Thursday, April 30, 2015

Reflections on two years

Today marks the second anniversary of this blog. I was debating whether to mark the occasion, since it's not terribly important in the grand scheme of things. However, it's an accomplishment nonetheless. I think about how much I have learned through my interaction with this blog's readers and it makes me proud to know how much I have learned. I'm also proud that I stuck with it and have produced something that people seem to enjoy.

When I started this blog two years ago, I had a handful of old photos from the 1990s and little else, except a notion that I wanted to write about my love of railroading. I didn't know what type of stories these old photos told. Like this one below. At first glance, I didn't see a whole lot. But, as I continued writing, I discovered there is no shortage of topics to discuss. The beauty of a blog is that you can talk about whatever you want, no matter how trivial, and you'll still likely find a crowd that appreciates the same things.

GP9 1621 in Windsor, Ont. in 1991. A caboose is visible behind the old geep.

Since beginning with this first post, a number of things have changed. I now have a collection of photos, taken by me and a few contributors, that numbers close to 2000 images. I began this blog quietly, not really sharing it with many people, including my family. I was content just to write and let people find it for themselves. Since those first few weeks, I have been able to connect with a number of bloggers (see the side bar for great train blogs) and I have even been able to share my passion with my family. I am now able to share shots taken by my brother, my sister and even my wife. The passion is definitely spreading. Well, maybe not my wife.

Here's a great shot my brother took in Sarnia in March of a BC Rail locomotive

Here's a shot my wife took from the passenger seat of our car on Highway 401 on Dec. 20, 2014. She caught the head end of an eastbound container train near Kingston. I was driving at the time.

Also, I now bring my daughter along with me each Sunday morning on visits to the Smiths Falls Subdivision, where we watch a morning Via Rail train go by and hope to catch a glimpse of CN 589. Just last week, my family welcomed our second daughter. I hope she likes trains as much as my first daughter seems to at the moment. My two-year-old's only complaint when I took her trackside this past Sunday was that there was only one train to see!

Via corridor train approaches the Moodie Drive crossing on April 26, 2015. This is one of the best shots I have ever taken in this location. Great cloud cover, good framing and great colours shining through, thanks to the conditions.

I am grateful to my fellow bloggers and my growing list of contributors that have really made this blog into what it is today. There have been times over the two years where I wondered whether I told all the stories I wanted to tell and have exhausted the goodwill of my readers. But my readers and blogging friends have reassured me that, together, we've created something good with this blog. Make no mistake, every time you read this, comment on a topic or reach out to me via email, you are contributing to this blog's success.

The rail removal machines at Torbolton Ridge Road in November 2014.

So, thanks to all, from blogging friends to commenters to contributors. You have ensured that a railway blog can survive in Ottawa. I will continue to blog about railroading's past and future like I have for two years. The Beachburg Subdivision may physically be gone (mostly), but it's not gone. Not here. Not really.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest post: One fan's railfanning kit

(This is another post from Beachburg Sub contributor Dave M. Please feel free to comment and let Dave know what you think - Michael)

By Dave M.

This post explains what kind of kit I used in order to take one of my favourite shots of CN 589, shown below.

CN 589 heads west through Carp, Ont. on its way to Nylene Canada plant in Arnprior.

When performing any activity, I find it is more enjoyable with the right kit. One of the most frustrating parts of this hobby is trying to figure out when the train is coming so you can be prepared when it arrives. When I first started, the train's arrival was always a surprise since I would wait for a long time and was distracted when it finally came. I'd usually fumble with my camera and get off a couple of shots as it flew by. In order to be better prepared, I found that the following gear is essential.

1. Canadian Track Side Guide

If there is one book to bring while railfanning, this is it. It contains everything you need to know. The three most important chapter I use the most are:
a) Subdivision listings - This is very useful since it lists all the subdivisions by name and includes stations, mileposts and locations of hot box detectors.
b) Signals - Understanding rail is much more complex (and meaningful) than traffic lights. This chapter includes a clear explanation of what each of the signals means, so that you can be prepared when a train arrives.
c) Radio frequencies - This chapters lists all the frequencies used on each subdivision.

This book can be purchased through the Bytown Railway Society and through hobby shops.

