Friday, October 8, 2021

CN-CP Connection at Smiths Falls

CN's Smiths Falls Subdivision from Ottawa to Napanee made a unique crossing under CP tracks at Smiths Falls. These photos taken in August, 1974 are kindly shared here courtesy of the photographer, Bob Meldrum. What really catches the eye is the grade that the short passenger train from Ottawa has to ascend at a location called CN Smiths Falls East. It rises up from low level to gain the CP Belleville Sub at high level, before proceeding to the Smiths Falls CP station. From there, the train takes the CP Brockville Sub to Brockville, where it connects with CN's Kingston Sub to complete its trip to Toronto.
The train is stopped at the switch (top photo) and ascends the grade (above). CN's track to Napanee continues to the bottom of the photo, where it enters a 'tunnel' under the CP.  Actually, there were three through (plate) girder bridges spanning the CN, two for the Belleville Sub and one for the Chalk River Sub. An archival view of the location, showing the CN track to Ottawa passing under the CP Belleville Sub, including a CP train passing overhead (below). The telegraph poles are on the south side of the CP mainlines at the west end of Smiths Falls:
Bridges carrying both CP mainlines over the CN are visible:


CN's Ottawa-Toronto route was freight-only at the end of the Pool Train era on October 31, 1965.  At that time CN did not operate passenger trains between Toronto and Ottawa. Those two cities were connected exclusively by CP. With the end of the pool agreement, service was drastically reduced to a single CP RDC run each way between Toronto, Havelock and Ottawa. This new and unimproved service appears in the CP system passenger timetable in April, 1966. The CP trackage was abandoned between Tweed and Glen Tay in 1971.

On its Smiths Falls Subdivision between Ottawa, Smiths Falls and Napanee, CN instituted daytime trains between Ottawa and Smiths Falls in January, 1966. CP granted running rights on its rails from Smiths Falls to Brockville to connect with the CN Kingston Sub - the route currently operated by VIA. There is more research to be done on how this CN-CP connection was built.

There's an interesting theory that is sometimes suggested regarding CP's sudden willingness to grant Smiths Falls-Brockville running rights to CN!  Many Toronto-area Members of Parliament rode the pool trains to and from Ottawa, and they were dissatisfied with the new CP service. So, a deal was worked out allowing CP to exit the Montreal-Toronto and Ottawa-Toronto routes in exchange for granting running rights to CN between Brockville and Smiths Falls. CN began running two daytime Ottawa-Toronto trains on January 24, 1966, and started an overnight service three weeks later.

CN’s new Ottawa – Toronto overnight train started in mid-February 1966, but didn’t run via Brockville. It stayed on the former Canadian Northern through Smiths Falls, stopping at the CN station, then joining the Kingston Sub at Napanee to continue on to Toronto. CN had already been operating an overnight except-Saturday express train on the Smiths Falls Subdivision so just added coaches and sleepers. After CP exited their Toronto-Ottawa service, CN instituted Nos 213/214 as overnight passenger trains named 'Capital' over their Smiths Falls Sub. Appearing in the April 24, 1966 CN system passenger timetable, they were mostly mail and express with a 6-6-4 sleeper, a buffet sleeper and one coach. Upper and lower berths, roomettes, compartment and drawing rooms were listed in the timetable. Departing Toronto at 2340, the cars were open for occupancy at 2230. Arriving in Ottawa the next morning at 0640, the cars were parked until 0730. Westward, departing Ottawa at 2300, the cars were open for occupancy at 2200. Arriving in Toronto the next morning at 0615, the cars remained parked until 0800. These times allowed sleeping-car passengers to get a good night's sleep whether the train was stationary or moving.

Rolly Martin Country blog post by my brother David includes this 1968 CN employees' timetable page for the Smiths Falls Sub, showing the 40-series day trains, overnight 213/214 and daily freights 445/446 which continued their nocturnal freight runs. There were no scheduled meets anywhere on the subdivision.

