Sunday, July 28, 2019

Charlevoix Train - The Forgotten Anniversary

On July 1st 1919, Murray Bay Subdivision was officially put in service after almost a decade of hardwork. This new section of track built by Sir Rodolphe Forget would complete the original vision of Horace J. Beemer in 1889.

As with everything related to trains in our ingrate province, this anniversary was utterly forgotten... even by myself. It seems trains no longer matter. People freaks out about climate change, vegan hamburger patties but don't give a damn about concrete things that do have a real impact on their lives.

Fortunately, Bertrand Dion from St. Irenée, QC, published today an op-ed in Le Soleil underlining this forgotten anniversary. Well-written, his article cover the history of the line, its importance and future, covering various attempts at bringing it back to life. While justly critical, Mr Dion still harbour some veiled hope in a more rational future.

While it isn't exactly in good taste to publish an entire article, I took the liberty to translate it in English knowing most readers won't be able to appreciate it in its original French version. This is a doctored Google Translate version to save time. If Le Soleil or Mr Bertrand wants it removed, I will gladly comply common sense courtesy.

"Charlevoix Train - The Forgotten Anniversary

By Bertrand Dion, St. Irenée, QC

OPINION / On July 1, 1919, the first train entered La Malbaie station, putting an end to Charlevoix's isolation with the rest of the country. Sadly, 100 years later, no one seems to care or want to celebrate it. All this leaves me with this strange impression that the presence of the railway in Charlevoix remains a negligible fact, an obscure element of our transport offer and something related to the 19th century.

Remember that the railway, formerly known as the Murray Bay Subdivision, which runs from Limoilou Yard in Quebec City to that of the Resolute Paper Mill in Clermont, had sunnier days, with 25 customers served by the Canadian National freight train.

In addition, the passenger service was maintained there seven days and continuously from the opening of the track until the abandonment of this service on April 30, 1977.

Let us remember that thanks to the insight of Sir Rodolphe Forget, the insane construction site of this railway could not have been realized without the help of dynamite, the cold sweats of its promoter, millions of his personal fortune and then those of the Government. Imagine only today submitting the Rodolphe Forget project to an environmental impact study. Worse, Forget never saw his work completed, having died in mysterious circumstances a few months before the arrival of the 1st train to La Malbaie.

From the 1970s, the industrial customers of this railway have one after the other turned their backs on the rail. Over the years, Sico, St-Laurent Cement, Dominion Textile, Seagram, Abitibi-Consolidated, Pointe-au-Pic wharf, La Poulette Grise, Coop-agricole and Câbles Reynolds have all either discontinued their use from the rail or, just closed shop.

As for me, the last catastrophe of this saga was the abandonment wood chips and newsprint to the factory of Clermont with the end of freight service on this line, on May 18th, 2011. From now on, it will be all to the road.

Time travel questions were invoked for the Québec-La Malbaie passenger link. Today, bus service takes 2h15 to link La Malbaie with the Gare du Palais. Ironically, the train which also left the same station in 1967, with the use of railcars, took 2h30 for the same route. So, only 15 minutes more, but in an unparalleled setting.

Fortunately, the visionary spirit of Jean Leblond has brought back, the time of two fabulous summers, the passenger train, but in a formula that has marked the spirits: the recreational train. In 1984 and 1985, the Tortillard allowed more than 103,000 people to rediscover the splendor of one of North America's finest railroads, with the added bonus of Celebrating On Board! Then, in another formula, the same magic took place in 1995 and 1996, with more than 70,000 customers.

Note that it wasn't issues of attendance that sealed the fate of these two operations. In the first case, the laboratory character of the company and the alleged incompatibility of the product with the vision of the Charlevoix Regional Tourism Association at that time did not allow to continue the adventure. However, in the case of the 1995-1996 train, it is rather the short-sighted vision and the thirst for quick profits of some officers who literally led the way to bankruptcy. In both cases, the railway operation itself covered its costs.

Then Daniel Gauthier enters the stage and makes his circus. Pharaonic project, repair of the track, development of a gastronomic train at astronomical rates, a winter operation for its Massif, a hotel and a very ramified organizational structure, in short, a big deal. Some are jubilant, others are crying. Then, failing to achieve the desired success, we reduce and cut. The train becomes very light. The clientele still seems drawn to the line, because it is it and only it, the real star of this show.

In addition to what is left, voices are growing in number that want to tear the rail and make it a bike path. For me, this last obsession is more like a kind of pseudo-ecological hysteria. How to claim an ecological action by tearing off a railway? How to believe in any benefit for a region, when riding a bike on a right-of-way built to support huge loads, but useless for a simple bike? Coming back from Quebec City on road 138, when I double these trucks that go up to the highest point at 740 meters, near the entrance to the Massif, I scream inside my anger to see how much we underutilize our railroad while we overuse the road.

Charlevoix does not fully realize the chance to still have this terrestrial link that offers the best energy-efficient performance and the lowest carbon footprint. In road transport, more specifically in trucking, it is necessary to have 10 to 12hp per ton to give service (load of 40 tons with tractor of 400 to 500 hp). With rail, 1/2hp per ton, sometimes less, remains ample. (26,000 tons of iron with two locos totaling 8800 hp). Do the math.

We live in a pathetic time. We are celebrating Canada's 152nd birthday, Neil Armstrong's 50th Anniversary on the Moon, Woodstock's 50th and John and Yoko's 50th Bed-In.

And yet, in 2017, we forgot the 40th of the abandonment of CN's passenger service in Charlevoix. This year we have forgotten the 35th of the first Tortillard. Next year we will forget the 25th of his return in 1995. But this year, we forget the 100th of our railway, it's really sad.

I really believe that we live in a world where the rail ... does not exist!

Happy birthday anyway."

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