Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who killed the train in the Ottawa Valley?

These past few weeks have been frustrating for me as an Ottawa rail fan. I was twice able to leave the house early to try and catch the one weekly freight train that travels over this blog's namesake subdivision. Only to be disappointed.

As I spent time waiting for the train that never came, I began to wonder, are railways in any way relevant in the Ottawa Valley anymore? And who or what killed the train in this region? As I pondered those questions this week, I surprised myself with some of the conclusions I reached.

This deer was the only thing I saw on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 16, as I waited for the Arnprior local.

My first conclusion is that, despite everything that has happened since the 1950s, railways are still very much relevant in the Ottawa Valley, more specifically Ottawa, although the impact of the decisions in decades past are now being felt more than ever. What I mean is that trains, specifically passenger trains, could be relevant in the Valley, if the infrastructure was still in place. I won't wax on about the possibilities if the CN northern main line and CP Chalk River Sub were still in place. The reality is they are gone and for good reason. Rail lines need heavy industry trackside and other rail-friendly businesses in order to thrive. This, in turn, allows passenger lines to thrive by extension. The sad reality is globalization has killed many small-scale manufacturing businesses that were once common throughout Canada. Railways, specifically CN and CP, have become continental long-haul railways that do a good job moving imported goods from port to major centres, not to mention moving bulk commodities from their source to refineries and the market. These railways are not in business to provide local services on local spurs.

So, why do I think railways are still relevant in Ottawa? Well, it's clear that Via Rail is doing quite well in Ottawa, as evidenced by the opening of its second local passenger station, Fallowfield, in 2001. More recently, major track improvements have been made in the city, including a new passing siding at Wass. Via's local schedule of trains departing for and arriving from Toronto and Montreal is impressive. This is Via's third busiest hub. That says something.

Typical busy day at Ottawa's main railway station, April 2014.

The distance between Montreal and Ottawa is such that driving between these cities is no big deal. But the train still thrives between these cities because it is not all that convenient to drive to either city during rush hour and it's certainly not advisable to drive in either city's downtown core without a solid game plan.

This reminds me of European railways. They connect neighbouring cities where cars aren't always a feasible means of transportation. For this reason, Ottawa's passenger rail service will more than likely continue to be strong, government willing.

This leaves one question in my mind: What happened to the towns in the Valley that once had a reliable rail link? This is where I think you can make several arguments, but I think it's more easily explained by a chain of events. To be clear, the loss of passenger trains in the Valley isn't as cut and dried, or as romantic, as railfans would have you believe. It's simple economics. The rail lines in the Valley became less busy for freight railways, driven by the same economic factors that have hallowed out manufacturing towns in eastern North America for decades. In CN's case, a northern main line was overly expensive to maintain, particularly through stretches like Algonquin Park.

A CN freight train passes over a shoo-fly track near Moodie Drive in 1973. This rail line now hosts one round-trip per week (Canada Science and Technology Museum).

Once the freight railways lost business on lines like the Beachburg and Chalk River subs, passenger rail was in trouble. There were two reasons why these passenger trains have disappeared. The first reason is simple: passenger trains travel over CN and CP tracks at the whim of these freight railways. Once a line is redundant to a freight railway, Via's chances of keeping that route are slim. Ask those who fought to have that rail line in New Brunswick retained for Via's service there (happily, the line was retained, but not without lots of drama). More close to home, the Canadian travelled on CP's Carleton Place Sub only until CP decided it wasn't worth keeping that line around.

The second reason passenger trains have disappeared are closely tied to the first. When business dries up in these small towns, the very nature of these towns change. Unless these towns manage to reinvent themselves as tourist hotspots or in some other way, their economy suffers. The demand for rail travel diminishes as there are fewer reasons to go to these towns by train.

We can't overlook the obvious fact that passenger rail in small towns has also been affected by the development of bigger, better, safer highways, even in fairly remote areas in the upper Ottawa Valley. This was a continental trend, which has resulted in a number of problems in American cities where freeways have destroyed neighbourhoods and segmented cities. But for towns in the Valley, highway construction has become the main form of local transportation.

