Thursday, June 21, 2018

Patriotism on the rails

I’ve just finished nearly two years in a marketing role for a government agency and it’s provided me with some interesting insight on branding. Of course, this experience motivated some thoughts about how railways brand themselves. At work, I was put in charge of marketing a certain project, but soon found myself at odds with the decision makers. The reason was they didn’t want to use the actual name of the project we were asked to promote. Instead, they insisted we use a more general word “Modernization” in all of the documents and ads we produced. It made little sense to me that the actual name of what we were promoting took a back seat to the word “modernization,” which seemed overly long and a little bland as a brand name.

Oh well. On to more interesting topics. Here are a few branding insights I have gained in my time in communications and marketing that I think railways should consider.

1. A country is not your brand. I have seen this trend in the last decade or more, where railways wrap themselves in a flag, as a way of promoting themselves to be patriotic companies in it for the good of their country. While I do not have a problem with a company expressing its pride in country, I think several railways have begun to lose brand power because their own name often plays second fiddle to their country.

Whose railway is it anyway? Well, to the casual observer, you wouldn't know the yellow engine is a UP engine. Thanks to my brother for grabbing this shot in San Luis Obispo, Calif. recently.

The best example I can find is Union Pacific. My brother recently found himself in San Luis Obispo, where two UP engines were tied up at the station. When he shared his photo with me, I was immediately struck by the prominence of the American flag on the side of the power. I don’t have any problem with UP using patriotism as part of its corporate image, since its roots stretch back into the very founding of the modern west of the United States. The critique I have is that the flag is so prominent, it drowns out the actual company’s identity. That’s a shame because UP has a great, patriotic logo that has stood the test of time. The railway also has an outstanding slogan “Building America” which really does sum up what a railway should be doing on a daily basis. On some locomotives, you see a small UP logo near the rear of the long hood with the company slogan, but it’s the flag that is the dominant image. Given my experience in government in the last years, I think UP’s branding needs more balance.

I’ve noticed Amtrak is beginning to use this flag approach on the sides of its new electric locomotives in the Northeast Corridor. The stakes are much higher for Amtrak than they are for Union Pacific and here’s why.

2. Patriotism has a dark side, too. I don’t want to get into the political divisions in the United States. That’s not my point at all. From a marketing point of view, I think Amtrak, and Via Rail Canada, have a very fine line they need to walk. Why? Well, in Amtrak’s case, it is forever fighting an uphill battle to maintain a good reputation and many of the factors that are working against it are out of the railway’s control. We all know about the battles it faces to maintain proper operating and capital budgets in order to provide service that passengers want to use. This is not always easy when you must go cap in hand to the government for funds each year. That is why wrapping yourself in the flag is dangerous. Passengers often associate Amtrak, and Via Rail Canada, as wards of the state, for better or for worse. And most people do not relate the government with quick, efficient service. I don’t know why Amtrak or Via Rail would want to invite those comparisons.

3. Government branding should be avoided at all costs. This is, in my opinion, a branding challenge Via Rail needs to address. At one point, Via Rail consists did not have any maple leaf flags or Government of Canada wordmark on any of their locomotives or rolling stock. I’m not sure when the flags first began to appear, or the Canada wordmark, but I’ve always found these additions to be visual distractions to what was once a very clean, modern and effective look.

When Via Rail began wrapping its cars for Canada 150 and for the railway’s 4oth anniversary, the Canada wordmark and the by now faded Canada flags were removed. I thought this was a good move. Again, I want to stress that I don’t have a problem with a company expressing its patriotism, but I do think there needs to be a balance. In the case of Via, I found the fluttering Canada flags to be a tad too large and also at odds with the more two-dimensional Via Rail logo. I also found the Canada wordmark to be far too large. The brand is Via Rail, not the Government of Canada. The company’s logo should always be the biggest, most prominent feature. This is why I think Via Rail can learn from its years of wrapping cars. While you might not like this scheme, it at least makes one thing clear: the brand is Via Rail.

