• In Search Of The Newfoundland Railway

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by B&M Minuteman
I’ve always been interested in narrow gauge railways and after several trip up to Maine to explore what’s left: a couple of tourist lines and lots of evidence of the old right-of-way, it was time to see what else is out there along the east coast.

“RailPace Magazine” had an interesting article last year on what remains of the Newfoundland Railway so I thought I would head out and see for myself.

A quick history: The railway was constructed beginning in the 1880's as a 42" narrow gauge system. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 CN took over the railway. Passenger trains were replaced by buses in 1969 but mixed trains lasted until 1988. The railway was just too expensive to operate and was shut-down in 1988. The last train operated in 1990 when the final rails were lifted. CN still operated the cross-island bus system until 1996 when they sold it to DRL Coaches.

Newfoundland is neither remote or hard to reach as several had led me to believe. Roads are excellent: I-95 to Bangor, Route 9 to the border then mostly 4-lane in Canada. The last 100 miles to the ferry and most of Newfoundland is wide, up-graded 2 lanes but there’s 4-lane divided near the cities. I set out from my home in Lowell just north of Boston at 7am and was across the Canadian border at St. Stephen, New Brunswick just after noon. Passing thru Saint John I got a glance at the New Brunswick Southern Rwy which is part of the former CPR line that ran across Maine. Then it was on to Moncton for a look at VIA’s w/b Ocean. I was a bit early so I continued on and intercepted it near Amherst, Nova Scotia: A set of the new “Renaissance” cars led by 2 F40s doing 80+mph. A nice looking train in the new green scheme (that would have better matched the GE P42s used in the corridor).

Crossing from Nova Scotia to Cape Breton Island (and not far from Amtrak President David Gunn’s home) the Trans Canada Highway and Rail America’s CB&CNS Rwy share the mile long Canso Causeway. I timed it well and was able to get some good shots of a freight crossing over to the mainland: 3 SD-40s in HELM leasing paint.

I arrived in North Sydney, NS at 9:30 pm in plenty of time for the 11:30pm sailing of Marine Atlantic’s “Caribou”. A huge ferry that carries 1200 passengers, 370 cars or 75 eighteen-wheelers. Besides first-class cabins there’s also upper and lower berths reminiscent of the old Pullman style accommodations. No curtains but they give you a pillow and blanket. I just used my sleeping bag. It’s only an extra $15 and a great place to crash for the 6 hours, 90 mile crossing. Or you can just sit up all night in “coach class”.


Out on deck for sunrise at 5am when Newfoundland came into view and it was easy to see why it’s called “The Rock”. We docked in Port aux Basque (pronounced: ‘Port oh Bask’) at 6. I spent some time looking around the terminal area: Some of the old trackage is still visible at the dock. There was a duel gauge yard here. CN and later Marine Atlantic operated the railcar ferries to Newfoundland. Boxcars would arrive from the mainland and then have their standard gauge wheels changed out for narrow-gauge ones. The 1960's era 2 story CN Station has been greatly expanded and modernized and now serves as the Ferry Terminal. There is a display of narrow gauge equipment (loco and cars) and replica station just east of town.

Leaving Port aux Basque on the Trans Canada Highway you get an idea of just how big Newfoundland is: “ST. JOHN’S 905 KM”. The railway milage was 548 miles and nearly the entire abandoned right-of-way is now preserved as the “Newfoundland T’Railway” hiking trail. I stopped at several places along the highway that are easily accessible to the trail and hiked short distances. Nearly all the bridges and trestles were left in place with many having been decked over for hiking.


An hour east of Port aux Basque is Stephenville, a former US Air Force Base. It was interesting driving around the town: most streets are named for US States! (I had to get a couple of photos along Massachusetts Drive!) The USAF operated their own narrow gauge railway to serve the base that connected with the Newfoundland Railway at Stephenville Crossing. It was easy to follow the old roadbed to some hangers that are still used in an industrial park.

Then it was on to Corner Brook to an excellent display of preserved equipment, photos and maps at the “Railway Society Of Newfoundland”: stream locomotive and several pieces of passenger equipment: a coach, diner and sleeper you can walk thru with the interiors set up as if they were still in service. The diner has a nice display of china and silverware. There’s also an NF-210 diesel (resembles a GP9) which is still operable and started up occasionally but there’s not enough track left to run it on.

