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Farewell to the Northlander

Farewell to the Northlander




            In spring of 2012, I heard on the radio that the Ontario government would stop funding the Northlander run by Ontario Northland which meant the train would be discontinued. I decided that when they announced when the train would be cut, I’d go for a final ride. For a time after, it looked like the train might have been spared, but that turned out not to be the case. During the spring and summer, I kept a close eye on the Canadian Passenger Rail Yahoo group and other media to find out when the train would be cut. In August, I learned the Northlander would make its final run on September 28th.


            My plan was to ride the Northlander from Toronto to Cochrane on September 18th. I would spend two nights in Cochrane. The day after I got to Cochrane, I would try to ride the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee and return the same day. The Polar Bear Express would continue to run after the Northlander was cut. I figured since I was up that far already, I might as well ride the Polar Bear Express. The day after, I would return to Toronto on the Northlander. The trip unfolded as follows.


September 18, 2012:


            I got to Union just before 8:00 am. I saw on the arrivals level that the inbound Canadian was running 29 minutes late. I photographed the departures board in Union Station showing the Northlander since it will no longer be in operation in less than two weeks.



            I bought a ticket to Cochrane. I then lined up. Boarding began shortly after 8:20 am. I was seated in ex GO Transit coach #615. I noticed the train had one more coach than usual.


            The Northlander departed four minutes late. As we departed, I filmed VIA trains 54 and 56 awaiting their 9:25 am departure.


            Although there were AC outlets by my coach seat, I found they weren't working. I went to the lounge car and worked on my report some more. I also bought a chocolate bar and some Pepsi.


            We stopped for several minutes. We were waiting for the inbound Canadian. It wasn't as late as we expected. I filmed the Canadian as it passed. The train had two F40PH-2s and 22 coaches.


            An Ontario Northland employee had also filmed the train. I showed him my website since the Northlander has Wi-Fi internet. He told me that he was making a documentary on the Northlander which first started running in 1977. We were soon underway again. The train passed through Richmond Hill. After awhile we stopped. We were waiting for a freight train which took about half an hour to pass. While I was waiting, I worked on this report some more. After the freight passed, we were underway again.


            I then went for lunch. We passed another CN freight. We passed Lake Simcoe. South of Washago, we passed a rail grinder on a siding.


            The train stopped at Washago two hours and 35 minutes late. We departed a couple minutes later.


            The train stopped at Gravenhurst. We departed a couple minutes later. I returned to my seat to find a woman sitting in it. She was traveling alone, so I sat in the aisle seat for a few minutes. The train stopped in Bracebridge. I returned to the cafe car. The train stopped in Huntsville. I worked on this report some more.


            South of South River, the Southbound Northlander passed, but I was only able to film the last two cars. The train briefly stopped at South River.


            Awhile later, we were approaching North Bay. I photographed two CN locomotives from the train.



            From Toronto, the Northlander had been running on CN tracks, we then went onto Ontario Northland tracks. We passed a yard. I filmed some of the more interesting pieces of equipment in the yard including several AMT single level commuter coaches and two GO Transit bi-level coaches. The Ontario Northland is overhauling the GO bi-levels and presumably the AMT cars as well.


            I also saw an Ontario Northland SD75i being cut up for scrap as a result of accident damage. I also photographed a boxcar which had been cut in two.



            The train slowed then jerked to a stop to let a freight train pass. We were underway soon, but the train jerked into motion.


            We then stopped at North Bay. I stepped off and photographed the train.




            I then got back on. A large crowd boarded at North Bay. We departed North Bay a few minutes later. The cafe car reopened. I went to the cafe car and worked on this report some more.


            I filmed a work train when we passed. I tried to log onto the internet, but found it wasn't working.


            Later, we were passing along a river. We had picked up speed. I decided to watch Unstoppable on DVD.


            As we approached Temagami, I saw a seaplane at a dock in the river. We stopped at Temagami station and then were underway.


            North of Temagami, we passed a scrap yard with an old boxcar in it.


            Later, we crossed a bridge over a river. About 10 minutes later, we stopped at Cobalt.


            South of New Liskeard, we passed a museum with a boat and an older Ontario Northland caboose.  We then stopped at New Liskeard. We then departed.


