Friday, March 16, 2018

Coming soon

These last few weeks have been hectic, to say the very least, especially concerning my job, my health and my family. I just returned from a family vacation to Florida and am now in the midst of a job transition, which has required a great deal of studying for the required government language tests. On top of all that, I have just recently gotten over one of the nastiest colds that I have encountered in years.

All that to say, I have not been able to put the time and effort into several upcoming posts for this blog. And it's a shame because I have some interesting material to cover. Without getting into too much detail, I was able to take advantage of a little known behind-the-scenes tour of the Walt Disney World Railroad while on vacation with family.

If you are like me, you are not much of a Disney fan. I didn't really grow up with Disney movies and cartoons (I was more of a Looney Toons fan) and I am not much a theme park fan. However, marrying someone who grew up with Disney and having two young daughters has forced me to take a closer look at all things Disney.

The tour of the company's theme park railroad was much more interesting than I ever thought it would be. I was quite amazed at all the things I learned about Walt Disney and his absolute love of trains. The company founder's love of trains really has influenced much of the company's little narrow gauge railway, which is an amazing little operation.

In the coming weeks, I will share some of the little known facts and behind the scenes looks from my time watching this railway.

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 2, 2018

As the flanged wheel turns

Was there ever a doubt that Ottawa's new light rail line would not open as scheduled? I for one, am not surprised. The media has been speculating about delays to the Confederation Line for a number of months. Despite assurances that the infamous sinkhole incident on Rideau Street would not delay the project, it appears that the giant hole and several other factors doomed the original completion date, which was supposed to happen in April.

That means that, for now, the new Alstom Citadis Spirit trainsets will mostly sit under the roof of this facility on Belfast Road, near the Via Rail station. I snapped this shot a few weeks ago.

The delay has raised a few important questions regarding who will be left on the hook for the costs associated with the delay. When the delay was first announced by our mayor, several indignant city counsellors stressed that the city had language in its contract with the Rideau Transit Group (RTG) that would allow the city to charge the group $1 million for missing its deadline. That suggestion was shot down by the mayor. A few days after that discussion, the city revealed that the delay to the Confederation Line opening will cost as much as $10 million a month, including the additional salaries that will have to be paid for bus drivers since the current bus transit system will have to continue operating. Many drivers will be laid off once the Confederation Line displaces countless express bus routes between the Confederation Line's endpoints, Tunney's Pasture and Blair. Nothing definite has been disclosed, but the RTG has been told it will be covering the costs in the coming months since the city signed a fixed-price contract for the entire system's construction.

Here's a shot of Tremblay Station, near the Via Rail station. The east end of this line is much further along in its development compared to the west end of the line, including Pimisi, Bayview and Tunney's Pasture stations.

Here's another shot, which gives you a glimpse of the right-of-way, which uses the old bus Transitway that once served the Via Rail station.

For now, the only action you will see on the Confederation Line is maintenance-of-way equipment, mostly in the form of hi-rail trucks and some pretty odd looking maintenance cars. This shot below shows you the types of grades that you don't see with heavy rail operations but are common with light rail operations.

I'm not a huge fan of railfanning light rail vehicles, but for those so inclined, this is about all you will see in Ottawa for the next few months. The Trillium Line continues to operate in the shadow of the Confederation Line.

A few final notes. A University of Ottawa professor has made the obvious suggestion (at least to me) that the city should look into using the Confederation Line for freight purposes as well. This system works in other cities, when freight trains make use of commuter rail line during off-peak hours. Ottawa is a city that is absolutely choked with trucks. You'd think politicians would embrace freight railways as a way of taking trucks off the highway and especially out of the downtown. Of course, those who read this blog know I've been advocating this all along, but I wonder how effective any freight operation would be with such dramatic grades on the Confederation Line.

Also, the city revealed the names of all the O-Trains, including those operating on the Trillium Line (Ellwood Sub). The city opened up the naming contest to students and received nearly 2000 submissions. The winning submissions were initially well received, although I did read today that some people aren't happy about the lack of diversity in the names. I would link to the story, but I really don't think it's a worthwhile read. I had a hard time getting through it without rolling my eyes.

Everyone's a critic and no one is ever happy. Pretty typical for Ottawa.

