Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part III)

Sometimes, a single photo of a single railcar is just not worth it to a railfan. However, even if something like a blank sided hopper car or similarly drab tank car doesn't excite you, maybe it's time to think outside the box. Yes, one railcar might not be worth a shot, but what about a shot of a bunch of railcars?

Read Part I and  Part II of the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society posts.

As railfans, we often chase diesel units and focus almost exclusively on the head of the train, but I think there's merit in shooting the middle of the train and the end of the train. Why? Because when taken together, railcars can sometimes tell a story of their own.

The best example I can think of is a container train. Intermodal trains are commonplace to say the very least and for the most part, aren't terribly exciting to shoot. Well, not so fast. I think when you take the container trains as a whole, they are actually fairly compelling to the eye. This photo above is one of a number of examples of containers trains I have shot. This train was one of my favourite meets. It also tells a story about railroading today. And check out the CN Mandaumin sign. The containers really form a great backdrop for the sign.

You'll never see just one container car on a train like you might with a boxcar, hopper car, flatcar or tank car. Intermodal cars are always part of a unit. These units are huge. They tell you a lot about how railroads operate today.

This shot, above, is one of my favourites. It doesn't contain a great deal of detail, but it tells a story. This is what railroading looks like today. This is how goods are shipped on the rails today. This is what intermodal is all about. This is what railways do best these days. Check out my post about this meet here.

You'll notice in each of these shots that the container cars are framed by an interesting looking sky. This is where I think many railfans could benefit from paying a little more attention to rolling stock. This shot, above, may not have an engine in it, but it gives you an idea of the scale of unit intermodal trains today and it is framed by an interesting backdrop. Sometimes, even a throwaway rolling stock snap can be worthwhile.

Another example of this is the humble autorack. This car hardly inspires excitement among many of us, I would imagine, but when you take a shot of group, you are telling the story of how cars are moved via rail today. You never see just one autorack on a train. They are always grouped together in large units. This tells you the scale of this source of revenue for railways. I like this shot above for that reason, but also because these autoracks are framed by some cool wildflowers trackside.

Here's another example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I like the lines that this image captures. On the surface, a unit ethanol train isn't terribly exciting, but when I reviewed this shot and looked at the lines this long string of tank cars created, I really liked the shot. The other thing I tried to capture was the anomaly. In this case, there is one white tank car in a sea of black ethanol cars.

Full disclosure. I don't see a lot of trains, so many of these revelations I have come across about rolling stock are really the product of a dearth of meets. I don't see many trains so I am always taking as many photos as possible when I do see one. I also can admit that I threw many of my old shots of rolling stock away in the 1990s, which in hindsight was a dumb move. I can only imagine if I had those photos today how much more compelling my image collection would be.

Learn from my mistakes. Take a shot of everything. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer observations in Ottawa (Part II)

As I mentioned in the first summer observations post, a lot is happening in Ottawa this summer, especially on the rail front. However, something that isn't necessarily news is that it has been a cold and rainy summer, for the most part. I have made my way out to Fallowfield Station a few times, mostly to get shots of the Via Canada 150 wraps.

Here's a pretty typical shot from Fallowfield. The skies are grey while P42 920 leads a four-car consist westbound toward the station just past Woodroffe Avenue in mid-July. Uder grey skies, of course. You can see a puddle trackside.

As I mentioned in the previous post, work on the the Confederation O-Train line is progressing at quite the pace at the moment as the Rideau Transit Group tries to get the system operational for next year. The east end of the line seems to be farther along than the western end. I have seen a fair number of hi-rail vehicles on the rails, but I have never seen the maintenance of way equipment. Here's a shot of some of the "rolling stock" along the line, although I think the British term "wagon" is a little more appropriate.

This shot was taken near the central Via station. I didn't know what to think when I saw this piece of equipment. It's an interesting site, to be sure.

At Bayview Station, work of the new transit station is progressing well. Here's a shot of the new light rail station. This is the station that is sitting atop the old Canadian Pacific trackage that leads up to the Prince of Wales Bridge.

As you may recall, the group looking to establish a privately-run commuter service between Ottawa and several outlying towns in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec has taken the city to task for not maintaining the old CP track. In a complaint filed with federal authorities, the Moose Consortium argued that the city has an obligation to maintain the track it owns that leads to the bridge. The city has responded by saying it has not abandoned the line. The city, in fact, has recently begun working with the City of Gatineau on working toward establishing O-Train service over the bridge. I don't know how this will happen, since the old CP Ellwood trackage is not only disconnected to the O-Train Trillium Line (the track is buried in ballast near the Trillium Line, as I pointed out in this post), but another section is now buried beneath the new LRT station.

