Wednesday, June 5, 2019

47 down...

As I mentioned last week, I have shot more Via corridor trains than anything else in my years taking photos, mostly going back to 2012. It was a never a conscious decision on my part. Mostly, it was out of necessity. Ottawa's freight railroading action is so meagre, you have to be really dedicated to catch it. So, Via has been my go-to option when I want to see something on the rails. As I was writing last week's post, I began to wonder just how many Via engines I have shot over the years. I decided it might be fun to go through all my Via Rail photos and see just how many Via locomotives I have bagged in and around Ottawa. I was also curious as to which unit I have caught the most times.

October 2016 scene at Via's Central Station with P42 helping out a disabled F40 while another F40 idles on a stub-end spur

I went through my photos and came up with a few conclusions. One is that I have way too many Via Rail photos relative to my railway photos collection. The second is my later shots of Via trains have been much more interesting, as I have worked really hard to try and get shots that offer more for the eye than my earlier shots, which were basically wedge shots of trains approaching a station platform.

Via basically has two types of engines working on its routes (excluding its switchers that I have never seen). The long running stable of F40PH-2s is by far the type of locomotive I have shot the most.

In my years, I have caught 31 different F40 units, in many different guises. I have caught exactly one unit in the original yellow, blue and silver livery (6441). I caught the vast majority in the phase two paint scheme, otherwise known as the Renaissance scheme. I have also caught one unit in a 40th anniversary wrap (6416).

The units I have caught the most are 6441 (four times)….

1991 in Sarnia
2016 at Fallowfield

...and 6446 (four times).

May 2012 at Fallowfield

I will give the prize to 6441, since I have caught this one in its original paint scheme as well as its Renaissance scheme.

The other units I have caught are:

6401, 6404, 6407, 6408, 6409, 6411, 6414, 6416, 6417, 6418, 6421, 6426, 6427, 6435, 6437, 6439, 6440, 6442, 6443, 6445, 6448, 6449, 6451, 6453, 6454, 6457, 6459 (formerly 6403)

Of this list, 6459 is the unit to note, as it is the engine that is heading up the consist on the previous $10 bill, before it was replaced recently. The engine's number was switched after the unit's appearance on the bank note.

Via's star F40 6459, formerly 6403, seen at Cedarview Road in the summer of 2016

Another notable F40 I caught just recently was 6416, one of the few F40s to get the wrap treatment for Via's 40th birthday.

I have also caught a 16 P42s over the years, in their original yellow, blue and silver scheme, their Renaissance scheme as well as a fair number of wraps. The unit I have caught the most is 909 (five times), which I have caught in a few different places.

2014 at Belfast Road

More recent shot (still in original paint)

2018 at Twin Elm 

The other P42s I have caught include:

900, 902, 903, 904, 906, 907 (in Via 40 wrap livery below), 908, 910, 911, 912, 913, 916, 917, 918 (in Canada 150 wrap scheme below), 920

2018 at Belfast Road

2017 at Fallowfield Station

So, by my count, I have captured images of 47 different Via Rail engines in my years trackside. That doesn't strike me as particularly impressive or noteworthy. I have never been one to actively fill out rosters or go by the numbers, as it were. So this post is a bit of a departure for me, fed mainly by my own curiosity. My trackside time has certainly dwindled a bit in the last year or so due to family and life demands, but I still do try to get out trackside once in a while just to enjoy the experience of seeing a train go by. As much as I get bored of photographing Via Rail trains, I like that I can bring all my images together and present them together in a way that actually shows a bit of variety. 

So, 47 down, how many to go?

Monday, May 27, 2019

Have you ever seen the rain?

With apologies to John Fogerty for ripping off his song title...

The other day, I had some time to kill so I made my way to Fallowfield Station just for the heck of it. I was hoping I might be able to see something different. Sadly, I saw one of the more typical consists that were standard fare in the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto triangle before Via embarked on its wrap program. I saw an F40PH-2 pulling four LRC coaches with no wraps. Wait, is this lack of variety now exceptional in its atypical blandness, perhaps? I don't remember the last time I have caught a Via Rail consist with no wraps. Such is the state of railfanning in Ottawa these days.

