Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Happy Canada Day!

A small break from our regularly scheduled programming to wish a Happy Canada Day to all of the Beachburg Sub's Canadian readers.

Lake Huron sunset

I've been lucky enough to visit the following provinces of Canada:

British Columbia*
Much of Ontario
New Brunswick
Prince Edward Island
Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia (Cape Breton especially)

* - These two provinces are technically on the to-do list since I've only technically been to each. I switched planes at the Winnipeg airport and visited a glacier just over the Alberta-B.C. border.

No matter where I've been, this country never fails to astound me, especially its people. This country has is amazingly diverse in every sense of the word, but everywhere I go, I still get that feeling of pride in being Canadian. We are incredibly lucky to live in such a wonderful country.

For example, where else would you find the following?

Southwestern Ontario joke: Where's Drumbo? Just down the road from Innerkip, duh!

Weeds on the Citadelle Hill, Quebec City, 2010

Looking down from Signal Hill, St. John's, NL, 2005

Beautiful Louisbourg National Historic Site, Cape Breton Island

Nothing more Canadian than this. The Rockies, a grain train and the Canadian Pacific. Summer 1991, Banff Alta.

Samuel de Champlain Monument, Nepean Point, Ottawa

Happy Canada Day to all, from the Nation's Capital. Bonne FĂȘte du Canada mes amis! (And, hey, Happy Fourth of July to all readers stateside).


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Postcard from Chemical Valley

This week, I am starting a new and likely occasional feature on The Beachburg Sub. I plan to offer a single photograph and tell the stories attached with that single image. I am doing this for a few reasons. One, I have a number of photos that don't really fit in with any particular theme. Second, I feel like this format allows me to roam a little bit and tell some stories that I am not always able to explore in more regularly structured postcards.

So, with that, here is my first postcard, from beneath a bridge in Sarnia's Chemical Valley.

This shot, taken last Dec. 22, was shot beneath a bridge that carries Vidal Street above the CSX Sarnia Subdivision. You can see the shadow cast by the overpass in the shot. The road you see, partially in shadow, is the former stretch of Vidal Street, which once crossed three CSX tracks via a level crossing. That crossing would often produce traffic headaches as CSX trains would often block the crossing as they shunted cars in and out of the Dow Chemical refinery.

The overpass was built in the early 1980s to ease traffic flow and deal with safety concerns. The map below shows where I took the photo and gives you an idea of the track alignment. The old road just above the one labelled 33 is the former stretch of Vidal Street which once passed over the CSX tracks at a level crossing.

Fast forward to today and the old stretch of Vidal Street is part of a ghost town. The Dow Chemical refinery is long gone, having been closed in the early 1990s. In its place, all that is left is a vast expanse of concrete, old settling ponds, a few rail spurs and a small cogeneration plant. There has been talk of a business park on the old Dow site, but very little has happened here since most of the old refinery was dismantled.

That means this stretch of the valley remains pretty quiet, especially along the rails. CSX still uses some of the tracks here to park tank cars or queue them up before delivering them to other chemical plants further down the line. The image I took makes it look like the tank cars are parked on the main line, which is what I thought when I took the photograph. But the map shows you that this is not the case.

I vividly remember crossing these tracks when I was a child and often having to wait for the Chessie System painted geeps to clear the crossing long enough for my frustrated parents to drive by. Of course, as a kid, I was happy to sit in the back seat and watch the trains ply the rails. Sometimes, we would catch a glimpse of Dow Chemical's orange SW locomotive, which performed switching duties on the refinery's tracks.

Last December, when I visited this spot, I hoped I could catch something happening,  but this was all I was able to capture. I'm not a fan of photographing stationary cars, but in this case, the image sparked a flood of memories of busier times.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The path through the downtown: the Point Edward Spur

I have written a few posts about a curious little spur through downtown Sarnia called the Point Edward spur. The line used to go into Point Edward, a small village surrounded by Sarnia, but today is ends at the Cargill grain elevators on Sarnia Bay. The line winds through city parks and parallels Front Street, making its way around office buildings, a band shell, condos and a number of other things in the downtown.

You can read my first post about this spur here. The second post can be here.

I was lucky to receive some photos from my brother Marc who was in downtown Sarnia on April 27th. He happened to have his digital SLR with him when he heard a nearby horn, telling him that the CN local was making its away along the spur, which hugs the St. Clair River in different spots. The train was making its way to the Sarnia Yard.