            I bought dinner from the lounge car. The train stopped at Englehart. While we were stopped, I photographed steam locomotive #701 in the station.



            We then departed Englehart. I went back to my coach seat. Later, I returned to the lounge. I chatted with some Ontario Northland employees and worked on this report some more. The train stopped briefly then proceeded on and then stopped at the town of Swastika. We departed Swastika. I pulled up my site and one of the crew said they had read my 2007 Sudbury trip!


            I let that employee use my laptop to check his email. A little while later, I bought a Pepsi before I returned to my coach seat. The train stopped at Matheson. I saw three Ontario Northland buses in the station. One of them would take connecting passengers to Timmins. We soon departed Matheson.


            This was the start of new trackage for me since I had yet to travel north of Matheson on the Northlander.


            The train stopped at Porquis Junction which was built a few years ago to replace a bus shuttle to Iroquois Falls. We soon departed Porquis Junction. We were soon 30 minutes from Cochrane.


            The Northlander arrived 2 hours and 30 minutes late. As we pulled into Cochrane, I noticed a steam locomotive on display near the station. I got off and photographed the train.



            Moments later, the Northlander left the station in order to deadhead to the maintenance shop. I filmed the train. I then went inside the station and checked into the Station Inn hotel located inside the Cochrane station. After paying, I went to see if I there was any more room on tomorrow's Polar Bear Express. There was so I bought a round trip to Moosonee. I then went upstairs to my room and phoned home. My room overlooked the platform. From my room, I watched the Polar Bear Express pull in. I photographed the last car from my room.



            I watched some more TV and worked on this report some more. I eventually called it a night.


September 19, 2012:


            I got up at 7:15 am and got dressed. I had breakfast at a restaurant in the hotel. I then went onto the platform and photographed the southbound Northlander awaiting its 8:00 am departure.



            I photographed passenger equipment parked outside as well as the two GP38s that would power the Polar Bear Express.





            I filmed the Northlander as it departed and the took one more photograph of it.



            I filmed the passenger cars that would be on the Polar Bear Express and then went inside the station for a few minutes to get out of the cold. While I was in the station, I photographed two pictures of Ontario Northland trains.




            A few minutes later, I photographed the steam locomotive I had seen the night before.




            I also photographed some of the coaches that Ontario Northland bought from BC Rail back in 2004.



            The coached used to be part of BC Rail's Starlight Dinner train until they abandoned passenger service in 2002. When I was at SAIT, my friend Fred had shown me video of the Starlight Dinner Train in service. There were 9 coaches and a generator car to supply HEP to the coaches. Of the three coaches, there were three dome cars. I had seen the generator on the Northlander back in 2006. Some of the coaches had been used on the Polar Bear Express; mostly the full length dome that Ontario Northland had named “Otter Rapids”. However, there would be no dome cars on today's Polar Bear Express. I then went inside the station to warm up.


            Eventually, the Polar Bear Express pulled into the station. Today's train to Moosonee had two GP38s, three 89 foot flat cars with personal vehicles on them, an Ontario Northland boxcar, two ex VIA Rail (formerly CN) coaches, an ex GO Transit diner-lounge, an ex GO coach, a baggage car, Generator unit #205 which is also ex GO Transit, and three more box cars. The Polar Bear Express runs as a mixed train to serve communities that don't have road access between Cochrane and Moosonee.


            I was seated in coach #851 which is one of the ex VIA coaches. I was assigned a backwards facing seat on the journey down there. The train left 11 minutes late. As we left, I saw a freight train led by GP38 #1805, the only GP38 still painted in the older Chevron livery.


            Shortly after we left, I switched so I could face forwards since the train wasn't full. I went to the lounge car and bought a chocolate bar and a Pepsi. I sat down and worked on this report some more.


            At one point, we stopped at a flag stop. There are 12 flag stops between Cochrane and Moosonee, but no scheduled stops in between. We soon started slowing down. I returned to my coach seat. I was feeling tired, so I laid down. I woke up to see the train pass over a bridge. I laid down again.


            I later moved one seat forwards to use an AC outlet to charge my laptop's battery.


            Shortly after 11:30, we stopped at a flag stop to pick up a small crowd of people. I didn't know where we were.