I wonder how the city plans to establish a connection to Gatineau when it seems like there is no plan in place at Bayview to retrofit the facilities to accommodate a new connection to the bridge.

I will get back to the Moose Consortium in a minute, but wanted to touch on Walkley Diamond. In the past few weeks and months, some readers have alerted me to some work being done to the diamond as well as the tracks leading up to the Trillium Line. The end result is that much of the trackage on the diamond appears to have been upgraded. The ballast is new and the ties look to be new as well. You will recall from this post that this work was started in the spring. The shot above shows one of the Alstom Coradia LINT O-Train diesel trainsets heading south toward Greenboro Station at the diamond.

This shot above shows the new O-Train connection (at left of photo) between Walkley Yard and the Trillium Line. You can see the disconnected track immediately to the right of the new O-Train connection. Further to the right, some more work is ongoing in the CN portion of the yard as some track inspection takes place near a switch. In the background, you can see a long string of covered hoppers and tank cars, along with one lumber car hitched to the tank cars.

So, that leaves us with Moose. The group recently made its pitch to regional municipalities about establishing a GO Train style of regional commuter service between Ottawa and communities outside the city.

Does this mean we are likely to see trains like this one, above, in the National Capital Region soon? I have to admit I have my doubts. I give the group credit for its forward-thinking vision and ambition, but I can't see how it will overcome the massive hurdles it now faces.

Let's start simply. The group of 12 businesses backing this plan wants to establish a 400-km network along existing rails and recently abandoned rights-of-way. The commuter service would link Ottawa with Arnprior, Smiths Falls and Alexandria in Ontario. On the Quebec side, the service would link the urban area with Bristol, Wakefield and Montebello.

The railway is banking on the development opportunities along its network as a way to fund its operations. The premise is simple. Development usually happens along railway lines, so the Moose Consortium is expecting to collect a share of development money once development occurs along its line. The group also plans to allow private concerns to build the railway stations along the network. Finally, Moose plans to collect fees from municipalities that would benefit from this commuter service. Essentially, they would subscribe to the commuter service.

It's an interesting concept, particularly since it is aiming to be a privately funded venture.

Here are the issues, as I see them.

1. Linking any community along the old Beachburg Subdivison northwest of Nepean Junction would require a new rail line to be built. The group has pinpointed this old right-of-way as part of its network in several graphics.

2. Linking to Arnprior would require some significant upgrades to the Renfrew Spur in order to accommodate passenger trains operating at higher speeds than CN's weekly 589 Arnprior turn.

3. Linking to Wakefield will require saving the old Canadian Pacific Maniwaki Sub, which has been inoperable for years. The municipalities along this line recently decided it was better to pull up the rails than to invest in repairing damage from floods. This line has only hosted the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Train in the last few decades. At the very least, it needs significant work, if it is saved at all.

4. Linking to Alexandria and Smiths Falls would require trackage rights from CN and Via. This is not a huge hurdle, but I would imagine it would be tougher to get schedules to fit on the Via Smiths Falls Sub, given the frequency of Via Rail corridor trains on this line. Similarly, I see similar issues on the Alexandria Sub, given the frequency of Via service between Ottawa and Montreal.

5. The group does not appear to be interested in charging commuters a set rate for riding its commuter trains. Instead, the operations would be covered by the subscribing municipalities. I have a hard time believing a commuter service could be viable with no reliable commuter fares.

Those are just my concerns, but I do hope this group can make a go of this plan, since regional rail service appears to be a big need in and around Ottawa. I just hope some of these hurdles can be overcome. It makes for interesting blog fodder, at least. I'd be interested in what other railfans think of this plan.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer siding of life

With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot for the use of his song of a similar name...

Well, it's time for me to go on vacation and recharge a little bit. I will be visiting family in Southern Ontario while looking after my daughters, as my wife will be away for professional training. So, it should be an interesting week.

When I return, I hope to have lots of material to share from my travels down south. I also plan to carry on with another post of Summer Observations in Ottawa, not to mention a few more posts about why rolling stock is important. Yes, the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society will resume its meetings shortly.

Also, you won't want to miss my brother's guest post from his travels in Ohio where he ran across some impressive Norfolk Southern freights with some interesting run-through power.

That's all coming up, but first I need to get out of Ottawa and relax.

See you all soon!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer observations in Ottawa (Part I)

There's no shortage of rail news in Ottawa this summer as the city gears up for the launch of its Confederation Line light rail service next year. But it's not just the O-Train that is making the news. There are a number of other interesting items I have come across in recent weeks.

