High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

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High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NH2060 » Sat Oct 22, 2011 5:51 pm

[I've also posted this in the High Speed Rail Forum as well]

Having been intrigued for some time about the history and operations of the Newfoundland Railway and the contributing factors to its demise I've been wondering lately about what if rail transport returned to the island. I should point out that I've neither visited nor researched much about Newfoundland so I can't say that I know enough about its economy, centers of commerce, traffic/travel/commuting patterns, theoretical ridership numbers/demographics, etc. to know if re-establishing rail service could work. However, I have noticed a few things that I believe could work in it's favor:

1) The drive from Port aux Basques to St. John's (according to Google Maps) is roughly 560 miles long and takes just about 12 hours to complete.
2) The weather there (especially in the winter), and correct me if I'm wrong about it's climate, can make travel for cars, trucks, and buses difficult if not dangerous.
3) The Trans Canada Highway, as did the railway, connects several towns and cities with significant population numbers (some even with air force bases and airports).
4) Having a faster mode of transport would better connect the island as a whole in much less time.

My (hypothetical, of course) proposal for restoring rail service would consist of the following:

1) A brand new 125-150 mph single track non-electrified main line with stations at Port aux Basques, Stephenville Crossing, Corner Brook, Deer Lake, Hampden and/or South Brook, Badger, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Clarenville, Placentia, Downtown St. John's (with a stop by the harbor instead of the old station), St. John's Int'l Airport (via a tunnel under Fort William) and Torbay. More stations could be added later if demand is strong enough. In addition, the new line would be built with standard gauge trackage and could be accommodated for electrification if determined to be more cost effective.

2) Branch lines between Port aux Basques-Burgeo/The South Coast, Deer Lake/Hampden-St, Anthony, and Grand Bank-Clarenville-Bonavista could be added at a later date if need be.

3) Passenger trains operating every hour to every 2 hours consisting of rebuilt British Rail HST 125 train sets (or JetTrain-type high speed locomotives bracketing coaches) which would become available (and potentially for a discounted price) once delivery of new trains in the UK takes place. These would be used unless ridership demand or other factors warrants the purchase of new rolling stock (diesel or electric powered). Given the proposed speed they could actually be officially dubbed "The Newfie Bullet" this time!

4) Should there be a strong demand for freight service, rebuilt and/or new North American locomotives and rolling stock could be used. Furthermore, facilities at Port aux Basques, St. John's and other locales can be built to accommodate ferries, tankers, container ships, etc.

Keep in mind this is only just a rough idea of what could be built if the government (or someone else) were to pursue the restoration of rail service on the island.

In general though could a high speed rail line (or something similar) conceivably work in Newfoundland, even if it's decades down the road before anything is officially proposed?
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby jwhite07 » Sun Oct 23, 2011 9:37 pm

You need population density for high speed rail to be viable. Newfoundland ain't it.
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby labaienordique » Mon Oct 24, 2011 3:04 pm

I think the only way this could work is if you provided a service "underneath the ocean" similar to the train that goes from la France to England (Calais to Dover 50 km). So from St. John's to Sydney (given it's "relative proximity"), or Halifax.

And even at that, yikes, that's quite a trip. 543 km of the 702 km trip under the ocean (from Argentia to just outside of Sydney)... I suppose you could maybe partner up with la France (who owns St-Pierre et Miquelon off the coast of Southern Newfoundland) if you wanted this train to stop there to provide some of the financing, but even at that, there is a considerable chunk of the trip underwater.

Then again, I mean if we applied the kind of thinking we have today back when the country was colonized by europeans, I really don't think this country would have become what it is today.
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby ebtmikado » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:13 pm

I'd love to see the Newfie Bullet make from end to end in five hours!

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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NH2060 » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:45 pm

by jwhite07 » Sun Oct 23, 2011 9:37 pm

You need population density for high speed rail to be viable. Newfoundland ain't it.


This is true. My take on the reasoning for building such a line would be to strengthen and tie together the local economies of the island while at the same time strengthening the island's economy as a whole. But just the same you do raise an obvious and valid point. In that case building it for 90 mph max would perhaps be more reasonable (and less expensive) while still remaining competitive with the Trans Canada Highway in journey times.

I think the only way this could work is if you provided a service "underneath the ocean" similar to the train that goes from la France to England (Calais to Dover 50 km). So from St. John's to Sydney (given it's "relative proximity"), or Halifax.

And even at that, yikes, that's quite a trip. 543 km of the 702 km trip under the ocean (from Argentia to just outside of Sydney)... I suppose you could maybe partner up with la France (who owns St-Pierre et Miquelon off the coast of Southern Newfoundland) if you wanted this train to stop there to provide some of the financing, but even at that, there is a considerable chunk of the trip underwater.

Then again, I mean if we applied the kind of thinking we have today back when the country was colonized by europeans, I really don't think this country would have become what it is today.


Never thought about an undersea tunnel to be honest, but given how long the boat ride is between North Sydney and SW NL, let alone Argentia, I could see that getting approval. In that case the train would have to run on or be towed by electric power through the tunnel, but it's been done before ;-)

by ebtmikado » Tue Oct 25, 2011 1:13 pm

I'd love to see the Newfie Bullet make from end to end in five hours!


