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.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Goderich 2014, Part I: GEXR Operations

A family trip to the Goderich area this August allowed me to get a better look at the Goderich-Exeter Railway operations in the lakeside town. The railway's operations appear to be fairly quiet in this town these days, due to the loss of local industry in recent years, notably the Volvo Manufacturing facility. However, the railway still services the town's salt mine on the lake and related salt processing facilities. Also, a government initiative to establish Goderich as a deepwater commercial port could bode well for the GEXR, whose rails run from Lake Huron through much of southern Ontario all the way to MacMillan Yard in the Toronto area, via running rights on CN.

The day I explored some of the railway's facilities, including its rail yard at the old CN Centre Street railway station, all was quiet. GEXR GP9 4001 (right) had been parked for the day while a string of eight hoppers looked ready for placement or shipment. You can see the TPI Enterprises facility behind the yard. The plant makes industrial parts and equipment for various industries, including the salt mine.
As you can see from this shot, the yard is somewhat overgrown. GEXR is now a Genesee and Wyoming railway, but traces of its Rail America past are still visible, including the former Rail America livery on the GP9.
The shot below shows you the railway's descent down toward the Sifto salt mine on Lake Huron. Despite some of the overgrowth, it appears that the right-of-way was recently topped up with new ballast, judging by the bleached stones beneath the rails. As a point of interest, I crossed the right-of-way at a level crossing with a hiking trail. You can see that the level crossing with the road is marked with crossbucks, but no signals. I suspect this is because this line is not terribly busy and most movements here are slow.

If you are a fan of the big machines, then Goderich is the place for you. My wife and I like hanging out at the beach in Goderich, right next to the salt mine, whose operations jut out into the lake on a very large pier. From the beach, you can usually see a string of covered hoppers at the ready. I haven't been lucky enough to see any switching operations, but I saw something equally fascinating in August. 

On the day we were at the beach, Great Lakes salt ship Algosteel was being loaded with salt. These hulking ships are amazing to see up close. You really don't realize just how big they are until you see them in person. Algosteel, it should be noted, still bears its Algoma Central Marine colours, which closely match the Algoma Central Railway colours. This harkens back to when the railway (now a CN property) was once linked to the shipping company as part of a larger Algoma Central transportation concern.

As an added bonus, the large ship was met by a tall ship, that just happened to be coming in to dock at Goderich when we were on the beach. Again, you have to see these vessels up close to appreciate them.

A closer look...

Getting back to the yard up the hill from the salt mine, here's a close shot of the battered old GP9 4001. I was not able to get shot from the sunny side, since that was on private property. This was about as close as I could get.

Here's a shot of old 4001 at the railway's servicing facility, taken from the old Centre Street station platform. I tried to get the signs in this shot, as well as the lone axle resting behind the geep. Here's a shot of 4001 with its former Rail America paint scheme.

I liked the look of this string of hoppers, due to the colours. It's a man-made rainbow.
As I mentioned in my first post about Goderich, the city has a number of  preserved railway artifacts, including its two railway stations. Just west of the old CN station, a maintenance shed appears to need a little attention. Good for a model railway prototype, for those so inclined.
While in Goderich, I also managed to hike on an old CPR trestle, took in a preserved CP steam locomotive and captured shots of the old CPR station, which is being redeveloped. I will share photos and information on these relics in a future post.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

More relics on the rails

My travels to southern Ontario this summer resulted in some interesting sites trackside, including a few run-ins with railroading history. It's always a good day when you capture a piece of the past, especially when these relics are becoming rare. I managed to snag a few notable relics. You can read my first entry about relics in this post.

The first relic I shot was located at the end of the line on CSX's Sarnia Subdivision, along the shores of the St. Clair River. This antique maintenance-of-way crane car was quite far from the parking lot where I was standing. There was no way to legally get close to the car, so I had to rely on my camera's zoom to get what I could. But the lighting was good and the view was mostly clear, minus a hydro pole.

As you can see, the zoom was stretched to its limits, judging by the look of the tracks leading up to the old car. This old Burro crane is still clad in Chessie yellow. I have seen this car tucked away here a few times, but this was the first time I had a fairly clean view of the car. You can see the St. Clair River in the background and Michigan on the other side. This car is pretty close to where the old CSX rail ferry was located. This ferry service ended right around the same time the CN ferry stopped its operations. What's interesting about the old CSX ferry is that I didn't even know it existed until recent years.

Later on the same day (August 18th), I made my way to CN's Sarnia Yard and was able to catch the CN/CSX interchange as a string of cars was being delivered for pickup by two CSX GP38s in the yard. This train contained the second relic. Below is a long shot of the interchange making its way into the yard. Can you see the relic? It may not be obvious.

Here's a closer look. It's an old Family Lines System hopper car, still fully clad in its original livery. It may not be all that significant to some, but for someone like me interested in the convoluted history of CSX, it's an interesting holdover from the merger era. You can see a second hopper with the same paint, although it has been re-lettered for CSX.

You can see the Louisville & Nashville lettering on the hopper and the all-encompassing logo to the right. Here's a closer look at the logo, below.

