Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from The Beachburg Sub

Well, that's a wrap for another year. I will be parking this blog until the new year as I try to keep up with my two daughters over Christmas. I've had a lot of fun sharing stories and photos with you and look forward to doing it all again in 2016.

Special thanks to everyone that has contributed to the blog this year, including my brother Marc and contributors Dave M, Patrick Stever, Don Douglas and countless others like Steve, AJ, Brian, Mark and many others who have dropped by to comment, question or share their own stories. Also, special thanks to Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure for his continued help.

Not a recent photo!

Here's hoping it feels and looks like Christmas where you are more than it does here in Ottawa.

My sincere best wishes to everyone over the Christmas holidays and into the new year.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Observations aboard Train 32 to Montreal

I recently rode Via Rail's Train 32 to Montreal for an appointment. I haven't been aboard a train since 2011, if memory serves. So, I was excited to go this past week, which brought me to Ottawa's Central Station very early. This was the consist that was facing eastward. This train was not the one I rode, but our lineup was identical: P42 and three LRC coaches. I was guided to an older coach, yet to be refurbished. Here's the best shot I could muster early in the morning of the other Montreal-bound train.

My first realization was that, east of the city, The Alexandria Sub has a number of level crossings. It seemed as though, for about the first thirty minutes of the trip, the engine's horn was blasting almost continuously as we raced through the countryside.
I mention this because there has been a great deal of discussion in the city about trying to eliminate the level crossings on CN/Via's Smiths Falls Subdivision trackage through the southern Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven. It was at the Woodroffe Avenue/Transitway level crossing that a Via train slammed into a city bus, tragically killing six people aboard the bus, including the driver. Since that time, there has been a lot of talk about getting rid of these crossings and replacing them with grade separated crossings.
Granted, there is a huge difference between level crossings on rural roads and the crossings in a very busy south-end neighbourhood in the city. However, it made me wonder. There are multiple examples of level crossings in other cities where there is relatively little trouble. But in Ottawa, when you factor in the multiple crossing signal issues and the fatal accident in Barrhaven, you can't help but wonder what's so different about this city.
This shot doesn't really do my second point justice, but it was the best I could muster at a difficult angle through a mud-spattered window. To the right, you can see a few freight cars at the end of an idling freight train near Coteau. As our train made its way through Eastern Ontario towns, I couldn't help but notice that pieces of old freight yards, however small, have largely been ripped up in numerous spots along the line. This makes sense, given what I've seen in Ottawa, where rails have been lifted in a number of spots, including the remnants of the old CP Carleton Place Sub in Bells Corners and the remnants of the Beachburg Subdivision northwest of Nepean Junction.

There were a few times where I could see rails bundled up trackside, ready to be moved elsewhere along CN's system. I suppose this is standard fare for railways where they take stock of their the unused rails, lift them and shift them to busier areas. I was on the wrong side of my car to get shots of Coteau's station or the Alexandria station. The Coteau station is Spartan to the least.

This shot, above, once again shows the difficulties of taking shots from inside a train with only a basic camera, like the one I brought. However, I must say that I was happy to see a passing freight train at Dorval, which may be the best place to watch trains in the Montreal area. This shot was taken on the train home to Ottawa in the evening. The light was fading fast and, by the time our train geared back up and passed the head end of this CP freight, I couldn't get a shot of the lead engine. But I definitely filed this spot away in my mind as a future spot I should visit, if I ever have the time. Depending on the time of day, you would be able to see multiple Via Rail trains, numerous AMT commuter trains (seen below, more on these in a later post) and multiple freight trains.

As the train approached Montreal, I was fascinated by all the trackside industries and other items of interest that you can only see on a train. Here's an old CN swing bridge at CN Wellington (an old CN building, dubbed Wellington Tower by locals, was near the bridge). It appears as though it was disconnected and just left there.

And another shot:

This bridge once swung over the Lachine Canal until the canal was closed to maritime traffic in 1959. The nearby Wellington Tower was built in 1943 and was a busy operations centre, but some of its usefulness died when the canal was closed to traffic, which meant the bridges became fixed. I couldn't get a shot of Wellington Tower, but here's a story about it from the Montreal Gazette that explains the history of the facility. It appears this building is about to get a new lease on life.
The last item of interest I noticed when Train 30 was making its way into Montreal's Central Station was this container facility. This has model railway written all over it. This facility would be fun to have on a set.
On the other side of the Quonset hut over the tracks, there were a few hoppers, including this old government grain hopper.
One final shot of the containers, stacked quite high. I wondered why the hoppers were there.
One final look. Kind of like Lego for grown-ups.
That was what I saw through my dirty LRC window on the way into Montreal. I saw quite a bit more once I disembarked. I will share that in a future post. I will finally  mention that I do like the raised platforms in Montreal, which are similar to the platforms in Quebec City in that they rise all the way up to the coach doors. It's a nice touch and it helps with accessibility. Unfortunately, it was way too dark to get any shots trackside beneath the Montreal station.
More to come.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Some railway questions

Going over old photos the other day, I was struck by some questions I had in mind that remain unresolved, so I thought I would open them up to my fellow rail enthusiasts.

Via Rail's Renaissance fleet

When I was in the habit of shooting Via Rail corridor trains at Ottawa's main station back in 2013, it was not uncommon to find a number of the railway's new Renaissance cars operating. Like this converted baggage car linked up behind a P42 in the fall of 2013.

Here's another shot of some of these sleek cars pulling into Ottawa's main station on a train from Montreal. This was shot in October of 2013.

