This time the feeling was different. Tempered resignation and sadness
had replaced the hurt that I had felt seven years earlier when the
tracks had been ripped up through my home town of Campbell's Bay,
Quebec, located at mileage 55.6 of CP Rail's Waltham Subdivision.
I recall standing on a small bluff in the centre of town in the spring
of 1985, gazing down on the cinder scar (ballast was unheard of on the
west end of the Waltham Sub.) that had been a line of railway only
months earlier, and having to deal with a feeling of personal loss.
"Why?" you ask. It was only a nondescript branchline, deemed
non-essential to the local economy at the time of its abandonment, more
often than not maligned by those who had to maintain it, much less ride
over it in diminutive S-3's and S-ll's, not to mention the "wretched"
little 400-series steamers that had worked it before the diesels.
Surely other local abandonments that had preceded the Waltham, such as
CN's L'Orignal Subdivision from Hawkesbury to Ottawa, or even the loss
of the NYC from Cornwall to Ottawa, had to be considered more
significant from an historical perspective. The difference this time
was that now my railroad was disappearing.
I grew up with the "Waltham" at the centre of my world from a time very
early in childhood. Many years were spent watching my Dad, then agent
at the "Bay", either working the wire (telegraph) or manhandling crates
and boxes in the station's express room, and nearby freight shed. In
large measure it shaped my enduring interest in the railway
transportation industry and nurtured the respect I hold for those
individuals who choose to make a career in this profession. One does
indeed become "married to the company" when one hires on as a railway
employee and this can sometimes rub off on the children too. For me,
the abandonment of the line west of Wyman at mileage 34 was another one
of life's milepost experiences.
Now seven years later, I find myself standing over a short dismantled
section of track at mileage 2.8 of the same pike, just west of
Ottawa/Alymer Champlain Bridge. The missing lengths of rail have
effectively terminated operation on the remaining portions of the line
that has seen only seasonal O.C.S. (On Company Service) movements of
rock, used as ballast, from the now inactive Hilton Mines near Bristol,
Quebec. The truncated line's fate was sealed in part by the rocks'
inability to withstand the rigours of heavy tonnage, a requirement of
today's modern mainlines. This fact had been known to the company for
years, but it was probably the lack of a suitable cost-effective
alternative that kept the line open since the demise of the iron-ore
mine back in 1975. That all changed with CP Rail's purchase of the
D&H Railroad, which provided it with access to a suitable quarry
near Whitehall, New York. Now the Waltham Subdivision became expendable.
I guess that it's time to take one last tour of the line before its
inevitable dismantlement. If history and politics repeat themselves,
the waiting period won't be long. It doesn't fit into the master plan
that an effective lobby be mounted which would see the line retained to
provide commuters with rail transit in the 21st century or, worse yet,
that the line provide direct rail access to a badly needed regional
land fill site, perhaps located at the old Hilton Mine. No, the tracks
must be torn up for the good of all. Never mind the fact that large
transport trucks must travel over sections of Highway 148 near and
through the ghost town of Breckenridge that have seemingly been
forgotten by time not to mention the politicians in far off Ville de
Quebec. The only thing that's different in the area from the days back
in the late '50s, when I travelled with my parents to Ottawa, is the
fact that the road is now paved, or seemingly so, depending on the time
Lost economic opportunities for the railway .... who am I to
second guess modern transportation logic? It works now, but what about
the future? Unfortunately, our options are being dismantled away.
So, here's a tip of the cap to the old Waltham Subdivision, may it
R.I.P. as a born again snowmobile trail, or something! All will agree
that it provided needed jobs for local railway employees and, for the
"buffs", it was interesting to railfan. I guess that I will be making
fewer trips "up the Pontiac".
P.S. The National Transportation Agency ruled in late-Februarj that the
Waltham Subdivision could be abandoned from mileage 1.0 to end of track
effective the last week of March 1991.
Branchline, May 1991, page 9.