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.


Matthew Maynard said...

Happy Halloween Michael. Bedell has become one of my go to spots for CP in the area over the years and I've always been fascinated by the history of the location. I stopped there this afternoon on my way home coincidentally. there's hardly any evidence left showing the locations history as a yard and station. I think the station sign is still there but I'm not going to tresspass to find out for sure. Still have three tracks left. A lead for the Prescott Sub the South mainline track and the North siding track. I must have picked a good time to swing by because the signals were on when I arrived and a few minutes later 118 passed and about 15 minutes later 231 took the siding track to meet with 112 farther up the line and it showed up 5 minutesafter that. I guess that's about as close as you can get now to the heyday of Bedell but that's railroading in the 21st century for you.

AJ said...

Wow nice catch Matthew!
Bedell has become the main place I railfan as most locations in the city are a waste of time and I often don't want to drive down to the Prescott area. Ive had a lot of good luck at Bedell as well as many times where i have been skunked. That said the history to me provides a massive advantage today where we are blessed with a beautiful straightaway that has relatively no tree cover to the east and offers excellent opportunities for really nice shots or just great railfanning. I was so disappointed when they removed the double track, but the fact that it is looking like more frequent runs will be occurring, that is a positive for me!
The other thing I like about this spot is you have a nice little hill thats a bit back from the tracks which is perfect for me to take my young son and not have him freaked out. He can see no problem and the little flat area ensures he isn't going to bolt on me and get into an accident!

Eric said...

Hi Michael,

Bedell is one location I haven't visited. I remember seeing Michael Shufelt posting his visits in the BRS Branchline.

I think another reason for CP reducing their double track was the closure of the Chalk River Sub. It used to funnel trains from western Canada direct to Montreal on a shorter route than passing through Toronto. But with fewer than ten trains a day, who needs double track anyway?

That CP van was perhaps one of the 4229xx-series shite-painted Work Transporters? Hard to tell without a number to look up. Let's see Rapido come out with that non-paintjob!

Thanks for sharing your visits. Hope the surgery went well!

Michael said...

I'm surprised by any mention of multiple trains spotted at Bedell. You had one heck of a day there, Matthew. I have been skunked there many a time, as AJ pointed out himself. It is a great spot, as it has a safe slightly elevated vantage point for railfanning, but as Tom Petty famously mused, the waiting is the hardest part. Thank you all for your comments.