Let's start with something simple. In my years watching Via Rail at Ottawa's Central Station, I have not seen all that much of the maligned Renaissance equipment. Back in 2013, I caught some of this equipment a few times, but then noticed that it largely disappeared from the regular mix of corridor trains I watched. That isn't to say that it wasn't being used. I'm just saying that I didn't see it much. Of course, given the problems this equipment has experienced in recent years, it's not much of a stretch to say these coaches have seen light duty in the corridor compared to what Via originally intended.

Well, lo and behold, I did catch some of the Renaissance equipment recently, as it was being pulled by F40 6445. This was a surprising consist for me, as I have not seen the Renaissance equipment being pulled by an F40 before. I was under the impression that only the P42s were able to couple with the Renaissance cars, but I guess that is not the case. This was Train 24 headed to Quebec City. I've taken this train before (LRC coach, of course). It's a great ride.

Another interesting development at the station. Via is now using the northern spur at the edge of the station yard. This stub of a track has only seen use in recent years as a storage track for Via's snow clearing equipment. But, as you may have noticed in the top left of the photo, work to raise the platforms has put some of the trackage in the station yard off limits, which is likely what pressed this old track into service. Note the train in the hole. F40 6427, a Business Class LRC coach in renaissance colours and three old streamliners in the blue and yellow. Who says Via is boring?

I took some photos of Train 24 from the Belfast Road overpass. I made sure to cross over to the eastern side of the bridge to catch the train as it departed on the Alexandria Sub. The consist was led by Renaissance baggage car 7001, which is a refurbed shell of a sleeper. You can still see where the windows were covered over. Note, also, that the Business Class coach still reads "Via 1." Time for a new patch?

While I was at the station, I took a look at the ongoing work on the O-Train Confederation Line. The wiring is largely up from Blair Station in the east all the way to about Hurdman Station, just outside the downtown. Here, we see on of the many hi-rail trucks that roam the line. I even caught one of the makeshift maintenance of way cars, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Here's a shot of a worker doing some work on a crossover just in front of the Via station. You can see the station canopy in the top left. That shell you see top right will be the O-Train station that links commuters to the Via Station. As expected, the commuter station that serves the Via station will no longer go by the name "Train" since it seems a little redundant. It worked as a name when buses served the Via station on the Transitway, but as a LRT station, the name didn't work so the city has renamed the commuter station as Tremblay Station, to reflect the street where the Via station is located.

Much of the work on the west side of the Confederation Line does not appear to me to be as advanced as the work on the east side of the line. There is no catenary up between Tunney's Pasture and the downtown. There is some track laid, but there are gaps still between LeBreton and the western approach to the downtown rail tunnel. There is also no trackage in place at the end of the line at Tunney's.

I should mention that, while work on the Confederation Line is briskly progressing, another commuter rail development is beginning to make headlines. The Moose consortium, which is pushing to establish a GO Train style commuter service between Ottawa and various towns outside the city, is making its pitch to communities as we speak.

I'll speak to that in more detail in the next post because there is too much ground to cover. I have to admit, I am skeptical about Moose's plans but I am also intrigued by the group's ambition and its approach.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part II)

Welcome to the second meeting of RSAS - the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society. As we mentioned in our inaugural meeting, there is much for us to learn from the humble freight car. Last week, we talked about how rail cars have changed in the last few decades. Today, all we see is container trains, but it wasn't all that long ago that trains regularly featured a slew of boxcars.

So, with last week's start behind us, I humbly present the second reason why it's important to photograph rolling stock.

2. Photographing rolling stock is perhaps the best way we can learn about railway history these days.

Let's face it. The major North American railways are not all that concerned with their history (Norfolk Southern is the one exception and Union Pacific has some reasonable heritage units). For the most part, your best bet for catching a glimpse of rail history is to find it on an old car. And, given the life span of cars, many of these old cars will likely not be on the rails much longer.

Take the picture above (August 2016) for example. Those of us who have been around know all about Canadian Pacific's former incarnation as CP Rail. I'm sure many of us take it for granted. But how many young railfans weren't around during the multimark era and don't know anything about the CP Rail incarnation?

Here are a few additional photos of some fallen flags or relics.

Conrail (Summer 1992, Sarnia Yard) These old high-cubes were once common, but they are rare now. Check out the massive double doors. You can even see a little glimpse of an old GT high cube to the left.

Family Lines System/Louisville & Nashville (Summer 2014, Sarnia Yard). There are few railways with a more colourful lineage than CSX.

