Thursday, December 19, 2013

Last Stop for The Beachburg Sub in 2013

That's a wrap for 2013. The Beachburg Sub has reached the end of the line for the year. I am travelling to southwestern Ontario to see family over the Christmas holidays and will be unable to blog until the New Year. On the plus side, I intend to take lots of photos of railroading down south and will have lots of new material to share next year.

I started this blog in April with the vague notion that I wanted to blog about my passion for railroading in some way. I had been reading a few railway blogs that gave me the inspiration to start. I was a little intimidated to begin, since the internet is often a cruel, unforgiving place if you don't know what you are talking about. I would never describe myself as a railway expert, but I do know that I am a fan. I am thankful for my fellow bloggers and fellow enthusiasts who have been supportive of the blog and have offered excellent feedback. I have learned a great deal so far and hope you have enjoyed the ride to this point.

Thank you to everyone who has been riding along. Merry Christmas to all!


Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter railroading in Ottawa

Winter has unquestionably arrived in Ottawa, which has allowed me to correct a longstanding gap in my railway photograph collection. Searching through my images the other day, I realized that I had but one winter railroading photograph. With that in mind, I lugged my camera into the arctic air to get some shots of the most Canadian of scenes: trains trudging through the snow.

The first shot, which I grabbed this past week, was Via Rail No. 33 arriving at Ottawa Station from Montreal, with P42 910 leading an all-Renaissance consist. The long shadows in the morning light, combined with the restricted vantage points around the station, made this shot tricky. I wasn't thrilled with it, but I do like seeing the exhaust from the locomotive in the crisp winter air. There wasn't much activity at the station at this point, so I didn't stick around.

On Dec. 7, I made one of my periodic visits to Walkley Yard to see if there was anything interesting to shoot. My daughter accompanied me for the first time, although she was busy watching Barney in the back seat. I did find several of these tank cars in the yard, which were a nice surprise. This tank car, Procor 50265, upon closer inspection, has a marking reading "Fluid Recycling Services" painted over on the left side. As to what fluids it carried, I'm not sure. I dug around a bit online but didn't find anything conclusive. Maybe a reader knows more than I do.

I also spotted CN's two local cabooses side by side near CN's local offices. I've shared photos of these two cabooses before, but never together. From what I've noticed, the former Devco Railway caboose never seems to move from this spot in the yard, which makes me wonder if it's operational at all. The old millennium caboose seems to be the unit of choice. The graffiti on the Devco caboose makes me shake my head. How bad is security in this rail yard?

I've shared photos of this old RDC unit before. I'm lucky that there is a service road running the length of the east end of the rail yard, which allows an excellent vantage point of this old gem. I noticed some interesting light and the cloud movement as I drove by, so I took a quick photo and was quite happy with the result. I wanted to capture a shot of this old unit, hooked to a former CN caboose, in a way that makes it look as though it's moving.

The best thing about shooting in the winter is the overgrown weeds in the yard are gone, which allows me to get a full shot of the RDC, complete with the old trucks and undercarriage. One of the small perks of this arctic weather.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Goderich's Railways: Then and Now

I love Goderich. It's a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Huron, which was once described as one of the country's "prettiest towns" by Queen Elizabeth. It has a rich history, much of which is preserved in the town's older quarter. Most importantly for our purposes, Goderich has long been a railway town. I recently visited family near Goderich for the Thanksgiving weekend and was able to get a few up-to-date photos of the town's wonderful train stations.

That's right! This town has actually preserved both of its stations.

Luckily, my parents visited Goderich a few times in the early 1990s and took some great photos of the railway operations then. The shot below is the Canadian National railway station in the early 90s. By this time, the railway operations had been sold off to the Goderich Exeter Railway, which would mean the photo is post 1992. You can see the old green and cream coloured GEXR GP9 locomotive on the right of the photo. These engines once sported Shakespeare inspired names, since the railway is based in Stratford. More on this in a later post.

As mentioned, Goderich has a long and proud railway history. The GEXR rails have an interesting lineage themselves. Before the short line operator took over (GEXR itself has been a RailTex, RailAmerica and Genesee & Wyoming concern), the line was CN. The CN operation was inherited from the Grand Trunk, which took over a railway by the name of Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway. That means parts of the rails in Goderich date back to 1859.

