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Roberval & Saguenay

by R.L.Kennedy

Alcan plant at Port Alfred, Quebec. September 12, 2003 Renaud Chodkowski

Aerial view of Rio Tinto facility Port Alfred, M.18.25 Arpa Sub. August 13, 2016

Aerial view of roundhouse and plant area. new

The Roberval and Saguenay Railway Company is owned by Rio Tinto Alcan (previously Alcan Aluminium Ltd.) to serve its four smelters, alumina refinery, petroleum coke calcining plant and port, as well as other primarily forestry-based industries including the newsprint mill in Alma built by the Price Bros. in the 1920's and the mill in Kenogami in the Saguenay region. There are two isolated subdivision; the mainline 19 mile ARPA Subdivision between Port Alfred and Arvida, and the 10 mile Alma Subdivision between Saguenay Power and Alma. The R&S was granted running rights over the CN between Saguenay Power and Arvida in the fall of 1975. In the mid-1990's this agreement was changed. R&S gave up running rights in turn for switching CN's customers in Arvida and the CN moves cars between Arvida and Saguenay Power (at St. Bruno) once a day in each direction. Interchange is performed at Saguenay Power and Arvida. R&S running rights now are limited to light engine moves to get units assigned to the Alma Sub. to the Arvida shops.

The Roberval and Saguenay had its beginnings with the Quebec incorporation in 1908 of the most unusually named Ha! Ha! Bay Railway to build from Jonquieres to Bagotville on Ha! Ha! Bay, with branches to Chicoutimi Pulp Company mills, to Lake Kenogami and St.Alexis. The R&S itself was incorporated in Quebec in 1911 to build from Roberval on the Quebec and Lake St. John Ry. around Lake St. John to rejoin the Quebec & Lake St.John at Chicoutimi and also at St.Bruno via a branch. It bought the Ha! Ha! Bay June 28, 1914.

Ha! Ha! Bay 1 with first passenger train which arrived at Le Vieux Depot (The Old Station)
in Bagotville in December 1910. Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan, Ian Stronach Collection

R-S 5 with one of the first train loads of wood pulp from Chicoutimi West to Labrosse
for furtherance to Port Alfred in 1911. Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan, Ian Stronach Collection

One of the first train loads of wood pulp hauled from Bethanie near Portage-des-Roches
on the Laterriere Branch to Pont Arnaud. Steam locomotive 10 or 11.
Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan, Ian Stronach Collection

The Alma and Jonquieres Railway was incorporated in Quebec in 1912 to build from Herbertville on the Quebec and Lake St. John to a point between Grand Decharge and Petite Decharge and from St. Joseph d'Alma to Jonquieres. Construction did not begin until April 1923 and was completed in August. It too came under ownership of Alcan and eventually was merged (January 1, 1974) into the Roberval & Saguenay.

In 1922 R&S was authorized to build to the Quebec and Saguenay at La Malbaie. In 1929 the principal route was changed to run from Arvida northwesterly to a point on the Quebec and Chibougamau south of L'Ascension.

R-S was owned by the Chicoutimi Pulp Company until it closed down in 1925 after which time it was acquired by the Aluminum Corporation, which was actually a subsidiary of Alcoa, the Aluninum Company of America. In 1928 the Aluminum Corporation was divested by Alcoa and Alcan was born.

A hydro-electric power station was built at Isle Maligne in 1926. The first aluminum was shipped on the R&S that same year. The Shipshaw Power Development was built in 1943 to provide increased electricity to the Alcan smelter at Arvida, allowing it to respond to greatly increased demand for aluminum in war production.

Aerial view of the Alma industrial megacomplex and part of the
Grande-Décharge River and Lac Saint-Jean. Alcan 2001


Roberval Saguenay in common with many shortlines operated with used locomotives, some often acquired from the contractor who built the line. In addition to some small steam locomotives R-S had a number of trolley pole electric locomotives of a typical early design. More steam locomotives filled the small roster until the first diesel came along early in 1941. Number 18 was a 50-ton Whitcomb center-cab with twin Hercules engines. A single Alco S-2 followed in 1943, marked for parent Aluminum Company of Canada. In 1947, a single Alco RS-2, 19, was added to the roster, followed two years later by number 20, now being built in Canada by MLW. It was the first road switcher built by MLW and as such it was preserved by the CRHA. The number 21 was given to former Alcan 72-359 the S-2 above. An RS-3, 22, followed in 1955. A new RS-18 came along in 1960 and another in 1965, a low nose unit.

