Saturday, April 1, 2023

Capture Via's rainbow era while you can

On Jan. 12, I found myself trackside at Via Rail's Tremblay Road station east of downtown Ottawa. I didn't really have a goal in mind, other than to see what was coming and going. I was hoping to maybe catch a glance at the new Siemens Charger trainsets, but none were in operation that day. 

As is the case in Ottawa, Via Rail is often the only railway to observe some days. My first stop was the Belfast Road overpass, which gives you a great view of the station yard to the west and the Alexandria Subdivision to the east. Of course, the view of the station is obscured by a number of hydro wires, but you can work around them with some creative camera positioning and zoom. If you are hoping to catch a westbound train coming from Montreal, the Belfast Road overpass is an ideal spot to shoot facing east, as long as the east sidewalk is cleared, which is not the case in the winter. On the day I was there, a corridor train from Montreal was making its way to the station, but I could only capture it from the west sidewalk, through the traffic. Not an easy task.

Led by P42 918 in a wrap, this train featured a full consist of silver streamliner cars, complete with the requisite buffer cars that sandwich the operational coaches, thanks to a mandate from federal safety officials. 

The buffer car behind the engine was 8103 long distance coach in the traditional Via blue and yellow colours. This was originally a CP coach, and is designated by Via as an HEP1 coach. 

The last buffer car in this train is Via Rail 8318 Manor-class sleeping car, which was also a Canadian Pacific car prior to Via. The nameplate on the side of the car did not carry a name, but research showed that 8318 is officially listed as Craig Manor. This car was also still carrying its original blue and yellow Via Rail colours dating back to the late 1970s. I mention these cars in particular because I really do think we are living in a rainbow era of Via, where many different paint schemes and wraps are vying for a railfan's attention. I wonder if a day will come when we look back fondly at this point in Via's history.

Once this train had tied up, I made my way to the station to take a peak at the schedule. Given the number of people in the station, I assumed more trains were coming or going. While there, the Ottawa Valley NTrak railway club was showing off its prowess in a combined display. I took a quick peak at this model train setup, in between all the fascinated kids. I took a shot at what I assumed was an approximation of CN's Super Continental. Love those old F units!

While I was there, I decided to get a shot of the main entrance to the station. This is kind of an iconic place for me, as it was how I arrived in Ottawa to return to university or the final place I saw before heading home to visit family in the Sarnia area. The Ottawa train station is a very difficult building to capture an image of, given there aren't many good vantage points in the area where you can get the entire building in a shot. But the entrance gives you an idea of the architectural design of the station, which has won awards. Once inside the building, you can certainly appreciate the floor-to-ceiling windows, as it is a very warm, welcoming place.

Before calling it a day, another westbound made its way to the station, this time being led by another P42 (902) in its original Via paint scheme. I tried to get the train as it rounded the curve, for the sake of getting a different shot. I like this one below the best.

Once again, you can see the two buffer HEP1 cars sandwiching the cars in revenue service. This at least adds a little bit of colour to the corridor, allowing those along the rails to see cars (like the Manor sleepers) that don't often grace the rails between Windsor and Quebec City. In this case, the first buffer was HEP1 Business Class car 4000 in the updated business class grey and yellow scheme.

The rear buffer car appears to be Via Rail 8307 Blair Manor sleeping car, once again in the original Via blue and yellow scheme from the late 1970s. It was fun to see some of these cars that very rarely made it through Ottawa before the mandated buffer car order came down from federal safety regulators. I wonder how long this policy will be in place, given the outcome of the tests being done on these cars. I suppose it's a reminder to capture some rail history trackside while you can.

While I was capturing the incoming consist from Montreal, I noticed an eastbound corridor train making its start for Montreal. This consist was a little more standard with an F40 leading a typical LRC consist.

My original goal with this post was to provide a little bit of trackside commentary on winter railroading in Ottawa but I realized that the photos I took tell the story of the many faces of Via Rail right now. There are many different colour schemes at play these days, including the newest scheme in the Siemens trainsets. This seems to be the direction that all of Via's equipment is heading in, or at least the equipment that will remain in use in the years to come. A look at the HEP1 4000 Business Class buffer seems to be a decent match for the newest Via equipment.

