Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Perth Turn

As I mentioned last week, I recently had enough time that I was able to drop by the rail yard in Smiths Falls. Although the trip was a bust in that I was not able to see any mainline freights passing through, I did get to see a fascinating Via Rail meet in front of the old Smiths Falls station. But the highlight for me was seeing the Perth Turn take off from the yard.

For those who might remember, I managed to catch a few shots of this train a few years ago, with two units. This time, the line of cars was being pulled by a single ECO unit, 2304.

CP serves the OMYA plant just west of Perth, where calcium carbonate is produced. Calcium carbonate is used for a variety of consumer products including toothpaste, antacids, calcium supplements, vitamins, building materials, cement, limestone aggregate and more.

This train usually features a number of tank cars that you don’t often get to see on the rails. I have seen these cars sparingly elsewhere, but mostly in this yard.

Given my position between the old Via Rail station and the CP office building, there was only a series of going away shots to be had, which is okay. I have really forced myself to break free of the mold of the wedge shot whenever possible.

When the train pulled away, I noticed a number of the old OMYA logos on the cars had been painted over, since the cars are now repatched for SHPX (ACF Industries or American Car and Foundry). It’s too bad that the logo is gone, because it is extremely rare to see a company logo on cars these days. Companies have been moving away from owning or controlling fleets of cars. There are still a few branded cars out there, like the Potash hoppers, for example, but not a whole lot more.  I think back to some of the Sclair and DuPont hoppers I used to see in and around Sarnia when I was younger and how, even then, there weren’t all that many of these types of cars to see.

The run west to Perth is a fairly short one, as the train follows CP’s Belleville Subdivision through Perth itself before ending its run at Glen Tay, where the plant is situated next to Highway 7.

Sadly, this was the only freight train I saw this day as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday in Quebec might have shut down some of CP’s operations there, thus lightening the traffic to and from Montreal, where CP’s operations end.

Still, a small local is better than nothing and I should add that this local is at least 10 times as long as the Arnprior Turn, at least.

Also, there was an unexpected bonus to this train leaving when it did. It revealed another string of cars, some of which were intriguing enough for me to take some photos. I'll share those next week.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sure, it looks cool, but...

On my lunch break a month ago, I made my way to the western portal for the new O-Train downtown tunnel. I did it for no particular reason other than to get some photos of the new Alstom Citadis Spirit trainsets making their way into and out of the tunnel. Given I went on a brilliantly sunny day, it was easy to get a few shots from the overpass over the tracks that also houses the upper level of the Pimisi O-Train station.

Eastbound O-Train makes its way to the downtown transit tunnel, as seen from Pimisi Station

I don't want to get into the messy history of this new line. The consortium building this new railway missed its completion deadline in the spring when the system was to be turned over the city so it could commence transit operations. That last delay meant it's been more than a year since this line was supposed to open to commuters. There are many, many different angles of this debacle that I could get into, but I'm growing really tired of blogging about it.

Now we're told that the city will officially take ownership of the line in mid-August and trains will roll in September. That's the last pledge, anyway.

Westbound O-Train makes its way toward Pimisi Station during a test run

Ottawa LRT is a notoriously tight-lipped consortium that has repeatedly failed to explain to the public why it is taking so long to finish this project. The city, for its part, has also been notoriously vague regarding a number of aspects of this project, often giving maddeningly bureaucratic answers to the simplest of questions. The company that built these trains, Alstom, is trying to ease fears that these European trainsets will be able to handle the Canadian climate, even though they have never before been in use in North America and have so far proved to be unreliable at times.

I could go on and on, but I won't.

As a communications guy, I will reserve my criticism for the mayor and councillors who have been trying their hardest to drum up any sort of excitement for this new line. The problem I have with their barrage of social media outreach about this rail line is that it is completely tone deaf. Every time I see a councillor's tweet with video of the new O-Train being tested, I roll my eyes. The tweets are usually accompanied by some sort of overly positive, hopeful comment about how we should all be very excited about commuting on these trains.

If I was in communications with the city, I would advise those around the council table to adjust their tone to acknowledge the fact that these delays are extending the grief for many people in the city. It hasn't made a huge difference to my commute, but for some, it's been a constant hassle. For the residents who live on roads where hundreds of buses have been rerouted each day, it's been a nightmare.

The constant barrage of positivity coming from the city is understandable, but misguided. When you have a project this far behind which is causing this many headaches, you can't fault the citizens of Ottawa for rolling their eyes and not getting on board with vapid cheerleading efforts. Instead of telling us all to don't worry, be happy, maybe a change is in order as we (possibly) approach the finish line.

Maybe change the message to say we're sorry for these problems, but it will be worth it. I would appreciate that approach much more than what I'm seeing right now.

Program note: I mentioned last week that I would share photos and commentary about the Perth Turn, which originates in CP's Smiths Falls yard. I will share that post next week, but wanted to bump up this post, given that it now appears the LRT project may actually, finally be close to being ready.