Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Something a little different

As I mentioned in recent posts, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Stratford recently, which gave me the opportunity to take some shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway staging yard in the city, although it was quite empty for the most part.

You can read Part I of my series from Stratford here or Part II here

For the final portion of my Stratford pictures, I thought I would showcase one last shot I have attempted over the years, with varying degrees of success. I'm not sure what to call it, but it's kind of like a railway family photo where different railways get together in the same frame. But it's not quite a meet photo, as most have captured from time to time. This type of shot is a little different. The shot I have attempted a few times is a much more focused shot of the lead engines.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, I'd like to show off another few shots of a westbound Via corridor train bound for Sarnia. This train does one run to Toronto and back to Sarnia each day, so catching it is pretty simple. I was certainly not out to capture more Via Rail shots, but with no freight trains imminent, I figured I should capture what I could. 

Here's the first shot of the same consist I caught the previous day (see Part II link above). This time around, it was F40 6413 leading the way. Hard to believe these old warhorses will soon be gone when Via takes delivery of its new Siemens Chargers. I will miss the F40s. I've always liked them. 

The cut of hoppers in the GEXR yard was still there, possibly awaiting delivery the following day, which was a Monday. I hope the old Southern Ontario Railway geep tied up in the yard started okay. Two young railfans pointed out that someone had left the engine's trailing lights on. I had to strain to see the lights, but they were indeed left on. Oops.


 I figured I should also catch trailing P42 906 in the Via wrap design while I still can. It's not easy catching these engines in a single frame from the side, especially on a station platform. They are long units. I will say this. Via's wraps really do improve the look of these beasts, in my opinion. I know a lot of railfans don't like this scheme, but I like it. It's something different and it really does make the Via logo and the passenger train stand out. Both good things.

So with that business out of the way, this is the latest attempt at a family shot. I attempted to capture it as my one last frame before I packed it in for the evening. I have tried this type of shot before. This time around, I was reasonably pleased with the outcome. Unfortunately, my shot was a little off balance so I had to adjust the photo a bit, which trimmed a tiny bit off the top of the F40. Still, I love seeing two railways represented in the same shot. Both of these units are getting on in years and I'm sure one day this will be a shot I will appreciate more.

I will group together a few similar family shots in a future post, simply for the sake of exploring the idea of a different type of railfan photo. I hope this shot also explains that I am not anti-wedge or dramatic close-up, as some might have guessed, based on what I have written in this blog in the last little while.

As the light was fading fast, I didn't push my luck and headed back to the hotel where I was staying. It was a fun weekend in Stratford, which also included a quick trip to St. Marys to see the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and snag a few shots of the town's beautiful Via Rail station. Sadly, there were no trains coming through on the day I was there. Also, the pouring rain made it very difficult to get any shot at all, but here's a quick shot from the platform. You can see the town's water tower in the mist behind the station. You can also see the raindrops in the shot. Unavoidable, sadly.

That was the extent of my railfanning in Southern Ontario this summer. Now that my children are back at school, I do intend to try and catch up with the Wednesday Arnprior Turn here in Ottawa. Anyone who knows when it passes by in the morning these days, feel free to leave a message. I get the impression it has run later in recent weeks (around 10 a.m. or so). Any info is welcome.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Making the most of it

I don't need to tell any of you that 2020 has been a write-off in many respects. For me, it's been a challenge at times, particularly with this blog. Last week, I shared some photos of a nearly empty, quiet railyard in Stratford, since there was nothing happening when I arrived. Later the same day, I made a return visit, just in case. This is what I saw when I returned.

Nothing special right? Well, no quite. First of all, that string of hoppers was not there earlier in the day when I surveyed the yard, so it was obvious to me that a local spotted the cars at some point during the day, when I wasn't around. So that was disappointing. Those cars might have been headed for the salt mine in Goderich or an agricultural spur somewhere on the GEXR Goderich Sub. I'm not sure of the customer base on the CN Guelph Sub. I am just guessing it was headed for Goderich since I was at the same place last year and saw two orange GEXR geeps towing a string of covered hoppers toward the Goderich Sub.

Anyway, you will see that the two signals are showing red. What made that significant was that the signal on the left is a searchlight signal, which is dark unless something is imminent. That was my clue that something was coming. Exciting right? Well, not exciting exactly, since it was clear to me by the people on the station platform that the train that was coming was a Via Rail corridor train heading west for Sarnia. Not exactly was I came to see, but I decided to make the most of this grain elevator backdrop.

This shot, above, was my favourite. I have a few others where P42 906 is closer, but I much prefer this shot, since is incorporates more of the hopper cars and grain elevator. You will notice on the extreme right that I did purposely try to keep the flatcar in the shot as well. I figured, if I couldn't catch a freight train, I might as well keep as many of the freight cars in my shot as possible. I also like what the weeds add to the scene. To me, it screams secondary route, small town. That's the type of image I love to catch.

Here's a shot of the corridor train from a closer vantage point. I included it just for comparison's sake. I've noticed on a lot of railfan sites that these type of shots are usually the preferred image. I have been moving away from these images for quite a while. This is not to say that my way is any better. It's just a personal preference. I find I am much more interested in the overall scene, rather than how much of my frame is filled with the actual train. Still, I like how this shot at least keeps the grain elevator in the shot.

Here's one more shot of the train at the station, with an idle F40 on the tail end. This father and son were checking out the railway action along with me. At one point, they walked off the platform to check the signals, which were just beyond the end of the asphalt. This is a big difference I notice in smaller cities and towns. There is a much more liberal attitude toward railway property. I don't agree with this. I also saw another local resident cutting across a large piece of CN property that was clearly being used as a storage area for various pieces of construction and MoW equipment. I suppose if the railway has no active presence in the town, people don't worry so much about being caught. I still think it is always a bad idea to trespass on railway property. 

