Monday, November 10, 2014

Updated: End of the line for Beachburg Subdivision

Well, it's finally happening. The last remnants of CN's former transcontinental main line through Ottawa are being taken up in the city's northwest end. The Beachburg Subdivision north of Nepean Junction will be history in a few weeks. A couple of readers have alerted me to the presence of the continuous welded rail work train in the region. I had the chance to go and see this train on Sunday, Nov. 9.

Over the weekend, work had halted. Thanks to information from a local rail watcher (thanks Ray), I was told the work train was parked at the rural Stonecrest Road level crossing near milepost 30.0, northwest of Dunrobin. I made my way out to this secluded spot and was immediately struck by the rugged character of the the area. The path to the crossing was hilly, twisty and generally hemmed in by trees. This was about as rural as you can get within the city limits.

When I arrived at the crossing, there was a bit of a clearing and the sun was shining. You could immediately see the end of the work train by the crossing, being guarded by a lone CN employee. I spoke to him briefly and he told me I was allowed to take photos from the road. He also told me that work was to recommence on Tuesday morning. Given how much progress has been made to date, I would not be surprised if the rest of this stretch of track was gone in a few weeks.

Given the area where the work train is parked is heavily wooded, getting a shot of the entire string of cars was impossible, so I had to try and capture the consist with some condensed vertical shots. Luckily, the afternoon sun was in the perfect spot for me to get some of these shots. You can see in the shot above that there is some rail still in the process of being fed into the CWR cars.

I managed to capture some shots of the yellow work cars at the end of the train (above), but that was about all I could capture in terms of long horizontals. You can see the rail being fed into the CWR cars in this shot as well.

The above shot was taken from the crossing. The road was very quiet when I arrived, so taking shots from the middle of the crossing was pretty easy. You can see that this line has been left to its own devices for a number of years, as the ballast is largely lost in overgrowth.

Above, the dreaded CWR cars, especially for a train-starved railfan in Ottawa.

This shot gives you an idea of the immediate surroundings at this level crossing. Two CN trucks had been parked at the side of the road since the train had halted its work. Both had Quebec licence plates, so I'm guessing the railway sent work crews in from Montreal to take apart this line.

This final shot pretty much sums up the sad end for this once vital piece of CN's network. A threader was left locked in place, with a small stretch of rail yet to be fed onto the train. Beyond the loose rail, you can see the abandoned right-of-way, which will no doubt soon become a snowmobile trail. This shot gives you an idea of the types of grade crews would have had to manage on this line, when it was a transcontinental line and then part of the Ottawa Central Railway.
And with that, another piece of the Ottawa Valley's railway history is removed. I can't help but wonder what might have happened to this line, if Ottawa Central hadn't been purchased by CN. Many rail watchers here have grumbled over the years that CN only purchased OCR to get its hands on the actual rails, so it could use them elsewhere in its network.
I also wonder what might have happened if efforts to establish the Transport Pontiac Renfrew shortline railway had been successful. I recall the former president of the OCR James Allen telling me a wood pellet plant in the Pontiac wanted rail service on this line, a prospect that promised (in his words) hundreds of car loads a year. But sadly, too much industry has been lost in the valley to support a railway line in this area.
The city did mention earlier this year that it would be interested in purchasing the old line for a possible recreational trail. Considering how remote this part of the city is, I doubt a trail in these parts would get much use for anything other than snowmobiles and ATVs.
This brings me to my final question. Given the level of interest in light rail in the city, you can't help but wonder if retaining this line for future regional rail use should have been seriously considered. This approach to rail is very common in the United States, but sadly not here.
And, as another line fades away, the city continues to wrangle over the next phases of its light rail dreams, which require expensive new rights-of-way in areas where rail once served.
For those looking to capture some of this work along Beachburg, the work will continue through this week into the weekend (from Nov. 11-16 or so). I invite readers in the Ottawa area to get out there and capture some of this before it's too late. On Tuesday, the train was nearing Torbolton Ridge Road. Wednesday will likely see the train nearing the Kinburn Side Road crossing. At this rate, it should be nearing Dunrobin in the coming days.


DaveM said...

Anyone know what the plans are for the bridge over Fitzroy?


Eric said...

Thanks for making the trip out to rural, er, urban Ottawa. Glad to know Ottawa city limits do not include only stuffy stone government buildings.

Nice photography respecting CN property and great lighting!


Pat said...

I've been following this blog for the last year or so and this is the post I was hoping I would never have to read. I went down to Nepean Junction a few weeks ago to get a few pictures and I'm glad I did while I had the chance. It really angers and saddens me to see all this railroading history disappearing in the valley. The only "consolation" for me in all of this is that if they do turn the right of way into a snowmobile trail I'll be able to ride the beachburg sub like the trains used to, but I'd rather see trains and tracks there than have another snowmobile trail. Same thing happened to the M&O sub years ago, it became a multi-use trail, but I wish the CP trains were still rolling there instead. Hopefully I'll have time this weekend to catch some of the action. Great blog by the way, keep the great info coming.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Great job documenting the sad end of the Beachburg sub, and like Eric said good job respecting CN property and getting the good light. Your last photo is particularly evocative.

