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Thunder Bay, Ontario

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Thunder Bay, Ontario
Posted by 54light15 on Thursday, May 04, 2017 4:39 PM

I'm not much of a train watcher, I mean I'm not going to write down numbers and such, but if you like to look at CN and CP trains, Thunder Bay is quite a place. There are tracks in all directions around the town and the main bits serve the grain silos (of which there are many) on the waterfront but there is a lot of general freight here too. There's a Bombardier streetcar plant here too but haven't had time to find it. No passenger service but the CN and CP stations still stand.

I'm here on business from Toronto and I must say at any time of day trains are moving. TB is easy to get around, I've been here a week driving from one end of town to another inspecting boilers in buildings and I've only used 1/2 tank of gas. there's some pretty good bars and restaurants here. But right now it's the 4th of May and there's snow on the ground. 

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Posted by Miningman on Saturday, May 06, 2017 1:42 PM

Thunder Bay is a great train watching destination. On the Fort William side of the city many "laneway" type roads parallel the yards and mainlines and are very easy to access with no traffic at all. Tons of action. 

I lived in Thunder Bay for 5 years starting in 1975, when I worked at the Shebandowan Mine. Went down to the station(s) many times evenings to watch the Canadian roll in, still Canadian Pacific until '78. When it changed over to VIA the stationmaster gave me a "gift" that I still proudly have. What a coup that was and unexpected. Everything was coming off the Canadain, silverware, blankets, you name it. 

CPR in Fort William and CNR in Port Arthur connected by the "expressway" in minutes. Great train watching. 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, May 06, 2017 10:39 PM

Are there still ore (iron or other) trains to TB ?

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Posted by Miningman on Saturday, May 06, 2017 11:52 PM

Midland Mike- The Shebandowan Mine (Inco, now Vale) shipped a nickel concentrate by rail through to Sudbury but it is now closed for good. 

Mining operations to the West are all Gold and would not use rail. Operating mines that could use rail are all well to the East and would ship to the East, however ...there is a another nickel concentrate train that may pass through Thunder Bay coming from Thompson Manitoba.

I was passing through on a leisurely holiday through Northern Ontario 4 years ago and saw this nickel concentrate train on the Ontario Northland going through in Kapuskasing. I asked a fellow there and he told me it was a train that comes from Thompson. Now it's possible it could go by the Northern route.

Spent a few days watching trains in Thunder Bay. There was lots of solid block tank trains carrying crude, lots of grain which terminates there for the lake freighters and stack trains. 

There is no passenger service whatsoever in Thunder Bay which is unbelievable, but both stations are restored and the centrepieces of the downtown areas.  

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Posted by MidlandMike on Sunday, May 07, 2017 9:48 PM

I was thinking of the Atikokan iron mines which shipped ore thru TB, but I now see that they were shut down in the 80s.

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Posted by Miningman on Sunday, May 07, 2017 11:28 PM

Midland Mike- Interestingly enough I did stop into Atikokan on that tour through northern Ontario. Spent the day there. I was mostly following up on a new Gold exploration outfit that was having some sucess and had an office there. Trying to make some contacts and possible employment opportunities for our grads, that sort of thing. 

So here is the interesting part...there is a heavy mainline there, a secondary going North connecting to the Northern Main and 2 branch lines..plus a fairly substantial yard....and everything was dark signal wise, not a thing anywhere, not a flat car spotted somewhere, not anything. It looked as if it has been quite some time since anything has been around. Nothing quite like an empty yard with many tracks all empty...gives you the heebey-jeebies!. Right at the end of town the branch splits off across a beautiful heavy wooden trestle...looked as if nothing has been by in years. The geologists at the exploration office said they never saw or heard a train, ever. It was all very eerie.

So, I really do not know. It used to be something substantial and for quite some time...what a shame. 