2. Scanner

A radio scanner provides a small window into the operations on the tracks you are observing. I've found it useful since you often hear the crew relaying back their location or signal state. If you are near a hotbox detector, the scanner will give you a heads up when the train crosses over it, which allows you to be ready.

3. Camera

When railfanning, many people like to take photos of trains as they pass. A camera capable of shutter speed 1/250 or faster is best for getting a sharp image. Taking pictures at a slower shutter speed will result in some blur, especially when the train is travelling quickly. I typically bring two lenses for my digital SLR, a wide angle (11-16 mm) and zoom (100 mm).

4. Timetables

If you are trying to catch a passenger or commuter train, a timetable is useful in helping you know when a train should arrive.

In order to get the shot at the top of the post, I had to know that CN operates its freight service on this line (Renfrew Spur) sometime on Wednesday. On Wednesday, I started listening on the radio scanner. I heard the controller ask the train to report its position back. The crew reported its position, saying they were at milepost X. I was lucky to hear this, since this train doesn't report its position too frequently. From that spot, I was able to locate the train's position using the trackside guide. I then drove slightly ahead of where the train was last heard and waited for it to arrive.

For the image below, I used the Via Rail timetable to figure out the approximate time the train would be running through Richmond. I then listened to the scanner to figure out when it left Fallowfield Station so I could be ready when it came by.

A westbound Via Rail corridor train speeds through Richmond, Ont. on its way to Toronto.

I have brought the following items with me in the past, but find that I no longer use them.

1. Canada Rail Atlas - This book has many nice maps, but I've never used it. The Trackside Guide is a much better choice.

2. Tripod - Many photographers will be unhappy with this statement, Leave the tripod at home. But it is true, unless you're photographing stationary trains. The tripod is useful when shooting a stationary train at night, but when a train is moving during the day, the tripod is a more of a hassle than a benefit.

It is important to note that, if you don't have your kit, you can still have fun railfanning. In the shot below of CN's 589 in Bells Corners, I just happened to be at the grocery store when I heard a train whistle. I grabbed my camera and was able to get this shot below.

CN 589 passes over Robertson Road in Bells Corners on the remnants of CN's Beachburg Subdivision southeast of Nepean Junction.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have some kit that you've used successfully when railfanning.

(Special thanks to Dave for another contribution to The Beachburg Sub.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Spring observations in Ottawa

The weather is finally beginning to turn here in Ottawa. After weeks away from train watching, I was finally able to head out this past weekend, along with my daughter, who insisted on coming to see trains with me. So, we made our way out to the Moodie Drive crossing to catch the morning Via corridor train followed (hopefully) by CN 589. We were late getting to the crossing, so we just barely caught this four car consist.

This is a pretty typical consist for Via these days, with the standard LRC coaches alongside refurbished counterparts in renaissance colours. My daughter was thrilled with this train, but was disappointed that there was no other trains due. Unfortunately, CN 589 had already done its rounds earlier, as evidenced by a loaded lumber car already sitting on the Kott Lumber spur.

This past week, I decided to take the O-Train all the way south to Greenboro Station on a lunch break. I made a quick trip to Bank Street where I took some shots of the Walkley Diamond. It's actually a half diamond, but it still presents an interesting view from the Bank Street overpass. This is the view looking west. The line heading west is the CN Beachburg Sub, which now officially ends at Nepean Junction (although trackage west of this junction is still in place to Kanata North). The north-south track is the O-Train Trillium Line (officially the Capital Railway Ellwood Sub).

After an O-Train passed, I made sure to take a wide angle shot of the diamond from the overpass. This overpass would be a great place to shoot outgoing CN freight trains. I am going to head back here again to get shots when there is some more colour.


I made sure to walk across the overpass to take a shot east of Walkley Yard, which I have not visited in a long time. This gives you an idea of the size of the yard and its level of activity (not much). The building to the left is the O-Train maintenance facility.