Just like I don’t think Amtrak wants to associate itself with the U.S. federal government, I don’t think Via Rail has done itself any favours by associating itself so closely with the Canadian government, especially given the ever-changing political whims of those in power. I don’t know how much of the Canada wordmark placement and size was mandated, but if there was no directive, I think at the very least the wordmark should be minimized and placed elsewhere in the future. Same with the flag. If the flag is bigger than the Via logo, then there’s a branding problem.

Does anyone remember when Via replaced its logo at the bottom of the F40PH-2 hoods and replaced with the wordmark? The railway was then forced to jam their company’s logo above the headlights on the hood. That was a marketing disaster.


One railway operation that has it right is Metrolinx. The GO Train operator does have an Ontario flag on the hoods of its locomotives, but it’s subtle. If you were to plaster a large Ontario flag on the side of the green and white commuter trains, it would create an inconsistent look at the very least. At worst, it could create an unnecessarily visceral reaction. After all, I’m not sure that many in the province are terribly enamored with the provincial government, no matter who is in charge.

I guess my message is simplicity is always the best solution. I’ve read a lot on marketing recently and that message seems to be the central theme to any successful branding exercise or marketing campaign. Railways need to be railways first and foremost. Being patriotic is a good way to create goodwill, but it can’t replace your central message. And that message should always be: We are a darn good railway.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Spring observations in Ottawa

As the city’s Confederation Line light rail system lumbers toward completion, there remains a flurry of activity at a number of points along the line. I recently took a stroll along the tracks just west of the downtown, to see what was happening.

The first site I saw was the exposed western tunnel entrance. This is the first time I saw the tunnel entrance, which has been covered until very recently. Over the course of the early spring, the final tie clips were fastened into place, thus completing the Confederation Line from Blair Station in the east with Tunney’s Pasture Station in the west.
At Bayview Station, where the Confederation Line crosses over the existing Trillium Line, workers were busy with a number of tasks, including extending the Trillium Line beneath the Confederation Line flyover. This is an interesting job, since Bayview Station remains at the centre of a dispute between the City of Ottawa and the group calling itself the Moose Consortium.

As you have read here before, Moose has been battling the city over use of the Prince of Wales Bridge, which once connected the old Canadian Pacific Ellwood Subdivision with the CP trackage in Quebec, including the Maniwaki and Lachute Subs. The Trillium Line has been disconnected from the bridge for several years, as you saw in this photo I took in 2013.
More recently, when work began on Bayview Station, a portion of the trackage leading the the bridge was covered over by consruction. Moose, which has goals of establishing some sort of regional commuter rail service in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec, challenged the city before federal authorities. Moose has long argued that the city cannot simply sever this trackage from the O-Train line without proceeding with discontinuance of service paperwork with the Canadian Transportation Agency. The city has argued that has long-term plans for the old rail bridge.