Friday, February 23, 2018

40 Shades of Via Grey

I recently caught up with a few Via Rail corridor trains. I have been meaning to get out and get some shots while there was still snow on the ground. It's been a busy winter with precious few chances to catch anything trackside with a little snow in the shot. Luckily, I was able to make the most of my chances.

One of my meets was lucky. I was driving home and made sure to check out a few trackside spots long the Smiths Falls Sub. When I was driving north along Moodie Drive, the crossing barriers came down. The road was empty so I slowed down and tried to set up a quick shot of an eastbound P42 makings its way to Fallowfield Station. P42 911 still had its Canada 150 wrap minus the Canada 150 logo. Not the best shot in the world, but it was the best I could do in a rush.

The next day, I dropped by Via's Central Station on Tremblay Road to check out if anything was worth shooting. This was the first thing I saw when I arrived.

A Via crew was inspecting another wrapped P42 on a stub-end spur. This was the first Via 40th anniversary wrap I have seen. It makes this unit look brand new. My plan when I arrived at the station was to get a shot of the departing Train 24, which was about to leave for Montreal. I also wanted to catch a glimpse of Train 45, which was scheduled to leave 11 minutes after Train 24. But, given the construction on the new platforms around the west end of the station, there was no space to stand trackside. So, I made my way to the Belfast Road overpass to set up for Train 24's departure.

Before the Montreal train left, I got a quick shot of two parked trains parked on the south track end to end. One train had an LRC Business Class car hooked up to three of the old streamliners. Nice mix of equipment. You might notice a bit of wire in the bottom of this shot. Getting clean shots of the Via station from the Belfast overpass is next to impossible. I tried to shoot between the wires a few times, but I never could seem to get them out of the frame.

Here's Train 24 with an F40PH-2 leading a consist of the Renaissance equipment. Those who know this stretch of track might wonder why there is such a long shadow on the south side of the track. That shadow is cast by a long sound barrier that was erected as part of the construction of the O-Train Confederation Line Belfast Yard. More on the O-Train next week. But, by way of comparison, here's a post that shows you what this stretch of track was like before that long sound barrier was put up.

I snagged a few shots of Train 24 as it gained speed and the F40 let out a bit of smoke. The long shadow of the sound barrier is really noticeable in this shot. I really like this shot, especially the smoke coming out of the F40.

Back to that newly wrapped P42. Right after Train 24 cleared the scene, the P42 backed out of the stub-end spur and backed up below the Belfast overpass, which allowed me a great opportunity to get this unit in full sunlight. This was Train 45. Soon after, a switch moved, this train took over the main track next to the station and began to board passengers for Toronto. I was happy to get a look at Train 45, which I had not expected. Nice little bonus.

I snapped a quick shot of the new raised platform. Work is still ongoing, but you can see that some of the newly raised platforms are done.

And here's one last shot of Train 45 before it gains the main track next to the station. All in all, it was a productive couple of meets for me. I did manage to see a bit of a 40th anniversary wrapped LRC coach but was not able to get any quality shots of it. Something to look for the next time I am trackside.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Ottawa's Big Three: The forgotten railway

Those who know their rail history know that Ottawa was once a key point along both the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific main lines. Without going over the rail rationalization that began to reshape the city in the 1950s and late 1960s, it’s still significant to note that the city still hosted a substaintial rail presence into the early 1990s. When CP left Ottawa for good in the late 1990s, the city was left with just the Ottawa Central and Via Rail as its rail carriers. It was a far cry from the city’s rail heyday when the capital was served by three major railways.

Yep, that’s right. Three.

1949 scene along Mann Avenue, where NYC based much of its operations in Ottawa

It would be easy to forget that the city was once served by another major railway other than CN and CP. Until the 1950s, the New York Central operated a division that extended from northern New York State through Cornwall up to Ottawa.

For the full history of this fascinating division, I would suggest checking out the New York Central Ottawa Division website. I haven’t spent much time on this aspect of Eastern Ontario’s rail history. But it’s an interesting chapter in this region’s rail history, mostly because so much of the story has been lost over the years.

The NYC bridge over the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall. The bridge was destroyed to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping lane

But look at some of the placenames in the city and you’ll see the remnants of the NYC. For example, Hurdman transit station, Hawthorne Road and Ramsayville Road all share their names with points along the old NYC Ottawa Division. Hurdman was once a key junction for several prominent rail lines, but it’s often overlooked that the NYC used this junction as a way to access the old Union Station in downtown Ottawa.