The Canadian Pacific also laid rails to Goderich in 1907, seeing as how the town was a key cargo port on the Great Lakes and had long prospered, thanks to the enormous salt deposits in the area. The CPR built this beautiful rail station (below) near the Goderich harbour. The passenger service was axed in the 1960s and the entire CPR line was pulled up sometime afterward, but the building was preserved by the town. For decades, it sat at the bottom of a bluff, existing as a town storage facility. I remember once looking into the station and seeing Christmas decorations and pieces of parade floats. In the shot below, you can see the old luggage cart still sitting on the old platform. A beautiful old trestle nearby over the Maitland River has also been preserved as a public trail.

In the last two years, the town has been busy rebuilding after a devastating F3 tornado ripped apart much of the town's octagonal town square and surrounding neighbourhood in August 2011. One of the initiatives included moving the old CPR station from its lonely spot near the bluffs to a spot facing the lake and the town's public beach. An entrepreneur is opening a restaurant in the old station and adding an adjacent convention facility, which will be physically attached to the old station. You can see the Goderich lighthouse at the top of the bluff to the right.

The station looks to be in decent shape, despite being jarred from its home and moved a few hundred metres to its new spot via a giant flatbed truck. As you can see below, a fair bit of work needs to be done to the exterior facade, which has not been given much attention in the past few decades. Still, it's good to see this beautiful old station being put to good use.


I managed to venture across the downtown to the old CN station to see what was happening there. My father-in-law told me that the town has also renovated this old station and used it as a performing arts venue. You can see some subtle changes between the top photo and this one, including the lattice in the front windows. Also, to the right of the photo, you will see a lonely hopper car and a few industrial buildings. Those structures are part of the GEXR's operations, which serve a nearby Sifto Salt processing facility, which was once part of a Volvo heavy machinery plant that was recently closed and moved south to the U.S.

As you can imagine, there was nothing happening on the rails over the Thanksgiving weekend, but I did get a quick snap of a few covered hoppers awaiting loads at a loading dock near the old CN train station. Those tracks beyond the crossbucks lead to the Sifto salt mine on the lake.

Taking a close look at both stations, you will notice some architectural flourishes, including the witch's hat turrets and archways, that were not all that common for small-town railway stations at the time. It is also worth noting that a third railway once attempted to reach Goderich, but ultimately failed. When you examine the town's rail history and take a close look at both of its stations, you can understand just how important railways once were to small-town Canada. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Bullet Nose Betty and other family shots

Although I am by far the biggest railway fan in my family, we all have a certain fascination with trains to some degree. With that in mind, I thought I'd share some railway photos taken by family members that have been left in my care.

As I have previously mentioned, my Dad worked for the Candian Pacific Railway in his teens in Windsor, Ont. He had been offered a job with the railway, but was lured away by a better offer from what was then known as Ontario Hydro. However, in our family photo archives, there are some scattered railway photos that my Dad took with his excellent Canon 35-mm camera.

My Dad took this shot below in 1987, I believe. The locomotive is a Canadian National U-1-f class steam engine, more commonly known as a 4-8-2 mountain-type. The engine was one of 20 such workhorses built for the CNR in 1944 by Montreal Locomotive Works. 6069 was converted from coal to oil at some point, although some of the 20 4-8-2s were originally constructed as oil-burners. Nicknamed "Bullet Nose Betty" for its cone-shaped smoke box door cover at the front of the engine, this beast has been on display in Sarnia's Centennial Park for about 40 years, with its original dark green trim. The weather has been tough on the locomotive, which has prompted local rail enthusiasts to restore the engine. Two other 4-8-2s like this one remain on display, one in Alberta and one in Capreol, Ont.

You can see a piece of CN's old Point Edward spur in the extreme left of the photo. This track leads to the grain elevators on Sarnia's waterfront. This line is still operational, as CN continues to service the elevators on this tiny branch through the park. Those wishing to see Betty these days are out of luck. Due to its industrial past, Centennial Park has been quarantined due to asbestos in the soil. It is not known when the park will be cleaned up and re-opened for public use.

This second photo was taken by my sister, in August of 1992. As I mentioned in my two previous posts (Banff 1992 Part I and Part II), my sister lived in Banff during this summer and took me to Banff Station to let me get some of the best train photos I have ever taken. After I visited her in Banff, my sister and a friend went to Jasper National Park one weekend on a hiking adventure. It was during this weekend that she went out of her way to visit the local rail yard to capture a few photos for me. I like this one because it features two SD-40-2Ws, 5289 and 5331. What I also like about the shot is that it captures part of an old CN caboose (far right).

