Thursday, January 29, 2015

Railway bridges of Ontario

I have always been fascinated with railway bridges. Over the Christmas break, I was able to catch a CN train trundling over a railway bridge that crosses Highway 401. Looking at the photos of this meeting made me think about all the bridges I have photographed over the years and their importance to their successive railways. In some cases, old bridges have taken on new life as vital pieces of recreational trails.

So with that, here is a small tour of Ontario's railway bridges. First stop is Ottawa.

The bridge below crosses over Carling Avenue along the mostly dismantled Beachburg Subdivision just west of Nepean Junction. This bridge, which still bears its old CN logo, once supported transcontinental freight trains, when Beachburg was part of CN's northern national route. It's now a rusty relic, destined to be part of a recreation trail, no doubt. This shot was taken Nov. 9.

The span below is part of the Goderich Exeter Railway's main line, just outside Clinton, Ont. Unlike the CN bridge above, this one has an older feel. Notice the old stone work and the narrowed highway lanes. This type of bridge is a throwback. The narrowed highway lanes speak to a time when this road was clearly not a major route. But, over the years, the road became a highway, but the road still accommodates the rail line, not the other way around. This shot was taken early one foggy morning last August.

Clinton is an interesting spot along the GEXR. The small town, hometown of famous author Alice Munro, has a small rail yard and a wye junction where the GEXR's main line between Goderich and Guelph branches off south to feed a secondary line to Exeter and Centralia.

This next shot shows a former CN bridge along the railway's old Forest Subdivision, between Sarnia and St. Mary's, Ont. This bridge, over Perch Creek in Bright's Grove, is part of the Howard Watson Nature Trail in the Sarnia area. The nature trail runs the length of the old sub in the area and connects Sarnia with a small community north of the city called Camlachie. I will have more about this interesting old subdivision in a later post. Special thanks to my brother Marc for taking this shot in November.

This bridge below is one of the most scenic bridges I have cycled over. It is located on the Trans Canada Trail west of Peterborough along former CN trackage. This portion of the trail spans 40 km of the old rail line, which crosses some of the best scenery you will find in Ontario. One day in the summer of 2004, I decided to go for a very long bike ride on the old trail to see if I could make it to Omemee (famous as being one of the towns laying claim to Neil Young). I didn't make it that far, but it was an incredible ride.

I am always concerned when rail lines are abandoned, given their strategic importance now, but this bridge represents a truly a happy ending for a disused rail line. I would love to tell you exactly where this bridge is located, but I didn't leave any note in the photo, so your guess is as good as mine. You can see the old roadbed far off in the distance in this shot. That's my old bike in the foreground.

Is there a happy ending for this decrepit old bridge? I'm not overly hopeful. This bridge is just north of the Prince of Wales Bridge in Gatineau, Quebec, where the Canadian Pacific's Lachute Subdivision once ended. This area is technically the end point of the Quebec-Gatineau Railway, which re-established service to Gatineau recently.

The weed-covered tracks in the bottom of the photo are still intact and lead to the old Maniwacki Subidivison, which once housed the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield steam train. That trackage is owned by the municipalities in the Outaouais Region, but given that damage from a storm several years ago has never been repaired on this line, the chances are that the old Maniwacki Sub is likely to have reached its end. This spot has not seen action in many years and my guess is there is trail potential here, at least for the old right-of-way that includes that bridge. I should mention that, when I wandered here in August 2013, I noticed that many of the old rail ties on the bridge had either rotted away or fallen off the bridge. I am surprised that nothing has been done to secure this dangerous spot.

This bridge, of course, is a familiar site to readers and to rail fans in Ottawa. This is the Prince of Wales Bridge, connecting CP's old Ellwood/Prescott Subs to the Lachute Sub in Gatineau. The rails on the bridge are still in place, although the old Ellwood Sub, now part of Ottawa's O-Train's line, has no connection to the bridge. You can read more about this bridge in this post. This shot was taken on a beautiful July day in 2013. I'm hoping this bridge will one day see rail traffic again, perhaps in the form of commuter rail between Ottawa and Gatineau. I'm still waiting to local politicians to wake up and realize what an asset they have in this bridge.

