By Chris Holloway
The purported ‘leak’ this past week from the Quebec Ministry of Transport suggesting that $50 million would be required to repair the steam train line has had its designed effect. People throughout the Hills shook their heads sadly – this would put an end to the steam train.
I beg to differ from the MTQ estimation. In the past seven years, the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield train line has been the most studied railway in the history of Quebec. The list of studies is lengthy:
February 2008 – Canarail did an inspection of the line including the bridges at Farm Point and Wakefield.
June 2008 – Qualitas studied land slippage at Mile Long Hill.
August 2008 – J.F. Sabourin made 13 recommendations to clean and refurbish numerous culverts.
August 2008 – Cima+ Engineering studied conditions on the Wakefield Bridge, which was repaired and will last for another 25 years.
July 2009 – J.F. Sabourin studied the five watersheds along the corridor between Gatineau, Chelsea, and La Pêche.
September 2009 – Qualitas detected visual signs as precursors to further potential instability along the line.
March 2011 – Qualitas studied the environmental quality of soils following a landslide on Mile Long Hill.
September 2011 – Cima+ Engineering reported on the stabilization of soils needed along the line. The report estimated that $6.5 million would be needed for repairs.
June 2012 – Marathon Drilling, with Rail Term and Golder & Associates, published an analysis of required rehabilitation efforts, which included removal and re-installation of the tracks on the Mile Long Hill, re-laying of ballast beneath the rails, and slope stabilization and drainage improvements along the line.
The studies themselves reinforce the importance of the train as being a highly influential economic generator for the Outaouais Region.
One particular fact is incontrovertible. The railway has existed for over 100 years. In the most recent 15 years of its operation, the stream train brought more than 55,000 tourists into the Outaouais every year. It generated $8 million in taxes, created 175 jobs, and was the mainstay of major tourist packages.
Observations have been made that subsoil composed of leda clay has been a factor in the rail bed’s deterioration. It’s true that when leda clay is subject to sustained heavy rains, it turns into grey soup. However, we often fail to remember that maintaining culverts and ditches along the right-of-way mitigates this degradation, and is vital to ensuring the longevity of our historic rail line.
If the Quebec Ministry of Transport wants to throw cold water on the train revitalization efforts, it has probably done so with its $50 million cost estimate, which is unrealistically high. We have gained ample knowledge in our efforts to try and save this line. My opinion is that we have the experience and talent to repair the line in a manner which would be far less expensive than the amount suggested by the MTQ.
The repair effort should go full-steam ahead and the MTQ should be leading it.
Chris Holloway is a resident of Chelsea