BC Northern Rail (BCN) is a proto-freelanced model-railroad, whose fictional company is based in Stewart, BC.
All the information presented here is a work of fiction and does not necessarily represent endorsement, requirements or involvement of any of the first nation communities in the area, the governments of British Columbia, Canada, Alaska or the United States of America, nor any commercial business referred to in this work. The BCN board (me) has made significant effort, to create a plausible background for a realistic but freelanced model-railroad, while integrating it into the existing infrastructure, but the whole project is what it is: fictional.
The time or era is the the „recent“ modern era – anytime during the last two decades or so (which is the timeframe I started my family, built my home and whatched my kids growing up) – and the railway in planned to be evolving, so in a decade the rolling stock will also have changed to more recent models.
It’s also summer all year long, as the area around Prince Rupert, BC is famous for it’s bautiful rainbows and there are probably more than enough overcast or rainy days. So summer – for a change – makes me modeling something rare 😉
My freelanced model railroad is set to keep up with motive power, rolling stock and techology in general. This is meant to be seen on signs and shops, cars and trains, ships and aircraft, freight and details. At least that’s the plan. However I am a huge fan of CN’s and BC Rails unique locomotives, like the Draper Taper Cowl Units (or barns) and the rebuild GP9rm locos, so these will likely stay around forever, even though these are gone from the real railways nowadays. Hey, it’s my railroad, it’s my plan, it might change as I might change. But on top of all it’s meant to be fun. Have fun!
BC Northern Rail – Overview
The BC Northern (BCN) or more formally the British Columbia Northern Railway (BCNR) is a Class II regional railroad according to north american standards or a Provicial Railway by Canadian standards.
The Total track mileage excluding yards and sidings is about 730 km, or just over 455 miles. The Railway is organised into two divisions and one subdivision, which are operated independently at times.
However all operations are centered in Stewart, BC. There are offices at Kitwanga, Dease Lake and each barge dock, which also act as freight brokerage and offer employee accommodations.
Also operations of BCN subsidies BC Northern Marine (barge services and offshore supply), BC Northern Air (air service and platform supply) and BC Northern Express (trucking and express freight) are combined in these offices. There are other support companies like BC Northern Construction which are separate ventures but do most of their business with BC Northern Rail.
The company in its current form is rather young, utilizing modern technology and integrated computerized scheduling to operate at peak performance at all times. The reality however is somewhat less ideal, so its most valuable attribute is it’s operation flexibility. Except for the subsidized Passenger service (which follows its own rules) all operations are tailored for efficiency and flexibility. There is good planing and interactive communication to the customer base to ensure a satisfactory, safe and profitable service. Employees enjoy extensive health-care protection and pension-investment. The management is lean and ready to get their hands dirty, if a helping hand is needed.
BCN Skeena Division (229.5 km)
The Skeena Division connects Stewart with Kitwanga, BC on the Skeena River, following the plans of the Stewart World Port and their projected Canada Stewart Port Railway (also called Canadian Stewart Railway on the same page). In Kitwanga there is an interchange with the Canadian National Railway (CN, CNR). On this route freight is transported daily to and from Stewart World Port. A few ventures along the route are also served. Typically, mixed freight trains operate here.
An old Budd passenger railcar runs the route twice a week, connecting with VIA-Rail’s Jasper – Prince Rupert train (formerly The Skeena, occasionally referred to as the Rupert Rocket), to collect a small subsidy for the route. This portion of the route network is referred to as the Skeena Division.
The Skeena Division has two junctions: Cranberry Junction between Kitwanga and Meziadin Lake forms the starting point of the Nass River Subdivision, and Meziadin Junction at Meziadin Lake forms the starting point of the Northern Division. There, Glacier Highway 37b branches off from Canada Highway 37 (the Stewart Cassiar Highway or Dease Lake Highway), the name of this location originates not from the railway jungtion, but the road junction.
Nass River Subdivision (104.3 km)
The Nass River Sub follows the lower reaches of the Nass River to Laxgalts’ap (formerly Greenville), a First Nation settlement of the Nisgaa Tribe.
