Thursday, December 18, 2014

Memories of 2014

That's a wrap for 2014. This post closes out my first full year of blogging (I started this blog in the spring of 2013). This past year has been an incredible experience for me. Here is what I am thankful for this year.

The first thing I am thankful for is having a better idea of the schedules of local freights in Ottawa. A big thank you to a few readers who privately reached out and filled me in on the local schedule here. This allowed me to meet up with CN 589 a few times, including this initial meeting in April, on the Smiths Falls subdivision near Moodie Drive. You will notice in the image below that the second hopper car is a former Chicago and Northwestern hopper. I was looking through photos the other night and noticed the faded logo. It just goes to show that there's treasure even in the smallest things (No pun intended, Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure!).

The second thing I am thankful for is the continuing light rail drama in Ottawa. Regular readers will know all about the O-Train plans here in the capital. I will not rehash the tale other than to say that the city is on track to have about 8 km of east-west rails in place between Tunney's Pasture and Blair by 2017. This route is the first phase of the project and has not come without a great deal of debate, including why anyone would build a rail line that parallels a bus expressway and has two endpoints in sparsely populated areas. Never mind the fact that existing, and sparsely used, rail lines still exist in the city and are not being considered for transit purposes.

The second phase of this project is off to another dramatic start as the city and the federal National Capital Commission are locked in a stalemate over an extension of the western leg of the railway. The city wants to run about a kilometre of the western line through NCC property, where the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway runs next to the Ottawa River. Of course, the NCC wants no part of a rail line near its precious parkway, even though the city has agreed to dig a trench to make the short span of line less obtrusive. The NCC wants the city to redirect the line through Rochester Field and through city parkland near Richmond Road. The Byron Linear Park is off limits to rail, the city has countered. And on and on it goes. Great fodder for a blog, though!

O-Train approaches Somerset Street in July along the former CP Ellwood Subdivision.

While local railfans resigned themselves to the fact that the Beachburg Subdivision north of Nepean Junction was being torn up, I made sure I tried to focus on existing CN operations in the city, like this local freight that was passing through Twin Elm in late September. I had set out to catch a train in this rural part of the city at the beginning of the year. You can read about this meeting here. I never used this shot below, but I like it because it captures some birds in flight and showcases a harvested hay field. So, you can say I'm thankful to live in a city where these types of images are possible.

This year started with a holiday visit to Sarnia in southwestern Ontario, where I met up with this long container train near Sarnia, in the farming hamlet of Mandaumin. The prairie-like feel of this area is a train watcher's best friend, since the lay of the land makes it possible to capture images such as this one from late last December. You can read about this meet here. I was especially thankful to be able to capture an Illinois Central unit on this train.

This next one may come as a surprise. I am thankful for the preservation conscious town of Petrolia in southwestern Ontario. This small town bills itself as Canada's Victorian Oil Town. Its Victorian charm is evident in its beautifully preserved Grand Trunk railway station, which is now the town's library. I was blown away by how many hits my post about this station garnered. This post has been my most popular one by far. I think I may have picked up a few readers in the area with this post.

Petrolia's former Grand Trunk Railway terminal on Aug. 18, 2014.

I am thankful for luck. In July, I made my way to a new spot, Bedell, Ont. This is a trackside hamlet near Kemptville, Ont., just south of Ottawa. It was here that I stumbled across the final dismantling of the former CP Prescott Subdivision, which once connected Ottawa with the CP's Winchester Subdivision. My timing allowed me to get some final photos of this old line and learn about its history through a series of posts. You can read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here. The shot below shows my meet with a CP mixed freight on its way west. It was the first CP train I have photographed in more than 20 years.

Finally, I am thankful to have been able to catch some final glimpses of the last action on the Beachburg Subdivision. Gone but not forgotten.

One of the last CN trains on the Beachburg Subdivision at Torbolton Ridge Road, on Nov. 11, 2014.

Finally, and most importantly, I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has dropped by to read the blog and especially those who have taken time to leave a message or to educate me when I am off the mark (special thanks to Dave M., my blog's first guest contributor). I never thought the blog would garner as much interest as it has and am thankful for every single page view. We've had some great discussions in the last few months and I'm hoping I can continue to engage everyone in the same way in the new year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone from The Beachburg Sub home office in Bells Corners, Ontario.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest post: Ride the Algoma Central Railway while you can (Part II)

This is the second part of a series about Beachburg Sub contributor Dave M.'s adventures aboard the Algoma Central's passenger trains in Northern Ontario. Please click here to read the first part.