Hurdman was a major junction for all of Ottawa's major railways at one point, including the NYC. This junction was scrapped and made way for a city bus transit station. The new O-Train Confederation Line aligns through Hurdman.

When you look south of the city, you may be able to scour for traces of the old rail link in Russell, Embrun, St. Albert, Crysler, Finch and Cornwall. The Ottawa Division, of course, crossed over the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, until it was abandoned in 1958, when the link across the river was discontinued and scrapped, as construction proceeded on an expanded St. Lawrence Seaway international shipping waterway.

Look closely in Ottawa and you might see some hints of the old NYC system. For example, before it could reach an agreement to share a central passenger terminal with other railways, NYC trains terminated at a station on Mann Street at the edge of Sandy Hill. Later, when the Union Station was completed in 1912, NYC trains finished their runs there. But in 1941, the railway reverted back to its Mann Street station. This point was key for the railway, as there were other facilities for the railway here to service steam locomotives, for example.

Some of the key NYC facilities can be seen in this 1946 image near Mann Avenue

After the war peak, which brought record traffic for many North American railways, the traffic levels of the Ottawa Division fell sharply. Truthfully, the promise of a rail line between New York and Ottawa never really materialized. Business interests on both sides of the borders had dreams of tapping into the potential of this link in the late 1800s, only to find that the riches were never really there. That was the reason why the two groups on either side of the border joined to build this line and link Ottawa with New York State. The Ontario side of the operation began running revenue service in 1897-98 and began through service to and from New York by 1900 when the link over the St. Lawrence was completed. The New York Central bought out the line in 1904 and officially merged it into the NYC system by 1913.
Some late power on the NYC Ottawa Division, a Fairbanks Morse warhorse

The NYC had had enough by the mid-1950s. In 1954, it discontinued passenger services. All operations were discontinued by early 1957. In the same year, the Canadian portion of the line was sold off to CN, which scrapped most of the line for the rails, which it used in Montreal. Small portions of the NYC were retained in Ottawa, but most of those portions were removed in 1972.

I should also credit Colin Churcher's wonderful rail historywebsite for some of the research I was able to do for this post. If you have time, it is well worth scrolling through this site for a while.

Also, feel free to check out my own post about another long forgotten NYC branch in Southwestern Ontario.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What's to become of CSX in Canada?

The CSX I knew seems to be disappearing right before my eyes. First there was the upheaval when Hunter Harrison took over and then there was his untimely death. Say what you want about the man, he got results. For my part, I’m not about seriously question his methods, other than to say that I think there is an extreme lack of long-term thinking among publicly traded companies, especially railways. There has been a lot of debate over the fixation over quarterly number. As a former business reporter, I understand how the game is played, but I have to wonder how much is enough? How long can you slash, burn and defer for the sake of making a quarterly target, even if you’re sacrificing your long-term profitability? I’m not necessarily saying this is the case with CSX, but you look at the scale of the cutbacks the company is considering and you wonder what will be left when the hedge funds are finished with this company.

April 1991 - A northbound CSX mixed freight waits on the Sarnia Subdivision, just south of the St. Clair Boulevard crossing. That empty field behind the train is now a subdivision.

For me, CSX has been a lifelong fascination. The railway’s Sarnia Subdivision passes through my hometown. For how much longer is anyone’s guess. When I was younger, CSX operated from Sarnia all the way to Chatham, where it interchanged with CP. At one point, the rail line went all the way to Lake Erie, terminating in Erieau, but that was before my time. Now, the railway switches a few refineries in Sarnia and maintains a scant presence between the Chemical Valley and its remaining customers south. CSX only goes as far as Sombra. South of that, the line’s service has been discontinued through Port Lambton, Wallaceburg, rural Kent County and Chatham.

This past summer, I caught a short local returning to Sarnia from Sombra. At the time, I wondered if that meet might be the last time I saw the CSX passing through my hometown. I’m thinking it was.

August 2017 - Perhaps my last meet with a CSX freight near my hometown

I can remember back when the railway was much busier, often shuttling long trains of interchange traffic between Sarnia and Chatham, with countless autoracks, auto parts high-cube boxcars among its usual tank cars and hoppers. In the 1980s, nearly all the GP38s were painted in the Chessie scheme, a scheme I didn’t like at the time but have grown to appreciate. There were even a fair number of B&O and even C&O painted geeps plying the rails. At some point in the late 1980s, the drab silver and grey CSX scheme popped up. By then, the writing was already on the wall. The trains were getting shorter and less frequent. By the time I moved away for school, the interchange traffic from Chatham was largely gone and the railway’s customer base in the Valley was shrinking (Dow Chemical left in the mid-1990s, Ethyl closed and a few other operations left the area afterward).