The bridge below, was featured in a post last year. It is a picturesque span that carries the Capital Railway (O-Train) over the Rideau River near Carleton University. I took this photo last April 25 in the midst of the spring thaw on the river.

I also featured this bridge in a past post. This is a towering bridge along the Goderich-Exeter Railway line through Kitchener. This bridge spans the Grand River and sees a fair bit of action each day in the form of freight trains, Via Rail corridor trains and GO Trains. I took this shot while on a bike ride through Kolb Park in 2008.

Of course, it's always better to see bridges in use. This bridge below is one of my favourites spots in Ottawa to watch trains. This span crosses the Jock River on Via Rail's Smiths Falls Subdivision near Moodie Drive in west Ottawa. I have shot lots of passenger trains here as well as CN's 589 local, which still serves two customers in the area. This shot was taken in August 2013. The train is Via's 657 en route to Toronto. You can read about this bridge here.

Okay, finally. On to the main course. This bridge below, which is a curious combination of styles, crosses Highway 401 in Pickering, east of Toronto. I snagged this shot while travelling eastbound on the 401 (I was in the passenger seat). I'm guessing the mix of styles is the result of the railway having to accommodate the widening of this highway over the years. These shots were taken Dec. 27. The train had a nice mix of cars, although the shot was a bit blurry, due to the various challenges of shooting through a windshield of a car travelling at 100 km/h or more.

This shot turned out a little better. I was surprised that such heavy duty power was pulling such a small consist. This train had no more than 20 cars in tow.

As the bridge crosses the 401, the rail line turns and begins to run parallel to the highway. I managed to get a shot of ES44DCs 2329 and 2257, as well as a sporty yellow hatchback. Not bad for a few Hail Mary photo attempts.

I should mention that this post was partly inspired by fellow blogger Eric Gagnon, who recently mentioned that it is important to take photos of even the mundane things along a rail line. Given how quickly things change in rail, even the smallest things might mean quite a bit more years from now. Given the uncertain future of some of these bridges, I think Eric's advice is particularly relevant.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Catching up with the neighbours

On Aug. 18, I found myself with a few hours to take in some big-time railway action in Sarnia, where I was treated to two feasts. One was the movement of a mixed freight heading toward the Paul M. Tellier Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. The other was a full-fledged interchange between CN and its Sarnia neighbour, CSX.

After happening across the tunnel train from a cul-de-sac abutting the yard, I moved on to Sarnia's Via Rail station, to catch what I could. There, I noticed another railfan sitting on the platform and two CSX GP38-2s idling a few tracks over. The other fan seemed absorbed by something on his phone, so I didn't bother him.

The shot beneath is the one of the best from this meet, with CN locomotives bringing a string of cars into the yard for the two CSX GP38s to pull back to CSX trackage. This meet all started with the second photo (below). Here's an earlier shot of another Sarnia interchange train.

Above: CN GP9 7270, slug 223 and GP38-2W 4761 pull a string of tank cars and covered hoppers into Sarnia Yard, where they will then be taken off to CSX trackage into the Checmial Valley and beyond.
It all started with some pretty standard shots of these geeps idling. The lighting was tricky given the time of day (late morning). This was the best vantage point, since every other shot bleached out the sky. You can see the signal bridge to the right. All those tracks are due west toward the St. Clair River Tunnel and various turnouts including the Point Edward Spur, the CSX/CN interchange points and the CN St. Clair River Industrial Spur. I had planned to wait for a few minutes to see if something else was going to happen, when I heard a sound coming from the west. I then headed down toward the signal bridge.

But not before I snapped a quick shot of all the stickers on the geep. The sticker below the number board read "ECO TRANS K9 APU equipped." That means this was a rebuilt unit, complete with fuel efficient components and emission reduction components built in. You can see from the flashing beacon that these units are also equipped from remote control. The yellow arrow at the edge of the hood says "STEP."

Details, details. There was an interchange consist making its way into the yard. I had to hurry to the edge of the platform to catch this train. I was happy to see the GP9 working with a slug. Another GP38 was helping out as well. You will recall I posted some photos of this train in an earlier post, More relics on the rails.

I was able to use my camera's zoom to catch the conductor throwing a switch. You can also make out the engineer on the phone with the yardmaster, no doubt. You can also make out the engine's exhaust. This shot also captures a sliver of the old Sarnia roundhouse in the background.