When I headed back to board the O-Train, I took a shot of the trackage south of the existing O-Train service. This trackage, formerly the CP Prescott Sub, is still used occasionally by CN to deliver cars to the National Research Council's transportation research facility. Time will tell if this stretch sees future use as a commuter rail link to the airport and further south to the Riverside South neighbourhood. 
I saw this sign a number of times on the O-Train line and wondered what it meant. I did some quick research and found out that this marks the presence of a magnet trackside. These magnets are found at the passing sidings along the Trillium Line. They are part of a safety system that ensures the trains are running properly and are not exceeding limits. The magnets, placed beside the right rail, receive information from corresponding magnets on the trains travelling over them, which helps ensure that everything is operating as it should. Essentially, the ensure that the trains do not speed through areas where they need to reduce speed (like when one train passes by another on a siding. That's the layman's version. It's much more technical than that, as you can read here.
I also took a quick shot of the O-Train as it crossed the diamond on its way to pick us up. You can see the CTC sign and another one to the right. I know what the CTC means, but can someone tell me what the MT sign means? I've seen this a few times in my travels but have yet to figure out what it means.
I will save the story behind this catch (below) for a future post. Yes, this is CN 589, the Arnprior local, making its way over Moodie Drive. I have wanted to catch this train for years and was able to get a fleeting glimpse of it this week. I wish I had a perfect shot to share, but this was all I could get. More to come on this later.
Last item to share. There appears to be a new effort to save the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train on the old CP Maniwaki Sub. The train has not operated for years, due to a washout on the line, which has never been fixed. The railway is owned by municipal authorities in the Outaouais and West Quebec regions. A spokesman for the effort said he expected that there would be more to share soon, although he did mention that efforts to get the province to foot the bill for the track repairs has hit a snag. The province wants to make sure that the trackage is not prone to future washouts before it pays to have the line fixed. The group was expected to have something more definite by the end of March. Still no word on what the final decision will be. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Act Four for Ottawa's old Union Station

Ottawa's old Union Station is about to get a new lease on life. Again. The 103-year-old building, which served as the city's central passenger station until 1966, is about to undergo a $190-million rehabilitation to ensure the heritage structure is ready for its new task: housing the Senate of Canada.

In the fall, work began to clear what is known as the Government Conference Centre of all its employees so that the entire building could undergo much needed repairs. Anyone who has been inside this building for federal budget media locks-ups (like me) knows the building is tired. A number of ill-advised modifications made in the 1970s have hurt the building's aesthetics while a number of other much-needed modifications have been delayed.

Read about the interior of the station in this post.

The overdue renovations to the old Union Station were helped by the fact that Parliament Hill's Centre Block will soon undergo major renovations and rehabilitation, which will require the Senate Chamber to be vacated. That means the Senate will need a temporary home. That home will be in the old Union Station. The building's central Waiting Room has enough room to house the Senate and has played host to national political debates over the years.

This new function marks the third time this building has been selected for national duty following its use as a station. When tracks were removed from central Ottawa, the old station was in danger of being torn down, but was saved by heritage conscious citizens who fought for the structure's future.

The station was initially saved due to Canada's Centennial in 1967 when it was used as a home to a Canadian heritage display.

Amid questions over its future, the federal government converted the old station in a conference centre for all sorts of government uses. Unfortunately, that meant that the building was no longer open to the public. It is opened to the public for a couple of days a year as part of the Doors Open Ottawa event, although that will not be the case this year as the building is being fenced off.

I took a stroll around the old station on April 8 over my lunch hour to get some shots of the work being done. The shot below shows the east façade of the building. You can see the fencing is already up. This shot also shows the difference between the outer façade of the building the brick face of the inner parts of the building.

On the Rideau Canal side, I took a few shots of the old right-of-way. This is what engineers would have seen on their approach (although they would have been under the train sheds at this point). Of course, the trees, fencing, stone work and lamp posts were not there in the railway days. The tunnel beneath Wellington Street allowed trains to pass by the Chateau Laurier and over the Alexandria Bridge to Hull. That bridge is now used for cars and trucks.

Here's a shot from 1964 that shows what the approach to the station looked like in the waning days of the rail along the canal (Canada Science and Technology Museum collection). You can just make out the station through the haze.

Here's a shot of the west façade of the station today.

And another shot. As I mentioned, in the railway days, there were sheds for passengers disembarking from passenger trains, but they ended before trains emerged into daylight. Passengers would have seen these windows when their trains approached the Wellington Street bridge.

