Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from The Beachburg Sub

Well, that's a wrap for another year. I will be parking this blog until the new year as I try to keep up with my two daughters over Christmas. I've had a lot of fun sharing stories and photos with you and look forward to doing it all again in 2016.

Special thanks to everyone that has contributed to the blog this year, including my brother Marc and contributors Dave M, Patrick Stever, Don Douglas and countless others like Steve, AJ, Brian, Mark and many others who have dropped by to comment, question or share their own stories. Also, special thanks to Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure for his continued help.

Not a recent photo!

Here's hoping it feels and looks like Christmas where you are more than it does here in Ottawa.

My sincere best wishes to everyone over the Christmas holidays and into the new year.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Observations aboard Train 32 to Montreal

I recently rode Via Rail's Train 32 to Montreal for an appointment. I haven't been aboard a train since 2011, if memory serves. So, I was excited to go this past week, which brought me to Ottawa's Central Station very early. This was the consist that was facing eastward. This train was not the one I rode, but our lineup was identical: P42 and three LRC coaches. I was guided to an older coach, yet to be refurbished. Here's the best shot I could muster early in the morning of the other Montreal-bound train.

My first realization was that, east of the city, The Alexandria Sub has a number of level crossings. It seemed as though, for about the first thirty minutes of the trip, the engine's horn was blasting almost continuously as we raced through the countryside.
I mention this because there has been a great deal of discussion in the city about trying to eliminate the level crossings on CN/Via's Smiths Falls Subdivision trackage through the southern Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven. It was at the Woodroffe Avenue/Transitway level crossing that a Via train slammed into a city bus, tragically killing six people aboard the bus, including the driver. Since that time, there has been a lot of talk about getting rid of these crossings and replacing them with grade separated crossings.
Granted, there is a huge difference between level crossings on rural roads and the crossings in a very busy south-end neighbourhood in the city. However, it made me wonder. There are multiple examples of level crossings in other cities where there is relatively little trouble. But in Ottawa, when you factor in the multiple crossing signal issues and the fatal accident in Barrhaven, you can't help but wonder what's so different about this city.
This shot doesn't really do my second point justice, but it was the best I could muster at a difficult angle through a mud-spattered window. To the right, you can see a few freight cars at the end of an idling freight train near Coteau. As our train made its way through Eastern Ontario towns, I couldn't help but notice that pieces of old freight yards, however small, have largely been ripped up in numerous spots along the line. This makes sense, given what I've seen in Ottawa, where rails have been lifted in a number of spots, including the remnants of the old CP Carleton Place Sub in Bells Corners and the remnants of the Beachburg Subdivision northwest of Nepean Junction.

There were a few times where I could see rails bundled up trackside, ready to be moved elsewhere along CN's system. I suppose this is standard fare for railways where they take stock of their the unused rails, lift them and shift them to busier areas. I was on the wrong side of my car to get shots of Coteau's station or the Alexandria station. The Coteau station is Spartan to the least.

This shot, above, once again shows the difficulties of taking shots from inside a train with only a basic camera, like the one I brought. However, I must say that I was happy to see a passing freight train at Dorval, which may be the best place to watch trains in the Montreal area. This shot was taken on the train home to Ottawa in the evening. The light was fading fast and, by the time our train geared back up and passed the head end of this CP freight, I couldn't get a shot of the lead engine. But I definitely filed this spot away in my mind as a future spot I should visit, if I ever have the time. Depending on the time of day, you would be able to see multiple Via Rail trains, numerous AMT commuter trains (seen below, more on these in a later post) and multiple freight trains.

As the train approached Montreal, I was fascinated by all the trackside industries and other items of interest that you can only see on a train. Here's an old CN swing bridge at CN Wellington (an old CN building, dubbed Wellington Tower by locals, was near the bridge). It appears as though it was disconnected and just left there.

And another shot:

This bridge once swung over the Lachine Canal until the canal was closed to maritime traffic in 1959. The nearby Wellington Tower was built in 1943 and was a busy operations centre, but some of its usefulness died when the canal was closed to traffic, which meant the bridges became fixed. I couldn't get a shot of Wellington Tower, but here's a story about it from the Montreal Gazette that explains the history of the facility. It appears this building is about to get a new lease on life.
The last item of interest I noticed when Train 30 was making its way into Montreal's Central Station was this container facility. This has model railway written all over it. This facility would be fun to have on a set.
On the other side of the Quonset hut over the tracks, there were a few hoppers, including this old government grain hopper.
One final shot of the containers, stacked quite high. I wondered why the hoppers were there.
One final look. Kind of like Lego for grown-ups.
That was what I saw through my dirty LRC window on the way into Montreal. I saw quite a bit more once I disembarked. I will share that in a future post. I will finally  mention that I do like the raised platforms in Montreal, which are similar to the platforms in Quebec City in that they rise all the way up to the coach doors. It's a nice touch and it helps with accessibility. Unfortunately, it was way too dark to get any shots trackside beneath the Montreal station.
More to come.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some railway questions

Going over old photos the other day, I was struck by some questions I had in mind that remain unresolved, so I thought I would open them up to my fellow rail enthusiasts.