Laxgalts’ap is home to one of three jetties operated by BC Northern Marine, an affiliate of BC Northern Railway. General cargo, containers, supplies, vehicles and rail cars are exchanged from here with Stewart and Prince Rupert. Laxgalts’ap is also a major lumber transfer point for the BC Northern Railway. The dock is located directly on the waterfront of the lumber transfer yard and is served twice weekly by BC Northern Marine, as well as unscheduled calls by BC Northern Marine utilities. The BCN tracks run in the asphalt of Laxgalts’ap Main Street. A mixed freight train serves the town twice a week.
Alice Arm Branch (42.2 km)
Midway just north of Dragon Lake, the Alice Arm Branch branches off the Nass River Sub. It serves the landing at Alice Arm and the Thunder Ridge Molybdenum & Silver Mine further west – at the approximate location is the Avanti Kitsault Mine (as an open pit claim).
In Alice Arm an industrial settlement (now abandoned in reality) is the BC Northern Marine jetties and to the west are the Granby Gold Mine and Esperanza Mine claims, and further north the Dolly Varden Mine, which has its ore trucked to the Alice Arm dock. None of the four mines produce enough ore by themselves to justify a rail line, but combined with lumber exports and fishing, as well as the shipping of freight cars over the BC Northern Marine railroad spurs, the branch line successfully scrapes past closure year after year.
BC Northern Rail serves Alice Arm twice weekly from Kitwanga, with the mixed freight train split at Nass River Junction. One train section serves Alice Arm, the other – usually longer train section – serves Laxgalts’ap. BC Northern Marine ships general cargo, containers, supplies and rail cars from the Alice Arm dock to Laxgalts’ap and Prince Rupert once a week.
Thunder Ridge Spur (7.0 km)
The 7 km mine spur branches off a wye at KM38.5, runs along the outskirts of Kitsault and into the mountains towards the mine’s tipple. There have been numerous discussions about an extension to the kitsault boat dock, but since there is the BCN barge dock at Alice Arm, the idea has been dismissed so far. There is no siding at the wye, so run-around moves have to be made at either the barge dock in Alice Arm or under the mine tipple.
BCN Northern Division (347.0 km)
The Northern Division begins at Meziadin Junction at KM160 of the Skeena Division and is by far the most recent addition to the network, whose financing was achieved through a number of crowd funding events. None of these events reached enough funds to actually construct and build the route, not even when combined, but it raised enoug interest to demonstrate a demand for the route, which was then partially founded by the crown, as well as the province. The tracks remain property of the crown, while BCNs investment is calculated against a 50 year lease with service reviews at least every 5 years.
The track runs parallel to Highway 37 for the most part
Three times a week, a mixed freight train runs the entire route up to Dease Lake and back. When this occurs, the train is formed at Meziadin Junction and merged with trains from Kitwanga and Stewart. Occasionally freight is also hauled, entering Meziadin Junction via the Nass River Subdivision. North of Dease Lake, the Yukon Territory begins and the Dease Lake Higway joins the Alaska Highway at Junction 37.
There are two significant stops along the way to Dease Lake at Bell II Lodge and Iskut. Along the route are several logging operations at Kinaskan and Tatogga that provide ample freight traffic throughout most of the year.
Prime comodities are forest products, supplies and machinery.
Extension to the North
There are plans to extend the Northern Division further into the Yukon Territory in the future to interchange with the A2A-Railway (Alaska to Alberta Railway) near Watson Lake, once it is constructed and ready for business in 2025 or later (if ever). This Extension would run parallel to BC Highway 37 up to Junction 37 for another 244.7 km, with the last 25 km inside the Yukon Territory running parallel to Alaska Highway 1. In recent years there have been issues regarding financing of the A2A project (again) which might deem the project fruitless. However, the dream to connect Alaska to the North American railraod network is old and has been revived numerous times in the pass, so that it would eventually become reality.
History of the Railway
The BC Northern started as a trucking company BC Northern Express based in Prince George in 1967, providing long distance and special cargo transportation throughout the country and up to Alaska.