The worst example I ever saw of this attitude was when I saw multiple people crossing through CN's Dundas Subdivision yard in London, Ont. to take a shortcut. Given the railway's active staff in the yard and the frequency of trains on this busy route, I can't think of many things that are as reckless as this.

Anyway, before I left Stratford and headed home to Ottawa, I did manage to sneak in one last trip to this rail yard the next evening to catch the same Via Rail corridor train en route to Sarnia. I managed to try something a little different and was pleased with the end result. That will have to wait for another post.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The summer of my not-so-amazing luck

I guess you could qualify 2020 as a year of not-so-amazing luck, but this summer is a little more succinct for our purposes. Case in point. I was travelling with my family to visit our in-laws in Stratford. Usually, from a railfan's perspective, there's something to see along the 401, whether it be through Kingston or Toronto. This time around, the Kingston Subdivision was quiet. When we reached Toronto, there were two CN freight trains heading in opposite directions east of the city. One of them I missed while I was cleaning the lens of my camera. You look down for a few seconds and the opportunity is lost. I couldn't believe it. A few minutes later, we began to catch up with a westbound freight train, but we reached the head end right around a spot in the highway where the vantage point was just a bit too cluttered to capture anything useful. Seeing as I was in the passenger seat and trying to fire a shot across the driver, I decided not to push my luck. I'm sure my wife appreciated my restraint.

This is all I was able to capture along the 401 through the GTA.

We'll file that under better than nothing, I guess.

I was excited to go to Stratford, since the Goderich Exeter Railway originates at the Stratford station. The old GEXR Guelph Subdivision belongs to CN once again, which at least presented the possibility of a through freight, which some folks who railfan the area suggest is not all that uncommon. I've seen estimates that there are between 2-4 through freights on this line, which is generally agreed to be a relief route for the Dundas Subdivision in Southern Ontario.

The morning I camped out next to the station, all was quiet. It was a Saturday and it was clear that the GEXR wasn't about to run out to Goderich, as the local engine was parked. But it was a unit from the old Southern Ontario Railway near Hamilton, so it was at least something different. You might recall that I caught the GEXR local with both a GEXR and SOR unit in 2019. In fact, in reviewing last year's post, I was able to confirm that the old SOR unit is the same one.

After a little while, it was obvious that nothing was going to happen that Saturday morning before the Toronto-bound Via corridor train arrived. Case in point. Goderich Sub was clearly not ready for anything (at least not when you see these clamped onto the rail).

The signals all around the yard showed straight red. The searchlight signal off in the distance was dark, so I figured I should take a shot of some of the features in the yard, which was largely empty save for a few flatcars.

The morning sun was making most images pretty tough to get, so I decide to get creative and try to make use of any available shade. This image was taken from a publicly accessible piece of land along Niles Street. I like the pastoral feel the morning light gives this scene. You can also see the distant grain elevator and the prairie styled Stratford station. Can you also make out the CN Stratford West sign?

I'm not sure this one turned out better, but I did try and capture the golden morning sunlight from beneath a dew-drenched maple tree. I do like how the sun is hitting the rails, although the morning sky is clearly being washed out by the early morning sun.

So that was the sum total of my efforts from the Saturday morning. I did manage to catch something fairly interesting later that day and the following morning. That will wait for another post. Since I've done so little railfanning, I'll have to space things out a bit.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

It's not the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

The summer of my not-so-amazing luck continues, but before I get into some new content (finally have some new meets and pics to share!), I wanted to touch on something that seems to be top of mind here in Eastern Ontario and Ottawa these days.

No, it's not the perpetually awful O-Train.

It's the fate of freight railways in the capital. In case you've been living under a rock, you know that CN has filed to discontinue service on the former Ottawa Central in this region. It doesn't come as a surprise to me, since this is hardly a strategic or important operation for this railway.

But I do want to remind you of a few things. You might recall (or you might not) that the former head of the Ottawa Central told this blog that he thought there was a good opportunity for a short line to resume operations in the city. This is not a railfan offering his opinion. This is the guy who successfully operated OCR in this region for years, before a recession forced the hand of OCR's parent company.

Here's another item to consider. Closer to my hometown, there is a significant portion of the old CSX Sarnia Subdivision, which has been dormant for several years. The railways wanted to pull up the line, but the Municipality of Chatham-Kent bought the rails in its territory to try and salvage an important freight link for its businesses and farmers. The prospects of a new operation were dim for years. At one point, Ontario Southland considered the operation, but backed away.

Well, lo and behold, a company has indeed purchased the line with the intention of operating a short line, mainly for rural customers along the line. I mention this because I see the CN operation here in Ottawa as very much the same type of short line. It has a limited customer base, but the beautiful part is, there seems to be very little overhead, compared to what OCR had to shoulder when it operated here. And who knows what a company focused on carload business can do when it has feet on the ground in the city who are solely focused on small customers?

So, I will say once again that this is not the end of freight railways in Ottawa. Not yet, anyway.

Monday, July 27, 2020

All tied up at Bedell

I recently had the chance to spend a little time trackside at Bedell, on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Subdivision. In recent years, I have had some luck visiting this right-of-way in the afternoon, as there is occasionally a freight making its way through the area between 12 noon and 2 p.m. I was trackside around this time.

The first thing I noticed was this.


Ties. Hundreds of them. All of them stacked next to the south track. I had heard a lot about CP's work to single track this line and replace the double track right-of-way with a single track governed by CTC. I've seen some chatter from local rail enthusiasts that this is an omen of smaller traffic levels.

