All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Newfoundland Railway

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The Branch Lines

The Newfoundland Railway Company began construction on the Harbour Grace branch line in 1883, but the company defaulted before the main line to Harbour Grace Junction (now Whitbourne) could be completed. However, the bondholders who had invested in the company continued construction on the lines. The branch was completed in November 1884 and turned a modest operating profit before being bought by the government in 1896. The Harbour Grace line originally went from Whitbourne to Broad Cove Junction at the bottom of Trinity Bay and then across the barrens to Tilton and Conception Bay. The 13 miles of track between Broad Cove Junction and Tilton, known as the Tilton branch, were taken up in 1915-16.

From 1915-1930 there were five branches in operation on the Avalon and Bonavista peninsulas, connecting isolated population centres and linking them with the coastal boat service. While branch operation was curtailed during the Great Depression, the Placentia, Carbonear, and Bonavista branches continued until the 1980s. Other lines in central Newfoundland, public and private, helped open up the interior.

In 1897, with the completion of the main line, R.G. Reid was contracted to build three small branches in the interior. The Lewisporte branch ran 70 miles north from Notre Dame Junction, to connect with the coastal boat service in Notre Dame Bay and provide central Newfoundland with a port. From 1936 this branch was a vital strategic link in the construction and supply of the Gander air base. It closed in 1984.

In 1900, in order to encourage a major sawmill, the government hired Reid to build a 19-mile line from Red Indian Lake to the main line. In 1910 the Millertown railway was sold to the Anglo-Newfoundland Development (A.N.D.) Company, operators of the new pulp and paper mill in Grand Falls. The Company built a 19-mile extension to Lake Ambrose, the Harpoon Logging Railway. Used primarily to carry pulpwood, the two lines were dismantled in 1957. The A.N.D. Co. Railway also included a line from Grand Falls to the port of Botwood (sold to a private operator in 1957). Other private railways at the turn of the 20th century included the 7-mile Workington Railway, from the mine of the same name near Lower Island Cove to Old Perlican (1898-1901), and a 6-mile 24 inch gauge cable railway at Bell Island mines.

Crowd of people posing in front of the Placentia Station, c. 1920.
Placentia Station, c. 1920. 08.01.005 Coll-137, Archives and Manuscripts, QEII, Memorial University.
Tracks in Bonavista, post 1911.
Bonavista post 1911. 12.03.003 Coll-137, Archives and Manuscripts, QEII, Memorial University.