Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Beachburg Sub's 1st Anniversary

A year ago today, I posted my first entry on this blog. Without dwelling too much on a year, here are a couple of observations on the past year.

Observation 1: Much to my surprise, the Canadian National Beachburg Subdivision, from which this blog takes its name, is still standing. For how long? I suspect it will be gone by the end of this spring, but stranger things have happened. With it, the last remnants of a transcontinental rail line will disappear from the Ottawa Valley.

Observation 2: There's treasure everywhere. Even in Ottawa, I have found that it is possible to maintain a railway blog, provided you really, really scour around for photos. This is one photo I took this past weekend when I finally caught CN Local 589 on the Via Rail Smiths Falls Subdivision, headed toward Richmond. To catch this train on this track, you need to be at the right place at the right time twice a week, since this is twice-weekly out to Richmond. More on this to come.

Observation 3: Throwing away film is perhaps the dumbest thing I have ever done. The next dumbest thing is throwing away old prints that I didn't deem to be interesting at one point. When it comes to railroading's past, everything is interesting, I'm finding. Sadly, this is a realization that came too late. This shot below, taken July 20, 1993, is one of a few rolling stock photos that I kept from my archives. I'm glad I did, but it only makes me pine for my shots of the Central Vermont and Burlington Northern rolling stock that were thrown out.

Observation 4: When life hands you lemons... I have tried over the last year to present a mix of photos that tells the stories of railroading in Ottawa as well as other locales in Ontario and occasionally elsewhere. Since the opportunities for train watching here at limited at best, it means you have to look for opportunities to get creative shots. This shot is one of a few that were taken on a very windy day in January. I've taken many shots at the central Via station, many of which I have not posted, but I do try and share the ones that are a little different or tell a story. Like this one.

Observation 5: This blogging thing is fun. I was a little reluctant to start blogging, since there are many knowledgeable people out there who know far more than me. I didn't want to create an uninformed blog that was scoffed at by the experts. This has made some posts tricky, due to the limits of my knowledge. But, thanks to a very forgiving and supportive community out there, I have learned a lot and I hope to have returned the favour a bit. The shot below is of me at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology next to CN's Northern steam locomotive 6400.

So, those are just a few thoughts from the past year. The Beachburg Sub thanks all its readers for their support over the initial year, especially those who took the time to leave messages or to educate me when I was a little off the mark. Over the last few weeks, I have collected a fair bit of material that will begin my second year with a bang. All Aboard for the second year!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring observations in Ottawa

Spring has finally, uh, sprung, in Ottawa for the most part. Some lilies and crocuses are beginning to poke out of the thawing ground. The last traces of snow are just about gone, although some of the last remnants of large snow banks are still visible.

For train enthusiasts like me, spring is always fun because it means we can pursue our passion without any fear of frostbite. I stopped by the central Via station to see if there was anything interesting to see. This photo pretty much sums up this spring in Ottawa. Do you notice the last remnants of winter in the photo below? If not, look at the Ottawa sign.

This streamliner was part of a string that sat idle, awaiting its next journey to Montreal. This is the time of year to catch the silver and blue in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, before many of these coaches get assigned to the Canadian or other long-haul routes.

I ventured over to the Belfast Road overpass, just east of the station, knowing that a train from Montreal was due to arrive in a few minutes. As mentioned before, this overpass is a great place to shoot Via trains in Ottawa, perhaps the best spot in the city.

This is Train 33, headed by P42 909, heading beneath the Belfast Road overpass. I swear, this looks better in the summer. Just for fun, look at a similar shot from this January, taken from the same overpass (below).

You'll notice that the switch heater is visible but the track diverging from the main line is covered over with snow. This shot, taken Jan. 27, was grabbed from the west sidewalk of the overpass while the spring shot was taken from the east sidewalk, which is covered with snow in the winter.

I mention this overpass because, by mid-May, it will be off limits, due to work being done on Ottawa's light rail line. A great deal of brush has already been cleared from the berms on either side of the overpass. This means I will have to find another spot to shoot these corridor trains this summer. This is a relatively minor problem caused by the LRT, as you can see from this story.

Here's a photo the city posted in the fall of the underground tunnel, where the light rail system will cross below Ottawa's downtown core. Right across from my building, a giant yellow transfer crane has been set up atop a massive hole that leads to the light rail tunnel. It's become a spot for materials to be delivered into the tunnel. But I digress. Let's get back to the Via station.