A power shortage during 1969-1972 was filled by some leased CNR RS-18's and two MLW leasers 675 and 676, RS-27's.

After a pause of several years two new units were bought in April 1972. These were a unique new model by MLW the M420TR, a 2000HP "transfer" unit designed like a switcher with road trucks. Alcan bought the only two units of this model! (A newer model sold only to Mexico.) Lettered for parent Alcan, they were in the same number series, 26 and 27. These were the last new locomotives bought for more than twenty years.

The used locomotive market was turned to for needs the following year when four RS-3's were acquired, two ex D&H and two ex RDG. After two years a used RS-11 ex SP was acquired followed by 9 C-420's all ex LIRR. All of these units would have cost far less than one new unit However, they turned to new units once again, this time from GE since MLW was out of business.

GE provided some leased demonstrator units in 1993. These were B23-7S (Super Series) remanufactured from U23B units. It was a way for GE to provide medium horsepower four axle units at less than the cost of brand new yet thoroughly renewed rather than just rebuilt. The program met with limited success, in Canada Roberval & Saguenay was the only taker. At the time, GE had a presence in Canada at the former MLW plant in Montreal, although these units were produced in Erie. GE was unable to get sufficient orders for new units and soon left Canada. BC Rail having been the only major customer and this was for just 22 units. This was before the success of AC powered units.

When next power was required they turned to AMF in Montreal for remanufactured GM units. This time GP40's (4 ex CN and 3 ex KCS/IC) were rebuilt into GP38-2's and the 7 units were delivered mostly in 1997.

Alma & Jonquieres was absorbed by Roberval & Saguenay January 1, 1974. It had two used steam locomotives which were replaced by two new diesels, one in 1949 and one in 1951, both MLW S-4's.

Gallery of electric and steam locomotives

Gallery of diesel locomotives

22 inside shop. 8/15/1969

Tiny number 8 has lots of room on the turntable! 8/15/1969

20 MLW RS-2 with aluminum hopper cars.
Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan, Ian Stronach Collection

23 GMD SW1200 A976 11/56 Only GM unit until recent years. Note motor scooter!

20_25_29 Port Alfred April 29, 1969
JBC Visuals/Bill Linley

38_37_35_40 up ruling grade enroute Arvida
August 22/1983 JBC Visuals/Bill Linley


Coming and going at Mile 14. RS 25 with leased CNR 3691 August 27, 1971. David M. More

September 12, 2003 Renaud Chodkowski

GP38-3's 61 and 65 crossing Riviere-a-Mars, La Baie. June 21, 2019


GMTX 2672 leased 3/2011 GP38M-2 with 64 on West Local. La Baie, QC Oct. 14/2016
(ex CSXT 6533 nee BO 3257) GP40 EMD 36738 1/1971

A 4 unit consist headed by #61 has just uncoupled from a string of hoppers in Port-Alfred
and is in the process of running around the string of cars and heading back into town.
Port Alfred June 25, 2014 Robert Butler


Alcan 74-013

RS 2

RS 3

Courtesy of Rio Tinto Alcan, Ian Stronach Collection

1. Alcan 74-013 Made from the frame of one of the electric motors. Manufactured at the Chicoutimi Pulp Company’s shops probably in 1911. Sold to ACOC in 1936. Arvida.

2. Plow #2 – Acquired by R&S from ACOC in 1943. Construction date unknown. Arvida

3. Plow #3 – Eastern Car Company 12/1928. Arvida


Modern bulkhead flat car built by NSC especially for very heavy shipments such as aluminum ingots.
Note the old style flat car with end blocking for these shipments.
HPJX (HELM-Pacific Leasing) 52200-52399 (200) 113-ton load National Steel Car.
Hamilton August 21, 2011 Brendan Frisina

HPJX 52271 empty bulkhead flat. Montreal 9/27/2011

History of aluminium



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