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Rails that Bind: First, a Country, now a Continent

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, April 1, 2021

On the frosty morning of October 18, 1988, I was in Dorion, Quebec, photographing the equipment utilized for the “West Island” commuter service out of Montreal’s Windsor Station on what was termed CP Rail then.  One of the attractions of this spot was the lineup of four ex-CP F units awaiting duty on this Sunday morning, now branded as STCUM.

On one side of the yard was an interesting piece of freight equipment, a CP standard boxcar labeled “International of Maine Division”.  Over the years, there have been significant operations in Canada by U.S. railroads, as well as the reverse.  For example, the Canadian National served both Portland, Maine, via the Grand Trunk, and New London, Connecticut, on the Central Vermont. 

The New York Central operated its passenger trains from Detroit to New York, including the Wolverine, Detroiter, and the Empire State Express, across Ontario.  The Chesapeake & Ohio and the Wabash also reached Buffalo in the same manner, with both utilizing trackage rights on the NYC east of St. Thomas, Ontario. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway, of course, was established to tie what are now Canada’s western provinces, particularly British Columbia, to the eastern portion of the country, achieving this goal in 1885.  What became the International of Maine was built to enable the CPR to create a through route between Montreal and the port of Saint John, New Brunswick, across northern Maine; this was completed in 1889, including trackage rights on the Maine Central between Mattawamkeag and Vanceboro.  As a result, the Canadian Pacific became a true ocean-to-ocean transcontinental.

The CPR route across Maine was relatively remote, but because steam operated there relatively late (March 1960), iconic railroad photographers, including David Plowden and Jim Shaughnessy made their way there.  Plowden describes what was known as the “Scoot”, in W. W. Norton’s 2010 book Requiem for Steam: The Railroad Photography of David Plowden:

The Scoot would probably never have been known to me, or anyone else, outside of the remote regions of Piscataquis and Somerset counties in Maine, had it not been for the fact that is was one of the very last regularly scheduled trains in the United States to be powered by a steam engine.

It was a no-nonsense mixed train that ran between Brownville Junction, Maine, and Lac-Mégantic on the other side of the Boundary Mountains in Quebec.  It was an institution in that part of Maine, being the only connection with the outside world to those who lived along its route. 

More recently, in 1988, the Canadian Pacific divested itself of most of the route to St. John. In the U.S., however, it assumed an expansionist posture, eventually adding significant portions of the former SOO Line (which it had financial control of) and the former Milwaukee Road (merged into the Soo in 1986), enabling it to offer single-line service between western Canada and the Midwestern U.S., including Chicago.   

In June 2020, however, the CPR re-acquired what had been the International of Maine (as well as some other nearby trackage) and is in the process of re-integrating it into its system.  More recently, as announced in TRAINS Newswire on March 21, the Canadian Pacific now has proposed to acquire the Kansas City Southern, thus linking Canada, the United States and Mexico

Only time will tell both whether the combination will be approved, and if so, what new traffic will be attracted by the new single-line services that will be created in the process, some of which, potentially, could move over what was once the International of Maine. 

Thus, the oft-quoted (verse 51 of the FitzGerald translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám) “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit shall Lure it back to cancel half a Line” seems to have failed on this occasion, although I doubt that we’ll see the return of the Scoot, even a diesel-powered version.

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