When I arrived at the station, it was raining, which is nothing new in Ottawa these days. I took a few cursory photos and then went about my day. It wasn't until I got home and took a good look at some of the images that I noticed how much the rain showed up in the photo. I'm sure a better photographer could have done more to accentuate the rain. I tried to do some touching up to make the rain stand out, but I could only do so much.

This series of shots made me wonder why I have so few images of trains in the rain. I have an endless number of sunny summer day shots and a growing number of winter snow shots, but not a lot of rain shots.

Well, not many inclement summer shots, anyway. I have a few shots scattered shots of rain, but not much worth sharing here. I did manage this shot near Highway 416 as a summer storm came charging north into the city behind this Toronto-bound train. Not long after this shot, our city was slammed by a pretty intense downpour. Timing is everything.

Here's another decent shot that technically qualifies as a rain shot, although it's more of a winter shot, since snow is still on the ground. This one was taken at the Twin Elm crossing. The rain is more of a mist, so this one is borderline for our purposes.

I have a few shots post-rainfall, which I really like, such as this one taken near Fallowfield Station. Hey have you noticed every shot in this post is of a certain vintage? The P42s are all in Via blue and yellow? Will we one day look back at shots from the middle part of this decade as vintage shots? I wonder.

I was also thinking that, for a future post, I might actually tally how many Via rail locomotives I have captured. Since I have shot more Via corridor consists than any other trains since beginning this blog, I figured it might be worthwhile to see how far I have gotten in capturing the entire Via roster. It might be fun to make a game of it.

This collection of photographers also had me thinking how few autumn shots I have in my archives. Time to branch out, I guess.

Random note:

A small piece of information for local railfans. I was driving on Conroy Road recently where the road crosses over the tracks leading to CN's Walkley Yard. I always take a quick look to see if anything is happening in the yard when I am on Conroy. I noticed an Ottawa Police SUV on the access road next to the tracks, which only reaffirmed to me that I made the right decision some time ago to not use this road for photos. At one point, I thought it was a grey area, since the road is an extension of Albion Road and it does have a business located on the access road. However, as most responsible railfans will tell you, it's not worth the risk. Railways take security very seriously and they do not want anyone trespassing on private property.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My railway happy place

I’m tired. Tired from renovating my basement after a flood and tired of rehabilitating my property after we had a new pipe connected to our house, which destroyed our front yard and landscaping. So yeah, I’m tired from that. I’m also tired of this wet spring and cool temperatures. This spring has not been great and much of my time has been spent as a cut-rate Mike Holmes wannabe.

So the blog has suffered a bit. I was thinking of new things to talk about and there is no shortage of newsworthy items from Ottawa. Our new LRT is still not ready and doesn’t appear to be, even though it is more than a year behind schedule. Did I mention that one of the new electric trainsets derailed just outside of Belfast Yard recently? Okay, maybe this topic is not your cup of tea. How about the uncertainty over CN’s desire to pull out of Ottawa? How about CN’s recent (and vague) advertisements alluding to some sort of celebration they are organizing for Ottawa next year? I’m wondering if they’re even going to be here still.

I am not going to write about any of this. I’m bored with reality, tired of light rail and full up with day-to-day headaches. I want to think back to when I was young and just liked watching trains go by; a time when I simply admired them for the mechanical marvels that they are.

With that in mind, here are a few small anecdotes and observations from the railway of my youth, CSX’s Sarnia Subdivision. In many ways, this rail line is an anomaly that you don’t often find anymore. I was looking through some photographs of this line the other day when I noticed some interesting things that I hadn’t seen before.

1. In this shot, can you see the old telegraph pole? I never noticed it before and with good reason. They are pretty small, compared to the old poles I’ve noticed along other rights-of-way. Just a single pole and two measly wires leaning away from the roadbed.

As readers of this blog know, this line is actually quite old. It has changed hands a number of times and reads like a who’s who of CSX predecessors. It was the Erie and Huron Railway when it opened for business in 1886. It changed hands once and was renamed before becoming part of the Pere Marquette Railway in 1902. From there, it became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio in 1947, and then the inevitable mergers brought in the Chessie System group of companies before finally becoming CSX Transportation.

