Friday, June 27, 2014

A rare site: Bombardier HR616

The Summer of 1992 was a prolific time. Looking through my older prints, I noticed quite a number of interesting shots from that summer that are among my better catches. It was a good time for train watching in Sarnia, since the new St. Clair Tunnel had yet to be realized, meaning a number of trains and engines idled in Sarnia Yard. This was due to the bottleneck of oversized rail cars in the yard that had to be ferried across the river and the limitations of the old St. Clair Tunnel.

During summer, I made sure to check out the parked CN units outside the old roundhouse on the western edge of the yard. During my visits to this area, I took lots of photos of a variety of CN units, some with the CN North America scheme, some with the old safety scheme, some on their last legs and others that were shiny and new.

Then there's the unit below.

I came across this photo recently and uploaded it to my computer, almost as an afterthought. I initially didn't like the shot, since it was taken on the shady side of the unit. The print required a great deal of touching up, just to get it looking like this. I forgot about the print until a little while ago when I started searching for information on this odd-looking unit. It turns out, I had a picture of a rare bird.

CN 2105 was a locomotive of particularly rare vintage. It turns out, this was a Bombardier HR616 unit (six axles, 16 cylinders, 3,000 horsepower). Finding information on this cowl unit was tough, since its number now belongs to a C40-8W. To makes things tougher, I had no idea this was a Bombardier unit. I assumed it was an EMD model.

After some research, I discovered that 20 of these units were built for CN at Montreal Locomotive Works in 1982, a few of them leased to the Canadian Pacific and renumbered in 1983, before being returned. Some refer to these units as MLW HR616s, due to where they were built.

Sadly, these units were terribly unreliable, even though the HR was supposed to stand for "Highly Reliable." This must sound like a familiar story to those familiar with Bombardier's other big foray into heavy rail locomotives around this time, the LRC locomotive. The shape of this CN locomotive reminds me of the "red barn" SD40-2Fs that CP rostered. For a comparison, here's a shot of one of those units taken by Steve Boyko in his blog, Confessions of a Train Geek.

This CN unit, 2105, was the first to be retired, after it was damaged in an wreck in 1993 in London, according to Wikipedia. Here's a shot of the unit when it was newly delivered to CN. You may notice how this unit has black paint around its front windows, which is a slight deviation from the CN paint scheme. Also, in this picture, you will notice that the ditch lights had been added to the front of the unit.

You will also notice an old Alco hitched up to 2105, to the right. I should have grabbed a shot of that one, but I guess I didn't.

But the shot of this cowl unit, a throwaway print by most measures, turned out to be a gem. Glad I hung onto it.



Thursday, June 19, 2014

One is the loneliest number

Maybe 589 is even lonelier than the number one. 589, of course, is the number of CN's local that operates throughout the week in Ottawa. On Sundays, the local heads west on Via's Smiths Falls Subdivision as it makes its way to two local industries on the line. I am in the habit of trying to shoot this local, such as it is, on Sundays since the Smiths Falls Sub is fairly close to where I live.

On June 1st, I waited at the McKenna Casey Drive crossing, just outside Barrhaven, to shoot 589, which is usually preceded by Via Train 643. It was a brilliantly sunny morning when I waited for the Via corridor train and the CN local freight. I wondered how many cars it would have in tow, since the last time I had shot it, it had three hoppers in tow.

After the Via 643 rushed by, I waited a few minutes before I noticed the headlights of a plodding diesel making its way to the crossing. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by what I saw, which was nothing, essentially.

CN GP38-2 4806, in its faded safety scheme, made its way solo to Kott Lumber, just beyond milepost 8 and the Moodie Drive crossing. This was the extent of the local. It had no cars to deliver, just one lumber car to pick up at Kott. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed to shoot just a locomotive, especially considering the early morning light was surprisingly generous in the shots I was getting from my vantage point.

Despite my disappointment, I liked this shot below, because of the colour of the sky, the jet's contrail and the brilliant green foliage around the track. (Now contrast this shot of 4806 with this shot taken a few years ago.)

I followed the local to the Moodie Drive crossing and took a few shots, which are a little harder to get now that the trees and brush have sprouted their summer greens, which obstruct the view of the Kott lumber switch. I attempted to follow the train to Twin Elm, where CN serves the SynAgri feed mill, but an earlier visit to the mill showed that there were no hopper cars to pick up. That meant the local quickly geared up and headed for points south before I could get a shot of it at one of the two rural crossings at Twin Elm. Getting shots at Twin Elm will be my next mission, since the area has a rustic feel, which I think will make for great shots.

Programming note: John Marginson, former COO of Via Rail, has been active in the city in recent weeks as he leads efforts to fix Via's level crossings in the Barrhaven neighbourhood. John has generously agreed to provide The Beachburg Sub with a full update on what the railway is doing locally. Stay tuned for John's report. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Updated: More trouble for Via in Barrhaven

Update: The following is a recap of the media's description of an incident at a Via Rail level crossing in Barrhaven from the Ottawa Citizen and Please note the comment below the story from Via Rail's former COO John Marginson, which sheds a very different light on the incident compared to what was reported in the media. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide what to make of the official Via explanation and the media's account, both of which seem credible. - Michael

Via Rail has a target on its back in Barrhaven these days, and many in the city would say rightly so. The railway's ongoing issues with its level crossings in the suburb continue to tarnish the company's image in Ottawa's southwest neighbourhood. On May 29th, a local resident reported that the signals and crossing gates at the Fallowfield Road level crossing failed to activate when a Via train approached. The resident alerted media, explaining that Via crews were flagging down traffic as the train passed through.

