Friday, August 31, 2012

CN Moves to Abandon Most of Newcastle Subdivision

CN train by the now closed UPM mill
CN detouring past the now closed UPM-Kymmene mill in Miramichi, May 2008.

CN has begun to abandon 139 miles of the Newcastle subdivision in New Brunswick. This stretch of track runs from Catamount (where it joins the CN main line at Pacific Junction) to Irvco (at Belledune). This track includes the communities of Bathurst, Miramichi and Rogersville, as well as the Nepisiguit Subdivision serving the Brunswick Mines.

CN purchased the Newcastle subdivision when they acquired the assets of the Quebec Railway Corporation in November 2008, including the New Brunswick East Coast Railway that operated this portion of track. At the time, many wondered why CN would be interested in a line that did not seem to have any growth potential. Now it seems CN is wondering the same thing.

CN was talking about abandoning this track about a year ago. Now the news articles say CN is looking for $50 million to maintain service. I assume this is deferred maintenance on the track.

The current shippers on the affected portion of the line include the Brunswick Mines (slated to close soon), Ultramar in Newcastle, the lumber mill on the Nepisiguit subdivision, and probably a few small shippers. The CBC article says CN has 12-15 customers on the line.

Of course, VIA Rail would be affected, since they run over this line. VIA has made some hints recently that they could consider running over the Edmundston-Moncton CN line instead. Obviously they had prior knowledge of this announcement.

Opinion: Obviously I think this would be a tremendous loss for the province and the area. Rail lines provide a vital link in the transportation infrastructure of this country and once they are gone, they don't come back. Even if there is insufficient traffic at the moment to sustain the line, it could come back and without rails it would have to travel on our roads.

The provincial government has already stated it will not purchase the line, but is willing to "work with" other parties. I know the province is already deeply in debt, and it has never supported railways in the province in any meaningful way, other than a meager contribution to NB Southern's maintenance in 2009. Colour me bitter but nobody should expect any significant help from the provincial government, even though they should help out.

The only possibility of saving this line, as far as I can see, is for someone like J.D. Irving to step in and purchase it. From afar, I do not see a good business case for them to purchase the line but they were able to make a go of the old CP lines, so there may be efficiencies they can bring that CN cannot.

Let's cross our fingers and hope for some solution to retain the rails.

1 comment:

clam502 said...

It's a sad situation back home, loss of business and now we're losing our railway. It's getting really bad. But as I always say, those in power in Ottawa and Fredericton seem to think that Canada stops at Quebec City and New Brunswick only consists of Moncton, St John and Fredericton. It is really a sad state of affairs.