Friday, August 10, 2018

Summer observations in Ottawa

I recently paid a visit to both Ottawa Via Rail stations, since my wife was taking the train to and from a professional development conference in Montreal. It was fun to be out trackside, since I have had very few chances to take in some railside action this year.

My first trip was to Fallowfield Station, to drop my wife off. Before my wife’s train arrived, a Toronto-bound corridor train arrived, with 40th anniversary wrapped P42 908 leading the way. My two daughters came with me, which allowed me to explain rail safety 101 to them. It was a good learning experience for my youngest daughter who is three as has not encountered trains this close before. For those who have never been to this station, the extended platform is quite narrow and is sandwiched between the tracks and the parking lot.

There as some harsh afternoon sunshine that limited what I could do. The images had some pretty oppressive shadows. Even after some retouches, this was about as good as it got.

After seeing that train, I had to leave early as my wife’s train was a few minutes late. All in all, it was a rather uneventful trip to the station, but I figured it was worth it to get a few more images of Via 40 wraps. As I have mentioned many times before, what seems commonplace today will seem more important years from now.

The following weekend, I took my daughters across town to the main Ottawa Via Rail station on Tremblay Road, to welcome my wife home after a long week away. I made sure to go early so I could show the girls the central train station, which they had not seen before. I observed a few things worth mentioning.

One is there are two electric O-Train consists parked on the Confederation Line in front of the Via station, which are being used for testing on the east end of the line. People in the west end will notice there are now two electric trainsets being tested on the western limits of the line as well. More on this later.

When we arrived at the station, I was pleased to see the work to the raised platform near the station has been completed. It was a little weird to see the trains coming in behind the raised platform, but it’s a big improvement for passengers.

Here are a few more shots of the Montreal-bound consist about to leave, with the new platform in the foreground. Also note that the renovations at the station also included another section of platform that has been glassed in, which travellers will appreciate in the winter. All in all, it’s a big improvement.

Here’s another few shots of the Montreal-bound train leaving the station.

And one last one.

And finally, here’s a shot of my wife’s train making its way into the station, including a shot of some wrapped coaches behind the platform.

A little closer.

The wraps behind the platform.

I like that the station has a bench on the edge of the platform where you can wait for the trains outside. I’m not sure that many people wait at this bench here or what the specific station policies are regarding waiting here, since this area is beyond the controlled gates in the station. However, I was not the only parent with children waiting on the edge of the platform and Via staff didn’t seem to mind people waiting safely away from the tracks.

It’s important to note that there are no signs forbidding people from waiting on the edge of the platform.

All railway stations should have this atmosphere.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Where the trains meet: San Luis Obispo

For a community that was never supposed to have a railway, San Luis Obispo has certainly managed to keep itself relevant as a key railway point. The city, located roughly half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, is a crew change point where Amtrak’s Coast Starlight trains meet. The Coast Starlight and the Pacific Surfliner both serve this city, which is located on the old Southern Pacific Sunset Route (now Union Pacific).

Although freight traffic on the line is sparse in this area, there is a key time each afternoon where you can catch the Coast Starlight Amtrak trains meeting up and the arrival of the Surfliner from San Diego, all in a span of a few hours. Luckily for me, my brother was there on business in the spring and had time to wander around the station area.

While there, he snapped some photos of two Union Pacific diesel tied up next to a bumper, not to mention the two Coast Starlight trains meeting (see above). He also visited the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, which features a few pieces of interesting rolling stock, including an old SP bay window caboose and an old heavyweight passenger car (below). The volunteer there told my brother that the city sees only about one freight a week. Sounds familiar to me.

One of the benefits that this station has for railfans is that it has a cool pedestrian bridge where you can get some interesting shots of the trains meeting. My brother took advantage of this viewpoint to get some overhead shots. This shot below was his favourite and it's hard to argue. You can really appreciate the size of some of Amtrak's intercity trains, especially with their bilevel coaches. This shot also gives you a glimpse of the city's old train station (top centre of image above the tracks), which is where the railroad museum now operates. 

Here's another overhead shot. You can also see the UP local units pretty clearly in this shot.