Summer 1991 - Autoracks and cabooses? This was back when CSX linked the CP in Chatham with CN in Sarnia.

Although there is optimism that small-scale industry is on its way back to some of these old refinery sites, I don’t think the CSX will want to wait around for an economic rebound. Its Sarnia Sub is already disconnected from the rest of its network.

As some continue to speculate, the Ontario Southland Railway might be a prime candidate to pick up the trackage from CSX and assume operations. The one wild card I’ve heard is that the City of Chatham-Kent owns the south end of the line and has been searching for an operator to resume rail service for the mainly agricultural customer base on the south end of the line. That process has dragged on for years with no success.

One has to wonder whether the addition of the lucrative switching business in Sarnia would make such an acquisition more palatable to the colourful shortline. I would love to see those old OSR F units and vintage locomotives in my hometown.

But I think I might raise a glass to the railway of my youth – the old Chessie System. It’s the railway that often woke me in the middle of the night when its freight trains would announce their presence by the two long, two short, one long horn blasts all the way through town. Even when I was young, I always found the sound reassuring and comfortable.

The CSX was the railway that used to distract me from my soccer games in the summer in Parkdale Park.

The CSX was the railway that produced countless summer chases as I raced to the tracks with my bike in the hopes of snapping a few shots.

The CSX is the railway whose old MoW cars were used for climbing on a tiny spur Port Lambton, where I went to school. Despite the open access to the old cars, they were never vandalized or damaged. How times change.

Fall 1992 - These MoW cars were often parked in Port Lambton, where I attended school. I recall climbing these cars on occasion, back when a railway could leave cars parked on an unprotected spur in the middle of a town and nothing would happen to them.

You get the idea. I’m not so much mourning the disappearance of the railway that I know as I am mourning the loss of its legacy in parts of Canada, especially around my hometown, but also in Windsor, Essex County, Niagara, St. Thomas and parts of Quebec. Hard to believe that this railway once served so many areas in Eastern Canada. But there is no room for sentimental nostalgia for a publicly traded railway in 2018.

CSX brings in an interchange load into CN's Sarnia Yard in October 2016

I look at what’s become of CSX in the last year and it seems like there’s almost no room for nostalgia with this railway. It’s a shame because a railway with such a colourful history deserves better.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A year of firsts

I didn't get around to putting together a post about the best moments from 2017, although I did devote one post to the Via Rail highlights (and there were many!). So, although it's nearly February, I wanted to take a look back at some cool moments trackside from 2017. Although my time trackside was miniscule last year, I was happy to have some incredible luck this year.

The first instance of some good luck happened in May when my family made a trip to Southwestern Ontario to visit family and attend a family reunion over the Mother's Day weekend. I made my way to Wyoming and camped out at the town's tiny Via Rail station, hoping to catch a freight train on the Strathroy Subdivision.

After sitting for an hour, I was just about to return back my Dad's house in Petrolia when I saw something far off in the distance making its way west. The best part of this freight train was that it had five (count 'em) engines leading the way. This is a rare site in modern railroading, as most modern diesels are matched in pairs or trios on the head end of a freight train. This lash-up reminded me of watching trains when I was younger when four to five engines on the head end of a train wasn't all that uncommon. So, mark it down as the first time I have seen this type of locomotive line-up in many years.

Later in the summer, I was again visiting family in the Sarnia area when I caught my first train on the St. Clair River Industrial Spur near the Rokeby Line, south of Corunna. I lived near this spur when I was growing up, but I was never able to get a shot of any trains on this line. I managed to catch this rain switching near the Suncor ethanol plant. Check out the old motive power and the giant power lines. This might be my favourite shot from last year.

During the same week in late July/early August, I was able to stay at my sister's house south of Corunna. Her property backs onto the CSX Sarnia Subdivision, which is a pretty quiet line these days. I was hanging around my sister's backyard, as my daughters were enjoying an afternoon siesta when I heard a train approaching the nearby Rokeby Line. I was able to position myself near the tracks and get this shot of a short train heading back to Sarnia.