By Dave M

In the morning, we tried to go standby on the tourist excursion train so that we could have some time to hike around the Agawa Canyon before continuing on the local passenger service. Unfortunately, staff said that all 15-20 cars were full, so we were unable to get on. We then proceeded to the yard to catch the regular passenger train back. The train had around 30 people aboard when departing Sault Ste. Marie. Before we got moving, people from a group trying to save the service handed out petition postcards and explained the importance of the line to each passenger. I noticed that some statistics that said the line is responsible for $35 to $48 million in direct and indirect economic activity and that $2.2 million would be required to keep the passenger service alive a year. Everyone boarding the train gladly filled out the surveys.

Interior of an Algoma Central baggage car

An hour or two into the trip, the train stopped at a lodge along the line and picked up a film crew of 15 people, along with several canoes, camera equipment, generators and other items. Many hands helped load and fill up the baggage car. It took around 5 to 10 minutes to load everything. They stayed on the train for about half an hour or so until they reached the canyon. The crew was filming Spirit Land: In Search of the Group of Seven. They were very excited about the footage they shot, shooting at some of the exact locations where the artists made their paintings. When they arrived at the canyon, they unloaded all of their stuff and started moving into a modified box car/sleeping car on a siding. The scenery between the Montreal River and Agawa was very good, especially with the fall colours. When we departed the train at Mile 183, there were only six people remaining on the train, which was going through to Hearst.

Typical scenery on the Algoma Central line

After spending the night in Dubreuilville, we got up early to catch the train at Mile 77.9 on the White River Sub. I knew that there was a hotbox detector at Mile 84.9 (on the far side of Franz), so I tuned the scanner to get a heads-up on when the train would arrive. I didn't catch the detector but I did hear Via 186 and CTC discussing an oncoming freight. Sure enough, in about five minutes, we saw the freight (above). And five minutes after that, we flagged down Via 186. When we boarded the train, there was only one other person aboard. It was a very smooth ride on CPR's continuous welded track, a big improvement over the jointed rail of the ACR.

Typical site aboard Via Rail's Northern Ontario service. Harder than it looks!
The journey back was much busier. We picked up several fishermen and hunters with their canoes. There was an exciting stop where we picked up an ATV. The owner of the ATV made metal tracks so that he could drive the machine onto the train. Driving the ATV on was a bit more difficult than I thought it would have been. The man has to give it quite a bit of juice to get up the steep incline. He also had to be sure to duck so he didn't hit his head on the top of the baggage car doorframe. He then had to hit the brakes hard once he made it in. When we got to Cartier, he pulled his pickup truck beside the train and they lifted/pushed the ATV onto the truck. On our journey to Cartier, we picked up quite a few more passengers. But after Cartier, there were less than 10 of us left.
Just outside of Cartier on the Nemegos Sub at Forks, we pulled into a siding and then a mainline freight stopped, occupying the switch we were to pass over. The detector at Mile 23.2 had flagged a heat alarm on the freight train. The Via staff then went out to inspect the CP train to help find the problem. The freight was more than 50 cars long. They found the problem five cars from where we stopped. The Via engineers addressed the problem (which I think was a brake issue) allowing the CP freight to continue along, which also cleared our path.
We arrived in Sudbury a few minutes ahead of schedule. I am unsure how long this punctuality will last because CP has recently rescheduled a slow freight train (the reason for the recent schedule in the first place) to depart before Via 186. We were lucky on our trip because CTC allowed us to pass the slow freight train when we were both sent to a siding to allow CP 101 to pass. Let's hope that the goodwill of the CP CTC will continue to allow Via's Lake Superior service to be on time.
Based on my discussions during my trip, I don't think that Via's Lake Superior service is in danger of being lost, but I'm fearful for the future of the Algoma Central passenger service. There are two ways that we can help the ACR. The first is to write a letter to the federal Minister of Transportation in support of this service. The second, and most fun way, to show your support is by using the service.
Special thanks to Dave M. for this extensive look at passenger services in Northern Ontario. Please feel free to leave a comment and let Dave know what you think - Michael

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Guest post: Ride the Algoma Central Railway while you can (Part I)

By Dave M

In late 2012, we lost Ontario Northland's The Northlander, from Toronto to Cochrane. I still kick myself to this day for never having ridden it. In early March 2014, I found out that the Algoma Central Railway passenger service was to be cut. I feared that I had lost another train that I didn't make the time to ride. Thankfully, the Algoma Central received a one-year reprieve. When the extension was given, I told myself I would make time to ride it before I lost this train as well.