I like that many of Amtrak's west coast trains have a unique paint scheme from the rest of the railway's national fleet. You might have noticed that Amtrak's intercity trains in California are branded "Amtrak California." This has to do, of course, with the fact that many of Amtrak's intercity reoutes outside the Northeast Corridor are state-sponsored, which is the case in California, hence the unique livery. Another example is the Amtrak Cascades service  in Washington State and Vancouver. In the case of the Surfliner, the cars are clearly branded as such.

My brother also told me that the station is nestled into an active, vibrant part of the city, with shops and cafes nearby. That made me think of how many railway stations at street level that I’ve been to that can make this same claim. Not many.

Thanks to my brother for taking a few moments to capture these dramatic shots from a beautiful spot along the Sunset Route.

Oh, and in case you're wondering about what I said off the top, San Luis Obispo was not supposed to have the old SP Sunset Route built through the city, but local businessmen greased the wheels with the SP's backers and the rest is history. It's a pretty typical story.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The warbonnet in Wyoming

This year has been a tough one for my trackside adventures. In short, I haven’t been trackside nearly enough, due to many factors. However, recently, I went back to the Sarnia area to visit family for a large family reunion, spanning three generations of my family. It was a great event. I managed to get away when the festivities were over to sit trackside in Wyoming, along the Strathroy Subdivision.

You will recall that I saw something pretty special last year in Wyoming, when I saw this freight train (below) rolling west with five CN units. It reminded me of my younger days watching trains when long freights were usually led by more than two units.

When I arrived at the Broadway Street level crossing area in Wyoming, the signal controlling eastbound traffic was flashing yellow while the westbound signal was solid red. The signal for eastbound traffic is easily visible from the Broadway level crossing in Wyoming, although I had to use the zoom on my camera to see what the westbound signal showed.

After a few minutes, the signals changed. The eastbound signals went solid red while the westbound signals changed to solid green. This gave me a hint that something was coming from the east.

The train I saw wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did result in a first. 

My first decision was where to set up. There’s a gravel access road behind the Lions Hall in Wyoming, which is a public road, since I saw cars parked there. I got some great shots from an area around the Via Rail station last time I caught a train here, but I wanted to try something different this time. So, instead, I set up west of the station, closer to Broadway Street.

About 10 minutes after the signals changed, fast-moving and surprisingly short train came barrelling through town, led by a CN unit and an old Santa Fe warbonnet-painted unit, now owned by a leasing company. I was pretty happy to finally catch a glimpse of one of the many leased units prowling the CN network this year. 

Here's a closer look. This unit is ex-BNSF, ex-AT&SF  PRLX SD75M 205. Looking online, there are a few photos of this leased unit making the rounds through Ontario this year. I was pretty happy to catch it.

Shooting trains in Wyoming is not all that easy, even though the frequency seems to be pretty solid. The biggest challenge is the speed of the trains coming through town. Since the crossing is protected by highway guard gates, the trains seem to be coming through town at around 80 km/h (just a guess). That means you have to pick your subject of interest and get as many frames as possible. After I snapped photos of the engines, there wasn’t much to see except about 20 tank cars and a few covered hoppers. I snapped a shot of this hopper, mainly because it seems someone made the effort to cover over a fair bit of graffiti. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see in terms of rolling stock.

Back in April, I had a trackside day planned that was cancelled at the last minute, but I am hoping to finally reschedule that day and make up for lost time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First look at the Confederation Line in motion

This was a happy accident. I was waiting for a connecting bus at the Lebreton bus stop on the Lebreton Flats when I turned around and saw that OC Transpo was testing its one west-end Citadis Spirit light rail consist near Pimisi Station.

Sadly, my bus was arriving right at the time when this trainset was pulling out of Pimisi Station (for those interested, Pimisi is an Indigenous word for the eel that is native to the Ottawa River). So, I took a few shots of the train quickly with my iPhone.

A few observations from this short view. One is that the new O-Trains sadly have the same electronic bells that their diesel cousins have on the Trillium Line. I have read complaints more than once from railfans here that the electronic bells are no match for the real thing.

In this case, this train's electronic bell was not working properly. The sound was coming out very choppy, but this is only a test run, so I'm assuming they will iron out those glitches before November, if in fact that Confederation Line is ready to begin operations. City officials in recent weeks refused to confirm the November start date for the new light rail service.

