Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Wednesdays at the Overpass (Part I)

Last year, I spent many evenings watching Via Rail's westbound Train 59 pass by the Hunt Club Road area, since I was there every Wednesday evening as my daughters were at a nearby dance class. The school does not allow parents to watch, which is actually a good thing for me, as it gives me the time to run errands and sit trackside each week. While taking photos of the same passenger train each week in the same way seemed like a waste of time, I decided early on that I was going to try and get as many different shots as I could. Over the course of the year, I did manage to capture some interesting angles and some differences in the train's consist. These meets also allowed me to take shots of the efforts to dismantle an old industrial spur along Bentley Avenue, just to the west of the Smiths Falls Subdivision.

Train 59 departs from Ottawa's main train station on Tremblay Road every weeknight at 5:49 p.m. It meanders its way west along the Beachburg Subdivision through the city and crosses the Rideau River where it then proceeds over a stone flyover over Prince of Wales Drive before it heads through Federal Junction, where it enters the Smiths Falls Subdivision and begins to veer southwest. 

The train passes by Federal and Hunt Club Road around 6 p.m., as it enters a stretch of track where the less severe speed restrictions allow it to open up a bit. Train 59, which is led by a P42 or F40, usually has four to six cars. They are often the old HEP silver coaches, although it does sometimes have LRC coaches. Train 59 makes stops in Fallowfield, Smiths Falls, Brockville, Kingston, Belleville, Trenton Junction (conditional), Cobourg, Oshawa (conditional) and Guildwood (Scarborough, conditional), before arriving in Toronto at 10:33 p.m. 

April 17

My first week where I caught the train was April 17. In this case, I decided to camp out on the east side of the tracks at the back of a parking lot off Antares Drive. The benefits of this spot include capturing the sky behind the train, although it can be a double-edged sword with the shadows. I tried this spot a few times with mixed results. In this shot, F40PH-2 6436 leads four of the old silver coaches under the overpass on a grey April evening. I do like that this spot gives you a great backdrop of the overpass. That long stretch of steel girders above the train makes for an interesting backdrop. Given the tough light, I didn't mind the shadows in the image. You can also see pieces of old rail in the foreground.

April 26

Shortly after that first shot of the year, I returned to the same spot on Antares Drive, to see if I could get a better image under sunny skies. I did like the blue and the clouds I got in this shot, but the shadows cast by the evening sun meant I was on the wrong side of the tracks to get a decent, clear shot. As the train got closer to my vantage point, the darker the shadows became, which was a disappointment, so I stuck with some shots where the train is a little further back. In this case, F40PH-2 6407 was leading a string of four silver coaches in different Via liveries. This was a typical look for this train, as it often sported the old silver coaches over the course of last year.

May 3

In May, I started off by taking a shot from the top of the Hunt Club overpass, looking north. This is a spot where you can get a pretty dramatic shot of trains from straight on, or from a side perspective. In this case, I went with a straight-on shot. 6407 was again leading the way, with six HEP cars in tow this time. In this shot, you can see the first hints of spring as the trackside brush and foliage are turning green. This perspective also allows you a chance to get some smoke in a shot, which is always a fun added element that shows some drama. Often, the trains are gearing up as they emerge from the turnout from Federal Junction. The one drawback is the guy wire that cuts through the middle of the train. I have worked around this wire in other shots, but in this case, I didn't. It doesn't kill the shot, but it is an annoyance.

May 10

The next week, I tried another shot from the overpass, but a little to the west, so I could get a better profile of the train. The natural light was steadily improving with each week, as was the weather. Still, the wire did present an obstacle. In a few shots, I simply zoomed past the wire, but I found that the image was too close to the rails and didn't offer any other elements. So I decided to share this shot, which has the wire prominently showing in the foreground. Sadly, the natural light was making it a bit too prominent. However, by keeping the shot a bit wider, I managed to get the high voltage power lines in the background, as well as the HLS Linen Service facility to the right of the tracks. You can just make out a piece of the signal tower near the curve in the track. As the year went on, I tried to get that signal in shots, but it was challenging. This time around, it's again 6407 leading six silver coaches. A typical look for this train.

May 17

The following week, I worked around the wire and went for a more traditional (at least for me) shot of the train up close. I used to take these shots a lot more when I restarted pursuing rail photography about 12 years ago. I don't take these types of shots much anymore, but once in a while, they're fun. In this case, you can see what the trade-off is when you use your zoom function to get past that overhead wire. The image of 6411 is taken from the same perspective as the week before, but you don't get much of an appreciation for the city around the tracks. The shadows were pretty fierce at that moment, which is why I chose to stay on the west side of the overpass. I will say that, the crew of Train 59 would sometimes give me a wave when I was on the overpass. They must have caught on at some point that there was always a guy taking photos on Wednesdays. I always appreciate this courtesy from train crews.