Sclair and Dupont (Summer 1992, Serviplast Spur, near Corunna). These hoppers are still around, thankfully. How many cars in private fleets were or are as creatively decked out than these hoppers?

CN International Service North American scheme (December 2013, near Donahue Bridge, Sarnia). Who remembers this scheme on CN and CP international service cars? I used to see them all the time but was shocked to see on back in 2013.

 Burlington Northern (October 2016, Sarnia Yard). Thankfully, BN cars are still pretty common. I have always thought BN was one of the coolest looking railways. I loved the logo and the colour scheme. Much better than the ultra modern BNSF Great Northern knock-off look.

Southern Railway (October 2016, Strathroy Subdivision, Sarnia). How many railways put as much thought into their advertising than the Southern? These cars are still around, but I found they have dwindled in recent years.

Chicago & Northwestern (April 2014, Smiths Falls Sub, Ottawa). I love coming across cars where the heritage is literally bleeding through, despite efforts to repatch.

Soo Line (June 2014, Twin Elm, Ontario). The Soo is still a common site, given its longstanding association and integration in the Canadian Pacific system. Still, it's a railway with a colourful history that is starting to fade. How any Soo-painted units are left out there? How many Soo hoppers are left with the wheat sheaf on the side?

These are just a few examples of some of the rail history I have caught trackside over the years. On the surface, there is nothing fancy about these pictures on their own, but I think they collectively tell a fascinating story. Things weren't always like they are today. I'm not saying it was better trackside thirty years ago (okay I might be, but I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man), but it was different. And that's a story worth telling. Who can say what railways will look like in another few decades? Given how much change we've seen even in the last ten years, it seems like snapping a few mundane shots of rolling stock is a worthy exercise.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part I)

In light of some of the great discussion I have seen lately about rolling stock, I decided to approach the subject of the humble freight car in a series of posts. With that in mind, I'd like to call to order the first session of the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society (RSAS for short).

I can't underestimate how important it is to document every piece of a train that passes by our lenses. I know there are many out there, including me, that sometimes halfheartedly take shots of rolling stock as part of our trackside experience. However, when you consider how quickly things change in this industry, it is sometimes to our detriment when we don't chronicle rolling stock like we do the front end of trains. Yes, the dramatic shot of the locomotive is always what we strive for, but should we be satisfied with the head end only?

Why is rolling stock so important? Well, here's the first reason.

1. What is common today may not be all that common tomorrow.

Case in point. When I was a teenager, intermodal container trains were just starting to really take hold as the dominant form of rail freight. I remember when the double stacks began to show up in Sarnia in the mid-1990s when the new St. Clair Tunnel was build to accommodate them. The site of these stacked containers on an endless string of well cars was jarring.

This shot above, captures the site of two container trains, one headed to Macmillan Yard in Vaughan with the other making its way out. A few decades ago, this shot would likely inspire a much different reaction than it does today.

I doubt very much that container traffic is going to go the way of the boxcar anytime soon, but it's no reason for us to ignore the site. This shot above aptly captures the essence of modern railroading in 2017 (well, this shot is 2013, but you get the idea). It also gives you an idea of what a railway carries and who it serves, based on the stamps on the trailers (JB Hunt, Canadian Tire, MSC, etc.). This allows to more easily understand how railways work.

Now compare the all-too-common intermodal stack trains with something like an old high-cube boxcar. I took this shot in the Spring of 1991 in my hometown of Corunna. This boxcar, which still retained its Louisville and Nashville lettering (although patched for CSXT), was once a very common site where I lived. These massive boxcars carried auto parts and were abundant on the rail lines in Southern Ontario, since the big three (CN, CP and CSX) all served the auto plants and parts suppliers in the region.

Well, lo and behold, these boxcars are now a distant memory and it really hasn't been all that long (less than 30 years). I have a few shots of these old cars and am glad that I do. Not only do they seem more compelling now, but they also help to explain what it was like to be trackside 30 years ago.

So take that boring shot of a freight car. You might be glad you did one day.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Havelock: The railway town, the subdivision, the history

This post is the fourth in a rail history series I intend to extend through 2017 as we celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Click the links to read the first and second  and third rail history posts.

Havelock, Ontario is still a railway town, despite it all. The village, which sits on the easten edge of Peterborough County, has always been closely tied to the railways for its entire history. In the last thirty years, the fortunes of the rail line through the village have waxed and waned. Unlike other remote villages that have lost rail service, Havelock’s railway might actually have better days ahead.

Today, the town’s railway operations still reflect the past and present in a relaxed pastoral setting.

