Shortline and Industrial Operations in Nova Scotia – David Othen

Nova Scotia has two Shortlines – the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway and the Windsor & Hantsport Railway – and had a variety of industrial railways based on gypsum mining, coal mining and steel manufacture and fabrication though most of these have now been replaced by trucks.

A mixture of second-hand power is used on the shortlines, with the Windsor and Hantsport initially using entirely Alco/MLW RS-23s, initially four then three at a time, then GP9Rs and finally B23-7s!

Cape Breton & Central Nova Scotia Railway

This railway runs 230 miles from Sydney, Cape Breton to the Canadian National interchange at Truro, NS. It used to carry coal from the DEVCO mines near Sydney and steel products (mainly rails) from Sydney Steel but the phasing out of the mines and steel plant has reduced this traffic to a trickle.

Now, much of the traffic is from the Port Hawkesbury/Point Tupper area including forest products from the paper mill (closed temporarily in 2011-2) at Point Tupper, and natural gas by-products from offshore gas. In the New Glasgow area Michelin receives supplies as does Kimberley Clark. These two industries also ship out products by rail. Some logs and general merchandise are also hauled.

In 1997 Mainline freights were hauled by Alco/MLW C630Ms (there was one M636 on the roster) and two GM GP50s borrowed from the Indiana & Ohio Railway (IORY). By the end of 1999 all the Alcos had been retired and are being scrapped or sold and mainline power was six GP50s still in BN livery but lettered IORY or CBNS.

These four-axle units were not liked by the crews on the steeply-graded route and were replaced by four leased HATX SD45s. After these were scrapped four SD40-2s were leased from Helm.

To see more photos and a preview of our book on the CB&CNS click here.

Here we see three C630Ms outside the maintenance shops at Sydney on 4 October 1997.  CBNS 2034.
Here we see three C630Ms outside the maintenance shops at Sydney on 4 October 1997. CBNS 2034.
This C630M (CBNS 2028, Sir Collie Varley) was acquired later from Canadian National and on 4 October 1997 is still in their livery but lettered CBNS. It is also seen at Sydney NS

Here unit 2039 with sister units 2003 & 2034 head train #305 through Barney’s River NS on 6 October 1997.

Minutes earlier we got this panned shot of 2039 passing through a colourful wooded area alongside the highway at Marshy Hope..

Here IORY GP50 3108, CB&CNS C630Ms 2016 & 2032 and IORY GP50 3109 head train #306 through Sydney River NS on 6 October 1997.

CB&CNS train #306 is eastbound on a beautiful fall day between Barney’s River and  Marshy Hope. HATX SD45-2s 912, 910 & 914 are the power on 16 October 2001.

CB&CNS train #305 enters New Glasgow westbound on the morning of  22 March 2003 with HATX SD45-2 907, LLPX GP15 1504 and HATX SD45-2s 912 & 914. Normally this train arrived in the early evening but delays due to severe weather and a derailment on Canadian National had upset the schedule.
Leased Helm SD45-2s 912, 907, 910 & LLPX GP38-2 2259 shunt loaded coal cars in Truro yards on 24 August 2004.
CBNS train # 306 with LLPX GP38-2s 2269 & 2259 and Helm SD45-2s 910, 907 & 912 leave Stellarton eastbound on 23 June 2006.

CBNS train #306 with Helm SD40-2s HLCX7172 7869 CEFX GP20D 2015 (built by MPI) and Helm SD40-2 HLCX8151 pass Antigonish Harbour on 12 August 2011

Switching was performed by Alco/MLW RS-18s but then a diverse collection of Geeps including one GM GP18 arrived from other shortlines and many were eventually retired and scrapped.  Now three leased LLPX GP15s and two GP9-4s in RailLink livery share turns on these duties and on the short freights across Cape Breton Island.

Here we see Alco/MLW RS-18 #3842 pausing between switching operations at Point Tupper on 6 October 1997.