Via Rail's Renaissance fleet

When I was in the habit of shooting Via Rail corridor trains at Ottawa's main station back in 2013, it was not uncommon to find a number of the railway's new Renaissance cars operating. Like this converted baggage car linked up behind a P42 in the fall of 2013.

Here's another shot of some of these sleek cars pulling into Ottawa's main station on a train from Montreal. This was shot in October of 2013.

These cars, as most know, were purchased in 2000 and put into service in 2002, according to the Via website. There were 139 of these cars purchased, of which 64 were operational. The remainder were assembled in Canada. Interestingly, Via states on its site that there are only 33 Renaissance coaches in its fleet.

These cars, which were purchased from British concerns, were originally intended to comprise a train between London, England and continental Europe via the Chunnel. The train, to have been  called the Nightstar, never happened, which meant that these cars were in storage in England for several years before Via Rail bought them after conducting tests.

The Canadian Public Transportation Discussion Board states that "the cars have been far from reliable. They have undergone numerous modification campaigns, the most recent ones being undertaken by Industrial Rail Services, Inc. in Moncton, N.B."  

So, here are my questions. After all the problems encountered with these cars, what has happened to them? Are there any in service? Where are they being stored? Are there plans to use them again?

Update: I did manage to catch a glimpse of some Renaissance cars in active service on a trip to Montreal recently. The shot below was taken as a P42 was backing this consist into Montreal's Central Station. I will have more on this in an upcoming post. These cars are in fact being used somewhere, although it's not in the Ottawa corridor, to the best of my knowledge.

The curious case of this little train

Back in 2013, I arrived at Via Rail's main station on a break and was treated to three trains. As you can see from this photo, though, one of them was a bit of a curiosity. I should point out that, usually, it's common to find one consist either idling or parked on one of the station's main tracks. But this one, consisting of F40 6435 and two stainless steel coaches, was backed up against the bumpers of a track that, until that day, I had not seen used.

Here's another shot of the little train. I wondered that day, and still do, what was that train doing there? Was it a special? Why only two cars? Perhaps a group a chartered the consist? Whatever the case, I was glad I caught it. I'm wondering if any readers has any thoughts as to what this little consist might have been doing there, backed up on a secondary track. By the way, can you see the Renaissance coaches in the background?

Mystery hook up

Final shot is from Sarnia's Via station in 2014. This was beside the spur that abutted the station (now removed, as per my brother's latest observations - Thanks, Marc). The track was used to park passenger cars in the past. I am guessing this mechanism has something to do with that. It looks to me like it was a hose hook up for water, possibly something to do with the old passenger cars and their steam generated heat? Does anyone know what it is and what it does? Or what it did?

As I have mentioned before, I am no expert so I am throwing these questions out to the readers, so I can learn something and we can have a little fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A visit to Greenfield Village

The following is my brother Marc's account of his family's summer trip to something all railfans would love: Greenfield Village near Detroit, Michigan. Please feel free to leave a message and let him know what you think - Michael

Henry Ford’s vision and legacy changed the world. His innovation, business sense and social ideas have shaped our world into what it is today. In Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, is one of the most significant museums in the United States.

The Henry Ford Museum houses an immense collection of technology, art and Americana. It is a must see for anyone who loves history.

Nestled to the side of The Henry Ford (as locals call it) is Greenfield Village. Originally the site of an agricultural college, it is now a 90-acre recreation of a turn-of-the-century industrial village. The village covers many aspects of the industrial revolution in America, but for the focus of this post, I will try to cover the many aspects of rail history. After all, Henry Ford's ideas, which led to the automotive assembly line, also led to a major change for freight railways, who have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with automotive production plants ever since.

I took my family to the museum for a day trip this summer. As you may have read here before, my young son is a railfan. It’s in our family's blood, generations deep. Thomas the Tank Engine was the main attraction for the kids, a life-sized engine taking kids for a ride.
It's like stepping back in time.
Greenfield is circled by the Weiser Railroad, a passenger train that travels around the perimeter of the village with four stations. Steam power, of course!

