For most of us, eastern Quebec's north shore railways live in the pictures and stories of a few hardy railfans who have taken the time to trek the 530 odd miles east of Montreal to enjoy Canadian wilderness railroading at its best. Now, thanks to Pentrex video productions, we can all sample the heavy-haul action in the comfort of our home parlour cars.
Recently issued are two 80-minute VHS tapes entitled Eastern Quebec's Ore Lines, Volumes I and II. Volume I features both the Cartier Railway and the Quebec Iron and Titanium's Romaine River Railway. Volume II provides an overview of operations on the Quebec North Shore and Labrador (QNSL) Railway, the Wabush Lake Railway and the Arnaud Railway. The tapes can be purchased individually, or as a set at a slightly reduced price.
If you are familiar and satisfied with the Pentrex style of rail video recording, then these tapes are sure to please. Good camera work and excellent audio make viewing a real treat without any nasty mosquitoes and voracious black flies to bother you. While watching your tapes, don't be shy about referring to the system maps found in Part 14 of your copy of Canadian Trackside Guide. The Guide really helps to locate all of the regional ore railways in relative geographic terms.
The Cartier Railway operates from Port Cartier on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River 260 miles north to Mont Wright, the site of a huge open pit mine and ore concentrator. Due to the remoteness of the area most filming along the line is done between Port Cartier and mileage 60, then from Fire Lake at mileage 223.5 to the end of track. The latter necessitated a 450-mile roundabout trip by road via Baie Comeau. Even though the central portion of the line is left unexplored, the flavour of this all Alco/MLW-powered railway is gracefully captured and highlighted with timely background information.
It's only natural to expect that the tape would focus on the motive power, and Pentrex doesn't disappoint. Most of the roster is featured including all of the big M-636s. One cannot help but be impressed by the clean and well maintained Alco/MLW units as they labour across your screen in predominantly three-unit lashups lugging an average 160 ore cars and 14,000 tons. It's heartening to see that a proper maintenance schedule can indeed bring out the best these locomotives have to offer year in and year out.
In addition to the trackside action, Pentrex takes the viewer on a tour of the Port Cartier facilities which include a look at the rotary dumper as it unloads an ore train, a peek into several of the company's repair shops, and a tour of the state-of-the-art dispatching office featuring a fully computerized CTC system. At Mont Wright we get a good view of operations at the large open pit mine.
Also covered in Volume I is the Romaine River Railway, a diminutive 27-mile line operating between Lac Allard and Havre St-Pierre. This railway moves raw ore containing iron and titanium on the first leg of its journey to Sorel (Quebec) where it will be smelted. In addition to freight operations you will get the chance to observe the company passenger train as it takes miners to and from the mine site in former VIA/CN Tempo cars.
Volume II gives the viewer a chance to experience one of the finest regional railways in captivity. I say this, because the QNSL, as is the case with all railways in this area, gains access to the outside world primarily via the St. Lawrence River. Foreign road equipment interchange is accomplished with the assistance of ships operating east from Montreal.
During the next 80 minutes, you will get a unique look at huge 265-car ore trains stretching over two miles long, powered by both SD40 and SD40-2s in configurations that require the assistance of remote-controlled mid-train helpers. Share an informative and scenic cab ride aboard QNSL's twice weekly passenger train that operates the length of the line between Sept-Iles and Schefferville. The train is available to both Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOCC) employees as well as the general public. This is a unique operation because it runs as a dedicated passenger service as far north as Ross Bay Jet., then converts into a mixed train format for the remainder of the trip. Watch as the mixed departs from the junction en route to Schefferville with a mixed bag of mechanical reefers, tank cars, bi-level auto racks, TOFC and passenger equipment purchased from various sources. Of interest are the former Southern Railroad stainless steel coaches used earlier in their careers on such trains as the "Crescent Limited". The company even owns an ex-Wabash RR dome car that is used for special excursions. Sadly it is not captured in action.
The QNSL provides the trunk line service from Ross Bay Jet. for all ore movements travelling south from mines at both Wabush Lake and Labrador City, to the St. Lawrence River ports of Sept-Iles and Pointe Noire. West of Ross Bay Jet. there is joint running by both the QNSL and the Wabush Lake Railway as far as Wabush Jet. At this point the lines diverge to separate mine sites in the Labrador City area. Pentrex does a good job of capturing the atmosphere in this northern mining terminus. Operations at the IOCC mine are documented and include a look at the important role performed by the Carol Lake Railway. This remote controlled electric railway moves ore bearing material from near the open pit mine to the crusher and concentrator building at Labrador City where iron ore pellets are formed and concentrate ore is loaded in rail cars for the trip south. The action also includes a segment featuring Wabush Lake Railway's distinctive RS-18s as they highball over to Ross Bay Jet. with a loaded ore train.
At Sept-lies there's a tour of the shops as well as the harbour area. Watch as a train is switched out in the yard by a single operator down on the ground using a belt pack transmitter and a robot control receiver located in an old GP9 locomotive body. He also throws yard switches with the same transmitter. Visit the dispatching office that still makes use of the original General Railway Signal CTC board that controls the entire line all the way to Schefferville. By the way - you'll be impressed with the way the signal maintainer gets around. The tape finishes with action on the Arnaud Railway as it delivers Wabush Lake ore to the docks at Pointe Noire with a lashup of RS-18s that are identical, except for name, to its sister railway to the north. Both companies are owned by the same consortium of mining firms.
Eastern Quebec's Ore Lines, Volumes I and II by Pentrex, is an interesting and informative review of some of eastern Canada's best kept railway secrets and a worthwhile addition to your video library. Besides, it's cheaper than driving, and .... oh yes, remember those black flies! Happy railfanning.
The videos are available from Pentrex, P.O. Box 94911, Pasdena, CA, 91109. Order Line: 1-800-950-9333, or fax: (818) 793-3797.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, March 1995, page 7.