Friday, February 28, 2014

CP Rail's Windsor Rail Yard in 1991

I only visited Canadian Pacific's Windsor rail yard twice, but neither time disappointed. As readers know from past posts, my grandfather worked for CP for forty years, many of them in this yard. He first took me to this yard when I was very little (possible three years old) and took me aboard a locomotive to show me how it worked. The second time he took me, I was a teenager. It was the summer of 1991, on a very hot dry day. The visit did not disappoint.
I wasn't there more than a few minutes when yard switcher 1621 whizzed by with a CP multimark-equipped cylindrical hopper trailing behind (see below). You can see an autorack and an old CP Rail caboose on the track behind. This was right around the time when the multimark was fast becoming a memory on CP's locomotives and rolling stock. This GP9 looks like it is due for new paint soon.

In many ways, CP's Windsor yard is very much like CN's Sarnia yard. Both yards feed international tunnels and both have a wide variety of rolling stock making its way across the border. In the case of the Windsor CP yard, there were fewer tank cars than in Sarnia, but there were some oddities like a centre beam lumber car (left, below). These were a rare site for me (although they are more common in Ottawa). You can also see the difference between two GP9s below. 1619 looks like it is next in line for new paint sans multimark while 8226 is fresh with new paint.

Here's a better look at 8826, without the multimark, but with a much fresher coat of CP's famous red paint. You get the idea of what a dozen or so years of harsh summer sun does to a locomotive's paint job (left).

I've included this photo before in Favourite Train Photos #1. This old Alco relic was just coming off the turntable after receiving service in the roundhouse. As this was happening, my grandfather was talking to his old co-workers, many of whom were quite happy to see him again. One mentioned that they really needed someone with his expertise around the yard again. Other than the fact that this is my only roundtable shot in my collection, I like this image because you can see a rare open-air autorack in the background. These autoracks were nonexistent in CN's Sarnia yard at the time. You can also see Detroit's Renaissance Center in the background, which gives you an idea how close this yard is to the Michigan border.

In 1991, CP's Michigan Central rail tunnel to Detroit had not been expanded to handle larger rail cars, although a few years later, it was expanded to accommodate autoracks. This tunnel still failed to accommodate double stack container trains, which left CP with a massive competitive disadvantage compared to CN's St. Clair Tunnel in Sarnia, which was completed in 1994. This disadvantage has yet to be resolved, although there are hopes that a new rail tunnel will be built to give Windsor and Detroit a fully functional rail tunnel that is able to handle modern rail operations.

For the purposes of a rail fan, having a yard crowded with cars that were queued for the rail ferry was a good thing. There was no shortage of traffic when I visited, including this train, headed by SD40 5744.

Here's another shot you've seen in an earlier post, Relics on the rails. I included it because I wanted to feature the entire set of photos from that day. I had more at one point, but I have lost those prints. You can see the Renaissance Center, a boxcar and a CP Rail flatcar behind this St. Lawrence Railroad boxcar, sitting just outside the roundhouse. Also, check out those axles! I was very lucky to have such access to these areas of the yard that would have otherwise been out of bounds for me.

I don't have many shots of CP Rail trains in my collection, which is what made that trip to the Windsor yard such a treat for me in 1991. It's a great memory I have of my grandfather, one which continues to fuel my fascination with railways.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Favourite railway photos #2

This is the second installment of my favourite train photos series. In this post, I chose photos from the first year of this blog that I particularly like but wasn't able to use in my posts. I used the word "railway" in the title, since one of the photos isn't of a train, but of an old station. You can check out the first installment of this series here.

Okay, let's get started. The first shot is of the ceiling of Ottawa's old Union Station in downtown Ottawa,. The ceilings in this station were inspired by the Roman baths in Caracalla. I loved this shot because it shows three of the arched windows in the station's old waiting room. You can't help but stare at this magnificent ceiling when you enter this room. My family paid a visit to this magnificent old building during Doors Open Ottawa last summer. I like this shot because it shows quite a few of the architectural features of the old station. To read about this old station, check out my post from last year.

This shot below was from last September. This is long shot of a northbound O-Train crossing beneath the Young Street pedestrian overpass on Ottawa's Capital Railway. I like this photo because it was one of the first times I realized that you don't need to fill your entire frame with a train in order to achieve a dramatic railway photo. This was something I didn't realize when I was younger. I really like the light in this image as well as the colour of the foliage that lines either side of this line. You can also just barely see a red signal beneath the overpass. Lots going on in this photo. It's similar to a shot I used in my post from last fall, but I like the framing of this one much better. It makes me wonder why I didn't chose this shot in the first place. To read about the latest on this line, check out my post about the Capital Railway from last fall.

The story behind the next shot is interesting. I meant to use it as a basis for a post, but for whatever reason, I never did. This is a shot taken Aug. 10, 2013 in Markham of one intermodal train passing by a parked train, which is waiting for a clear signal to proceed. The shot itself isn't all that special, but I like the fact that I had to really hustle to get this shot. I had to park along Woodbine Avenue and wait on the sidewalk of an overpass to catch a train. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long as an intermodal train came roaring eastward toward the overpass. After grabbing a few shots, the train stopped as I heard another one making its way on the opposite track. Two for one! It was a lucky moment for me.