I then ditched the zoom and started to frame for some wide shots, to catch more of the train. This shot below turned out pretty well. You can see the engineer controlling the GP9 with a belt pack while the conductor stays by the switch (Please see comments below). You can also see the Family Lines System hopper (third car) entering the frame. The hopper directly behind the locomotives was obviously a Family Lines hopper, although the paint was obviously removed at some point.

CSX's interchanges with CN were once much more plentiful. At one point, CSX had much more to offer. The CSX Sarnia Subdivision was once a vital link between CP's Windsor Subdivision (in Chatham) and CN's Strathroy Subdivision. This meant that oversized rolling stock like high-cube boxcars and autoracks were once routed between Chatham and Sarnia via CSX. While CP had a rail ferry service on the Detroit River like CN did for the St. Clair River, a great deal of autoracks and oversized boxcars, with auto parts, were nonetheless routed through Sarnia via CSX.

Since the new CN rail tunnel opened, CSX's operations in this area have been reduced to servicing local chemical plants along its trackage in Sarnia and St. Clair Township, as the transfer work dried up. CSX also discontinued rail service in Chatham-Kent recently, cutting off several of its agricultural customers there. The southern end of this line is now in limbo, and the move to halt service effectively severed the CSX Sarnia Subdivision from all but the CN Strathroy Subdivision as its link to the North American rail network.

CSX's line still counts a number of industries on its line, such as Imperial Oil, Lanxess, Suncor, Shell Canada, the former Ethyl Canada site (developing business park), Nova Chemicals (formerly Dupont Canada site in Corunna), Ontario Power Generation (soon to be closed coal plant), Terra International (formerly C-I-L), and Methes Energies Canada (biomass fuel plant at former Chinook Chemicals site). Not all these sites have rail service, but there appears to be more than enough demand to keep the line going in a limited capacity for some time.

So this interchange will remain a fixture, much to the delight of train watchers like me, although what the future holds might depend on what development there might be along the CSX rail line. For example, at one point, Shell Canada was planning to build a massive refinery south of the soon-to-be-shuttered Ontario Power Generation thermal generating station, but those plans were scuttled several years ago. The line also counts the former Dow Chemicals site as a potential customer on its line, although its future use as an industrial park depends on what industry can be attracted to the site and how much of it might need rail service.

To be honest, I am surprised CSX's local operations have not been sold off to CN. The remnants of this line must still be too profitable to abandon right now.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A hidden piece of Ottawa's railway history found

Back when I started this blog, I made sure I learned the history of the railway lines in my own back yard. I look back on the initial posts I wrote and I laugh. I have learned so much about the history in my own back yard since beginning The Beachburg Sub.

On New Year's Day, I decided to take some photos of the railway bridges around Bells Corners, just so I have them in my files in case I need them in the future. What started as a simple trip turned into a surprising railway archeology expedition.

My last stop was to get some photos of the old CP Carleton Place Subdivision, which was Milepost 9 on that sub (named Nepean on the CPR route map). The remnants of that sub have been used by CN in past years to store cars, but there have been no cars on that stub track in months. I took a couple of quick snaps of the rusty old stub, including the end of line. I guess railways use red octagons as well (below).

You will recall from my first post about this area that this is what is known as Bells Junction on the CN route map. This junction dates back to 1966 when the National Capital Commission pulled most rail lines from central Ottawa as part of a beautification scheme. Before CP branched off at this junction, the CPR's old line passed under the CN Beachburg Subdivision a little further west of this spot, close to where Moodie Drive dips below the CN rail bridge. In 1990, CP hosted the last run of Via's Canadian through the Carleton Place Sub and promptly abandoned the line afterward. The old roadbed was sold to the old regional municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, which converted the line into a recreation trail. Imagine how useful this line would be as a commuter line, especially where it passes though the growing west end communities of Stittsville and south Kanata.

A small reminder of more useful times for this stub (Spring 2013).

In between where the old CP track curves away from the CN line, there's an isolated and deep gulley (below), which is inaccessible in summer. I had to walk around the old stub track and cross over a frozen drainage ditch to get into this gulley. A small portion of Stillwater Creek had not yet frozen even though New Year's Day was bitterly cold in the city.

