Thursday, May 7, 2015

My first glimpse of the Arnprior local

Blogging about railways in Ottawa is frustrating at the best of times. But it's even worse when you squander the few opportunities you get in this city. This is one of those stories.

Let me start by saying that, of all the topics I have mentioned on this blog over two years, one of the most popular topics is the weekly Arnprior train. It's a runt of a train, really, although all freight trains in Ottawa are. This train, for whatever reason, seems to fascinate readers. I have received a number of emails and inquires about this train, which heads out to Arnprior each Wednesday morning via the Beachburg Subdivision before it branches off onto the Renfrew Spur. The train usually passes through Bells Corners and Kanata around 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. After delivering its load of tank cars and performing its switching duties at Nylene Canada, it collects empties and heads back through west Ottawa around 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. By the looks of the consists, it wouldn't surprise me if the train unloads its cars, waits for them to be emptied, and returns them to Walkley Yard.

Recently, I had one of the very few opportunities to catch this train. I have lived in Bells Corners since 2010 and have never once seen a train plodding over the tracks through our neighbourhood (Beachburg Sub contributor Dave M. has caught this train, which you can read about here).

In many ways, I have been preparing for this train for years. I've scouted out locations where I could safely catch this train. I've even taken shots of the rail architecture, like this shot of the Moodie Drive rail bridge on New Year's Day.

This is another vantage point I'd like to use. This is the rail bridge over Robertson Road on New Year's Day.

Collecting all the information my readers have shared, I came up with a plan on a recent Wednesday, when I found myself at home for the day. Usually, I work in downtown Ottawa, which does not allow for any opportunities to wait around for this train. I decided to camp out at a scenic stretch of track along Corkstown Road, where there is a place to park and  where there are a number of safe vantage points to catch this train on a scenic stretch of the Beachburg Subdivision. My original plan was to go at 2:45 p.m., since most of my readers who have caught this train tell me it makes its return trip anywhere from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

I was held up at home, preparing a few things for dinner. By the time I was ready to wait for this train, it was 3:00 p.m. I thought I was safe when a sickening feeling crept into my head as I drove down Moodie Drive. I was waiting at a red light when I thought, what if the train goes by on the Moodie Drive bridge when I'm at this light?

Lesson learned. Don't tempt the railway gods. As soon as I thought that, I saw some white and black movement on the rail line. Lo and behold, CN 589 was making its return trip to Walkley Yard earlier than I had expected. As I waited at the light, I fired up my camera and took a few desperate shots, not bothering to frame them. I had to watch the road and wait for the green light. I figured I should take a chance since I didn't know when I would ever get another chance to catch this train. So, I fired off one shot, which you can see above.

As the train slowly plodded across the bridge, I used my zoom and tried another shot, while still waiting for the green light. Given the traffic on the road, I figured I would not have a chance to take a shot while the car was moving (obviously). My second shot turned out okay, except for the telephone pole that killed what could have been a decent shot. You will notice that the shots are not level. I only cropped them a little because I wanted to show what happens when you fire off a few blind shots.

This final shot was taken once the car got going. I wasn't looking at the tracks at all but I aimed the camera in the train's general direction as the road dipped down under the right-of-way. Nothing much to see, but it was the best I could do, thanks to my timing. That blurry sign to the left marks that the land surrounding the rail line is part of the National Capital Commission's Greenbelt.
As a point of interest, the black and white tank cars carry frozen raw materials to Nylene Canada that are then used to produce polymers for nylon and carpet materials. There was some discussion about the safety of transporting these goods through Ottawa's western suburbs, but Nylene Canada told local media last year that these materials are far less volatile than crude oil. Trains using Beachburg usually plod along the tracks slowly.
Beachburg Sub reader Pat Stever also took up the chase recently and captured the Arnprior local  when he heard the train coming through Kanata at 10:45 a.m. Pat got into his car and managed to snag this shot of the westbound consist at Craig Side Road near Carp (below). The weather was lousy, he tells me, but the shot turned out quite nicely. Thanks to Pat for contributing to the hunt and passing along this shot.
So, that's about all I can share about my brief encounter with the Arnpior local. An optimist would point out that I at least caught the train on the bridge, which was not part of my original plan. A pessimist would say that I came so close only to lose out on a great chance to catch this train properly.
Either way, for local rail watchers, you can mark this information down, if you are keeping score. On April 15, CN 589 was passing through Bells Corners at 3:05 p.m. I would ask local readers to make note of the time they either hear or see the train passing through Bells Corners or Kanata. I am hoping we can build up a bank of times that will allow us to catch this ghost a few more times.
For example, here are the return times I've noted recently.
April 29th - 4:30 p.m. through Bells Corners (I heard the whistle on my way home from the bus stop)
April 15th - 3:00 p.m. through Bells Corners (pictured above)


DaveM said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has been stumped by trying to catch 589.

As for why catching the Arnprior local is quite popular, I've often tried to figure that out as well. The consist is usually quite small and boring, but for some unknown reason I find myself drawn into seeing it.


Michael said...

