Thursday, August 6, 2015

Smiths Falls: Glimpses of Eastern Ontario's railway hub

I was recently in Smiths Falls with family and managed to fit in a great deal of train watching, which I will share in the months to come. Our trip to the town was specifically for the purposes of visiting the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario accompanied by my brother's family. Before we proceeded to the museum, I suggested we visit the Canadian Pacific rail yard in the centre of town so I could show my nephew, a huge train fan, some Canadian Pacific action. He has only seen the Canadian National yard in Sarnia, so I figured this would be a treat for him. Not surprisingly, he very quickly identified three large red locomotives as CP when we arrived at the yard.

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.

But it wasn't long before a few CP GP38-2s peeked out from behind the tank train, as they shuttled cars into position in the yard.

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.


_Don said...

Smiths Falls is a great spot to railfan. The platform gives a great view of the yard and switching. A tip: there is a regular crew change here (on weekdays at least) around noon. The big AC4400 series locomotives creep up right in front of the old station.

In roughly that time frame, say 11am to 1pm, you can see a couple of freights (including the crew change) and a VIA train as well. And there is the switching in the yard (although a bit far away) and the potential Omya turn as well. But it all happens in a very short window. And as is mentioned, on. A sunny day, the light is brutal for photos. But I did manage to get some good ones.

Michael said...

Great post as always! I've paid a visit to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario and was lucky enough to have a full tour by a retired engineer who I think is a part owner. I'm excited to see the posts about the historic artifacts, there were some relics there worth examining for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and would recommend any rail fan in the area to drop by at some point.

Michael said...

Thanks for the comments, gents. That's great information, Don. I plan to go back to Smiths Falls soon so I will keep that in mind. I agree with your assessment of the RMEO, Michael. I don't know if railfans realize just how much there is to see at this museum in Smiths Falls. I was surprised how much there is there.

Eric said...

Nice post, Michael. Darn oil train blocking everything, eh?

Here is a nice vantage point for the Falls:
it's aboard VIA Rail, arriving at the Falls from Ottawa.

We used to make a regular circuit from Kingston with the kids: Kingston to Smiths Falls, visit the yard, proceed to Merrickville for shopping for the ladies and Lark Spur Line hobby shop for me, return to Smiths Falls, Hershey factory chocolate fix (sadly closed now) then check the yard again before leaving town, and lunch or supper somewhere in the mix.

Smiths Falls is a proud railway town, though the CP presence, as in many such towns, has diminished greatly over the years with through trains and fewer railway workers. A good spot to visit, though!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post on Smiths Falls. I have always wondered how busy it was now that it is no longer the major junction for CP transcontinental freight that it once was.

Other than the mainline traffic between Toronto and Montreal that goes through Smiths Falls, what sort of freight traffic is run on the CP Brockville line (or the VIA Ottawa line?)


AJ said...

Nice! Looking forward to hearing about the museum. It's been on my to-do list for too long now.

Additionally, Smith's Falls is a great place to check out the annual holiday train. Had a fantastic time beside the station taking in the music and more importantly, the train. Same goes with checking out the swinging bridge downtown over the canal.

Eric - loved the Hershey factory too. After I moved back, I would take a run there with the gf on a lazy saturday afternoon for a few trains and some chocolate.

Wes - The big traffic on the VIA line is the Walkley to Barrhaven lumber run Sunday mornings - there is loads of great info on the blog here. Outside of that not much else. Not sure about Smiths Falls outside of the Glen Tay run which was talked about in this posting. Would be curious to find out myself.

GP9Rm4108 said...

Wes, the only freight traffic on the Brockville line are the cars for spotting at the industries in town and the cars for interchange with CN. The switcher runs 5-6 times a week and leaves Smiths Falls in the evening.

CP also has the turn that goes east to De Beaujeu during the day.

As far as I know, there is no freight traffic on the Smiths Falls end of the line to Ottawa.

And, anything that went up the Chalk River is still going through Smiths Falls. SF didn't lose any traffic with that closure.

Pete said...

I live in Perth and hear trains daily as there is a side track btw Perth and Smiths Falls down the road from me . Museum in Smiths Falls is great. Another cool side trip is to Tatlock north west of Perth where there is open pit mine that feeds calcium carbonate to plant near Perth. On a sunny day it is so bright white there is a fair distance down to the bottom ! Not too sure if access still possible near town of Tatlock
There is an outlook . Omya at one time was considering a rail line to the mine as the calcium is trucked currently. Watch out for trucks if you head up to mine! You are sure to pass one

Perth.Railfan said...

I live in Perth part-time (every weekend or so) And I've always loved seeing the trains come through daily. Been here in Perth since 2007 and it's seen so many changes until now in 2023. Living beside the CP Line at Drummond Street was always a great view, especially when all I had to do was look out my back window. I've seen everything from snowplow extras, to the end of the Expressway service, the 2013 collision with a snowplow. Not to mention I still pop into Perth and watch the trains and photograph them. My photos can be seen on Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook under the Perth.Railfan name