Later in August, I was in London for a family wedding when I was able to break away from the family events to get some trackside time in. I saw a number of cool things during my time at the CN London East yard and the CP Quebec Street yard. At the CP yard, I was able to watch a local doing some switching, which included my first golden rodent-clad unit.

At the London East CN yard, I saw a lot of interesting things, which you can see in this post, but the highlight was a CN container train rumbling through. I don't see these trains at all, since Ottawa had no mainline action of consequence, so it was cool to see my first container trains in years, especially from the Highbury overpass.

In October, I came across an idling mixed freight that was parked in between Wyoming and Camlachie Road. You can read about this meet here. This was a surprising meet for me, since it was the first time I have seen two cowl units on a freight train. It's always cool to come across these relatively rare units, but having two on the same train was especially cool.

And as you may have read from this recent post, I was quite happy to catch my first Goderich Exeter Railway action shots in Kitchener in November. You can read about my adventures in Kitchener in this post. For those who missed it, I caught a duo of GEXR units tying up at the Kitchener railway station, including this unit, LLPX 2236. I didn't share this photo in my original post.

There were a number of other firsts last year, but these are the ones that I feel are most significant. Last year was a year where much of my trackside time was condensed into a few jam-packed weekends. I'm hoping to get going on some photography this year. If I can check off half as many items from my to-do list as I did last year, I'll be quite happy.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The little railway that could: Waterloo Central Railway

In last week’s post, I mentioned that my time in Kitchener was a bit of a missed opportunity since I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to shoot the busy GEXR operations in the city. On my recent trip to Kitchener-Waterloo, I made up for that by taking some shots of GEXR operations near the Kitchener Via Rail station.

But there is another rail operation in KW that I similarly neglected to chronicle when I lived in the area. So, on a recent visit to the area last November, I made sure to search out the Waterloo Central Railway facilities in St. Jacobs and photograph what I could.

Even though the tourist line’s motive power, including ex-Essex Terminal Railway 0-6-0 steam locomotive, WCR GE 70-tonner 1556, former National Research Council MLW S3 switcher (originally CP 6593) and the other motive power were tucked away in the railway’s shed, I had a great view of the railway’s colourful rolling stock, which was easily accessible from adjacent streets and publicly accessible areas.

This old Via Rail heavyweight was closest to the WCR maintenance facility. A string of other passenger cars, of different vintages, was just down the line.

or those who may not be familiar with this railway, it has an interesting history goes back to Canada’s unofficial Railway Town, St. Thomas. That was where the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society originated. This group now operates the WCR and carries out its restoration work in St. Jacobs.

But the tourist railway’s origins go back to 1997, when the Waterloo-St. Jacobs Railway began operating between Waterloo’s old train station on Father David Bauer Drive and the village of St. Jacobs, with a stop at the St. Jacobs Farmers Market (between the city and village). That operation, which purchased CN’s Waterloo Spur, folded in 2000. Soon after it stopped running trains, the Region of Waterloo bought the trackage, which cleared the way for WCR years later.

After a short stint operating a tourist train in 2003, there was no tourist line on the old spur until 2007 when the SOLRS established the WCR and transferred all its rolling stock and motive power to Waterloo. The tourist line has been operating on the spur ever since, with the Goderich Exeter Railway providing freight service at night all the way to Elmira, where the spur ends.

At the end of the 2014 tourist season, WCR lost its running rights south of Northfield Drive, which effectively meant they would no longer use the old Waterloo passenger station as a starting point. That decision was made so that the region could use all trackage south of Northfield Drive for their Ion light rail operations, which will begin operations shortly.

The WCR now bases its trains out of the St. Jacobs Farmers Market area, just north of Waterloo and operates regularly from spring to fall. The railway takes tourists from the Farmers Market into the old village of St. Jacobs and even operates specials as far north as Elmira for that town’s Maple Syrup Festival. In December, WCR also operates Christmas specials for families.

Canadian Pacific six-axle heavyweight Midway, 1437, was built in 1923

Sadly, when I visited the region, the railway had just finished its fall operations and was weeks away from beginning its Christmas operations. Oh well.

Another interesting facet of this railway’s operations include railway training school for those looking to earn their engineer, conductor or safety crew certifications.