I, for one, disagree. This seems to me, to be nothing more than a cost-saving measure. If a railway can maintain the same level of traffic on one line with CTC, why bother with two tracks? With today's obsession with operating ratios and efficiencies, it makes sense. A few long sidings are all that's needed. Or so it seems.

The only example of this that comes to mind is the CN Strathroy Subdivision between Sarnia and London. It was single tracked quite a while ago, but it seems to be busier than ever these days with one track being governed by CTC and the appropriate sidings.

The other reason I think the CP plan isn't a bad thing is because we need to remember that CP has also re-reestablished its presence east of Montreal. We all know about the acquisition of the Central Maine and Quebec, which itself was the latest entity to operate over what had once been CP tracks. It seems logical to me that CP management wouldn't take on such a massive capital expense east of Montreal if it didn't have plans to capitalize on having its own Canadian link to the East Coast. Possible more container traffic to Eastern Canada? More ethanol trains? Who knows? All I know is that, whatever CP has in store east of Montreal, it will definitely have an impact on the Winchester Sub.

Here's another reason why the single tracking on this track isn't a bad thing.


Now that new signalling is in place, it makes it that much easier to get an idea of what type of traffic you can expect when you get trackside. Of course, I realize most who read this rely on scanners. I, for one, do not. I rely on observations, reading about operations, learning from my peers and, obviously, reading the signals. This is something I have really focused on in recent years, which is why I am happy to have this signals near Bedell.

Sadly, I wasn't able to catch any trains the day I visited this spot. The only equipment I was able to see was this string of MoW equipment parked on a siding just west of the Bedell Road crossing.


The Bedell area has yet to see any removals of its tracks, although I'm sure that will happen soon enough. When I was there recently, I didn't notice anything different. All the old tracks were still in place, although there was a great deal of construction equipment behind fencing near the grounds of the old station. Something is about to happen here. Possibly it already has.

So, even though I didn't see any trains, I still thought I'd share this recent shot I grabbed last year when I caught an eastbound in this area.


I have noticed that some folks have the same ominous feeling about freight rail service in Ottawa now that CN is planning to pull up stakes in the capital again. I will share my thoughts about this in a future post.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Stretching it out in Twin Elm

I shared a small sneak peak of my recent meet with a Via corridor consist in my last post. My goal was to simply show a pastoral image of the train next to a cattle farm alongside the Smiths Falls Subdivision.

This week, I wanted to show a few more shots of this meet. With the news that Via Rail Canada is laying off 1,000 employees due to the low pandemic passenger levels, it might be more relevant than ever to share what I see, when I see it. I am more than accustomed to sharing Via Rail images when there are no freight images to show, but when even Via begins to dwindle, you know it's not a great time to be a railfan in Ottawa.

That said, I thought I would share a few shots of this double-ended Via Rail corridor train crossing Cambrian Road in Twin Elm, just outside the village of Richmond. I deliberately set up so I could get a wide shot of the train. Getting a wedge shot at this crossing is quite easy, especially at the Twin Elm Road crossing, which crosses the road at a sharp angle. I am not looking for those types of shots these days, as a general rule.

So, here's the first shot, as the train approaches the crossing and the SynAgri feed mill on the other side of the tracks. You can still see a small piece of the cattle farm on the right.


This shot captures the feed mill and a lone trackside tree, basking the July sun.


Here's my attempt to capture the entire train in a single shot. The trick here is to set up just past a telephone pole, so you can give yourself as much space as possible to get an unobstructed shot. I have made that mistake in the past where I haven't paid enough attention to the poles, which results in a less-than-satisfying shot.

I was trying to capture the landscape, including the sky, in each shot, so I was careful not to zoom in on the locomotive too much. And, given the fact that it was a P42, I figured being further away would be more flattering to these dogs.


Here's one last shot of the tail end. And, yes, I did end up getting a shot of the entire train. I wasn't sure I would be able to capture the whole consist in a way that would do it justice, but I think this image was pretty decent.


So, that was the sum total of my meet with a wetbound Via Rail corridor train at Twin Elm on Canada Day.

Thanks to everyone for their comments in my last post. I am trying to carry on blogging in some way, shape or form. Some have suggested that I focus on CN's Walkley Yard. I am now avoiding the yard, given that the property line is not entirely clear and the extension of Albion Road next to the tracks is more than likely not a public road. It's not worth a trespassing charge. Stay away from an area if you don't know where public land ends.

Some have suggested taking shots in the east end of the line, where CN still serves customers. I would love to do that, but I am still working full time from home, as is my wife, so time is always limited.

And, although many seem to fear that CN's discontinuance of service in Ottawa will mean the end of freight railways in the city, I disagree. I think some group will come forward and form some sort of shortline operation. This is probably the best possible scenario, since a shortline would likely have much more success in finding new customers and gaining new carload business. Possibly even the folks behind the Ottawa Central might re-emerge. That's just my speculation. No proof of anything. Just a hunch.

I may try and make my way out to Bedell soon, as the CP Winchester Sub is undergoing a single tracking from its current double mainline. That might be my best bet. We'll see.

Thanks for your comments. I'll try to keep this thing rolling.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

I'm back, sort of...

Thank you to everyone for your kind words from my last post, which explained why I was stepping away from this blog, mostly due to the hectic nature of my life.

Life has eased a bit, with the summer now here and the school year mercifully over. I am still having a hard time figuring out how to maintain a blog about railways in Ottawa when there is so little to see, especially from my vantage point in the city's west end. I do have some vague plans to do some real honest-to-goodness railfanning in Bedell or Smiths Falls at some point, but those are not terribly firm right now.

That said, Canada Day seemed like a good time to head out somewhere and try and find a train. More than anything, I was looking for some quiet time, since  my house has become a bit too cozy of late, with all of us here all the time. I love my family and I know they at least seem to tolerate me, but too much of a good thing, right?