            I found that I had a demo of the game “Plants vs. Zombies” on my laptop. I had heard it was addictive. It kept my occupied for over an hour. After, I went to the lounge car for lunch. The train stopped at Moose River. After we departed, we passed over the river on a long river. I returned to my coach seat and worked on this report some more.


            I rested some more. Shortly after I woke up, we arrived into Moosonee. We had arrived 41 minutes late. I stepped off. Even though I was one of the first to get off, the crew wasted no time in uncoupling the locomotives and the first four cars. I photographed the train.




            The locomotives moved the cars onto sidings in order to unload the vehicles. I then took some photos of the train and a heavyweight baggage car near the station.






            I also photographed a map of Moosonee. I also noticed a sign telling residents to prevent bears from messing around with their garbage. Back home, I think it's bad when raccoons get into the garbage at home! Bears are worse!



            I then wandered around for an hour. I knew my train left at 5:00 pm. I had plenty of time. I went by the waterfront and photographed water as it led out into James Bay.




            I made my way back to the train station. By then the locomotives had coupled up to 5 more freight cars and coupled up to the train in preparation to return to Cochrane. I took some photos of the train.














            People were allowed to board the train move than 90 minutes before its departure. I boarded around 3:55 pm; (the train departs at 5:00 pm). I worked on this report for a few minutes. The Polar Bear Express left on time and we were soon out of Moosonee.


            After over an hour, we stopped at Moose River. Shortly after we left Moose River, I found an AC outlet and worked on this report some more. I went to the rear car and watched the view out the back window. I then made my way back to my coach seat. I noticed in the emergency kit, there was still a sign from VIA Rail! I then worked on this report some more. The train passed through Onakawana non-stop.


            I went to the lounge car for dinner. The train passed through Coral and passed near a dam. I returned to my coach seat.


            The sun went down. We stopped somewhere and were soon moving again.


            Shortly after 9:40, I readied my stuff in preparation to get off in Cochrane. At one point, I could see lights in the distance.


            The Polar Bear Express arrived into Cochrane 21 minutes late. I stepped off and took some photos.





            Just like earlier in Moosonee, the locomotives and first few cars were uncoupled shortly after arrival. I photographed the ends of the train.




            I then returned to my room. I photographed some pictures in the hallway of Ontario Northland trains.









             I then got to my room and watched a little TV. I also watched Ontario Northland GP9 #1601 switch the cars from the Polar Bear Express. Later, I went out but found Cochrane was locked up tighter than a drum. I returned to the hotel and worked on this report some more. I eventually called it a night.


September 20, 2012:


            I got up and got dressed. I went downstairs and checked out of the hotel. I went outside and photographed the Northlander on the shop tracks.



            I had breakfast at the restaurant in the Station Inn. After breakfast, I saw GP38 #1805 parked near the station. I photographed it.



            I then filmed the Northlander pulling into the station platform. I then walked to the end and photographed it.



            I noticed the coaches were the same when I rode down to Cochrane two days earlier. The train had a different locomotive and generator unit. I then went back to the station.


            Boarding of the Northlander began around 7:35 am. I was seated in ex GO coach #612, the same coach I rode two days earlier. From my seat, I photographed 1805 again.



            I saw crews board 1805 and start it up. I filmed 1805 and the trailing unit as they went past.


            The Northlander departed on time. As we passed the shop, I filmed the equipment that was visible. I could tell today's Polar Bear Express would have one more coach than the day before. I didn't see the Starlight Dinner train equipment though.


            Just before Porquis Junction, we passed a freight train was a caboose on the end! Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph it. The train stopped at Porquis Junction.


            We later stopped at Matheson. I saw the shuttle bus which had come from Timmins. We soon departed. I had now covered the whole Northlander route in daylight.


            I went to the lounge car. We later passed non stop through Swastika. I photographed the station as we passed.



Yes, there is a town in Ontario called Swastika.


            Later, we stopped at Englehart. We departed but moments later, we stopped. When we started moving again, I filmed steam locomotive #701 which is on display at the station.


            We later stopped at New Liskeard and then Cobalt.


            Awhile after we left Cobalt, we stopped briefly before proceeding. At one point, we passed a train with some of the ex BC Rail Starlight dinner train coaches trailing some freight cars. Unfortunately, I was unable to film the coaches on the train.


