Thursday, March 28, 2019

One small train, so many thoughts

A two-car train trundled by. Big deal. I’ve caught this train numerous times. For most people in my neighbourhood, I’m not even sure they’re aware that these train tracks are even active anymore. The weekly service out to Arnprior is like an apparition. I’m sure some are vaguely aware that trains may use the tracks at some point during the week, but it likely doesn’t seem all that important.

In my opinion, this weekly train is tremendously important. And here’s why I consider myself really fortunate to catch this train as it returned to Walkley Yard.

1. These tracks might not be here much longer. You will recall that I wrote about CN’s plans to walk away from its Ottawa operations. While this is hardly surprising, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the remaining trackage it actually controls in the area. Most of the tracks in the region are now controlled by Via Rail, with the exception of the last portion of the Beachburg Sub between Federal and the old Nepean Junction. This link is hardly important to CN, but it is absolutely critical to Nylene Canada in Arnprior, which relies on the Beachburg Sub-Renfrew Spur tracks to receive its weekly delivery to its plant. Does this mean Nylene Canada will have to purchase this right-of-way or at least the rails? Will the city be a willing partner and buy the land beneath the rails, like the old Region of Ottawa-Carleton did with the old Renfrew Sub? It’s clear to me that something has to be settled here before CN pulls out.

2/ I don’t think I’ll miss CN in Ottawa, quite frankly, since the railway has done little to nothing to expand rail service here, which is not meant to be a critique. It’s just reality. CN is not a short line and it should not be expected to act like one. Its purchase of the old Ottawa Central was always an awkward one, with many suggesting was solely motivated by the scrap value of the old Beachburg Sub rails between Pembroke and Nepean Junction. But, if CN goes, that means I won’t likely have a chance to shoot any number of its older units anymore. I have been blessed to catch many different liveries, including a leased GATX unit, over my years of catching the Arnprior Turn. So, from a railfanning perspective, I will miss the variety of older units the railway has trotted out here in recent years.

3/ A commuter opportunity awaits. Unless the city reverses course, these rails will not survive. That is, unless a short line railway takes over local freight rail operations or the city decides to use these rails for future commuter use. As we have seen in the last decade, the city’s vision for light rail does not include using existing infrastructure, although the last two mayoral runners-up have proposed the idea to little fanfare. Meanwhile, areas that are screaming for better transit, like Kanata and Stittsville, will have to wait for Phase III of the city’s light rail plans before they get any service. And, as locals know, Phase I is already a year behind and Phase II is already mired in controversy. It’s a real shame, in my opinion. The old region had the vision to consider maybe one day using the Renfrew Spur for commuter rail and the last portion of the Beachburg Sub would be ideal for that use, now that it appears CN has no plans for it. Perhaps a short line operator can move the needle for freight service or commuter rail on these tracks. You will recall that there was a short portion of the old Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction that used to go through large subdivisions in north Kanata, but that commuter opportunity was lost when the city failed to even consider it.

4/ Freight by rail matters. Especially local freight that is carried by a short line. We don’t have to get into any extensive environmental debate to know that Ottawa’s highways are congested, to say the least. And the city is often choked by truck traffic. Ottawa is no different than any other city, but if tourism officials are serious about the tourist experience in a national capital, imagine what a difference it would make if there was a concerted effort to divert some of the neverending truck traffic off local roads (especially downtown) with a reinvigorated freight railway. Of course, there are practical considerations here. Railways will never be able to replace trucks for numerous local transportation delivery needs, but I would imagine there are still several opportunities that are going untapped, simply because CN couldn’t be bothered. Maybe it’s time for a new Ottawa Central type operation, or perhaps a short line holding company with some vision. Admittedly, it would likely be a tough sell, but it seems incredible to me that a short line couldn’t make money in a city of nearly a million people.

I look at the photos from the March Break meet with the GATX and they seem quaint now, since so much of our snow is finally (knock on wood) starting to melt. But I was happy to catch this train in a snow squall because it allowed me to get some winter shots, which I have not been able to do this winter.

I've mentioned it before in this blog that winter railroading is underrepresented in my railway photograph archives. Add to this meet another interesting catch I had at Fallowfield Station and I had quite a productive week recently (stay tuned for more on the other meet).

So that's the sum total of my thoughts from my meet with this tiny freight train. Due do some scheduling changes in my household, I have not been able to get out on Wednesday afternoons to catch this train so this might be my last meet with CN’s 589. I hope not, but I fear it might be so.


Steve Boyko said...

I've never understood why CN bought the Quebec Railway Corporation and its shortlines like the Ottawa Central. It made no business sense to me.

Michael said...

What makes the purchase even harder to consider is that it was made when E. Hunter Harrison was in charge. Given his reputation for controlling costs, I'd like to know what the rationale was for buying this railway. As you said, it really made no sense, on the surface.

DaveM said...

I think there are only two possible ways for this train to live on after the sale. The first and least likely, is that the city would purchase the remaining part of CN Beachburg Sub for future use. Given the city already has enough on it's plate with the new system, this isn't likely. The only chance is if Nylene purchases it. In this case, they would just subcontract with whoever services the Alexandria sub.


palpcaso said...

Caught 589 in Kanata (March/Carling) last week due to info I found here. Thanks! Hoping to catch 589 at Fallowfield. Does it still go to Barrhaven on Thursday and Sunday mornings or has that changed?

Michael said...
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Michael said...

What will Nylene do if the service stops and they nor the city want to buy the rails? Noting that the chemical that is being transported isn't allowed on roads. Maybe I'm being naively optimistic because I would absolutely hate to see this train go, but aren't Nylene almost forced to keep the operation going?

Unknown said...

There is also the short spur that goes to the science and technology museum in East Ottawa.

I think it would of been cool if Amazon had built thier fulfillment center with rail access. You brought this up last summer.

As I child, once had a chance to talk with a member of a crew that was removing rail from the industrial area off Lancaster Rd and he said the reason for the deceased rail traffic was trucks where cheaper and Ottawa is so far north of the 401. Rail was going out the door by the mid 80's.

Unknown said...

Someone with deep pockets needs to transfer the Walkley Yard into a small intermodal yard.

On a side note. Why did CN remove the tower at the yard?

Jay-Dee Purdie said...

Hello … recently came across your post about the Nylene Special. I originally discovered this train and rail system in October 2020 and have been fascinated by it since then. Recently I decided that I wanted some photos/video clips of the train as it travels to Arnprior, so I went to the crossing on Corkstown Road to get some photos. There were some CN maintenance people there when I arrived and I took the opportunity to talk to the maintenance supervisor and ask questions about the train and rail line. I haven’t had an opportunity to follow up on what he told m, but it did make sense. One thing he told me was that CN is “forced” by Transport Canada to maintain the line because it is the only safe and reliable way to transport the chemical (not sure what it is) to the Nylene plant in Arnprior, and that plant is a profitable concern. What he told me was that essentially if the tankers weren’t delivered each week, the Nylene plant would likely disappear, and that is not something that would be supported by the federal government. The other interesting thing he mentioned is that because of the road bed, soon after the train passes Corsktown Road, it must not travel faster than 5mph. Well, what an opportunity for me. At that train speed I had enough time to get to Galetta and take some photos of the same train. (See

Love your blog … Jay-Dee