The next two photos show GM GP18 4700 preparing train 305 at Sydney on 6 October 1997. Note that the locomotive does not have the full railway name but only the initials C.B.& C.N.S. The locomotive was built for GTW.

CBCNS 4700 in Sydney
Long hood of CBNS 4700
CB&CNS GP9 5967 “Edmund Taverner”  is seen at Stellarton NS on 4 July 2001. Note the dark green rather than the black livery on this locomotive. The locomotive was built for the C&O.
VIA F40PH-2 6418 waits at the station in Port Hawkesbury with the eastbound Bras d’Or on 9 October 2001 while CB&CNS GP9-4s 4004 & 4003, still in RaiLink livery, occupy the siding
LLPX (ex CR) GP15-1 1508 is seen at Stellarton on 22 March 2003. This is one of three GP15-1 units leased from LLPX – all are in Conrail blue and 1506 still has Operation Lifesaver logos.
4022 is a GP40u in Goderich & Exeter Railway livery at Auld’s Cove on the Canso Causeway on 22 March 2003. In the past Emera (Nova Scotia Power Corporation)   has unloaded coal here and taken it by train across the causeway to the power station at Point Tupper. However during March 2003, Sydney harbour was ice bound and so for about three weeks coal was shipped from here to Victoria Junction. 4022 is assembling train 703 using ex-DEVCO cars prior to departure for Sydney. Cold weather caused the coal to freeze in the cars and this delayed unloading.
A colourful line of retired locomotives at Sydney NS on 13 August 2002. From left to right are GP7 700 in GEXR livery, C-630M 2034 in CB&CNS livery, GP9 62 in IORY livery, RS-18 3842 in CB&CNS livery and GP7us 2160 & 2176 in GSWR livery.

The Windsor & Hantsport Railway Company

This railway ran from Mantua to near New Minas with a branch to the Canadian National mainline at Windsor Junction. Total trackage was about 60 miles. It mainly hauled gypsum from the mines in the Windsor area to the loading dock at Hantsport but also developed new business hauling logs, feed grain, cooking oil, produce and general merchandise.

The initial roster was entirely Alco/MLW RS-23 units purchased from CP Rail. Only one unit was repainted, all the other units had the CP Rail name (but not the logo where it existed) painted out with black paint and were lettered WHRC in white. The maintenance shops were able to repair all parts of the RS-23s (or had suppliers who could) and the staff  kept the fleet running as long as it is economically viable to do so. Eventually they were scrapped and the traction motors and engine blocks sold. 

They were replaced by four ex CN GP9Us leased from the Central Manitoba Railway which ran on the WHRC for just over five years. 

Subsequently as business declined two ex-Conrail B23-7s were purchased but they only operated on the WHRC for about six months before the line closed – the economic downturn had caused the closure of the gypsum mines.To see more photos and a preview of our book on the WHRC click here.

In this photo four RS-23s led by # 8036 haul a loaded 25 car gypsum train from the mine at Mantua on 2 August 1995.
This is the only unit in The Windsor & Hantsport Railway paint scheme of maroon with grey stripe and white lettering. It is seen at Hantsport on 9 September 1995.
WHRC RS-23 # 8027 is outside the dumper at Hantsport NS on 2 August 1995. Note the CP logo has not been painted out.
Here RS-23 8026 has its wheels reprofiled on 12 January 1996 at Windsor NS. One brake block at a time is replaced by a cutter and the the locomotive is operated backwards and forwards. The snow is an added safety precaution!!

In 1997 the WHRC began a series of summer-weekend excursion trains between Windsor and Hantsport although on some occasions the train went to Mantua. The railroad purchased two open-air cars and one ex-VIA dayniter car (which is air-conditioned) and runs the consist with their repainted caboose # 150 and a locomotive at each end, though they are not mu’d together and so the rear locomotive only idles.

Here we see the train travelling through the Annapolis Valley near Falmouth on 24 August 1997.
CEMR 4012 & 4014 on their first day of operation on the WHRC, 5 July 2005, arrive at Hantsport with a loaded gypsum train. The other two GP9Rs were in CN “zebra stripe” livery.
WHRC B23-7s 1968 & 4079 leave Windsor station with empty grain cars en route to the CN interchange at Windsor Junction on 19 July 2010.

