Friday, November 27, 2015

Notes from Sarnia

On a recent trip to visit family in the Sarnia area, I was able to get away for a few minutes to see if there was anything going on in the rail yard. It was very quiet when I arrived there. Most of the engines near the old roundhouse were idling, still waiting for the day's work ahead. I did manage to spot something odd among the diesels. That switcher back there is Nova SW1500 2450. You will recall that, earlier this year, I snapped a few shots of the Nova Corunna refinery near Corunna where this diesel was parked. You can read about that operation in this post.

Here's a wider shot of the yard diesels idling, including a few slugs and an old geep in the safety scheme.

While we're on the topic of Nova, I did notice when I was passing by the Corunna plant that the railway there is now operating with two units, including a very similar SW model switcher, likely a sister unit to 2450. The railway also appears to have a genset like the one below operating again. I'm not sure if it's the same unit as this one, shot several years ago. I was driving by quickly and could only steal a glance.

I didn't venture off the old station platform on my trip to the yard, since I was tight for time. I did notice that one crew was already assembling a train on the east side of the Indian Road overpass, as it shunted autoracks into place. I was not able to catch this train as it made its way west to the tunnel, since my time had run out.

Here's another shot of the train being assembled, framed by a line of tank cars and a buffer car at the front of what will likely be a petroleum train headed somewhere east.

All in all, it was a quiet and disappointing morning. But for me, something is better than nothing. I have not been able to venture out in Ottawa for any train watching in a while. Such is life sometimes. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Notes from Goderich

My family's recent trip to southern Ontario over the Thanksgiving weekend was all about making lemonade. I was excited to catch some railway action as we made our way down the 401. Nothing. I was then excited about catching some railway action in Goderich. Nothing. I won't mention what I saw in Sarnia because it was next to nothing. However, when life sometimes hands you lemons, you make some lemonade, right?

We'll start with Goderich, the western end of the Goderich Exeter Railway's Stratford-Goderich main line, called the Goderich Sub. Usually, when my family visits this area, there is something to see. This time around, I knew there would be nothing to see, since the day's morning train had already left the town (I heard it leaving as we emerged from a restaurant after a morning snack). I still made my way to the old Canadian National East Street Station and took a look at the railway's empty yard. Still, I like this shot below. Check out the lone axle at the end of the line.

I made my way down the street to the railway's shops and even there, I felt as though my luck was nonexistent. Yes, there was a GEXR unit in the house, but there was no getting a shot.

Here's a closer look at the bottom half of the engine. GP9 I think.

I was lucky enough to bump into the owner of the old Canadian Pacific Railway Station, which was moved in recent years from its spot next to a bluff to a spot closer to the town's beach. It now faces Lake Huron. You can check out this post and this post to see this restaurant in various states of development from the past several years. What you see below is pretty close to a finished product. A deck has been added to the station for the warmer months. The day we were there, two massive evergreen trees were being delivered to the site to complete the outside aesthetics. What impressed me about this renovation is how the character of the station has been faithfully preserved. When you look inside the place, you will see many of the original station's touches have been maintained. There's still a men's waiting room and ladies' waiting room, although I'm pretty sure the restaurant doesn't enforce that old rule!

Here's a closer look at part of the restored station's architecture. This station has to be on of my favourite looking stations, simply for the various design elements that went into it and how all these piece somehow fit together into a coherent whole.

Here's a shot of the circular turret (the witch's hat) that now houses a circular eating area.

You may recall from this post that I cam across this rickety old trackside structure before and mentioned that it might be worth modelling to someone. Here's the best shot I could get from the old station platform. I didn't want to venture any closer to railway property. I'm not sure this old building is even used by GEXR anymore, but the doors were open on the day I visited. You can just see a lone hopper behind the shed, no doubt waiting to be loaded or brought down the hill to the Sifto salt mine.

I didn't notice a lot of work being done on Goderich's port, which was part of the previous government's plans to build a deep-water commercial port on Lake Huron. You will remember at the time that I mentioned it would be interesting to see if this port initiative would include some sort of rail connection, since GEXR's rails already extend down to the port. Stay tuned on this.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Postcard from Saint Laurent Boulevard

This is the second in an occasional series telling the stories behind standalone photographs that don't otherwise fit within the themes of my regular posts. You can read the first postcard post here.