The second thing I noticed is how these trains appear to be floating or levitating. The wheels are very much shielded by the train's body, which makes for an odd site for people used to watching conventional trains.

The last thing I noticed was that I wasn't the only commuter that was taking an interest in the train's testing. There were a number of people waiting for their bus who turned around and watched the action, which is an indication that people in the city are at least curious to see this new system in action.

People in the east end of the city are likely more accustomed to seeing these trainsets undergoing testing between Blair Station and Cyrville Station, which has been happening for months. The west end of the line, as I have mentioned before, is quite a bit less developed than the east end, so testing between Tunney's Pasture and Pimisi has only begun in the last few weeks. 

I figure it be worthwhile to share these photos now, while there's still a novelty attached to this light rail line. To be honest, I don't think I will be taking many pictures of thee trains, although I will say they are growing on me. When I first saw them, I thought they were pretty ugly.

What do you think? Is this something worthy of railfanning?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Forward thinking in Gatineau

As part of my railway wanderings in Hull recently, I came across the old Hull West station, which still stands on avenue Montcalm. The modest wooden station has seen better days. The roof definitely needs to be replaced, but a few businesses have made use of the building since it was last used for rail purposes. Right now, an arts store calls the station home. Before that store, a restaurant was located in the building.

The trip to see the station was an interesting little walk for me, because it revealed a couple of surprises.

As many people on this side of the river know, the City of Gatineau used the old Lachute Subdivision right-of-way through the city to construct its RapiBus express commuter service. This is the same approach that the City of Ottawa used to build part of the first phase of the Confederation Line LRT service (part of the new Confederation Line uses the bus Transitway, which was once part of the old CP Carleton Place Sub in the west end).

What I found to be really refreshing in Gatineau’s case was that, when the work on the bus road was done, the city reconstructed the old Lachute Sub. The line is now owned by the city, having most recently been used in 2007 by the Quebec Gatineau Railway, which used the sub to access the Eddy Spur and its last remaining customers in old downtown Hull.

Last used in 2007. This is what has happened to the Lachute Sub near the Ottawa River. The rest of the right-of-way has been rebuilt through Gatineau proper.

With this rail line in good shape, I would imagine the city would have a much easier time of realizing its light rail goals to connect downtown Hull with Aylmer in the west and the old City of Gatineau in the east. This is a forward-looking approach that has been in short supply in this region of late.

I don’t mean to harp on this again, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been possible had the City of Ottawa considered buying the portion of the old Beachburg Subdivision from Nepean Junction into North Kanata. As it stands now, the second phase of the Confederation Line will not reach Kanata, which is where the largest commuter demand is in Ottawa. North Kanata is an area that is bustling with technology businesses and has a sizeable amount of newer subdivisions. As it stands now, this area will continue to be served by buses for the foreseeable future. Had the city taken a forward-looking approach like Gatineau, who knows what might have been possible?

However, this is the same city that, until it was essentially forced into a corner, was prepared to convert the Prince of Wales Bridge into a pedestrian and cycling path over the bridge. This is also the same city that will not entertain working with CN to get light rail operating on the existing Beachburg Subdivision past Federal junction, a stretch of track that is essentially unused save for two trains on Wednesday. And let’s not forget that before the city, the old Regional Municipality sat on its hands as the old CP Carleton Place Sub was converted into a recreational path (albeit, a wonderful piece of the Trans-Canada Trail). Now, with the explosion of residential development in Stittsville, light rail would provide a welcome option for an area where the roads are at capacity, to say the least.

Where the Canadian used to roam. This is the old Carleton Place Sub in Stittsville, a suburb of the city that now numbers more than 30,000. How useful would this be for light rail now?

The plans for Gatineau’s light rail system are still very much in the early stages, as the environmental assessments and other early legwork need to be done. However, given that the Lachute Sub is in such good shape and the old remnants of the Waltham Sub right-of-way appear to be there for the taking, you have to think that Gatineau is in a much better position than Ottawa was, partly due to planning smarts and partly due to luck.

Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe old rail lines are worth keeping after all.

