My Last Respects
Eulogy for the Waltham Sub.

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 of year.

 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.

Bytown Railway Society,  Branchline, May 1991, page 9.

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