Monday, August 25, 2014

No such thing as too much of a good thing

Most people in Ontario dread having to travel Highway 401. I look forward to it. I have created a game for myself where I try and get decent shots of trains at places along the highway where tracks parallel the freeway. I do this almost out of necessity since there are so few opportunities to shoot railway action in Ottawa, outside of Via Rail.

I first tried this game when my family was coming home from our Christmas visit to family in southwestern Ontario earlier this year. You will recall from this post that the results were less than stellar. But this time around, there was no shortage of trains to shoot. It was an embarrassment of riches.

On Aug. 15th, my family headed southwest from Ottawa en route to Petrolia, Ont. to visit family in the Sarnia area. I was determined to be prepared, so I asked my wife to drive the first leg of the trip from Ottawa past Kingston. I knew Kingston had a couple of spots along the 401 where the tracks parallel the highway. As luck would have it, A CN manifest freight was making its way west, so the hunt was on. I took this first shot below and was quite happy with it, thanks to the complexion of the sky and the variety of rolling stock. I noticed that we were closing in on the front of the train, so I readied my camera to try and get a shot of the lead units

What a surprise. The train was being led by two CN units and an oddly painted former BC Rail unit, in dark blue and yellow. I didn't know what I had captured until I uploaded the shots to my hard drive and took a closer look at the unit. I thought I had captured a former Illinois Central unit, but I ended up capturing BC Rail 4546. I looked around for more on this unit, but didn't come up with anything (Update: fellow blogger Steve Boyko pointed me to this shot of  a similar BC Rail unit in dark blue). The highway barrier snuck into the shot, which is a hazard of shooting along the highway, but I was happy I just barely caught this locomotive. You can see some glare from my passenger side window. Another hazard.

This was another shot of the train as it crossed under the highway. I like the pastoral view. Sure, it's just a string of tank cars and part of the highway barrier is in the bottom corner of the image, but it still works for me. You will notice that summer in Eastern Ontario has been good for all things green. This train proved to be a lot of fun to watch and shoot while our car made its way down the 401. I should mention that a Via Rail corridor train was also passing by at this time, but I couldn't snag a shot of it.

On the way home on Aug 23rd, we decided to take the 407 across Toronto, to avoid the endless construction and traffic on the 401. I didn't know what to expect, since we rarely take this toll highway. But as we crossed through Vaughan near CN's MacMillan Yard, there was some action to shoot, including this intermodal train led by CN 2288 and two BNSF units, 6649 and 4821. This shot is my first image of BNSF units, so I considered it the highlight of my highway adventures. This scene is far from perfect, as hydro poles and some transmission towers got in the way, but this is part of the challenge of this game.

A little further east, another intermodal was making its way toward MacMillan yard (below).

We made our way back to the 401 as we continued our way east. Of course, a patch of construction and an accident brought our car to a stop. It worked out for me, though, since a GO Train was making its way west toward downtown Toronto with MP40PH-3C 611 doing the shoving. Again, it's not a great shot, but I considered it to be a decent shot from our vantage point. I looked through my images and realized this is the first shot of a GO Train I have in my collection.

During our vacation, I managed to get all kinds of shots at the CN Sarnia Yard as well as a few shots of CSX action in the same area. Our family also made its way up to Goderich, where I was able to get some shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway and a few of the local railway artifacts in the town. The trip will no doubt feed this blog for months, so stay tuned for all kinds of railroadiana.

As mentioned a little while ago, my main laptop has been sent back to its manufacturer for a repair, which has prevented me from sharing photos that will form the third part of my series about Bedell Ontario. Stay tuned for that in the next little while.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Caboose survivors

It's an increasingly rare sight to see cabooses in regular service on today's freight railways. I've been lucky since starting this blog to see a few in service here in Ottawa. You might remember my earlier posts, which featured images of CN's former Devco caboose. Then there is the ever popular so-ugly-it's-interesting Millennium caboose. Both of these can be found in Walkley Yard most mornings, before the CN local leaves for the day.

Last fall, I caught up with two CSX bay-window cabooses on the end of the CSX Sarnia Subdivision and mentioned them fleetingly in a post. Going through my work from last year, I realized that I hadn't really delved into the story of these two bay window survivors much.

This was the site Oct. 13 of last year when I was taking photos at the end of the Sarnia Subdivision. At the end of a string of tank cars and covered hoppers, two CSX bay window cabooses were hitched together. One of them, CSXT 900027, I had never seen. It was painted in a safety scheme. The other caboose, which still wears its Chessie colours, was a little more interesting, since its side windows were still largely visible, even though they had been welded shut. Here's a closer look at the Chessie caboose. These crew cars have been a fixture on this subdivision for decades.

It was hard to make out the car's numbers, since the numbering had faded and I didn't want to venture off the access road. Both of these units are obviously used for shoving moves when the caboose leads the train. This requires a crew member to be posted on the caboose platform to keep an eye on the route ahead. You will notice in the above photos how the doors to each caboose are blocked, with No Trespassing signs posted. I've seen some railfan photos from this yard with people inside these old cabooses, posing for photos out the windows. That would explain the windows now being welded shut, although it's hard to tell from this image of the Chessie caboose whether the bay window is indeed boarded up, welded, or simply dirty.