Whatever the outcome, the city cannot deny that, even recently, it had money set aside to convert the bridge into a recreational pathway. The city also cannot claim that has done much to maintain the bridge. The CTA recently sided with Moose, meaning it agreed with the group’s position that the city cannot sever the rail line over the Ottawa River from its Trillium Line without going through a discontuance process. The city is appealing that decision. At the very least, it appears that the tracks laid beneath the Confederation Line could very easily link back up with the trackage leading the bridge. I doubt that was the reason why the tracks were laid there, but it at least raises the possibility that the city might finally get serious about using the bridge for commuter rail.
Speaking of the Prince of Wales Bridge, the rusting old relic found itself as the centre of attention briefly during the early days of the Ontario provincial election. A group of local Liberals made an announcement that they would support any efforts to extend the city’s light rail system over the bridge. This announcement made me roll my eyes for several reasons. First, it seems strange to me pledge support for an extension of this system over the river at a time when this potential part of the light rail system is not an immediate priority. I also laugh whenever the city begins the trumpet the fact that the province is chipping in on the light rail system, as if the money is coming from some other taxpayer. Message to politicians: the city taxpayer, the provincial taxpayer and the federal taxpayer are all the same people.
For those who are following the progress of the Confederation Line, you may have noticed that a complete trainset has been sitting on the tracks near Tunney’s Pasture Station for weeks. The trainset is being guarded around the clock, even though the tracks at this point are in a deep cut. I suspect that those living near this end of the line will soon be seeing test runs. Most of the testing that has happened so far is happening near Belfast Yard on the east end of the line.
I did manage to take some time to get a few shots of the Trillium Line recently, including this meet between two diesel powered trainsets near Somerset Street. As anyone who takes the bus in Ottawa knows, the Trillium Line has been numbered “Line 2” while the Confederation has been numbered “Line 1.” I find this a bit odd, since the city went to great trouble to rebrand the original O-Train line as the Trillium Line. Now, if you are on a city bus nearing Bayview Station, you will hear the automated public address system announce “Bayview Station, O-Train Line 2.” I wonder if this will confuse anyone who have come to know the original O-Train line as the Trillium Line.

Oh well, at least all this activity has given us something to talk about.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Super Nova!

Last summer, I had an epic week back in the Sarnia area where I did more railfanning than I have done in a long time. One local rail facility that I tried to get some shots of is the Nova Corunna railway. It's an incredibly hard operation to get shots of, since there is no real public access, unless you are in the passenger seat of a car in the northbound lanes of Highway 40 and can get some shots at speed.

I did manage to get a few shots of the operation, which is connected to CN's St. Clair River Industrial Spur. I wasn't able to do much with the photos at the time and forgot about the shots. But something reminded me of the picture this week, so here are a few shots. And it just so happens that there is a story to go with these shots.

Nova Chemicals, as many in the Sarnia area know, is a major employer. And it's about to become a much bigger employer. Nova will be investing $2 billion to build a new polyethylene plant just south of the Nova Corunna site (you can see a piece of the Nova half diamond below). The company is also investing heavily in an expansion of the Corunna site. When all is said and done, Nova will have an expanded Corunna site along Highway 40 and Petrolia Line, its Nova Moore site (near Mooretown), a new plant on the Rokeby Line and its plant in Corunna (called the St. Clair River site). All but the St. Clair River site will be served by CN. CSX still serves the St. Clair River site.

Those in the area already know this news, as it was announced a while back, but I figured it was worth sharing anyway, since it will no doubt be news to those not familiar with this area. And it was a good excuse to share these photos.

Nova is a major customer for CN (you can read about this here). It has always handled its own switching. In fact, when I was young, this railway operation was one of the few places you can find long strings of GATX's old TankTrain branded tank cars. In recent years, I've noticed Nova using two switch engines, its old SW unit (above) and its genset (seen below).

This shot above isn't the best shot but it was the best I could do from the passenger seat of a moving car. You can see the SW unit and a piece of the genset (bottom right) in this shot. The Corunna plant itself was already in the midst of an expansion when I took these shots last summer, as evidenced by the cranes.

So, what does this mean for CN? I would imagine that its St. Clair spur is about to get even busier. This spur already sees a lot of action, as it serves numerous industries, both large and small, between Sarnia to well past Courtright.

When I was examining some of the expansion already happening last summer, I noticed a large rail yard being constructed on the Rokeby Line. Sadly, a sound barrier about eight feet high was blocking any possibility of pictures. The yard will look a lot like this tank farm, which is located on the south side of the Terra International plant south of Courtright, on the Bickford Line.

At the very least, I would imagine there will be more Nova branded switchers making their way to the area in the coming years, given the volume of work that will be needed to keep all these refineries operating smoothly. For those who don't mind seeing a lot of tank cars and covered hoppers, it's an exciting prospect. For someone who has to settle for the Arnprior Turn, I'm pretty stoked.

