Thursday, January 1, 2015

The great disappearing train

Happy New Year!

When people ask me what the Sarnia area is like, I usually tell them, "Picture the prairies, only with more trees." That pretty much sums up the topography where I grew up. It's really flat. That makes chasing and photographing trains fairly easy. The one exception is the approach to the rail tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. The single track leading to the tunnel offers a surprisingly steep grade in an otherwise flat stretch of CN's rail network in this region.

On August 18 last year, I made a trip to the CN rail yard in Sarnia where I was taking shots from various vantage points. When I started shooting, I noticed a large train was being assembled in the middle part of the yard, where the tracks pass under the Indian Road overpass. Seeing that it was not ready to move, I started taking shots elsewhere. A little while later, I found myself at the end of a cul-de-sac, which abuts the yard, since I was trying to get a shot of this train (below). I noticed the train was stopped before entering the yard, waiting for something. Hearing a train roaring toward my spot, I knew a train was heading down the steep grade toward the tunnel.

In all my years of photographing trains, this was the first time I caught a tunnel train.

CN GP9 7270 waits to enter Sarnia Yard. The bridge behind the GP9 is known as the Donahue Bridge, which connects the City of Sarnia to the adjacent Chemical Valley, the area's massive petrochemical refinery district.

Unfortunately, the positioning of the sun and my vantage point made for some tough obstacles. The weeds were pretty high so some shots of the train turned out like the image below. But, sometimes when you scramble, you have to make do with you have.

Happily, getting shots of the train from another angle (below) made for some better shots. I was pretty happy to see that the second unit was CN SD60F 5550, a genuine cowl unit. I have not seen one of these units in many years. An excellent catch.

This is where things began to get interesting. As the third unit in this mixed freight, CN 2635 (Dash-9 44CW) came into view, the train began to disappear. Unknowingly, I had stumbled onto an excellent spot to catch the train's descent into the tunnel. As I reviewed the photos of the train, I was quite pleased to see the way I caught the train's disappearing act.

This shot below captures the grade nicely. You can see the initial string of steel coil cars bound for the United States. If you look closely, you can also see a truck parked beside a covered hopper car at a transloading facility (upper left). You can also see some refinery towers to the left.

I did pan back toward the sun a few times, since the train had so many different types of freight in its consist, including a few shallow gondolas filled with what looked like scrap metal.

This view below brought me back to my teenage years, when I used to watch long lines of autoracks making their way down the CSX Sarnia Subdivision and then being queued up in Sarnia Yard, where they were then ferried over the river on the CN ferry. Of course, CSX no longer handles autorack interchange traffic between Chatham and Sarnia. In fact, CSX doesn't even operate in the Chatham area anymore. I took a shot of the autoracks, just for nostalgia's sake.

Of course, all good things come to an end, but check out the variety at the end of the train. A few high-cube box cars, a lumber car, a white tank car and a few other loaded flat cars, all headed below the river. You can just make out the other train (right) waiting for clearance to enter the yard. I stuck around to catch that train, which turned out to be carrying interchange traffic for two waiting CSX GP38s, which were idling near the Via station. I shared a few shots of that train in this previous post. I will have more to share from that interchange in a future post. You can also make out some longer than usual rail ties, which indicate there was once a turnout located here.

So, all in all, I was pleased to get some decent shots of this tunnel-bound train, given my less than ideal position and the position of the sun. There's always something happening in a big rail yard. I can only dream of similar activity in Ottawa's Walkley Yard.


Canadian Train Geek said...

Nicely done!

Happy new year!

Eric said...

The descent of the train reminded me of a WWII submarine movie like Das Boot, or even better, Red October! Looks like a productive scramble, Michael.
Happy New Year!

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, gents. All the best to you in 2015.