The last run of a slow train nicknamed the Newfie Bullet

When the train officially called the Caribou made its last run in July 1969, an era had ended for Newfoundland transportation.

Train from Port aux Basques to St. John's made its last trip on July 3, 1969

The Port aux Basques to St. John's rail service comes to an end on July 3, 1969. 2:23

The Caribou was the official name, but the train was better known as the Newfie Bullet.

On July 3, 1969, an era had ended for Newfoundland transportation when the train made its last run from Port aux Basques, N.L., to St. John's.

"Now, it's a thing of the past," said the CBC's Tom Kavanaugh in a report about the final journey. "A victim to paved highways and Canadian National's new bus system."

The train was to be available on standby "if the bus has trouble during the winter," he added.

The final ride

People in cars turned out along the route to watch the train pass by for the last time. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

Many of the travellers on the last Bullet were "old-timers" who had taken the train for years. And some of them were employees who didn't think much of the backup plan.

"I think they should be kept on, that's if we get the hard winter," said one such veteran. "If we gets a hard winter ... the bus is no good." 

As viewers watched film of the scenery outside the train, another passenger was heard saying she "definitely" didn't like the idea of the train's discontinuation.

"We're going to miss it as an alternative route," added another as the train passed the Deer Lake laundromat and a sign for a place called The Spud. "If you can't get on the bus there was always the train."

There were pros and cons to the Caribou, which was anything but fast.

"The train is slow, but you can get up and move around," said a rider.

Why it died

Low ridership was one reason the train was being discontinued as a transportation option in Newfoundland. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

"The lack of passengers is the reason for the death of the Bullet," said Kavanaugh, as a train car full of empty seats was shown. "Canadian National quotes figures to show that most people prefer the bus — or at least use the bus."

He said CN had introduced the bus the previous year, and that some dining car staff felt the train service — which CN also operated — had "been allowed to deteriorate."

A longtime staffer, one of 60 who was now unemployed, had described dining cars that previously featured "linen tablecloths, silverware and a varied menu."

"Now, he says there are paper placemats, stainless steel and a limited menu," said Kavanaugh.

For its part, CN had claimed service in Newfoundland was "comparable to that on the mainland."

"It said the Bullet had just fallen victim to changes in modern transportation."

Letters of protest

MPs look through some of the many letters pleading for the return of the Newfie Bullet three years after it ended. 0:56

Reporting in the CBC archives shows that protests over the loss of the service were already underway by September 1968.

In December that year, the Canadian Transportation Commission had conducted a study into phasing out the train. It was followed by a debate in the House of Commons in March 1969.  

Three years after the train's end, some Newfoundlanders were still demanding its return.

"As a concerned citizen of Newfoundland I hereby give support for the restoration of rail service to this province," read a man identified as a Newfoundland MP who had pulled a letter from a barrel stuffed with correspondence.

"And by doing so, show my dissatisfaction with the way Newfoundland is being treated in regards to a safe and adequate transportation service."

Deer Lake was one of the many communities the Newfie Bullet passed through on its journey. (CBC News/CBC Archives)