Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First look at the Confederation Line in motion

This was a happy accident. I was waiting for a connecting bus at the Lebreton bus stop on the Lebreton Flats when I turned around and saw that OC Transpo was testing its one west-end Citadis Spirit light rail consist near Pimisi Station.

Sadly, my bus was arriving right at the time when this trainset was pulling out of Pimisi Station (for those interested, Pimisi is an Indigenous word for the eel that is native to the Ottawa River). So, I took a few shots of the train quickly with my iPhone.

A few observations from this short view. One is that the new O-Trains sadly have the same electronic bells that their diesel cousins have on the Trillium Line. I have read complaints more than once from railfans here that the electronic bells are no match for the real thing.

In this case, this train's electronic bell was not working properly. The sound was coming out very choppy, but this is only a test run, so I'm assuming they will iron out those glitches before November, if in fact that Confederation Line is ready to begin operations. City officials in recent weeks refused to confirm the November start date for the new light rail service.

The second thing I noticed is how these trains appear to be floating or levitating. The wheels are very much shielded by the train's body, which makes for an odd site for people used to watching conventional trains.

The last thing I noticed was that I wasn't the only commuter that was taking an interest in the train's testing. There were a number of people waiting for their bus who turned around and watched the action, which is an indication that people in the city are at least curious to see this new system in action.

People in the east end of the city are likely more accustomed to seeing these trainsets undergoing testing between Blair Station and Cyrville Station, which has been happening for months. The west end of the line, as I have mentioned before, is quite a bit less developed than the east end, so testing between Tunney's Pasture and Pimisi has only begun in the last few weeks. 

I figure it be worthwhile to share these photos now, while there's still a novelty attached to this light rail line. To be honest, I don't think I will be taking many pictures of thee trains, although I will say they are growing on me. When I first saw them, I thought they were pretty ugly.

What do you think? Is this something worthy of railfanning?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Forward thinking in Gatineau

As part of my railway wanderings in Hull recently, I came across the old Hull West station, which still stands on avenue Montcalm. The modest wooden station has seen better days. The roof definitely needs to be replaced, but a few businesses have made use of the building since it was last used for rail purposes. Right now, an arts store calls the station home. Before that store, a restaurant was located in the building.

The trip to see the station was an interesting little walk for me, because it revealed a couple of surprises.

As many people on this side of the river know, the City of Gatineau used the old Lachute Subdivision right-of-way through the city to construct its RapiBus express commuter service. This is the same approach that the City of Ottawa used to build part of the first phase of the Confederation Line LRT service (part of the new Confederation Line uses the bus Transitway, which was once part of the old CP Carleton Place Sub in the west end).

What I found to be really refreshing in Gatineau’s case was that, when the work on the bus road was done, the city reconstructed the old Lachute Sub. The line is now owned by the city, having most recently been used in 2007 by the Quebec Gatineau Railway, which used the sub to access the Eddy Spur and its last remaining customers in old downtown Hull.

Last used in 2007. This is what has happened to the Lachute Sub near the Ottawa River. The rest of the right-of-way has been rebuilt through Gatineau proper.

With this rail line in good shape, I would imagine the city would have a much easier time of realizing its light rail goals to connect downtown Hull with Aylmer in the west and the old City of Gatineau in the east. This is a forward-looking approach that has been in short supply in this region of late.

I don’t mean to harp on this again, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been possible had the City of Ottawa considered buying the portion of the old Beachburg Subdivision from Nepean Junction into North Kanata. As it stands now, the second phase of the Confederation Line will not reach Kanata, which is where the largest commuter demand is in Ottawa. North Kanata is an area that is bustling with technology businesses and has a sizeable amount of newer subdivisions. As it stands now, this area will continue to be served by buses for the foreseeable future. Had the city taken a forward-looking approach like Gatineau, who knows what might have been possible?

However, this is the same city that, until it was essentially forced into a corner, was prepared to convert the Prince of Wales Bridge into a pedestrian and cycling path over the bridge. This is also the same city that will not entertain working with CN to get light rail operating on the existing Beachburg Subdivision past Federal junction, a stretch of track that is essentially unused save for two trains on Wednesday. And let’s not forget that before the city, the old Regional Municipality sat on its hands as the old CP Carleton Place Sub was converted into a recreational path (albeit, a wonderful piece of the Trans-Canada Trail). Now, with the explosion of residential development in Stittsville, light rail would provide a welcome option for an area where the roads are at capacity, to say the least.

Where the Canadian used to roam. This is the old Carleton Place Sub in Stittsville, a suburb of the city that now numbers more than 30,000. How useful would this be for light rail now?

The plans for Gatineau’s light rail system are still very much in the early stages, as the environmental assessments and other early legwork need to be done. However, given that the Lachute Sub is in such good shape and the old remnants of the Waltham Sub right-of-way appear to be there for the taking, you have to think that Gatineau is in a much better position than Ottawa was, partly due to planning smarts and partly due to luck.

Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe old rail lines are worth keeping after all.

Side note: While checking out the old Hull West station, I noticed there was a nearby sign that said “CP parking only,” which was obviously overlooked when CP stopped using the Lachute Sub back in the late 1990s. Next to the tracks, there’s a no trespassing sign that asks people to report any untoward activity to CN Police. I wonder why. It’s my understanding that Gatineau owns these tracks. I can’t imagine why that sign would be there. As a contrast, if you go to the entrance to Walkley Yard in Ottawa, you’ll see a no trespassing sign that lists a private security firm’s name and number.

As far as I know, CN’s police has no presence here, which has me wondering about this sign.