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Posted by 54light15 on Monday, May 08, 2017 1:22 PM

Both stations have been restored. The CP is still in use by the CPR as an office, the CN station is owned by the city and they are looking for a tenant. I was in the building last week and there is nothing left of any ticket offices and so forth.  

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Posted by MidlandMike on Monday, May 08, 2017 3:20 PM

Miningman,  a Google Earth image dated March 2011 shows some freight cars in the Atikokan yard, and even activity to the north of town at the east mine, with more frt cars.  Is he new gold mine adjacent to the old iron mines?

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Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 12:23 AM

 Midland Mike- My trip was in 2013. Nothing in sight. The tracks have not been lifted as far as I know. Not yet anyway. There is no new or any active Gold or any other type of mining in the area. There is always a certain amount of exploration work being carried out, although capital for these projects has dried up considerably in the past few years and activity has slowed down, but thats across the whole country. 

Claims open up or are sold and fresh eyes with new technologies go into the bush and on the outcrops. Junior mining companies are rather infamous for their, ahem, optimisim. Nothing wrong with that, anyone can strike it rich, but as Mark Twain said " A gold mine is is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top". 

There are 3 distinct geological occurances where gold could be present in the area. The geology of the Canadaian Shield is very very complex. 

Gold fever comes and goes. The Atikokan area has a rich and favourable geological environment for various types of ore deposits but Gold always takes first place. Island Gold , about 300km East is the newest in operation. 

The iron ore mines of the past were from the rich and famous Steep Rock Iron Mines and lasted many many years, closing up in '79. 

CPR does not go to Atikokan. It is strictly CN territory, inherited from the Canadian Northern. 

The last of the 2-10-2's ran there, 1959. They were used on passenger trains 33-34 between Rainy River and Atikokan on account of hilly terrain, steep grades.

For our US friends Rainy River is right across the river with it's sister city of Baudette, Minnesota, pop.1,106. 

 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Friday, May 12, 2017 10:15 PM

CN's map shows that Thunder Bay is a stub ended line from the west.  It seems TB traffic to the east would have to backtrack west to Ft Frances, and then south thru Chicago.  They used to have a line NE of Thunder Bay that connected to the main line at Longlac, but that is now gone.

https://www.cn.ca/en/repository/popups/maps/cn-network-map

 

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Posted by Miningman on Friday, May 12, 2017 11:31 PM

Thanks to Midland Mike and Wanswheel.

CPR "owns" Thunder Bay now...probably always did anyway. 

Wonder why the CNR removed the line from the mainline at LongLac. 

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Posted by SD70M-2Dude on Saturday, May 13, 2017 1:10 AM

Miningman

Wonder why the CNR removed the line from the mainline at LongLac. 

The Kinghorn sub (ex-CNoR east of Thunder Bay) was removed for the same reason that the former National Transcontinental mainline was severed as a through route east of Nakina (some portions ripped up, others sold to Ontario Northland):  Too many rail lines through the wilds of Northern Ontario and too little traffic for them.  The Graham sub (Sioux Lookout to Thunder Bay, ex-GTP) was abandoned even earlier for the same reason.  The current mainline (known as the Northern Ontario Zone or NOZ) is approximately half NTR/GTP and half CNoR, with the CN-built Nakina-Longlac cutoff connecting the two halves.

The Kinghorn sub was also down to one short train each way per day by the time trains stopped running in the mid-2000s.  And its value as a diversionary route disappeared once CN bought Wisconsin Central and set their eyes on EJ&E, which convienently happened around the same time the Kinghorn sub was abandoned.

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by Miningman on Saturday, May 13, 2017 2:11 AM

SD70M-2 Dude-Terrific! That clears up a lot of missing information for me. 

I absolutely despise lifting rails, especially long well established nation buildiing routes. The reasons why are rational and understandable but the reasons for them being there in the first place seem to have been forgotten. 

As an example, the rails in Newfoundland played a vital role and a key link in the North Atlantic supply route during WWII. Huge, "under the radar" role, built those airports and kept supplies away from U Boats. Key link for the convoys. What if they are needed again and now they are not there. One thing about the future, even the craziest, wildest way out there thing isn't even close to what will happen. 

