Just past Truro, Nova Scotia, on the way to Halifax, CN’s mainline connects with a spur that exists to serve Canada Cement and Marwood Industries, in a town called Brookfield. The spur itself is served by the local switcher out of Truro. The combination of local train service and the simple arrangement of the spur makes it very attractive to me and I’ve always thought it would be neat to spend some time watching a train on the spur, working these industries. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was given that chance.
For a short stretch after Truro the CN mainline runs somewhat parallel to the highway. The Brookfield spur itself actually crosses directly underneath – while Marwood is close to the mainline, Canada Cement’s large plant is just under three miles off the mainline and the spur crosses under the highway overpass. Like any well-seasoned railfan, I can’t seem to drive across a bridge without a quick sideways glance to check both sides of the track below for a sign of a train. It was during one of these spontaneous checks that we spotted a certain pair of headlights staring back at us. The chase, as they say, was on.
When we caught up with the train, it was just a light engine creeping carefully along the branch and making its way back toward the mainline and Truro, presumably having dropped some cars at Canada Cement. The camera was still in the back of the car but that’s okay as it provides a chance to just enjoy the sight and sound of the engine in a low idle, slowly working its way down the line. If you can imagine the arrangement of the spur, it runs perpendicular to the mainline. Canada Cement’s facility is at the extreme end. At the point where the spur rejoins the mainline, Marwood Industries operates a small facility to load finished bundles of lumber onto rail cars. Their spur is in the former station site for Brookfield and immediately at the point where the spur itself connects to the main.
We arrived at Marwood before the train. Time to enjoy the scene and grab a mouthful of tea while waiting for the train to arrive.
In the MLW days, the railfan could scan the skies for a trail of black exhaust and a certain ticking sound as the engine barked it’s way closer. I’ve discovered I quite like the more subtle whine these GM diesels exhibit. Where the MLW was so overt in its expression, the GM is the more like the sleeping giant. Regardless of the sound, it was great that today’s engine was still proudly wearing its stripes – a paint scheme I still think is my favourite of the many CN has used.
Past the switch, it’s time for the crew to get to work. Unlock and line the turnout for Marwood. Next, remove the derail protecting the siding and then counting the distance until they’re tied onto the waiting cars. There’s nothing like time trackside to really remind one of all the steps required to actually switch cars, either picking them up or dropping them off. It’s easy to just run our model engines into the siding, grab the cars, and leave. Watching the experienced crew carefully going about their work was an education in all the other steps in this movement. There’s time to connect air hoses, charge the brakes, and then inspect that everything is working. In addition, there’s time to walk the length of the train to make sure that the cars are in good order and the loads safely secured – once these massive railcars are in motion there will be no time or safe place to correct an oversight here. Finally, there’s time to manage paperwork between the shipper and the railroad.
In model railroad operating sessions there’s a certain trend toward incorporating extra time into our movements to represent the time spent, in real life, on brakes, loads, and in paperwork. Of course, this time can feel arbitrary and hard to justify since we’re really not actually doing anything practical and related to operating a model train. Sitting trackside, we found time to appreciate the crew practising the skill of their craft, at their best, and doing their work with an ease that only experience brings. If anything, when considering the idea of building time into the model railway operating sessions it’s not just so that we have time to pretend we’re busy with brakes and paper but so that we have the time to appreciate just being present and part of the moment.
With the work of railroading largely completed we move toward the final phrases of this main act. A notch on the throttle and the engine lifts its cars forward and toward Truro. Of course, not without pause to close and lock the switch once for the siding and then in a hundred feet or so as they rejoined the Bedford Subdivision and the return home.
Steve Boyko has posted a great page on the Bedford Subdivision at: