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The railways of Labrador and Quebec North Shore are not physically connected to the remainder of the Canadian network.
The present day railways of the area were opened in the latter half of the 20th century to serve the mining industry. Minerals, predominantly iron ore, were conveyed from the mines by rail to the coast for shipping. With one exception mentioned below, passenger services are confined to special trains for mining company workers.
Few of the railways have websites of their own. The links below may give some related information.
The first mineral railway in Quebec North Shore, the CFRR was opened in 1950 by Quebec Iron and Titanium for the transport of ilmenite (iron and titanium ore) from the Tio Mine to Havre Saint Pierre, a distance of 43km. The entire operation is now owned by Rio Tinto Fer et Titane.
The most ambitious of the projects, QNSL was opened in 1954 by the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC) for the transport of iron ore from Schefferville, Labrador to the port of Sept Îles, a distance of 573km. In 1958, a 58km branch was added from Emeril Junction (also called Ross Bay Junction) to the iron ore deposits of the Wabush area around Labrador City; the distance from Labrador City to Sept Îles is 414km.
By 1982 the Schefferville deposit was worked out. The IOC workforce was transferred to Labrador City, and iron ore traffic ceased on the line from Emeril Junction to Schefferville. The line did not close entirely, however: see Tshiuetin Rail Transport.
The line from the Labrador City area to Sept Îles remains open for iron ore traffic. IOC also operates the Carol Lake Railway, a fully automated, driverless, electric railway about 13km in length, between the main extraction site and the crusher plant.
Soon after IOC started operations in the Wabush area near Labrador City, Wabush Mines opened its own workings in the same area. In 1963, they opened the Wabush Railway, a short railway to connect the mine workings with the QNSL Railway. By an agreement with the IOC, the QNSL would carry Wabush Mines ore to the port of Sept Îles.
In 1965, Wabush Mines opened their own port at Pointe Noire, a little to the west of Sept Îles. A new short railway, the Arnaud Railway, (CFA) was built to connect the QNSL at Arnaud (a few km north of Sept Îles) with the new port.
Wabush Mines was intially a joint venture of US Steel Canada, Dofasco (later a subsidiary of Arcelor Mitta1) and Cleveland-Cliffs; from 2010 Cliffs Natural Resources (successor to Cleveland-Cliffs) became owners of the whole enterprise.
In 2010, Consolidated Thompson opened the Bloom Lake Railway to serve their Bloom Lake Mine, on the border of Quebec not far from ArcelorMittal’s operation at Mont Wright. The railway consisted of a new 30km section and the greater part of the Wabush Railway, carrying ore from the mine to the QNSL, for onward transport to the Arnaud Railway and Pointe Noire. In 2011, the mine and railway became part of Cliffs Natural Resources.
Western Labrador Rail Services (WLRS) was appointed operator of the Bloom Lake, Wabush and Arnaud Railways and also provided motive power for the trains over the QNSL.
In 2014, Wabush Mines, Bloom Lake Mine and Labrador Iron Mines all ceased operations, along with their associated railways.
In 2016, Quebec Iron ore purchased and reopened the Bloom Lake Mine. The rail connection to the QNSL at Labrador City, now just 19km in extent, is operated by WLRS. The Arnaud Railway is now operated by SFP Pointe‑Noire.
In 1960, the Quebec Cartier Mining Company opened the Cartier Railway (CFC) from the company's iron ore workings at Gagnon (near Lake Jeannine) to Port Cartier. In 1977, the line was extended to new workings at Mont Wright, near the border of Labrador, 420km from Port Cartier. Soon afterwards, the workings at Gagnon were closed. In 2008, the mines became part of ArcelorMittal. The railway is now operated by ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada.
When iron ore extraction ceased at Schefferville in 1982, the railway had already become an important lifeline for local communities. The Canadian government therefore paid IOC a subsidy to continue operation of passenger and freight services between Emeril Junction and Schefferville. This arrangement continued until 2005 when the line was sold for a nominal sum to a new company, Tshiuetin Rail Transportation.
TRT operates freight and passenger trains between Sept Îles and Schefferville, using the QNSL line between Sept Îles and Emeril Junction. The freight consists of fuel and general supplies for the remote communities. The trains also carry road vehicles; the communities are connected by road to Schefferville, but there is no highway connecting the area with the rest of the country.
In 2021, funding was approved for modernization and improvements, which will include a 15km extension from Sept Îles to a new station at Maliotenam.
In 2012, Tata Steel Minerals Canada started work on a new DSO extraction project to the northwest of Schefferville, with an ore processing facility near Timmins. A new 21 km railway opened in 2014 to connect the processing facility with Tshiuetin Rail Transportation (TRT) at Schefferville, from where ore is transported to Sept Îles. The line is operated by the Knob Lake and Timmins Railway.
In the 1930s, Quebec North Shore Paper Company established a large mill at Baie Comeau. A private railway connected the mill to the harbour. In the 1950s, thanks to the availability of abundant hydro-electric energy, an aluminium smelter was established nearby. The railway was extended to serve the smelter.
In the 1970s, a train ferry service opened between Baie Comeau and Matane on the South bank of the St Lawrence River. This ferry simplified transport of paper products from the mill, eliminating transhipment to and from rail at the ports.
In 2008, the railway was extended westwards to a transhipment hub in the Jean-Noël-Tessier Industrial Park to meet the growing needs of local industries. With the decline of paper traffic, the ferry now carries general merchandise and also serves Sept Îles.
The companies involved are:
Photo image by William Davies from Wikimedia Commons