This final shot is the image that inspired this post. My brother, like me, has always been fascinated by trains. In my teens, he often helped me with my train set and often drove me around to rail yards, when I was too young to drive. While at work a few weeks back, I received an email from him while he was on the road for business in San Diego. The shot was taken from his hotel room in the city. He took a quick shot of a BNSF autorack train making its way through the city. He isn't as up to date on railways as me, but he correctly identified that BNSF stood for Burlington Northern Santa Fe, although BNSF technically stands for nothing these days. What strikes me about this photo is one of the locomotives leading the train has been defaced with graffiti. I don't see that often.

My family has always been understanding of my passion and has contributed over the years. I'm thankful that they did.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Banff 1992 (Part II)

As mentioned in Banff 1992 (Part I), I was lucky to catch a parked grain train on a summer evening at Banff Station. I was able to get shots of all three units at the head of the train from both sides, including this shot of the lead unit, SD40-2 5865 perched in front of Tunnel Mountain. Compared to the previous evening when I visited the station, this evening proved to be a success.

I was busy shooting everything I could, including this shot of the front of the train. I've said it many times in this blog, but I would not recommend ever doing this. I was blissfully ignorant of the dos and don'ts of rail photography etiquette as a teen. I love the shot below, but I shake my head at how I captured the shot. You can see Banff Station, with its handsome fieldstone trim, on the right and a freight shed on the left.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in for a great surprise that evening when the Rocky Mountaineer pulled into Banff Station, giving me the opportunity to capture shots of the famous tourist train. This shot, which I have shown in a previous post, is one of my favourite shots. It shows the train pulling into the station with an impressive backdrop and interesting evening light. You can see the fellow rainfans to the right. Read about my run-in with these folks in the link above.

The evening sun was tricky to work with that night, which explains the curious whiteout effect near the front of B36-7 7488. I remember having to manually block sunlight from ruining this shot by using my baseball hat. During this trip, I saw a bear in the wild for the first time, hiked up Sulphur Mountain, I went to a Calgary Cannons double header and hiked the Paradise Valley. Still, this was one of the highlights of my trip out west. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Banff 1992 (Part I)

Banff was a train watcher's dream for me in 1992. That summer, my parents allowed me to travel to Alberta on my own to visit my aunt and uncle in Calgary. I had just finished grade nine and was eager to have an adventure on my own.

While in Alberta, I was also able to spend a few days in Banff to visit my sister, who was spending the summer there working at a Smitty's restaurant before heading back to university in Ontario in the fall. One evening, my sister was nice enough to take me to Banff Station to see if there was anything for me to shoot along the rails. Unfortunately, there was nothing except a few old gondolas on a side track. All in all, a disappointing first attempt at getting some shots of trains in the Rockies. But the next evening proved to be a gold mine.

Above: CP SD40-2 5865 is parked and awaiting a new crew in Banff, with a load of grain hoppers behind. This was my first attempt at creating an artistic photo.

In fact, all that remains of that first evening of photos is this shot of a local employee returning on his speeder. He made sure to give me a wave as I took a quick shot in the fading sunlight. 

As you can tell from the top photo, the next evening proved to be much better. As my sister and I approached Banff station, we saw a CP grain train parked, awaiting a fresh crew. I don't know enough about CP's western operations to know if Banff was a crew change point at the time or if it still is. Once again, I will rely on my readers to let me know. Either way, the train was sitting there, complete with three units. The lead SD40-2 had the multimark, which was a bonus, since many of the shots I had been taking of CP units in Windsor in the 1990s were missing the multimark.

Case in point. The second unit on the train, SD40-2 5801 was missing the multimark. I was smart enough to cross the tracks and find a spot on the sunny side of the train to get some proper shots of the locomotives. At this point in my rail pursuits, I often failed to get the sun behind me when shooting trains. This time, I was fortunate to get it right. You can see Tunnel Mountain behind this unit and a small piece of Banff's beautiful station.

I was also smart enough to get a few shots of the Government of Canada cylindrical grain hopper cars, including this one. At the time, I always regarded shots of typical rolling stock as throwaway shots, but I am grateful that I was able to recover this shot from my archives. I have two of these hoppers in my HO scale collection, which is boxed away at the moment (no room for a layout right now). 

