Tuesday, March 12, 2019

March Break tonic for a weary railfan

Those who are familiar with this city know that our light rail system has been delayed (yet again). For those keeping score, that's three delays now and more than a year past when we were supposed to "Get Ready for Rail" as our transit system continues to promote.

Meanwhile, the city has handed one of the principals responsible for Phase I, SNC Lavalin, the keys to Phase II at a price tag of $4.6 billion, or $1.2 billion more than expected. And, despite the legitimate concerns from city councillors about how the second phase become so much more costly, we are getting very little in the way of explanation from city officials. It's amazing to me that people that are public servants would do their best to avoid answering legitimate questions about something that is so critical to the future of our city. I should also mention that the extension of the Trillium Line (you know, the O-Train line that is actually operating) is also likely to come in over budget.

From the outset, I have wondered whether this city really thought through its options for relieving traffic congestion, especially when it had a pretty decent rapid bus system that, with a few tweaks, could have served the city well for decades to come. In other words, rail is great when it addresses a real need. In Ottawa's case, I have never seen a clear reason why its light rail plans were somehow better than a revamped Transitway bus system.

Did I mention that one of the reasons the first phase of the Confederation Line is being delayed, if you believe some people, is that testing has shown that the trainsets could not cope with severe winter conditions? I really do hope that was one of the first things considered when this massive project was first floated.

Okay, so the point is, it's not a good time to be a railfan or a rail booster in Ottawa. The city, by the way, is about to have its appeal heard in the case of the Prince of Wales bridge, which it neglected for more than a decade before someone took Ottawa to task for severing the bridge from the old Ellwood Subdivision.

Man, I keep meaning to share a few things I saw this week when I took my family to the Canada Science and Technology Museum, but the bad news keeps piling up. Well, let's lighten things up. Here's a scale model of the old CN/Via Rail turboliner that is hanging from the rafters in the museum. It's up so high, getting a decent shot is tough.

One thing I noticed when looking at this model is that there is a single axle between the middle passenger coach at the end power units. Was this part of the design of the actual Turboliner? Any experts out there who know?

Here's another interesting item that I saw in the steam engine exhibit. There are so many transportation related items in this exhibit, it's sometimes hard to see everything, but I saw this dramatic image of  Hudson type locomotive that is firing up before it heads out into the night. I suppose if I was a steam fan, I would be more enthralled with this photo. As it is, I think it's a cool shot.

I made sure to get a good shot of the golden rodent on the side of the CP steam locomotive.

Here's a little bonus for kids. They are giving away cardboard cutout steam locomotives for kids to take home. Remember those Via Rail LRC cardboard trains? Same concept. My older daughter asked for one. Brought a tear to my eye!

This reminds me of Bullet Nose Betty back in Sarnia.

Finally, the museum has a special exhibit right now, including an 1874 streetcar that once prowled the early commuter rail rights-of-way in Toronto. It was built in New Rochelle, New York.

The exhibit mentioned that the cars were pulled by horses, which had its limitations, obviously. The horses would often get tired, so the operators had to keep a rather large stable of horses at the ready to relieve the ones pulling the cars. You think your commute is slow now? Imagine what it must have been like in 1874!

Anyway, I really enjoyed my time at the museum this week. I hope to get out there and see some actual rail action this week, as it has been too long for me since I've been trackside. At the very least, the museum offered a little bit of comfort for me after months of shaking my head at what's been happening here in Ottawa.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Some facepalm moments

A few railway headlines recently made me think of bringing together another themed package for a post. The new Via Rail order for Siemens Charger locomotives made me shake my head. Not because I don’t think the chargers aren’t a great pick. They seem like very capable locomotives and they are, in my opinion, a real aesthetic upgrade over the hideously ugly P42s and the boxy F40PH-2s.

But the paint scheme has me baffled, if Via follows through with its goals to have a yellow black and grey colour scheme. I don't have a huge problem with the colours on the surface, but it seems really odd that a railway would use a light colour on the top of a locomotive, where it is sure to bear the signs of engine exhaust in no time flat. Yes, the Chargers will be much cleaner-running engines than what we see on the rails today, but yellow on top and black in the centre? Makes no sense. I won’t get into the longstanding issue I’ve had with the railway over its incoherent colour schemes and liveries over the years. Pick a good scheme and stick with it.

I don’t have a problem with the half maple leaf on the end of the unit, since Ottawa’s city buses have sported the same leaf design for decades. It’s the choice of yet another new colour scheme that makes no sense to me. Look to railways like CN and UP as good examples of sticking with a good thing. It creates trust and reinforces the best things about your brand.

This leads me to my favourite railway target of all: the bumbling City of Ottawa. Let’s just put it this way. It’s absolutely bizarre how the consortium building the new Confederation Line LRT could have gotten this far along in their testing and not have some sort of plan in place for a heavy snowfall. I mention this because one of the city’s new Citadis Spirit LRT consists was marooned somewhere on the Confederation Line because of the heavy snowfall. That unfortunate blunder cost the consortium a few days of testing, as they figured out how to clear the line and rescue this train.

I will say nothing of the growing realization that this consortium will miss its third completion deadline, if recent media reports are to be believed. But not having a plan in place for heavy snowfall? In Ottawa? C’mon, people. I know that no one at city hall has any clue about railways, but we all know about snowfall. Figure it out.

Here's a quick shot of one of the new Citadis Spirit O-Train consists at Pimisi Station on the Lebreton Flats. Behind you will see Place du Portage, the massive government office complex in Hull. I waited for a while for this train to pull out of the station, so I could get a better shot of it, but it just stayed there, seemingly stuck. Kinda fitting.

And one of the companies that is responsible for this first phase of the LRT is also in the running to be part of the second phase of the railway construction. That contract will be handed out next week. I won't say much about the company: SNC Lavalin.

All I will say is I am not all that impressed with the delays with phase one, nor am I pleased with what I've read about this company, as it pertains to national affairs, if the media is to be believed.

For so many reasons I will not get into here, we can do better.