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railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada september septembre 2011

We're back at the crest of the headland that we saw a couple of hours ago, because although we did see this view back then, I promised you that I would tell you the story of the Tracel de Cap Rouge and it is here in 2011 that our story begins.

My first glimpse of the viaduct was from just here and you need to imagine that we haven't seen it before, because it's only by doing this that you can imagine just how impressed I was. It underlines the fact that it is so much more interesting about ambling around under your own steam in countries that you don't really know. You are taken by surprise by all kinds of things.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

Turning the clock forward to 2012 (if you want to know on which particular journey the photos were taken and you can't work it out from the trees, look in the top left-hand corner of the full-size image) I had a drive around looking for a much better view of the viaduct, and managed to find this spot right down at the end of a private road, the Plage St Laurent if I remember correctly.

No leaves in the way, of course, blocking the shot this time. There's a much better view.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada september septembre 2011

Of course a structure like this merits a much closer view. In 2011 I was in something of a rush and so I only spent 5 minutes here, but in 2012 I had set aside a good couple of hours for a proper exploration of the site.

You don't need me to tell you that the Cap Rouge Trestle Viaduct, or the Tracel de Cap Rouges is, for me at any rate, one of the most fabulous structures (as opposed to buildings) in the whole of Canada. A real monument to what I call "proper" Victorian engineering.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

I say "Victorian engineering" but I don't want to mislead you - they didn't start construction here until 1906 by which time Queen Victoria had been pushing up the daisies for five years.

Nevertheless, compare this viaduct with the magnificent Belah Viaduct that Sir Thomas Bouch built round about 50 years earlier and now sadly long-dismantled, and you'll see straight away the source from which the designers took their inspiration.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada september septembre 2011

It's said that Gustave Eiffel, he of the tower in Paris, had a hand in the design of the tracel although it's pretty much after the period during which he was active.

He did design a viaduct not too far from me and one day through the gloom of the miserable weather, I happened to be driving not too far away from it and so I managed to squeeze off a photo . I'll have to take a better one than that next time I'm at Lapeyrouse and the weather is better.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada september septembre 2011

No matter what, though, my first impressions after having a good look it is that it's being left in a shameful state of disrepair. It looks as if it hasn't been painted for 50 years. A good going-over with a wire brush followed by several gallons of Hammerite sloshed all over it is required as a matter of urgency.

Regular readers of this rubbish will have already become aware of the fact that my opinion of what passes for conservation in North America is somewhat incendiary to say the least, and that I'll be adding this viaduct to my little list of endangered species.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

But to show that I am anything but Euro-centric when it comes to this sort of thing, there is a very similar railway viaduct not 25 kilometres from where I live in France - the highest railway viaduct in the world when it was built and the second-highest in the world today - and what has happened to that viaduct is a national disgrace on the "Lancaster Bomber" scale.

But back to our story about the Tracel de Cap Rouge you can see from the photo just here that it was at least built quite solidly with a considerable amount of cross-bracing (which is more than can be said for Bouch's Tay Bridge - out of a total of 10,518 tons of ironwork used in the Tay Bridge, the bracing of the structure counted for a mere 413 tons )

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

Now look at that headland over there underneath the viaduct. I would quite happily give a quid to be able to make my way up there for a look around. There has to be a way to do that.

But before I left here during my 2013 visit, I had a major disappointment. It was a beautiful afternoon and so I was tempted to go for a little walk along the river. But as I was walking back to the car, I heard the horn of a diesel locomotive. That could only mean that there was a train approaching the viaduct and I wasn't not there to see it.

I can move quite quickly when I need to, but not quickly enough, unfortunately, because it beat me hands-down and was gone by the time that I made it back. GRRRRRR!

So back in the car, and while I'm going for a drive around to see if I can find the way up to the headland, let me tell you the story of the viaduct. And in the meantime you can turn your clock back to the end of the 19th Century - 1885 in fact, because that's when our story will begin.