But it's interesting that you can see the original Via blue and yellow colours on both the HEP1 and LRC cars, not to mention the various updates and wraps from the Canada 150 and Via 40 years. Then there's the Love the Way wraps, which carried over in recent years. I'm not even mentioning the slightly iridescent scheme on the Renaissance equipment. Put it all together and you have a lot of interesting design elements worth capturing while you can. What seems mundane today might seem fascinating in the years to come. So go ahead and take that additional shot. You'll be happy you did.


Kevin from Windsor said...

Nice photos as usual. Last visit to Ottawa station was a blazing hot afternoon in 1982 just before Canada Day weekend. The connecting bus (sadly) that brought us from Kingston station did not have full A/C, but arrived in Ottawa at least 30 minutes early, so we had to wait for our ride to my cousins house. But I digress. I think the rainbow era will always be with us, no matter which railroad. Florida‘s Brightline went with colour co-ordinated Charger/Venture train sets. Each set is named after their colour and announced as such by the onboard staff. (ie: Bright Orange). But they need more space on their trains, so they are now mashing them up with a different colour coach in the middle. We took a ride on one this time last year. Just for fun. An amazing ride with amazing service. The stations have gourmet food courts. High level platforms. Station attendants giving out free swag. You’d love it!

Eric said...

You're wise to see the VIAriety we're presented with these days, Michael.

My thoughts on VIA's original rainbow era take me back to 1979. At that time, CN and CP were merging their equipment fleets and struggling to untie their kaleidoscopic fleets with common colours.

The only difference between that rainbow era and the current one is that VIA has done this to itself! Instead of two disparate, competing fleets, VIA has introduced the various schemes before removing the previous ones. I find the Canada 150 sticky rectangles on LRC car sides to be especially nasty-looking!

VIA displayed its colour palette for equipment, online resources and everything else on their website. It matches the Siemens equipment.

Wasn't it Kermit the Frog who sang about the Rainbos Connection?
Thanks for sharing,

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, gentlemen. I can't imagine a time when reaching Ottawa via uhhh VIA, would require a bus connection. I remember first arriving in the city for university at a time when there was no four-lane divided highway into the capital. How quaint. I suspect this rainbow era will be short-lived. Once the Siemens trainsets take over in the corridor, the many faces of Via will be reduced to the black, yellow and grey of the new scheme. Long live the blue and yellow, I say!

Kevin from Windsor said...

In 1982 there were 5 round trips per day between Toronto and Ottawa, but 2 of those trips were bus rides between Kingston and Ottawa. And 1 trip required changing trains at Kingston if you wanted to make any local stops between Kingston and Toronto. At the same time, there were 4 weekday round trips between Sarnia and Toronto. 4! And 6 weekday round trips between Windsor and Toronto! That’s compared to 1 and 4 respectively today. So the western half of the province has definitely suffered in terms of service compared to the eastern half over the past 40 years. Windsor - Toronto service today basically mirrors what we had in 1970. Except in 1970 there was still a daily CP Budd car between Windsor and Toronto, for those who wanted to stop at some place exotic like Galt or Milton. The 6 daily round trips out of Windsor was short lived - it was 5 for most of Via’s early years - but back then local travel agencies (Key Tours and Can-Am Tours come to mind) were selling Toronto package tours to Michigan residents like hotcakes and Via was cashing in big time. The agencies even had their own portable counters with uniformed hosts at Windsor station on heavier travel days. Trains were either pulled by F units or red CN locomotives with a white logo. The latter had their own dedicated coaches and these trainsets were only used west of Toronto. They were called Tempo trains and disappeared when the LRC trainsets were introduced.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks for documenting this unique period of VIA's history. Today's "rainbow fleet" may be less distinctive than the very beginnings of VIA with blue-and-yellow, CP red and CN black and white all together, but today's trains are still unique and well worth documenting.