It's just one small spinoff from this massive investment.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Starting year six with 589

It just goes to show you that there's no substitute for your being observant. When it comes to the famous Arnprior Turn, you really have to track it week to week and try to find trends, if you want to catch it. You've likely read in this blog before that there is no trackside signal to watch, no scanner to listen to. You just have to know when CN's 589 makes its way over the Beachburg Sub and Renfrew Spur as it services Nylene Canada in Arnprior each Wednesday.

In February and March, I noticed many times on my walk home from the bus that I would hear 589 blowing its horn as it crossed Corkstown Road. I live fairly close to that crossing, but it's easy to notice this horn as the sound carries a great distance. And it is decidedly different from the Via trains I hear on the Smiths Falls Sub, which is farther from where I live..

In early April, I made mental note that 589 was passing through my neighbourhood around 4:10 p.m. to about 4:20 p.m. for several weeks in a row. One day after work, I was home early so I decided to see if my observations would pay off. I camped out near a massive snow bank near Northside Road in Bells Corners to maybe catch this train.

Turns out, I was right. I heard the train's horn around 4:10, but had to wait another five minutes before the train trundled its way over the Robertson Road flyover before strutting past my vantage point. I hopped onto the nearby seven-foot high snowbank (now long gone) and clicked away.

No leased power in Ottawa! Just the standard tired old geeps that work the Ottawa jobs, in this case 4708 with the old safety scheme. And I'm not sure why the cars and SUVs were parked like this in the lot.

Given the unchecked growth near the tracks, these shots will not be possible once the green takes hold and blocks much of the view.

Look at those sad old telegraph poles. I'm surprised they have lasted this long. Many have been knocked down trackside or taken down by weeds and the elements.

There's a reason I don't set up at this spot often. Way too many visual hazards, but in this case, I only had time to make it here. Beggars can't be choosers.

Those who know this part of the city know that the train in this last shot is crossing over Highway 416, which is located well below Northside Road.

Alas, the Arnprior train has shifted its times since I caught it in early April. I tried to get out there to catch it at the same time the following week, but had no luck. Such is the life of an Ottawa railfan, I guess.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Five years

Five years ago (April 30, 2013), I began this blog by posting my first entry. Five years later, I'm still here blogging about railways in Ottawa and beyond. It's been a fun experience to engage in discussion with many fellow railfans from the region and across Canada and elsewhere. I've learned so much from all of you. For that, I am grateful.

Five years ago, the Beachburg Sub still existed beyond Nepean Junction. Today, it's just another barren right-of-way, sadly one of many in the Ottawa area. But it's not all bad news. Since I've started this blog, the city has made tremendous progress in preparing the first phase of its light rail system from Tunney's Pasture to Blair (although it should be pointed out that the first phase is months behind schedule).

Five years ago, there was no plan for the rail link across the Ottawa River on the Prince of Wales Bridge. After much foot-dragging, the city has finally come around to the idea that maybe this critical piece of rail infrastructure would be a valuable rail link. It's not a sure shot, by any means, but at least the will is finally there. I should point out that the group looking to establish a commuter rail system in Eastern Ontario, the Moose Consortium, recently won a legal victory when a federal regular ordered the city to re-connect the severed portion of the old Ellwood Subdivision, which is now covered over by part of the Bayview O-Train station, or begin formal discontinuance proceedings for the old bridge. The city is fighting the decision and has been granted an extension, but it appears that Moose is at least forcing the city's hand. That may not be a bad thing.

While we're on the subject, the city finally came around to the benefits of extending the O-Train to the Ottawa airport and to the city's southern suburbs via an existing portion of the old Prescott Subdivision. This was not the case five years ago. Progress.

Since I've begun this blog, Via has invested pretty heavily in its local rail infrastructure in the city. Although Via Rail has cut back its operations elsewhere in its network, its Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor remains a vibrant portion of the network, to say the least.