Side note: While checking out the old Hull West station, I noticed there was a nearby sign that said “CP parking only,” which was obviously overlooked when CP stopped using the Lachute Sub back in the late 1990s. Next to the tracks, there’s a no trespassing sign that asks people to report any untoward activity to CN Police. I wonder why. It’s my understanding that Gatineau owns these tracks. I can’t imagine why that sign would be there. As a contrast, if you go to the entrance to Walkley Yard in Ottawa, you’ll see a no trespassing sign that lists a private security firm’s name and number.

As far as I know, CN’s police has no presence here, which has me wondering about this sign.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Back to the Future in Hull

I recently transferred to a new workplace across the Ottawa River in Hull. I have begun to explore the old part of the city a bit. Luckily for me, I am located across the street from what is known as the Eddy siding. It’s a stretch of track extending from the Prince of Wales Bridge east through the old section of Hull next to the Ottawa River. Despite the fact that the Canadian Pacific ended its Ottawa operations in 1997, a significant portion of its old trackage remains in place in Hull all the way to the old Eddy plant at the corner of rue Eddy and boulevard Alexandre Taché.

With a little struggling through the bush, you can find your way to a little bluff that overlooks this section of track, where the old Eddy siding branches off from the old Lachute Sub.

Doing a little research on this line, the only reference I could find was to the Eddy siding, although I don’t think this line fits the definition of a siding. In its final days, it was definitely just a spur. The spur veered north from the Prince of Wales Bridge toward downtown Hull. At the western edge of the Eddy property next to Portageurs Park, the spur split into two tracks, one of which made its way between two long Eddy buildings before crossing rue Eddy (just north of the Chaudière crossing over the river) and running alongside the old Domtar facility (next to avenue Laurier). The tracks then made their way beneath the Portage Bridge. The rails have been removed east of rue Eddy for years, although their path is unmistakable.

For those who like to track the traces of rails in Ottawa and Gatineau, this little spur is quite a gem. You can walk along much of its existing length in Portageurs Park along the waterfront. The rails are fenced off near the old Eddy plant, but are exposed closer to the Prince of Wales Bridge.

Nature has reclaimed much of the Eddy siding, like this section near Millar Street in Hull (as seen from Portageurs Park

There are a few pieces of interesting reminders of the old railway operation, although I would advise to stay off the tracks. I'm pretty sure the City of Gatineau  owns the Lachute Sub up to Lorrain Boulevard. The city also likely owns the tracks in Hull. Near the Prince of Wales Bridge, there is a fair bit to see legally on public land.

Here’s an old milepost sign near the Lachute Sub tracks (get your zoom ready).

This is an old switch stand that has been left in place.

Here’s an old silver box that has been covered over in weeds and graffiti.

This gives you a glimpse of the bridge that carried the Eddy spur over what is known in English as Brewers Creek. Just west past this bridge, barely visible from boulevard Taché, is another old switch where the Eddy Spur connects with the old Waltham Sub (I think it's the Waltham Sub). Given how long it’s been since the last remnants of the Waltham Sub were dismantled, I was surprised to find this switch still in place.

This flyover is accessible from a nearby park. This bridge was where the Lachute Subdivision passed under what I am assuming was the Canadian Pacific Waltham Subdivision. Can you see the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill?

Here's a shot of the old flyover from beneath.

Also, near the Eddy plant, you can see where the tracks have been severed with a yellow bumper still installed. There is an interesting piece of maintenance equipment on the rails, complete with little wheels. I’m not sure what it is or why it’s even on the tracks.

Here's another shot.

Finding any fairly recent photos of trains on this trackage is not easy online. There may have been some enterprising railfans who took photos of this operation, but I wasn’t able to find anything. Even finding information about the old CP operations in and around Hull is not easy.

In the next little while, I am going to do a little research on the history of the tracks that all once converged in Hull, including the Eddy Spur, the Waltham Sub, the Maniwaki Sub and the Lachute Sub. Given that Gatineau has announced ambitious plans for a light rail line from Aylmer in the city’s west end to old downtown Hull, it seems as though there will be a bit of a railway renaissance in Western Quebec at long last. It’s a shame there is so little existing infrastructure left, but at least the Eddy Spur is still in place, more or less. I would think it has a bright future ahead as a commuter link between Ottawa and Hull.

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.