Saturday, January 25, 2014

NB Government Invests in MOST of Northern New Brunswick Rail Line

The CBC is reporting that the New Brunswick government has agreed to give CN up to $25 million to upgrade and maintain most of its rail infrastructure in northern New Brunswick, with a matching investment by CN. This is a most puzzling announcement.

You may recall that in August 2012 CN applied to abandon the section of track from Catamount (the junction with the CN Napadogan subdivision) to Irvco (in Belledune), citing poor economics. This would have resulted in no rail service to Bathurst, Miramichi and Rogersville. CN would have retained the section from Irvco through Campbellton and into Quebec.

Today's announcement shortens the amount of track to be abandoned, but does not eliminate it. The entire Campbellton to Catamount track is to be upgraded and retained, with the exception of the section from Nepisiguit Junction to Nelson Junction just south of Miramichi which is to be offered for sale in February.

CN's own maps show it best. These photos were taken by Marc Genuist of CBC and kindly sent to me.

The double blue line areas are to be retained and upgraded. Both the southern and northern portions will have ties and ballast replaced and bridges remediated as required. The Loggieville spur (shown in the inset and below) will also have turnouts remediated and will have a "new Moncton connection". I'm told this is an east leg to make a wye at Nelson Junction so trains to/from Moncton don't have to cross the Miramichi, as they currently do.

So... what does this mean?

VIA Rail's Ocean will not be able to run through northern New Brunswick any more. Understandably, local mayors and residents are very upset.
VIA 15 at Nepisiguit Junction

The agreement also means that existing shippers will continue to have rail service. To my knowledge, these are the major shippers on the northern portion of the line and their locations. Note that not all of them may be active rail shippers at this time.
  • AV Cell, Atholville
  • Irving Oil Limited, Campbellton
  • Chaleur Sawmills, Belledune
  • Xstrata Smelter, Belledune, Irvco spur
  • Port of Belledune, Irvco spur
  • NB Power Generating Station, Belledune, Irvco spur
  • Superior Propane, Beresford
  • Holcim cement, Nepisiguit Junction
  • Fornebu Lumber, outside Bathurst, near Nepisiguit Junction
What this also means is that traffic from northern New Brunswick will have to go all the way across Quebec before it rejoins the CN main line at Rivière-du-Loup. Effectively northern New Brunswick would be at the end of a long, long spur. This does not bode well for the future of rail freight in New Brunswick.

There are no shippers between Nepisiguit Junction and Miramichi, nor have there been for quite some time.

On the southern portion of the line, these are the only two major shippers that I am aware of.
  • Arbec, Miramichi, Loggieville spur
  • Ultramar, Miramichi, Loggieville spur
CN lifted the Miramichi port spur last year, which removed Miramichi Lumber Products as a potential shipper.

The province's press release says that "CN, the province and local businesses will continue to work together to increase freight traffic in future years, with benefits to be shared between the two partners". I don't know what the terms of the sharing would be. Would CN repay some of the investment?

The federal government was very noticeable in their absence from the announcement.

More to come.

Other coverage:


Unknown said...

A rather ill-conceived plan for sure. It is ridiculous to cut out part of the ICR which has a long history in the area and in Canada but, nothing really matters when it comes to money and a corporation that had a $705 million profit in the last(?) 1/4 of 2013.

I do wonder how or if there will be an accounting from CN as to where and what and how much money they spend on each project. However, CN and VIA, for that matter, won't reveal the money CN takes from VIA for using their rails so, it's very doubtful any accounting will ever be done for this deal either.

On the gov's. part, I suspect it'll be here's this years money, see you next year, kind of deal. High Fives all around.

One Man Committee said...

What's likely in store for the Ocean?

rivardau said...

After the agreement to preserve *most* of the rail line, they still propose to abandon, lift the rails, and sell the land for a lousy 80 km / 50 mi more stretch?


just agree to keep the whole line and right-of-way intact.


even if the track is reduced to 25 mph standard, or even if the rail is lifted for now and converted to bike rails-to-trails, it will be important to hold onto the ROW for potential future re-railing.

We are starting to see more examples of places where rail is being re-installed due to changes in freight/passenger needs, and changes to fuel economics.

If CN doesnt want it, then the public should buy the land as an investment for the future needs and enjoyment of citizens, whether it be for bikes/hiking or trains.