Torch Lake, an 1873 0-6-4 Mason Bogie steam locomotive. It's one of the oldest operating steam engines in the USA.
Another interesting site for railfans, especially those who like vintage rolling stock. You can see the vintage Cotton Belt boxcar, a C&O For Progress-clad boxcar and an ornate New York, New Haven and Hartford boxcar.

At the end of the string, a wooden Detroit, Toledo and Ironton boxcar. DT&I was a precursor to the Grand Trunk Western, a CN subsidiary that operated in Michigan for years before it was folded back into CN.

The Weiser Railroad is unusual, in that it is connected to the Norfolk Southern right-of-way that is used by Amtrak for the Detroit-Chicago run. There is a station reserved for tours that arrive via Amtrak (pun intended, for Canadian readers).

Another great attraction is a operating steam crane that was used in the construction of the Windsor-Detroit rail tunnel. Built by the Detroit River Tunnel Company for the Canada Southern Railway in the early 1900s, it was leased by the Michigan Central Railroad and owned by MCR parent company the New York Central. It changed hands through the years, ending up in the hands of CPR and CN in the end. That tunnel warrants its own post!
The crane was lifting and moving rails and trucks for the crowd. It was fascinating to watch. Be ready for the whistle, it’s loud!
Kids could take turns rotating this little engine around the manually-powered turntable. A lesson in leverage.
Detroit’s historical society has a group that specializes in model railroads. They brought a great display that drew quite the crowd. Not pictured: Dad enjoying a cold beverage.
Work is ongoing at Greenfield Village as restoration of a vintage wooden caboose with rounded cupola roof takes place.
Two steam locomotives rest under the roof of a restored railway maintenance facility.
I will be taking the family back to this gem of a museum. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone with an interest in history.  Greenfield Village is a day on its own, and I imagine the Henry Ford Museum would also take a whole day to roam.
Thanks to my brother for contributing this post. Please take a moment to let him know what you think. - Michael



Friday, November 27, 2015

Notes from Sarnia

On a recent trip to visit family in the Sarnia area, I was able to get away for a few minutes to see if there was anything going on in the rail yard. It was very quiet when I arrived there. Most of the engines near the old roundhouse were idling, still waiting for the day's work ahead. I did manage to spot something odd among the diesels. That switcher back there is Nova SW1500 2450. You will recall that, earlier this year, I snapped a few shots of the Nova Corunna refinery near Corunna where this diesel was parked. You can read about that operation in this post.

Here's a wider shot of the yard diesels idling, including a few slugs and an old geep in the safety scheme.

While we're on the topic of Nova, I did notice when I was passing by the Corunna plant that the railway there is now operating with two units, including a very similar SW model switcher, likely a sister unit to 2450. The railway also appears to have a genset like the one below operating again. I'm not sure if it's the same unit as this one, shot several years ago. I was driving by quickly and could only steal a glance.

I didn't venture off the old station platform on my trip to the yard, since I was tight for time. I did notice that one crew was already assembling a train on the east side of the Indian Road overpass, as it shunted autoracks into place. I was not able to catch this train as it made its way west to the tunnel, since my time had run out.

Here's another shot of the train being assembled, framed by a line of tank cars and a buffer car at the front of what will likely be a petroleum train headed somewhere east.

All in all, it was a quiet and disappointing morning. But for me, something is better than nothing. I have not been able to venture out in Ottawa for any train watching in a while. Such is life sometimes. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Notes from Goderich

My family's recent trip to southern Ontario over the Thanksgiving weekend was all about making lemonade. I was excited to catch some railway action as we made our way down the 401. Nothing. I was then excited about catching some railway action in Goderich. Nothing. I won't mention what I saw in Sarnia because it was next to nothing. However, when life sometimes hands you lemons, you make some lemonade, right?

We'll start with Goderich, the western end of the Goderich Exeter Railway's Stratford-Goderich main line, called the Goderich Sub. Usually, when my family visits this area, there is something to see. This time around, I knew there would be nothing to see, since the day's morning train had already left the town (I heard it leaving as we emerged from a restaurant after a morning snack). I still made my way to the old Canadian National East Street Station and took a look at the railway's empty yard. Still, I like this shot below. Check out the lone axle at the end of the line.

I made my way down the street to the railway's shops and even there, I felt as though my luck was nonexistent. Yes, there was a GEXR unit in the house, but there was no getting a shot.