The first shot above, shows the local returning from the grain elevators, with 7248 on point, being aided by a slug and safety scheme-clad 4136 sitting third.

Here's a closer view. You can just make out a piece of Sarnia's government pier to the left of the lead unit, which is where the grain elevators are located.

One final going away shot shows how close the track runs along Front Street in the downtown, with no fencing. The shot also gives you an idea of how the line is at street level for much of its run. You may also notice that the flowers were beginning to bloom in southwestern Ontario way back in April. Up here in Ottawa, we were only beginning to see the first hints of the crocuses (or croci? I've seen both usages) at that time.
You will also notice the covered hopper trailing behind the motive power. CN maintains this spur solely to service the Cargill elevator. The facility has two tracks where hoppers are spotted to take on grains, oilseeds (canola for example) and fertilizer, that are dropped off at the elevators by cargo ships. The elevators handle 500,000 tonnes of grain and 100,000 tonnes of dry fertilizer per year. That equals out to 30 freight ships docking at the elevators last year. CN movements to this elevator vary, according to the season and the amount of product to be offloaded. Here's a shot I took of some hoppers being loaded in December 2013.
Those who checked out my previous posts about this line will notice that the motive power on this line has changed over the years. In the 1990s, this line was served almost exclusively by SW1200 switchers, but that has changed as these old engines have disappeared from Sarnia. Another big change is that the line no longer hosts a small rail yard for ferry consists, since the ferry was retired when the new St. Clair Tunnel was opened in 1994. You can see the remnants of that old rail yard behind a downtown park (see map below). Nothing has been done with this land, although many different proposals have been floated about for its future use.
Here's a quick map I sketched out with the help of Google. See the legend below for an explanation of the arrows.
Red arrow - This is where the spur branches out of Sarnia Yard. Click here for photos I took of a train on this part of the spur last summer.
Green arrow - This is the site of the old CN ferry, which operated until the new St. Clair Tunnel was operational in 1994. Click here to see a post with shots of this old yard in its prime.
Teal arrow - This is where the spur crosses over Front Street at an angle.
Orange arrow - This is where the spur crosses back over Front Street and enters Centennial Park on its way to the grain elevator. This was also the point where the Point Edward Spur used to proceed on into Point Edward. There was once trackage here that was used for car storage.
Yellow arrow - End of the line. Cargill Grain Elevators.
I'm hoping I can do some shooting alongside this spur when I plan my next visit to the area later this year. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The sizzle and the steak: The Arnprior Local caught

If all the chatter about the elusive Arnprior Local train is the sizzle, may I humbly present the steak. Yes, after years of talking about it, I managed to find the time on a recent Wednesday morning to wait for CN 589 on the Beachburg Subdivision as it made its way toward Arnprior to service the Nylene Canada plant. You can read the particulars about this train here. You can also read about my near miss moment with the same train here.

Now, I'm not going to pretend like all the shots below are the definitive shots of this train out there, but they are the best I have to offer so far. The first shot is looking south to a point where the east-west rail alignment on Beachburg turns north so the line can cross under Highway 417, or the Queensway as it is known locally.

I was perched at the level crossing where the line meets the Trans-Canada Trail. Below you see a long shot of the train making the turn.

Here's a closer shot. You can see the engineer and the conductor looking out as 9418 trundles toward Arnprior long hood forward. Lots of spring foliage encroaching on the ballast in this spot. This part of the subdivision crosses through the Greenbelt.

I'm sure the crew was wondering, 'A railfan? Man, must be that blogger.' I'm sure they can count the rail fans in Ottawa on one hand.

Here's where things get interesting. As the train approached the crossing, I noticed something on the side of 9418. Can you make it out in this shot?

How about now?

Okay, here it is. This is a CN North America-painted geep! As I mentioned in an earlier post, these are not all that common, although a few readers told me they are still more plentiful than I thought. Still, it's the first time I've seen one in Ottawa in my time watching trains. The livery looks to be in pretty decent shape.