Unlike many other railways, this line shed its passenger service in 1933, much earlier than other lines. It’s a shame that none of the passenger stations have survived, other than the old Mooretown Station, which is located on the grounds of the Moore Museum.

But that little telegraph pole, barely noticeable as it is at the back of my sister’s property, which extends to the tracks, is a witness to the history of this line and its importance in connecting a very large and scattered group of settlements in Lambton County.

2. This is something I’ve noticed before but it was particularly noticeable behind my sister’s house. Usually, a railway’s roadbed is elevated a fair bit above the surrounding landscape for many reasons, not the least of which is to prevent washouts from floods. In many areas along this line, the roadbed is actually not elevated all that much higher than the surrounding area. I really noticed it in these images. It made me wonder if this was a factor of neglect in that the railway has not bothered to bolster its ballast in a while or if it was a factor of the line’s design. Did the elevation in this area suggest to the line's builders that it did not require that much of an elevation? I wonder.

3. I’ve shared this shot before, but I like the fact that this line still has concrete mileposts, like this one near Emily Street in Mooretown. I’m not sure how many are actually left but I like the fact that some of them are still around. I recall as a kid seeing concrete W signs as well, but as you can tell from this shot below, some of them have been replaced over the years.

4. I didn’t realize this until I was older, but this rail line has no speed or occupancy signals, and for good reason. The line, even in its heyday, connected with CN in Sarnia and CP in Chatham. The trackage through Chatham-Kent is now finished, of course, and the Sarnia connection is used only for once-a-day interchanges between CSX and CN at CN’s Sarnia Yard. CSX also connects with CN’s St. Clair River Industrial Spur at Terra Industries, south of Courtright, but this connection seems to be lightly used or unused at the moment. The point is, neither of these current connections require signals. The Chatham connection did have signals but I think that was it for this line. Up until the 1950s, the line also connected with the former Canada Southern St. Clair Branch in Courtright, but I have not seen any images of whether it was governed by any signals. A real throwback. I imagine the line was (and still is?) governed by OCS.

5. One more way this line was really different. I remember watching a competitive baseball tournament one summer when I was young and then hearing the rumbling of a GP38 (like this one pictured) on the adjacent rail line (this line in my day was the exclusive domain of this geep). Well, didn’t the engineer stop the engine next to the ball field so he could watch some of the action? How many rail lines have this type of casual attitude these days? It reminds me that numerous blog readers have told me that they see CN 589 stop at the March Road railway crossing in Kanata so the crew can pick up a Tim Hortons coffee on their way to Arnprior.

You know, I feel better now. It’s been a tough couple of weeks of hard work for me. And my commute to work has been changed by bridge closures, due to flooding. So, not a lot to cheer about, but I have plans to have a trackside day in the coming weeks. This was the same trackside day I planned a year ago. So, things are looking up.

What about you, fair reader? Where is your railway happy place? Or where was it?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lies, half truths and flat out numbskullery

I was waiting for my bus recently when a full consist O-Train trundled by on the Confederation Line. It was interesting to see the reaction of my fellow commuters. A few people turned around briefly while most seemed to ignore the train, which was a combination of two trainsets. Apparently, this will be the configuration used frequently. But, given this LRT system is already a year behind schedule, people are growing tired of being reminded that they should be excited by this tiny first phase of the city's new light rail line.

This was a shot of the train pulling out of Pimisi Station on the Lebreton Flats, just west of Ottawa's downtown core. Pimisi, for those wondering, is an Algonquin word for the eels that can be found in the Ottawa River.

The site of the O-Train got me to thinking of the lies, half truths and misinformed messages I've heard since the city decided to plow ahead with its electric light-rail dreams. Here's a brief list of things that have really bothered me about this project.

1. Phase I will benefit all commuters - The way the city is hyping light rail, you'd think there would actually be some sort of benefit to commuters. The truth is, unless you are within walking distance of the stations along this route, the first phase of this light rail service will not benefit you. I live in the suburbs. For me, this new line means my morning commute now involves two transfers. Right now, I need to transfer between my express route to a shuttle route across the river so I can get to work in Hull (those brown buildings you see in the picture). Adding another connection will only take away time from my day that could be spent elsewhere. The city's ad campaign really makes no attempt to be honest about this point. All riders west and east of the end points of this line will need to make a transfer. That adds time. There's no way around it.