Via Rail Train 643, bound for Toronto, approaches the McKenna Casey Drive crossing just outside Barrhaven on a sunny June 1st morning.

The report of this latest malfunction comes at a time when the railway is working hard to get out from underneath this problem. Despite a number of corrective measures taken, some of its problems seem to persist. You will recall from an earlier post, Via's Barrhaven Problem, that the railway's problems started with last fall's tragic train-bus collision at the Woodroffe Avenue crossing near Fallowfield Station.

Since that time, the company has taken a number of steps as it attempts to fix its list of problems, which have been blamed on road salt and electrical interference from nearby wires among a list of other factors. The railway recently appointed its former COO, John Marginson, to lead local efforts to fix these problems.

Since the report of the latest malfunction, all has been relatively quiet through Barrhaven, although the animosity lingers and likely will for some time.

Via Train 643 gears up as it crosses McKenna Casey Drive on June 1st. 
Since Via's leadership change and the appointment of John Marginson, the situation has improved, especially with the company's relationship with the city. However, when residents hear that crossing equipment failed because a train was moving too slowly through the crossing, as was the explanation in several media reports this time, the collective patience in Barrhaven seems to be wearing thin.
From the Ottawa Citizen, May 29th:
"Via tweeted saying the mishap occurred because the train was moving too slowly through the automatic warning device zone."
This line hosts both faster passenger trains and the occasional slow-moving freight trains. A train moving too slow through a crossing? That seems like a weak explanation to me. But, as I have mentioned before, I am not a technical expert, so I will reserve further comment.
Most here believe that the time has long since past to straighten out this mess. We have seen significant progress of late, which has raised expectations that these problems will soon be solved. One can only hope.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

CN's Point Edward Spur today

CN's Point Edward spur is a fascinating little run of trackage for a number of reasons, as I pointed out in a previous post. Last year, when visiting family in the Sarnia area, I made sure to make time to take shots of the busy railway activities in Sarnia. One of the lines I love to shoot is the Point Edward spur, because it's such an anomaly, unguarded as it is in the middle of a downtown, running through parkland and along the St. Clair River's shoreline. I noticed recently that I had amassed a few shots of the spur at different points, which offered an interesting snapshot of this legacy line.

The spur begins at the westernmost end of the CN Sarnia Yard, across from a wye junction at the Lambton Diesel Services Roundhouse and a nearby CN Police and maintenance building. This is the point where all the trackage in the yard contracts back into one main line heading for the Paul Tellier tunnel. (If you are shooting near the roundhouse, be careful and stay on public property! I did.). The shot below was taken Oct. 13, 2013 of two GP9RMs, which were parked on the beginning of the St. Clair River Industrial spur. I have seen numerous shots of this pair on the Point Edward spur, so I'm guessing they were serving both spurs. In my previous post (see link above), I pointed out that the Point Edward line was served almost exclusively by SW1200s.

From its starting point, the Point Edward spur heads due west, paralleling the main line to the Paul Tellier Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River, albeit at a higher elevation.

But, as you can just make out in this 1993 shot, the spur, which is upper left, winds away from the tunnel trackage beneath the Donohue Bridge and makes its way through the edge of Sarnia, where south-end homes meet the edge of the Chemical Valley refineries. The line passes through the edge of the Imperial Oil refinery, where a few smaller spurs serve the refinery and connect to the CSX Sarnia Subdivision along the river. The Point Edward line then heads north along the river shoreline, past where the old St. Clair rail ferry yard used to be, toward Sarnia's riverfront parks and Point Edward. At one point, the line passes in front of a lawyer's office and through Alexander Mackenzie Park. The level crossings in the downtown, amazingly, are only marked with crossbucks, due to the scarce traffic on the line.

The Point Edward line parallels Sarnia's Front Street, crossing it twice at angle crossings, before it passes through Centennial Park. Along the way, the line makes its way past Canadian National U-1-f 4-8-2 Mountain-type steam locomotive 6069, known as Bullet Nose Betty. This locomotive is now undergoing a much-needed restoration after spending decades in the elements. The spur can be seen bottom left. At a point just before this one, the line branched off along Front Street and headed to the village of Point Edward. From there, it served the former Holmes Foundry and made its way to an old rail yard near the Bluewater Bridge. That old yard and freight shed is now home to a casino. The old line was used for car storage as recently as the 1990s but that section was scrapped.

So, even though it comes close to its namesake village, the Point Edward spur ends here, at the Cargill Grain Elevators on Sarnia Bay. The elevators take in grain and oilseed from Great Lakes freighters and load them onto rail cars. You can just make out the hoppers in the shot below, which was taken from Harbour Road. This shot gives you an idea of the size of this facility.

A closer view through the links in the fence shows more clearly that the elevators are a busy place year round. These shots were taken Dec. 23, 2013.

The grain elevator is in an interesting part of Sarnia Bay, near the government docks where Great Lakes freighters seek refuge in the winter for repairs. This shot below was taken several years ago, from the parking lot of a nearby restaurant. It's quite the site to get out of your car and pull up next to one of these behemoths. They are part of the old Algoma Central empire, which once included the railway of the same name, now CN property.

So this is the status of this spur today: the ferry is gone, its adjoining riverfront rail yard history, the extension into Point Edward a distant memory and the Holmes Foundry that the spur served a vacant lot. Yet this spur continues to operate, with the Cargill elevator still making use of rail service regularly. When you are lucky enough to catch trains on the line, the spur makes for some spectacular photography.