All was quiet when I visited the railway’s yard in St. Jacobs, but what a collection it was. I was thrilled to get some shots of old Via Rail heavyweights, still in their iconic blue and yellow. WCR also has various older passenger cars still in their classic Canadian Pacific and Canadian National colours. These cars are in various states of restoration.

Closer to the main shed, the railway has three cabooses. The two yellow cabooses are WCRX 1040 and 1042, formerly of the Essex Terminal Railway. 

Further down the line, the old wooden caboose sat by itself. This car was a former Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo caboose, built in 1914. I couldn't get too close to this caboose since I didn't want to intrude on private property. This shot gives you an idea of how bad the weather was when I came to shoot these old relics.

Just north of this main collection of cars, there were a few gems, which are accessible from the end of a residential street and a pedestrian crossing over the tracks. I wasn’t sure if this trail was public, so I stayed on the street and to the side of the tracks, as I was not keen to trespass, especially in an area where I was unsure of the property lines.

This boxcar was the highlight, a former TH&B boxcar with a Canadian centennial logo to the right of the door.

I also thought this was a cool find. The railway appears to be in the process of rehabilitating this old Canadian National heavyweight baggage car. I love the old CN passenger colours before the railway adopted the black and white scheme with the wet noodle logo.

But, the expedition proved to be a real treat for me, even if I wasn’t able to see this fascinating railway in action. The next time I am in Kitchener-Waterloo, I will be sure to try and ride the WCR. I would suggest anyone who has an appreciation for railway history to check out this gem when they get a chance.

It’s well worth the trek up to St. Jacobs.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Making up for lost time: Catching up with GEXR in Kitchener

My two years spent in Kitchener-Waterloo seem like a lost opportunity to me, in some ways. I worked in Kitchener for two years and, for the most part, enjoyed my time there immensely. But as I look back, I wonder how much railfanning I could have done, had I had a mind to do so when I lived there. At the time however, I was not into railfanning so the only photo I have from my time in KW is a shot from Kolb Park of the train trestle over the Grand River, which you can see inthis post.
However, I had the opportunity to turn my regret into something positive when I visited KW with my family in November. On a gloomy, misty Sunday, as my wife attended a conference, I took my girls with me to Kitchener so they could visit The Museum, a kids-focused museum on King Street in Kitchener. I made sure to plot a route that took me past the Kitchener Via Rail train station on Victoria Street.
When we reached the station, I finally saw some active Goderich Exeter Railway freight operations in action. This was the first time I have photographed this fascinating railway. You will remember from my numerous posts about Goderich, Ont. that I have tried to capture some active GEXR operations for years, but have always had to settle for some static images, like this shot of a pre-Genesee &Wyoming livery GP9 parked in the GEXR Goderich yard, just up the hill from the salt mine on Lake Huron.

I've finally seen some live GEXR operations.

Well, wasn’t my timing just perfect when I saw a duo of GEXR geeps and a tank car back into a spot in front of the GEXR offices, right next to the Via station. I have always told myself it would be cool to get some photos in this spot with those iconic vintage industrial buildings in the background.

I began from this angle, since the two units were still moving. I wasn’t sure how long my window would be to catch this tiny consist (which was about as long as the Arnprior Turn, incidentally). The two units then stopped and the crew began to shuffle around outside, which allowed to try some different shots and get a bit more detail.

The first unit, obviously of UP origin, is a leased unit from Locomotive Leasing Partners, still in the UP sergeant’s yellow. This is a fact of life for short lines. Very few seem to have their own fleet of colour-coordinated motive power now. I was pretty happy with this shot, which I framed between the Via station (left) and the GEXR building (right).

Upon closer inspection of the G&W painted unit, I was pleasantly surprised to see it was in fact a Quebec Gatineau Railway unit. This short line is just across the river from me in Ottawa, but I have yet to get some solid information as to when it would be best to shoot the QGRY’s operations near Buckingham. I still have it on my to-do list, but this contact might be the next best thing until then. 

I tried to get a close up of the “Kitchener” sign that was perched on this pipe next to the short consist. I’m not exactly sure if this pipe is connected to an underground fuel storage tank or serves some other purpose. Given that crews seem to change here and the railway has a small yard just to the east of this spot, I am speculating that this might be a servicing point. Someone who is more knowledgeable than me can let me know.

One last overall shot. I really like how the old industrial buildings provide the ideal background for these units. There is a timeless quality to this scene, which could be taken at any time. The crew on this consist must get the occasional railfan on the platform. They didn't seem fazed by my presence.