My original intent was to ride the line from end to end. But after some analysis, the following itinerary was much easier:

[3:00-8:30] Drive from Ottawa to Sudbury
[9:00-15:50] Via 185 from Sudbury to Franz (Mile 77.9)
[Hotel] Dubreuiville

[11:30-18:10] ACR 632 from Dubreuilville (Mile 183.0) to Sault Ste. Marie
[Hotel] Sault Ste. Marie

[9:20-15:50] ACR 631 from Sault Ste. Marie to Dubreuilville (Mile 183.)
[Hotel] Dubreuilville

[8:20-15:50] Via 186 from Franz (Mile 77.9) to Sudbury
[16:00-21:30] Drive from Sudbury to Ottawa


The first train, Via 185 (Via 6250/RDC-4 and Via 6217/RDC-2) was in good shape compared to the last time I took it in 2007. The refurb from Industrial Rail Services of New Brunswick looked great.

The controls of Via 6250

The interior of Via 6217

We departed Sudbury on time with about 10 passengers. In Chelmsford, we picked up a couple more. Half of the passengers were going to camps (some with canoes) along the line while the others were going to Cartier and Chapleau. Only one person was travelling the length of the line to White River.

Via recently took over full operations on Via 185 and 186 (Lake Superior) from the Canadian Pacific. At the same time, the eastward schedule was modified to have it leave a couple of hours early to get it ahead of a slow freight train. Before the schedule changes, the train was typically three to four hours late arriving at Sudbury. After talking with the crew and passengers on this trip, it was apparent that these schedule changes significantly improved the train's punctuality. Many of the regular passengers commented to the staff that they appreciated this new punctuality. I can understand their appreciation since many of the stops were flag stops and would be miserable places to wait for hours in bad weather.

Sinker Creek: Nor your standard Via station

After Chapleau, there was only us only one other passenger on the train. Originally, I had planned to get off at Franz, but the hotel we were staying at advised us that the road from Franz to Dubreuilville was in very poor condition and suggested we get off a few miles before Franz at Park Road (Mile 77.9) because that road is in better condition. We arrived at our stop (Park Road) five minutes early and spent the night in Dubreuilville.

Via Rail 185 at Mile 77.9 Park Road

ACR 632

Our ACR boarding was a true flag stop. We went to where the gold mine road crosses the ACR tracks at Mile 183 on the Soo subdivision to catch the train. Unfortunately, they were expecting us a couple of miles earlier, behind an old mill. The train was travelling at a reasonable speed when we flagged them down. As we were flagging them down, I heard the crew on the scanner say "That is where they are. Stopping. Open door on the right." The consist of the train was CN GP40 9574, AC 312 luggage car (Budd), AC 5654, 5656 coaches (Budd) and AC 78 generator car (Alco). When we boarded, there were about 15 people on the train. About an hour later, we arrived at Hawk Junction. Just about everyone departed the train except for us and five others.

Interior of ACR 5654

After we left Hawk Junction, we didn't stop to pick up or drop off any other passengers. All parts of the train were open to everyone, allowing us to wander around the baggage car and shoot pictures in the open air, out of doors and windows. It was a very nice feeling having your head out the window as you pass along this amazing scenery. The scenery is better than that on any train I've ridden in North America.

When we were about half an hour from our final destination, one of the train's staff went through the car to determine who needed taxis so that they would be there when we arrived. We arrived about 45 minutes behind schedule at the terminus in the ACR yard.

Thanks to Dave for sharing his photos and thoughts about this vital northern lifeline. Please come back next week for the second part of this post. Also, please take a moment to tell Dave what you thought - Michael


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A photo mystery solved

The other day, my brother emailed me to tell me he took his son to the train yard in Sarnia for a few minutes as he was running errands. My nephew, not even three years old yet, is already a big train fan and is into Thomas the Tank Engine. My brother was kind enough to take a few shots of the trains he and his son were watching (I will share those in a future post). I mention this because it started me thinking of my father. My dad often used to take photos of trains for me. I have some great 1990s shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway, thanks to my dad.