It would be great to mention that CN has done great things in the region since I've begun blogging but the truth is its local operations have continued limping along much as they have been for years. CN has scrapped not only the Beachburg Sub from Nepean Junction to Fitzroy Harbour, it has also removed other small pieces of its local network, including the last section of the old Carleton Place Sub in Bells Corners (the line was technically called the Carleton Spur in recent years).

In the five years since I've started, I've been able to share some of my railfanning photos from the Sarnia area, Toronto, Markham, Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Jacobs, London, Ottawa, Bedell, Finch, Kingston, Windsor, Corunna, Banff, Montreal, Quebec City and Kissimmee, Florida, to name but a few.

Thanks to my contributors and fellow railfans, I've been able to share more photos and railfanning material from across North America and even Europe. I've mentioned it many times before but it always bears repeating. I really do rely on the contributions of my fellow railfans to help round out this blog. So a big thank you to everyone who has helped out along the way.

Thanks to all.

Michael Hammond

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com

Saturday, April 21, 2018

All about the Baldwins

Walt Disney World Railroad, Part II

To see the initial post, click here.

As I mentioned in my first post about the Walt Disney World Railroad, I recently was able to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the tourist line, which operates on a small loop around the Magic Kingdom in Florida. There are a number of interesting items that make this little railway worth checking out, if you find yourself at this theme park.

If you're wondering what is above the steam engine, it's the Walt Disney World monorail. The monorail trains' roundhouse is right above the steam locomotive roundhouse.

I was most fascinated by the four steam locomotives that power the five-car trains that shuttle park goers to various parts of the Magic Kingdom throughout the day. The locomotives are not specially built reproductions, as some might expect. They are real steam locomotives that pulled revenue freight in a former life before they were purchased by Disney and modified (significantly, in some cases) to pull trains at Disney World.

Here are some interesting facts about these locomotives that I was able to discover during the tour.

1. Each of these four narrow gauge steam engines is named after someone significant to the Disney empire. The 4-4-0 engine pictured above is the Roy Disney. Roy, who was Walt's brother, and did not want an engine named after him. The honour was bestowed after Roy died. The other three are named after Walt Disney (4-6-0), Disney executive Roger Broggie (4-6-0) and Lillian Disney (2-6-0 officially known as Lilly Belle).

2. Despite their appearance, the company boasts that each of these steam engines contains 80 per cent original parts. The asterisk next to that claim, however, should mention that the locomotive boiler is each is considered a part. And each of these engines has a new, smaller boiler compared to when they served as freight haulers in Mexico.

3. All of these locomotives was built at the famous Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia between 1916 (Roy Disney) and 1928 (Lillian Disney). Interestingly, the railway's two 4-6-0s, the Roger Broggie and the Walter Disney, were built side by side and numbered consecutively by Baldwin in 1925. They ended up being sold together and served together before they were restored together.

4. All of these locomotives was used on a narrow gauge railway that served sugar cane plantations in the Yucatan region of Mexico. They were purchased by Disney from a scrapyard in 1969 for $32,000. The purchase price included another steam locomotive (which was deemed unfit to be saved) and various spare parts.

5. Their top speed in 20 miles per hour. Although they can reach this speed, they rarely go this fast. Our tour guide told us they begin to complain and shimmy when they are pushed to their speed limit.

6. Of the original parts on these engines, these do not include the builder's plates, like this one on the Roy Disney. These plates are reproductions.

7. What's in the tender? These locomotives have been modified to burn low-sulfur diesel fuel, which feeds the fire that produces the steam. The tenders themselves are reproductions, although they run on the original trucks that were on the original tenders.

View of the top of the Roy Disney tender, as seen from the cab of the locomotive

8. This is just a personal observation, but I have to admit that the cab of a steam locomotive is a lot warmer than I thought it would be. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but I was surprised by how much of the heat from the engine's fire bleeds into the cab. This would not make this cab all that comfortable in the summer.