I thought I was done so I took my girls to the museum where they had a ball. On the way back to our hotel, I was happy to see another GEXR train doing some shunting near the station, although it was blocking a fair bit of traffic on Lancaster Avenue. Much of the train seemed to be comprised of covered hoppers, which made me wonder if it was carrying the products of the fall harvest.

I was in a left turn lane trying to get onto Lancaster. After waiting through too many light cycles, I pulled a U turn and made my way to St. Croix Street, since the train didn’t seem to be in a rush to clear the crossing. I was able to get this fleeting glimpse of the head end of the train, which finally backed into the yard and cleared the crossings. This was taken just off St. Croix Street, behind a plaza that was next to the Guelph Subdivision tracks.

The lead unit reminded me of the old Seaboard System/Family Lines System locomotives that sometimes made their way to CSX’s Canadian operations near Windsor and sometimes even Sarnia. Upon closer look, the unit turned out to be QGRY 6908. You can just make out the G&W style logo on the short hood. 

What’s interesting about this little bit of luck is that, just the day before, I had a chat with a friend from Kitchener and I was telling her that living with regret isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I told her that I really resent people telling me that’s it unhealthy to live with regret. I understand the sentiment, but I really do believe that resenting something in your past is never a bad thing, if you use that resentment as motivation to make things right.

This is one time when I was thankful for resenting missed opportunities.

If there was one downside to this railfanning experience, it was that the weather was pretty awful, as I had to contend with rain and mist, which made for some interesting touch-ups. If you want to see much better photography of GEXR operations, check out Steve Boyko's Kitchener Rainfanning post from his blog, Confessions of a Train Geek. I'm glad someone had decent weather in KW!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

FAQ Focus: The (no-so) curious case of CP Hobson

This is the first in an ongoing series that focuses on questions I sometimes come across in the comments section of the blog. The first question goes back to October 2016. A fellow railfan from Sarnia reminded me that I intended to tackle the question below from that fall post.

Q: What's the significance behind the CN Hobson sign near the eastern portal of the Paul M. Tellier Tunnel?

In October 2016, I was in Sarnia to visit family for Thanksgiving when I stopped by the Sarnia Via Rail station to catch some trains. I caught this westbound train heading toward the tunnel. As I did, I noticed that there was a curiously named control point sign west of where I stood on the station platform. For the most part, most of the control point signs I have seen have fallen into the category of geographic name or historical marker.

In the case of this sign, Hobson, the control point is a little bit of both. But it wasn't as straightforward as I thought it would be to find out why CN predecessor Grand Trunk named this CP Hobson.

Here's a closer look at the sign, blown up from the photo above.

In and around Sarnia yard, there are a few control point signs that you can see from public property. There's CP McGregor, which is named after McGregor Side Road, which I assume once crossed the yard. There's CP Blackwell, named after two nearby roads, Blackwell Road and Blackwell Side Road, which intersected at the site of old Blackwell station. The name Blackwell owes itself to Thomas Blackwell, onetime president of the Grand Trunk Railway, which operated the Strathroy Subdivision prior to its absorption into CN. You can read more about this CP here.

Okay, so you get the idea. Usually, a railway will name points along its lines for nearby geography or to pay tribute to its history.

CP Hobson is not named after any neighbourhood or road of the same name in Sarnia. I checked for any Hobson Road and found none. However, when I did a search on Hobson and Street, I found a reference to Joseph Hobson in a report on Sarnia's history.

Hobson, it turns out, was the engineer and architect who designed the St. Clair Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. He was assigned the task by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1886. The tunnel was opened in 1891 and was considered an engineering marvel at the time, being the longest international underwater rail tunnel in the world at the time. Hobson went on to serve the railway as its chief architect.

I found a few articles about Hobson, but I found the best synopsis of his career was in his Wikipedia profile.

Here's another lesson I learned from this mystery. Always take pictures of the mundane because you never know when they will come in handy. Case in point. Here's a piece of the original bore that was used to drive the tunnel beneath the river. I snapped a photo of this monument as I was waiting for trains on the station platform.

I guess I should have paid some attention to the writing on this plaque when I was organizing my Sarnia photos in my trains images files.

It turns out that Mr. Hobson, in addition to having a control point named after him, also has a small monument devoted to him by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.