I think, deep down, my dad is like me in that he likes the big machines. That is why I wasn't surprised when my brother emailed me this photo he found in the family archives recently. I had never seen this photo before. In fact, I didn't even know it existed until my brother sent it to me. Initially, my only solid conclusion about this photo was that my dad took it. I was glad to add this image to my collection, but it made me wonder where this was taken and when.
This is what I initially managed to figure out about this photo.
1. This is an Algoma Central Railway train, since CN took over the railway in 2001 as part of the Wisconsin Central purchase. That would mean this photo was taken post-2001.
2. The units leading this train, including CN 5714, are SD75Is, judging by other photos I found of 5714. However, the 2011 shot I found shows 5714 has been repainted at some point since this photo was taken.
3. The dome car following the locomotives is ex-Western Pacific 813, Silver Palace. This was one of the Budd-built streamliners of a similar vintage to Via's silver and blue cars. The car was purchased in 1999 by ACR's parent company. This site suggests the car, now called Spirit of Superior, retained its California Zephyr paint scheme until at least 2004, which clouds the timeframe a bit. Looking at the information available online, this car doesn't seem to have a number, as it is usually referred to by its former number.
4. Given that these units are pulling a dome car, it's a safe guess to say this train is the Agawa Canyon Tour train. I figured it was taken at the end of the line, at the canyon.
5. You can see two passengers reading a tourist sign in front of the engines, which would suggest it was taken in the canyon.
Earlier this week, I was able to solve the mystery behind this photo when my Dad confirmed to me that he did indeed ride the Agawa Canyon tourist train in the early 2000s, although he wasn't able to pinpoint exactly when.
Also, later on in the week, my sister sent along some photos she took when her family rode the same train on Aug. 15 this summer. Note the similarities between the two photos.
The only question that remains is when was the first photo taken. I place the timeline between 2001-2005. It depends on when the old Zephyr cars were repainted in ACR colours. Anyone out there know the answer?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last glimpses of the Beachburg Subdivision

When I first started this blog in April of 2013, I knew it was a risk calling it the Beachburg Sub. Even then, the dormant CN subdivision was in danger of being lost. These past few weeks, this blog's namesake rail line has been torn up by the Canadian National, despite various efforts to revive the line with a shortline operator. Last week, I headed deep into Ottawa's rural northwest countryside, to pay my last respects to this line.

As of Saturday, Nov. 16, the line has been torn up all the way to the Dunrobin area, although rails are still in place into Kanata. The work train was loaded on that day and shipped out. A reader told me that the work crew is then given a six-day rest before resuming its work. That would mean work will resume on the 21st or 22nd.

Below is a shot of the Beachburg Sub at Stonecrest Road Ottawa, Nov. 9, 2014

Here's the same stretch on Nov. 11. The bolted rail will be picked up later by truck, I assume

Here's the same crossing, looking east on Nov. 9:

And here it is two days later. You can just make out the end of the work train in the distance.

On Nov. 9, the work train was silent, as the crew was taking its days off before revving back up on Nov. 11. This is what I saw on Nov. 9 at Stonecrest Road.

On Nov. 11, I ventured out to another rural crossing, to try and catch the CN continuous welded rail work train in action. This led me to a rural road, Torbolton Ridge Road. As you can guess, this was another remote stretch of the city and it was heavily wooded. This didn't allow for great wide shots, but I felt compelled to capture something. CN GP40-2W 9543 was idling by the crossing, waiting for the track gang to finish its work so it could inch forward.

Here's a shot of the longest freight train I've seen in Ottawa in all my time in this city. How sad is that statement?

As you can see from the woody stemmed weeds in the above shot, this crossing is pretty rough. I stuck around for a while, thinking the train was about to move. One of the worker's cars was idling on the road, which led me to believe something was about to happen. After half an hour of waiting, I decided to call it a day. Here are a few more shots.

Bug's eye view.

The dreaded CWR cars carrying their prize.

By now you know the story of the subdivision. It was once part of a transcontinental main line, which stretched through Algonquin Park and a large swath of rural Ontario. You know it was also a vital part of the Ottawa Central Railway.

Now, it's mostly history.

I thought about the name of my blog this week and wondered about the merits of changing the name for a moment. But, as one of the few rail enthusiasts carrying the torch here in Ottawa, I think it's more important than ever that we pay attention to the past.