Fundy Gypsum

Fundy Gypsum near Windsor has two mines – one at Mantua and one at Dimock’s both served by The Windsor & Hantsport Railway. Both are now closed. The gypsum company has several GE 25T & 45T locomotives which were used for loading at the mine sites. The cars had air-operated bottom doors. At Hantsport the cars were pulled through the unloader and the doors were opened one at a time so that the gypsum fell onto a conveyer belt. The cars were switched using a GE 45T but for several years one of the WHRC locomotives was used.

Here we see the un-numbered GE 45T outside the dumper on 18 August 1990.

National Gypsum

National Gypsum operates the largest gypsum mine in Canada at Milford. Generally two seventy car trains are operated each day by Canadian National from the mine to the shipping dock at Wright’s Cove Dartmouth. However during the economic downturn this has been reduced to one train per day usually at night except during the coldest weather.

At Wright’s Cove the gypsum is stockpiled prior to loading onto ocean freighters which take the gypsum to wallboard manufacturing plants in the United States.

Until mid 2000 National Gypsum had three locomotives, the biggest of which was a remote-controlled GE 100 ton locomotive (built in 1971) which switched the loaded cars at the mine (the cars are pulled through the loader by a hauser with prongs that push on the axles). The engineer carries a control pack at waist level and radio signals are sent to the locomotive via a repeater located on the roof of the loading building.

Cars are unloaded at Wright’s Cove using a rotary tipper (up until May 2003 when the new National Gypsum bottom unloading cars came into service). Each car has to be pushed into the tipper, uncoupled and then the rest of the train is pulled out of the way. The incoming car pushes the unloaded car down a grade where it is positioned using the hand brake by a brakeman who climbs onto the car as it leaves the tipper. An un-numbered British-built Hunslet 0-6-0 (built in 1986) used to perform these duties. A GE 45 ton locomotive (built in 1955) was kept as spare locomotive although the Dartmouth crews say they prefer it because it has better braking power than the Hunslet. The Hunslet and the rotary tipper are generally controlled by an operator using a beltpack . He also uncouples the cars as they enter the tipper. Both have now been scrapped.

In October 2000 National Gypsum obtained two GM switchers which were reconditioned and equipped for remote control by A.A. Merrilees. The first unit 506 (an SW900) arrived in Dartmouth in early October but despite having a cut down cab would not fit  through the unloader (the cab would not fit through the car clamps). The second unit (now numbered 507) is also remote controlled and has worked at the Milford mine site since early 2001. It is ex CN 8512:1 later 7162 – an SW8. It was subsequently fitted with a special dust filter.

In May 2003 National Gypsum took delivery of about 120 higher capacity, air dump cars built by Johnstown America Corporation. These are painted grey, lettered NGCX and many carry the names of employees (each had to sign a release to allow their names to be put on the car)! Now trains are only about 60 cars long and two SD75Is have difficulty getting the loaded train up the grade from the mine after stopping to align the switch to enter the main line.

This photo shows the remote-controlled GE 100T locomotive at the mine at Milford on 11 May 1995. The engineer with the red hard-hat has the control pack hung around his neck.
Inside the cab is the receiver which converts the signals from the remote control pack into locomotive commands. appropriately the control box is called a “Blackbox” and is painted black!
On a mild 12 January 1997,
 the Hunslet is pushing loaded cars into the rotary tipper at Wright’s Cove Dartmouth .
On a sunny day in July 1995 GE 45T # 502 is substituting for the Hunslet at Wright’s Cove.
One of the new National Gypsum bottom unloader cars awaits its first tour of duty at Rockingham yards, Halifax NS on 17 May 2003. Some of the cars carry names of employees.
Two CN GE Dash 9 -44CWL 2649 & 2644 haul the empty gypsum cars past Grand Lake on 17 June 2003.
Remote controlled SW8 507 takes empty cars off the arriving train at the National Gypsum open-cast mine at Milford NS on 20 May 2003.
CN SD75Is 5782 & 5719 provide 8800hp to take the first train of new cars loaded with gypsum across the road-rail bridge over the Shubenacadie River at the mine at Milford NS on 20 May 2003.
Remote controlled SW900 506 pushes the new cars through the unloader (formerly a rotary tipper) at Wright’s Cove Dartmouth NS on 20 May 2003.