Family Lines System was one of the precursors to CSX. It is important to note that the system was itself not an actual railroad, but a common marketing scheme adopted by a number of allied railways, including the Seaboard Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, the Clinchfield Railroad, the Georgia Railroad, the Atlanta & West Point Railroad and the Western Railway of Alabama (these lines were known as the West Point Route). You can see that all the railroads are represented in the logo. This entity was created in 1972 and lasted until 1982, when the Seaboard System was created. The Seaboard System itself lasted until 1986, when Seaboard and Chessie System were combined to form CSX. That's the simplest explanation. Technically, Chessie was brought into the CSX umbrella in 1987. I'm not sure I understand the specifics of how CSX, as we know it, came to be in 1986-87.

This next shot below isn't necessarily a relic, but more of an rarity or oddity. This is a manifest freight heading west toward the St. Clair River rail tunnel (I will have more to share about this train in another post). The middle unit pulling this train is CN 5550, an SD60F cowl unit. I only ever snagged one other cowl unit in my exploits around this yard. You can read about the other cowl unit I saw, a Bombardier HR616, here. This unit looks massive, with six axles and six safety stripes.

The final relic I found along the CN Strathroy Subdivision in Wyoming. Whenever I visit this area, I visit the tiny Via Rail station and wait for a passing freight train. I didn't end up catching a train but I did find this old loading ramp in the weeds. It appears that this ramp has not been used in some time. Still, it's interesting that pieces of the old track leading to this ramp still remain. You can see the main line to the left of the photo.

I was quite happy with some of these catches over the summer. As I mentioned already, anytime you can shoot some history, it's a good day.

Thanks for reaching out

I posted my email in a previous post and was happy with the messages I received from readers. I was happy to know that I have a good following from various points in Ontario and around Canada. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have at hammond.michael77 AT One reader has reached out and will be featured as a guest blogger in the near future. He has already showed me some of his material and I am excited about sharing his photos and experiences. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

CN 589 at Twin Elm

I headed out this past Sunday morning to see if I could catch CN Local 589. It was a beautiful sunny morning when I ventured out on Moodie Drive to see if the local had picked up the empty lumber car from Kott Lumber. Through the thick foliage, I could just make out the car, which meant I was in luck. This local sometimes does its rounds early Sunday. But sometimes, it waits for Via's Toronto-bound Train 643. That corridor train was due in a few minutes when I arrived, which meant CN 589 would closely follow.

As I mentioned in my post Your Guide to Rainfanning in Ottawa, Sunday morning around 9:30 a.m. is your best bet to catch what little freight action there is in Ottawa. I made my way to the McKenna Casey Drive crossing to catch the Via corridor train, which came by around 9:30 a.m. I would suggest camping out at about 9:20 at this crossing, as the time for this train varies by about five minutes on either side of 9:30. There is also a gravel road near this crossing where you can safely park and see the train make its way down the track. The corridor train rushed by and I did get some shots (see final shot). But my mission these days is to catch freight trains. Even if the consist is tiny.

As a refresher, here are the chronicles of my two other encounters with Local 589:
One is the loneliest number (June)
Capturing a Ghost: CN 589 (April)

Above: CN 589, with one car in tow, approaches the Moodie Drive crossing on Sunday, Sept. 28.

In April, I was lucky enough to catch 589 led by a GP9 and pulling three covered hoppers. In June, the local was flying solo, with just a GP38-2 flying down the tracks to pick up a empty car at the Kott Lumber facility on Moodie Drive. On Sunday, I was able to catch an actual train, albeit a short one. CN GP38-2W 4807 was making its way toward Moodie Drive (above) with a single covered hopper. The early morning sun was tough to work with, but I was happy with my shots at Moodie. Someone close the front door!

I didn't stay at the Moodie crossing long, but I did manage to get a few shots through the Jock River trestle (above), since the area is incredibly scenic in the fall. I was happy with this shot but I hustled further south to rural Cambrian Road, which leads to a rural four-corners called Twin Elm. This is a jewel in Ottawa's southwest, site of an old school house and the SynAgri mill. I got there while 589 retrieved the centre beam lumber car from Kott. All this action at Kott is hidden from view in the summer due to the thick foliage around the right-of-way.

I set up a fair way back from the Cambrian Road crossing, since I was hoping to get a full train shot amid the rural landscape. The crossing signals were activated before I saw 589 come into view. The crew had the engine hustling, since there were no cars to switch at SynAgri. I was really happy with the shot above, since it captures the essence of rural Twin Elm.

This shot, above, betters captures the actual Twin Elm hamlet. You can see the SynAgri feed mill on the right. On the left is a garage for a paving company. Not seen behind the garage on the left is a rural school house. And with that, my morning was over.

As a bonus, I thought I'd throw in a shot of Via 643 approaching the McKenna Casey crossing on the edge of Barrhaven. You can see the shadow of a nearby tree crossing over F40PH-2 6434 and the first class car. The engineer was nice enough to wave. I don't think the crews get too many fans in Ottawa.
Beachburg Subdivision Update
It looks like the end is finally near for the remnants of the Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction. A Beachburg Sub reader Alex pointed out that the CN continuous welded rail train was in Walkley Yard in Ottawa earlier this week. A friend of this blog, local rail historian and author Ray Farand told me that there is a little stretch of welded rail left on this line in the Pontiac Region in Quebec. He suspected that the train will collect the last bits of the welded rail. The remainder of the line is bolted rail, which he guessed would be removed and laid out along the right of way to be collected later by truck. Either way, I am going to find time later this week to try and catch this work being done while the tracks are still in place. I would encourage any local readers to get out there and do the same. I would love to share some photos of this work if I can. Anyone who catches anything and would like to share it can reach me at hammond.michael77 AT