Finally, deregulation made it much easier for CN and CP to dispose of rail lines that were not profitable, including the Beachburg, Chalk River, Ellwood, Prescott and Lachute subdivisions, all lines that were once prominent in the region. Of course, this factor is not unique to Ottawa. Rail fans in every corner of the country can point to a line close to home that has since been abandoned. The complicating factor for rail fans is that the Canadian government does not have strong legislation that prevents railways from ripping up track when there is a compelling local case to be made for retaining those rails. For example, if the city wanted to save Beachburg for whatever reason but could not immediately afford the asking price, there would be little to stop CN from ripping up the track. The situation in the United States seems much easier for local groups who are interested in retaining rail lines.

All these factors have combined to make stops like Carleton Place, Almonte, Perth, Arnprior, Pembroke, Petawawa but a memory.

The question that I often have when I think of these old train stops is what do people do for a living in some of these more remote towns (Petawawa being the exception, everybody knows it's a military town)? The businesses close, the rails disappear but these towns persist. What keeps these towns alive? Some exist as bedroom communities for people who commute to Ottawa, but the others struggle. It's a question that I cannot answer.

CN Rapido service on the Beachburg Subdivision in 1972 (Canada Science and Technology Museum)

We cannot discount how much of an impact the Greber Plan has had in driving railways out of Ottawa. The plan, for those who might not know, was devised by what is now the National Capital Commission in the 1950s. The plan called for the removal of most railway lines from the central part of Ottawa. Most of those lines were removed in the late 1960s, including the main passenger line to Ottawa's former Union Station downtown. The beautification scheme mostly made sense, since there were too many rail lines in Ottawa, including a large rail yard where much of the University of Ottawa's more modern campus now sits. It makes no sense to have such a large railway presence and related industries so close to the Parliamentary precinct.

But, I truly believe anyone who is fair minded would agree that the plan went too far. Having a passenger rail link in Ottawa's downtown core makes more sense today than ever. Via still does quite well in this city. The value a railway brings to a city like Ottawa very much depends on its ability to deliver passengers to the downtown core. Railways understood this 100 years ago and Via understands this today. If you have to drive out to an airport on the edge of town, pay a king's ransom for parking or cab fare, arrive hours early to clear security and check your baggage and wait for your plane to take off after it taxis behind a string of other planes, you will begin to consider the train as a viable form of transportation.

Ottawa's main station is perched in no man's land, beside the Queensway, without an efficient link to the highway. On the station's back side is a massive big box store development (former railway land); on another side, a busy four lane divided arterial road; on another side a cluster of small-scale office buildings and shops. Just beyond that small industrial area is a small subdivision with streets named after the letters of the alphabet. You get the idea. Imagine if the city still had use of its Union Station downtown. Granted, it would infringe on parkland near the canal, but I have never understood how having a busy parkway on either side of the canal makes any more sense than having a single railway track.

As an example of a city where this arrangement works, allow me to submit for your consideration, Quebec City.

Quebec City's Via Rail Terminal in August 2010.

This station, much like Ottawa's old Union Station, is an architectural marvel very close to old Quebec. I would imagine if Ottawa had retained a rail connection along the lines of the one in Quebec, residents would come to appreciate having such a connection in the heart of their city. But the car-crazy 1960s beautification scheme that transformed Ottawa will never permit this to happen. And make no mistake, the Greber Plan was very much geared toward creating major car thoroughfares. Anyone who sees the truck traffic on Rideau Street or the patchwork quilt of roads and abandoned stores behind the Rideau Centre mall in the downtown can thank the Greber Plan in part for this mess.

Also, the existence of the Queensway and the Vanier Parkway are both largely thanks to the use of railway lands and tracks for roads. In many respects, these thoroughfares are a product of a time when highways were seen as a showpiece of a modern city. Just look at some of the original renderings of the Queensway and you will see the vision, however flawed, that planners had at the time.

The city did do one very smart thing with old railway tracks when it created the bus-only Transitway. This rapid bus road crosses much of the city with very minimal stoppages, allowing commuters a convenient option for getting to and from work. The system has flaws, of course, like the bottleneck of buses in the old city core, where the Transitway makes use of downtown arterial streets, but on the whole, it's an excellent system. When I heard that politicians wanted a light rail system and wanted to operate it through downtown with a tunnel, I scratched my head and wondered why the same consideration wasn't given to buses. After all, the city already has much of the Transitway infrastructure in place and buses offer more flexibility than trains for commuters. No matter what your view of the new light rail system, you can't deny that using old railway lines for a bus road was a silver lining to the worst elements of the Greber Plan.