Trenton Car Works

The railroad car manufacturing facility at Trenton, outside New Glasgow, was originally owned by Hawker Siddeley, then Lavalin and then by Greenbrier Industries. After Greenbrier took over the locomotives and facilities looked much cleaner and tidier but they closed the plant and consolidated their operations in the US when demand for freight cars dropped. There were two GE 45T locomotives – 2701 & 2702. 

A wind turbine manufacturing plant has recently been established by Daewoo.

Here we see GE 45T 2702 on 5 April 1988 when the works were owned by Lavalin.
This is the same locomotive on 6 October 1997, complete with Canadian and US flags since it was now owned by a US company – Greenbrier Corporation! They finally closed the Trenton plant and moved railcar production to the United States.

Sydney Steel Corporation (SYSCO)

The Sydney Steel Corporation has had several owners during its lifetime including DOSCO (Dominion Steel and Coal).  In the 1990s it was “downsized” and manufactured rails for domestic and foreign railroads. The internal narrow gauge railway was closed. The works interchanged standard gauge cars with the CB&CNS and used a mixture of locomotives including GE 65T & 80Ts as well as SW8s & an SW9. After many attempts to sell the plant, it was closed in 2002 and was subsequently demolished.

Here we see GE 80T # 9 with a ballast train in early October 1975.

Cape Breton Development Corporation (DEVCO)

This crown corporation was formed in 1968 to improve the economy of Cape Breton and increase employment. One division – the coal division – was formed to operate the mines in Cape Breton and the Sydney & Louisburg Railway which became the DEVCO Railway. In the 1970s it had a motley collection of second-hand ALCO RS1s, RS23s and RS27s. From 1979 to 1983 they purchased thirteen GP38-2s some of which had power take-offs so that they could be used as emergency generators at the mines.

The railroad hauled the coal to the washing plant at Victoria Junction and then either to the loading dock at Witney Pier, to the domestic coal terminal at Dominion or to the interchange with the CB&CNS at Sydney.

When the mines closed several of the GP38-2s were sold (three went to the New Brunswick Southern Railway) and the coal pier and railroad were purchased by Emera (owners of the Nova Scotia Power Corporation). Coal is now imported through the pier and hauled by train to Victoria Junction where it is unloaded by a special tipper that has an electric remote controlled “pusher” that runs on a short track inside the building parallel to the line of coal cars and positions them for rotary tipping.  After blending, the coal is trucked to one power station and taken by train to another. The cars have rotary couplings and so do not have to be uncoupled. The railroad is operated by the Quebec Railway Corporation as the Sydney Coal Railway.

In this photo we see the RS27 # 215 at the Sydney interchange in early October 1975. It was scapped in 1984
This is the last RS1 on the roster and it has been converted to an attractive snowplow. It is seen at Victoria Junction yards on 5 October 1997.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s 13 new GP38-2s were purchased, some of which could serve as mobile generators at the mines in the event of power loss. These locomotives have power takeoff plugs located on the short hood. DEVCO 219 has this feature whereas DEVCO 227 does not.
Note the symbol indicating motion and transportation and the differences in name – DEVCO RAILWAY and CAPE BRETON DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION. Similar variations exist on other equipment including the coal cars.
Two ex DEVCO GP38-2s 228 & 219 are now part of the Sydney Coal Railway. They are switching coal cars at the coal blending plant at Victoria Junction near Sydney on 13 August 2002.

Back to David Othen’s Canadian Train Photographs

Material on this page copyright 1997-2012 by Pat and David Othen. Reproduced with permission.

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