So, my guess is that milepost 59.2 CP Hobson was probably so named by the Grand Trunk and the name obviously was retained when the line became a CN line.

So CP Hobson is both a tribute to the man who designed the tunnel and likely also named for its close proximity to the old tunnel, which is just a short ride west of the sign.

If you ever have a question when you are reading any of these blog entries, be sure to let me know. I'm glad someone reminded me of this little piece of trivia. Sorry for the delay, but better late than never, I hope!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Random shots and thoughts to start 2018

I had an interesting finish to 2017. I was the only person on my team at work in between Christmas and New Year's Day, so I had some time to relax a bit. When I was scrolling through Twitter one day over lunch, I found something interesting that made me think. This photo, above, is what I saw on Twitter. No, I haven't started a BBS Twitter feed. Someone found an image I took of a Via corridor train near Cedarview Road and used it in their tweet. This shot was taken in January 2016 and was one of my periodic attempts to capture some quality winter shots for my collection.

I'm  pretty fond of that shot, so I was naturally quite surprised to find the image front and centre in an Ottawa Police tweet. I am always flattered when someone notices my work, but I was a little bit disappointed that no mention was made of where the photo originated. I realize there is no room for such courtesies on Twitter, but the discovery left me a little disappointed.

I wasn't all that upset, mind you, because I have always taken a laissez-faire approach to posting photographs online. I don't include any watermarks on my photographs and it hasn't been a problem, for the most part. Only twice have people tried to use my photos with no permission, attribution or credit. I don't mind the police service using this shot to illustrate an important public safety issue.

A little while ago, someone used one of my photos in a forum and seemed to be passing it off as his own. I had to politely tell him that this shot was, in fact, mine.

I understand that the online world can sometimes seem like the Wild West, but most people connected with this blog or other groups that I frequent are quite respectful. I'm wondering what you think of this use of my photo. What's your take on this?

I should mention the fact that the recent cold snap has played havoc with many things in the city, including the Rideau Canal skateway (too cold to skate on, if you can imagine that). The cold has also messed with the crossing signals on the Smiths Falls Subdivision through Barrhaven. This is nothing new in this part of the city, as these signals have had their share of problems over the last several years. I'm surprised with how little reaction there is to these malfunctions now.

The cold has also hampered my efforts to get out and get some shots. A freaky string of ailments and bitter cold has prevented me from getting some shots of late. Just today, I had the chance of getting a nice shot, but I was not able to safely pull over on a snow covered road to get a nice winter shot. Oh well.

I was going through some old shots that have been forwarded to me and decided to share this shot, sent to me by my brother Marc. He caught an unusual display of power on the Point Edward Spur in downtown Sarnia, near Front Street last October. I haven't seen these geeps on this line often, although my experience is admittedly limited. I have seen the old warhorse GP9s and slugs on this spur, but very few of these newer geeps.

I like this shot because the geeps are pulling an interesting covered hopper back from the grain elevator on Sarnia Bay. It's still labelled Conrail but its reporting mark is from the old New York Central (that mark is now a CSX mark). Think about how that reporting mark has changed hands: from NYC to Penn Central to Conrail to CSX.

I also like the limo in the shot. This image has a lot of cool elements.

Here's another shot my brother caught from Waterworks Road, near Bright's Grove, as a westbound CN freight train made its way down the Strathroy Subdivision toward Sarnia Yard last October. This is a cool shot, given that my brother was fairly close to the crossing and the motive power looks pretty dramatic.

Sticking with the random theme, I should mention that the consortium behind Ottawa's new Confederation Line LRT informed the city that the line will not be ready on time in May, as had been previosuly expected. This is not terribly surprising to those who have followed this project. The city has not been discussing the official launch date of the new line for quite some time, which has caused many in the media to speculate that the project will not be ready in time.

I recall early talk about an April 2018 launch of service, but more recent media has noted that city documents have pegged the launch of service as being closer to the end of May. Now, it appears the actual launch of O-Train service is anyone's guess.

One final note. This shot is a little preview of some railfanning I was able to get in on a recent trip to Kitchener-Waterloo. I managed to document a fair bit of action and railway history while in the Waterloo Region recently.

I have also been chipping away at some more rail history posts, including some material about the old Lachute Sub and the old Ottawa & New York Railway. I am hoping that this year will allow me to continue exploring rail history on this blog.