So, for those keeping track, those are all the elements that I believe led us to where we're at today. Economic forces have caused a great deal of industry to leave the Ottawa Valley, which includes pulp and paper, manufacturing and other commodities that freight railways used to rely on for revenue. Once those businesses closed, the freight railways scaled back their operations and eventually abandoned their rights-of-way. That in turn has killed passenger rail along those rail lines. Those economic factors combined with an anti-rail development plan in Ottawa, which further reduced the rail network's prominence in the region. Deregulation further eroded the national railway presence in the Valley.

The more recent developments include CN taking over for former shortline Ottawa Central and subsequently tearing up much of the remaining Beachburg Subdivision between Pembroke and Nepean Junction.

That moves leaves several remaining industries along that former line and the shortened Renfrew Spur (wood pellet plant in Portage-du-Fort, aerospace manufacturing facility in Arnprior and other businesses without rail service) with no other option than to use trucks. Despite efforts to re-establish rail service on the old Beachburg line, the rails are gone and the last remaining rails in the Valley are now only a memory.

Switcher and two old cabooses in Pembroke, 1973. That rails in this Ottawa Valley community are now gone.

All this leaves the question in my mind, what's next for railways in Ottawa? I think there is reason for faint hope and here's why.

The first reason there could be hope is that Ottawa is busy re-establishing rails for a 2018 launch of its electrified commuter rail service. While this won't have any impact on the Valley's rail network on a larger basis, it will at least bring railways back into prominence in the city. There was some talk years ago of freight railways using the city's LRT line for freight operations outside the hours of O-Train operation. I don't see this happening anytime soon, but it at least raises the possibility that it could happen, if there was a willing partner.

I think it's highly probable that a shortline operator could return to Ottawa in the future, if there is a business case to be made. Currently, I don't think there's enough carloads or traffic to entice a shortline operator along the lines of the Ottawa Central. But I think that if the CN was given a chance to leave Ottawa, it would leave in an instant for the right price. It's fairly common knowledge that CN had very little interest in returning to this city when it was given control of the OCR as part of a package of railway operations it purchased in 2008. It seems to me that Ottawa would be a natural fit as an intermodal hub, since our city is the largest urban centre this far north and could potentially act as a gateway hub for cities further north. American railways have followed this model, but CP and CN seem content to funnel their container trains to the major centres exclusively. Perhaps Ottawa is too close to Montreal for any container train facilities. But it seems like a good spot for a regional container offloading spot where trains offload container trains and trucks take them to cities throughout the Valley and into Northern Ontario.

Finally, if there was ever the political will to do so, I think Ottawa would be an integral part of a high-speed rail corridor. We seem to have lost our interest in nation building exercises, which include high-speed rail links. Thinking of the last attempt at a project of this scale, one might be able to make a case for the Trans-Canada Highway as the most recent example. I am encouraged that other countries have pursued high-speed rail with some success. Heck, if the United States can do it in California (so far anyway), then surely it's not out of the question for Canada to pursue this. But that would require the political will, which is the tricky part.

A few backers have suggested that Ottawa and its surrounding municipalities could benefit from a GO Transit model that would deliver commuters to Ottawa via commuter trains, but the appetite for that type of system has not attracted any political backers, sadly.

Unfortunately, Ottawa has been spoiled by half a century of not really having to live alongside an active rail network. Most people in the city have very little idea of just how much potential Ottawa's rail network holds. The current LRT love-in among city politicians notwithstanding, there is very little understanding of railways in Ottawa.

So, that's my take on what's happened to the rails in the Valley and what might be ahead for this form of transportation. To answer the question I first posed in the title, no single factor or person killed rail in the Ottawa Valley, but I think a number of bad decisions need to be rectified if there is to be any realistic future for this mode of transportation here.

Beyond my self interest as a rail fan, the benefits of a healthy rail system to any major city are obvious, even beyond the benefits for inter-city passenger rail. Anyone who sees the truck traffic on Highway 401 or Highways 416 and 417 can attest to the stress this puts on the highways. I'm not saying that trains would ever overtake trucks for short-haul cargo traffic, but I do think a healthy rail corridor could have prevented the flood of trucks we now see on highways here.