These cars, as most know, were purchased in 2000 and put into service in 2002, according to the Via website. There were 139 of these cars purchased, of which 64 were operational. The remainder were assembled in Canada. Interestingly, Via states on its site that there are only 33 Renaissance coaches in its fleet.

These cars, which were purchased from British concerns, were originally intended to comprise a train between London, England and continental Europe via the Chunnel. The train, to have been  called the Nightstar, never happened, which meant that these cars were in storage in England for several years before Via Rail bought them after conducting tests.

The Canadian Public Transportation Discussion Board states that "the cars have been far from reliable. They have undergone numerous modification campaigns, the most recent ones being undertaken by Industrial Rail Services, Inc. in Moncton, N.B."  

So, here are my questions. After all the problems encountered with these cars, what has happened to them? Are there any in service? Where are they being stored? Are there plans to use them again?

Update: I did manage to catch a glimpse of some Renaissance cars in active service on a trip to Montreal recently. The shot below was taken as a P42 was backing this consist into Montreal's Central Station. I will have more on this in an upcoming post. These cars are in fact being used somewhere, although it's not in the Ottawa corridor, to the best of my knowledge.

The curious case of this little train

Back in 2013, I arrived at Via Rail's main station on a break and was treated to three trains. As you can see from this photo, though, one of them was a bit of a curiosity. I should point out that, usually, it's common to find one consist either idling or parked on one of the station's main tracks. But this one, consisting of F40 6435 and two stainless steel coaches, was backed up against the bumpers of a track that, until that day, I had not seen used.

Here's another shot of the little train. I wondered that day, and still do, what was that train doing there? Was it a special? Why only two cars? Perhaps a group a chartered the consist? Whatever the case, I was glad I caught it. I'm wondering if any readers has any thoughts as to what this little consist might have been doing there, backed up on a secondary track. By the way, can you see the Renaissance coaches in the background?

Mystery hook up

Final shot is from Sarnia's Via station in 2014. This was beside the spur that abutted the station (now removed, as per my brother's latest observations - Thanks, Marc). The track was used to park passenger cars in the past. I am guessing this mechanism has something to do with that. It looks to me like it was a hose hook up for water, possibly something to do with the old passenger cars and their steam generated heat? Does anyone know what it is and what it does? Or what it did?

As I have mentioned before, I am no expert so I am throwing these questions out to the readers, so I can learn something and we can have a little fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A visit to Greenfield Village

The following is my brother Marc's account of his family's summer trip to something all railfans would love: Greenfield Village near Detroit, Michigan. Please feel free to leave a message and let him know what you think - Michael

Henry Ford’s vision and legacy changed the world. His innovation, business sense and social ideas have shaped our world into what it is today. In Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, is one of the most significant museums in the United States.

The Henry Ford Museum houses an immense collection of technology, art and Americana. It is a must see for anyone who loves history.

Nestled to the side of The Henry Ford (as locals call it) is Greenfield Village. Originally the site of an agricultural college, it is now a 90-acre recreation of a turn-of-the-century industrial village. The village covers many aspects of the industrial revolution in America, but for the focus of this post, I will try to cover the many aspects of rail history. After all, Henry Ford's ideas, which led to the automotive assembly line, also led to a major change for freight railways, who have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with automotive production plants ever since.

I took my family to the museum for a day trip this summer. As you may have read here before, my young son is a railfan. It’s in our family's blood, generations deep. Thomas the Tank Engine was the main attraction for the kids, a life-sized engine taking kids for a ride.
It's like stepping back in time.
Greenfield is circled by the Weiser Railroad, a passenger train that travels around the perimeter of the village with four stations. Steam power, of course!

Torch Lake, an 1873 0-6-4 Mason Bogie steam locomotive. It's one of the oldest operating steam engines in the USA.
Another interesting site for railfans, especially those who like vintage rolling stock. You can see the vintage Cotton Belt boxcar, a C&O For Progress-clad boxcar and an ornate New York, New Haven and Hartford boxcar.

At the end of the string, a wooden Detroit, Toledo and Ironton boxcar. DT&I was a precursor to the Grand Trunk Western, a CN subsidiary that operated in Michigan for years before it was folded back into CN.

The Weiser Railroad is unusual, in that it is connected to the Norfolk Southern right-of-way that is used by Amtrak for the Detroit-Chicago run. There is a station reserved for tours that arrive via Amtrak (pun intended, for Canadian readers).

Another great attraction is a operating steam crane that was used in the construction of the Windsor-Detroit rail tunnel. Built by the Detroit River Tunnel Company for the Canada Southern Railway in the early 1900s, it was leased by the Michigan Central Railroad and owned by MCR parent company the New York Central. It changed hands through the years, ending up in the hands of CPR and CN in the end. That tunnel warrants its own post!
The crane was lifting and moving rails and trucks for the crowd. It was fascinating to watch. Be ready for the whistle, it’s loud!
Kids could take turns rotating this little engine around the manually-powered turntable. A lesson in leverage.
Detroit’s historical society has a group that specializes in model railroads. They brought a great display that drew quite the crowd. Not pictured: Dad enjoying a cold beverage.
Work is ongoing at Greenfield Village as restoration of a vintage wooden caboose with rounded cupola roof takes place.
Two steam locomotives rest under the roof of a restored railway maintenance facility.
I will be taking the family back to this gem of a museum. I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone with an interest in history.  Greenfield Village is a day on its own, and I imagine the Henry Ford Museum would also take a whole day to roam.
Thanks to my brother for contributing this post. Please take a moment to let him know what you think. - Michael