After all, Ottawa's troubled light rail plan is proof positive that those who ignore our history are doomed to repeat it. And at great cost.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Updated: End of the line for Beachburg Subdivision

Well, it's finally happening. The last remnants of CN's former transcontinental main line through Ottawa are being taken up in the city's northwest end. The Beachburg Subdivision north of Nepean Junction will be history in a few weeks. A couple of readers have alerted me to the presence of the continuous welded rail work train in the region. I had the chance to go and see this train on Sunday, Nov. 9.

Over the weekend, work had halted. Thanks to information from a local rail watcher (thanks Ray), I was told the work train was parked at the rural Stonecrest Road level crossing near milepost 30.0, northwest of Dunrobin. I made my way out to this secluded spot and was immediately struck by the rugged character of the the area. The path to the crossing was hilly, twisty and generally hemmed in by trees. This was about as rural as you can get within the city limits.

When I arrived at the crossing, there was a bit of a clearing and the sun was shining. You could immediately see the end of the work train by the crossing, being guarded by a lone CN employee. I spoke to him briefly and he told me I was allowed to take photos from the road. He also told me that work was to recommence on Tuesday morning. Given how much progress has been made to date, I would not be surprised if the rest of this stretch of track was gone in a few weeks.

Given the area where the work train is parked is heavily wooded, getting a shot of the entire string of cars was impossible, so I had to try and capture the consist with some condensed vertical shots. Luckily, the afternoon sun was in the perfect spot for me to get some of these shots. You can see in the shot above that there is some rail still in the process of being fed into the CWR cars.

I managed to capture some shots of the yellow work cars at the end of the train (above), but that was about all I could capture in terms of long horizontals. You can see the rail being fed into the CWR cars in this shot as well.

The above shot was taken from the crossing. The road was very quiet when I arrived, so taking shots from the middle of the crossing was pretty easy. You can see that this line has been left to its own devices for a number of years, as the ballast is largely lost in overgrowth.

Above, the dreaded CWR cars, especially for a train-starved railfan in Ottawa.

This shot gives you an idea of the immediate surroundings at this level crossing. Two CN trucks had been parked at the side of the road since the train had halted its work. Both had Quebec licence plates, so I'm guessing the railway sent work crews in from Montreal to take apart this line.

This final shot pretty much sums up the sad end for this once vital piece of CN's network. A threader was left locked in place, with a small stretch of rail yet to be fed onto the train. Beyond the loose rail, you can see the abandoned right-of-way, which will no doubt soon become a snowmobile trail. This shot gives you an idea of the types of grade crews would have had to manage on this line, when it was a transcontinental line and then part of the Ottawa Central Railway.
And with that, another piece of the Ottawa Valley's railway history is removed. I can't help but wonder what might have happened to this line, if Ottawa Central hadn't been purchased by CN. Many rail watchers here have grumbled over the years that CN only purchased OCR to get its hands on the actual rails, so it could use them elsewhere in its network.
I also wonder what might have happened if efforts to establish the Transport Pontiac Renfrew shortline railway had been successful. I recall the former president of the OCR James Allen telling me a wood pellet plant in the Pontiac wanted rail service on this line, a prospect that promised (in his words) hundreds of car loads a year. But sadly, too much industry has been lost in the valley to support a railway line in this area.
The city did mention earlier this year that it would be interested in purchasing the old line for a possible recreational trail. Considering how remote this part of the city is, I doubt a trail in these parts would get much use for anything other than snowmobiles and ATVs.
This brings me to my final question. Given the level of interest in light rail in the city, you can't help but wonder if retaining this line for future regional rail use should have been seriously considered. This approach to rail is very common in the United States, but sadly not here.
And, as another line fades away, the city continues to wrangle over the next phases of its light rail dreams, which require expensive new rights-of-way in areas where rail once served.
For those looking to capture some of this work along Beachburg, the work will continue through this week into the weekend (from Nov. 11-16 or so). I invite readers in the Ottawa area to get out there and capture some of this before it's too late. On Tuesday, the train was nearing Torbolton Ridge Road. Wednesday will likely see the train nearing the Kinburn Side Road crossing. At this rate, it should be nearing Dunrobin in the coming days.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thomas Edison on the rails

Thomas Edison was a railway man. Really. After a chance encounter with an old rail car this summer, I searched out the legend of the famous inventor and his connection to railways. This is what I discovered.

