burgeoning community of Barrhaven, which is now a city in and of itself, with a population north of 50,000 alone. Despite the efforts of Nepean city councillors and regional councillors, nothing was done with the idea for a west-end train station until a former Nepean city councillor and regional councillor broke into federal politics.

Former Nepean Councillor David Pratt, who would go on to become a minister in the Paul Martin government, was the champion who revived the idea of building the Fallowfield train station in 2000, when the government had set aside $400 million for Via Rail infrastructure improvements. It's important to note that, at this time, Via Rail had many friends in the federal government, including Transportation Minister David Collenette. Collenette would be Via's last true blue friend in government, as he was a big proponent of railways as a solution to many modern environmental and infrastructure challenges.

Surprisingly, from Mr. Pratt's proposal in 2000, the idea to build a suburban train station did not take long to become a reality. With the political will in place, the project gained traction and started quickly. The project was officially unveiled in June 2001.

Already, there were elements in place, such as an OC Transpo Park and Ride parking lot for commuters at the corner of Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road, on the northern edge of Barrhaven. At this point, the bus-specific Transitway system of bus lanes had not been completed to Barrhaven, but was on its way. 

In November of 2002, construction of the $1.2-million station was completed and regular service as a stop began. The train station is the first stop on all westbound Toronto trains and the last stop on all eastbound trains terminating at the Tremblay Road station. 

This is a scanned image from the Ottawa Citizen of former Transportation Minister David Collenette (left) and former Via Rail Canada Chairman Jean Pelletier (right) on the first day of operations at the Fallowfield train station in November 2002.

The opening of the station was imperfect, as Via Rail had a multibillion-dollar wish list of items it needed to modernize its fleet and operations at the time. However, the $400-million government funding did not go nearly far enough in addressing any of those operational goals, which tended to overshadow the opening of the suburban station.

There were plans leading up to the opening of the station for Via to establish overnight service to Toronto, which never happened. There were also plans to shorten the travel time between Ottawa and Toronto, but this never really happened, although it can hardly be expected that shortening time would be a guarantee when Via is a tenant of CN on much of the rails between Ottawa and Toronto. 

Via now controls its own rails on the Smiths Falls Subdivision to Smiths Falls and the Brockville Subdivison (ex-CP) to Brockville. From there, it is a tenant on CN rails all the way to Toronto and beyond. This means it is at the mercy of CN dispatchers, who often give priority to their own freight trains. There is also the matter of Metrolinx GO Trains in and around Union Station, as well.

The opening of the Fallowfield station happened not long after Via had discontinued service in Prescott, Trenton and Maxville in Eastern and Central Ontario. In many respects, it was a time of mixed messages and uncertain fortunes for Canada's national passenger railway. Even then, its fleet of F40PH-2 locomotives and HEP cars seemed old. Its LRC coaches had long since been imperfectly coupled onto the F40s, since the original Baombardier-built LRC locomotives had proven unreliable in the corridor. The railway's experiment with British renaissance cars was not yet on the horizon, although we all know how that turned out. 

Much like today, Via was an operation in flux, in search of a more secure future with better equipment. But, as a Crown corporation subject to political whims of the government of the day, planning is never easy for this railway. It certainly wasn't easy then either, despite the backers it had in its corner.

In the next post, I want to tackle some questions about the station. Why was it called Fallowfield Station? Why not Barrhaven? Why was it built where it now stands? Why not closer to the more populated parts of Barrhaven? Can you ride the train between the Tremblay Station and get off at Fallowfield? 

Indeed, there is more than meets the eye when you're talking about this station.

1 comment:

Kevin from Windsor said...

Sudbury and Sudbury Jct? Parry Sound northbound and southbound? I know, not really the same thing. Surprised there are no VIA stops between Oakville and Union through Mississauga. It would eliminate the GO Train hop for people visiting Mississauga from points west. During Exhibition season, VIA used to offer a seasonal stop at Exhibition Station, but that was long ago. Interesting that in our lifetime, places like Pembroke had 2 stations and 2 daily trains in each direction. When I was a teenager, Windsor had VIA’s Walkerville station, plus a daily Amtrak stop at the old (and now long burned down) Michigan Central station on Windsor’s west side. I just rest from Vancouver and learned that when VIA took over, CP trains were still using their downtown Waterfront Station (not Pacific Central) which today is still used for commuter trains, the Sky Train and buses.