So, I headed out to one of my favourite spots, Twin Elm, to catch a westbound Via Train 53. There wasn't a lot to choose from on Canada Day. Even thought it fell on a Wednesday this year, CN 589 to Nylene Canada was not operating. That pretty much left me with Via or nothing.

So, I vowed to get something more in the way of landscape art than railway photo, since I have far too many clinical shots of Via corridor trains. So, here's the first shot as Via 53 raced across the Cambrian Road crossing.


As you can see, the train was being led by a Love The Way wrapped P42. I tell ya, I will shed no tears when these dogs are replaced. Ugly.

I tried to ensure I got at least one shot of the train next to the red farm structures for a little bit of variety. I'll share the rest of the shots in a later post.

As for rail news in Ottawa, I noticed an inordinate number of comments about the Arnprior Turn and I have received a few emails from readers who have caught it of late. Thanks to everyone for keeping me in mind. So, in case anyone is wondering, yes, CN still makes its weekly run out to Nylene Canada in Arnprior. Mostly, they operate on Wednesdays, although some have told me the train is making its way west a little later in the morning than many are used to seeing (10-10:30 a.m.).

And, yes, for those outside the city, the O-Train Confederation Line is still a complete disaster. On top of the numerous failures this past winter, the trains were running at reduced capacity recently because it was too hot. It makes us wonder if these awful trains run well in any conditions.

The president of the Rideau Transit Group, the company that built and maintains the line, recently resigned and was replaced. I think people in the city would care more if they honestly believed the move would result in better service. Meanwhile, the city is still withholding payment to RTG due to its continuing failure deliver on its promises. And, as many in the city know, the second phase of construction on the Confederation Line is well underway in many different places.

We can only hope the issues get figured out before the line is extended to Orleans and Moodie.

It's good to be back. No promises, but I'll see what I can do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Hiatus

Hi everyone,

As you know, things are not normal in our world. They really aren't normal in Ottawa, where much of our city is still pretty much shut down. Since the beginning of this pandemic, my life has changed a great deal. I am now fully immersed in teaching my oldest daughter and getting her through the remainder of her school year. I am working from home full time as well. On top of that, my wife continues to work evenings, which has tended to fill my day with childcare and school.

On top of that, I have taken on a great deal of volunteer work with my community, mainly with my church. That has tended to take up a lot of time as well. The things I have learned in the last few months are amazing to me. I am livestreaming events, creating elaborate videos and doing a number of other things to keep people connected and hopeful. This work has occupied huge chunks of my day, but I do it with a smile as I take great pride in trying to do my little part in making the world a better place.

Finally, I am also still actively involved with an Internet radio station in producing a regular half-hour program. That takes up an incredible amount of time as well. The ratio means that one half hour of air time usually requires about four times as much prep time and editing. So, we're talking about several hours.

Obviously, I have not been able to do much trackside and I don't see this changing anytime soon. Ottawa is a railfan's nightmare at the best of times, so you can imagine what it's like now.

All this to say I don't want to continue producing a blog when I cannot give it my full attention. You people are smart and you can likely tell a good blog from a mediocre blog. I believe you deserve the best that I can give and I'm just not in a position to deliver quality material right now.

For these reasons, I am taking a hiatus from blogging to regroup, think of some new content, get some new pictures trackside, do some research and make a better go of things when the world allows me to do so.

Over the years, I have gotten a number of encouraging messages from fellow railfans who have told me how much they enjoy my efforts from this lonely railway outpost called Ottawa. Those messages have often kept my going when things got tough.

So thank you all. We'll see you soon, I hope!

Take care,
Michael

hammond.michael77 AT gmail DOT com

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Real life inspiration for a fictitious branch

The good news for my model railway in my basement is that the main line works and three spurs are essentially operational. There are rough spots causing derailments and the wiring is about 90 per cent complete. I have a rough idea of a piece of my town and a plan for a railyard and interchange track.

The bad news is I need a tonne of supplies and time (which I don't really have) to complete some of the important next steps. I'm trying to decide what next steps I can take with what I have. But I will share a few details of things I have done so far and give you an idea of where I found the inspiration in the actual railway operations I have photographed over the years.

A bit of context. I am not modelling any actual part of the CSX Sarnia Subdivision. Instead, I am taking elements from both the north and south ends of the line (Chatham had a number of rural agricultural customers while Sarnia had the industrial and petrochemical customers). There were points on the old Sarnia Subdivision that had both the agricultural and industrial customers. I am modelling what I would imagine to be a branch off the main sub that would include many of the elements one would have seen along this operation in the early to late 1980s.

One thing I am proud of is my maintenance-of-way spur that sits next to the mainline near the station.


One half of the MoW consist has an old Canadian Pacific baggage car, which was not an uncommon thing for railways to use during this time. Since the Sarnia Sub intersects with the CP in Chatham, I took the liberty of blending both railways. You will also notice an old wooden TH&B boxcar. Some of these old wooden boxcars lived well into the 1990s as MoW cars. The photo below from the Sarnia end of the the CSX operations gives you an idea of my inspiration. I would love to one day put together a detailed C&O MoW boxcar like the one below, but the TH&B boxcar will have to do for now. It was once part of the CP empire, so it's a stretch, but I am not one for strict adherence to prototypical operations. I like to freelance a bit.


Here's the other end of the MoW consist. It features an old Cotton Belt gondola and a CP flatcar, which I built from an old Ulrich kit. I had to look up this company to see what it was. When I bought this car, I had never heard of this model train maker before. You can see the rooftop of an industrial building in the shot as well. I'm not sure what it is going to be yet. You can also see a short train on the mainline with AT&SF, Bangor & Aroostook, RF&P and a green PC boxcar trailing a set of F units. All of these boxcars, except the PC, were given to me last year by a friend who had them in his basement collecting dust. What a gift!