Across the St. Clair River in Port Huron, Michigan, Thomas Edison remains an immense source of civic pride. Although born in Ohio, Edison spent a great deal of his childhood in Port Huron, where his journey toward world fame began on the rails.

Let's back up a bit. The photo you see below is a restored 1800s baggage and passenger car, once belonging to a railroad with quite possibly the longest name in rail history. Care to guess what the C.D. & C.G.T. Jct. R.R. stands for? No googling, please. The initials stand for the Chicago, Detroit & Canada Grand Trunk Junction Rail Road. The line was built in 1858-9 to link Port Huron to Detroit and the rest of the outside world. As the GT suggests, this line was part of the Grand Trunk Western system, although the line was technically independent until 1928 when it officially became a subsidiary of the Grand Trunk. The Grand Trunk continues to operate in Port Huron, including on waterfront trackage that goes past this old rail car and its old rail station (you can the station and the crossing signal in the photo).

August 2014 photo of restored baggage and passenger car at Thomas Edison Depot Museum in Port Huron, Michigan. The museum is located along the St. Clair River waterfront, right next to the Bluewater Bridge (seen behind the station).
Back to Edison. The young inventor was a restless young man, even as far back as his pre-teen years. He was twelve years old when he convinced his parents to allow him to ride the train to and from Detroit each day in order to sell newspapers and candy to passengers. He was soon successful enough that he hired other boys to work as newsboys on the same line. One of the results of this venture was that Edison obtained the exclusive rights to sell his own newspaper, the Grand Trunk Herald, along the line.
The profits Edison reaped from his railway sales helped fund his early experiments. A few versions of a local legend suggest that Edison's hearing problems stemmed from a failed science experiment on a train. He once suggested a conductor hit him over his ears and threw him off the train after one of his experiments went awry. That story changed over the years.
There is even a Canadian connection to Edison's railway adventures. After his time selling papers and candy on the rails, Edison would go on to become a telegraph operator for the Grand Trunk in Stratford, Ontario. The story about this job holds that Edison saved a young boy from being struck by a train. The boy's father, a Grand Trunk employee, was so grateful to Edison that he trained him to be a telegraph operator. 
Photo from Port Huron Museum
Of course, there is so much more to the Edison story, but for our purposes here, I will stop there. Port Huron continues to pay tribute to the man. The restored 1800s rail car and train station comprise what is known as the Thomas Edison Depot Museum, which is perched beneath the Bluewater Bridge, linking Port Huron to Point Edward and Sarnia Ontario. The rail car has been restored, but many of its original furnishings inside the car have been replaced by what you see above. Look online and you will notice many complaints about this. The city also has a waterfront hotel, The Thomas Edison Inn, not far from the museum.
Information on the car was very hard to come by. Most references to it suggest it was an 1800s vintage car, but little else is out there, from what I can see.
Via Rail Canada was busy reassuring residents in the Barrhaven neighbourhood that there are no public safety issues after the warning signals at two level crossings at Jockvale Road and Greenbank Road both malfunctioned earlier this week, resulting in the signals going into fail-safe mode. Via Rail said the problem was due to a mechanical malfunction, which has been fixed.
On Thursday morning, an OC Transpo double decker bus stopped beneath the crossing guards at the Fallowfield Road level crossing, in the midst of the morning rush hour. Although commuters on the bus told local news they were frightened by the fact that the bus was about five metres away from the train, the city transit authority insisted that the bus driver did the proper thing by stopping for a yellow light, even though the bus was sitting in the path of the crossing guards. The incident, of course, will likely raise new questions over the safety of these crossings, especially after the fatal bus-train collision at the Woodroffe Avenue crossing last fall.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest post: A 5 mph chase of CN 589 to Arnprior

I'd like to introduce Beachburg Sub readers to a fellow Ottawa railfan, David M, who has generously volunteered to share some of his experiences along the rails with us. I hope this post provides you with a different perspective from my own. Please take the time to post a comment and let David know what you think! - Michael

By David M

I’ve always wanted to get a picture of a train on the Renfrew Spur going over the Mississippi River. Recently, I had a Wednesday morning off and decided that I would chase CN 589 to get that picture. 

