Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ottawa's Forgotten Prince of Wales Bridge

One of my favourite railway spots in Ottawa is the Prince of Wales bridge across the Ottawa River. The bridge was originally opened in 1881 by a railway known as the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway. The following year, the Canadian Pacific bought the QMO&O and took control of the bridge. In 1927, it was rebuilt to accommodate newer, heavier loads. For decades, it was a vital link along the Canadian Pacific Railway's national network, when that network operated through Ottawa. The bridge connected CP's Ellwood Subdivision in the Ottawa area with the railway's Maniwaki Subdivision from the old City of Hull to Maniwaki, Que.

In recent years, the fate of this bridge has taken a few strange turns and its future is uncertain. After the Canadian Pacific ended its operations in Ottawa in 1997, the bridge was in limbo. CP's Ellwood Sub and a portion of its old Prescott Sub were purchased by the City of Ottawa for its eight kilometre O-Train commuter service, which began operation in 2001. In 2005, the city purchased the bridge, which has sat dormant since 2001. The thought at the time of purchase was that the bridge would play a vital role in any commuter rail system in the National Capital Region, which includes Gatineau, Que. Since that time, any talk of extending the O-Train to Quebec has been met with deafening silence or outright hostility. I find this reluctance baffling, since Ottawa and Gatineau already co-operate by allowing their commuter buses to cross the river. There has been talk of converting the bridge to a pedestrian crossing as well.

Let's take a short tour of the bridge.

As you walk along the bridge (above photo), you will see six spans on the Ottawa side leading to Lemieux Island, in the middle of the river. The island is part of Ottawa and connected to the city via a causeway in addition to the rail bridge. The island is home to a water treatment plant.

What you see below is the view from the Ottawa side heading north toward the old City of Hull. The Prince of Wales marquee atop the bridge has been left to the mercy of the elements, like the rest of the bridge.

Below: Once you reach Lemieux Island, the first part of the Prince of Wales bridge ends, giving way to a span of overgrown track and an old switch that once led to the water treatment plant. The switch has been left in place but the spur has been severed.

Below: As you walk across the island, you come up to the second part of the bridge, which is seven spans long on the Quebec side. Interesting fact: The Ottawa River goes by the name Rivière des Outaouais in French, which is also the name of the region that includes Gatineau.

Below: Once you step foot in Quebec, the old Ellwood Sub gives way to the former Maniwaki Sub. This is where things get a little confusing. Since the City of Ottawa bought the bridge and the approaches, this means the City of Ottawa owns property in the City of Gatineau. This section of track is also considered the end of the Quebec-Gatineau Railway, since that railway technically starts at Lemieux Island. At one point, the railway still used trackage near this bridge to access the nearby E.B. Eddy factory, which made paper products, mainly matches. The rails to that facility, now owned by Domtar, were pulled up in recent years. You can also see another old track crossing over the former Maniwaki Sub below. The track has been lifted.

Once you walk under the crossover, the tracks will lead you to the old Hull Station, near the Casino du Lac Leamy. The old Maniwaki Sub is owned by municipal governments in the Outaouais region. The municipality owns a heritage steam train operation that goes to Chelsea and Wakefield, Que. That operation has been dormant for several years since the rail line was damaged by heavy flooding. Local officials hope to have the train operational next summer, since the steam train is a huge tourist draw.

Locals do cross the Prince of Wales bridge often, but I should warn you that it is not a pedestrian crossing by any means. I did cross it once for the purposes of this blog, but as a public service, would advise you not to cross it yourself.

Beachburg Subdivision Update:  Please see my post from earlier this week for an update on the fate of the Beachburg Subdivision.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beachburg Subdivision update

I found this recent article in the Pembroke Daily Observer and another in the Ottawa Citizen as I was doing some research this morning and was mildly surprised to learn that Canadian National is disregarding a municipal bylaw in the Pontiac Region in Quebec and attempting to pull up another portion of what is left of the Beachburg subdivision. After some anxious moments, local officials managed to blockade the railway's workers from doing any further work on the line.

I wish I could pass along more positive information, but it seems as though the rest of the line is pretty much doomed. Curiously, this issue is not registering as much of a blip on the radar screen in Ottawa. I've said it before and I will continue to harp on this point, but I can't understand how a city can be so oblivious to such an economic commodity as a rail line, especially considering Ottawa is so keen to establish a light rail network throughout the city from scratch. This line would have been a great link for regional commuters in Pembroke and towns in Renfrew County, where people commute into Ottawa. This line could act much like GO Transit's network into Hamilton, Milton, Kitchener and other cities on Toronto's periphery.