Here's a closer shot of the CP flatcar. It took a lot of work to put this 60-year-old car together and get it operational. The couplers that it came with I had never seen before. I had to put in a conventional coupler and modify the car a bit to get it to fit properly.


Here's a shot of a MoW gondola I saw once in Sarnia, which gave me the idea that I needed one on my own maintenance track.


Here's a final shot of the mainline train and the station spur, below. You can get an idea of the developing town from this angle. There are a couple of things to note in this shot.

One is I bought an extended platform kit for my train station but found that it wasn't needed for what I was modelling, which is essentially a small town. So I used the extra platform for a railway themed park across the street from the station.

The next thing is the Chessie System F unit. You will see that it is mated to an old vintage Canadian Pacific unit, which needs a lot of work to make it look a little more realistic. Again, the old CSX Subdivision from my youth did not include shared power, but there were instances in Southern Ontario, particularly in the case of the CASO Sub near Windsor, where shared power did happen. So, it's another liberty I am taking. To be honest, I was just testing the old CP dummy to see how it handled the tracks. It has a temperamental coupler in the back, but it's working really well so far.


Try as you might, you will not find any real world example of a Chessie-painted F unit. I looked into it and discovered that the Chessie System did not retain any F units for revenue service, so this F unit is someone's idea of what it would have looked like if the railway had saved any of the covered wagons from its predecessors' long gone passenger service. The closest thing I found was that the old Seaboard System retained a set of F units long after it gave up its passenger operations.

You will also notice that the station is sitting on a block of wood. It will, of course, be elevated from the town, much like the Guelph Via Rail station is situated well above that city's downtown. The station is a common kit from Atlas. I like the look of it, since it reminds me of the old C&O station at the foot of Clifford Street in Sarnia, nestled behind the Esso refinery. The station looks different these days. Back in the early 1990s, it looked pretty rough. My station is a bit more tidy, for sure.


So that's one part of my set that could be close to getting some scenery in the near future, since it is pretty much set from a functional point of view. There is another part of that spur, which will serve a small farming operation. The building itself (you can see a piece of its power in the second last shot) is an old lumber mill, but it's generic enough that it can double for just about any old industrial building. I'm hoping to convert it into a feed mill, so I can use my hoppers and cylindrical hoppers there. That's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Takin' it to the basement

The trackside time has pretty much dried up for me, since there is so little happening in Ottawa to begin with, but with the stay-at-home orders, it's even tougher. I've been thinking of things to share in this strange time. I have a model railway in my basement, which doesn't receive a lot of attention in busy times. But it's seen a little bit of love in the last few weeks.

I have been trying to figure out how to take a decent shot of the set, which is far from finished. The walls of my den are also adorned with pictures and framed copies of some of my old newspaper stories from my journalism days. It makes photos pretty tough. There's also a lot of bare wood still showing and a lot of unfinished track work, particularly in my rail yard.

So, I decided I would content myself with a few shots of a few test trains that I have been operating, just to ensure my main line is somewhat operational. So far, my operations have gone quite smoothly, with almost no derailments. That's a real step up from my days of model railroading back in my teens, when persistent operational problems were enough to make me quit the hobby for long spells.

Here's a shot of my test train, led by Chessie System SD40-2 7614. It is passing by a spur that will serve some sort of plastic or petrochemical customer in the near future. I have a storage tank, tankcare unloading platform and a general purpose industrial building.

Right now, I have some intermodal cars parked there for no reason at all. Possibly my railway is relying on car storage fees before its official start-up. Those container wells were actually given to me. They don't really fit in with what I'm doing, but they look okay parked.

The covered hopper I picked up used a few months ago. Someone tried to apply their own West Virginian livery on the car alongside the Chessie cat, but I was able to get rid of the hand-drawn logo for the most part. What's left looks like old graffiti, which is okay by me. I used to see these hoppers an awful lot on the Sarnia Sub when I was a kid.


I should mention that the SD40 was an engine which did not prowl the Sarnia Subdivision, but I like to use it anyway, as it was a Christmas gift from my parents many years ago. I am not one to strictly follow prototype rules. I'm not sure what part of the old CSX Canadian operations I am modelling, but I am trying to blend a few of its operations in and around Southwestern Ontario.

My diesel roster also features a B&O GP35-2 and a Seaboard GP38-2. There was sometimes a blend of pre-CSX power on the Sarnia Sub before the CSX units began to take over. The Seaboard units were exceptionally rare, but they were not unseen, in my experience.

I also recently finished a secondary spur that ends at my station. The spur now houses an old Canadian Pacific baggage car, a wood box car, a flat car and a gondola, which will act as a MoW consist, if I ever feel the urge to operate one of these trains.

It reminds me of this MoW consist I once captured in Sarnia. In fact, this photo below was my inspiration.


I would be happy to share some thoughts about my model railway endeavors, but rest assured that I intend to continue my focus on real world railways when the world opens back up.

Take care. Stay healthy.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Railway stories: The reporter along the tracks

With the options for railfanning limited these days, I have been searching for some ideas to use for this blog. I have been cycling through photos and thinking of stories not yet told. Then it hit me. I have a number of life stories that somehow connect to the railways. I'm sure lots of people have similar railway stories, whether they know it or not. For me, I tend to remember more details of major life events when there is some sort of railway connection.

So, here's my first story. When I was in my early 20s, I lived for two years in Peterborough, Ontario. I worked for the local newspaper, the Examiner. It's a daily that is famous for once having employed Robertson Davies as its publisher. While Davies is certainly not my favourite author, I can appreciate his work and the cachet his name still carries.