Banff Station has been the site of some of my most prized rail photos. Years before, when my family visited Alberta, I was lucky enough to get a tour of a CP Rail SD40-2 from an engineer named Rick. The SD40  was towing a lame Via F unit and a string of streamliners. I know photos of this encounter exist somewhere in our family archives. I intend to track down these shots over Christmas and share them here in the new year. I know my Dad also took shots of grain trains in the Rockies, which are also in the family archives somewhere. Again, when I have them, I will share them.

But, for the sake of this post, I will just mention that, on this evening in Banff, there was one more surprise awaiting me and my camera. Come back next week for part two.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The random photos have their day

As I prepare posts each week, I keep coming across photos that I'd like to write about, but never seem to fit in with my topic du jour. This week, I thought I'd do a little bit of house cleaning and present some odds and sods from my rail watching adventures past and present.

First case in point: A maroon Dupont covered hopper and the familiar "Sclair" orange covered hopper on an industrial spur at the Katoen Natie warehouse facility in Corunna. I took this photo in 1993. At the time, both the maroon Dupont and orange Sclair cars were a common site on this CN rail line, which extends south from Sarnia through Corunna and Mooretown all the way past Courtright. The orange hoppers were common on both the CSX Sarnia Sub and all around CN's Sarnia operations, due to the presence of the Dupont facility in Corunna. The Sclair brand now belongs to Nova Chemicals. The reporting marks on these hoppers now read NCLX rather than DOCX.

I remember finding an old brake shoe lying near the tracks and carrying it home as a souvenir. This line is still quite active, as it serves a number of refineries south of the Chemical Valley including Nova Chemical's Corunna and Moore facilities and a host of others.

This shot below was taken during this past Thanksgiving Weekend when I made a very brief trip to Sarnia and took a bunch of shots. This was a small logo I found on the side of a CN cylindrical hopper at a CN "transflo" facility where a string of hoppers were pushed up against a bumper and awaiting loads from dump trucks. This Agrium logo, complete with maple leaf-waving Kangaroo, shows that the hopper was once used in the west for transporting potash.

Here's another throwaway shot, at first glace. I took this as part of my recent Thanksgiving visit to the Sarnia area. I was able to get a bunch of great shots of CSX GP38-2s at the end of the Sarnia Sub. As GP38-2 2570 began to grind to a stop, I saw something in the distance, which was off limits to me, since it was on CSX property. I tried to zoom in and get a quick shot. Take a look just to the right of 2570 and you will see a yellow maintenance-of-way crane car. A very rare site on the Sarnia Sub, at least in my experience. You may also notice both 2570 and 2757 (to the right) have flashing beacons on the right side of their cabs. I assume this is for indicating when the unit is being remotely controlled. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable on such matters can clarify this, if I'm wrong. The next time I am in Sarnia, I will search diligently for that maintenance-of-way crane car.

The next shot is from Kitchener, where I lived for two years. This photo also marks an amazing opportunity missed. I lived very close to a park on the city's east end, called Kolb Park. The park is nestled against the Grand River, which separates the city from the town of Breslau. The Goderich-Exeter Railway runs through the park. This trestle was just begging for a railway-in-action photo, but I was not in the habit of taking photos of trains at that time. It's a shame, because this trestle hosts Via trains, GO Trains and freight trains on a regular basis. One sunny day in the fall of 2008, as I was biking along a riverfront trail, I thought that it was a good idea to get a shot of the trestle. I wonder how vandals were able to write so legibly so high up there.

The final shot shows the front of an evening Via train headed for Toronto in 1991. It was idling at Sarnia station. I'm pretty sure we were dropping off my sister as she headed back to the University of Waterloo after a visit back home. I wandered off the platform and tried to take a shot of F40PH-2 6441 from the edge of the track. I seem to remember standing at the edge of the rail and reaching my hands in front of the locomotive to get this shot. This is sadly the only shot I have of a Via F40 in the old paint scheme. I think I had better shots at one point, but these have been lost over the years. I must stress one thing: Don't ever do this to get a shot. I was young and stupid. I no longer take such risks. 

