Our first glimpses of the yard were actually rather disappointing, since this train, led by ES44AC 8723, was blocking pretty much the entire view. The early morning sun was also not casting this train in a terribly flattering light.
We walked the platform and took photos of the kids against the backdrop of the old CP/Via Rail passenger station. As we wandered and took shots, I kept my eye on the two geeps that were switching the yard behind the tank train. My patience paid off as I got a good shot of this blue gondola. Granted, I wasn't at the ideal point for shots, but the long platform still afforded us a unique vantage point. (There are a number of side streets around this yard that would allow you to get great shots of freight trains on the curve you see. I made a mental note to scout out these spots for future visits.)
Just before we set off for our outing to the railway museum, we heard the two geeps gearing up once more, but this time, they weren't shunting. They were pulling out of the yard with a tank car consist. And it wasn't just any consist.
These tank cars are familiar to most of us, no doubt. These are Omya-branded tank cars that are used to transport limestone slurry for the Omya plant, which is located at milepost 15.5 (Glen Tay) on the Belleville Subdivision in Perth Ont. This plant, just west of Smiths Falls, is a major customer on this line. The plant's recent expansion ensures we will see these trains riding the rails in Eastern Ontario for some time.
This train was more than likely returning empty tank cars to the plant, judging by a number of different posts I found online. Most people who have caught this westward-bound train leaving Smiths Falls mentioned that these movements are for returning empty cars.
The limestone slurry in these cars is a mixture of 20 per cent calcium carbonate and 80 per cent water.
The Omya plant creates its calcium carbonate products by mixing water out of the Tay River with marble that is mined near Perth. Calcium carbonate is a key component in products such as toothpaste, paper products, paint, plastics and mortar and mortar board. It is also used in coal generating stations, where it reacts with sulphur dioxide emissions and essentially renders these emissions far less toxic.
The Omya cars were too far away for me to see their reporting marks with the naked eye, but my camera images, when blown up, revealed that they were patched UTLX (Union Tank Car Co.) and SHPX (ACF Industries).
There are three other possibilities as these leased cars are also patched for GATX (General American Marks Co.), NATX (General Electric Rail Services) and TILX (Trinity Industries Leasing Corp.). These cars are fairly common throughout the North American rail system, since Omya has a number of facilities throughout North America, including Mexico.
For those who don't know, Smiths Falls is your best bet for railfanning in Eastern Ontario, given its location at the junction of the CP Winchester, Belleville and Brockville subdivisions as well as the Via Rail Smiths Falls subdivision (Via uses the CP Brockville Sub as well). Up until 2011, CP's Chalk River subdivision also ended in Smiths Falls until it was abandoned and dismantled.
This map gives you an idea of layout of trackage in the city. In the coming months, I will be profiling a number of the historic artifacts that I saw at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario. A number of the cars here are worthy of their own examinations, so I will be sharing shots and thoughts from this museum for a while, rather than dumping everything into one or two posts.
Smiths Falls is about 45 minutes southeast of Ottawa. I wasn't sure what I would find when I arrived here with my family recently, but was pleasantly surprised with the abundance of activity. I was told that most activity in the Smiths Falls yard happens in the morning, which turned out to be true when we arrived there.
For a train-starved Ottawan, it was as good as it gets.