9. The railway almost always has two locomotives operating at one time, although it is able to accommodate three trains on its two-mile loop at a time, provided they all travel in unison between the railway's three stations. The day I visited the roundhouse, the Roy Disney and the Lilly Belle were operating while the Roger Broggie (visible below) was in the roundhouse, as was the Walter Disney although I could not see that 4-6-0.

10. Each locomotive is operated by an engineer and a fireman. Each member of the crew spends part of a shift being the engineer and part of the shift being the fireman.

This is where the magic happens. The fireman is about to fire up the engine. The initial steam test is something you have to see to believe.

As I mentioned in the first post about this railway, I am not a Disney fan. There are other railways that are no doubt much more interesting to a railfan, but this railway has much more than meets the eye. If you find yourself at Disney World and you're not exactly a Disney person (like me), make the most of it and discover this railway. This company really respects rail history.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A little planning pays off

I’ve often read various blogs and articles about planning your shots when trackside. The other day, I had my plans for a railfanning day crushed, which forced me to make do with a brief trip trackside here in Ottawa. That meant shooting another Via Rail corridor consist. This, needless to say, wasn’t nearly as exciting to me.

My first thought was to do a tour of the Smiths Falls Subdivision near my home. I often check a few spots on this stretch of track, looking for something new to capture. Since westbound Train 47 was due to leave Fallowfield Station in Barrhaven in 12:51 p.m., I began there.

Interestingly, there was a pick-up truck hi-railing along the tracks at around 12:30 p.m., although it was nothing worth shooting, so I headed southwest along the line to check out a few other places.

My next stop was the Kott Lumber spur near Moodie Drive. The spur was empty, not that I would have been able to shoot anything around that track, since it is completely inaccessible and shielded from view from most angles. There is a spot along the edge of the Kott property where I considered trying to get a shot of the train crossing the bridge over the Jock River. But the vantage point I wanted was also inaccessible, since it was very likely on private property.

I moved on to the Twin Elm area, to check out the SynAgri spur, which often boasts some interesting covered hoppers, which I have blogged about a few times. When I arrived there, the spur was empty and some bird watchers had taken the spot I was going to use to shoot the Via Rail train. The bird watchers were observing a nest of hawks that have chosen one of the high points of the SynAgri facility to rear their young this spring.

 A very long shot taken of a hawk's nest at Twin Elm. 

My final spot was the Ottawa Street crossing in Richmond, which I sometimes visit, since there is often interesting maintenance of way equipment on the spurs there. However, aside from the standard snow spreader, there was nothing happening there either.

So, what to do?

I decided to head back to the Twin Elm area and try to set up on Cambrian Road, which is not easy, given this road has narrow gravel shoulders. I set up along at a suitable spot, making sure to pull my car off the road far enough so as not to cause any safety issues. When I found my spot, I was glad I had taken the time to think of choosing a good spot. I had the sun mostly behind me, although it was midday, so it was more overhead, but I was definitely not on the shadow side of the train. I was far enough back that my vantage point would allow some wide views of the train when it arrived.

When it did come through Twin Elm, I was pretty happy with the consist. An F40PH-2 led the way, followed by a Via 40 wrapped LRC coach, two more LRC coaches, another wrap, a refurbished Budd streamliner and a P42 on the opposite end. That’s about as much variety as one might expect from a passenger train these days.

I wish I could say I framed this tree deliberately, but it was just a result of me following the train and letting the shutter fly

It made up for the fact that, in my travels the previous weekend on the 401, I missed out on some pretty impressive trains in Kingston along the Kingston Sub, including a long CN freight and a Via Rail F40PH-2 40th anniversary wrap.

As the train raced through Twin Elm, I kept following it  and letting the shutter fly. As I did, I captured this image of the entire train. I think this might be one of my favourite shots I have captured in a long time. There are many elements in this shot that I like, not the least of which is the sky.