It'd make the Acela jealous for sure :-P
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NS VIA FAN » Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:42 pm

labaienordique wrote:And even at that, yikes, that's quite a trip. 543 km of the 702 km trip under the ocean (from Argentia to just outside of Sydney)... I suppose you could maybe partner up with la France (who owns St-Pierre et Miquelon off the coast of Southern Newfoundland) if you wanted this train to stop there to provide some of the financing, but even at that, there is a considerable chunk of the trip underwater.

No, it makes much more sense to cross the Island of Newfoundland first before continuing through a tunnel to Nova Scotia. That way you hit the major population centres such as Gambo, Bishop’s Falls, Deer Lake etc.........then it’s only 100 km in a tunnel under the Cabot Strait from Port-aux-Basques to the northern tip of Cape Breton Island. Track would then have to be constructed from there, down through Ingonish and onto North Sydney to link up with Rail America’s CB&CNS Railway.

But really the more practical route is an extension of the Corridor east from Quebec City.......basically following Quebec Highway 138. The railway would even provide a land link between Natashquan and Blanc-Sablon when the highway hasn’t even been constructed yet. Along the way, a stop could be made in Sept-Iles for connections with the Quebec, North Shore & Labrador Railway (Tshiuetin Rail) for Shefferville.

At Blanc-Sablon it’s only 35 km via a tunnel under the Strait Of Belle Isle to the Island of Newfoundland......then it's down the west coast to Deer Lake and onto St. John’s.
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby labaienordique » Tue Oct 25, 2011 6:09 pm

I was wondering what would be more cost effective;

- Constructing a long tunnel under the ocean from Newfoundland to the Cape Breton
- or the construction of a much shorter tunnel on the northern tip of Newfoundland into Labrador and then south towards Sept-Îles & Québec.

Interesting idea to create a passenger service connecting Newfoundland to the rest of Canada through Labrador, but that certainly adds a considerable distance to the trip (especially between Sept-Îles & the Island of Newfoundland).

Quite a few possible locations to stop though:

Gander
Grand Falls-Windsor
Deer Lake
L'Anse-au-Loup
Natashquan
Sept-Îles (with the connecting to the Tshieutin as specified)
Baie-Comeau
Forestville
A junction point with Saguenay (Chicoutimi)
La Malbaie
and eventually to Québec
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NH2060 » Wed Nov 09, 2011 11:25 pm

That's an interesting proposal you make. Having the Cartier and QNS&L lines, let alone any lines built in Newfoundland, connected to the rest of the North American rail network would be a big boost to freight traffic. It would certainly take less time to ship cargo (and presumably passengers) by train than freighter between Sept-Îles and Quebec. I'm not sure how inclement the weather in Labrador and northern Newfoundland would be that it would make building such a link difficult, if not impossible, but if China can build the world's tallest railway then certainly Canada could build through some fairly desolate territory ;-)
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NS VIA FAN » Thu Nov 10, 2011 6:37 am

NH2060 wrote:.......I'm not sure how inclement the weather in Labrador and northern Newfoundland would be that it would make building such a link difficult, if not impossible, but if China can build the world's tallest railway then certainly Canada could build through some fairly desolate territory ;-)

We’re not talking the Arctic here!

Where the railway and tunnel would cross from mainland Quebec to the island of Newfoundland is about 51 deg north latitude.....the same latitude as London, England or Calgary, Alberta.

And we’re nearly the middle of November now and looking at the forecast over the next week for that part of Newfoundland, there is only one night where the temp goes below freezing.

Railways have been built in lot harsher conditions!
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby NH2060 » Wed Dec 14, 2011 12:23 am

Touche ;)

Either way it seems like revival of any form of rail transport on the island is decades upon decades away *sigh* oh well.
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby highwayman » Sat Mar 17, 2012 6:30 pm

If I recall, CN bought its way out of its 1000 year contract with the province to run the Newfoundland Railways because it was loosing its shirt on the deal. Nobody in this thread has mentioned that one of the main reasons for the red ink was the fact that the railroad was narrow gauge, not standard gauge, like 99.5% of all other rail lines in the western hemisphere. This required the time consuming and costly practice of changing freight car trucks upon arrival at Port Aux Basque. If the line was standard gauge in the first place, this operation would have been totally unnecessary, and many in the railroad industry think there would be a possibility Newfoundland Railways could still be running today.
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Re: High speed rail in Newfoundland- could it work?

Postby Noel Weaver » Mon Aug 20, 2012 8:20 pm

I rode this line way back in August, 1968 about a year before the through passenger trains made their last runs. I enjoyed every part of this trip, the cold rainy weather in August, the steam heat in my sleeping car, the open window and smell of brake shoes, the frequent run in and out of slack over an up and down railroad, the good dining car meals and most of all the great people whom were engaged in the operation of this interesting line. I have lots of slides, timetables, train orders and other stuff from this trip. Having said that I mourned its passing the following year and the passing of the entire railway line back in 1989 BUT I think it probably had to happen. The operating costs were high, the running time for the "Newfie Bullet" was well over 24 hours at the time and today the buses do it in about half that time and at far less cost. At least in North America this would be one of the most unlikely places where any sort of high speed railroad would be practical or even make a go of it. SORRY!!!!!
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