I have passed through Havelock countless times, mostly in 2003 and 2004, when I lived and worked in Peterborough. The village’s railyard, which is operated by Canadian Pacific subsidiary the Kawartha Lakes Railway, still serves as a steady railway presence for the area, which is on the edge of both Eastern and Central Ontario.

For railfans, the railyard is an easy place to take in some action. Even without any activity in the yard, there is much to see. The village’s former railway station, a designated heritage site, has been preserved since it last served as a passenger station in 1990. The station has housed a restaurant since 2004. Former CP Rail caboose 434700 has sat on the side of Ottawa Street (Highway 7) for years and is fully preserved.

Two GP20ECOs bracket GP38-2 3021 at Havelock Yard near the end of the Havelock Subdivision. Check out the faded golden rodent in the middle!

The yard itself still sees regular activity as Havelock is the junction between the Havelock Subdivision and the Nephton Subdivision. The Nephton Sub is critical to the Kawarwtha Lakes Railway, since it connects the railway’s main customer, Unimin, which mines nepheline at the Blue Mountain mine, about half an hour north of Havelock. Nepheline is a mineral found in igneous rock. The mineral is a key component in plastics, fibreglass, ceramics and glass. So, it's not uncommon to find covered hoppers in this area, obviously.

The Kawartha Lakes Railway regularly uses GP20ECOs and other geeps on both subs and in the yard. In the past, SW1200s were used for local service in Peterborough (due to their ability to handle the tight curves of local spurs) while GP9s were used along the rest of the line.

Havelock Yard in late June. Note the old Boston & Maine covered hopper. Covered hoppers are common in this yard as CP subsidiary Kawartha Lakes Railway serves a nearby nepheline mine and now serves area businesses by delivering carloads of roofing granules that are loaded onto trucks.

I recall many a time working at the Peterborough Examiner in the evening and watching Toronto-bound nepheline trains rushing through town, led by GP9s. Our newspaper's property went right back to the tracks, so passing trains were always a neat break in the evenings.

But back to Havelock.

Havelock has long tied its fortunes to the railway. Rails were originally laid through the area as part of the Ontario and Quebec Railway, which became part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884. The line through Havelock originally connected Toronto with Perth and was used as a passenger connection to Ottawa (via the Havelock Sub connected to the Belleville Sub at Glen Tay and that Sub linked up to the Smiths Falls Sub, which stretched through Smiths Falls to Ottawa).

Canadian Pacific passenger train heads west out of Havelock en route to Peterborough and Toronto. This shot was taken six years before rails east of Havelock were torn up. At one point, this sub extended all the way to Perth (Canada Science and Technology Museum archives).

Via Rail discontinued service over the Havelock Sub in January 1990. At that point, through service to Ottawa had long since been discontinued. The section of the sub from Glen Tay (Perth) to Tweed was abandoned in 1971 while the section from Tweed to Havelock was scrapped in 1988.

Havelock's passenger station as seen from Havelock Yard. This station has been preserved and serves as a restaurant (Canada Science and Technology Museum archives).

Since passenger rail was scrapped on the sub, there has been a steady push from some to re-establish passenger rail operations on this line, which is bolted rail. The latest serious push for passenger rail happened in 2008 when Peterborough’s MP Dean Del Mastro led efforts to have Via Rail establish RDC service between Peterborough and Toronto. There was a commitment from Ontario and the federal government to contribute $150 million to upgrade the line for passenger service.

The plan fell apart when Via Rail studied the feasibility of passenger rail operations on the line and found that the service would lose $2 million annually. Local rail proponents had estimates that wildly differed from Via’s assessment and continued to push for Via or Metrolinx service on the sub. Metrolinx estimated it would cost $541 million to equip the line for commuter trains. At one point, local proponents wanted to buy the Havelock and Nephton Subs from CP and contract the railway to continue freight operations. The idea was to get a cut of the freight revenues from KLR to help establish passenger rail on a solid footing.

So, that was the end of it, right? Well, not exactly. For reasons known only to Via, there have been more recent efforts to study the feasibility of passenger rail along the Havelock Subdivision. These efforts have included looking at reacquiring land between milepost 90.8, east of Havelock, and the old junction with the Belleville Subdivision in Glen Tay (Perth). You may recall Trains Magazine explored this idea in a recent story it ran about Via Rail’s uncertain future. This section of the old sub is now part of the TransCanada Trail.

Having passenger rail on the Havelock Sub would at least solve capacity issues for Via Rail between Toronto and Montreal and Ottawa, where it has to contend with the busy freight demands on CN tracks. However, it also raises a question. Which communities are crying out for Via Rail service along this more northerly line? Other than Peteborough, the Havelock Sub mostly passes through small towns such at Norwood and Cavan. I suppose the idea Via is considering is establishing an express route between Toronto and Ottawa, which would supplement current service that serves larger communities along Lake Ontario. That’s just a guess on my part.