And to close the loop on my anecdote, I decided to head back out in the afternoon to catch the Arnprior local returning from Nylene Canada and finally had some success. This picture below, in  the context of this post, represents what is left in the western Ottawa Valley. This train is all that is left of railways in an area that was once very much defined by railways.

More on this meet in a future post.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CN cleans house in Ottawa: Last piece of Carleton Place Sub dismantled

It's officially on borrowed time. The last stubby little piece of the Canadian Pacific Carleton Place Subdivision is being removed by CN. This tiny spur has been used for years for car storage but the last few covered hoppers were removed in spring 2013, leaving the little spur unused for the last two years. CN has begun to remove the trackage and will no doubt soon replace the Bells Junction switch with continuous rail. That means Bells Junction will officially be just Bells on the CN network map, if it is anything at all.

So, with another piece of Ottawa's rail network gone, I thought I'd share some photos of these rails in their final days alongside what the scene is like today. This, below, was the remnant of the Carleton Place spur on New Year's Day 2015. Even then, its days appeared numbered.

And this is the scene now. The line that once turned away from Beachburg has been cleared. Walking along the right-of-way (not on it), there were piles of rails, tie plates, spikes and other scraps littered around.

Here's one last look at Bells Junction and the long-since disconnected signaling equipment that once served a transcontinental rail line. This junction was created in 1966 as part of a scheme to tear up a large portion of the rail network from Ottawa, as part of a beautification scheme. The CP Carleton Place Subdivision used to pass beneath the Beachburg Subdivision a little further west of this junction (you can read about the history of this junction here). The CP line, which once wended its way through a number of west-end Ottawa neighbourhoods and farm fields, was ripped up all the way to Bells Corners, where CP built a turnout off of Beachburg. This shared trackage arrangement lasted until 1990 when the last of Via Rail's Canadians used the Carleton Place Subdivision. The Canadian's route was then changed and the subdivision was torn up, since CP had ceased all freight operations on the line before 1990.

Here's a shot below of some rails on their way out of Ottawa. This has been a familiar site for me in the last year or so. It's a shame to see this spur go, but it really served no purpose once it was no longer used for car storage. I was surprised that CN stored cars at all, since half of Walkley Yard is empty at any given time (this is the former CP side of the yard), making it a much better site for storage.

This photo below was taken during one of the first expeditions I took when I started this blog in April 2013. These are the last cars that were stored on the line in May 2013. Shortly after I took this photograph, the cars were removed. I recall that, around 2012, CN also stored a row of flat cars on this line for some reason.

Here's an interesting shot from the past, when Bells Corners was beginning to develop close to the tracks. Here a CP passenger train branches off Beachburg on its way west over the Carleton Place Sub to Carleton Place in 1973. Given the length of the consist, I can only speculate that it might be the Canadian.
 Canada Science and Technology Museum image
So, this area will soon take on a different look. With this spur gone, there will be almost no spurs left on the Beachburg Subdivision and Renfrew Spur. Some spur trackage remains around Carp but, other than that, the line is pretty much a straight shot out to Arnprior now, with no junctions or spurs. I can't help but think we are in the final days of freight trains in Ottawa's west end. I can only hope, as a rail fan, that Nylene Canada continues to thrive and make use of rail service for years to come. Because it really is the last customer left standing for Ottawa's rail fans in the west end.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Track work in Ottawa

This summer has been spent trying to keep up with my two daughters, one of whom is now nearly five months old. The end result of our recent addition is that my train watching has basically ground to a halt for the most part, minus a trip to Smiths Falls in July. On Labour Day, I made my first trip to Walkley Yard just to see if there was anything to see. I ended up with a few tidbits I thought I'd pass along.

The shot below was my favourite from my quick trip. In the distance, you see CN 4771 parked in front of the local CN facilities, framed by a few bulkhead flatcars and a string of gondolas. Those flatcars, gondolas and that pile of wood next to 4771 lead me to my first bit of news.

First off, gondolas and these types of flatcars are usually a sign of two things in railways. Either a railway is transporting scrap metal, pipes or some other similar commodity or the railway is doing track work. I took a shot of this car, below, because the colours, including the yellow stripe, intrigued me. The reporting mark was for American Metal and Iron LP.

