By: Lyle Dillabough (the "Ottawa Valley Troubadour")
"He stares again, down the railroad tracks,
Lookin for something, that's never coming back
And like his old friends, and their days of yore
The train won't pass by here anymore."
(from the song, "ANYMORE" By: Lyle Dillabough)
It's the end of the line. That's it: It's over.
One hundred and sixty of years of railroad history has come and gone.
And with it goes "MacDonald's Dream" as one of the original lines of
the Canadian Pacific Railroad is literally being torn up before our
eyes here in the Ottawa Valley.
In late July of this year the Smiths Falls to Chalk River section (180
kilometers) began to be dismantled by employees of the Canadian
Pacific Railroad (CPR). Many sad faces just stood and stared in
disbelief as countless flat beds carrying rail lines passed through
Carleton Place one early August morning. People were literally
stopping their cars and pulling to the side of the road as this
enormous moving wall of steel passed before their very eyes. "I can't
believe it!" Said one older gentleman wistfully. "This is
destruction!" remarked another visibly shaken young woman. "It's like
watching the effects of an earthquake or a hurricane! It's downright
"Creepy" or not; it's happening. While all throughout Europe they are
laying down track as fast as they can these days here in Canada they
are tearing them up equally as fast it would seem. "It's just
business" one CPR official was quoted recently as saying. "It's just
nonsense" many local folks and area politicians have replied.
Local politicians from the effected communities along the line held
several meetings within the past year or so. Efforts were made to
possibly have these municipalities band together and purchase the line
but in the end this did not materialize.
The Smiths Falls to Chalk River section was laidduring the 1850's
and became the lifeline for the communities in which it ran through.
Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham, Arnprior, Renfrew, Pembroke,
Petawawa, Chalk River and all places in between owe much of their
existence to this line. Lumber, minerals, products and people plus;
hope, dreams, promise and tomorrow rode on these rails. Sweat, blood,
boldness and determination built it. As did broken limbs, broken
backs, death and ruin. But in the end it all came down to hope and the
dream of a better tomorrow that caused it to succeed. The opening of a
new country and the "promise that IS Canada" is the foundation on
which it was built.
And now they tear it all up as if none of this ever mattered.
In 1990 the line which ran between Carleton Place and Ottawa was torn
up after the last VIA passenger train had made its way through. "You
would almost think that the section men were standing at attention
when the last train past so they could start tearing it all up
immediately" said long time CPR engineer Paul Perkins. "Now they are
repeating history as they tear up this very important piece of track."
Perkins points out that the Canadian Military is severely handicapped
by this decision as CFB Petawawa and Camp Borden now have to
"backtrack" nearly 300 kilometers to move their equipment by rail. he
believes that many of the towns and communities along the line now
have their economic future jeopardized by the loss of the rail line.
He says also that for years now he and his fellow railroad buddies
could see it all coming. "At first it was like the CPR was trying to
do all that it could to discourage passenger travel. And once they
succeeded at that they went after small industries in small towns
until they too were severely frustrated and discouraged." He added.
And what was the reasoning for this attitude and business model Mr.
Perkins? "Because the CPR wanted to obtain the Southern Junction
(heading to Mexico) as the "real money" lies in going north and south
as opposed to going east and west" He explained. "So when they (CPR)
were successful in doing that the writing was on the wall so to
Mr. Perkins also brings up this very important point. "For every ONE
"container train" heading from Detroit to Montreal you eliminate 270
trucks." In this day of "environmental concerns" and "global warming"
outcries one might wonder why this fact is not being raised or
discussed by environmental proponents?
During the 1920's there were 17 passenger trains a day that passed
through Carleton Place alone. Add numerous freight trains to that
total and you are talking one busy rail line. Imagine the commuter
possibilites that could exist today if the Carleton Place to Ottawa
line was still in place? Include the Chalk River to Carleton Place
line and the line which runs from Brockville to Smiths Falls to
Carleton Place (which includes a connection to the CPR's main
trans-Canada line which runs in through Perth) and you would have one
very fine commuter service.
However; many say that this would just make "too much sense!"
So instead they are tearing up the tracks. Can the railroad make money
if they continued to operate these lines? According to Paul Perkins
the answer is yes. "Certainly they can make money." He says. "It's
just that they got too greedy because they get it (the money) every
which way. Trucking, oil stocks, airline stocks, and what have you.
Why run trains when they don't need to?"
As for the rail line, the communities along the way, the people, the
history and of the future itself? Who knows? One thing is certain: The
end of the line will mean the end of many things. For change is
inevitable. Change is often a good thing. But when change occurs
without any soul then it is not a good thing at all. And the loss of
this rail line rips the heart and soul out of us all.