It weakens a nation.

Same for Northern Ontario Transcontinental routes. Unintended consequences will come around. There will be gnashing of teeth and it will be too late. It's just wrong on a strategic level. 

Here's hoping they do not tear up the Churchill line, and there has been enough damage done in Saskatchewan as well. I fear for Prince Albert. ONR is on life support. That is simply unimaginable. 

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Posted by SD70M-2Dude on Saturday, May 13, 2017 1:25 PM

I don't like abandonments either Miningman but I must say that the more I learn about the Kinghorn sub the more I understand the rationale behind ripping it up.  It closely paralleled CP and/or the Trans-Canada Highway for its entire length (so no remote access value), had no major customers apart from the paper mill at Red Rock (which reduced production by 50% in 2005 and closed altogether in 2006, and was also served by CP as the two lines ran right next to each other at that point) and ran through tough terrain with slow track speeds and a major structure in the form of the Pass Lake trestle which likely would have required a major maintenance expenditure in the coming years. 

I also believe CN and CP came to an agreement where CP would haul CN's remaining eastbound traffic from Thunder Bay.  And looking back on it if not for the rabid competition between Grand Trunk and Canadian Northern before the First World War the Kinghorn sub would not have been built, and it is far from the only abandoned line that made little sense in the first place. 

But I don't consider the other lines you mentioned to be (or have been) worthless, in particular the HBRY.  Losing rail access to what could (and should) be our primary northern port would be a national travesty.

Anyway here are some photos of the rail train pulling up the Kinghorn sub:

http://www.railpictures.net/showphotos.php?train_id=CN%20W905

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, May 13, 2017 8:25 PM

The people who were promoting a rail line to the Ring-of-Fire mining district to connect with the CN at Nakina, apparently were hoping that the Kinghorn sub would forward their traffic to Thunder Bay.  When they heard of the imminent dismantling of that sub, they asked CN what could be done to save it.  Since the salvagers were about ready to begin, CN told the mining group that they would have to immediately come up with 10s of millions of $$, the amount the salvage company would pay.  Needless to say the line was torn up.

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Posted by Miningman on Saturday, May 13, 2017 8:26 PM

Didn't post earlier because I did not want to bury your response. 

Well we still have 2 transcontinental routes intact, but 3 is better, even 4. I'm surprised that CN would be at the mercy of CP to go East from Thunder Bay. Border conditions could change someday and it's a long way back to the mainline.  CPR tore up the Kettle Valley, same kind of thing. Go Figure. Bad move. 

Thanks for the picture links. Sad. 

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Posted by SD70M-2Dude on Saturday, May 13, 2017 9:59 PM

Miningman

I'm surprised that CN would be at the mercy of CP to go East from Thunder Bay. Border conditions could change someday and it's a long way back to the mainline.

It seems that by the early 2000s CN was only sending about 30 cars a day east out of Thunder Bay, if that.  They obviously thought that CP could be trusted with that limited amount of business.  And remember that while the two Canadian Class I's are direct competitors they work together significantly on some ground ops, like the directional running zones in Ontario and B.C.  Reroutes on each other's lines are relatively common too (for a fee of course) in times of need; we were handling several CP trains each way per day during the horrible Southern Alberta floods a few years back. 

On the point about border crossings the Sprague sub (Winnipeg to Rainy River, ON) crosses into the U.S. for a brief section and Canadian crews must meet certain American requirements to operate on it.  Any CN transcontinental traffic heading through Thunder Bay would have had to use that line. 

At least we still retain two separate rail routes through Northern Ontario, unlike other areas where all the lines have been abandoned (you mentioned Newfoundland, I will add southern Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, the Ottawa Valley and east-central Alberta). 

