Monday, November 14, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, Bedell is an interesting spot on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Sub. It's an area that has rich history. Now, as much of its old infrastructure has been removed, it's also a testament to how railways have evolved. Small towns are rarely much more than a passing landmark to freight trains these days and Bedell is no exception. There are no diamonds here, the interlocking is long gone, the station is only visible in old photos and much of the former Prescott Sub connection has been removed.

So what is there to see in Bedell these days? Well, in the last few years at least, there was a fair amount to see, to be honest. The Canadian Pacific has been very busy reshaping the Winchester Sub, which connects Montreal with Smiths Falls. The double tracks have been slowly merged into a single track governed by modern signalization. Bedell retains some extra trackage, as the railway still makes use of passing sidings, but most of the old remnants of the Bedell rail yard have disappeared. 

The image above is a shot I took in February last year as maintenance of way crews continued their work in the area. Much of the consist was parked on the South Prescott Spur. The caboose, which had the modern CPR letting on it, seemed to be the crew breakroom, where they could escape to a warm place and get out of the howling winter winds. You can see the smoke rising the smokestack, indicating that there is something cooking or running inside the old car. The earliest photo of this caboose I could find was from 2004, meaning it's been assigned to engineering services for nearly two decades.

This shot above shows you a hint of the gondolas on the South Prescott Spur. The entire consist was being marshalled around by a flatbed truck equipped with flanged wheels for use on the rails. I was disappointed to see this. It would have been cool to see one of CP's old MoW locomotives on point, possibly with some old multimarks on the long hood, but it was not to be.

What's also striking about this image is the fact that so many old ties were piled up in the area. In the several times I have been to Bedell in 2020 and 2021, the amount of rail ties was pretty impressive. It seemed like this was the spot where many of the old ties were dumped. The shot below was taken in July 2020. This pile was just the tip of the iceberg.

I haven't been to Bedell in more than a year to see what it's like these days, but seeing those cabooses when I did was incredibly gratifying, especially for someone who is old enough to remember when trains still had cabooses. I remember the debate when railways unions pressed their cases about the issue. I still have a pin somewhere that says "Trains are safer with a caboose." It was given to me by a Teamsters union representative that was pleading its case at a Sarnia mall in the 1980s.

When you drive through Kemptville these days, you wouldn't know you were in a railway town. The last remnants of the old Prescott Sub were lifted shortly after I took this photo in 2014. In fact, you won't find that old industrial building anymore either. It's all been razed. Nothing but a flat expanse of development land for sale. 

Despite the removal of much of the infrastructure at Bedell, it still remains one of my favourite spots to sit trackside. Go there in the summer and listen to the sound of the wind swishing through the trees. It's a very peaceful spot. Catching a train there is tough, given the decreased frequency of traffic, but the newly installed modern signals will give you some clues. You can see these signals safely from the Bedell Road crossing, which might be able to let you know if you will be waiting an entire afternoon or whether you might be in luck. 

You see? Progess isn't so bad.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Ghosts of Bedell, Part I

This post was supposed to be the first stop on my blog's reunion tour, as I called it when I restarted things in August 2021. Since then, I have accumulated much more material, which has pushed back this post for months and now more than a year. It's not a bad problem to have.

Bedell, Ontario, a spot along the Canadian Pacific Railway's Winchester Subdivision. Bedell once housed a station and an active rail yard. Over the course of my extended hiatus from blogging, I did manage to visit this spot a few times. Truthfully, I wouldn't have been able to visit this spot were it not for the fact that I had surgery on my knee at the Kemptville District Hospital and subsequent follow-ups with my surgeon a few times. That meant a few free passes to railfan at a time when I would usually not be able to get away from Ottawa.

Those who know their history know that Bedell once boasted a station, a tower, an interlocking crossing between the Canadian Pacific and the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway and later a diamond that connected the CP Winchester Sub to the railway's Prescott Sub. Read about the history of Bedell's rail operations here.

The Prescott Sub lasted until the late 1990s, when it was finally deactivated and the rail removed south of Ottawa. The rail in Ottawa was spared, some of which became part of the O-Train Trillium Line while the remainder was used by Ottawa Central and then CN in its local operations. A small portion of the Prescott Sub still ventured into Kemptville as the North Prescott Spur. That spur was lifted several years ago. The South Prescott Spur is still hanging on, as a turnout for eastbound locals on the Winchester Sub. That spur serves CP customers in Oxford Station.

So, what's left in Bedell these days? Not much but memories and a few ghosts no doubt. I've been here a number of times and detailed the ongoing process of rails being lifted and area being cleared of anything resembling a rail yard. 

This shot above was the scene on November 30, 2020 when I was in Kemptville for an appointment, which led me to Bedell, of course. Throughout 2020, CP maintenance of way crews were quite active in Bedell as the Winchester Sub was single tracked in many places, due to modern signalization improvements that do not require two tracks. For my purposes, I was interested to see the two old yard tracks removed on the north side of the area (left on the photo). One of the tracks was once clearly labelled as a bad order track. You could see the sign from the side of Bedell Road. The south track with gondolas marked the first time I have ever seen cars parked in this area.

The North Prescott Spur was being used that day as a staging ground for this maintenance of way consist, including a genuine caboose. I was quite surprised to see the last vestiges of the CP multimark on this car. The white scheme with no identifying marks or numbers was quite odd, although it might have been a case of a car being repainted after being heavily marked by graffiti. 

Here's a closer look at the caboose. You can see from the ends that its original yellow paint scheme is clearly visible. As if a caboose on a main line wasn't odd enough, this one had two paint schemes. I was disappointed that I didn't see any freight trains pass by, but this was a great consolation prize, to be sure. 

Still, I couldn't help but feel a little sad for the ghosts of Bedell. At one point, this was a real community gathering spot, where families embarked on long journeys or reunited. It once saw upwards up 30 trains a day. By most counts, it now sees anywhere from five to seven, based on what I hear from various railfans. Occasionally, there will be a seasonal extra, such as a semi-regular ethanol unit train, but the frequency is not really conducive to regular railfanning.

This Soo Line gondola has definitely seen better days.
Progress or is this the end of an era? Depends on your perspective.
Despite the fact that very little is left in Bedell from the area's heyday, it's important to understand today's reality. Canadian Pacific is definitely a railway in growth mode, even if it isn't evident in this area. The railway's purchase of the Central Maine & Quebec Railway (formerly Montreal Maine & Atlantic) gave CP its transcontinental connection to the East Coast once again. The railway has been promoting its new eastern terminus as a competitive advantage for shippers (read: intermodal and containers). The railway also clearly sought to establish a link to Mexico with its prolonged struggled to acquire Kansas City Southern.
So what does this have to do with Bedell? Well, if the minds running CP have their way, the railway is clearly going to be busier as a true transcontinental transportation concern once again. That could mean a few more trains passing through Bedell. They might not stop there anymore, but the ghosts would likely notice the increase and smile.