Great post Michael! As I made an effort this passing Wednesday (yesterday) to catch this train I was thinking, maybe it would be wise for readers to setup a spreadsheet and fill in the times when we hear or catch this train, this would probably increase our chances of the catch dramatically.

As I mentioned, yesterday I had some time off and was lucky enough to catch 589 westbound to Arnprior and on the return trip back to Ottawa. This being the first time I have been able to do that, I obtained some information on the specifics. I caught a glimpse of it passing over Greenbank road at 9:25 AM, I then caught eastbound at the same place at 3:30 PM. This means that the trip in whole takes around 6 hours to complete. This could possibly render useful if you hear the whistle at a certain time in the morning.

Anyway, I'm glad you have finally (technically) caught this train, it's been a long time coming! I hope in the future you'll be able to do it more justice.

_Don said...

Timing is everything. The really best place to catch this one is on Carp. It really does trundle at 10mph because the tracks are so poor, and there are decent vantage points.

My doctor is in Carp and one day I actually saw it when it was still under the Ottawa Central livery with an RS18 on the point.

This was before smartphones so no shots. Since then any visit to the doctor includes bringing a camera just in case. No luck yet.

On one occasion I was waiting for the doctor to come in the room and I heard the horn. I was very tempted to cut out and see it!

Eric said...

This was a page-turner, Michael (well, for a blog post).

I have been skunked or worse, just this close to not being skunked but still skunked many times. These instances will comprise an upcoming post, Not So Great Moments in Railfanning. Of course, the positive flipside will be...more than outweighing the above...Great Moments in Railfanning!

Continued Vigilance et bonne chance!

Steve Boyko said...

I usually don't blog about my missed shots like this, but we all have them! At least you did get a few shots of it. Next time!

Keith said...

I'll take a stab at why it's popular... It's the only thing that ever goes out there anymore!!! If you want to catch a train on the Beachburg sub, this is all there is to look forward to, which is sad really, but true.

Several years ago, I worked on Roydon Place, near Merivale/Huntclub. The building I worked in was right beside the tracks, and there were multiple OCR movements along the line every day. There were often switching movements as well at the propane facility, but I'm not sure if it's there anymore or not.

Sadly, it was pre-smartphone/camera days, so never got a shot, but I regularly went out to watch the consists going by in either direction. The switching was the best because there was lots of stopping and starting, and the old MLW's gave a great smoke show every time.

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I was somewhat hesitant about posting these somewhat lacklustre shots, but as many have pointed out, in west Ottawa, this train is the only game in town. I figure it was worth showing these shots just to relay the story. I like Michael's observation that the round trip takes six hours. That might be the most promising lead we've had. Otherwise, the times where this train passes through Bells Corners, Kanata and Carp seem utterly random.

AJ said...

Nice post. I'm a big fan of the 3rd shot you fired off BTW.
I work off Baseline at Qualicum and often hear the train horns as it is passing by before I leave at 3:30 - I'll be sure to post anything I hear (or see when I get to catch it off Cedarview one of these days). I can say I have heard it as early as 2:30 and as late as 4ish (when I stay late).

Jeff said...

For awhile I would see 589 eastbound at Carp at around 1400 (2:00 p.m.)However, the last two Wednesdays it has gone through Carp eastbound at around 1500 (3:00 p.m.), which would mean it probably went through Bells Corners some time between 1545 and 1615 (3:45 and 4:15).

AJ said...

Thanks for the tip Jeff as I can confirm it. Just caught it minutes ago and can confirm that it went over the 416 bridge at 4:04. Was lucky enough to video/picture it!

Michael said...

Congrats AJ! Mission accomplished!

Jeff said...

Today (Wednesday, May 20th) I saw 589 eastbound at Kinburn at 1320 (1:20 p.m.), so I estimate that it would have gone through Carp at around 1414 and Bells Corners around 1505.

OCRR4204 said...

The product in the tank cars is Caprolactam. It takes hours/days to unload with the aid of steam as they are basically rolling popsicles. Nylene has 2 tracks with 3 unloading stops on each The train crew has special spotting instructions for each car so it could take some time to do all the moves. In my time at the OCRR and CN the plant has changed hands 3 times. BASF, then Honeywell Nylon and finally Nylene. The DBCX cars are owned by BASF and the product normally originates at a facility in Texas but some cars are loaded in Georgia. In the 2000s the longest trains had 7 tank cars and at one time Honeywell would load one or 2 covered hoppers a week with leftover nylon which was shipped to another Honeywell plant in the US.

As for the train's departure time it is affected by the amount of switching to be done at Walkley Yard as well as the tiny window of time between the O-Trains at the Walkley diamond. The old O-Train schedule had our times for a signal out of the yard at 08:57, 09:12, 09:27, 09:42 etc.

Ian McCord
ex OCRR Car Controller / CN Yard Master
Nepean, Ontario

Michael said...

Ian -- Thanks for your comments. That is great information. I will be sure to point this out in a future post. Thanks for dropping by and informing us!

OCRR4204 said...

You are welcome Michael,

This morning's 589 with CN 9418 long hood forward and 3 loaded tank cars is approaching Wass Jct as I type this at 08:23.

OCRR4204 said...

Eastbound at Federal 15:27.