Whatever the future holds for this old rail line, it seems at the very least that the days ahead won’t be dull.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Some random notes

When I started this blog back in 2013, I knew it would sometimes be tough to keep up the pace. Truthfully, I have had some trouble of late keeping up with my usually weekly entries. However, I did just want to share that I have lots of idea for future posts although I am finding that it is taking me longer to develop them than I had anticipated. Sadly, my railfanning has been severely curtailed in recent months. And even when I have had time, the railways have slapped me in the face with some skunkings.

Case in point: During the March Break, my family made its way to the Toronto area for a short little getaway, mainly for the purpose of taking the kids to the Toronto Zoo. I had some time during that week to sit trackside just a little way down the road from Macmillan Yard. You'd think that would guarantee some train sightings, but I managed to find the one period of the day where there was nothing going on along that sub.

Anyway, be patient with me. This too shall pass. The school year is ending and some opportunities are popping up. I have some great stuff still to come.

This shot above is from my May meet with a CN freight train in Wyoming, Ontario along the Strathroy Sub. I am including it for two reasons. One is that it shows the old siding that once served Wyoming industry, including its feed mill. I could not find a good shot from that meet that properly catured this disused rail line until I uploaded this one. This shot shows you that, although the line has seen better days, it appears to be intact. Whether it actually still connects to the main line is another question.

You can read about this meet here.

The other reason I am showing this shot is because I am planning a few posts that hopefully showcase some of my better shots of rolling stock. I find the rail blogs that interest me the most are the ones that feature not only the motive power fronting trains, but also the cars as well. As has been mentioned in a few blogs of late, there are a number of pieces of old rolling stock that are fast disappearing, soon to be replaced with faceless, nameless leased private car fleets. So, I'm hoping a post or two about rolling stock might further stimulate some interest in my fellow rail enthusiasts to get out there and capture some great pieces of rolling stock as well.

A few notes about the O-Train Confederation Line work. The work is proceeding pretty quickly right now as a number of the rail stations are starting to take shape, which I am able to track as my bus passes by them on my daily commute to downtown. The interesting things I've noticed about the new light rail line are as follows:
  • The line is using a number of concrete rail ties
  • The grades on the line are sudden and steep. This makes sense since the electrified light rail trains would be able to mount these grades given their rather short consists and, well, light weight
  • It was mentioned a few years ago that the city might be open to freight operations to share this line at some point. I don't think this will ever happen, given the grades I saw.
  • Some sort of light show will indeed proceed at the Lyon LRT station (below ground) in downtown Ottawa, although not on July 1st, as was originally planned. The show will start shortly after Canada's birthday and will run through September. You will need a ticket to get into this show
Here's an embarrassing confession about light rail. I have to say I can't believe I didn't figure this out sooner, but here goes. I didn't realize in all my reading about the Confederation light rail line that all express buses would unload their passengers at Tunney's Pasture in the west and Blair in the east. I know that the city has said all along that the train would reduce the number of buses in the core substantially, but it was never clear to me that all express buses would stop at Tunney's and Blair, at which point all riders would be forced to hop on a train for the last few minutes of their commute. This means all buses picking up riders in Orleans and Kanata, for example, will go no further than the end of the Confederation Line.

This means all express bus riders will no longer have a seamless commute. They will be forced to get off their bus and ride the train downtown. I don't like the idea that I will have to do this, but if it saves time, I'll get used to it. I have my doubts that this arrangement will work as has been advertised. We'll see.

That being said, I still think Tunney's and Blair were poor choices for the initial east-west LRT line. Both stations do not really have much of a population immediately around them to capture riders in their immediate vicinity. I know this will be a moot point when Phase 2 is completed. Speaking of, the federal government has committed up to $1.9 billion toward the second phase of the LRT in Ottawa. This phase will extend the Confederation Line to Trim Road in the east and Moody Drive in the west. The second phase will also see the Trillium Line extension proceed all the way to the airport.

At work, I have been put in charge of a promotion campaign, which has required me to design internal posters. One of the overriding themes of this campaign is that the workplace will be thoroughly modernized and ridded of much of its paper-based processes. I was asked to come up with some ideas, so I obviously suggested that the modernization project is like going on a long journey, which can often be tiring but ultimately satisfying at the end. I suggested a train or airplane theme (Am I a good public servant or what? Did you notice the lack of favoritism?)