But first, it was as early as 1851 that the Canadian Parliament passed an Act to build a railway
"throughout the entire length of the Province of Canada and from the eastern frontier thereof … to the city and port of Halifax" and after many vicissitudes, including one of the trains being badly-damaged by a charging elephant (and I bet that you are thinking that I am making this up) the final spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway's line from coast to coast was driven into place at Eagle Pass in British Columbia on 7th November 1885. The next day, the first train to travel from coast to coast rolled into Port Moody.

The immediate success of the line did not escape the eagle eye of Charles Hays, the president of the Grand Trunk railway. His company was engaged in several projects, including building a line from Windsor underneath the St Clair River to Detroit and Chicago, and also around the northern end of the Great Lakes. For an energetic man like himself, a leap across the prairie to the north of The CPR line, to open up that vast territory to settlement, and then across the Rockies to Prince Rupert was a mere bagatelle.

The plan of Hays was quite simple. In 1902 he he proudly announced that his company intended to build a line from North Bay, his terminal at the head of the Lakes, to Prince Rupert on the Pacific. This very cleverly impled that to travel east from North Bay, passengers and freight would then be routed via the existing network that Hays was operating, via Chicago and Detroit, with the possibility that they would then choose to travel to a port in the USA along the American railway network.

With the advantages of the shorter distance to travel by train, and the fact that most ports in the USA are ice-free all the year round, the Canadian Premier, Sir Wilfred Laurier, could sense the possibility of Canadian rail traffic melting away across the border and so he devised a plan, just as Hays thought that he would. In 1903 an Act was passed to the effect that the Canadian Government would finance the building of the part of the line from Winnipeg to Moncton and lease it to the Grand Trunk, at no cost for the first 7 years and subsequently at 3% of the construction costs per annum.

As you might expect, when the details of the agreement were announced, there was … errr … some controversy. Laurier's Minister of Railways resigned in protest and the opposition immediately made counter-proposals. Nevertheless, the agreement was authorised and the work of surveying the route began.

The Tracel de Cap Rouge was part of the new railway. It is 3,335 feet long (that's round about 1000 metres) and the trackbed is just over 170 feet above the river, although the structure of the viaduct is 145 feet tall at its highest. The material that went into building it weighs 4288 tonnes and the total cost was a mere $817,462 and 73 cents - so much for accountancy, hey?

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

Where there's a will there are relatives, so the old saying goes, but there is also a way. It was quite a drive to find the viaduct, and even when I did find the correct road and drive right along to the end, I still had something of a hike through the shrubbery and undergrowth.

Be that as it may, here I am up on the headland where the viaduct begins. What I need to do is to work out how I can find somewhere closer for a better view.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge st lawrence st laurent vieux cap rouge riviere canada avril april 2012

You will also remember the photo that I took of the Tracel du Cap Rouge from down on that private road that might have been the Plage St Laurent. That's what you can see down there. I was somewhere round about where the white house is.

The view of the confluence of the Cap Rouge River and the St Lawrence was also well-worth the effort of finding my way up here. I must admit that I'm quite lucky with the weather too. I'm glad it wasn't like yesterday morning when I was at Repentigny .

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

I'm afraid that this is the best I can do for the viaduct. The railway line is all fenced in.

Ordinarly, hopping over a fence for 30 seconds for a quick flash - and even for taking a photograph - is not something that would ordinarily bother me too much, but there are all kinds of signs around warning of the perils of trespassing on the railway - an offence so it seems, punishable by not just a fate worse than death, but even worse - a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

railway trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

Of course, I'm a foreigner, and from a different continent too, and so I don't want to push my luck as I couldn't be sure how the appropriate authorities - and you can bet your boots that they would arrive pretty pronto too given the proliferation of security cameras these days - would react to my presence. Official Government Paranoia has even reached somewhere like here.

Furthermore, knowing how easily the Canadian Government cravenly rolls over to its aggressive and paranoid neighbour across its southern border, I'd probably wake up in Guantanamo Bay or somewhere.

What we will do instead is to resume our story of the viaduct, because I haven't finished by a long chalk.