Here's a closer look at the bottom half of the engine. GP9 I think.

I was lucky enough to bump into the owner of the old Canadian Pacific Railway Station, which was moved in recent years from its spot next to a bluff to a spot closer to the town's beach. It now faces Lake Huron. You can check out this post and this post to see this restaurant in various states of development from the past several years. What you see below is pretty close to a finished product. A deck has been added to the station for the warmer months. The day we were there, two massive evergreen trees were being delivered to the site to complete the outside aesthetics. What impressed me about this renovation is how the character of the station has been faithfully preserved. When you look inside the place, you will see many of the original station's touches have been maintained. There's still a men's waiting room and ladies' waiting room, although I'm pretty sure the restaurant doesn't enforce that old rule!

Here's a closer look at part of the restored station's architecture. This station has to be on of my favourite looking stations, simply for the various design elements that went into it and how all these piece somehow fit together into a coherent whole.

Here's a shot of the circular turret (the witch's hat) that now houses a circular eating area.

You may recall from this post that I cam across this rickety old trackside structure before and mentioned that it might be worth modelling to someone. Here's the best shot I could get from the old station platform. I didn't want to venture any closer to railway property. I'm not sure this old building is even used by GEXR anymore, but the doors were open on the day I visited. You can just see a lone hopper behind the shed, no doubt waiting to be loaded or brought down the hill to the Sifto salt mine.

I didn't notice a lot of work being done on Goderich's port, which was part of the previous government's plans to build a deep-water commercial port on Lake Huron. You will remember at the time that I mentioned it would be interesting to see if this port initiative would include some sort of rail connection, since GEXR's rails already extend down to the port. Stay tuned on this.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Postcard from Saint Laurent Boulevard

This is the second in an occasional series telling the stories behind standalone photographs that don't otherwise fit within the themes of my regular posts. You can read the first postcard post here.

I'll be the first to admit it. I don't understand how some people obsess over steam locomotives. Growing up, whenever I looked at my train picture books, I would often skip over the pictures of steam locomotives because, to me, they all looked the same. Even now, I have a hard time getting all the excited about these giants. But, I never grew up with these brutes and I have never seen one in action.

Having said that, I have begun to appreciate steam locomotives much more in recent years. There are a few reasons why I have begun to come around. First, they are incredibly complex machines that are capable of incredible things. Second, they serve as vital reminders of the importance of railways through history. In many ways, these engines were the only lifeline people had to the outside world. Of course, the automobile and the development of freeways has changed the role of railways in people's lives, but these brutes serve as a useful reminder of how vital railways were to the development of Canada, the United States and a number of other countries (depending on where you are reading this).

This shot was taken in early March 2013 on the front lawn of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The museum is located on Saint Laurent Boulevard in Ottawa's east end. The museum itself houses a number of railway relics inside, although the museum itself is closed until 2017, due to mold and other safety issues that are being addressed via a large rehabilitation and renovation of the old bread factory.
This locomotive, Canadian National 6200, is a 4-8-4 Confederation locomotive more commonly known as a Northern type steam locomotive. Thirty five of these engines were built by the Montreal Locomotive Works and the Canadian Locomotive Works in Kingston, mainly for the Canadian National. They were in service until the late 1950s before a number were saved from the scrap heap. Other cities that have a Northern on display include Toronto and Guelph.
This particular locomotive was built in Montreal in 1942. It was acquired by the museum in 1967 and is one of a number of railway artifacts either on display or in storage at the museum. A number of other pieces are maintained by the Bytown Railway Society at this site. You can read more about these locomotives here.
For the most part, the engine is in decent shape. Many preservationists now argue that leaving these locomotives outside is not the best way to preserve them. I'm not sure what more can be done to preserve these artifacts, given their size. This locomotive is a popular subject for photographs in Ottawa. It's certainly a fixture on the museum's front lawn.
Just walking around this behemoth is an experience. Even though I'm not a foamer when it comes to these locomotives, I've grown to admire them because they remind me of my grandfathers, both of whom worked on the CPR when these giants were in operation. I'm glad it's there. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Via Rail about to expand service in Southern Ontario

I was down in the Sarnia area for a visit over Thanksgiving and had some time to sit trackside at the Sarnia Via Rail station. I knew that the station was going to be torn up since Via Rail recently announced its intention to rehabilitate the old station, which was built in 1891. The station sees only two trains a day and is unstaffed. However, these renovations are part of a plan to expand service.