You can read more about the Beachburg rail line in my previous post.

I guess I have to keep my eyes peeled for a reappearance of the dreaded CN continuous welded rail train.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Railfanning 101

I don't like the term railfanning, but for the purposes of this post, I'm using it to illustrate a few points. In my teens, I loved taking photos of trains, but was woefully ignorant of the rules by which most rail fans abide. I present to you three photos and three stories from my experiences that hopefully serve as reminders of what to do and what not to do.

Lesson One: Pick your spot carefully

Above: Rocky Mountaineer pulls into Banff Station in the summer of 1991

I learned this lesson the hard way. I was visiting my sister in Banff in the summer of 1991 and had ventured down to the station to get some photos of passing trains. I was lucky enough to catch this tourist train as it pulled in to town. The mistake I made was venturing too close to the train and blocking the view of other rail fans to the right in the photo. They were quite indignant and yelled that I needed to move out of their shot. I had never encountered other enthusiasts in my pursuit of trains around Sarnia before, so I had to plead ignorance. However, it worked out fine as I was able to capture this shot of the tourist train, led by B36-7 7488, with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and twilight sky. Lucky for me, rail fans in Ottawa are even rarer than trains, so I don't have to worry about ruining someone's shot here.

Lesson Two: Respect Private Property

Above: Grand Trunk SD40-2 5936 leads a train destined for the old St. Clair Tunnel to Michigan at the Sarnia rail yard, 1992

I am happy to say that this story does not involve me getting into trouble for trespassing, but that is exactly how I got this shot. The Sarnia rail yard is massive, which made it very easy to sneak around the yard and get the photos I wanted in the 1990s. This doesn't mean you should do it, though. I should have known better, even in my teens, that rail yards are incredibly dangerous places for the average citizen. I do recall being in this area of the train yard, in between tracks, when an engineer yelled for me to throw a switch for him, since I was standing near it and he didn't want to get out of his engine to do it himself. I remember going back to the car, where my brother was waiting and he told me he thought I was in big trouble when he saw the engineer yelling to me. That was the first time I ever realized that maybe I should be more careful. I was very lucky that I was never was caught or hurt in my teens. Lesson learned.

Lesson Three: Take Shots of Everything 

Above: St. Lawrence Railroad waffle-side boxcar in CP's Windsor rail yard, 1991

This lesson is especially easy to apply today with digital cameras allowing rail fans to take as many shots as they want. When I was a teen, I chose my shots judiciously since I only had limited funds to buy film and develop prints. Still, I think of all the shots I took of rolling stock and subsequently discarded, and I could just kick myself. Readers will know that I accidentally threw out all my old film and subsequently lost dozens and dozens of rail photos.

This shot is a good example of why it is important to take shots of everything. At the time, taking a shot of a boxcar had no real value to me. In this case, I had never seen a boxcar with this railway logo, so I took a quick shot. Looking back, I'm glad I did since these boxcars have mostly disappeared. You can make out the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit to the left of the boxcar. This car was parked near the locomotive and rolling stock repair facility, hence the axles. You can also make out a boxcar and flatcar in the background. Lots to look at in this shot. A typical scene in 1991 but a far more interesting shot in 2013.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Relics on the rails

Once in a while, you come across scenes along a railway that defy explanation. For whatever reason, a railway sometimes keeps a particular locomotive or car operational (and I use that term loosely here) long past its best before date.

The following are a few photos of some oddities I encountered in the Sarnia area in the 1990s. The shot immediately below represents perhaps the biggest mystery. The first question that came to mind when I saw this car is how it was still standing. The car, which looked to be an old piece of maintenance-of-way equipment, was parked at the dead end of an old siding at the edge of CN's rail yard in Sarnia along Campbell Street. The track was tucked behind an old truck loading depot and transload facility that had long since been converted into a storage building for the railway.

I took the shot in the early 1990s (the original print is undated). I can only hazard a guess as to the vintage of this car, but it's definitely from the era when railcars were still made of wood, so that gives you a good idea when it was built. I tried to find any information about this car online, but as far as I know, this may be the only photo of this old car. You can see a wooden platform on the left, which suggests that car had been parked there and used as some sort of office or storage facility for some time.

