Saturday, March 09, 2013

Miramichi Port Spur Torn Up

In the latest of the "death of a thousand cuts" affecting rail service in northern New Brunswick, CN started removing the rail leading to the port of Miramichi on Wednesday. This prompted Hal Raper, chief financial officer of Miramichi Lumber Products, to complain to CN (and the CBC) that they had plans to ship wood chips and lumber to Saint John starting this spring. CN says the line had laid dormant for seven years and they needed the rails elsewhere.

Mr. Raper said they planned on shipping about 700 cars/year. CN says they will put the rails back if there is sufficient business to justify it.

Miramichi Lumber Products was known as Newcastle Lumber until a few years ago, when the family-owned business went into receivership. It is back in operation with a new name and new equipment.

I don't think the rails will ever go back. The northern line is in dire danger since CN filed for abandonment in August last year and nothing has come up since then to indicate they will change their minds. There is simply not enough traffic to justify CN making the investment to repair the line's many faults. The various levels of government, private business, and community leaders need to work together to get more industries using the rails to make the business case for retaining the line. Organizations like this are good but there needs to be more... much more.

NBEC 1867 at port of Miramichi

I remember seeing New Brunswick East Coast Railway trains coming down to the port many times to spot boxcars, and even to switch the Irving propane facility there when it still had rail service. I have a note that I saw an SD40 / C-424 combination coming away from the port on February 13, 2001 but in general I only saw RS-18s there. Of course, the above photo is an exception as the second unit after NBEC 1867 is NBEC 4230.

In January 2004 it was a pair of RS-18s (NBEC 1814 and 1821) working the port. Note the BC Rail boxcars. There was a shift around this time from a dog's breakfast of boxcar roadmarks to more uniform CN and BC Rail boxcars in northern New Brunswick.
NBEC 1814 and 1821 in Miramichi

The last time I saw a train at the Port was in the evening of July 18, 2006 when NBEC 1854 and NBEC 1816 were working. Clearly this was shortly before the end of rail service if CN says the line has not had customers in seven years.
NBEC 1854 and 1816 in Miramichi

Notice how my camera quality improves with each picture! ;)


Anonymous said...

According to Professor Joe Due study into branchline viability, a line requires 100 revenue car per mile of track to remain viable in the long term. At progressively lower carloadings, the probability for failure grows at an incrementally faster rate as operators struggle to find capital to replace motive power and upgrade lines.

The portion of the Newcastle subdivision would require 13000 carloads to become viable. The Miramichi Lumber traffic would not sustain the line.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi "Unknown", I totally agree that those 700 cars would not be enough.

jake said...

Am I correct that CN bought the railline back from a shortline. If the answer is yes, the next question is why? CN would know the carloads being shipped.unles some big shipper was moving into NB.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Jake, yes, CN bought the line back from the shortline Quebec Railway Corporation back in late 2008. At the time many wondered why... and probably still do. Clearly CN had a notion that they were going to increase traffic but it did not pan out.

Anonymous said...

Regarding CN's purchase of the NBEC line, there are two schools of thought.

The first says that the QRC told CN that they had to buy all of the lines owned by the QRC or none. There are certain segments of the former QRC system that were profitable. In that line, the NBEC was purchased not for its own value but rather as the dross for a greater prize.

The second says that the line was purchased as an insurance policy of there was any failure on the Edmunston to Moncton line. There are a few bridges that would pose some problems if they went out of commission. The only problem with this thinking is that the line cannot handle double stacked container trains out of Halifax.

In 2005, the handwriting was on the wall with the collapse of paper mills in the Campbellton area and at Miramichi. Between 1998 and 2005, the Miramichi lost some 15000 carloads per year.

In 2006, the Acadian Railway and the NBEC entered into a series of discussions that would have seen the former enter into a partnership with the latter on the operation of the Bathurst to Moncton section. Eventually, discussions were held with Marc Liberte of QRC to see what options were available. It was concluded that if the NBEC was being sold by QRC then the Acadian line would have the first right to acquire the NBEC. Unfortunately, the terms of the first right did not contemplate the wholesale sale of the QRC system.

The Acadian Railway has been in discussions with both CN, the provincial government and select regional economic development bodies to see what can be done.