In 2003-04, when I worked there, the Examiner was located in an industrial office building on an industrial road dubbed The Queensway. The building included a printing press in the back and the property backed up onto the Kawartha Lakes Railway line, a CP Rail shortline. This was the same line that once went through to Ottawa. The line now ends in Havelock. It is once again being looked at as a possibility for better, faster train service to Ottawa and Montreal (pipe dream).

This is not a shot from Peterborough. In fact, I have no rail photos from my time there in 2003-04, but I thought I needed to show something. So here's a shot of a yard switcher in London, Ontario. It's a good example of CP's secondary power that was and is the primary power on the Kawartha Lakes Railways through Peterborough.

When I worked in Peterborough, the Kawartha Lakes Railway was a forgettable secondary rail line that saw limited, albeit somewhat regular, action. But it was never terribly busy. I do recall being at my desk in the evening and looking out the back window of our newsroom, which faced west. The setting sun was always a soothing site, but that window also offered a view of the rail line and it would always make me pause when a train came roaring by.

I also remember being held up mid-jog by a train that was hurtling by Lansdowne Street, being led by two old SW1200s that were pulling a surprisingly long load. That was the type of scene you could expect to see on this line at the time. Two yard switchers pulling a long freight train, working as primary road power. 

I remember one night, a call came in on the police scanner, which was asking for officers to try and find two yokels in a pickup truck who had steered their truck onto the rail line in search of a deer they were apparently hunting. This was the type of local flavour that often coloured our police coverage.

To this day, I'm not exactly sure what to make out of this city. It was always an enigma to me.

But I think the clearest memory I have of those railway tracks was when the city was hit by what is known in weather circles as a cold low. It was a torrential rain storm that stalled over the city and dumped more than 100 mm of rain on the city in less than 12 hours. The result was that the city was flooded almost in its entirety. The flood only lasted a day, but its damage was immense. The story made national headlines in the summer of 2003.

The only way I could make it to work was by bike, since the roads were mostly flooded between my house and the newspaper offices.

This was my street. A neighbour was trying to fish something out of the crater that had been created near the hydro box.

The day of the flood turned out to be one of the longest of my career. It was exhilarating and humbling at the same time. I remember biking down one of my local streets with the water over the front tires of my bike. I had no raincoat, so I had to wear a garbage bag over my clothes, just to keep dry.

My railway memory of that day happened when I was in the back parking lot of our newspaper offices and looking down the tracks, much of which were washed out and unpassable. In that quiet moment amid the chaos of that day, a young reporter came walking up to me, a recorder and microphone in hand. She introduced herself as a reporter from CBC Radio and wanted to know if I could comment a bit on what was happening in the city.

The whole time as I am answering her questions, I wondered, how did this reporter, most likely from Toronto, find her way into the city? The main routes into Peterborough were flooded. I also wondered, why was she walking along the railway tracks? I never asked her how she made it into town and I never did figure out why she was walking along the tracks.

It was a surreal moment in my career and one that I will never forget. Much of that has to do with the fact that it happened near railway tracks.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Three shots, lots of history

I am always aware that many readers of this blog come across it accidentally and read these postings long after I posted them. So rather than expounding on the state of the world as it stands on March 29th, 2020, as I write this, let's just enjoy what we came here for. Let's explore our passion for railways together for a few minutes and consider ourselves lucky to be able to do so.

With that in mind, I recently came across some images I captured this past summer in Southwestern Ontario when I was visiting family in the Sarnia area. Those who are regular visitors here know I post a lot from this area, since it is where I grew up and it remains a spot I visit semi-regularly.

One day near the end of my last visit, I took my nephew and my daughters to the Sarnia CN rail yard on our way home from a visit to a museum in the downtown. We were treated to the sight of a tunnel train marshalling its load together in front of the Sarnia Via rail station. You can read all about that train here.

But as I was looking for other items of interest in the yard, I turned my attention to the old Sarnia roundhouse, where Lambton Diesel operates as a repair and refurbishment facility for many railways. That means you are often treated to the sight of rare or odd units in the yard, depending on the day you visit.

Take this image below. You can clearly see the long hood of an old CP geep in its action scheme It's most likely an old GP9, which was one of the last of the railway's GP series that was rostered on the railway in recent years. My guess is this hood was from a geep that was sold off to a shortline or industrial operation before it reached the end of its lifespan and was sold for scrap or parts.

You can also see the old Novacor SW series switcher, which appeared to be in for servicing. I have shot that unit at the Nova Corunna plant a few times in recent years, where it still operates alongside what appears to be a genset. And old CN warhorse GP9 is peaking out from behind the shell of the old CP geep hood.


Here's another shot with no shortage of interesting material. You can the see the exposed engine of an old CN SW1200 switcher in the centre of the frame. To its left, the old Esso SW switcher, which likely was in for servicing. As Imperial Oil still has a very large presence in the Chemical Valley, I'm sure that switcher is kept busy

Look to the left of the Esso unit and you can see a grey shell of another geep unit. The grey could be primer or possibly it's an old CSX livery. I am guessing it's been taken down to primer. Just a hunch. Looking to the right of the frame, you can see another grew SW unit behind the old CN unit. To the right of the frame, CSX has one of its GP38s in for servicing as well.


I almost missed this unit, but saw it at the last second, sandwiched in between a tank car and an NCIX covered hopper. I don't know how many of this GATX units are still in use on the CN system, but I'm guessing few, if any, especially given the dearth of business right now.


So there's a brief distraction for you. Lots of 1960s-1970s heritage units, all in a few shots. I always make sure to get a shot of these old locomotives when I see them in Sarnia because you never know which ones are destined to become parts for another engine.