And the Kinghorn sub abandonment doesn't seem to have killed interest in the Ring-of-Fire area, just last summer the Chinese embarked on another study into building a railway north from Nakina, the article doesn't mention were they are intending to ship the ore/concentrate to but the nearest port by rail would seem to be Sault Ste. Marie.

Miningman

CPR tore up the Kettle Valley, same kind of thing. Go Figure. Bad move.

I think much of the KVR, despite its many expensive shortcomings (steep grades all over the place, numerous large wooden trestles, being prone to flood & landslide/avalanche damage, and by the 1970s little local traffic apart from lumber) could have survived as a shortline operation, at least for a time.  CP did examine it in the 1960s as a potential route for the Crowsnest coal but the multiple 2%+ grades killed that idea, they decided it would be more cost effective to build new sections of the mainline to reduce the grades there.  And rerouting trains over CN in times of need eliminated its value as a detour route. 

Further it would seem that CP came to view some sections of the KVR (the Coquihalla and Carmi subdivisions especially) the same way that Southern Pacific came to view the NWP:  bottomless pits for maintenance expenditures.  No amount of money seemed to be able to conquer nature in Southern B.C.  Not surprisingly those sections were the first to be abandoned. 

But I do think that demarketing played a role in the Princeton subdivision's final abandonment, and that there are many other lines across the country that could have been saved if not for that horrible policy of the regulated, pre-shortline era. 

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

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Posted by Miningman on Sunday, May 14, 2017 12:51 AM

SD70M-2 Dude- Great stuff. Clears up a lot of missing pieces for me.

If the Kettle Valley line was not built it is quite possible that Southern British Columbia would have been annexed by the USA. The economic dynamic and even a large amount of workers were all USA. The CPR line was too far North to have an effect. The governments of BC and in Ottawa had great fears. James J. Hill vs. Van Horne. That was why the Great Northern skirted so close to Southern BC. UP knows well the value of the Spokane International. The whole line was a very necessary strategic move to ensure sovereignty. 

Its numerous and rich mines contributed greatly to the BC and Canadian economy. Puzzling is that the CPR put a boatload of money into it upgrading the line and many bridges in the late 50's and it would seem it's future was very secure. Then no sooner it started to kill it off in sections. Salami like, one slice at a time. 

That's NDG territory, CLC's FM units. Beautiful land throughout, good weather, have many friends retired there. Big bucks now, too late for me, shut out!

 

 

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Posted by 54light15 on Sunday, May 14, 2017 6:40 PM

One thing I saw in Thunder Bay was a track crew hammering spikes with sledge hammers. I've only ever seen that in movies and cartoons. One guy doing it, one guy watching, one guy in the pickup drinking coffee (Tim Horton's of course) 

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Posted by MidlandMike on Sunday, May 14, 2017 9:20 PM

SD70M-2Dude

... 

At least we still retain two separate rail routes through Northern Ontario, unlike other areas where all the lines have been abandoned (you mentioned Newfoundland, I will add southern Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, the Ottawa Valley and east-central Alberta). 

And the Kinghorn sub abandonment doesn't seem to have killed interest in the Ring-of-Fire area, just last summer the Chinese embarked on another study into building a railway north from Nakina, the article doesn't mention were they are intending to ship the ore/concentrate to but the nearest port by rail would seem to be Sault Ste. Marie.

 ...

I was always mystified by the Ottawa Valley abandonments.  Both CP and CN had direct lines to Montreal off the main lines in the Sudbury area.  Montreal and its port were/are big destinations for rail traffic.  Why would both lines want to add 200 miles to the trip by consolidating all traffic thru Toronto?  A rail atlas of Ontario shows the CN goes as far west as Pembroke, and the shortlined ex-CP comes as far east as Mattawa.  Has the gap been dismantled, or is rail-banking a thing in Canada?

As far as the Kingshorn sub, I never could understand why they would want to ship ore/concentrate to Thunder Bay.  Once they got ore to Nakina, it was a straight shot to the Sudbury area.

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