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The Railway In Clarenville 1891 To 1988

The completion of the railway in 1891 was of great importance to the town. It became the only means of transportation into the town other than by boat and the Canadian National Railway was the major employer in the area. It created many jobs while it was being constructed and later in its operation ( 28 permanent jobs ) and contributed greatly to the growth of the town. Clarenville's station was one of great importance. 

Along with being the main terminal for the Bonavista branch line, the train engines were cleaned, refueled, and the crews changed shifts here. By the 1980's with the popularity of transport trucks to ship goods, the railway was no longer feasible and was finally removed in 1988


Detail of the Railway in Clarenville
By Mike Stacey

Planning the Newfoundland Railway:
Railway developers were reluctant to include Clarenville along the proposed mainline route. The developers recommended bypassing Clarenville and its hills on its way heading west. The people of Clarenville, though, were very much against this. In the end though, despite the hills (including the island's second highest slope along the mainline), Clarenville won out and would get the railway to pass through. Perhaps not only the strong support from the people, but the importance of Clarenville, as a port and service area, led to the railway arriving in Clarenville.

Mainline Mileage (Local Area)
126.1 – 65th Siding
130.9 – Location of Collision involving Train and Car.
130.7 – Location of a derailment.
131.6 – Clarenville Station
132.8 – Shoal Harbour (Bonavista Branch Junction)
135.8 – Shoal Harbour Sand Pit (Rioux)
136.5 – Stanley Siding - ? Cars

Bonavista Branch Mileage (Local Area)
0.75 – Church Siding – 2 Cars
1.85 – Mills Siding (Cooperage) – 6 Cars
4.00 – Trinity Bricks Products Brickyard
5.50 – George's Brook

Facts and Figures
- The Bonavista Branch proved to be the most useful of all Newfoundland Branch lines.
- Rioux (Shoal Harbour Sand Pit) possibly named after Ferndinand Rioux, Robert Reid's superintendent, born in Quebec in 1867. He came to the Newfoundland Railway in 1898.
- A ferry train was setup between Gander and Clarenville to transport automobiles before a road was constructed between the towns. It was later shortened to Gambo to Clarenville, as road construction progressed.
- The railway was also tied to the coastal ships in Newfoundland. The Ethie was one of the ships that would use Clarenville as one of its ports.


1881 – The railway in Newfoundland officially begins in St. John's

1889 – General proposed route between Clarenville and Hall's Bay is defined.

1891 – Road bed construction reaches Clarenville

May 24, 1892 – William Duff Reid and Manager Noble take members of the Legislative Council and Members of the House of Assembly on a special train to the end of the line, at Lower Shoal Harbour River from St. John's. The trip took about six hours.

Summer 1893 – Robert Reid builds a 40 mile access road from Shoal Harbour to Trinity.

1898 – The railway begins operating through Clarenville. Clarenville becomes one of four division points. The St. John's Division would run from St. John's to Clarenville, the Clarenville Subdivision would run from Clarenville to Bishop's Falls, the Bishop's Falls Subdivision would run from Bishop's Falls to Corner Brook, and the Corner Brook Subdivision would run from Corner Brook to Port-aux-Basques.

November, 1909 – Construction begins on the Bonavista Branch.

March 22nd, 1910 – Legislation is officially passed to extend the railway by way of branch lines.

November 8th, 1911 – The Bonavista Branch is opened, with its junction from the mainline established near the mouth of the Shoal Harbour River. To mark the opening, a special train with a large party including Governor Ralph Williams, Premier Sir Edward Morris, W.D. Reid and a seven-member bagpipe band travels the branch line to Bonavista. Around that time (before or after) the Shoal Harbour Station was constructed.

1937 – The Colas Company Asphalt plant is established in Clarenville.

Photo Source: Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll - 239, Photos 12, 13, 23), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland.

1937 – Gord Tavernor starts his railway career, working at the coal yard in Clarenville.

1938 – The Colas Company is renamed to Colas (NFLD) Limited.

1938 – Wilson Stanley starts his railway career, working at the coal yard in Clarenville.

1939 – Railway operations begin at the Colas (NFLD) Limited asphalt Plant.

1941 – Colas (NFLD) Limited is sold to Flintcote Company (NFLD) Limited.

1944 – A new three stall roundhouse and machine shop is built in Clarenville.

Station & Yard from hotel - October 1955
Photo Taken By:
Theodore F. Gleichmann, Sr. ©

1944-47 – The Splinter Fleet is constructed in Clarenville. These 10 ships were built for the government for coastal service but were also used as minesweepers for World War II. The ships were named Bonne Bay, Codroy, Glenwood, Twillingate, Burin, Exploits, Placentia, Clarenville, Ferryland and Trepassey.