Well, the train theme was chosen, so I have been able to indulge my passion a bit at work, which has been great for me. I was busy searching for images of passenger trains when I noticed that Via Rail Canada now has a private archive of photographs which are available for use, under certain conditions, the most important being that the images be used in a way that promotes Via and train travel. I contacted the railway and told them what I was doing and was granted access to the archives. I just thought I would pass the information along to anyone who might be interested. I don't think I will use these images on the blog right now, but I may in the future. There are some great shots of the Canadian, in particular.

One final note. I am planning more historic posts in light of all the Canada 150 hoopla this year. My next post will focus on a railway town on the edge of Eastern Ontario that might just one day see its importance as a railway hub re-emerge. Stay tuned.

Canada 150 Posts

Almonte, Ontario
Chateau Laurier
The History of Walkley Yard

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Prince of Wales Bridge: Oh, no, not again

Just when you thought it was safe to put this piece of Ottawa's rail past and future on the back burner, the Prince of Wales Bridge has once again made headlines. The bridge, which has not seen action in many years, has long been neglected by its current owner, the City of Ottawa. After years of rejecting calls to preserve the bridge for use as an interprovincial light rail link, the city has finally come around to the idea of using the bridge for commuter trains in the future. So, all is well right? Well, not so, apparently.

As many locals know, the Prince of Wales Bridge was once a key piece of the Canadian Pacific Railway's rail network in Ottawa. It once played a key role in connecting the CP Ellwood, Prescott, Lachute and Maniwaki Subdivisions in the National Capital Region. In the final days of the Canadian Pacific's presence in the region in the late 1990s, the bridge was lightly used although it did connect CP to its last remaining customers on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. After CP left Ottawa, the bridge was purchased by the city as part of the deal it struck to buy the Ellwood Subdivision, which is now the O-Train Trillium Line.

In recent months, the city has been busy putting the final touches on the O-Train Confederation Line. The new electrified light rail line crosses over the old  Ellwood Subdivision. The contractor building the line is in the midst of constructing the new Bayview O-Train station, which will allow commuters to transfer from the electrified Confederation Line with the diesel-powered Trillium Line (there will be no rail connection like a diamond due to interoperability issues between the two O-Train systems).

The problem that the city has now is that the old rail line that leads to the bridge was removed, which is a no-no under federal laws. This is the position of the Moose Consortium, a organization that has plans to establish a private regional commuter service on the existing rail lines in the capital region. Now the city is in big trouble, it seems, with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is the body that grants permission for rail lines to be removed. Making matters worse for the city, it appears that it okayed permanent structures to be built atop the old rail line. Now the city has until the end of the month to explain to the federal agency why it has removed rail without following the proper procedures, according to local coverage.

In my former life as a journalist, I spoke to the man behind the Moose Consortium Joseph Potvin and he told me flat out he was going to make sure that the city lived up to its obligations as the owner of the rail line and the Prince of Wales Bridge. He told me more than once that he would do everything he could to make sure that the infrastructure at Bayview was kept in some sort of operational condition. He says fixing this mistake will cost the city $20 million.

Here's what I am wondering. If the city is serious about using this bridge for rail, which finally appears to be the case, why is the city building over this line? If what Moose is saying to true, why would there not be a plan in place to preserve this rail?

Here's the biggest question in my mind: Am I the only one who noticed when the Trillium Line was rebuilt that the Trillium Line's connection to the old trackage to the bridge was disconnected and buried? It's been several years since this part of the rail line was removed, but nothing was said then. While I appreciate that the removal of the 250 or so metres near the new Bayview Station is much more noticeable, I wonder why nothing was said about the original disconnection of the Prince of Wales trackage years ago.

I can only shake my head as a railfan and as a taxpayer that this situation is resolved properly.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A little fun on the 401

When my family recently travelled down to the Sarnia area for the Mother's Day weekend, I once again played one of my favourite games. Whenever we travel Highway 401, I bring along a camera to see if we can get some shots of trains at speed. I've done this many times, with varying results. At the very least, it's a good way to pass the time on what is always a very long ride.

Here's what we got this time around.

When we were passing through Kingston Friday morning at around 110 km/h, a westbound Via Rail train from Montreal overtook us. My wife snapped a pretty cool shot of wrapped P42 912, a renaissance-painted Business Class coach and a wrapped coach.

This stretch of CN's Kingston Subdivision is a gold mine for railfanning, even if you're in a car. A little further west of this spot, the subdivision crosses under the 401 near Montreal Street (I think), which is where we caught a glimpse of this freight heading east. I was a little disappointed with our timing. Had we travelled a little slower, we would have met this one at a better spot along the highway. Oh well.