Double ender heads west on the Smiths Falls Sub through Twin Elm, Ontario

I should mention that I deliberately got close to the fence in the shot so that I didn't have two fences to contend with when the train first came into view. As I followed it, the wire fence crept into the shot, but I like what it adds to this image.

Here's another shot I liked, as I tried to capture the train next to this barn. Sometimes, I like to take shots trackside where the train is just a small part of an overall landscape shot. This is one of those types of shots.

I will be taking a rain check on that railfanning excursion to somewhere in Eastern Ontario in the coming weeks, but this was a nice a consolation prize for the time being.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Disney World Railway (Part I)

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Walt Disney World Railway in March while on vacation. And even though I am not a huge fan of Disney, I found the tour to be a fascinating inside glimpse of a tourist railway.

So, here are a few random facts that I learned about the railway.

1. Walter Disney was a huge railfan. It all started in his childhood in Marceline, Missouri. Walt was intrigued by the AT&SF Railway that made its way through town. Today, BNSF still makes its way through that town. Walt never really forgot his hometown. Inspired by his love of trains, he built a giant outdoor railway on his property in California. He had to make one giant concession in order to convince his wife to allow him to build the railway. He had to agree to dig a fairly lengthy tunnel beneath her rose garden, so his railway wouldn't destroy her prized sanctuary. The creation grew to be a local attraction, as he often invited a number of people over to his house to ride on his railway, including Salvador Dali. There's a picture of a dour looking Dali riding one of Walt's trains. It's a surreal image.

2. It all started with a visit to the Henry Ford Museum. The Disney company doesn't shy away from mythology when it comes to its founder. The company often reminds visitors to the park of Walt's musing that the entire company began with his drawing of a mouse. In some ways, though, the beginnings of the Disney empire began with Mr. Disney's visit to Greenfield Village in the Detroit area. The attraction is part of the Ford family's empire (the car company family, not the Canadian political, uhh... family). Greenfield Village is first and foremost a collection of historic buildings that is meant to show visitors a piece of America's past. Walt was so impressed by the idealized village he saw that he used it as inspiration to create the original Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. That park, in turn, formed the basis of the Magic Kingdom, which is one of four theme parks that make up Disney World in Florida. Walt's idea was to recreate an idealized Main Street, much of it based on his hometown of Marceline. He then aimed to build a theme park around that small slice of America. One thing he always knew he would do was surround the park with a railway. The original theme park is bounded by a railway, as is much of the Magic Kingdom in Florida.

3. The Walt Disney World Main Street train station is based on a real station. The railway surrounding the Magic Kingdom has stations at Main Street, USA, Frontierland and Fantasyland. The focal point of the entire park is the railway station at Main Street, USA. When you enter this park, this station is the first thing you see. Even inside, it has the look and feel of a railway station of the early 20th century, with benches, ticket booths, railway signs and route maps of various real railways, including the Santa Fe and Union Pacific.

The main station, surprisingly, is not based on the station in Mr. Disney's hometown; rather it's based on the old Grand Trunk railway station in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Even the Frontierland station is based on an actual trackside freight structure in Marceline.

4. The railway is the real deal. The railway has reporting marks (WDWRR), operates on a 1.5-mile (2.4 kilometre) loop of three-foot-gauge track and is fed by a spur from the roundhouse. The railway has four Baldwin-built steam locomotives that date from 1916 to 1929. The train crews operate on a block signaling system, given that two to three trains can be operating on the loop at any given day. All crews have to follow normal protocol when crossing the railway's one level crossing. In order to gain access to the 1.5-mile loop that serves the park, trains have to cross one fairly busy access road that park employees use throughout the day. The steam engines approach the crossing with the customary two long, one short, one long whistle pattern to signal their approach. The railway even has a fairly challenging two-per-cent grade leading up to the Main Street Station. You can hear the old steam engines working hard as they climb this grade, chuffing all the way. If you've never heard a steam engine make this noise, it's a real novelty.