"I think I can, I think I can", says the fully-equipped five-car train with baggage, club, cafe-bar-lounge and coaches on the up-and-up (above). That is one steep grade up to the CN-CP interchange track! The CP Chalk River and Belleville Subs' trackage are at right (below), with the divisional offices and station just beyond the microwave tower:

By April, 1969 the overnight Ottawa-Toronto trains appear in CN's system passenger timetable as the 'Cavalier', Nos 48/49, but are still on a separate schedule from Nos 58/59, the Montreal Toronto Cavaliers. The timetable issued on Feb 1, 1971 shows the trains combined between Toronto and Belleville yet retaining their identities. In the subsequent timetable issued in October, 1971 only the named Cavalier trains remain. 


A CN train order issued at Belleville in April, 1975 is provided to all Smiths Falls Sub trains 'east of Newburgh' and was delivered at Napanee. The crossing in question is some 50 miles east of Napanee, but still west of Smiths Falls, near Forfar:
Bob Meldrum also caught this westbound freight, usually nocturnal No 445, passing the connection to CP at Smiths Falls East in August, 1974. Its late running may be due to its lengthy consist.
Looking south from atop the CP, the single-unit train continues south-west into Smiths Falls:


The overnight Ottawa-Toronto Cavaliers operated on CN Belleville-Smiths Falls-Ottawa until October, 1978. Thereafter, the Ottawa-Toronto Cavaliers operated over CP from Brockville to Smiths Falls and Ottawa.
The CN-CP connection is being negotiated by an eastbound VIA train led by FPA4 6790 in this undated CSTM photo (above - MAT 004366). The connection is shown in Tom Nelligan's VIA Rail Canada: The First Five Years, on page 16. C.W. Newton took multiple photos of a VIA train led by VIA 6778, negotiating the CP to CN connection eastbound i.e. down-grade. Without context, it's hard to place the location, even befuddling Jason Shron in September, 2001 - prompting a question in the infancy of the Canadian-Passenger-Rail Yahoogroup. Here's an online auction site photo looking up the interchange track  towards CP at 'Smiths Falls East' in 1983. The switch is lined for CN, though their track is decidedly weed-grown:
Spurs in the area in which the connecting track was built were known as Smiths Falls Junction Mi. 34.1. CN and CP shared interchange track A-88 for CN traffic. CN also had tracks A-89 and A-98 in the area. This was Beckwith Street North. In 1955, Billie Construction Co. Ltd. had a track entering their property. In the 1960's, Tillsonburg Pipe Co. Ltd. was served by rail, as was a Texaco tank farm. An undated blueprint image of the area shows several tracks and the interchange:
The blue building with racks of pipe (below) may be the pipe pipe company or a successor. On 
February 26, 1982 VIA No 43 is heading through Smiths Falls to Toronto in this series of photos kindly shared by Gordon Smith:
With CP tracks in foreground, VIA No 43 approaches the CN past a spur switch (above). It seems that the photographer had time to walk a little east along the CP to take the following photos, while the crew phoned the dispatcher and signed the train register at Smiths Falls East before starting up the grade:
The head-end trainnman opens the switch to the interchange track as beautiful steam seeps into the late winter air (above). Changes to the block signal system on the CP Chalk River Subdivision/west switching lead at Smiths Falls were made in 1983. The west lead from Smiths Falls yard ran directly into a CN-CP interchange track, thence the CN Smiths Falls Sub with grade revisions. In 1985, a meeting was held re: optimum VIA operations through Smiths Falls though no changes were made.