A close-up of GP38-2W 4771 shows that there is a load of ties next to the engine. Also, get a load of the paint. The red cab paint is bleeding through the black and white safety scheme on the long hood. I've seen a lot of shabby units in Ottawa over the years, but this one might be the worst (or best, depending on your point-of-view).

A little further down the road alongside the yard revealed more wood and other supplies in the vicinity of a ballast car (below). This looks to be wood that might be used at a level crossing or as decking on a trestle. I wouldn't have thought much of this if I hadn't found out earlier that track work is being done on the Renfrew Spur in Carp. I appreciate Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure for passing along the news.

It's great news to know that, despite the final removal of the Beachburg Subdivision northwest of Nepean Junction, there is some work being done to maintain train service in western Ottawa. This is also a great opportunity for me to pass along some pictures that local rail watcher Patrick Stever sent to me from the siding in Carp. He spotted this equipment in the spring, including this brush cutter.

The below shot, also courtesy of Patrick Stever, shows that the groundwork for track improvements was being done months ago. Look at the piles of ballast to the left of the main line. I'm glad Patrick sent me these photos. I was trying to fit them into a post and now I am able to pass them along.

For those who don't know, this spur is owned by the City of Ottawa and maintained by Nylene Canada, a customer in Arnprior that requires rail service once a week. CN continues to operate a weekly train, usually consisting of three to four tank cars, to and from the plant. The spur has seen pretty restrictive speed limits for years, due to the condition of the track. I don't expect this work to change things. But, it's good to see that there is work being done to keep trains operating in the west end of the city for years to come.

A few days later, I was trying to catch the Arnprior local and noticed bundles of ties along the Beachburg Sub, just northwest of Bells Corners, where the line turns toward the Queensway. Here is what I noticed trackside. When I blew up the photo, I noticed that bundles of ties have been placed trackside all along this straightaway, meaning CN is investing in a bit of maintenance on this line. You can see the ties below. The case was the same on the trackage in Bells Corners near the junction between Beachburg the old CP Carleton Place Subdivision spur. New ties are all trackside, awaiting work crews.

Getting back to Walkley Yard, I noticed when I first arrived that the former Devco caboose, still in its Devco green black and yellow colours, was not at its usual place close to the CN offices and maintenance facility. I also noticed that the hideous Millennium caboose was missing.

As I drove east down the access road next to the yard, I noticed an addition to DAWX caboose and RDC on a storage track. It turns out, the old Devco caboose has reached the end of the line.

It's sad to see this caboose is being left prey to looters and vandals. Here's a shot of this caboose in (slightly) better days. I guess it's no longer being used for shoving maneuvers in the region anymore. I'm not sure if the Millennium caboose is still around either. It makes me wonder what's being used for shoving these days.

Also sad to see that vandals have continued to have their way with this old CN caboose. A fire was clearly set in the cupola at one point. As I have mentioned before, the security at this yard is a joke outside of operating hours.

One final note to pass along. Via Rail had completed work on a new passing siding at Wass, east of Federal, to allow corridor trains to operate more efficiently. The siding is part of Via's investment in its local network. As I have pointed out before, Ottawa's main train station is Via's third busiest station in Canada, behind Toronto and Montreal. Thanks again to Eric at Trackside Treasure for passing along that news via another local rail watcher.
So there a few tidbits from my trip and from my readers. Not bad considering I have only railfanned a handful of times this summer.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Going, going, gone: Nepean Junction

The photo below, taken last spring, us now a historic relic. Nepean Junction, a point on the CN network that once brought together its transcontinental main line with its former Renfrew Subdivision, is now gone. The turnout you see below has recently been replaced with the second photo down.

Read last year's posts about the final days of the Beachburg Subdivision north of Nepean Junction here and here.

It's tough to see in this photo since I was shooting into the blazing sun, but you can clearly see by the two long ties near the bottom of the image, the switch has been replaced by a continuous link to the Renfrew spur.

Here's another shot of the turnout last April. Even then, it was apparent that Beachburg northwest of this junction was doomed. The rails were covered with snow and not maintained while the Renfrew Spur was in reasonable shape. The shot below is looking south. You can see that the switch was already permanently aligned to accommodate the Renfrew spur.