As you can read in the link above, Via Rail has already told local officials that it plans to expand its Toronto-Sarnia service to four trains a day, which means two trains in and two trains out. Not only is this good news for Sarnia, this is also good news for trains along the line who will also benefit from increased service.

The renovations will mainly take the form of structural repairs and roofing repairs. Already, the foundations around the building have been dug up and the masonry has been treated. The repairs are expected to be complete by the spring, in time for the new train schedule, the starting date of which has not been confirmed yet.

Here's a shot, below, that I took in 1992, which essentially reveals a very similar look, except that the roof was shingled by darker shingles then. The station last saw major renovations in the 1980s when the City of Sarnia undertook improvements to the building, which is a designated heritage property.

I know I've shared this photo (below) before but I always like to share this because of the three types of equipment in the shot, which shows Amtrak at its varied best. The shot below is the International Ltd. that once ran between Toronto and Chicago and was jointly operated between Amtrak and Via Rail. That train was cancelled in the mid-1990s due to ridership decline. I'm surprised there isn't more of a demand for such a train. However, even if there was demand, I would imagine that security protocol at the border would likely rule out any future train like this. So, Sarnia and much of Southern Ontario will benefit from a link to Toronto, but that appears to be the extent of the new service that Via Rail is bringing to the region.

Here's a more recent shot of the station taken in 2013. The track you see at the bottom of the image is where Via Rail's consists would be stored overnight when the last train of the day arrived from Toronto. Imagine a time when there were so few security concerns. I would draw your attention to the two doors at the end of the station.
In this photo below, taken in 1952, you can see that there once was an extension on this side of the station. You can also notice on the right side of the image where passenger cars were stored next to the station (the same track as the one in the image above).
So, more service to the Sarnia station will mean this beautiful old building will become more of a hub in the years to come, much as it has been throughout its history. It's always encouraging when Via Rail adds service. Let's hope this move will be accompanied by service additions elsewhere in Canada, especially if our new government is supportive of passenger rail. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try...

As I eluded to in this post, I recently took up the challenge of trying to catch up with the Arnprior local, CN 589, on a fairly recent Wednesday morning near Bells Corners. But as I mentioned, the train did now show in the usual timeframe, which is in itself a dubious claim. On the whole, the train usually makes its way through Bells Corners between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. So, for two straight Wednesday mornings, I ventured out to the crossing where the Trans-Canada Trail meets the Beachburg Sub near Corkstown Road. Both mornings, the train didn't show, much to my frustration. You will recall that back in May, I caught the train at this spot right around 8:40 a.m.

To make matters worse, as my wife and I were driving home from an errand on the first Wednesday of my chase, we saw the Arnprior local crossing under the Queensway at about 3:20 p.m. I had planned to head out after I dropped my wife off at home to maybe catch the train returning to Walkley Yard from Nylene Canada.

"Next week," my wife said.

Well, next week, I headed out again in the morning and had the same problem. I was about to just concede defeat when I was on my way to pick up my daughter from daycare. I decided to head out a little early, since my five-month-old daughter was cranky and needed to sleep, so I figured it was just easier to take her  for a drive (as a parent, I do not recommend this method of sleep training, but some days, you just have to do it!).

Anyway, as I was driving around, I decided to head down Corkstown Road and wait by the crossing, since I had time to kill. I figured it was worth a shot. Well, it just goes to show you that persistence and luck pays off.

The Arnprior local was making its way slowly down the Beachburg Sub, just southeast of  the former Nepean Junction, with two empty tank cars in tow. I had my car parked on the shadow side of the train, since there was no safe option on the other side of the crossing where I could park my car and still have this vantage point. My goal was to get a wide shot of the train instead of a wedge shot.

There was a lot of retouching that I had to do in order to get these photos looking reasonable. Yes, that is CN 4771 pulling the two tank cars. This is the same hideous unit that I saw at Walkley Yard a few weeks before I took this shot.

What's even funnier is that, as ugly as this unit is, seeing it long hood forward only makes it look worse. The shot I showed from Walkley Yard showed 4771 from the front (You can see it in this post). The long hood looks awful! And someone left a broom on the outside of the unit. Sloppy.

Here's a shot, above, that is heavily retouched and less obstructed by the poles. I would love to shoot a train along this stretch when the lighting is more favourable to my position. So much greenery to take in.

Here's a final shot of 589 crossing Corkstown Road before it makes it way beneath the Queensway and southeast toward Bells Corners. And that is my story about my third meeting with the ghost train of the Beachburg Subdivision. Hope you enjoyed it.