These two maintenance-of-way cars and an old wooden boxcar, below, lingered on the CSX Sarnia Subdivision for more than a decade. They found their way to the end of the CSX sub, at its Clifford Street office, in the early 1990s. The shot below of C&O 911043 was taken in the fall. It looked like it was in better shape than the CN car above. I managed to find one photo of this car in better days when it was in use in Saginaw, Michigan. It's listed as a crew car, which is the term I generally use for these cars. The amazing thing about these cars, besides the fact that they were still in use in the 1990s, was the fact that they still carried C&O markings, which means they survived both the Chessie System and CSX years with their original identity.

This was the wooden boxcar that was hitched to the two MoW cars. You can just make out the "MW" markings next to its car number. I did manage to find one other shot of a MoW boxcar that was similar to this one. Again, the shot is an earlier photo taken in Michigan when the equipment was in (slightly) better shape. You can see in my grainy image that the CSX sub in Sarnia ends in the Chemical Valley. The yard is nestled between the St. Clair River and the Esso petroleum refinery.

These cars hold great memories for me. The last time I saw those MoW cars before that evening, was when they were parked on a siding along the CSX main line in Port Lambton, where I went to grade school. I remember walking up to the cars when I was a kid and climbing on the handrails. It really speaks to a different time since those cars were parked in the middle of that town for quite some time with no security whatsoever and none of them were vandalized.

This final shot isn't as much of an oddity as the cars above, but I thought I'd include it since I've always loved this shot. This car is an unusual tank car, with a vent stack on the right. I found a photo of a similar car, which was used as a water transporter in maintenance-of-way consists. I know these cars had other uses and I recall blogger Eric Gagnon talking about this type of car in his blog, Trackside Treasure. This shot was taken in 1993 around the old CN roundhouse in Sarnia.

New to the blog? Welcome to all new readers. I am a railway enthusiast living in Ottawa, but my blog covers railway topics from all over Ontario, both old and new. I mainly blog about railroading in the Sarnia area, which is where I grew up, and Ottawa. The blog is named after a CN subdivision that could soon be completely scrapped in the Ottawa area. To learn more, I invite you to read my introductory post.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ottawa's Walkley Rail Yard

Ottawa's Walkley Yard is a strange place these days, with only a bare minimum of activity happening. Since CN's acquisition of the Ottawa Central Railway in 2008, there has been a noticeable drop off in freight traffic in the region. With the O-Train service suspended for the summer, due to the $59-million renewal of the existing 8-kilometre Capital Railway, the commuter trains also sit silent in the mostly empty yard. I dropped by on the civic holiday Monday (Colonel By Day in Ottawa) just to see what was there, and the trip did not disappoint. When I drove to the end of Albion Road, where the CN office sits, I saw this former Devco Railway caboose, sitting near the locomotive shop, badly in need of a paint job. As you can see, security in the yard is minimal at best, which explains the graffiti on the caboose, including its windows. The caboose has been around since the Ottawa Central days. It is still used by CN for the same purpose, mainly shoving moves.

Just east of the caboose, I saw the lone CN locomotive currently assigned to Ottawa, GP38-2W 4807, still clad in the CN safety scheme, albeit just barely. Getting photos from a service road was tough since the weeds in the yard have not been trimmed this summer, which tended to obscure the locomotive's trucks. Seeing the old geep in the safety scheme was cool. I have always liked that scheme.

The Walkley Yard was constructed in 1955 by the National Capital Commission to replace the Canadian National's rail operations in central Ottawa. This was part of a plan to rid the centre of the city of its rail lines as part of a Paris-inspired urban redevelopment plan. The yard eventually housed Canadian Pacific's freight operations, which were moved in the 1960s from its old Ottawa West Yard, near the Prince of Wales rail bridge on the Ottawa River. In the past decade and a half, CP sold off its local trackage to the City of Ottawa while the Ottawa Central was sold to CN as part of a larger package of short lines. When you factor in the loss of heavy industry in Eastern Ontario, the end result is a mostly empty rail yard, which describes Walkley these days. These cars below were the sum total of rolling stock in the main yard on the holiday.

But as I drove down the service road, I saw something on the margins of the empty east end of the yard. I drove toward the odd site, but not before I took a few snaps of interesting rolling stock on a spur, which included a transload facility called Rideau Bulk. You can see a Wisconsin Central boxcar to the right of the TTX (Railbox to me) waffle-side boxcar.