I knew that I was in the location where the old CP line crossed under the CN line. What I was searching for was some hint of the old CP railbed under the Beachburg Sub. This was what it looked like in 1965 (first shot below), before the CP line was ripped up, replaced by the CP turnout off Beachburg at what was known as Bells Junction. This shot and the following three are all from the Canada Science and Technology Museum collection, showing the old CP right-of-way.

Here's a shot of a CPR passenger train in 1945. How times have changed. There was no development at all.

Bells Corners has grown all the way to the edge of the CN tracks. Any traces of this old CP line in the Bells Corners core have been buried under by office buildings.

Here's a more recent shot of CPR train in 1965, a year before this section of the right-of-way became history.

Here's one final shot of a long CN passenger train heading west, approaching the old CP crossing in 1965. Getting shots of trains near this steep embankment are now much more difficult, given the development right up to this line and the extremely light schedule (one freight in each direction, each Wednesday).

So, back to my adventure. When I trudged my way into the gulley, my goal was to find a safe way to climb up the embankment and get a shot of the right-of-way from the edge of the woods near the track (so I was not trespassing). Through the trees, I saw something jutting up beside the tracks, which caught my attention. You can just make it out in the shot below.

Once I made my way up the embankment, I got another shot. If I was not mistaken, this is an old piece of the CN bridge over the old CP line. The graffiti on the old cement form shows I'm not the first person to find this spot.

Once I made my way up to the edge of the tracks, I took a quick shot. This perspective gives you an idea of the elevation of the line compared to the surroundings.

I took a quick shot across the tracks at an adjacent cement form. Looking either way, I couldn't make out any hint of the old CP right-of-way, so I didn't bother taking any shots. Checking out the area with Google Satellite images confirmed that I had found the old CP right-of-way, which is now a forested barrier between farm fields north of Bells Corners. With that help, I am sure that this was where the old bridge was located.

Here is the satellite image, which shows clearly where the CP line once was. The blue pin was where I was. The diagonal forested line (top right to bottom left) is the old CP line. The curving track is the old CP Carleton Place Sub. The straight line is CN's Beachburg Subdivision. You can see a spot where the brush gives way to heavy ballast. This was quite noticeable when I visited this spot. The heavy ballast is likely what was used to fill in the hole where the CP line passed beneath the CN line. Even now, decades later, very little grows between those rocks for some reason.

I should mention that getting to this spot was not easy. If you are so inclined, be sure to try in the winter. There is no way you will be able to make it through the brush in the summer. Also, stay off the tracks, even ones that are sparsely used like this one. It's private property after all and there's always a chance of a train, so be safe.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Finally, some common sense

Ottawa has finally seen the light. I can't believe I am actually able to share this, but the city's staff is finally recommending that the city's O-Train light rail line between Bayview and Greenboro stations be extended south on existing trackage to the Ottawa International Airport and finally to the south end neighbourhood of Riverside South.

News outlets this week are reporting that city staff has put together a plan to extend the existing 8-km line to the EY Centre on Uplands Drive and to the Ottawa airport on a spur, before stretching the service to Riverside South. This would allow the city to reach several heavily populated neighbourhoods in the south end of the city, not to mention two busy hubs (EY Centre and airport) that would greatly benefit from a rail link to the downtown core, even if it is via Bayview Station at the moment.

Southbound O-Train makes its way toward Gladstone Avenue in September 2013.

The cost of this expansion is $99 million without the airport spur, which would be extra. Staff is also not sure how the spur would work with the overall line, but it is surely a step in the right direction when the city realizes that a light rail line that passes through airport lands should serve the airport. You will remember from earlier posts that the city was ready to explore this expansion minus an airport connection since it was not along the direct path of the rail line.
Readers will know that this extended service will operate on existing trackage that was once part of the Canadian Pacific's Prescott Subdivision. This trackage still stretches as far as Leitrim Road, on the southern edge of the airport lands. Part of this right-of-way is still used by CN to deliver cars to the National Research Centre's transportation research facilities on Lester Road. The line would then have to be extended on the former CP right-of-way south of Leitrim Road. This stretch of the line was torn up in 1999 and replaced with what is known as the Osgoode Link Pathway recreational trail.
Amazing isn't it? Two years before the city started operating its O-Train line in 2001, it had the potential to retain a large portion of the CP right-of-way and didn't see the need to do so. Well, I guess 14 years late is better than never, even if the city now has to pay a great deal more to relay ballast and tracks.
This expansion plan is part of a rebranding of the existing O-Train line. It will now be known as the Trillium Line. When the city's east-west line is completed in 2017, it will be dubbed the Confederation Line. The overall system will be known as the O-Train.
In related news, it appears the new Alstom Coradia LINT light rail trains will make their debut on the Trillium line in late February or early March. You can see a shot of them in Walkley Yard in this post. These new trainsets will allow the line to accommodate a more efficient schedule, which would see trains operate at a frequency of eight to nine minutes instead of the current 12 to 15 minutes. I'm not sure if this means the Bombardier trains will be phased out at that time. I guess it might be time to get some last shots of these trains, just in case.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The great disappearing train