Early on Wednesday morning, I started scanning these frequencies [Stand By: 160.545, RTC Call-In: 160.860, RTC Call-In: 160.290] on my radio scanner. Around 8:30am, I overheard the clearances. I then hopped in the car and drove to Carling Ave. and March Rd., in Kanata, to meet 589 at 9:00am (where I’ve seen it there many times at 9:00). When I arrived there, it was nowhere to be seen. I thought that perhaps it was earlier than usual, so I then proceeded to the crossing at Terry Fox  Drive and then the crossing at Huntmar and Old Carp Road where I didn’t see it. By now, it was 9:30 and I still hadn’t made contact with it. I then proceeded to Carp to see if it was there, which it wasn’t. I decided to park on the side of the road near the Diefenbunker (picture below) and decided to wait for it.

Since 9:00, the scanner had been quiet. At 10:00, the scanner became active again with additional notifications for the crew. Two minutes later, I heard a distant whistle coming from Carp. Finally at 10:11, first contact was made. Once you have found 589, it is very easy to chase since it only travels 5 mph. I was then able to catch it easily at five other locations. 

I decided to leave the close chase and get ahead of it to ensure I had sufficient time to set up for the shot of it crossing over the Mississippi River bridge. I chose to set up on the bridge on Mohrs Road. The shoot turned out to be difficult since, in my rush out the door, I only took an 11-16mm wide-angle lens and a 55-200mm zoom lens. When shooting from the bridge, a 35mm would have perfect as the 55 was challenging to get it properly framed, and the wide angle gave a bit too much.

Rail fanning on this line is challenging because there are no signals that you can sneak a peak of, or any hotbox detectors that give you a heads up when a train crosses over it. The main advantage of rail fanning on this line is that once you’ve found the train, you have many opportunities to see it because it travels so slowly.

All in all, it was a good chase. The next time, I will try to chase it in the other direction. If anyone has a favorite place to shot along the line, or any pictures of the train on the Renfrew Sub, please post a comment with a link to the pictures, because I’m interested in seeing them. (So am I! - Michael)
Many thanks to David for his story and photos. Stay tuned for more from David in the next little while. - Michael

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stay strong, Ottawa

I always liked the line in our national anthem that proclaims Canada to be the "True North strong and free." I find that line to be one of the best descriptions of this country of ours. Ours is a vast northern nation: beautiful, peaceful and safe. I've been lucky enough to see every province (Manitoba is a technicality since I've only been to the Winnipeg airport). No matter where I go, I always feel safe and proud of this wonderful nation.

Yesterday was an odd day for me. I didn't feel well enough to go to work, since I was suffering from severe asthma for the first time in years. It was supposed to be a happy day for my family, since we went for an ultrasound to see the first images of our second child. We were able to tell my little girl she was going to be a big sister. Our happiness was tempered, of course, by the shock of seeing our city being targeted of a pointless and cowardly act of terrorism.

When the dust settled and calm was restored, I still had a hard time trying to sort through what I was feeling. I have long had a love/hate relationship with this city. It is a beautiful city, to be sure, and a wonderful place to raise a family. Despite its sometimes maddeningly bureaucratic ways, Ottawa is still a city of fine people who value our democracy in ways few others in Canada can appreciate. Come to Ottawa on Nov. 11 and you will see the country's largest Remembrance Day gathering at our war memorial. In many ways, Ottawans see themselves as the torch bearers for our democracy. Talk to anyone from Ottawa. You will not likely find a more informed and patriotic Canadian.

I felt angry, scared and confused yesterday. I felt sad for the families of the two soldiers who lost their lives this week, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Today, I just feel like getting on with my day. I thought about the best way to do that and I decided to do what I love to do: blog.

I am privileged to be able to live in a country where I can speak my mind and be free to live my life as I see fit. And I feel equally lucky to be free to blog about something as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things as railways.

So, rather than dwell on what happened yesterday, let's continue to share ideas and thoughts about our shared passion. Let's continue to live our lives and not be intimidated. Let's live that lyric, strong and free.

For this week's regular post, please click here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Trackside Treasure's Railfan Five Challenge

Eric Gagnon of the Trackside Treasure rail blog has been a great influence on the Beachburg Sub. His blog, as most of you know, is one of the most interesting railway forums you will find online. Many of my own readers have drifted over from Trackside Treasure, which really helped establish this blog early on. Eric recently issued a Railfan Five challenge that asked his readers (of which I am a regular) to post five photos they feel tell their story as a railfan. You can read his own Railfan Five post here. Another blogger, Steve Boyko of the equally excellent blog, Confessions of a Train Geek, posted his Railfan Five. Steve asked me to take up the challenge, so here are my five.