May 24

I would love to say this next shot was the result of some deliberate idea or planning, but the truth is, I was a late getting onto the overpass when I heard the rumble of the F40 gearing up. I knew I had only a few seconds to get something. On the east side of the Hunt Club overpass, there is a break in the brush where you can get a quick shot of a train, if that is what you are after. I won't say this is what I was looking for, but I did like the outcome. Sometimes, I find the best railway photos are the shots where the train is not the dominant part of the image. The shadows were once again quite difficult to work with, so I had to touch up the image a bit to soften the shadows. I actually like this shot. It was a spontaneous effort to get something. The perspective, trees and brush all make it unique among the many shots I took of Train 59 last year.

July 12

In June, various other life events prevented me from getting shots. When July rolled around, I picked up my chase again. On a bright evening in early July, I decided to get back to track level. However, instead of setting up on the east side of the tracks off Antares Drive, I tried the west side of the tracks. This was a challenging spot to work with, because you have to get through a fair bit of undergrowth to get to the fence. Also, when you emerge beneath the overpass, it's apparent that someone is living beneath the west side of the overpass, so I tried to keep a respectful distance and not bother this person. I did get some shots of the train before it emerged into the shadows beneath the overpass, but I wanted to share a shot of this F40 beneath the overpass. You can see the consist has shrunk to four cars.

July 19

The following week, I took up my next challenge of getting the train coming around the bend, just past Federal Junction. This required a fair bit of preparation and staging, since the train rounds the bend pretty quickly, so you have to be ready. In this case, this was the first time I saw Train 59 being pulled by a P42. I like how this shot turned out and it's a good example of how a great railway shot doesn't need to have much train in it. In this case, the train is a small part of the image, but I like that it's rounding that bend and picking up speed. You have to look closely, but you can see the red signal hiding behind the trees to the right of the track. I have another version of this shot, cropped a fair bit but I like the long line of the track in this image. And you will see there is no wire in the shot. I set up my camera beneath it. No small feat getting all these elements in one image without that pesky line in the middle.

July 26

To finish off this first part, I'll share the other time I tried something from the west part of the Hunt Club overpass. My idea this time was to get a shot that was less of a wedge shot and more of a side view. Given the person living on this side of the overpass, I camped out well out of this person's area and tried to find a perspective that lessened the impact of the sun. This going away shot gives you the perspective of the entire train, being pulled by a P42. The LRC coaches are a mix of liveries, not to mention a wrap. The train is passing by the now dismantled industrial spur next to Bentley Avenue, which you see just to the right of the second last car. The building to the left of the train is the former Ottawa Sun headquarters, where I worked for a few years. I wasn't sure if this shot worked out as well as I had planned. The train was a bit blurry in the earlier shots, which was a bit disappointing. But I liked the fact that I captured a perspective I hadn't considered before.

I kept taking shots of this train until November, when the light simply didn't permit any further shots. It was a fun experiment, which I might take up again this year, although I'm not sure what I might attempt this year. I might just go to watch the train. I know there is an Ottawa-bound train that comes east shortly after Train 59, so I might try and get shots of that train instead this year. Since my daughters' dance class is a bit longer than it was last year, I have a bit more time on my hands, so I will try to make the most of it.


DaveM said...

I think that the switch in the July 26 pic has been removed. :(


Eric said...

Thank goodness you're able to explore the current VIAriety, Michael. Now, with three Venture sets in the Corridor, the end is sort of in sight.

Just imagine all these shots with Venture sets. They would still be good, of course.

Those wrapped LRC cars that say 'The Future is On Board' really meant it!


Michael said...

Stay tuned for Part II Dave, where that switch is indeed fully removed. I have shots of the switchstand lying in the weeds along with other debris after the spur was dismantled.

I'm not sure what to think of this era of Via's transition, Eric. You're right that the end is near for much of the equipment we've gotten sick of. Will there be a time when an LRC consist/F40/P42 is in a museum? I wonder.

DaveM said...

Micheal & Eric,

Although seeing the diverse sets of {LRC, HEP, REN} has been a treasure trackside to see, I'm glad that replacement equipment has been acquired since attempting to keep the significantly older rolling stock reliably dispatched will become more and more challenging and likely to impact on service (which will impacting ridership).


Canadian Train Geek said...

What a great series! I love how you walked us through your "problem solving" / experimentation with different shots. I really like the "green glimpse" photo.