            I started to get hungry, so I went to the cafe car for lunch. While I was in the lounge car, we stopped at Temagami. After we left Temagami, I returned to my coach seat and worked on this report some more.


            It was raining outside. The rain eventually stopped.


            We later stopped at North Bay. This was a smoke stop. I stepped out and photographed the train.




            I then got back on. Quite a number of people boarded the train in North Bay. However, I did not gain a seatmate. The train soon departed.


            As we passed the Ontario Northland yard, I photographed some AMT cars undergoing overhaul.



            I also filmed the passenger coaches in the yard and an accident damaged SD75I and SD40. Where I had photographed the two CN locomotives two days earlier, I saw two other CN locomotives parked. Once we were past the yard, we stopped and reversed onto a siding in order to let the northbound Northlander pass.


            However, there was a line of tank cars blocking my view of the track the northbound train would go on. So I moved one coach back and sat by a window that looks between two cars. As the northbound train passed, I filmed it, but the train I was on started moving which made me film the tank cars instead. I then returned to my coach seat and worked on this report some more.


            The train stopped in South River. We were soon underway again. We later passed through Burk's Falls.


            We then stopped at Huntsville. As we departed Huntsville, I filmed a CN GP9.


            A little while after leaving Huntsville, the conductor made an announcement that someone was smoking despite ONR prohibiting smoking on the trains. He warned them that if he caught him smoking, he'd face consequences.


            We stopped at Bracebridge a few minutes later. South of the station we passed a bridge over a river. There was a road running parallel to the tracks and I saw on the road bridge several bras hung. There was also a poster for the Terry Fox Run {against Cancer}. Maybe the two are related.


            A few minutes later, we stopped at Gravenhurst. We soon departed Gravenhurst and a little while later; I filmed a Loram rail grinding train just before we stopped at Washago. We departed Washago and passed over a bridge over a river. We were running 30 minutes late.


            South of Washago, we passed through a grade crossing near a Wild Wing restaurant with an old caboose. Unfortunately, I was unable to either film or photograph it.


            The train passed along the shore of Lake Simcoe.


            After awhile, we were in Richmond Hill. When we crossed Elgin Mills Road, I saw a YRT D40LF waiting at the crossing. I wished that there was a stop for the Northlander in Thornhill or Richmond Hill so I would have to go all the way downtown to get on or off the Northlander.


            South of the Oriole GO station, we stopped to let a northbound GO train pass. After sitting for 14 minutes, the GO train passed. The conductor said we'd be about 15 minutes once we started moving. I overheard him say the Northlander was delayed as it was following a freight train. Better that delayed waiting for one like my trip north.


            Soon, we were approaching Toronto Union Station. I readied my stuff in preparation to get off. The Northlander arrived into Toronto 47 minutes late. I got off and took some photos.






            I then went downstairs and sprinted to another area of the station to try and get a photo of the Northlander, but by the time I got there, it was pulling out heading to VIA’s Toronto Maintenance Centre. I then returned to the main ticket area and photographed the Ontario Northland ticket counter since in a little over a week, the Northlander would be gone.



            I then bought dinner at the McDonald’s inside the Union Station. I phoned home and left a message saying I was home. I then took the subway home to Finch and then took a VIVA bus home.




            Aside from the northbound Northlander’s lateness, this trip was good. I’m glad I got to ride the rest of the Northlander’s route from Matheson to Cochrane.


            The ride on the Polar Bear Express was nice, though I wish there was a dome car on the train. I found Ontario Northland’s ex VIA cars are more comfortable than the ex GO cars.


            It’s sad that the Northlander is being cut as a result of the Provincial Government no longer funding the train. The train was almost cut over 10 years ago, but the Government stepped in and prevented it. On September 28, 2012, the Northlander departed Toronto for the last time.


            Having used the Northlander on both my 2005 and 2006 trips to Timmins, my Washago trip, my 2007 Sudbury trip, my trip to Orillia, and my Sudbury-North Bay trip last year, it made it a lot easier to get up North. The Northlander was the first long distance passenger train I rode other than the Canadian section of the Maple Leaf. I took my first trip on the Northlander in 1994 from Toronto to Huntsville.


            As for me, I’ve got one more trip this year. I will return to Boston one more time in early October to once again visit the Seashore Trolley Museum. Until next time…