1949 – Coal piles are replaced by Oil tanks and Pipelines in at the division points, including Clarenville.

1949 – Canadian National Railways takes over the Newfoundland Railway as a result of Confederation.

1951 – 54' Steel Sleeper “311 Clarenville” is built by Canadian Car & Foundry. In 1970, it was renumbered to Work Car 5012.

August 4th, 1952 – Monroe Greening starts his career with the railway as a fireman.

1952-53 – Pat Butler works at the Clarenville Station.

1952-54 The US Army (1st Communication Construction Squadron) sets up a few camps along the mainline (including Camp I at Shoal Harbour Sand Pit) to assist with the telephone pole wiring along the railway.

Photographed By:
Jerome Young
Source: First Communications Construction Squadron Website

1953 – Newfoundland's fleet of Steam locomotives begin to be replaced by new diesel Locomotives. The first to arrive were the NF110's (900-908). In later years, NF210's arrived (909-946).

 No. 900 diesel - June 1959
Photo Taken By: Theodore F. Gleichmann, Sr. ©

1955 – The Newfoundland Government purchases the Flintcote Company (NFLD) Limited and renames it to the Newfoundland Hardwoods Limited.

1956 – Six G8 Locomotives (800-805) arrive in Newfoundland for use on the Branch Lines.

1960 – All new diesel locomotives finish arriving.

1965 – The road gap between Gambo and Clarenville is completed and paved, bringing the end to the ferry train between the towns.

The road from St. Johns ended at Clarenville. The only way to get to Gander was by train, including your vehicle.
Photo Taken By:
Theodore F. Gleichmann, Sr. ©

1969 – Passenger Service from St. John's to Port-aux-Basques is terminated, after the introduction of CN buses.

1971 - The railway first submits an application to the Canadian Transportation Commission (CTC) to close the Bonavista Branch Line.

Photographed By: Mr. Richard Taylor 1978

March 30th, 1979 – The railway is restructured and renamed Newfoundland Transportation Division.

October 16th, 1979 – CN announces the renaming of the Newfoundland Transportation Division to Terra Transport.

Photographed By: Steve Hunter

1980 – Train Scheduling: One Train a day in each direction (St. John's – Port-aux-Basques), seven days a week. One train a week between Clarenville and Bonavista. Also that year, another application to close the Bonavista Branch Lines is submitted, citing continuous annual losses as the reason.

1982 – The railway shifts towards containerization (intermodal service) in an attempt to bring profit to the railway.

June 20th, 1984 – The Bonavista Branch is closed.

1986 – The rails are lifted from the abandoned Bonavista Branch.

September 29th, 1988 – The railway is officially closed. The last revenue train, enroute from Bishop's Falls to St. John's stops in Clarenville for a crew change (Engineer Monroe Greening is replaced with Jim Penney). After a brief stop and some switching, the train leaves Clarenville for St. John's.

October, 1990 – The last train passes over the tracks in Clarenville. NF210 914 along with a Box Car, Coach and Caboose arrive in Clarenville.

November, 1990 – All rails on the island are removed from the rail bed.

Early 1990's The trestle crossing Shoal Harbour river, along with the road bridge, is dismantled, to allow for the smoother flow of river ice during the spring.

September, 1995 – A private company based out of Nova Scotia purchases the Newfoundland Hardwoods.

1996 – Sam Adey takes over for Malcolm Ryan as locomotive engineer at the Newfoundland Hardwoods.

1998 – The Newfoundland Hardwoods at this time are utilizing 2 diesel locomotives and 16 flat cars on approximately 3 miles of track. – The only industrial rail operation left remaining on the island. 30-Ton Plymouth Locomotive #31 and 35-Ton Plymouth Locomotive #32, both built in 1942 for the U.S. Air Force Base in Argentia.

2000 - The Shriners take control of the station and it gets a facelift. Also, a small display including a Caboose and a flat car is set up.

2005 - Railway operations at the Newfoundland Hardwoods are terminated.

Clarenville Heritage Society Keeping the Railway History Alive

December, 2005 - The Clarenville Heritage society extends the length of track and adds a 40’ Flat Car and a Locomotive (formerly used at the Newfoundland Hardwoods) to the display

Photograph: Courtesy Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe ©

The Clarenville Heritage society has engine No. 30 from Newfoundland Hardwoods which was built in 1949 by Plymouth Locomotive Works in Plymouth Ohio, USA, a Division of the Fate-Root-Heath Company. Weight is 35 tonnes.