While Train 33 passed under the overpass, I got this overhead shot of these curious signs atop the coaches. Anyone want to guess what these are supposed to convey? I have a few ideas but leave it to you, my readers, to explain.

When I returned to the station, I waited for Train 50 to arrive from Toronto, but the train was delayed, so I had to make my way back to work, since my lunch break was nearly over. But I did snap a few shots of Train 33 beneath the long shelters.

And then one final shot as it cleared the main line to make way for Train 50. You can see the idled string of streamliners to the right.

Another big story in the spring here, besides the LRT issues, is the ongoing problems with the level crossings near Via Rail's Fallowfield station in Ottawa's southern Barrhaven subdivision. I will tackle this in a future post, but you may recall the terrible accident at one of these level crossings, which made national news last year.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION: Next week (April 30) marks the first anniversary of the Beachburg Sub. I am hoping to put together a highlights package of the past year. If any readers had any favourite topics they might want me to revisit, feel free to leave a message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catch me while you can: Nepean Junction

I went on a short hike this past weekend to take a look at a key point along the CN Beachburg Subdivision. I figured I should take a look now, since the 38-km stretch through Ottawa and the remaining rail in the Pontiac Region is more than likely to be lifted this spring.

My destination was a key junction, Nepean Junction, where CN's Renfrew spur (itself formerly a subdivision) branches off from the Beachburg Sub just north of Corkstown Road in Ottawa's west end.

The junction is accessible from a nearby stretch of the Trans Canada Trail, otherwise it is a tough spot to see unless you are motivated. When I arrived there this past Saturday, it was easy to see that nothing has been done to the Beachburg Sub since last fall when officials in the Pontiac Region stopped CN crews from ripping up track in their municipality. As you see below, the Beachburg Sub beyond Nepean Junction has not been maintained this winter, as snow covered much of the line past the switch. The track to the left is the Renfrew spur, which is still in use as CN serves Nylene Canada in Arnprior, at the end of the spur.

I saw some interesting relics as I made my way to Nepean Junction. Some old rail still lay trackside, covered in weeds. I made sure to look at the rail, since I was told a big reason why Beachburg was being torn up last year was the fact that it had continuous welded rail, which some blog readers reminded me was a precious commodity for CN. The rail where I walked was not CWR. Quite the opposite, in fact. This rail, I would imagine, would not be terribly valuable. Beyond the junction, the rail on the Beachburg Sub was also jointed rail. Still, I can imagine CN wants to rid itself of the burden of this inactive line, even if it doesn't have specific plans for the less valuable jointed rail still in place.

As I neared Nepean Junction, I noticed vestiges of better times, much like I did when I explored Bells Junction and the end of the old CP Ellwood Subdivision last spring. The site of disconnected signalling towers on Ottawa's remaining railway network is sadly pervasive. This is one of many such towers that have been gutted, but left to stand as a reminder of days gone by.

Another relic closer to the junction is this rusted snow plow indicator sign, which looks like it needs to be replaced. You can also make out the broken hydro pole in the background. I saw many such poles on my walk. Some of the poles were supporting fallen tree trunks. I saw a few logs trackside, which had been removed after having fallen on the right-of-way.

This is what the junction looks like today facing southeast. The snow-covered track is Beachburg while the clear section is the Renfrew spur. Notice the switch alignment. The spur has become the main line while Beachburg has become the turnout, so to speak.

Here's one final look at the two lines after they head their separate ways. Beachburg curves in a northwest direction, headed for the Fitzroy Harbour area near the Ottawa River. The Renfrew spur, at a lower elevation, heads in a more westerly direction as it heads toward Kanata and Arnprior beyond.  Note the difference in the roadbed and the colour of the rails. It makes it hard to believe that Beachburg was once part of a transcontinental main line.

This junction might soon become nothing more than a name on a map, much like Bells Junction in Bells Corners, which once separated the Beachburg Sub from the old CP Carleton Place Subdivision. This junction once separated CN's main line from John Booth's Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound railway. It was once the site of an overpass where the two lines met. Over the years, it has housed track maintenance buildings and other railways trappings. Today, it stands as possibly one of the final reminders of CN's former transcontinental operations in the Ottawa Valley.

