Thursday, September 12, 2019

The tricky business of capturing the hidden Nova railway operation

Like it or not, plastics are vital to the global economy. Until we figure out how to properly recycle them all and keep them out of landfills, they will always be part of our lives. And someone has to make that plastic. This year in St. Clair Township, Nova Chemicals is investing $2.2 billion in a new polyethylene plant next to its existing plant, just east of Corunna on the Petrolia Line. This plant is crucial in the production of polyethelyne, which is the most common form of plastic in the world.

For those who like to watch railways in action, it means that Nova’s switching operations are likely to remain quite busy and quite possibly expand.

I’ve always been fascinated by this operation, which is partly visible from Highway 40, although it is not a great place to get photographs, since the rails are largely hidden behind a grassy berm. Also, the highway can be quite busy and the only place to get photos is on the overpass over the tracks that connect Nova’s railway to the CN St. Clair River Industrial Spur. Needless to say, there is no place to stop here.

Hoping for the best! This is a no-look shot. I left some of the highway guardrail in the shot. I was going pretty slow at this point.

My approach to getting any shots of this operation has always been the same. I only attempt a shot when I am sure the highway is not busy and there are no cars around mine. Next, I roll down the passenger window and slow down while keeping my eyes on the road. Finally, I point my camera in the general direction of the railway and hope for the best.

This summer, while visiting family in the area, I was passing by this operation when the conditions were right for a shot. The highway was empty in the middle of the day so I fired away and hoped for the best. Fortunately, I managed to get some interesting shots of this switching operation, which has a half diamond, what appears to be a genset locomotive and occasionally an on SW unit, although that old warhorse was nowhere to be seen when I was driving by.

Here’s a good shot of the genset switcher.

I did, however, manage to spot the SW unit later in the week as I was passing by CN’s Sarnia Yard, where I saw the old Nova switcher near the old roundhouse, where it was likely undergoing maintenance at the Lambton Diesel Specialists shop. I’ll save the rest of that adventure for another post.

The Nova operation isn’t terribly flashy, as it’s exclusively the domain of the tank cars you see on trains anywhere in Canada and the United States. But the refinery in the background does make for some interesting shots you won’t just anywhere.

I’ve always been fascinated by this operation, ever since it used to host those old GATX Tank Train branded tank cars. In recent years, Nova Chemicals has been expanding a fair bit in the area, which bodes well for the CN industrial spur that connects Sarnia to the Terra Industries plant at the edge of the old Sombra Township.

August 2017 at the Rokeby Line

In the last few years, trackage has been added off the CN spur near Mooretown. These tracks are shielded from view by a large metal wall lining the Moore Line, but some of it can be seen as you travel west down the Moore Line near Highway 40. I don’t know enough about Nova’s expansion in the area to be able to say what the purpose is of these new tracks.

I think the beauty in shooting the industrial switching in this area doesn't necessarily have to do with the trains, which are pretty standard tank car and covered hopper consists. I think the interesting element is the background.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Catching up with GEXR in Stratford

Stratford was my destination of choice. I knew it was the headquarters of the Goderich Exeter Railway. This railway has always been a source of fascination for me, which made this opportunity to possibly see it in action as a priority. I was dismayed to learn recently that GEXR no longer has control of the Guelph Subdivision, after CN resumed control of the right-of-way after the GEXR lease was not renewed. These are my thoughts about that from last week. So, as I was visiting family in the countryside about half an hour west of Stratford, I knew that my prospects for seeing something would likely be best in Stratford, since I didn’t want to venture too far afield.

When I arrived, I made sure to stake out a good spot near the historic train station, which was built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Railway. Interestingly, the two-storey station was built in the prairie style, according to the historic plaque. I’m not sure I’ve seen many stations like this in Ontario.

It was a beautiful summer morning, with a few clouds obscuring the rising sun, which turned out to be quite a blessing, as a real, honest-to-goodness GEXR train was readying itself alongside this grain and feed elevator complex. When I first arrived, the train was backing up toward the elevators with a short consist of grain hoppers in tow. I waited for the crew to get its clearance and watched the nearby signal before the short train eased forward.

I was thrilled with some of these shots, which have a few picturesque elements to them, not the least of which is the grain elevator. I often marvel at the grain elevator images on other blogs (hello, Trackside Treasure and Train Geek!) and wonder if I could ever capture something like that here in Ontario. Well, this one below is not quite as majestic, but it’s one of my favourite shots I have taken in years. If there was a better vantage point, I might have moved back a bit but I had to stay on publicly accessible land.

I was still quite happy with these images.

And, unlike a few years ago when I caught some GEXR action in Kitchener, this time I actually caught a fully painted GEXR geep in its Genesee & Wyoming colours. The GEXR unit is the second.

The first unit in the consist was notable too, since it was painted for the Southern Ontario Railway, a Hamilton-Nanticoke area shortline that was also swallowed up into the CN empire once again. So, a good catch all around.

I took a few more shots of the short train as it made its way to the Goderich Sub and northwest toward Lake Huron.

I stuck around to see if possibly a CN freight was going to make its way by the station, but signals at the station remained stubbornly solid red, which meant nothing was imminent, sadly. I have heard different stories as to just how much CN is using this subdivision again, as it doesn’t appear to be a huge priority for the railway.

I did look for some rolling stock in the yard worth shooting and saw this car, which was hard to capture properly due to the angle I had to capture it. It reminded me of a similar yellow hopper I spotted recently in Smiths Falls, but this one did not have the same paint scheme. NMIX 465119 is a Scoular grain hopper, with a grain image on the side. Here's another shot of the car here. The car is owned by NSC Minerals Inc. Anyone know more about these cars? This is the first time I've ever seen one. (Quick update - NSC Minerals is Saskatchewan's biggest provider of rock salt, according to its website. That would make sense for this car to be on a GEXR train headed to Goderich. The car will likely be used to service the salt mine at the end of the GEXR line at Goderich Harbour. Still no info on Scoular)

All in all, it was a brief, but exciting, morning for me in Stratford. I can now cross GEXR off my list officially, as I have captured a GEXR train at the east end of the Goderich Subdivision.