I should mention that there are a few prints of early train photos that I do not have at the moment, which would tell my railfan story more a little more clearly, but those prints are my sister's house. Until I find those prints and scan them, my story will remain partly incomplete for now.

Photo One

This photo is (to my knowledge) the earliest family train photo that features me in it, likely taken about 1981. I am about 4 years old in this photo, I think. I am the little guy bottom left. The guy beside me is my brother Marc. My big sister Jennifer is behind Marc. The girl behind me is a friend of the family, also named Jen. This photo was taken in Windsor, Ontario in front of Canadian National steam locomotive, the Spirit of Windsor. My journey as a railfan began in Windsor, since my grandfather Paul-Émile worked there as a rolling stock mechanic for the Canadian Pacific. He worked for years at the Chapleau, Ont. servicing yard before transferring to Windsor in the 1960s. He took me aboard my first locomotive and often saved his back issues of CP Rail News. He was a big influence on my love of trains. As I mentioned previously, all my uncles worked on the railway at one point, as did my dad. I grew up with a fascination with trains, which was further fuelled by a gift of an old HO scale train set, given to me by my uncle. I still have many of the pieces of that set.

Photo 2

This next photo, which I have shown on this blog before, was taken in the spring of 1991 at the St. Clair Boulevard crossing in Corunna. I was 14 years old when I decided that I would start taking photos of trains. I had this pocket-sized instant camera with no flash that I used to take with me on my bike as I rode around Corunna, Ontario, my hometown. I was lucky that my house was located a short two-minute bike ride from the tracks. Many of my photos didn't turn out, due to the limitations of that camera, but I still sometimes ended up with some decent shots, although the camera almost always washed out the sky! Through my early teen years, I quietly pursued this hobby until I abandoned it, due to the other teenage concerns, like fitting in. This has been a common thread in my life. I've always been fascinated by trains but I haven't always pursued the hobby.

Photo 3

After stints living in Peterborough, Ont. and Kitchener, Ont., I returned to Ottawa in 2009 and married the love of my life. We moved into our first home and began our life together. It was at this time that I took out my old HO scale trains and began thinking about railways again. I scanned my old railway photo prints from the early 1990s. I purchased the odd issue of Trains Magazine and found myself reading blogs like Trackside Treasure and Confessions of  Train Geek. In 2012,  I began taking my digital camera to Via Rail's Fallowfield Station to take photos of trains for the first time in years. This is how I reignited my passions for trains. This shot above was taken in April 2012 and it's Toronto-bound Train 55 pulling in to pick up passengers. There's nothing really special about this shot, but it's symbolic of my entry back into the fray, so to speak.

Photo 4

This shot was taken earlier this year, in the spring. It's Train 589, switching Kott Lumber near the Jock River on the Via Rail Smiths Falls Subdivision. This shot is special because it marks the first time I caught this train. I also think it marks a transition in my photographs. I have become more serious about capturing compelling images of local railways, which has brought me to new places trackside. Despite the dearth of railway activity in Ottawa, I have found more than enough to keep me interested and keep me writing about trains. I have been really lucky to have learned from other bloggers and benefited from a supportive railfan community out there. In the last few months, I have discovered an entire community of local railfans, which has only strengthened my resolve to keep blogging. This blog has exceeded all my expectations.

Photo 5

At the end of the day, I'm just a railfan. I'm sure some would call me a foamer, which is fine with me. No longer worried about what people think of my hobby, I have allowed myself to pursue the hobby trackside whenever I find time. Railways have a long history in my family and it's truly in my blood. This shot is me at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa on the back of an old CN wooden caboose. This brings me to my final point. To be a train geek, you need a supportive family. My wife humoured me and took this shot. She continues to humour me and allow me to indulge in my hobby. And it's paying huge dividends. My little girl, not three years old yet, recently asked to see my "choo-choo" pictures on my computer. She then informed me that "I love choo-choos." And so, the tradition continues.

I now open up this railfan five challenge to my readers. I encourage you to read Eric Gagnon's original Railfan Five post (see link above). If you want to share your story in five photos, feel free to contact me and I will be glad to post your story and photos or link to your Flikr site. I will also be donating to the Bytown Railway Society, as part of my participation in this initiative. Thanks to Eric for coming up with this idea and thanks to Steve for issuing the challenge.

For those looking for my regular post, please scroll below this post on the main page, or click here.