I liked my shots from the overpass, but I wanted something else. So, when I heard the other train coming, I ran the length of a parking lot that was next to the railway right of way. When I reached the end of that parking lot, I made my way through a hole in a fence into another parking lot, which lead to a frayed fence. I stepped through the fence and proceeded down a weed-choked embankment so I could get a close-up shot of the trains. The problem I encountered when I walked down to track level was that the weeds were so thick, I couldn't actually see the approaching train. You can see some of the weeds and trees in this shot, which were unavoidable. This was all I could catch of the lead unit, CN 5622, as it hustled by.

But, I was pleased with the shot because it had two trains in it, some beautiful blue sky, a few clouds and some movement. For a train-starved Ottawa resident, this is about as good as it gets.

The last shot was snagged last October in Sarnia along CSX's Sarnia Subdivision. Catching this Chessie System bay window caboose, which was hitched to a CSX-painted bay window caboose, was a great catch, since these cabooses were rare 15 years ago when I used to regularly photograph trains on the sub. They are still in use on this sub for shoving movements, making them pretty rare survivors. Seeing this old relic still in use and in relatively good shape brought back great memories for me. Read about my adventures chasing cabooses here

Once again, I find it's not usually the photos that I value as much as the stories attached to them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Three roundhouses, three fates

There is no structure quite like a railway roundhouse. The architecture of these structures makes them engineering marvels to many a railfan, but their industrial legacy makes them sadly disposable. In most cases, these structures are lost to history. Here at the Beachburg Sub, we celebrate history. With this in mind, I present the case of the Ottawa West CPR roundhouse, the Canada Southern Windsor roundhouse and the CN Sarnia roundhouse.

I will start with the Sarnia roundhouse, since it is the structure I am most familiar with, and it is the only one of the three that is still standing. This roundhouse is located at the west end of CN's Sarnia yard. It was a busy facility into the early 1990s as it serviced dozens of CN units large and small. Here's a picture of a roster of CN units just outside the roundhouse in 1991. In the photo below you can see a few yard switchers including GP9 7266, SW1200 1317 and a few others, not to mention GP40-2LW 9491 front and centre.

As you can see from this below photo, the roundhouse was still in reasonable shape in the early 1990s, although getting a shot from public property was tough since there was usually something blocking the view, including these gondolas, in 1991.

Luckily, for rail enthusiasts in this area, the roundhouse was kept intact when Lambton Diesel Specialists (LDS) took over the facility in 1992 and assumed the diesel servicing operations from CN. This shot, taken Oct. 13, 2013, shows how things have changed at the roundhouse. The actual turntable is long gone, but some of the bays are still there (most boarded up) and are used for rehabbing locomotives from a number of railways. Also, the old windows have been replaced. The roundhouse is an interesting place to shoot some locomotives you might not otherwise be able to see. It also gives you one last chance to snap photos of units before they are scrapped, like CN SW1200 7316, which appears to be in the process of being scavenged for parts.

The shot below, taken December 23, 2013, shows a string of diesels in various states, and a flatcar with what I can only assume is a diesel engine under a tarp. Lambton Diesel is often mentioned in Canadian Railway Observations as the destination for a number of locomotives that are either at the end of their lifecycle or a due for a tune-up. That's why it's not uncommon to see a GO Transit, Ontario Southland or a Novacor locomotive lurking around the old roundhouse.

The Novacor unit above and below, MP1500D 2003, has been replaced at the company's Corunna refinery, which has its own switching operations that are linked to CN's St. Clair River Industrial spur. This unit also looks to be in the process of being scrapped or in the midst of a long-term rehab. Just to the left below, you can see an open bay at the old roundhouse, although the rest of the bays have been covered over for some time.

I took this shot earlier last year. You can just make out NCLX 2003 behind tired old CN GP38-2 7517 in the CN safety scheme and LDS's own SW1200 0178.

One final shot, taken in October 2013, of a very rough looking SD1200 1251 awaiting either extensive work or a final brick to the head. You can get an idea of the shape of the old roundhouse in this shot. I believe this building was saved by the fact that it is surrounded on all sides by railway tracks and is of very little strategic importance otherwise. In the case of the Windsor and Ottawa West roundhouses, both were victims of the wrecking ball because they were on the periphery of railway operations and were standing in the way of nearby development ambitions.

First, let's consider the Windsor roundhouse. I mention it because I remember seeing this massive shell of a building for years as my family made its way down Howard Avenue to my grandmother's house in Windsor's Remington Park neighbourhood. The roundhouse, which served the Canada Southern Railway (CASO) for many years, was perched on the edge of the city and lingered in disused desolation for years. When an old racetrack across Howard Avenue gave way to a giant mall, the neglected roundhouse was suddenly in danger of being consumed by the retail ambitions of developers. Still, it hung on for years after the mall was built before it finally fell.