After walking thru the cars you certainly wish you could go back to the late ‘60 and take a ride across the island. CN operated a full-service passenger train until 1969. A sample consist would have been: 2 NF-210's, Steam Generator Car, Baggage Car, Diner Lounge, 4 or 5 Coaches, another Diner then 4 or 5 Sleepers. Cars were scaled down versions of mainland stock: some smooth-side/rounded roof and some heavyweight: Coaches sat 50 and were 64' long vs. 85' on the mainland. Diners sat 24 vs. 48 and Sleepers had 8 Sections and 1 Drawing Room vs. 12 & 1 on the mainland. There were no all-room sleepers. The cars are painted in the CN’s black & white scheme from the ‘60s but instead of the CN noodle, the Newfoundland Railway logo is used. The train was officially called the “Caribou” but nick-named “The Newfie Bullet” for it’s speed: 548 miles in 27 hours!

Near Deer Lake the highway and railway split. CN operated a passenger train over this section of line until the end in1988 as it was isolated from the highway which makes a wide loop north then east. The abandoned right of way heads straight across the high central plateau, climbing nearly 1000'. According to the locals the scenery is beautiful, wild and barren with lots of moose and caribou. Too bad they didn’t have the foresight 15 years ago to retain this 60 mile section as a tourist railroad. Now the only way in is hiking the T’Railway or on an ATV.

Bishop’s Falls, once a division point, also has a display of equipment. Here I walked across the 1000' trestle over the Exploits River.

I spent the night in Gander. It has a large International Airport that was once a stopover for most pre jet-age flights between Europe and North America and still sees a lot of aircraft in to refuel before heading out across the pond. There’s an interesting Aviation Museum with a “9-11 Memorial”. Seams that when US airspace was closed on that day: 40 inbound transatlantic wide-bodies were diverted to Gander with over 7000 passengers aboard. They were put up by the local folks in homes, schools and churches for several days until their flights to the US could resume.

Across the Province, most of the larger town have a museum(usually a restored station) a locomotive or car on display. Some displays are a bit rundown but most of the railroad heritage has been well preserved.

And you can still ride the Newfoundland Railway: A section of track remains at Trinity loop where the line circles and crosses over itself. There’s a RR museum and rides are offered. I didn’t have time to take this in but will save it for another trip. There’s also about a mile of track remaining at Avondale where they offer rides on trolleys. The 1880 station is fully restored: Beautiful! And there’s several passenger cars set up as a restaurant.

St. John’s, the capital, population 200,000 has equipment and locomotives on display at several locations around the city. There’s also the new “Railway & Coastal Boat Museum” in the restored 1903 passenger station. Lots of displays and photos. One of the station’s covered platforms has been enclosed with several old passenger cars placed along it’s length. Walking down the platform you can look into the cars and see how the interiors would have appeared in the 1940's. Another interesting aspect of the museum is the Coastal Boats which were also operated by the railway. They provided passenger and freight service to the communities along the coast that didn’t have railway or highway access. The T’Railway also ends at the museum.


During the summer there is no need to drive all the way back across the island to Port aux Basque to catch the ferry home. Marine Atlantic operates another ferry from Argentia. A former US Navy Base about 90 miles from St John’s. This ferry, the “J & C Smallwood” was nearly identical to the “Caribou” I took over but this was a 14 hour daytime crossing that got me back to North Sydney, Nova Scotia at 10pm. An interesting feature of this run is you pass within a few miles and can see the French islands of St. Pierre-Miquelon. They are part of France, not Canada.

I could have driven home from North Sydney in about 13 hours but I wanted to sample another of the former CN ferry operations. This one between Yarmouth, NS and Bar Harbor, Maine, now operated by Bay Ferries with the High Speed “Cat” So I caught a couple of hours sleep in the car then it was off to Yarmouth at the southern tip of Nova Scotia to catch the afternoon crossing. And what a ride! 240 cars and 900 passengers flying across the Gulf Of Maine at 55mph in 2 3\4 hours. The old CN Ferry took over 6 hours. Arriving in Bar Harbor, I was only a little over 4 hours from home.