Not the best shot, but it still works for me. There's just one unit pulling some centre beam lumber cars and a few gondolas and some covered hoppers (out of frame). Maybe a local? I suspect my friend Eric Gagnon might be able to comment on this.

One the way home to Ottawa, we didn't have the same kind of luck, but I did manage to snag a shot of some GO Trains idling near the 401 east of Toronto. You can see some of the glare from the window, which I was not able to photoshop out completely.

And, as we usually do, we came across an endless container train. We usually see a few of these when we travel the highway, although we often catch them mid-train. Still, a good collection of trailers to see, if that's your thing.

Here are two final shots, which illustrate how tough this game can be, although I have to hand it to my wife for being a gamer. Here's a shot she got from the passenger seat, shooting across the driver's seat and across the westbound 401. The first shot is completely untouched.

Another wrap! Here's my attempt to work with one of the shots.

You get the idea. It's sometimes a game of diminishing returns, but it makes the drive much more fun, for me at least.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Perfect afternoon in Wyoming

My family recently made a quick trip to Southwestern Ontario to attend two family gatherings. It was a hectic weekend, which was not made any better when bookended it with an eight-hour car ride each way. I did manage to get some quiet time in Wyoming, along the CN Strathroy Subdivision on the Saturday. It was a perfectly sunny afternoon, with the temperature reaching 20C. I sat at the Wyoming Via Rail station, hoping to catch a freight train. After about 40 minutes of waiting, my limited window was waning, as I had to head back to my Dad's house in Petrolia and get ready for a family reunion in Thamesville, near Chatham. While waiting for a train, I snapped a quick photo of the CN Wyoming sign, which is right at the end of the Via Rail platform. You can see the old ramp used to load rail cars off to the right.

This platform, which is in remarkably good condition considering it hasn't been used in some time, feeds a disconnected siding* running behind the Via station. This track used to feed the Wanstead Farmers Co-operative elevators just west of the station (see photos below). It's a bit of an anomaly. The rails are still in place and you need to cross the tracks to get to the Via Rail station. But it's obvious that the line hasn't been used in a long time. You'd have thought CN would have pulled this old trackage long ago, as it still crosses Wyoming's main street.

The train finally did emerge from the east, right around when I was ready to pack it in. I figured something might happen since the signal you see in the photo was mostly blinking yellow as I sat at the station and switched to straight red. I hoped that meant something might be coming from the east. I'm glad I waited.

The only let down was the fact that I was on the shadow side of the train, although beggars can't be choosers, since all other vantage points on the other side of the tracks were private property, so I had to make do with my spot as it was. What a surprise as the train came into view. I was expecting the usual two units leading the train, but there were a few more. In fact, there were five. I can't recall the last time I saw five units up front on a train. I figured there were a few units being taken somewhere, possibly for maintenance or possibly for assignments further west.

I was happy with this shot, especially after colour corrections. You can't really see it, but the old CN trackage is buried in the grass. It starts in the bottom right corner of the shot and makes its way on an angle to the main line.

The train was flying through town, so I tried to get a few different shots that incorporated different elements of Wyoming. In this shot below, you can see the town's water tower and the tiny Via Rail station.

And in this shot, you can see the five units crossing Broadway Street, Wyoming's main street. You can also see the CN communications tower and my Mazda 5, making its first cameo on the blog.

There were a few cool pieces of rolling stock on this mixed freight, like this unit strapped to a TTX flat car.

And here's another oldie, a RailBox boxcar in its original scheme, not the repatched TTX scheme. Following it is another flatcar with unknown contents beneath a black tarp. I'm so glad I caught a mixed freight instead of a container train.

I tried to incorporate the Wanstead Farmer's Co-op in a shot, so I framed the end of the train with the elevators. You can also see Wyoming's Home Hardware on Broadway.

So, that was my meet with a rumbling westbound CN freight on its way to Sarnia Yard and beyond. I was pretty happy to be able to spend some time in Wyoming and catch a freight rolling through town. I've had this spot on my wish list for years, so I can now cross it off. Mission accomplished.

* - A reader pointed out that the disconnected trackage running behind the Via station was not a siding, but a spur. I always assumed that a spur was a track branching off a main line that leads to a dead end. I assumed a siding was a track branching off a main line that reconnects to the main line at the other end. And, yes, I do understand what the purpose of a siding is, which the track in Wyoming likely was not intended for (it was for local service). So, I'm open to being corrected, but this Wyoming siding branched off near the Co-op, in the photo above, and reconnected to the main line further east, beyond the station. Hence, I called it a siding. Please let me know if I'm off base.