Railroad disaster has roots
The former CP Farnham station, now the headquarters of the Quebec operation of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, is classified as a heritage building and is in a sorry state of repair.
“They crawl to a stop, I could almost jump in,” said a lady whose backyard on Saint-Joseph Street, in Magog, abuts the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways line, about the trains that take the curves there. On the other side, less than one hundred feet away, is the Memphremagog hospital. Actually, the closest part of the health complex to the railway is the one where the less mobile of residents are located: the CHSLD.
Last Sunday, we followed the routes that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways have in the region. That they are not up to speed or to any comprehensible standard is evident by looking at them with one’s eyes. But the proof in the pudding is the fact that the Orford Express, the tourist train that runs on these rails and is operated by the railway, Orford Express only owns the rolling stock, cannot go farther than Eastman at a maximum speed of 30 mph. A couple of years ago, La Tribune printed a famous picture of a railwayman leading by foot a MMAR train; an article in the same newspaper stating that the Orford Express was limited to 16 km/h for a while.
Yet, to a week. Seventyfive years ago, a British steam locomotive took the world record by reaching 125 miles an hour, downhill we might say. But then, in Canada at the same time, the so called Silk Trains were rushing with their million dollars worth of inventory at 75 mph.
The sorry state of railroading in America cannot be more exemplified than by the local rail company. It owns the line that crosses Magog but also the one from Coaticook to Newport, in Vermont, that one being the only other crossing into the USA that the railroad has. But diverting the traffic from the one that is now closed in LacMégantic and will be for the next couple of weeks, at least, for oil, is a rather far away option for MMAR.
Looking at the condition of the company’s Canadian headquarters in Farnham, one would be hard pressed to say that this is a heritage building on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. And the open yard may be marked with no trespassing signs but it is an open field available to all. Even on Sunday, with all the media attention the company was getting, no railroad police guarded the place. This reporter, having spent summers in Farnham in the 1950’s, could hardly believe what he witnessed.
But there is more to MMAR than operating barebone railroads; it is also involved in repairing locomotives in Derby, Maine. It is there that the locomotives from the Agence
Métropolitaine de Transports, from the greater Montreal region, were redone and leased by the parent company of MMAR, Rail World.
The Stanstead Journal also learned that while Canadian locomotive engineers cannot work in the USA, the reason why the crew changeover was done in Nantes, where the runaway train started its deadly run, the reverse is not true. Written requests to Transport Canada on this particular issue were answered in a media teleconference yesterday. Our other question, relating to the speed rating of the line between Farnham and Lennoxville, asked on Sunday, has remained unanswered as we went to press.
The only sign that the Farnham yard is now under the MMAR ownership, it is open to all to enter.
The track curving on a slope with the Magog hospital in the rear.