Wednesday, May 31, 2023

CSX Coal to Becancour

For some time now, a cut of CSX hoppers has periodically made its way down the CN Kingston Subdivision heading towards Montreal. When seen, there are usually 2-10 cars, but as the only such shipments past here, the cars often raised questions. Who receives loads of coal these days? Where were they headed, and what was the source? Admittedly, among the 700,000 carloads of coal that CSX generates annually, this is a tiny little piece of the pie-graph. Here at Trackside Treasure, such mysteries exist only to be solved! CSXT 811992 (top photo) and 836410 (below, with DPU 8895 eastbound on January 29, 2017. My photos in this post are taken from my in-laws' fifth-floor apartment/balcony near Mi 179 Kingston Sub unless otherwise noted.

This question has intrigued me for awhile. Some have suggested that the destination is  an  aluminum smelter at Becancour, but a googlemaps inspection of the plant shows bulkhead flatcars for loading and boxcar traffic. No sign of coal. But Googlemaps showed me this facility just a few hundred metres away.

It's Silicium Quebec, a silicon producer, having operated under different names in the plant's 40-year history, such as Becancour Silicon.  With its annual production of 45,000 to 50,000 tonnes of metallic silicon, Silicium Québec has 175 employees. Half of Bécancour's production goes to the United States. Half is used in the aluminum sector, while 35% of the silicon produced is used by the chemical industry. Solar energy production uses the rest, or 15%, an area that is experiencing double-digit growth..Located near the port of Becancour, the facility is 100 miles northeast of Montreal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. It's served by CN, located at Mi. 23.5 of the 25 mile-long Becancour Subdivision that leaves the CN Drummondville Sub at Aston Junction.

The facility had a large materials yard. There appears to be a car-dumping spot beside the materials yard then room for maybe 10 cars at the end of their spur. No cars were on the spur the day the satellite flew over, unfortunately. CN's designation for this track is G120 - Becancour Silicon. The plant seems to be served by three (plus one?) spurs, adjacent to an industry support yard. Two spurs go to covered hopper indoor-loading locations, and the the tail-end one is for our cars of interest.

The coal originates in or is handled through the Walbridge, OH area. It's possible that it's coke, not coal, but don't even bother Googling 'coke shipments from Ohio' because that only directs you to law enforcement websites! I obviously have more to learn about these unique shipments, but this post has been a good start, definitely adding fuel to the fire!
Empties are passed by an eastbound VIA train led by 6436 on May 4, 2018 (above) and loads eastbound on CN No 368 on June 16, 2020 (below).
CSXT 836529-835586 and about 10 other loads including HKRX and MWNX cars are eastbound at Belleville on November 7, 2022 (image courtesy of Railstream, LLC):
My observations: Date, car number(s), CN train car was on. I checked my notes as far back as October 2014 to present, and the shipments I first noted were in January, 2017. The CN trains shown below originate, terminate or lift at Montreal yard:

  • Jan 29/17 CSXT 811992, 836410 + others
  • Feb 19/17 CSXT ? on 368
  • Apr 22/17 CSXT 835989 on 377
  • Jun 5/17: three CSXT on 377
  • Sep 17/17: 837051, 836031 + 10 more on 373
  • May 4/18: 835349, 837407, 836991, 835516, 835942 on 377
  • Apr 12/19:810310, 835994 + 2 more on 373
  • Nov 2/19: 836050, 835683 + 2 more on 373
  • Jun 16/20: 837509, 835432, 835956 + 10 more on 368 

Running extra:

Our local branch of the Kingston Frontenac Public Library has a never-ending book sale. Not having visited since the start of the pandemic(!) I noticed that prices for used books are no longer marked - they're by donation only. A month ago, while there with my good wife who was picking up some reserved Amish romance (who knew?) I wandered over and found a couple of books on Canadian railway subjects. A library volunteer indicated that someone had dropped off 'this many' [carton load] train books and that they would be put out over the next little while.

Several return trips netted several more Amish romances but no new railway books. I settled for a quick one-day read about the ill-fated Newfoundland Regiment attack on Beaumont Hamel: No Man's Land  by Kevin Major. Just when I'd given up hope (on train books, not on the romantic ardour of the Amish which seemed to fill several bookshelves) I encountered another, very helpful volunteer. Upon mentioning the train books, she quickly disappeared, assuring me she'd be back in three minutes. And she was, with a cart and a stack of railway 'books by the pound'. Wow! Mostly a "Got 'im, got 'im", but there were a couple of "Need 'ims" namely The Railroaders by Stuart Leuthner, and the apocryphal Train Wrecks by Robert C. Reed. The former is an interesting compendium of first-person remembrances, the latter is more destructive and grisly. Plus, my wife and the volunteer got to talk about rhubarb and recipes during today's visit! It was...A Tale of Two...Volunteers!


Michael said...

I do like the question you pose: Who orders carload of coal these days (or carloads of anything, some might argue)? I hope you get to the bottom of this coaled case mystery!

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment and your pun, Michael. When I do have more info, I'll post it. That sounds a bit ominous, or perhaps bituminous?


Anonymous said...

On Tuesday May 30,2023 at 20:20 I watched a CN mixed train eastbound through Ingersoll Ontario on the Dundas Subdivision - squeezed between an auto rack and centre beam was one CSX coal hopper- CSXT 350325. The only coal hopper on that train. First time I have seen one. Thanks, Drew De Bruyn.

Eric said...

Thanks, Drew. That car may be heading to Becancour. They really catch your eye when they go by!

Eric May said...

I recall seeing a cut of Clinchfield hopper cars heading east though Port Hope in the 80's. Perhaps they were heading to the same place.

Eric said...

I would have to check back through my notes, Eric, as I may have seen some of these as well. M more recent memory was groups of Santa Fe hoppers!

Thanks for your additional information,

Brian said...


Awesome post! Try searching for "metallurgical coke" and/ or "petroleum coke" instead of just "coke", as that additional word should filter out a lot of the less savory results. A wonderful rabbit hole of company websites awaits!


Eric said...

Thanks for your kind words, Brian.

That project does indeed sound daunting. I guess I'll have to pour myself a big drink before I start...maybe a...Coke!