2. Our way or the highway - Since the beginning of the rail renaissance in Ottawa, the city has been very clear that there is no other way to design a commuter transit system that is not the city's way. Ottawa has not pursued a option that multiple political candidates have put forward of using existing railways for commuter purposes, like they do in Toronto...

and in Montreal.

You might think this is a safe statement to make, since Ottawa is nowhere near as big as Greater Montreal and the GTA. But, here's something you might not know. Geographically, Ottawa spans 2,778 square kilometres. That makes it the biggest of Canada's big cities, in terms of area. (There are seven cities that are geographically bigger than Ottawa, but they are nowhere near as big as Ottawa in terms of population. Their land mass and city status are a byproduct of municipal amalgamations that created a city where there isn't always a population to truly back up the claim).

Think of the other very real opportunities Ottawa has passed on since 2009.

1. Commuter rail on Beachburg Sub into North Kanata and even to Fitzroy Harbour
2. Commuter link over the Prince of Wales Bridge, which may yet happen, thanks to Gatineau's own light rail plans (remember that this bridge was weeks away from being converted into a recreational pathway)
3. Extension of the existing O-Train to the Ottawa Airport and into Riverside South (Yes, I know that this extension is a go, but how long did it take and how many times was this plan presented and rejected?)

3. The O-Train will save the environment. Honestly, this argument that light rail is good for the environment is naïve to say the least. Long term, a LRT system should be good for the environment, but it depends on whether you are successful in getting people out of their cars. Right now, I can't honestly say that the train, even when it does reach closer to my neighbourhood, would convince me to change my habits. The sad truth is, in many North American cities, the most successful public transit systems owe much of their success to the fact that they are the easiest form of transportation to get downtown. As long as getting downtown by car is easy, people will not make the switch. I would never drive downtown for work, but I wouldn't take the train downtown on the weekend, either. To me, there's no net gain here for the city. And the interesting thing in Ottawa's case is that the biggest factor in reducing the city's CO2 emissions came from the province. Ontario's decision to shut down its coal plants did more for the environment than any local initiative.

Call me a disgruntled, skeptical commuter, if you must. But I'm not alone.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Final Days of CN's Northern Transcon

The end of the last remnants of CN’s Northern Transcontinental began with a closure of the Smurfit-Stone plant in Portage-du-Fort, Quebec, in the Pontiac Region. The mill closed in 2008, putting 200 people out of work. At one point, the mill employed more than 400 in the Pontiac and neighbouring Renfrew County in Ontario.

By 2008, the Beachburg Sub was essentially a sparsely used Upper Ottawa Valley rail line that served what few local businesses still required rail service. Ottawa Central Railway operated over the old transcon, but the economic recession that was in full swing in 2008 and hit the short line hard. The customers along the old sub began to disappear. The Smurfit Stone plant was essentially the last remaining major customer and the rail line’s raison d’etre.

The end was nigh for the OCR as the short line struggled to cope with the impact the recession had on what little heavy industry remained in the Valley and in Ottawa. Just days after the mill announced its closure in October, OCR announced that CN would reacquire all of its former Ottawa-area properties from the company that owned OCR. That deal included the 156 kilometres of rails between Ottawa and Pembroke, not to mention the 40 plus kilometres between Glen Robertson and Hawkesbury that was once the Ottawa-L’Orignal Railway (purchased by OCR’s parent company).

It wasn’t long before the Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction was essentially deemed out of service and put on the chopping block. But the battle that ensued for the rail line meant that the old transcon hung on a lot longer than CN likely wanted.

The governments of Renfew County and the Pontiac fought to keep the old Beachburg Sub in the ensuing years. The first move was to organize an entity called Transport Pontiac Renfrew, which was aimed at retaining the rail line and finding a new operator for it, not to mention new uses including commuter rail.

OCR co-operated with TPR and ran a special Rail Day commuter train up the Ottawa Valley line, just before CN took over. The double ender included two classic CN coaches painted in the railway’s olive green scheme, with an old OCR geep on each end, like these beauties below.