You will notice the intermodal cars to the left of the Via. What's noteworthy is that the containers are only single stacked, which was a necessity in Sarnia before 1993 when the new St. Clair Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River to Michigan was built. (Feel free to read Part I and Part II of the St. Clair Tunnel posts if you haven't already) The old tunnel's size restrictions meant intermodal traffic had to be single stacked, while autoracks and high-cube boxcars were ferried over the river. You can also see a tank car with an orange racing stripe. Don't see too many of those anymore.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Autumn at Ottawa Station

Fall arrived in Ottawa in a hurry this year. Among with the changing colour of the leaves, it's easy to spot autumn in Ottawa by the changing consists at the central Via station. The most obvious change I spotted last week was the length of the trains. Throughout the summer, many of the trains were about three cars long and most were LRC consists. I even spotted one two-car consist. Last week, I saw some longer trains and was happy to see the return of the streamliners, albeit in an odd spot.

Above: P42 913 and F40PH-2 6435 idle at Ottawa's central railway station. Note the difference between the classic Via blue and yellow and the new Renaissance scheme.

I was a little surprised to see F40PH-2 6435 with two streamliners in tow, up against bumpers when I visited the station on my lunch break last week. The F40 was idling, so I was curious why it had been backed up on this track and where it was headed. But it was a stroke of good luck for me, since this track offers a great vantage point for photos, as it is close to the parking lot and platform.You can see streamliner coach 4122 below.

In the photo above, you can just make out some Renaissance cars to the right, which were part of Train 45 headed west for Toronto. That train was four cars in length, towed behind a P42. As I mentioned, the two-car streamliner consist was very close to the platform and the parking lot, allowing for some shots that you cannot usually get. Here's a shot from the rear of streamliner 4122, with a Montreal-bound consist of Renaissance cars idling a few tracks over. I'm backing into the real highlight of the afternoon. See below.

I very rarely see this in Ottawa. P42 913 and F40PH-2 6459 linked together. It's interesting to see the two of these locomotives together, because it allows you to see just how different they are. Compare the long, more streamlined GE in front with the more angular F40 behind. Also, you can see the contrasting paint schemes, as the GE still sports the traditional Via blue and yellow while the older rebuilt F40 sports the modern Renaissance green and school bus yellow. I am glad to see the maple leaf incorporated into the Via logo and the flag removed from the side of the rebuilt engines. I also like that the Government of Canada wordmark has been removed from the F40. It's also much less obvious on the Renaissance car behind. I always prefer simplicity to clutter. I still prefer Via's original blue and yellow paint scheme and its silver and blue streamliner look. I think the Canada wordmark on the old silver cars is downright gaudy. I digress.

Here's one final wide shot of the the Montreal-bound consist on the left, the streamliner consist on the right, partially hidden behind a shed, and the local snow plow on the far right. All in all, it was a nice break in my day to see the silver and blue back in Ottawa and to see the relatively uncommon pairing of new and old motive power. It must be fall in Ottawa.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bittersweet Homecoming

This was not the homecoming I had imagined.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I made a very brief visit to Sarnia, Ont. While there, I made a quick visit to the yard at end of the CSX Sarnia Subdivision. I had been looking forward to this visit for a while, since I had not had the chance to shoot anything along this line since my teenage years in the 1990s. I should back up a bit. Just before I made my trip, a Beachburg Sub reader mentioned to me that CSX Transportation had officially discontinued service on the Sarnia Sub between Chatham and Wallaceburg. He mentioned that he saw the last train leave Wallaceburg, on the southern end of the line.

Above: GP38-2 2011 in Chessie colours idles on the main line just outside Corunna, leading a manifest freight in April 1991

This wasn't all that surprising to me, but it was nonetheless disappointing. A 42-km section of the line has been purchased by the City of Chatham-Kent, which has a side deal with Canadian Pacific to sell it the rail assets along the corridor. What this means is the municipality is paying CSX about $4 million for the line and its assets and turning around and selling the rails and ties to CP for $3.2 million. For the time being, CP is not pulling up the rails, which has given the municipality time to find a shortline operator. A good summary of the situation can be found at the Chatham This Week website. This is an all-too-familiar story for me, although Chatham-Kent seems to be more interested in saving an active rail line, compared to Ottawa, which seems to have no vision for the Beachburg Sub within its borders.