I wanted to capture some interesting shots of the train heading under the Queensway. This vantage point allowed me to capture a few decent going away shots as the train rounded the curve. Beyond the highway lies the Corkstown Road level crossing followed by a short stretch of track before Beachburg gives way to the Renfrew Spur at Nepean Junction. This spot, where the spur and Beachburg separate, is a junction mainly in name only now. Most of Beachburg beyond Nepean has been removed, although I suspect the CWR train may return at some point this summer to gather up what's left of the subdivision that's still in place through northern Kanata and beyond.

Here's another shot with a little more tank car showing.

After the train passed me by, I crossed the track and took a shot from the other side of the crossing. The cloud cover really helped me with the shadows. You can just make out a few cars rushing by on the Queensway above the train.

So, those are the highlights of my meet with this train recently. I would love to catch it again, but I have to find a Wednesday morning or afternoon when I have the time to wait for it. While I was waiting, a few women walking along the trail asked if I was waiting for a train. I guess rail fans are a rare sight. While I was waiting, I did try to capture a few shots of a goldfinch that was hanging around, but he was not co-operative.

It was a lot of fun to catch the train here. I would recommend this spot to anyone interested in shooting the Arnprior Local from a safe place. As you can see from the top image, the vantage points are great and the long straightaway before the crossing gives you lots of time to prepare your shot. I was briefly considering naming this crossing as an Ottawa hot spot but since the frequency of trains is two per week, I thought better of it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A different perspective

Sometimes, looking at things through the eyes of a child gives you a fresh perspective on life. I was reminded of that recently as I watched trains with my daughter.

I have largely been striking out in my attempts to capture CN freight trains around Ottawa, which has been a source of frustration. Over the last few Sundays, I have brought my daughter along with me. We have not seen CN 589, which often follows a Via corridor train south along the Smiths Falls Subdivision.

On May 3, we did catch this interesting Via consist as a P42 was helping a disabled F40PH-2. You can see the interesting angles that are possible at the McKenna Casey crossing. You can also see how Via's new renaissance paint scheme fits together between the F40PH-2 and the Business Class coach. The P42s still sport the blue, yellow and grey. I made sure to pull over in a little gravel lot, so my daughter wouldn't be too scared by the sound of the train.

On Monday of the Victoria Day weekend, I brought my daughter along to the Fallowfield train station to catch another corridor train. I did this to give my wife and our newborn daughter a break at home.

When we were at the station, it dawned on me that, as mundane as it is to me to catch a Via corridor train, for my daughter, it was thrilling, particularly since she was able to get so close to the trains on the platform. My daughter told me she liked the 'green' on the train. Seeing things through her eyes, I took the opportunity to explain to her who the people were in the locomotive among a number of other things. I was able to teach her why we needed to stay behind the yellow lines. We walked along the engine a bit, which my daughter found fascinating. The two Via employees in the cab happily obliged my daughter by waving to her. I'm not sure how that tradition started, but it seems like a normal fact of life that engineers and kids instinctively know to wave to each other when a train goes by.

While at the station, I also was able to explain to my daughter why the train's bell was ringing and why its horn was blaring as the train crossed the Woodroffe Avenue crossing. They are big, powerful machines and can be dangerous if you don't respect railway property. This was a good opportunity for me to explain this to my daughter.

Yep, it was all new and exciting. Much more exciting than watching a train rush by the Moodie Drive crossing, which is where I have taken her on recent Sunday excursions. By going to the station, she was able to experience so much more.

Here's a video I took of the train's departure for Toronto. Watch the cab window closely. A big thanks to the Via crew for making things a little more special for my daughter.

And as it left, my daughter was smiling and telling me, "That was a fun train, Daddy."

It was a good reminder that, despite my weeks of disappointment in not catching CN freight trains on Sundays, there is still a simple joy of sitting trackside and watching trains do their thing. I'm glad my daughter was able to remind me of this.

Via Rail News

Construction work is progressing quickly at the Via Rail Greenbank Road crossing where an underpass is being built to remove a level crossing in one of the busiest stretches of the Barrhaven neighbourhood. This will also alleviate some safety concerns in the area, where a number of glitches with the warning lights and safety barriers have required extensive repairs in the past year.

Via is also busy preparing for construction of a passing siding at Wass, a stretch of track  immediately west of Via's Central Station. This passing siding is one measure the railway is taking to improve traffic flow and safety on its local tracks. Despite the lack of freight activity on Ottawa tracks, it's important to note that Via's Ottawa station is the company's third busiest in Canada.