BC Rail and Northwood Inc.'s

Remote Rail Service
August 18, 1999

by Steven J. Brown

posted September 22, 1999

"Twenty two, loaded," the scanner in the back seat crackled.

The scanner, usually only used for monitoring railroad frequencies, was tuned into the British Columbia Forest Service radio channel for the dirt road we were traversing.  A kilometer later we pulled over for the logging truck to go by.  Kicking up a dense cloud of rock and dirt, the truck passed us without slowing.  Our car shook as it was engulfed in the cloud of dust and pelted with flying rocks.

"Twenty one, loaded, and twenty one, empty car, I don't think it has a radio," came a call over the scanner.  The log truck driver was making our presence known to the trucks behind him.  We waited a few seconds for the cloud to dissipate and continued down the road.  It was one of many meets with log trucks we were to have on the five hour drive into the remote interior of British Columbia.  I was traveling with long time friend, Bob Banke.  We both have made the claim that we have ridden all the remote passenger services in Canada.  Well, we found out about another one.

Back in the 1970's, BC Rail graded a route all the way from Prince George to Dease Lake in far northern BC, near the Yukon border.  The line was intended to eventually reach Alaska.  Track was laid only on the first 300 miles.  An agreement was reached with the First Nation, the native peoples through whose land the line passes through, that BC Rail would provide rail transport to the Nation's peoples.

BC Rail operated a mixed freight over the line, know as the Takla Subdivision, until shutting it down in 1983.  For the next nine years, residents of the area acquired speeders and used them to get out of the wilderness.  The line opened again in 1991 when logging resumed.  An outload camp was established at Lovell Cove, milepost 197, near the north end of Takla Lake.  Here, unprocessed logs were transloaded from truck to train.  Another outload camp was established at Minaret, milepost 272.  In between, at milepost 251, is the  First Nation village of Bear Lake.  Bear Lake and Minaret are not accessible by road.

BC Rail operates passenger service for the locals and Northwood Inc. between Lovell Cove and Minarett.  The schedule varies throughout the year, but generally they operate five to seven days a week leaving Lovell in the morning and returning that afternoon.  They use something called a UTV, utility transport vehicle.  Though not essentially opened to the public, when we contacted Northwood Inc., they agreed to let Bob and I go for a ride.

We spent the night before in a rustic cabin at Takla Rainbow Resort, about 40 miles from Lovell but still two hours away by dirt road.  In the bar, advertised as the world's most remote pub, we discussed environmental concerns with the resort's proprietors and pondered on what exactly is a UTV.  Our pending excursion brought snickers from them and stories followed of the train being overcrowded with drunken locals. 

We were to find out what a UTV was the next morning on arrival in Lovell Cove.  The UTV was being turned when we arrived.  The UTV was a modified track maintenance vehicle and was up off its wheels on a stand lowered from the center.  The UTV's operator, had pushed the vehicle around, centered it, and then lowered it onto the track.  It was an ugly yellow monster, a modern Galloping Goose.  Formerly a crane, the boom had been removed, the cab extended back, and school bus seats installed.  Behind was a M of W two axle cart attached by a long pole.  It was soon loaded with machine parts for the logging operation at Minaret.  Besides us, our fellow passengers were a half a dozen employees of the camp at Minaret and all the camps groceries for the following week.

For the first fifty miles, the line is heavily wooded on both sides of the track.  Occasionally, brief views are visible of surrounding mountains and lakes through breaks in the trees.  The UTV trundles along at around thirty miles per hour over the rickety track.  The two axle vehicle rides rough and rounding  curves is rather jerky.  After milepost 250, the ride gets much more interesting.  We stop at Bear Lake and pick up a dozen of the villages' residents.  They are mostly teenagers armed with fishing poles and rifles.  The line is not as tree'd in anymore and we are high above the Skeena River with stunning views of snow capped mountains.

The ride gets even more exciting when Tim quickly set the brakes to allow a grizzly bear time to get off the track in front of us.  The passengers all clamor to get a look as the huge bear runs up the  embankment and disappears into the trees.  A few minutes later, we slow again.  This time for a smaller black bear to get out of the way.  After crossing a tall bridge over the river, we stop to detrain the passengers from Bear Lake.  We will pick them up again on the southbound trip.

Shortly before Minaret, three logging company employees get off near an outpost.  They are picked up by a man driving a 4 wheel ATV pulling a small wooden trailer.  The passengers ride off in the strange looking contraption as we continue a few more miles to the last stop.

Minaret is a smaller version of the logging camp at Lovell Cove.  The groceries and parts are quickly unloaded, and after a short break, the UTV is turned on its stand.  Three Northwood Inc. employees, on their way home from weeks in the wilderness, get on board and we are heading south.  It is almost 7 o'clock when we get back to Lovell Cove. After a quick bite in the logging camp's cafeteria, we start a five hour drive to Prince George.

© Steven J. Brown,  1999  Reproduction prohibited without written permission.

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