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Quebec Northshore and Labrador Railway

The Most Scenic and Friendly Unknown Railway on the Continent

By Jim Nowell

Since most people will never get to Sept- Iles (Seven Islands), Quebec Province and ride the train North to Schefferville, Labrador (Newfoundland), let me try to visualize the process Julie and I went through for this one day per week (Thursday) train. I would like to thank my train travel friend, Gerry Schulitz of New York, for inspiring us to visit this railway.

The train tickets are purchased from a travel agency since the railway outsourced this function. It cost us approximately $600 Canadian (train tickets $76 senior rate and one regular fare at $156.00); $177 for dinner/B&B in Schefferville and the balance for food/gasoline ($3.08 per gallon U.S.) to drive the 430 miles from Quebec City to Sept- Iles.

Looking at the map it seems like you are going to a rural area and this isn't correct. There were two towns along the route of 23,000 and 25,000 people. We drove the first three hour section to Taddousac where the road ended and we found we had to take a free fifteen minute ferry ride. It was a typical northern weather day - bleak and raining. Which wasn't typical on the two lane road were the numerous steep 12% hills going through the forest area with many trucks on the road. The locals are among the fastest and most aggressive drivers we have seen. The speed signs call for 90 kilometers maximum (56 mph) and most cars/trucks were doing 110 kilometers (68 mph)- allowed by the police. The slogan on the Quebec license plates translates to: I remember who I am. In most sections the road was weather-beaten and patched which caused a little rock and roll action. It was not an easy drive.

The next five hour trek saw more of the same, but we did go through towns on the coastline and saw the rough wave action of the clear water rivers flowing into the murky sea water of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The economy of the towns in this section was tied to lumber, aluminum, iron ore and electricity. It was 48 degrees on June 15th during our drive which was just a day after leaving New York State where it was 90 degrees with 90% humidity.

In Sept- Iles the train was full at 8:00 AM with natives for a scheduled 9:00 AM departure (actual pull out was at 9:15 AM). The gusts of wind in the rain took my baseball cap right off my head which I ran to retrieve before boarding. The orange and gray paint scheme was on the G.E. SD40-2 diesel engine. The train also consisted of a power car, baggage car, six former Canadian Pacific coach cars (one for smoking) - three go to Schefferville and the last three get cut off at Labrador City on Friday's return trip. Our train went slowly through the forest of stunted trees and didn't get up to speed until 9:55 AM. On the left side there was a beautiful deep canyon and the wide Moisie River showed some good rapids. On the right we passed very tall waterfalls and dwarfed trees where the tundra effect could be seen. The three security personnel were First Nations people - two females and a male while the two engineers were French/ English speaking Caucasians from Sept- Iles. We passed six freight trains all with a one man crew - probably one of the only railways to function like this. Along the way our train had a mandatory 45 minute crew stop where they entered a building and had a meal. The engineers are allowed to work maximum of 16 hours per day on this railway.

The ride was one of the smoothest roadbeds we've ever experienced even at the maximum 50 mph speed. During the long ride there were constant rivers, large lakes and trees of all sizes which measured up to a beautiful ride. There were three flag stops to let fishermen off. The three times we pulled over to let 210 car ore trains pass, we backed out of the sidings to the main line. At the Ross Lake Junction we dropped off some passengers who boarded a bus to go into Labrador City. This is where the four mines are located and the numerous ore trains originate here everyday of the year.

There are some vending machines on board for food and it's better to bring your own for lunch and dinner. Outside of the former mining town of Schefferville we found patches of snow still on the ground and finally arrived at the end of steel about 10:00 PM. The B & B picked us up and took us to the Bla Bla Restaurant for a quick chicken sandwich dinner prior to bedtime. The town has approx. 2,000 people - 95% First Nations (two bands (tribes) - Montagnais, French speaking and 50% Naskapi, English speaking).

When reviewing the train motto they got it correct with "scenic" and "unknown" and we didn't find the passengers "friendly". Maybe it was because we didn't speak French and the locals don't wish to make eye contact. The two engineers were exceedingly friendly and willing to answer ALL our questions. They said they saw two black bears during the journey.

What could be better for train travelers than a two day long ride through remote, pristine tundra area in the Northeast part of Canada? The Canadian Shield area above the 50 parallel is rugged and the highlight of all the water scenes is Tonkas Falls, like Niagara Falls, on the Nipissis River. The many large patches of bright yellow lichen made a nice contrast to the various shades of green bush and trees.

A long ride with beautiful scenery made this a five star adventure!


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