Catch the history while you can.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Weird cargo and rare cars

The thing I love about railways is there is an escapism about them. Granted today, we know more about railways than ever before, but I still like to watch a train go by and wonder where everything will end up. Sometimes, you have an idea of where a certain car came from and where it's going. Then again, sometimes you take in a sight that makes you scratch your head. I love those moments when you see a rare car or a piece of rolling stock with mysterious cargo. With that sense of escapism and mystery in mind, here is a gallery of some interesting pieces of rolling stock and unique pieces of cargo.

The first photo is courtesy of my brother, who was trackside in Sarnia late last year when he spotted a long line of windmill blades heading west toward the Paul Tellier Tunnel beneath the St. Clair Tunnel. That would have been a sight to behold, seeing these impossibly large and long pieces going into the tunnel. I would like to know what type of planning and engineering goes into moving these things over such a long distance.


Here's one of my favourite shots from a 2017 visit to London. I was on a side street next to CN's yard along the Dundas subdivision when I spotted this heavy duty flatcar, which amazingly had almost nothing in the way of freight on it. Still, three sets of trucks on either side, which suggested to me that this car was made for large bulky loads. So, why then, was there so little strapped down to it on that day?


This hopper might not look like much of an oddity, but it's rare enough. It's one of the type of covered hoppers that delivers what it known as carbon black to companies like Cabot in Sarnia's Chemical Valley. This product is a powdery substance used for rubber products as well as for pigment purposes in plastics. It's a messy product, to be sure, which would explain why it is carried in black covered hoppers. The plant in Sarnia once had a full fleet of of these hoppers, with ribbed sides, stationed on a three track spur. All of the cars sported a Cabot logo. I wish I had a picture of those old cars.


You don't see these yellow tank cars very often, so I was happy to capture this one in 2013 in Ottawa. These cars were once patched with a Safety Kleen logo and are used for what is known as fluid recycling services. Some of the liquids this company recycles include oil, coolants and antifreeze solutions. So it's anyone's guess what was in this car on that day.


This is one of my favourites. At first site, it's not much to look at, since it is a tired looking CN gondola, with its markings barely visible. But on closer inspection, you can clearly see that it is a side dumping gondola that looks to me that is used for ballasting and maintenance of way purposes. Given how little is done to secondary parts of CN's system, seeing such MoW equipment in Ottawa was always a rarity. This car was captured in 2013 as well.


I saw this piece of equipment on a mixed freight barelling west on CN's Strathroy Subdivision several years ago. At the time, I remember asking if anyone knew what this was. No one knew for sure. It bears some resemblance to a piece of HVAC equipment, but there are too many small components and pipes for this unit to be that, to my uneducated eye. So I will throw it out there again to those more knowledgeable than me. Does anyone know what this is?


This last shot isn't necessarily a rarity, at least not in Southern Ontario, but it is rare elsewhere. It's not uncommon to see a long string of these underframes making their way from a parts supplier to an automotive manufacturing plant somewhere in the heartland of the province. I have often seen these strings of cars in the Sarnia area when I visit that area. I saw this string on an eastbound train crossing Camlachie Road, just outside Sarnia's eastern city limits.


I've often mentioned in this blog that railfanning isn't just about getting shots of locomotives. To me, that's boring. There is always something else to see on a train. In some ways, it's better to be train starved like me, because it makes you appreciate everything you do see. And it motivates you to take a few extra shots.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Sometimes, magic happens

May you live in interesting times, or so goes what many feel is a Chinese proverb or curse. We do live in interesting times in Canada. For those of us in Canada who like to sit trackside, it's been a long few weeks. I have mixed feelings about everything that has happened in this country that has ground rail traffic to a standstill in many parts. I won't get into it much more than that, because this is not what this blog is about.

Recently, my daughter expressed an interest in astronomy, which is why I drove her into the countryside on a Saturday evening to look at a few constellations and planets just after sunset. We brought a pair of binoculars, which are surprisingly useful for stargazing.

On our way to our spot, I noticed the signals at the Twin Elm crossing were showing green for westbound trains, which I found odd. As far as I was concerned, nothing was moving on the Smiths Falls Sub, due to the blockades.

Well, on our way back home, I got my answer. I double-ended Via Rail train was making its way west through Twin Elm, which had me confused. I brought along my camera, which I usually do when I know I will be near a rail crossing. The train was making its way to the crossing much slower than it usually does. So I propped my camera on my driver's side mirror to ensure any shot I got was somewhat clear in the dark. (Always find something to use a tripod, if you can. I learned that trick very early on)


This was probably the best shot of the tail end of the consist (above), with a wrapped Via Rail F40 wearing the "Love the way" slogan on the side. I didn't have time to switch my camera to its night settings, which would have helped the shots, no doubt. But, then again, this was really a surprise meet.


I think I like this shot the best because it shows the blurred strip of lights coming from the LRC coaches. The entire train was made up of old LRC coaches, still bearing the Via Rail blue and yellow livery, which I appreciated. I have seen many many shots over the years of nighttime rail photography where a train appears as a blurred lines of lights. I wondered if I would ever get the chance to capture these types of shots. Quite by accident, I was able to create a first attempt. It's not perfect, but it's a start. The lights from the crossing gate and signal really flared a fair bit, which I tried to fix with some retouching, but this was the best I could do.

When reviewing the shots, I decided to make one of them black and white to see if it added to the scene at all. I'm not sure if it made the shot better or worse, but it was worthwhile experiment nonetheless.

So, it was a little bit of magic on a night when my focus was trying to teach my daughter what little I know about the night sky.

