When shortlines fail

At least one railway, Canadian National, makes much of its short line connections, terming them partners, as well as extensions to its far-flung network.

And by selling its unprofitable tracks to short line operators over the past few years, CN has undoubtedly emerged leaner, meaner and stronger.

But sometimes these unprofitable lines seem to fare worse under new ownership than they might have if they’d remained in the CN stable.

Consider the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway, which took over CN’s line between Truro and Sydney, N.S. in 1993. At last report, the CBNS was trying to unload its right of way from Sydney to Port Hawkesbury on the Strait of Canso. The section reportedly needs a lot of work to bring it up to par. And the rest of the line, if this photo is any indication, may need upgrading too.

cape breton railway

Worn out rail on CBNS line near New Glasgow, N.S.

Then, there’s the Huron Central Railway, a 280-kilometre stretch between Sudbury and Sault Ste Marie, Ont., which was formerly operated by Canadian Pacific.

Although a vital transportation link for several industries in the area, the line is likely to be shut down by the end of 2018 unless the Ontario government coughs up some money

But the short line that’s likely in the worst state is the Hudson Bay Railway, which runs from The Pas in northern Manitoba several hundred kilometres to the port of Churchill, Man. on Hudson Bay.

Because of flooding in the spring of 2017, that portion of the railway between Amery, Man. and Churchill has been shut down, cutting the latter’s only ground link to the outside world. And although it appeared as if another company was recently ready to step in and buy the HBR, that plan has now fallen through.

 

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On to the Bay . . . Well, not So Fast!

Hudson bay--damage
SUPPLIED A motorcyclist and adventure seeker from Colorado, rode a dirt bike along the bay line from Thompson to Churchill. Reached on Tuesday near Split Lake on the return trip to Thompson, Green said that when he began his expedition, he was already aware that rail service has been suspended because of flood damage. So, as he made his way up the line, he took photos. The photographs he produced – time stamped on June 14 and obtained by the Free Press – reveal a situation much different than the one described by Omnitrax.

Canada’s Prairie farmers can be excused if they’re shedding a few tears. The railway link across  northern Manitoba, one of Canada’s Western provinces, to the tiny port of Churchill (pop. 900) on Hudson Bay has been sliced and diced by recent floods. The damage reportedly is so extensive that the operator, Omnitrax Canada, says the line may be out of service for months.

The outage is particular poignant for the farmers. Not only did they agitate for years for the line to be built, but they saw it as a way of freeing themselves from the high cost of shipping their grain to the Lake Superior port of Thunder Bay, Ont., Canada’s main outlet for Prairie wheat. And even though the line to Churchill has never lived up to its promise, it was, for Western Canadians, still their very own line.

But Omitrax may be exaggerating the seriousness of the washouts. A Winnipeg Free Press story on June 20 (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/photos-from-the-ground-tell-different-story-about-hudson-bay-railway-conditions-429783063.htmlsuggests that because flood waters have receded, getting the line back on track may take less time than the company originally said it would.

Not only does Omitrax want to unload the line, but it has been trying to do so for more than a year to a consortium of First Nations.

“A deal in principle has been reached,” the Free Press reports.  “But the First Nations have stated publicly they need support from the federal and provincial governments to complete the purchase.”