Wednesday, July 1, 2020

CN Saskatchewan-New Brunswick Potash Unit Trains

CN's Denison Sub in New Brunswick branched off CN's Sussex Subdivision at Moosehorn, Mi. 57.2, traversing 11.7 miles to CN Clover Hill, where the Cassidy Lake potash mine was located. Clover Hill potash mine in operation, 1990 (top photo) shared by Jeremy McPherson. Thanks, Jeremy! The Clover Hill operation did not have a switcher. Either a cable winch or coupler-equipped tractor was used to ove cars uphill, gravity downhill!

New Brunswick is the only province, other than its better-known potash producing sister province Saskatchewan, to have commercially viable potash reserves. Though discovered over one hundred years ago, the deposits as deep as 3,200 feet were not exploited until the Penobsquis mine opened near Sussex in 1981. The Potash Company of America (PCA) mine connects with CNs Sussex Sub at McCully, Mi. 38.5. There were five loading and holding tracks at the mine and smelting facility at the end of a three-mile spur.

A second potash mine was under construction for the Denison Potacan Co. in 1983, opening at Clover Hill, near Norton, in 1985. The mine experienced ongoing flooding and closed in 1997. In that year, the Penobsquis and Clover Hill mines were combined to form the New Brunswick Division of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS). Then, between March, 1998 and September, 2005 potash was received from Saskatchewan for processing, due to the site's processing equipment being among the most modern in North America. After processing, the potash was reloaded and shipped to the port of Saint John for export. These Melville, SK - Moncton trains were designated CN No 738 eastbound and 737 westbound. Loaded trains were almost 100 cars, and weighed over 13,000 tons. An unusual car on these trains was articulated potash car CN 399000.

Moosehorn was the site of a 5400 ft. siding on the CN Sussex Sub Mi. 57.2, and the tracks at the plant were designated LE01 to LE07. The main centre track is the arrival/departure, with three northerly dead-end tracks (LE01-LE03) for loading and three southerly tracks (LE05-LE07) for empties. Due to the topography of the Denison Sub, up to four six-axle locomotives were used to haul the heavy potash cars at 15 m.p.h. in cuts of 25 cars up the 11-mile welded-rail spur to the mine. Two hundred covered hoppers were assigned to these potash trains. 

Two units could handle the train from Melville, with a third unit usually added at Capreol and a fourth at Joffre, QC, based on 2005 reports, to handle heavy trains on grades. Dynamic brake-equipped CN 5260, 5261, and 5296-5298 were kept in the Montreal-New Brunswick area to assist with these trains.  Wendell Lemon's excellent article on this operation is in the July-August 2017 issue of the Bytown Railway Society Branchline, complete with maps and details! Wendell also wrote an earlier article about the Denison Sub.

The last train from Saskatchewan was handled in September 21, 2005 and the Cassidy Lake operation closed in October during a shutdown, resulting in 21 workers being unemployed. This was due to expansion at Rocanville, SK to allow processing there. The CN Denison Sub was out of service in October, 2005 and the switch points at Moosehorn were spiked. The line to is now heavily overgrown and washed out in places. Buildings on the site were demolished by explosion in two tries. PotashWorks magazine stock photo:
I was able to track a representative potash car, CNLX 8468, a cylindrical covered hopper with black lettering, in 1998 and 1999. A summary of its trips after I observed it on June 26, on CN No 738 pulled by 2563-2418-9649-9591 with 99 potash loads:
  • June 26/98 Eastbound at Kingston, destined Clover Hill track LE07.
  • July 5-19 on CN No 738 from Sylvite, SK to Clover Hill.
  • Aug 15-23 on CN No 738 from Sylvite, SK track RS24 to Clover Hill.
  • Sep 15-Oct 2 on CN No 750 from Sylvite, SK to Itasca, WI on UP.
  • Dec 28/98-Jan 1/99 Kalium, SK to Evans City, AL on NS.
  • Mar 30/99-Apr 1 PCS Cory, SK to Thunder Bay, ON.
  • May 2-11 Allan Mines, SK to track WS73 to Itasca, WI on MNNR.
Other CN No 738's I observed were on October 8/00 and Oct 22/00, delays to the latter resulting in CNLX 7305 being set out bad order in Kingston.

In 2016, CN began operating huge potash trains symboled CN No 730 or B730. These trains operated with mid-train and tail-end Distributed Power Units, with up to 40 trains planned for 2016. Tonnage was increased to 18,000 tons and the number of cars, albeit shorter ones, increased by a third to over 150 cars or more - some reports of up to 200 cars. 

The consist is rarely returned whole - it's often parcelled out as cuts of empties on the tail end of Moncton-Toronto CN No 305. My observations when it was something new. One ran today, so it's no longer an event - I was not trackside! 
  • Feb 27/16 with CN 2921-2809 and tail-end 3005, 151 cars. Sample cars: CNPX 3255, CITX 151054, PTEX 22012, CEFX 302136.
  • Mar 6/16 (second one of the season) with CN 3001-2893 and tail-end 2903. Sample cars: CEFX 302703, PTEX 21625, CNPX 7030 an 150259, CITX 151828.
  • May 26/16 CN 2827-3034 152 cars and tail-end 2848 (two photos - above)
  • August 26/17 CN 3105-2900 with mid-train 2879 and tail-end 2826.
Running extra...
Tim Hayman has done it again! Tim has created a (formerly!) blue & yellow VIA coach wearing colours to match the LRC fleet. Tim's rationale:

This car was converted to HEP (end details matching LRC/HEP2), received updated diaphragms, toilet retention tanks, and inside received a full galley at the vestibule end (with blanked windows over that area), expanded luggage storage, LRC style bathrooms (with blanked windows), and a wheelchair tie-down area. More like the HEP1s, these retained their window shades rather than getting darker tinting and curtains, and kept their original seats with new upholstery. I also modified the early Rapido car construction by attaching the sides to the roof/ends for greater stability and replacing couplers with Kadee boxes/couplers.

When it came to decoration, I wanted something that would feel believable for the timeframe. For this purpose, I've assumed that these cars received their rebuild in the 1998-2000 window, when VIA had just started using the new VIA Rail Canada logo but still hadn't introduced the Renaissance scheme. So this was made to match the LRC decoration but with the new logos and wordmarks, and small flags because there wasn't room for a big one! I've also numbered it 3507, in the 3500-series, to be adjacent to the LRCs in their 3300/3400-series.

3 comments:

chris mears said...

Well done Tim! That LRC original paint scheme is superb and suits the older stock every bit as beautifully.

chris mears said...

I've yet to see one of these potash trains on its way in but the cars, as you note, are common on their return trips west in smaller groups and those I have seen. They make for a wonderful highlight these days.

Eric said...

Tim is nailing it!

Yes, Chris, those potash trains are a big train and one that's tough to watch on a video. Without a beverage. And a snack!

Thanks for your comment,
Eric