Here's a 1964 shot of a westbound CPR passenger train about to emerge from the sheds (Canada Science and Technology Museum archives). It is stationed right about the same spot where I took the photo above.

Now compare the top image in this post with a 1920s aerial, taken from Parliament Hill (Library and Archives Canada image). Note that the building itself is little changed except for the absence of the sheds. In the top image, you can just make out tiny glimpse of Ottawa's Shaw Centre, the city's major conference and events centre.

Before I finished my tour, I took a shot of the old station from the Mackenzie King Bridge. It's easy to imagine this is a functional station. You can also see the Chateau Laurier directly behind the old station.

Here's a shot, below, likely taken from Laurier Avenue, from an earlier vintage. A lot has changed since then, including the construction of the Mackenzie King bridge, which was the spot where I took the above shot. The freight sheds are gone along with the tracks. Also, the buildings to the right of the old station are mostly gone, replaced by Ottawa's Westin Hotel, the Rideau Centre mall and Shaw Centre. That rail yard has mostly been replaced by the Nicholas Street arterial road that feeds the Queensway and the University of Ottawa campus. Shot below is from the Canada Science and Technology Museum archives.

According to the government, the old station will begin housing the Senate in 2018, which means the renovation of this building will require years of work. The building needs new electrical and sprinkler systems, new plumbing fixture, new stone work and a host of other upgrades including removal of hazardous material (read into that what you will). Happily, some of the 1970s additions, including hideously ugly translations booths, will be removed, allowing the building's original features to be fully visible in the Waiting Room. Among the other curious items needing to be addressed will be the restoration of a skylight, which was painted over at some point in the building's past.

Special thanks to fellow blogger Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure for helping find the last photo in this post

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Don't stop believing

This past winter has really been a test of endurance, hasn't it? When you live in a northern city like Ottawa, long, cold winters are the norm. This one has been brutal, even by our hardy standards. We broke our record for consecutive days with weather below freezing (O C or 32 F), although most of those days were at least -10 to -15 C. Today, as I write this, we are experiencing freezing rain after some overnight snow. I decided drastic action was needed, so I gathered up some warm weather photos I have not shared before (along with one I have shared).

This first shot was actually taken Sept 28 of last year, which doesn't quite make it a summer shot (check out the changing colour of the leaves trackside). But I decided to include this shot of CN 589 because of the heat lines in the photo. The one-car consist is passing beneath Highway 416 in this shot on the Via Rail Smiths Falls Sub. You can see the Via speed limit to the right.

I've shared some similar photos of this meet in the past, but I don't think I've shared this one. This is CN 589 assembling in Walkley Yard on Sept. 1, 2013. I took this shot on a very sunny Sunday morning. I like the effect the morning sun made on the boxcars as well as CN 589. The cars all seem to exemplify the term sun-bleached. Ah, I can just feel that heat now.

This is one of my favourite shots. I took this one sometime in the summer of 1991 in Corunna, Ontario, in what was then a relatively new subdivision across the city's main street from my own neighbourhood. This is my only shot of a Chessie System cupola caboose in action. I remember hearing the train whistle in the distance and rushing on my bike down Murray Drive to a spot where I could grab a shot of the train. I had other shots of the meet at one time that have gone missing sadly. Still, I like this shot because it showcases two things that don't exist on this line anymore, one being cabooses in revenue service and the other being interchange autorack traffic. Looks like we needed some rain.

This one is from February 2014 in Kissimmee, Florida. I made sure to take an afternoon and shoot Amtrak's Silver Meteor, as it made its way north through Kissimmee on its way to New York City. The train is rounding a bend before making its way to the city's historic train station. The track bundles along the old Atlantic Coast Line's famous A Line were part of the work being done to ready to the old line for commuter rail. Oh, and word of advice to Via. Bring back train names.

Okay, how about this for summer? Here's Lake Louise's famous chalet-style train station in the summer of 1992. Check out that vintage car in the parking lot bottom right. I took this shot when my sister and I were wandering around this area on a vacation that summer. This shot was taken from the higher track, as you can tell from the ballast in the bottom left.

So, don't stop believing, as Steve Parry once famously crooned for Journey. The warm weather is coming. It has to, right? Right?