AJ said...

Sad news. I suspect this will be turned over to the city so that the Mayor can tout yet another bike path that we don't need. Consideration was taken into incorporating this as part of the transportation plan with Mayoral Candidate Liam McGuire and Ward 6 candidate Guy Annable specifically. While they lost in the election, what was and likely will be forgotten, was their announcement that never occurred at 10 am on the morning of the shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo which was supposed to highlight this line along with the Renfrew sub as cogs in a transportation plan. Unfortunately no other candidate felt the good sense to tout this line as a strong part of our transportation plan as well as elevating rush hour traffic on the 417. All we are left is the prospect of what could have been much like the other lines that have been ripped up throughout the city.

Michael said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments. It's a sad end for this subdivision, but I feel lucky to have the chance to catch the last action on the line. DaveM, I haven't heard what will happen to the bridge at Fitzroy Harbour, but I assume it has recreation trail potential. I made my way back to the Woodlawn area today and caught the train parked near another country road. Stay tuned for more photos next week.

DaveM said...

It just seems like yesterday that we lost the line from Smiths Falls to North Bay, now we're losing this one.

Went out this evening to see it. I only got a couple of pictures of it, but it was quite dark so they didn't turn out that well.


David Haney said...

Last year I saw the CWR train in Pembroke. I decided to get some video of this said event. This video link: Will show the CN lifting rail west of Beachburg Ontario.

Michael said...

Thanks for your comment, David. I will check out that link. It's amazing how cities in the Valley have lost all traces of rail. Sad to see, but it's great that you were there to record it.

DaveM said...

It is strange, they are working 7 days a week on it, (I saw them out there on Saturday and Sunday).

As of Sunday morning they are between Kerwin / Riddell / Klondike.

Michael said...

Thanks for the info Dave, not much more to go after Klondike. I wonder why they're working so profusely on this.

David said...

Made a trip over today. No sign of the rail train, as it was reported heading east today on 589. Likely because it was full.

The end of track point is approximately half way between Kerwin, and Constance Lake Roads. The yellow rail loading equipment is parked on the east side of Kerwin Road.


Keith said...

It seems shortsighted to rip it up now, but the reality (sad, but not surprising) is that our local politicians are not rail fans, and had no use trying to preserve this line for future use, otherwise they would have acted on it. Everyone on this board would agree that another rec trail isn't needed and tracks would have been better, but we're in the minority, and CN has shareholders to be accountable to. From what I have read over the years, the salvage value of this line was something like triple what CN paid for the OCRR. In fact, I'm not even sure if they wanted it, but it was part of the package.

I caught the OCR switching in Pembroke 7 or so years ago, and wish I had my camera with me then, but I wasn't planning on railfanning that day, just happened to come across it by sheer coincidence. Too bad I can't turn back the clock.

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, Keith. I agree with you. CN is a highly successful big time railway. Having lines like Beachburg sitting around doing nothing make no sense. I don't blame CN. I blame local politicians. They tore up rails once and now have to put some back in place for their light rail dreams. You'd think that someone would consider keeping the line for future commuter use, just in case.

Keith said...

I'm going to go out for a look sunday. May be my last chance. Anyone else going?

Michael said...

As of Nov. 22, the rails have been pulled up all the way to the Thomas A. Dolan Pkwy in Dunrobin. The tracks headed toward Kanata are still in place, minus a large stretch near Thomas A. Dolan, which is gone. No sign of any work being done this weekend.

Keith said...

I went for a look today just to see what's left. The equipment is parked on the south side of the crossing at Kerwin Road. On the north side, most of the rail has already been lifted.

What is odd is that there are many parts where there is still rail in place. I assume this will not be left, but it's interesting that they have cut it so that it can't be removed now with a train.

The employee guarding the equipment at Kerwin let me browse around it, and it's jointed rail that's being loaded, so I can't figure out why they have left stretches of rail in place.

My trip today ended at the bridge over the Ottawa River at Fitzroy Harbour. The rail is still in place leading up to the bridge, all the way across it, and for some distance on the other side. It was a sombre experience walking across the trestle knowing there will never be another train to cross it.

Anonymous said...

Anyone have information on a train derailment that happened on this line just within the southeast corner of Algonquin Park. I believe it happened in 1976.

Michael said...

Thanks for dropping by. I have one contact in Ottawa who might be able to help you. Please email me at michael.hammond77 AT gmail dot com and I will put you in touch with him.