This was followed by marine activities, in agurated as BC Northern Marine, based in Stewart BC in 1986, at times providing barge services between Seattle, Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Stewart, various smaller communities and Alaska. Competition in the barge business is strong, so the route from Seattle to Alaska is provided by Alaska Marine Lines these days and from Prince Rupert to Alaska by the CN AquaTrain barge service. BC Northern Marine now operates barges semi sheduled between Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Stewart, Alice Arm and Laxgalts’ap with a fleet of tugs and three large rail-barges available. The barges have been build learning from the (patented) schematics of the Alaska Marine Lines barges for compatibility and interchangability, however employing a different concept adapted to the smaller barges in use. A fleet of bulk cargo barges, transporting forest products or construction material is also maintained.
The fleet is completed with three offshore anchor handling supply tugs of various age, which are used for long distance barge operations as well as platform supply and relocation duties.
Around the same time BC Northern Air was founded to provide crew transportation and supply services by helicopter with various offshore platforms. Further more traditional bush flying operations transport people and supplies with venerable DHC-3 Otter and DHC-6 Twin Otter, aircraft along with mail and medical support to various communities throughout northern BC. All aircraft are equipped with tundra tires and skis, with two of ach being amphibious.
BC Northern became a supporter and financier of the Stewart World Port and the British Columbia Northern Railway (BC Northern Rail) was finally inaugurated with the Stewart Port Trunk Railway track being constructed and opened in June 2012.
Struggling for business during the first years, the company operated vintage locomotives barely fulfilling environmental standards, until sufficient funds were available to slowly modernize the fleet. The old engines have been kept in yard and barge service (two recent EMD SD20 rebuilds switch Laxgalts’ap barge dock, a GE U28C and an ALCO RSD 4/5 are in storage, both sporting in the old yellow and blue color scheme, and are occasinally used as MOW power). Most other old-timers have been upgraded to more current standards (the BCN internal „u“ designation means „upgraded“). A few of these remain in road service (three former CN GP9RM in CN livery with BCN sub-lettering and one GP9M in BCN blue livery can be often seen on the Nass River Sub).
The fleet of EMD SD40 and SD45 variants have all been upgraded to SD40-3(WU) standard, retaining their original frames, trucks, most of the hood and fuel tanks but equipped with new cabs, electronics, traction motors, prime movers and cooling. Some of the prime movers are refurbished units obtained from other railroads. All 45 series engines have been downrated to 3000hp and were numbered accordingly (BCN 3000-3099) with differend „source“ engines grouped inside this range. They are all internally listed as SD40-3WU, but more on that at a later time. All will receive the BCN blue colour scheme.
The GE C40-8W/M were upgraded to Dash8.5-40CW or CM equivalent in 2021. And finally two C44-9W, obtained from CN, are scheduled for upgrades to GE AC44C6M by Wabtec over the next three years. Both wear their original CN colour scheme with BCN sublettering and roadnumbers. The single SD70i on the roster will then be upgraded to SD70ACe standard. As of today, BC Northern Rail doesn’t own any factory-new ordered motive power. All will eventually receive the BCN blue colour scheme
As mentioned above, BC Northern Marine operates barges semi sheduled between along Britisch Columbias coast with a fleet of tugs and three medium sized rail-barges. The barges have been build for compatibility and interchangability, using a container rack concept especially designed for the smaller BCN barges. All container racks are rfemovable, making the barges versatile for the ever changing business requirements of the coastal communites. A small fleet of bulk cargo barges, transporting grain, coal, ore, breakbulk, containers or construction material is also maintained.
Rail cars only make up for about 30% of the rail barges total revenue, so the decks can often be found occupied by the ever increasing amount of containerized cargo shipped nowadays. And somtimes special loads make for interesting business opportunities, like pipeline elements, wind turbines (on- and offshore), manufactured homes and much more.
BC Northern Marine offers a saisonal supply service to many small communities along the coast with shipping suspended only occasional in winter during periods where ice prevents access to these communities.
All barges can be equopped to the occasion. Communities without a dock can be served by lowering mobile ramps onto a local boat slip or using a lift truck and crawler crane with various attachments aboard to unload or load the cargo.