That initiative generated some interest in the media and goodwill. There was an appealing element to having a solid commuter option for residents of the Upper Ottawa Valley who might travel into Ottawa and Gatineau for work.

In the midst of this goodwill in the months and years that followed, Renfrew and Pontiac struggled to come to any agreement with Canadian National on a deal that would save the line and help their municipalities find a new operator.

It wasn’t until 2009 that it was revealed in the media that James Allen, the former general manager of the OCR, was in fact working closely with TPR to come up with a workable plan to move freight and establish some sort of long-term commuter vision for the Beachburg Sub.

I was lucky enough to be that reporter who broke the story in the now defunct At the time, what James Allen told me was a real departure from the dismissive or ambivalent attitude most people have toward railways in the city.

Allen pointed out that the Trebio wood pellet plant in the Pontiac was interested in rail service. He estimated that the plant would form the basis for upwards of 800 carloads a year. It wasn’t a huge number by any means, but it was a decent start.

Allen told me that the Trebio plant was the anchor in a strategy to develop a rail-serviced industrial park in the Pontiac. What was even more surprising was TPR’s plans to launch some form of commuter service over the old sub as well as tourist and recreational trains up the Valley. It all seemed very positive for Pontiac and Renfrew, two areas that are far too remote to attract large-scale economic development opportunities without this mode of transportation.

Unfortunately, not long after I wrote that article, which was not surprisingly dismissed locally, the deal to buy the Beachburg Subdivision fell through. That ended all reasonable hopes for the line to be saved. Depending on who you ask, there are various reasons why the line was ultimately killed. The biggest reason was likely cost. Politicians in the Pontiac claimed that CN had set the sale price well beyond the reach of Renfrew and Pontiac. In other words, it was priced far beyond the scrap value of the line.

Surprisingly, the Pontiac region fought on for several more years, even without any reasonable hope of success. The region’s tactic was to pass a local bylaw essentially designating the railway land as a key transportation corridor, which prevented any dismantling. The province of Quebec signed off on the bylaw, but CN fought the move in a higher court and won.

In fall of 2013, the last stretch of CN’s Northern Transcontinental route was pulled up from Pembroke to the Pontiac region, but the work was stalled when the region barricaded the tracks, preventing CN crews on a CWR maintenance of way train from stripping the rails. That stand-off was short lived.

There was one last-ditch effort to enlist the help of the City of Ottawa, since the Beachburg Sub still connected Fitzroy Harbour, in Ottawa’s northwestern boundary, to Nepean Junction, near Bells Corners. The efforts included enlisting the help of the city’s councillor for Kanata North and for West Carleton, the ridings where the rail line’s removal would happen.

Predictably, those efforts went nowhere as the city maintained that it was only interested in the land upon which the tracks sat, for possibly future use as a multi-use recreational trail.

That meant that the CWR train made its way into West Carleton and stripped the rails from much of the line, although various scraps were kept in place at level crossings, including one in Dunrobin, which meant motorists still saw disconnected crossing signals for a rail line that no longer existed.

By spring 2014, the line was completely dismantled all the way to Nepean Junction. Not long after the last train rolled through with the last bits of useable rail, the switch was removed at Nepean. The last little bit of the Beachburg Sub from Federal to Nepean Junction was then directly connected with the Nylene Canada-owned Renfrew Spur.

Today, as CN looks to leave the Ottawa region once more, the rails in the west end of the city continue to exist with a large question mark hanging over them. When CN first proposed discontinuing service to Arnprior, it was Nylene Canada's predecessor BASF that put the wheels in motion to purchase the tracks and continue service. That arrangement continues today, mainly because the company cannot find a way to economically receive what it needs by trucks. The main reason why rail service continues is because the chemical it needs, caprolactum, can only be transported via a specially insulated tank car. As it stands now, there is no way to have the same amount of this product delivered via truck at a comparable cost.

For what few rail enthusiasts there are left in west Ottawa, the question of what any future rail operator will do about Nylene Canada is a big one. There's also the larger question of who will step up to provide rail service in Ottawa when CN eventually leaves?

It's not a great time to be a railfan in west Ottawa, but that could change in an instant if a short line operator with a vision and a much better understanding of a carload freight based business model steps in to save the rails.