A little further east of that spur, I saw these interesting relics at the edge of the yard. Sitting on a dead-end wreck track was former CN caboose 79872 and former Budd RDC numbered 6002. Doing a little research, I learned that both have been left at Walkley since 2007. The cars are lettered DAWX, which means they are owned by David A. Wamsley & Co., a private company that owns and sells rail equipment. I was only able to find a few scant mentions of the company online and a few photos, so I invite readers to share what they can find about this company and these cars. At one point, there was another RDC on the same track, but that unit has since been refurbished by Via. From what I can gather, this remaining RDC is a former piece of Via equipment (numbered 6002) and is a RDC9. Notice that the caboose's door has been left open.

Another view of the RDC, below.

And a view of the end.

Here's another shot of the caboose and its markings. There are photos of other CN cabooses out there, but I was unable to find a shot of this one in its prime. 


As I left the yard, I saw one lonely ballast car (filled). It looks as if the car has been modified. Behind it, one of the city's water towers.

And one last shot of CN 4807 before I headed back home.

This visit proved to be the highlight of my holiday Monday. Now that I know how to get around the yard a little better, I am going to make a habit of checking it out every once in a while, even if there is only a handful of things to shoot. In Ottawa, you have to take what you can get!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ottawa's Capital Railway gets a facelift

Ottawa's O-Train, formally known as the Capital Railway, runs along the old CP Rail Ellwood sub and is by most estimates a runaway success. The Bombardier diesel trains have proven to be a massive hit with commuters since they first began running in 2001 between Greenboro Station in Ottawa's south end and Bayview Station, just west of Ottawa's downtown . The city estimates that the trains have accommodated 21 million commuters since their debut.

This past spring, the line fell silent as the city began a $59-million overhaul of the 8-kilometre line to allow the trains to make the run in eight minutes from the current 15. This will be accomplished with the help of two new passing tracks and six new trainsets. As it stands now, there is only one section of the railway, at Carleton University, where the trackage has been doubled. Two trains ply the route each day and coordinate their schedules so they arrive at the university at the same time as they head in opposite directions.

I have been visiting Bayview Station lately, to see how the work is progressing, which has proved to be a disappointment. My patience finally paid off last week when I saw the trackage in the beginning stages of being replaced. I was surprised at how the track was being removed, as you can see below.

Above: End of the line (for now). Trackage leading to Bayview Station is being torn up and the bed prepared for new rails. New ties can be seen to the right. Smell the creosote!

Above: View of the new roadbed being prepared from the Somerset Street overpass.
Below: A few days later, the trench is moving.

The new O-Trains are Alstom-built Caradia LINT diesels and have been the subject of lots of attention from interested light rail advocates here, like this shot from the Skyscaper Forum. I will actually miss the Bombardier O-Train, whose look I grew to appreciate. The new trains are apparently quieter and use less fuel. Here's a shot of the new and old O-Trains together. The new O-Train is on the right.

The new O-Trains will be tested this fall when service resumes in time for the new school year at Carleton University. The new, faster schedule will be in effect after the testing is complete. It sounds like this will happen sometime early in 2014.

Above: Can you see the red signal still operating in the distance? Capital Railway around Young Street in Ottawa.

The O-Train line is one of the more scenic you will see in a city. Its picturesque crossing of the Rideau River on a vintage trestle is a favourite of train watchers here. Most O-Train shots you'll find online are of this trestle. This shot above is shot looking south from a pedestrian bridge at Young Street in Little Italy. You can just make out a red signal still operational, even though the line hasn't been used in months.

My guess is that this line will be torn up from north (Bayview) to south (Greenboro) and then a new track will be installed from the south end to the north end, since its only operational connection to an outside rail network is the Walkley Diamond junction with the Canadian National's trackage in the city, near Walkley Road.

The amazing thing in all this flurry of renovation is that the city has still not even seriously considered extending the Capital Railway's O-Train service to the Ottawa International Airport on existing trackage from the old CP network in the city. The tracks are still occasionally used when the National Research Council needs various rail cars to be delivered to its surface transportation testing facilities near the airport, so it's not as though significant repairs need to be made. However, for whatever reason, this option has not been seriously considered.

So, for now, all is quiet along the Capital Railway until this fall.