Friday, July 4, 2014

Westray Coal Hoppers

A new coal mine in Nova Scotia's Pictou County was opened by Curragh Resources in Plymouth in September, 1991.  CN built an 0.8-mile Westray Coal spur at Stellarton yard, with the distance from the mine to the NS Power thermal generating plant in Trenton, NS totalling four miles. The line operated with M-420(W)'s 3521-3524, hauling 32-car coal trains. New cars were built: 100-ton open-top rapid-discharge hoppers built by National Steel Car in Hamilton in 1991-1992 (not Nova Scotia's Trenton Works, a common misconception). The 37 cars were numbered CN 347000-347036, and really stood out, painted in a bright blue overall, with CN and Westray logos and distinctive 'Westray Coal' lettering. Conrad Steeves photographed CN 347033 in Stellarton NS on February 18, 1992 (above). 

An horrific methane gas-coal dust explosion in the mine on May 9, 1992 would result in its closure, be the subject of a public inquiry, and result in the dispersal of the Westray hoppers to other service. The cars were moved twice in June, 1992 and once in July, before heading to Truro on September 18. Nova Scotia Power was buying coal mined at Sydney by DEVCO, (the Cape Breton Development Corporation) for use at Trenton. To move the coal from Devco, all but two of the Westray hoppers were moved to Sydney on October 7, 1992, perhaps with the 'Westray Coal' lettering already painted out. The first two carloads were received from Devco in Sydney on October 9, moving west to Trenton on October 12 on CN train No 407. Two exceptions, CN 347008 and 347030 were already in Edson, AB in September, ending up in Hinton on October 25!

By January 1993, all but one of the Westray hoppers were in use in Western Canada, 'Westray Coal' having been painted out, with only CN 347012 reportedly still in Sydney. The cars traced to Lloydminster and Hinton AB and Kamloops, BC. In the first week of April 1993, the fleet was moved back to Nova Scotia in successive CN train No 302's! The mine's buildings were finally demolished in November, 1998. However, it is fair to say that since the explosion, the cars principally operate in western Canada coal service, though with the Westray lettering painted out, many observers may be unaware of the cars' history.

On April 15, 1999 at 2200 hours, I had my one and only sighting with a Westray hopper. (Night-time so no photo, regrettably.) Westbound CN No 365 from Senneterre QC destined Toronto ON passed through Kingston, with CN 347013 near its tail-end. It's possible it had carried a load of coal to a Quebec industry. With the aid of CN's public (at the time) tracking system, and knowing this was an odd encounter, I attempted to follow the car's movements for a few months. Continuing west from Toronto on CN No 205, the car arrived Winnipeg three days later. Then, a regular pattern emerged, with 347013 constantly ping-ponging between being loaded at Lloydminster SK track LL75 then unloaded at Edmonton AB track DO84 or Kamloops BC 'Kamfarge' which is on CP about 20 miles east of Kamloops, returning east empty. Apparently this chance encounter was not to be repeated, and I would be left with chronicling some of this fleet's unique history, now 15 years later!

Links: 2008 photo of CN 347018 with Westray lettering showing; several thumbnail photos of the fleet of ex-Westray cars in CN service in Western Canada.

Thanks to Conrad Steeves and Ric Hamilton for their assistance. Conrad's photo also appeared in Wendell Lemon's excellent article in the BRS Branchline June 2011 issue.

Running extra...

Blog partner Manny Jacob was trackside to photograph this treasure in Winnipeg...VIA's two completed Prestige Class cars were previously on display in Vancouver.
 Chateau Denonville:
Laurentide Park:
 Passing the Osborne Station transit terminal:
The cars were not heading north on the Churchill train, though they were coupled to such a consist. Public display or training, or perhaps further display for the travel press? Update - the two cars arrived in Toronto on July 1, deadheaded behind the power. July 5 Update - Chateau Denonville deadheaded east on the tailend of VIA No 52 on July 5, and I caught it at Kingston (below), with thanks to Dave and Matt for the heads-ups. July 7 Update - Laurentide Park ex Winnipeg on No 1, deadhead behind 6439-6401-baggage car. Thanks, Brian!

Recently-restored and gleaming CPR D-10 1095 was visible from my patio table at lunch on Canada Day! Read my fish story. What a difference boiler jacketing makes!

9 comments:

GP9Rm4108 said...

That's what those coaches are. They were sitting in VIA's yard here in Winnipeg for a week or so.

Eric said...

Yes, Chris. Safely back in Toronto. Not sure when they might head out again. Those big windows are really eye-catching. When the cars headed west, they had incomplete lettering.

Manny's photos show them very well.

Eric

Michael said...

I like the look of the new Via streamliner refurbs, but I will miss the blue stripe. Also, I am glad that the Canada wordmark has been removed from the centre of the cars. That logo always looked out of place on the silver cars. But I suppose it wasn't Via's decision to have that free advertising plastered on its cars.

Eric said...

I appreciate Manny sharing his photos. Sometime I will do a study of the 'Canada' placement. At least one early photo I saw showed it at opposite ends of cars, even photographed from the same side...so much to study, so little time. The most visible outward difference is the big windows...if you're on that side of the car! And I wasn't - this time.

Thanks for your comment, Michael.
Eric

Brad said...

hey, I've seen some of those blue hoppers before. I always wondered what they were for. check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7euEGniZJY

Eric said...

Good eye, Brad. I noticed that of the eleven cars shown in the video, only one had any vestige of the Westray Coal lettering showing. On the others, the blue paint-outs have done well over twenty years.

Thanks for your comment and link,
Eric

chrismears said...

Though I'm aware of the mine and power plant I wasn't aware of a dedicated coal train or the cars that made it up. Thanks for sharing this story with us.

The hoppers themselves look an awful lot like the same ones that DEVCO railway operated in Cape Breton.

Eric said...

Though I'm not very familiar with the area, Chris, I checked Googlemaps and I can see why this traffic pattern made sense to those planning it and the fleet to support it.

I'd have to check dimensions - though the Devco cars looklike 5-hopper cars, the design appears similar.

You can imagine my surprise and curiosity seeing one of these on a dark night, here in eastern Ontario. One of those interesting things we see trainwatching that require follow-up, even if years later!

Thanks very much for your comments,
Eric

Eric said...

Some of Tim Hayman's efforts modelling DEVCO efforts here:

https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3902/14641544346_b089e5a8d9_b.jpg

Eric