And, coincidentally, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if a revitalized freight railway could take a few trucks off our congested Queensway.

It's interesting that, in a city that struggles to cope with congestion and the onslaught of truck traffic in older neighbourhoods, a simple solution of encouraging a short line railway would go a long way to clearing the air. For Ottawa in particular, encouraging less congestion, especially downtown, is almost an economic necessity since it has a huge impact on the tourist experience. You would think that someone in charge would figure out what a benefit it is to have a healthy freight railway in a city of nearly 1 million people.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Cross another one off the list

In the last two years, I've managed to snag a fair number of wrapped Via Rail locomotives and coaches, as the railway celebrated Canada's 150th birthday and then its own 40th anniversary. At the very least, these wraps really did give me a reason to be trackside to document Via Rail trains, especially at a time when it was hard to find the motivation to shoot yet another corridor consist.

Allow me to explain a bit. Since I see so little railway action other than Via Rail in Ottawa, my desire to take pictures of Via trains has greatly diminished over the years. Call it a case of familiarity breeds contempt, although I don't have contempt for Via by any means. The best way to describe it is boredom. There's only so many different ways to shoot a three-four car consist with a F40PH-2 or a P42 on point.

Recently, on St. Patrick's Day, I found myself with a bit of time on my hands, which has been a rarity in the last year or so. I decided to head over to Fallowfield Station to shoot an incoming westbound train that was headed for Toronto. Checking the schedule, it looked as though a westbound to Toronto and an eastbound from Toronto were both due to be at Fallowfield at roughly the same time, which at least had me thinking of shooting two trains at once. In my years at Fallowfield, I have never once seen a train on the siding.

And, sadly, that streak remains intact as the eastbound did not show up at its appointed time. The Toronto-bound train was a minute early so I decided to set up and get some shots, just to keep my photography skills (such as they are) sharp. To mix things up, I set up on the west side of the station, which meant I would be shooting the westbound train from the far side of the platform. I did this on purpose as I wanted to get some platform and boarding shots.

The train that showed up was a double-ender, with two F40s on either end. The coaches themselves offered no wraps, but I was happy with the boarding scenes I did catch. All in all, it was a different style of shot than the ones I usually get of westbound trains, which I mostly shoot from the east side of the station platform. Here's an example below.

The real treat for me was when the train continued its journey westbound. On the other end of the train was a wrapped F40 from the anniversary series. I was really happy with this shot below, since the sun was in an interesting position and the sky offered a great splash of colour on a windy, cold afternoon.

This was the first wrapped F40 that I have captured in the last two years. To be honest, it was the last major to-do I had on my list of Via Rail images I wanted to add to my collection. So, it was a profitable afternoon, all in all. I took another shot down the tracks, with the trackside signals near Fallowfield Road in the shot.

After my brief meet with CN 589 earlier in the week, complete with a GATX leased geep on point, I would say that it was about as prolific a week I've had railfanning in Ottawa in some time.

And since Via Rail is about to retire much of its corridor fleet in the coming years as the Siemens Chargers and coaches are about to make their appearance, maybe these mundane meets will become much more valuable in the future.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

One small train, so many thoughts

A two-car train trundled by. Big deal. I’ve caught this train numerous times. For most people in my neighbourhood, I’m not even sure they’re aware that these train tracks are even active anymore. The weekly service out to Arnprior is like an apparition. I’m sure some are vaguely aware that trains may use the tracks at some point during the week, but it likely doesn’t seem all that important.

In my opinion, this weekly train is tremendously important. And here’s why I consider myself really fortunate to catch this train as it returned to Walkley Yard. And here’s why.

1. These tracks might not be here much longer. You will recall that I wrote about CN’s plans to walk away from its Ottawa operations. While this is hardly surprising, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the remaining trackage it actually controls in the area. Most of the tracks in the region are now controlled by Via Rail, with the exception of the last portion of the Beachburg Sub between Federal and the old Nepean Junction. This link is hardly important to CN, but it is absolutely critical to Nylene Canada in Arnprior, which relies on the Beachburg Sub-Renfrew Spur tracks to receive its weekly delivery to its plant. Does this mean Nylene Canada will have to purchase this right-of-way or at least the rails? Will the city be a willing partner and buy the land beneath the rails, like the old Region of Ottawa-Carleton did with the old Renfrew Sub? It’s clear to me that something has to be settled here before CN pulls out.

