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.