The first thing that you might be doing is to wonder why this viaduct was ever built. A study of any good and detailed topographical map shows that the railway could have been routed much further north, across the head of the valley, without the need for much in the way of major enginering work, but part of the agreement between Hays and the Government for the construction of the line was that nowhere was the gradient to be steeper than 0.6%, and there were to be no sharp curves.

It's a similar situation to the the Leeds-Settle-Carlisle line of the Midland Railway in the UK. Even the most interesting construction on that line is a viaduct as it happens.

So anyway, in 1906 the construction of the viaduct commenced. And it wasn't as easy as it ought to have been either, for a miscalculation had been made in the nature of the river bed - rather similar to the events surrounding the construction of the ill-fated first Tay Bridge. It became necessary to sink the foundations much deeper into the river and in the end caissons, kep dry by the pumping of compressed air into them, had to be used in order that those men digging out the footings could do so in comparative safety.

The completion of the viaduct had been promised for 1907 but all of the above meant that the line was not completed until 1913, or, if you believe the Michelin "Guide Vert de Québec Third Edition of 1999", 198312, which makes it the slowest construction project the world has ever known - something which tells us, if it tells us anything at all, that money spent on a good poof reader is seldom watsed.

But the rush to build the viaduct was completely in vain, and the delays in its completion counted for nothing. Trains travelling over the Tracel de Cap Rouge depended upon the big Pont de Québec for part of their journey, and this bridge was being built at the same time. However, 2 major construction disasters put back the completion of the Pont de Québec until 1917.

Probably the saddest part of the story was that Charles Hays never lived to see his dream come true. Having travelled to Europe on a fund-raising expedition, he booked his return journey to North America in April 1912 on the Titanic, and that was that.

Walking down alongside the railway line to the headland back there, I had noticed several piles of rubble, stones and bricks as if there had at one time been some important buildings there. Nevertheless, I didn't pay very much attention to them at the time.

It wasn't until later that I discovered that this headland had been the site of Ravenscliff, the famous mansion of George Moore Fairchild, author and patron of the arts. The property, known previously by a couple of other names, had always been the centre of some of the upper-crust social life but under the ownership of Fairchild, who had made his fortune in finance, all kinds of literary and artistic people came to stay at the property.

All that came to an end however in 1905 when the land was purchased for railway purposes. The embankment that leads up to the viaduct has been built squarely over the site of the house. The ruins that I had seen were formerly the stables and the track that I had been following may well have been the remains of the path that led down to the back of the house.

vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

By lunchtime the wind had dropped considerably, the day was bright and sunny and it really was a pleasure to be out. It certainly made me feel so much better and so I went for a walk in the park that was up here.

First thing that I came to was a bridge that went over a long depression here - the kind of depression that has "railway" written all over it.

There's a path down there as you can see and so I followed it for as far as I could but it simply petered out. Hardly surprising really, because we came to the cliff-edge and there was nowhere else for it to go.

railway line trestle bridge Tracel de Cap Rouge vieux cap rouge canada avril april 2012

Looking the other way and peering through the trees - wasn't it a good idea to come here in the early spring before all of the leaves grew on the trees - you can see the railway line in the distance heading off towards the viaduct.

You'll also notice that the depression seems to widen out just a little further along there, and so that gave me a clue as to what this depression is all about. I don't know the technical term for it but it's what is commonly known as a Y siding. A train will pull into here from one direction via one branch of the Y, reverse back out to the main line down the other branch, and then head off back in the direction from whence it came.

It's how you would turn a locomotive round when you have no turntable handy.

As I'm walking back to the car, I hear the horn of a diesel locomotive. That can only mean that there's a train approaching the viaduct and I'm not there to see it.

I can move quite quickly when I need to, but not quickly enough, unfortunately, because it beats me hands-down and is gone by the time that I make it back. GRRRRRR!

That was a depressing note on which to leave Cap Rouge, wasn't it? It had been quite a pleasant couple of hours all around here and I had really enjoyed my visit in 2012 but to miss the train in 2013 - what can I say?

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