MYSTERY SOLVED: You may recall that I was musing about the North American logo I spotted on a CN hopper in a previous post, A few surprises from the last year. A reader was able to clear up the mystery for me, which was greatly appreciated. To read about the North American logo, please check out the post in the link above. Special thanks to blog reader Nicholas for pointing me in the right direction.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Updated: Ottawa won't save Beachburg Sub

The Beachburg Subdivision saga seems to be winding down to its inevitable conclusion, with the rail line headed for oblivion. While the Pontiac region is still trying to find a partner to help purchase and operate the rail line, the City of Ottawa has decided it is not interested in buying the 38-kilometre portion of the line that falls within in western boundaries.

Earlier this year, city officials said the city cannot afford the $21.7-million price tag for the corridor and the rails. This comes as no surprise, as the city has not shown any interest in this line, since it does not serve any major industries in the city. Last fall, several west-end councillors asked city staff to look into options for this rail line, mostly as a favour to the Pontiac Region in Quebec, which is fighting to save its remaining trackage.

The city did say it would be interested in the corridor lands once the rails have been removed.

My sources have not had any new information on whether CN is dispatching the CWR train back to the city for continue removing the rail. In the fall, you might recall that Pontiac Region officials blockaded the rail line in their municipality to prevent CN crews from tearing up tracks.

If you want a full rundown on the latest issues regarding this line, I invite you to read my update from last fall, which summarizes the issues and the players involved in this issue.

Left: A piece of disconnected signalling equipment on the Beachburg Sub just east of Nepean Junction, where the sub branches off from CN's Renfrew spur. More on this spot soon!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Updated: A few surprises from the past year

As Beachburg Sub approaches its anniversary, I have been combing through photos of my adventures and came across a few shots that could only be described as surprises that I had yet to turn into grist for the mill. So, here goes.

The first shot was taken Dec. 23, 2013 in Sarnia. It was the product of lucky timing. I was shooting trains around Sarnia yard when I heard the whistle of an approaching train. To my surprise, a CSX local came curling around the Lambton Diesel roundhouse into the yard. I knew that CSX and CN had a few interchange points when I lived in Sarnia, but in the pre-Internet era, I never knew where these points were and when the interchanges happened. Standing on the platform of Sarnia station that morning, I was lucky enough to get a shot of two CSX GP38s pulling their interchange traffic into the yard, just in front of a few CN yard locomotives. I was happy with this shot because it captures the look of the two railways, a bit of the Chemical Valley and a small piece of the roundhouse.

On the same day, I drove past a CN CargoFlow facility where a string of hopper cars was waiting to be loaded. One car caught my eye, because it had a mysterious logo on it that I had not seen since my teenage years. It was simply labelled "North American," which had me intrigued. So I took a photo of the hopper and went about researching what it was. Seeing the CNIS reporting marks, I assumed it was a CN car, which was correct (see note in italics below).

The car was painted in an early incarnation of CN's International Service scheme. Most cars with the CNIS reporting mark now look much like all other CN rolling stock, with the exception of the reporting mark. However, from what I can find online, the railway used the "North American" logo in place of the wet noodle the early 80s for its CNIS cars. From what I gather from a few message boards, these marks are for accounting purposes. This old scheme is not terribly common these days, as most CNIS cars have been repainted with the wet noodle look, but a few of the old North American cars are still obviously kicking around.

UPDATE: A blog reader pointed out to me that the North American logo in fact belonged to the North American Car Co., which leased cars to major railways. So, while I was partially right that this car was a CN hopper, I was also off the mark on a few points above. Thanks to blog reader Nicholas for pointing this out.

This past summer, I made my first trip to Ottawa's Walkley Yard, only to find it almost completely empty, save for a few pieces of rolling stock. Far off in the east end of the yard, I spotted two cars pushed up against some bumpers that stood out. As regular readers know, Walkley Yard is home to an old CN caboose and RDC9, both belonging to DAWX. I have taken quite a few photos of these two relics, since they are parked right next to a service road, making them easy photo subjects. On this day, the sun was shining brilliantly, making the old RDC look even more compelling.

This past September, I made an early morning visit to Walkley Yard, needing a little break away from a hectic house. I was greatly surprised to catch CN's local assembling in the yard, which made for a number of great photos. I kept my distance on the service road, since the engineer and conductor were likely wondering who I was. I'm pretty sure the CN crews in Ottawa are not used to spectators. I was pleased with the shots I took that morning, since they captured a number of cool items, including an old RailBox boxcar, the old CN Millennium caboose and few others interesting pieces of rolling stock. Also, you can see the conductor in this shot, which was a bonus. Such is the state of freight trains in Ottawa these days that this shot comprises an incredible score to a local train watcher.