With this in mind, I made sure to capture some action on the CSX line while I still could. The weather on the Sunday over the Thanksgiving weekend could not have been any better. Here's a shot of a stable of GP38s at the end of the line, tucked behind the Esso refinery in south Sarnia's Chemical Valley. Compare these to the old Chessie GP38 above.

Above: GP38s at the end of the CSX Sarnia subdivision, at the foot of Clifford Street on Oct. 13, 2013

The article in Chatham This Week pointed out that there are still some farm businesses along the CSX line in Chatham-Kent, but the sad reality is the area has lost a number of its manufacturers in the last 20 years including a Louisville hockey stick factory, a Nestle plant, a Libbey Glass factory and a number of auto parts or tool and die shops. Many of these businesses used the line for shipping, since parts of this municipality do not have a terribly close connection to a major highway, especially Wallaceburg.

Above: First generation CSX paint scheme on a GP38, just outside Corunna in April 1991.

What this means is that the Sarnia Sub will likely be a very compact line serving petrochemical companies in the Sarnia area and communities to the south. The site of manifest freights with boxcars and autoracks is now a distant memory. Besides the loss of the manufacturing sector in this area, this line was also hurt by the new CN St. Clair Tunnel and the expansion of the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel in Windsor, which was expanded shortly after the opening of the new Sarnia tunnel. Since both of these tunnels began handling autoracks in 1994, this essentially eliminated all autorack interchange traffic on this line, which was a major source of freight on the line until the early 1990s.

Above: This made my trip to Sarnia worthwhile. Two CSX bay-window cabooses, one with CSX Operation Redblock paint, sit at the tail end of a cut of cars along the CSX Sarnia Sub in the Chemical Valley. More on these beauties in future posts!

I will keep an eye on this situation, although I do encourage readers to continue to update me on what they see down in this part of the province. I can't help but wonder why so many shortline operators can find success in the United States while rail lines like this one, and the Beachburg Sub, continue to languish in Canada, much to the chagrin of local industries crying out for rail service along abandoned lines.

It strikes me that the Class I railways in Canada have become so good at being Class I railways, they have forgotten or willfully neglected the quieter branch lines along their networks.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

CN's St. Clair Tunnel (Part II)

In 1993, CN began work on a second tunnel beneath the St. Clair River to accommodate double-stack container trains, autoracks and other oversized rail cars that were being shipped via ferry. Unlike the original 1891 St. Clair Tunnel, which was dug from two sides, the second tunnel was to be excavated from the Canadian side of the river toward the Michigan side (see CN's St. Clair Tunnel Part I). The boring machine used, named Excalibore in a  newspaper contest, was installed and began work in the summer of 1993. The original tunnel continued to be used as the boring machine made its way west to Michigan.

Above: The preparations for the new tunnel take shape next to the original tunnel in Summer 1993. Note the small building, called the pumping house, next to the old tunnel.

It was not a smooth process for the boring machine, by any means. Several times during its initial forays under the river, the machine broke down and had to be fixed and cleaned of sentiment that had ground the machine's engine to a halt. At certain points, local media outlets were charting Excalibore's progress versus the men who dug the original tunnel by hand. At one point, the progress achieved by modern machinery was barely ahead of the record set by the men in the 1890s. This was a major embarrassment to the project's contractor and to CN.

Above: Excalibore being assembled in Summer 1993, as seen from a viewing platform set up by CN to accommodate curious locals and rail fans like me.

Despite the initial hiccups, the construction of the new tunnel generated a lot of excitement locally and beyond. Rail fans in London and other points along the CN system snapped photos of special trains that were used to deliver parts of the huge boring machine to the work site in Sarnia. This photo below, courtesy of Eric Gagnon of the Trackside Treasure blog, shows one such special heading through London, bound for the tunnel site in Sarnia. Eric mentioned that the two Via Rail business cars in the consist were likely Coureur des Bois and Sandford Fleming. He also mentioned that he saw a freight in Kingston in 1993 with "white circular 'containers' marked LOVAT." The consist of that June 1993 special through Kingston contained the following (according to Eric's notes):

CN 9665 / EMD(ex-Conrail, blue) 795 / CN, BCR boxcars / CN covered hoppers / CN 670103 / CN 677002 (one of a kind, four trucks, built by CN) / CN 670102.

Eric was also kind enough to pass long this shot below, which shows a more detailed close up of the pieces of the boring machine in gondola cars, again in London. Special thanks to Eric for sharing these images from his collection for this post.