According to the staff at Newfoundland Hardwoods, both of these Locomotives were brought from the Argentia Base to Clarenville in the 1960's. To date, Hardwoods still has No. 31 though no longer in use.

Rail operations for Newfoundland Hardwoods ceased in late 2005. Up to that point it was the only remaining industrial rail operation in Newfoundland.

Their locomotive no. 30 was transported from the Hardwoods site to the Train station on December 6, 2005 by 40 tonne crane from Avondale. Also transported was a 40' flat car.

The whole operation took 4 hours to complete.

Both railway items were donated by Newfoundland Hardwoods Ltd. to the Clarenville Heritage Society for public display and preservation of Hardwoods Railway history.

Information: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©

Spring 2006
-  They are doing restoration work on the Plymouth Switcher
which is located next to the Railway Station

Plymouth Switcher in 2002
taken at Newfoundland Hardwoods Clarenville

Photograph: Courtesy Peter Hawksford ©

Plymouth Switcher No. 30
Restoration Project completed September 2006

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©

Engine 900 in the 1950's

Photographer: Unknown
Source: Chris Abbott

October, 2006 - Clarenville has been offered a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Railway Coastal Museum in St. John’s is prepared to hand over the province’s first diesel locomotive and a Canadian National Railway dining car to the Clarenville Heritage Society.

But there’s a catch. While the two cars are being donated, the Society will have to pay to have them transported to Clarenville.

The locomotive alone weighs about 60 tonnes. According to Heritage Society member Steve Bonnell there are only two companies in the eastern portion of the province that can manage the job.

Transporting the two cars from their current home at the Railway Coastal Museum on Mount Scio Road in St. John’s to Clarenville will cost between $20,000-$25,000.

Source: Kirk Squires, The Packet

Engine 900 getting ready to be taken to Clarenville

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©


Dining Car getting ready to be taken to Clarenville

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©


May, 2007 – Clarenville prepares for arrival of 900 locomotive.  It was September, 1990, when the last train trundled through Clarenville.

Now, almost 17 years later another diesel locomotive is preparing to make one last stop in the town.

However, this time the locomotive will be traveling by highway instead of rails.

The number 900 locomotive and a Canadian National Railway dining car are expected to make the journey to Clarenville as early as this week says Clarenville Heritage Society president Camilla O’Shea.

The Society would just have to cover the cost of transportation, approximately $27,000.

Not willing to let this chance of a lifetime slip away the group went to work to raise the necessary funds.

Source: Kirk Squires, The Packet


Engine 900 and CN Dining Car Marine Drive Clarenville

Photograph: Courtesy Darrell Steele ©


Engine 900 and CN Dining Car Marine Drive Clarenville

Photograph: Courtesy Darrell Steele ©


Engine 900 being moved to Heritage Project Display

Photograph: Courtesy Darrell Steele ©


Heritage Project Train Display

Photograph: Courtesy Darrell Steele ©

Engine 900 Sept 2007

Photographer: Shannon Oake

Engine 900 Sept 2007

Photographer: Shannon Oake

Plymouth Switcher
Restoration Project at Newfoundland Hardwoods in 2002

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©


Plymouth Switcher No. 30
Restoration Project completed September 2006

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©

Plymouth Switcher No 31 & Flat Car
Restoration Project Started May 2009

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©

Plymouth Switcher No 31
Restoration Project Started May 2009

Photograph: Courtesy Stephen Bonnell ©

I would like to thank Mr. Mike Stacey who provided me with the above information on the History of the railway in Clarenville as well as the Photographers who allowed my to use their photos.

Our other pages of interest about our Railway

1) Some Old Photo of the Clarenville Railway Yard are in the Photo Section of this website. I have a lot of photos that were taken by Mr. Theodore F. Gleichmann, Sr. provided by his son Ted Gleichmann. It also includes photos taken by Mr. Steve Hunter, he spent one week of vacation visiting Newfoundland with Ian Walker from Ottawa in 1982 and took over 180 great photos of the Newfoundland railway from all over the island. (Click here)

2) The First Communications Construction Squadron in Newfoundland 1952 to 1954. In this section their are several photos of the Railway. (Click here)

3) A Story by submitted by author Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe of Shoal Harbour,   "The Day the Little Town Stood Still" has been added. This story is of the August 12th, 1944 Derailment of Newfoundland Railway Branch Line Train of Railway Engine 195. (Click Here)

4) The Clarenville Heritage Society Website (Click Here)