Here's a photo of the roundhouse from the 1940s, when CASO was owned by the Michigan Central Railroad, which was itself a subsidiary of the New York Central. The stunningly comprehensive Canada Southern Railway site chronicles the history of this interesting branch of the New York Central, Penn Central and Conrail through the years. I highly recommend visiting this site. Here's a photo of the same roundhouse from the 1960s, before the mall was built. Even then, it looked pretty shabby.

The hulking vestige of Windsor's steam legacy was torn down and replaced with a similar looking roundhouse-shaped retail centre, which was named the Roundhouse Centre in honour of its past. By the time is was torn down, the roundhouse had been disused for decades and its rail connection had been severed from the nearby CN line. Another roundhouse, located at the CP rail yard on Crawford Street, was also torn down.

I've also mentioned the old Ottawa West rail yard on this blog, since it too has a fascinating history. In the shot below, you can see the old Ottawa West station, which served Canadian Pacific's transcontinental passenger trains, and the Ottawa West roundhouse.

Since much of the old Ottawa West rail yard's imprint can still be seen in this largely vacant area of the capital, I find it strange that the National Capital Commission was in such a rush to bulldoze everything in the vicinity, including old Ottawa West station and the roundhouse.

The NCC replaced it with, well, nothing. As you can see from my post last year, the area has remained in development limbo for decades. But take a look at the area in its glory in this fascinating blog and imagine what could have been done with some of these structures, had there only been some vision.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Two forgotten whistlestops

I heard the ghosts calling me. After visiting the old fortress of Louisbourg, I saw something in a tourism brochure promoting the Sydney & Louisburg rail museum. I knew I had to check it out. In the middle of a windswept, drizzly grey September afternoon, I wandered into the 1895 railway station, which was silent except for the smiling museum volunteer, who welcomed me before letting me wander the place.

The station, still stately looking despite years of being maintained on a limited budget, had obviously seen busier times. At one point, Louisburg, as the railway called it, was a key terminus on a railway that connected the tiny coastal town on the Atlantic to the bustling coal hub of Sydney. I could imagine the town's inhabitants waiting on the old platform, waiting to board the old 1881 passenger coach, ready for their big day in the city. Or little boys watching as locomotives trundled away with dozens of coal cars in tow, ready to do battle with the challenging contours of Cape Breton.

Okay, I'm romanticizing a little bit, but I couldn't help but feel the loneliness of this old station, one of a countless number across this country that were once part of the lifeblood of their communities, now relegated to visitor information centres or quant museums. Highways and a centralized railway network have ensured that many small towns like Louisbourg are no longer railway towns.

The above picture, taken in 2008, was the only picture that survived a horrific computer crash that eliminated a number of photos I took of the old 1881 coach and an adjoining freight car. But this photos still speaks volumes. The rails from the old S&L railway remain, from their days as part of the Devco Railway, which operated on the tracks until 2001, when all of Cape Breton's coal mines had closed, leaving the railway in the hands of several operators who weren't able to keep it as a going concern. You can see the remnants of the old semaphore signal on the platform and the effects of salty air on the rusted rails.

I liked the photo but didn't think much about it until I stumbled across an old Devco Railway caboose in CN's Walkley Yard in Ottawa last summer. The caboose, although heavily defaced by graffiti, still bears its green and gold Devco colours, although CN had hastily painted over the Devco lettering at some point (it's a good bet that the caboose was actually repainted by the Ottawa Central Railway before it was reacquired by CN).

When I looked at this photo the other day, it made me think of the Louisbourg photo and of busier times in Cape Breton Island, when the economy was not solely dependent on tourists like me. There was something about being in that old Louisburg railway station on that grey September day that left a strong impression on me.

I had the same feeling on Dec. 22 last year when I took a quick photo of the Via Rail station in Wyoming, Ont., just east of Sarnia. This is one of two such kiosk stations in Lambton County (the other being in Watford, just east of Wyoming). This whistle stop station sees very little activity, since Via's service to Sarnia has been trimmed to one train in and out of the city a day.

But there are hints of busier times in this photo as well. You can make out an old right-of-way behind the station, with an old ramp for loading freight cars just behind the station. This stretch of the Strathroy Subdivision was once double tracked, but the second track was taken out years ago and replaced by a number of passing sidings.

Just down from the Wyoming station, the Wanstead Farmer's Co-op, complete with grain elevators, stands trackside, although its rail service has been discontinued, with the loss of the trackage. At one point, this was a busy point on the Strathroy Sub, as farmers used the railway to ship their products, which include soybeans, wheat and corn. Now, the co-op uses trucks while CN double stack trains breeze through the town.

Now compare this with an older view of Wyoming's railway activities below. This undated shot was taken around the early 1920s or earlier, I'm guessing, judging by the vintage of the steam locomotive departing from the two-storey Wyoming station. Also, you can see that someone at some point printed "GTR" on the photo, which would make it a pre-1923 shot, when the Grand Trunk officially became part of the CNR.

I like observing trackside ghosts. These two are among my favourites.