Once the mechanical difficulties were ironed out, Excalibore began to easily chew threw the earth beneath the river and it finished its mission with a sizeable lead over the men who dug the original tunnel. The late surge of boring saved CN and the project's contractors from embarrassment. The new tunnel had the following specs:

Length: 1,898 metres (6,129 feet)

Diametre: 8.4 metres (27 feet, 6 inches)

Compare that to the specs of the original tunnel in my previous post about the tunnel.

More importantly for CN, the new tunnel once again gave the railway an enormous advantage over the Canadian Pacific Railway, which operated a rail tunnel between Windsor and Detroit beneath the Detroit River. When the new St. Clair Tunnel opened in 1994, double stack container trains could move through to Chicago with little delay. Soon after the new tunnel opened, CN's ferry service over the St. Clair River ended.

Meanwhile, the Windsor tunnel, known as the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel, could only handle rolling stock as big as autoracks. Considering the fact that 1994 marked the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the ability to seamlessly move container trains through an international crossing offered CN a huge early advantage that CP has yet to match. Plans to replace the Windsor tunnel have still not materialized, meaning double stack traffic cannot be routed through Windsor-Detroit, which is otherwise the busiest trade crossing in North America.

It's interesting to note that the new tunnel gave CN the same advantage that the original tunnel gave the Grand Trunk Railway in 1891. When the original tunnel was built, the Grand Trunk essentially gave itself the edge over the Canada Southern Railway, which was still using ferries in Windsor and in Courtright, Ont. (to be mentioned in a future post). The St. Clair Tunnel had officials with the CSR scrambling to match the Grand Trunk, but the Windsor tunnel would not be opened for traffic until 1910.

Above: A view of the old and new St. Clair Tunnel in Sarnia, Ont. on Oct. 13, 2013. Note the absence of the old pumping house.

Today, the new tunnel bears the name Paul Tellier in honour of the former CN president who oversaw its creation. It has seen its share of fanfare over the years, including a GO Train special, which made its way to Sarnia in 1994 and offered locals a free ride under the river to Port Huron, Michigan in the new tunnel. Sadly, passenger trains no longer use the tunnel, as the Canadian leg of Amtrak's route from Chicago through Port Huron to Toronto was eliminated in 2004. I used to ride on this train in my teens, which often included the Superliners. Back then, it was known as the International, and was jointly operated by Amtrak and Via Rail.

This above shot is of the new and old tunnels, taken over the Thanksgiving weekend on a brief trip to Sarnia. The old building that used to stand at the entrance to the old tunnel (see top photos) is now gone and the original tunnel has been sealed off, although the old right-of-way still acts as a service road. The new tunnel continues to be a source of pride for Sarnia and a vital link in Canadian National's network.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Via Rail over the Jock River

Ottawa is a vast city with a beautiful countryside. In my end of town, a quick jaunt south down Moodie Drive leads to a rural Via Rail level crossing near the meandering Jock River. The river works its way through Ottawa's southern suburbs and crosses Via's Smiths Falls subdivision just a few metres west of Moodie Drive. I ventured out to the Moodie crossing to get some shots a few Sundays ago.

Above you see Toronto-bound Via train 657 making its way toward the Moodie crossing. As you can see, you don't have to venture far outside the urban part of Ottawa to find trains in a rural setting. This shot was a five-minute drive for me. Below you see a closer shot of the consist led by FP40PH-2 6401. On both sides of the track, you will find farmland, although the side closer to me appeared to be fallow.

I was reasonably happy with these shots, but was waiting for the train to cross Moodie Drive so I could get a shot of train 657 crossing the Jock River trestle. I had to move quickly since the train was moving at quite a clip even though it had just left nearby Fallowfield Station in Ottawa's Barrhaven neighbourhood. As you can see below, the consist had both refurbished LRCs and older coaches, making for a fairly typical multicoloured consist. I was not able to get all that close to the actual trestle, which would have provided a better shot. I have seen some local railfans gets shots from the Jock River. I'm guessing it will be easier to get shots in the winter when the river freezes over.

So, the window of opportunity for shots was relatively short, but I do want to point out one thing about the above photo and image below. A lonely sunflower stood by the side of the road right at the edge of the cornfield. Do you see it?