I'll be the first to admit it. I don't understand how some people obsess over steam locomotives. Growing up, whenever I looked at my train picture books, I would often skip over the pictures of steam locomotives because, to me, they all looked the same. Even now, I have a hard time getting all the excited about these giants. But, I never grew up with these brutes and I have never seen one in action.

Having said that, I have begun to appreciate steam locomotives much more in recent years. There are a few reasons why I have begun to come around. First, they are incredibly complex machines that are capable of incredible things. Second, they serve as vital reminders of the importance of railways through history. In many ways, these engines were the only lifeline people had to the outside world. Of course, the automobile and the development of freeways has changed the role of railways in people's lives, but these brutes serve as a useful reminder of how vital railways were to the development of Canada, the United States and a number of other countries (depending on where you are reading this).

This shot was taken in early March 2013 on the front lawn of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The museum is located on Saint Laurent Boulevard in Ottawa's east end. The museum itself houses a number of railway relics inside, although the museum itself is closed until 2017, due to mold and other safety issues that are being addressed via a large rehabilitation and renovation of the old bread factory.
This locomotive, Canadian National 6200, is a 4-8-4 Confederation locomotive more commonly known as a Northern type steam locomotive. Thirty five of these engines were built by the Montreal Locomotive Works and the Canadian Locomotive Works in Kingston, mainly for the Canadian National. They were in service until the late 1950s before a number were saved from the scrap heap. Other cities that have a Northern on display include Toronto and Guelph.
This particular locomotive was built in Montreal in 1942. It was acquired by the museum in 1967 and is one of a number of railway artifacts either on display or in storage at the museum. A number of other pieces are maintained by the Bytown Railway Society at this site. You can read more about these locomotives here.
For the most part, the engine is in decent shape. Many preservationists now argue that leaving these locomotives outside is not the best way to preserve them. I'm not sure what more can be done to preserve these artifacts, given their size. This locomotive is a popular subject for photographs in Ottawa. It's certainly a fixture on the museum's front lawn.
Just walking around this behemoth is an experience. Even though I'm not a foamer when it comes to these locomotives, I've grown to admire them because they remind me of my grandfathers, both of whom worked on the CPR when these giants were in operation. I'm glad it's there. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Via Rail about to expand service in Southern Ontario

I was down in the Sarnia area for a visit over Thanksgiving and had some time to sit trackside at the Sarnia Via Rail station. I knew that the station was going to be torn up since Via Rail recently announced its intention to rehabilitate the old station, which was built in 1891. The station sees only two trains a day and is unstaffed. However, these renovations are part of a plan to expand service.

As you can read in the link above, Via Rail has already told local officials that it plans to expand its Toronto-Sarnia service to four trains a day, which means two trains in and two trains out. Not only is this good news for Sarnia, this is also good news for trains along the line who will also benefit from increased service.

The renovations will mainly take the form of structural repairs and roofing repairs. Already, the foundations around the building have been dug up and the masonry has been treated. The repairs are expected to be complete by the spring, in time for the new train schedule, the starting date of which has not been confirmed yet.

Here's a shot, below, that I took in 1992, which essentially reveals a very similar look, except that the roof was shingled by darker shingles then. The station last saw major renovations in the 1980s when the City of Sarnia undertook improvements to the building, which is a designated heritage property.

I know I've shared this photo (below) before but I always like to share this because of the three types of equipment in the shot, which shows Amtrak at its varied best. The shot below is the International Ltd. that once ran between Toronto and Chicago and was jointly operated between Amtrak and Via Rail. That train was cancelled in the mid-1990s due to ridership decline. I'm surprised there isn't more of a demand for such a train. However, even if there was demand, I would imagine that security protocol at the border would likely rule out any future train like this. So, Sarnia and much of Southern Ontario will benefit from a link to Toronto, but that appears to be the extent of the new service that Via Rail is bringing to the region.

Here's a more recent shot of the station taken in 2013. The track you see at the bottom of the image is where Via Rail's consists would be stored overnight when the last train of the day arrived from Toronto. Imagine a time when there were so few security concerns. I would draw your attention to the two doors at the end of the station.
In this photo below, taken in 1952, you can see that there once was an extension on this side of the station. You can also notice on the right side of the image where passenger cars were stored next to the station (the same track as the one in the image above).
So, more service to the Sarnia station will mean this beautiful old building will become more of a hub in the years to come, much as it has been throughout its history. It's always encouraging when Via Rail adds service. Let's hope this move will be accompanied by service additions elsewhere in Canada, especially if our new government is supportive of passenger rail.