An approach signal between CN and CP tracks would have been a better outcome of that meeting. A well-publicized (and videotaped!) near-collision between VIA No 43 and CP 4222 switching empty flats for CFB Petawawa at the west end of the yard (and an unauthorized movement onto CN) occurred in 1991. The VIA train was approaching the Highway 15 crossing north of Smiths Falls, slowed from 90 mph and the CP freight reversed, reaching 9 mph thus avoiding a collision. 
It's the 'Little Engine that Could' once again as the VIA train gains CP trackage (above) and the tail-end trainman or conductor is safely aboard and visible in the open Dutch door:
A close-up view shows the through (plate) girder bridges more clearly (below). Surely at this time the fate of the CN line was sealed, though the CP bridges overhead were still in place. The CP Chalk River Sub branches off past the signal at right:
Bonus Gordon Smith photo! Taken the same day, it shows the eastbound Corridor Canadian at Gananoque Junction:
Must. Stay. On. Topic. CN applied to abandon the Smiths Falls Sub as early as 1981, though work trains and freights operated for at least another year. 


Compare the view below with Bob Meldrum's photos. Due to the snow that was present when my Dad and David visited the site on February 21, 1991, the CN Smiths Falls Sub right-of-way (centre) and existing connection to CP (at right) are visible - four photos by L.C. Gagnon. (I'm sure my Dad did not appreciate the tree growing in the foreground, but the alternative to this photo angle was likely a snowy, slippery sloping slide to oblivion down the embankment!)
A reverse view looking back up to the CP, with the CN 'tunnel' now filled in with a culvert. The CP trackage and its telegraph poles are visible at top of photo:
The duo returned the next month, on St. Patrick's Day! Top o' the afternoon to ya! Compare this photo with Bob Meldrum's tail-end photo with caboose. Two unofficial whistle post markings were painted on the rock-cut and my Dad is standing on the CN former right-of-way:
Clearly, drainage was no longer an issue on the pulled-up CN line, and deep ditches lined CN and CP tracks here. Beyond this location, the Smiths Falls Sub reached the CN station (now the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario), a bascule bridge over the Rideau Canal, then the Smiths Falls golf course along Highway 15, continuing on toward Napanee. Again atop the CP, this composite view captures the CP mainlines in foreground, the Chalk River Sub at centre, and the section-house and road crossing on the CN-CP connection at right. Just to the right of the mid-point of the composite piture, the former CN right-of-way is visible, in line with the black-roofed structure:
VIA vacated the CP station, building a stationette on the connecting track. We traversed the track on a trip from Kingston to Ottawa in 2011. Here's one last comparison of the connection, 1946 and 2021 aerial views, showing the present or former CP-Belleville Sub (CP-Be), CP-Chalk River Sub (CP-Ch) and the CN:
Thanks to Gilbert Lacroix for sharing the blueprint image and additional information in this post.

Running extra...

When Bob Meldrum responded affirmatively to sharing his views here, check out how he worded his response to me: 

"Please feel free to do whatever with these pictures. At 80, I keep looking at the door marked Railfan Heaven and realize that no-one is going to do anything with all my slides. It brings me a lot of pleasure to look at them again and learn a lot from others especially where the notes are wrong!"

I've really enjoyed writing four articles for John More-Curran and Our Lakes e-magazine. The October issue is now online and includes two articles - one is my fourth article in the Rails & Lakes series (above, beginning on page 27), the other is a Q&A which will interest those considering writing and publishing, beginning on page 43. You can do it!


K Wadden said...

Great Job Eric

Your article and accompanying photos about Smith Falls-East were an absolute delight to read. Bob Meldrum’s slides certainly captured the scene to complete the story. In the process I found out far more than I ever knew about the Smith Falls connection.

I actually rode that sub division for my one and only time as a deadheading crew member. On board that 6060 passenger extra in October ‘77 at Sydenham described on your web site. After working as a trainman one way from Montreal with two Ottawa based engineers.

CN was such a fun place to work for back then (!)

Your efforts in putting together this wealth of information is greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

Ken Wadden
Pointe Claire Quebec

Eric said...

Thanks for sharing you kind words and experiences, Ken! I'm glad you enjoyed the post as much as I enjoyed putting it together. It's a little-known corner of the Corridor and you're right, photos of a passenger train heading up that hill are more than a little eye-popping!