This stretch of track is undergoing a series of improvements including installation of passing sidings, replacement of ties and ballast, adjustment of curves and implementation of central traffic control, among other initiatives. There will be work done on the Jock River bridge as part of these improvements. The goal is to eventually allow trains to reach 160 km/h, which equals 100 mph. You can read about it on the Via site for yourself.

This stretch of track is especially important for Via, since it still has an industrial spur that leads to the massive Kott lumber yard. That facility, according to local rail watchers, is still served by the Canadian National, most likely in the evening when the last Via train has passed by. There's a good discussion of local Ottawa rail operations in this post on the Trackside Treasure blog.

One last photo to share, on a somewhat related note. I was at the Central Station the other week and caught Via Train 50 on its way to Montreal. I don't remember the last time I saw a two-car consist. It's hard to shoot Via trains in the morning at the station since you're always on the shadow side of the train and access to the sunny side is limited.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

CN's St. Clair Tunnel (Part I)

Sarnia has always been a railway town, thanks to its petrochemical industry and its location along a key rail corridor between Toronto and Chicago. The Great Western and the Grand Trunk railways were the first major railways to establish operations in Sarnia. By the end of the 1800s, the Grand Trunk's main line through the city was an extremely busy link between Toronto and Chicago. However, ferrying cars across the St. Clair River into Michigan was hurting the railway's business, which led to the construction of the St. Clair Tunnel, North America's first underwater rail tunnel. The tunnel was constructed at a cost of $2.7 million and opened in 1891.

Some quick statistics about this tunnel:
  • It is 1838 metres long (6028 feet). 
  • At its lowest point, it is 40 feet below the surface of the river. 
  • It was dug by hand by crews in Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan, at a rate of 10 feet a day.
  • The width of the river where the tunnel is located is 698 metres (2290 feet). 
  • The tunnel's diameter is 6 meters (19 feet, 10 inches). 
Amazingly, when crews met and completed the digging process, they were off only by a fraction of an inch, which many consider to be an incredible feat of engineering for 1891.

The tunnel, seen in this undated Pesha Studio photo below, reliably served the Grand Trunk and its successor, Canadian National, for decades. Trains were originally pulled through the tunnel by Baldwin-built locomotives, which gave way to electric units and catenary wires in 1907 when concerns arose over engineers and crewmen suffocating in the tunnel amid the exhaust from the Baldwins.

Sarnia was proud of its tunnel, which was once regarded as the longest underwater rail tunnel in the world. The city was sometimes known as "Sarnia Tunnel" as you can see from this postcard below. Notice the two types of horsepower in the 1920s onward. The Baldwin locomotives were replaced by the Westinghouse electrics for the tunnel trips, but they were still used around the Sarnia rail yard.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, railway cars grew, mainly due to the advent of large boxcars (hi-cubes) and tri-level auto racks. These cars were essential pieces of rolling stock in southwestern Ontario, since so many auto parts and vehicles had to be shuttled between automotive production facilities throughout Ontario and Michigan. This presented a problem to CN, since the tunnel could not accommodate these cars. By the 1980s, the old tunnel became more of a liability, with the advent of double-stack container trains. CN ferried many of these oversized cars over the river, creating the same problem the Grand Trunk faced in 1890s. The flow of goods was simply too slow between Toronto and Chicago.

This created scenes like this one below from 1992, with CN workhorse SW1200s shuttling long lines of auto racks onto its Point Edward spur, which led to the CN ferry along Front Street in Sarnia's downtown waterfront area.

This also created the problem of lag time in the Sarnia yard (below photo from 1992), with hi-cubes like this Conrail boxcar (coupled to a Burlington Northern autorack) languishing in the rail yard for long periods. In an era of just-in-time delivery demands, CN knew it had to serve its automotive customers in a more timely manner.

Autorack traffic continued to expand on the CN Strathroy Subdivision, which ends at CN's Sarnia yard, and along CSX's Sarnia Subdivision, which interchanges with CN near the yard. This created a backlog of oversized freightcars at the ferry staging yard in downtown Sarnia. The photo below is from Summer 1993. I'm not sure what the cargo on that flatcar is, but my guess at the time was that it had something to do with what was going on in the photo at the bottom of this post.

In 1993, a boring machine called Excalibore started clearing the way for a new St. Clair Tunnel that would accommodate the oversized rail cars (below photo is from Summer 1993). This would usher in a new era of railroading in Sarnia.