I did notice that, after the blockade was removed near Belleville and freight traffic began moving again on the CN main line, someone went to Walkley Yard and took shots of the local CN crew putting a train together. This video was posted on Facebook. I have to say, with respect, that taking shots from the service road next to Walkley Yard is probably not a great idea. That road is private property past a certain point, which puts you in danger of being charged with trespassing. There are Ottawa Police and private security guards watching this area a fair bit.

It's not worth it.





Friday, February 21, 2020

Ottawa's light rail disaster

I have been reluctant to share any thoughts about Ottawa’s new electrified Confederation Line light rail system on this blog. You don’t need to live in Ottawa to know that the launch of the east-west Confederation Line has been an unqualified disaster. There is no other way to describe this system. It was already well past its launch date when it began service in September. Admittedly, hopes were high when it did begin operations, but the problems began almost immediately.


Here is an unofficial summary of what Ottawa commuters have had to face since September.

1. City officials insisted that the trains had to operate flawlessly for 12 consecutive days before actual commuter operations were to begin. That did not happen, but city officials used all sorts of bafflegab and doublespeak to explain away this obvious failure to comply with its own guidelines.

2. The first major problem happened almost immediately when commuters tried to pry doors open when trying to catch a train. This is common in most transit systems. Most buses and subways have safety and redundancy systems that account for this behaviour. The O-Trains could not handle these situations and the doors would remain open after being pried open. The trains would then shut down. The door issue has been resolved through a change in commuter behaviour, but it’s not clear to me that the issue was ever fixed. The city insisted that technical adjustments were made.

3. Switches on the Confederation Line would often not operate normally, which would shut down part or all of the system. This happened multiple times before the issue was largely fixed. It should be noted that this problem has begun to resurface recently, due to winter conditions.

4. The city had told the public that 15 O-Trains would run during peak periods in order to maintain normal 3-minute intervals of service at all stations. The system has not yet had 15 trains working at one time. City officials have quickly changed their tune, saying the number of trains operating during peak periods is 13. No one has ever explained why this has changed.

5. There have been many cases where these trains have shut down for no apparent reason. If there were explanations for these mysterious failures, they were not well communicated with the public or not shared with the public at all.

6. Early on, a piece of the continuous welded rail broke apart, forcing the system to shut down while repairs were made to the (at the time) brand new right-of-way. The city insisted that this is a common occurrence in any rail system. Officials were then forced to admit that this “common occurrence” has never once happened on the Trillium Line since it first began operations in 2001.

7. A long piece of the overhead catenary was torn off its bracing by an O-Train for no apparent reason near Saint Laurent Station. The city never offered any explanation as to why this would happen.

8. Multiple O-Trains experienced power failures around the New Year. In this case, it was explained that the company that maintains the trains had to modify its maintenance practices because the pantographs that pick up the power were being compromised by a mixture of copper shavings from the overhead catenary mixed with rock salt.

9. In the New Year, the entire Confederation Line was severely compromised by a number of flat spots on the train’s wheelsets. The company maintaining the fleet explained eventually that its wheel truing machinery had broken down. The result was that only eight trains were available for use during peak hours for more than a week.

10. On New Year’s Eve, the city offered free rides on the O-Train for those going out for a night on the town. A mysterious failure on one of the trains caused a delay of more than an hour, due to the fact that there was obviously no back-up in place for train failures. Eventually, those stranded on the stopped train did get aboard a replacement bus, but the incident was the latest black eye for the beleaguered system.

11. It took weeks for the city to explain that a faulty sump pump was causing a lingering sewer smell in the underground Rideau Station. The problem has not been totally resolved yet.

12. There are now problems with a rotten egg smell at the underground Lyon Station, for reasons that have not yet been fully explained.

13. The city now says it will take more than a year to fix the electrical problems that are causing untold delays on the Confederation Line.


I mention all these instances as examples of some of the more egregious errors that have happened since this new service was launched. Some of the problems were to be expected with a new system. But the service interruptions have been an almost daily occurrence since December. It’s actually hard to think of a stretch of more than three to four days where the system has operated normally without any problems.

There are three more recent developments that have further eroded any trust the citizens of Ottawa have in our local leadership.

1. The company that is largely responsible for the current Confederation Line, SNC Lavalin, was handed the contract to extend the Trillium Line as part of the Phase II of the system’s expansion. This, despite the fact that the company had failed to meet the minimum technical threshold to advance in the bidding and was disqualified by the city’s own technical evaluation committee. That committee’s decision was overturned by senior city officials, due to a secret power they held to make such an arbitrary decision. It has since been revealed that SNC failed to grasp in its bid that the Trillium Line is not an electrified line, but rather a diesel line. The company’s bid also did not include provisions for snow removal. Yet, they won the bid. The city council has ordered an independent review of this contract process.

2. City officials have only recently come forward publicly with the revelation that the trains they purchased from Alstom, are not terribly reliable in a North American winter. These trains are a specifically modified version of another Alstom train that is used worldwide. However, the fact remains that the trains used here are the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak. They are the first to be used anywhere. And, as one city official admitted, they are so far proving to be lemons.

3. Ottawa residents were told that the company that is maintaining the Confederation Line and electric O-Trains has not been paid yet, due to the poor performance of the service since September. Only, that was another lie or half truth from city officials. It was actually revealed that the city, in fact, paid the company, which is called Rideau Transit Maintenance or RTM, $4.5 million.

I won’t offer my opinion, other than a few words. Everything that I have mentioned here is what has been reported. As a taxpayer and commuter, I can only hope that things will get better. I have lost trust in this city’s senior managers and the mayor. This will affect my vote in the next election. But, here’s the obvious truth. This is what happens when you don’t understand railways and have not had to live in a city with overly visible railways for the better part of half a century.