And this is the site on Sept. 4. Remnants of the transcontinental line are still in place, although I would imagine CN may run a work train out here at some point to collect what's left. Given that Nepean Junction isn't accessible by road, it would be tough to get the rest of the rail out of this area. You can see the CN sign in the shade. It used to signify a junction but now it's just a place name on the CN map.

This begs the question in my mind, what now for the Renfrew Spur? The shot below shows that the spur is now the main. There is no turnout, just a curious curve on the line. My guess is that the Renfrew Spur moniker will remain. This is because the rails west of that Nepean sign are owned by the city and maintained by Nylene Canada, a CN customer at the end of the tracks in Arnprior. This plant requires one train a week to deliver raw materials to the facility. You can read more about this weekly train here and here.

As you head northwest on the old Beachburg Sub, this is what you will see. This is not the world's narrowest gauge railway. This is the end result of a dismantled railway track. I found this image amusing. It was a little bit of levity.

This also was pretty cool. As I walked alongside the track (it is still private property), I saw this family of deer having an afternoon snack. They didn't pay much attention to me until I got closer. Still, it was cool to see the local wildlife. I also came across a small garter snake, which was surprising. It was the first snake I have seen in Ottawa in ages. Makes me wonder why snakes bother to live this far north in the first place.

So, that closes the book on this rail line. You will notice that I have refrained from ranting about this line not being purchased by the city for commuter purposes. After all, a stretch into north Kanata was still in place until very recently. I have said my piece and am ready to move on.
I have to thank fellow blogger Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure for passing along an email from a local rail watcher, who found out about this work going on, which inspired me to pay one last visit to the old junction.
I should mention that I had three other titles in mind for this post, which I rejected.
Don't call it a junction: Nepean Junction scrapped
From Junction to junk: Nepean Junction scrapped
Junction no more: It's just Nepean now.
Can you pick out the LL Cool J reference?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Getting creative shots at Fallowfield station

Whenever friends or family visit me and take the train, that usually means I get to go and pick them up at Via's Fallowfield Station, in the city's southwestern Barrhaven neighbourhood. The station, which opened in October 2002, has become an important transportation hub for west Ottawa residents, considering Via's main station is anything but centrally located.

For train enthusiasts like me, this suburban station's a convenient and safe place to capture some images of Via corridor trains on occasion. On Aug. 1, while I waiting for a visiting friend to arrive, I was struck by the station's ridiculously challenging sightlines for rail photography. Most of my images from the last few years end up like this one, taken in 2012.

There's nothing wrong with capturing these shots, but after a while, you can only stockpile so many of these before you begin to look for other vantage points. In the case of this image below, I wanted to get a better shot of the entire train's consist, since this string of cars included a baggage car, which is not a terribly common site on this type of corridor train between Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto.

The map below and the photo above illustrate train fan's challenge. The parking lots at this station are up tight against the platform, which rules out backing up from the track to get a better wide shot (unless you want a bunch of cars in your shot). The platform itself is relative narrow, which also prevents you from being able to back up a bit and shot for a wider shot. You will notice in the photo that I have marked a yellow arrow. This arrow marks the spot that solved my problem as to how to get some wide shots at this railway station.

Just beyond the end of the parking lot, there is a small patch of ballast extending from the railway right-of-way. This patch of ballast is essentially level with the tracks and it also has the added benefit of offering you an unobstructed view of eastbound trains crossing Fallowfield Road. I backed away from the tracks as far as I could manage without getting too much foliage in my shot. As you can see from the shot below, I didn't eliminate all the foliage, although a little cropping took care of most of it. In the spring, fall and winter when the leaves are off these trees, this vantage point will offer a better view, although the shots won't be as colourful as the one below.

The end result was worth a little bit of advanced scouting. Usually, when I am waiting for a train at this station, I will set up at the end of the platform facing in the direction of the incoming train. This also ensures I don't take photographs of people without their consent.

This little patch of ballast, which is easily accessible from the edge of the parking lot, makes things a lot easier. I was quite happy with this shot, although the clouds above tended to blur some of the streamliner coaches in tow, but that's a minor complaint. I like what I was able to capture here. There's a wide expanse of clouds and sky, a corn field, some bright green wildflowers along the right-of-way and some signals behind the train. All in all, there's a lot going on in this shot.

Having successfully experimented with this area, I thought I'd pass along the tip to local railfans.