2/ I don’t think I’ll miss CN in Ottawa, quite frankly, since the railway has done little to nothing to expand rail service here, which is not meant to be a critique. It’s just reality. CN is not a short line and it should not be expected to act like one. Its purchase of the old Ottawa Central was always an awkward one, with many suggesting was solely motivated by the scrap value of the old Beachburg Sub rails between Pembroke and Nepean Junction. But, if CN goes, that means I won’t likely have a chance to shoot any number of its older units anymore. I have been blessed to catch many different liveries, including a leased GATX unit, over my years of catching the Arnprior Turn. So, from a railfanning perspective, I will miss the variety of older units the railway has trotted out here in recent years.

3/ A commuter opportunity awaits. Unless the city reverses course, these rails will not survive. That is, unless a short line railway takes over local freight rail operations or the city decides to use these rails for future commuter use. As we have seen in the last decade, the city’s vision for light rail does not include using existing infrastructure, although the last two mayoral runners-up have proposed the idea to little fanfare. Meanwhile, areas that are screaming for better transit, like Kanata and Stittsville, will have to wait for Phase III of the city’s light rail plans before they get any service. And, as locals know, Phase I is already a year behind and Phase II is already mired in controversy. It’s a real shame, in my opinion. The old region had the vision to consider maybe one day using the Renfrew Spur for commuter rail and the last portion of the Beachburg Sub would be ideal for that use, now that it appears CN has no plans for it. Perhaps a short line operator can move the needle for freight service or commuter rail on these tracks. You will recall that there was a short portion of the old Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction that used to go through large subdivisions in north Kanata, but that commuter opportunity was lost when the city failed to even consider it.

4/ Freight by rail matters. Especially local freight that is carried by a short line. We don’t have to get into any extensive environmental debate to know that Ottawa’s highways are congested, to say the least. And the city is often choked by truck traffic. Ottawa is no different than any other city, but if tourism officials are serious about the tourist experience in a national capital, imagine what a difference it would make if there was a concerted effort to divert some of the neverending truck traffic off local roads (especially downtown) with a reinvigorated freight railway. Of course, there are practical considerations here. Railways will never be able to replace trucks for numerous local transportation delivery needs, but I would imagine there are still several opportunities that are going untapped, simply because CN couldn’t be bothered. Maybe it’s time for a new Ottawa Central type operation, or perhaps a short line holding company with some vision. Admittedly, it would likely be a tough sell, but it seems incredible to me that a short line couldn’t make money in a city of nearly a million people.

I look at the photos from the March Break meet with the GATX and they seem quaint now, since so much of our snow is finally (knock on wood) starting to melt. But I was happy to catch this train in a snow squall because it allowed me to get some winter shots, which I have not been able to do this winter.

I've mentioned it before in this blog that winter railroading is underrepresented in my railway photograph archives. Add to this meet another interesting catch I had at Fallowfield Station and I had quite a productive week recently (stay tuned for more on the other meet).

So that's the sum total of my thoughts from my meet with this tiny freight train. Due do some scheduling changes in my household, I have not been able to get out on Wednesday afternoons to catch this train so this might be my last meet with CN’s 589. I hope not, but I fear it might be so.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

What a difference a year makes

So I finally was able to catch something trackside, for the first time in months (and I won't say how many). A number of life factors have occupied my time. But this past March Break, I did manage to break away on Wednesday afternoon to catch the Arnprior Local as it passed through Bells Corners. I have noticed in the last few months that the local usually passes through around 4:20 p.m. as I am getting off my bus and walking home. I often hear the local's horn as it approaches my neighbourhood, so I was reasonably confident that I would catch it this past Wednesday. And I did.

I have a fair number of thoughts to share from this brief meeting, but I will leave that until next week, along with the rest of the photos of this two-car train. But the only thing I will mention this week is how much a difference this year's winter made to my shot, compared to last February, when I caught 589 last.