I’m going back! I picked up some info. on renting an ATV that will allow me to explore the line up over the high central plateau between Deer Lake and Badger and there’s also the rides at Trinity Loop and Avondale I want to take.
  by Gilbert B Norman
While not really in "the one that got away" i.e. a line I could have reasonably expected to ride such the Seaford, DE Wilmington PRR service while I was stationed at Dover AFB, category I do recall circa 1965, at the zenith of the CN passenger service initiative, "mapping out' a trip that would have included the "Newfie Bullet'.
  by Guest
Thanks for your informative trip report through Newfoundland. While I did not get the chance to ride the narrow gauge railroad prior to its demise, I did visit in 1999, and as this report indicates, there still is much to see to give one an idea of what it was like when the railroad still ran.

I'd encourage anyone to visit Newfoundland not only for this reason, but also for the incredible scenery, and the people. I'm from Montana, but Newfoundland is the only other place where, after I left, I actually felt homesick. Everyone there is just so friendly.

And don't forget, one can still ride trains in Newfoundland. Granted, they're not the narrow-gauge variety, but the Quebec North Shore and Labrador between Labrador City, Schefferville, and Seven Islands (Quebec) is highly scenic, with equipment that varies (depending on the day you ride) from RDCs to a dome car.
  by ftmprob
If I recall correctly the Pine Creek Railway in NJ, Allaire State Park, has a Newfoundland Railway passenger car. It has double glass windows presumably because of Harsh Winters. The park and railway are of Interstate I-195 in Monmouth County. http://www.njmt.org/ is the link to the NJ Museum of Transportation.

  by Rich T
In 1978 I was fortunate to spend a week riding the Carbonear Mixed and the Super Mixed, plus photographing what we had time for. Most of the narrow gauge freight cars were out of service but several box cars remained as rules required a low car ahead of the caboose. One one occasion a 50' mechanical reefer from the mainland was on a westbound out of St Johns. Several steel passenger cars from the Newfie Bullet survived and had been converted to mixed train service.
There were at last two diners in work train service and even though they were pained solid red the tables were still set as if for passenger service.

I was in Newfoundland last weekend and yes, there’s lots remaining of the old railway. Here’s a link to some pictures I took:

http://www.villagephotos.com/pubbrowse. ... id=1442804

Photos #1 & #2 show the Ferry dock and old standard gauge yard at Port aux Basque. Truck trailers are now parked in the yard but you can see where the tracks have been paved over. Photo #3 is the old CN shop where mainland (standard gauge) cars had there wheels changed out for narrow gauge ones and left the other end of the shops on 3'-6" tracks.

Photos #4 & #5 show a display of preserved equipment at Port aux Basque. Engine 934 was never lettered “Newfoundland Railway” but wore a similar CNR green paint scheme when it first entered service in the 1950's. (CN had already taken over the railway when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949)

Photos #6, #7 & #8 show some of the equipment on display in Corner Brook (some of the old station platform is still visible in #7) Again a play on paint schemes: the cars are in the modern CN scheme they wore at the end of the passenger service, but have a “NFLD Rwy” logo instead of the CN logo they actually wore. (And they were never hauled by steam in this paint scheme) The car interiors are nicely restored!

Photo #9 is the former CN engine terminal in Corner Brook.
  by gravelyfan
ftmprob wrote:If I recall correctly the Pine Creek Railway in NJ, Allaire State Park, has a Newfoundland Railway passenger car. It has double glass windows presumably because of Harsh Winters. The park and railway are of Interstate I-195 in Monmouth County. http://www.njmt.org/ is the link to the NJ Museum of Transportation.
There are two at the Pine Creek, one is operable, the other is a "future project". The Pine Creek/NJ Musuem of Transportation is 3-foot gauge, so these cars have been modified to operate on this gauge.

As I recall, prior to coming to New Jersey these cars were at the Carroll Park & Western tourist operation in central Pennsylvania.
  by Railroader1948
For those railway buffs who were not fortunate enough to ride the Newfie Bullet in Newfoundland Canada, you can do the next best thing....get a copy of my "Next Stop" books (4) and "The Newfie Bullet".
You can contact me at

[email protected]

Mont Lingard
  by Railroader1948
For those railway buffs who were not fortunate enough to ride the Newfie Bullet in Newfoundland Canada, you can do the next best thing....get a copy of my "Next Stop" books (4) and "The Newfie Bullet".
You can contact me at

[email protected]

Mont Lingard