Here's a shot, below, of a bay window in its prime, travelling through Corunna in 1991. It is hitched to an ex-Louisville & Nashville high-cube boxcar.

The CSX caboose in the yard was no doubt a former Chessie caboose, but finding earlier photos of it were tough. Here's a shot of another CSX caboose with the same livery, in regular revenue service. I searched through a few sites, but found only a few shots of this particular caboose. This shot shows this unit in service as the last CSX train out of Wallaceburg makes its way north toward Sombra.

The CSX Sarnia Subdivision has hosted both cupola-style and bay window cabooses over the years. They were used in revenue service into the early 1990s, well after CN stopped using its cabooses in the area. Up to the end of the caboose era, the Sarnia Sub featured Chessie System-painted cabooses, which makes the appearance of a CSX-caboose on the line a bit of a rarity. For more on these cars, check out my post, Cabooses on the CSX Sarnia Sub.

Just for fun, I thought I'd add in a shot of two CSX GP38-2s making their way into the yard, with a crew man watching from the end of the long hood. I caught these two at the end of my short visit to this yard in October. These two units came hustling into the yard at quite a clip before screeching to a stop amid a collection of other geeps.

The Bedell Saga: As I mentioned last week, I am delaying the final post in my Bedell, Ontario series, due to computer issues, which are being resolved as we speak. I have all the photos from my Bedell adventure on my ailing computer. Unfortunately, I was unable to transfer copies the images to my back-up drive in time. I am told that it's a video card issue, and have been told my files should be safe.

Attention Ottawa train watchers: I have noticed that several Ottawa train watchers have been curious about when they could possibly catch elusive CN freight action in and around Ottawa. There's particular interest in the Arnpior local, which passes through Bells Corners. Thanks to some observant readers and other contacts, I have pieced together a schedule of CN freight assignments around Ottawa, which I will share in an upcoming post. Stay tuned.

Passing siding: I will be parking this blog on a passing siding next week, as I will be visiting family in southern Ontario. I hope to return to Ottawa with lots of new photos to share in the coming months. I plan on shooting CN, CSX and Goderich-Exeter action.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Summer Observations in Ottawa

Due to technical difficulties with my computer, I am not able to share the third part of my Bedell, Ontario series with you this week. I had loaded the images for this series on my main computer, but had yet to back them up on my removable drive, so those images are in limbo until the computer is fixed. Fear not. The images are not in imminent danger.

Rather than leave the blog idle for a week, I thought I'd share some thoughts about what is going on here in Ottawa lately. Let's start with Via Rail.

Service in Ottawa has been affected by two derailments this summer, as most readers already know. The most recent was the accident near Trenton. Although this has proved to be a tough summer for Via with service interruptions, the silver lining is that the railway's problems in Ottawa seem to have been solved. There have been no reports of any incidents in Barrhaven since late May, which I'm sure is a great relief to Via. The railway is continuing its work in the area, although I haven't heard where a planned passing siding will be constructed. I'm hopeful we'll get an update soon from the railway and its point man in the area, former Via COO John Marginson.

Above: Via corridor train from Toronto arrives at Ottawa's central station (July photo)
Here are a few photos of my meet with this corridor train from last month. I have to admit, as much as I dislike the P42s, they look like a good match for the streamliners. It's always nice to see these coaches in the corridor in the summer.
In the shot below, you can see the Belfast Road overpass, which is undergoing work as part of the construction of the city's Confederation Line O-Train line. The O-Train has been in the news recently as it gears up for the coming school year. The Capital Railway is preparing its Ellwood link for the beginning of the school year, when Carleton University students flock to the 8-kilometre line.

Unfortunately, recent work to switch the current O-Train line from its original signalling equipment to a new system has met with snags, delayed trains and frustrated commuters. Check out the story about the angry commuters in this story from the Ottawa Citizen. This latest round of work will complete the project started last year to expand the Ellwood line's capacity and make way for new trainsets. This was the state of the line in May (below). You can see below that the new signalling equipment had been installed but not activated.
In late July, the new signalling equipment was brought online. As you can see, everything was functioning this week and operations appeared to be running smoothly.
The final piece of this expansion will clear the way for the new Coradia-built trainsets, which will take the place of the current Bombardier trains (above and below). You can check out the new trains in this photo from an earlier post. I'm not sure when this change will occur, but I would guess it's going to happen soon. That means train watchers up here will have to get their final looks at these Bombardier trainsets.

Summer Reading
I came across two fascinating articles and I thought I would pass them along to you. The first is the incredible story of the lost railway train that is, according to many here in Ottawa, still trapped underground below a long-since demolished brewery. It's a mystery to me why no attempts have been made to locate this piece of history and preserve it.
The second story echoes what I've been saying for more than a year on this blog. A local writer talks about how Ottawa's Prince of Wales Bridge is being left to rust while various government officials twiddle their thumbs. He also points out section 146 of the Canada Transportation Act that is allowing a number of railway lines to be ripped up with very little critical thought. This article is more of an opinion piece, so beware of the political rants.