5. As you might imagine, this railway is busy. The railway is essentially a hop-on, hop-off operation that any park visitor can ride at any time as part of their admission price. The railway sees an average of about 3.7 million riders each year. I dare say there are few if any tourist lines boasting such ridership.

There are some really interesting facts about the actual locomotives they use on the railway, but I wanted to keep these for another post. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Catching up with the contributors

I don't know if I can properly describe how important it is for my blog to have regular or even semi-regular contributors. When you live in Ottawa, your railfanning opportunities are limited, to say the least. Although there is no shortage of news coming out of Ottawa right now when it comes to railways, I always feel as though I am cheating myself and the readers when there aren't any compelling images to go along with the topic I am exploring.

All that to say, it is always a great surprise when I get photos and news tips from my fellow rail enthusiasts from Eastern Ontario and elsewhere. This week, I thought I would play a little bit of catch-up and present some of my favourite contributor images from the last year and a bit. I have to admit, I have a large backlog of submitted images. Unfortunately, I can't always use them right away and sometimes I can't fashion a full post out of the contributions.

But that always leaves the door open for collections of random photos, which is always fun for me. For the first photo, let's head overseas to Portugal.

My in-laws spent a few months in Europe last spring, in Spain and Portugal in particular. They were nice enough to take train photos for me, including a number of shots from a railway museum they visited in Spain (stay tuned for that post). This shot, from the Lisbon train station, gives you a good idea of the iconic design of the station's platform and canopy. I also liked this shot because the engine reminds me of the old Bombardier LRC locomotives that once prowled the Windsor-Quebec City corridor for Via Rail Canada. My in-laws took trains just about everywhere they went during their European adventure and spoke glowingly of the passenger service there.

Take a guess where this shot came from? That tower in the background is the Calgary Tower. This shot is courtesy of my brother, who snapped a shot of a long line of hoppers parked in Calgary's downtown. He took this shot in the summer of 2016. I haven't really had any opportunities to include any of his Calgary photos in a post, so I figured I would share this shot, more for the Calgary skyline than anything else.

This shot is courtesy of fellow Ottawa railfan Keith Boardman, who snapped a few images of the old Masson passenger station in Masson, Que. This station, which appears to be in terrible shape, sits along the Quebec Gatineau Railway, although most people know this line better from its time when it was part of the Canadian Pacific Lachute Subdivision. This line also hosted Via Rail's northern service between Ottawa and Montreal, so called because the line runs north of the Ottawa River.

You can read more about Via trains along the Lachute Sub in this post on Trackside Treasure.

As Keith pointed out to me, it's been decades since this station saw any passenger service. It doesn't appear as though there are any efforts to preserve the old station. I like this shot because it shows just how well maintained the tracks appear to be, which can't be said for the station, sadly.

My brother snagged this dramatic shot of a CN freight headed west toward Sarnia on the Strathroy Subdivision. This shot was taken at the Mandaumin Road level crossing in January. My brother mentioned the other day how he saw a freight train being pulled by four locomotives that all bore different logos: CN, NS, UP and CSX. Reading up on why, it appears that CN has leased some power recently to keep up with an unexpected increase in freight traffic. One article I read was critical of the railway for not being ready for the rebounding traffic. I don't care about that. I find the prospect of being able to see UP, NS or CSX engines on CN freights to be exciting.

One final note. Radio-Canada has reported recently that the Bytown Rail Society has reached out to proponents of a tourist train on the old CP Maniwaki Subdivision. The society has offered some of its equipment for use in a new tourist operation. There has been no tourist train on this line in years, thanks to wash-outs along the right-of-way that have proven too costly for the rail's owners to fix. The old sub is owned by the municipalities that the line runs through. The article, in French, mentioned that the idea might not receive a warm reception, since efforts have already started to convert the old Maniwaki Sub into a recreational path.

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.