Happy New Year!

When people ask me what the Sarnia area is like, I usually tell them, "Picture the prairies, only with more trees." That pretty much sums up the topography where I grew up. It's really flat. That makes chasing and photographing trains fairly easy. The one exception is the approach to the rail tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. The single track leading to the tunnel offers a surprisingly steep grade in an otherwise flat stretch of CN's rail network in this region.

On August 18 last year, I made a trip to the CN rail yard in Sarnia where I was taking shots from various vantage points. When I started shooting, I noticed a large train was being assembled in the middle part of the yard, where the tracks pass under the Indian Road overpass. Seeing that it was not ready to move, I started taking shots elsewhere. A little while later, I found myself at the end of a cul-de-sac, which abuts the yard, since I was trying to get a shot of this train (below). I noticed the train was stopped before entering the yard, waiting for something. Hearing a train roaring toward my spot, I knew a train was heading down the steep grade toward the tunnel.

In all my years of photographing trains, this was the first time I caught a tunnel train.

CN GP9 7270 waits to enter Sarnia Yard. The bridge behind the GP9 is known as the Donahue Bridge, which connects the City of Sarnia to the adjacent Chemical Valley, the area's massive petrochemical refinery district.

Unfortunately, the positioning of the sun and my vantage point made for some tough obstacles. The weeds were pretty high so some shots of the train turned out like the image below. But, sometimes when you scramble, you have to make do with you have.

Happily, getting shots of the train from another angle (below) made for some better shots. I was pretty happy to see that the second unit was CN SD60F 5550, a genuine cowl unit. I have not seen one of these units in many years. An excellent catch.

This is where things began to get interesting. As the third unit in this mixed freight, CN 2635 (Dash-9 44CW) came into view, the train began to disappear. Unknowingly, I had stumbled onto an excellent spot to catch the train's descent into the tunnel. As I reviewed the photos of the train, I was quite pleased to see the way I caught the train's disappearing act.

This shot below captures the grade nicely. You can see the initial string of steel coil cars bound for the United States. If you look closely, you can also see a truck parked beside a covered hopper car at a transloading facility (upper left). You can also see some refinery towers to the left.

I did pan back toward the sun a few times, since the train had so many different types of freight in its consist, including a few shallow gondolas filled with what looked like scrap metal.

This view below brought me back to my teenage years, when I used to watch long lines of autoracks making their way down the CSX Sarnia Subdivision and then being queued up in Sarnia Yard, where they were then ferried over the river on the CN ferry. Of course, CSX no longer handles autorack interchange traffic between Chatham and Sarnia. In fact, CSX doesn't even operate in the Chatham area anymore. I took a shot of the autoracks, just for nostalgia's sake.

Of course, all good things come to an end, but check out the variety at the end of the train. A few high-cube box cars, a lumber car, a white tank car and a few other loaded flat cars, all headed below the river. You can just make out the other train (right) waiting for clearance to enter the yard. I stuck around to catch that train, which turned out to be carrying interchange traffic for two waiting CSX GP38s, which were idling near the Via station. I shared a few shots of that train in this previous post. I will have more to share from that interchange in a future post. You can also make out some longer than usual rail ties, which indicate there was once a turnout located here.

So, all in all, I was pleased to get some decent shots of this tunnel-bound train, given my less than ideal position and the position of the sun. There's always something happening in a big rail yard. I can only dream of similar activity in Ottawa's Walkley Yard.