Story and pictures by Anthony Bernard Prince.
The railway on the Gaspé Peninsula runs for a total of 202 miles from Matapedia to Gaspé. The line is divided into two subdivisions. The Cascapedia Subdivision runs for 98 miles from Matapedia to New Carlisle. The Chandler Subdivision runs for 104 miles from New Carlisle to Gaspé.
Freight traffic on the Gaspé line diminished in the 1990’s and early 2000’s due to the closure of local industries. The regional county municipalities formed the Société du chemin de fer de la Gaspésie (Gaspésie Railway Society) in 1997 to purchase the Chandler Subdivision and save it, and the rest of the line was acquired from the Quebéc Railway Corporation in 2007, shortly before the rest of the QRC was re-acquired by Canadian National.
2011 was the last year the entire Matapedia to Gaspé line was open to rail traffic. At that time, the VIA Rail passenger train was running three days a week. Regular freight train service was provided to only one regular customer the Temrex sawmill in Nouvelle, with occasional carload services a couple of customers in New Richmond and Caplan. In December 2011, VIA Rail passenger train service was suspended on the entire line because of the poor condition of many bridges. In May 2012, after some emergency repairs, VIA Rail passenger train service was restored as far as New Carlisle. However, in August 2013 passenger train service was once again suspended because of infrastructure problems and it has remained suspended since.
With hardly any freight traffic, and unable to keep up with repairs, the Gaspésie Railway Society declared bankruptcy in late 2014.
In May 2015 Transports Quebéc purchased the Matapedia to Gaspé railroad by paying off the Gaspésie Railway Society’s debt. Transports Quebéc now maintains the first 80 miles of the line between Matapedia and Caplan, and the Gaspésie Railway Society remains the freight operator of the line. The rest of the line between Caplan and Gaspé was put in a dormant state awaiting business opportunities. In 2016 the railway presented a business plan to Transports Quebéc showing significant freight traffic potential if the line was repaired and reopened to Gaspé.
In late 2016, the Gaspésie Railway set up a truck to rail transshipment site in New Richmond to serve customers on the dormant part of the line, and LM Windpower in Gaspé started shipping windmill blades by rail. In 2017, McInnis Cement in Port-Daniel-Gascons began shipping a portion of its cement production by rail. This finally convinced Transports Quebéc of the to repair the line to support economic development in the region.
The Quebéc government announced $100 million to repair the entire Matapedia to Gaspé railroad in May 2017. The project was divided up into three sections, Matapedia to Caplan, 80 miles; Caplan to Port-Daniel-Gascons, 44 miles; and Port-Daniel-Gascons to Gaspé, 78 miles.
Track maintenance work was started in 2016 on the first section between Matapedia and Caplan, a small bridge in Restigouche South East was replaced in 2017. A contract was awarded to Hamel Construction to build two new railroad bridges over the Cascapédia river in Cascapédia-Saint-Jules, and bridge construction work is started in July 2019.
As of September 2020, one new bridge has been built, work on the approaches to the bridge has started, and work on the abutments and pier of the second bridge is well underway. 70,000 ties have been replaced, thousands of tons of ballast has been spread, surfacing work has been carried out, and many culverts have been replaced.
According to Transports Quebéc the new railroad bridges in Cascapédia-Saint-Jules will be finished and open to rail traffic in 2021. This will allow trains to run at full capacity on the first section between Matapedia and Caplan. Currently the old bridges in Cascapédia-Saint-Jules are subject to speed and weight restrictions.
In August 2019, the federal government announced that it would also invest $45 million to help protect the Gaspé railroad from erosion. This money will mainly be used on the eastern section between Port-Daniel-Gascons and Gaspé.
Track maintenance work was started in 2018 on the second section between Caplan and Port-Daniel-Gascons. As of September 2020, 75,000 ties have been replaced, thousands of tons of new ballast have been spread, and surfacing work has been carried out.
Bridge replacement work is scheduled to start in the fall of 2020 on the second section between Caplan and Port-Daniel Gascons. A contract has been awarded to CRT Construction to repair the railroad bridge over the Port-Daniel river in Port-Daniel-Gascons, with work is scheduled to begin in September 2020. Hamel Construction will build a new railroad bridge over the Watt creek in Caplan. Work is scheduled to being in the fall of 2020.
Repair work on the second section between Caplan and Port-Daniel-Gascons should be finished and reopened to rail traffic in 2022.
Track maintenance work is now starting on the third section between Port-Daniel-Gascons and Gaspé. In the fall of 2020, 15,000 ties will be replaced, 13,000 tons of ballast will be spread, and surfacing work will be done for a distance of 30 miles. Major bridge work is scheduled to start in 2021 on the third section between Port-Daniel-Gascons and Gaspé.
The Quebéc government announced it was adding another $135 million to the budget to continue and accelerate repairs on the Matapedia to Gaspé railroad in February 2020, at the same time announcing that they aim to complete repair work on the third section between Port-Daniel-Gascons and Gaspé and reopened the whole route to rail traffic in 2024, a year earlier than the previously announced target date of 2025.
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