Here's this year's shot of 589, led by GMTX GP38-2 2260. Yep, that's a full fledged March snow squall. When I arrived at this spot a half hour earlier, there were only light flurries.

Now here's a shot from last year, roughly the same time, roughly the same place and roughly the same vantage point (complete with the same two poles in each shot and the same white SUV for the truly observant). The biggest difference would be that there is considerably less snow to contend with, making the shot easier to focus.

Yep, it's been that kind of winter!

I have a number of thoughts to share about this meet, but I wanted to leave that for another post. I simply wanted to point out that it's been a long winter in Ottawa. Aside from the massive snow piles at the end of this parking lot (I estimate I was standing on the top of  10-12 foot high pile), which made the shots of this train much easier both times, I'll be glad when spring eventually arrives.

Whenever that is. As I write this, they are calling for another possible 10-15 cm of snowfall for tomorrow. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

March Break tonic for a weary railfan

Those who are familiar with this city know that our light rail system has been delayed (yet again). For those keeping score, that's three delays now and more than a year past when we were supposed to "Get Ready for Rail" as our transit system continues to promote.

Meanwhile, the city has handed one of the principals responsible for Phase I, SNC Lavalin, the keys to Phase II at a price tag of $4.6 billion, or $1.2 billion more than expected. And, despite the legitimate concerns from city councillors about how the second phase become so much more costly, we are getting very little in the way of explanation from city officials. It's amazing to me that people that are public servants would do their best to avoid answering legitimate questions about something that is so critical to the future of our city. I should also mention that the extension of the Trillium Line (you know, the O-Train line that is actually operating) is also likely to come in over budget.

From the outset, I have wondered whether this city really thought through its options for relieving traffic congestion, especially when it had a pretty decent rapid bus system that, with a few tweaks, could have served the city well for decades to come. In other words, rail is great when it addresses a real need. In Ottawa's case, I have never seen a clear reason why its light rail plans were somehow better than a revamped Transitway bus system.

Did I mention that one of the reasons the first phase of the Confederation Line is being delayed, if you believe some people, is that testing has shown that the trainsets could not cope with severe winter conditions? I really do hope that was one of the first things considered when this massive project was first floated.

Okay, so the point is, it's not a good time to be a railfan or a rail booster in Ottawa. The city, by the way, is about to have its appeal heard in the case of the Prince of Wales bridge, which it neglected for more than a decade before someone took Ottawa to task for severing the bridge from the old Ellwood Subdivision.

Man, I keep meaning to share a few things I saw this week when I took my family to the Canada Science and Technology Museum, but the bad news keeps piling up. Well, let's lighten things up. Here's a scale model of the old CN/Via Rail turboliner that is hanging from the rafters in the museum. It's up so high, getting a decent shot is tough.

One thing I noticed when looking at this model is that there is a single axle between the middle passenger coach at the end power units. Was this part of the design of the actual Turboliner? Any experts out there who know?

Here's another interesting item that I saw in the steam engine exhibit. There are so many transportation related items in this exhibit, it's sometimes hard to see everything, but I saw this dramatic image of  Hudson type locomotive that is firing up before it heads out into the night. I suppose if I was a steam fan, I would be more enthralled with this photo. As it is, I think it's a cool shot.

I made sure to get a good shot of the golden rodent on the side of the CP steam locomotive.

Here's a little bonus for kids. They are giving away cardboard cutout steam locomotives for kids to take home. Remember those Via Rail LRC cardboard trains? Same concept. My older daughter asked for one. Brought a tear to my eye!

This reminds me of Bullet Nose Betty back in Sarnia.

Finally, the museum has a special exhibit right now, including an 1874 streetcar that once prowled the early commuter rail rights-of-way in Toronto. It was built in New Rochelle, New York.

The exhibit mentioned that the cars were pulled by horses, which had its limitations, obviously. The horses would often get tired, so the operators had to keep a rather large stable of horses at the ready to relieve the ones pulling the cars. You think your commute is slow now? Imagine what it must have been like in 1874!

Anyway, I really enjoyed my time at the museum this week. I hope to get out there and see some actual rail action this week, as it has been too long for me since I've been trackside. At the very least, the museum offered a little bit of comfort for me after months of shaking my head at what's been happening here in Ottawa.