Saturday, December 17, 2016

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train in Finch, Ont.

On November 27th, I made my way south of Ottawa toward the tiny village of Finch, Ontario to catch the Canadian Pacific's annual Holiday Train. This was the first time I have ever seen this train in person and the experience was great. I have to credit the railway for putting together this train for the 18th consecutive year. I have been very critical of CP recently, but full credit to the company for this effort, which always draws huge crowds and helps local food banks in the process.

The drive down from Ottawa was about an hour, so I made sure to arrive about 15 minutes early with a plan in place to shoot the train. I knew from looking at video from past years that the Finch stop draws a massive crowd, so I decided to find another spot in the village to shoot the train from a safe, legal standpoint. The shot you see below is where I initially wanted to set up, but a number of railfans beat me to the spot.

I made sure to get a few shots of the crowd waiting for the train. These railfans represent a tiny sliver of the people who were waiting for the train.

My Plan B was essentially just a minor relocation. Bergin Street in Finch runs parallel to the tracks so I set up there, but not before parking my car down Main Street. The OPP had just about the entire network of side streets blocked off, including Bergin, although a number of area farmers opened up their fields for parking. Anyway, the lesson here, as always, is to have a back-up plan. I was glad I did not choose this location where these railfans were.

I have come to the realization this year that a good railway shot should also put your image in some sort of context. The shots these railfans got from this vantage point are fine, but the backdrop of trees doesn't really tell you that the train is approaching a town. It doesn't really give you an idea of where the train was.

With this shot, you begin to see why I chose my spot down the street. For one, my spot allowed me to capture the farm across the tracks from Bergin Street. Here you see CP 2323 (that was the train number and the locomotive number) crossing a large stockpile of hay that has been wrapped up for the winter. This is a common scene in Eastern Ontario, since hay is a common crop, but that was part of the point of setting up where I did. Hay fields, to me, say Eastern Ontario. Again, it's the context that was important to me.

This is the shot I envisioned as soon as I walked down Bergin Street. I wanted to capture the train and the silo. This was my favourite shot of the train from this meet. This is one of those rare times when I plan a shot in my mind and the one I capture turns out exactly the same. You can see the first four CPR boxcars with the 'Canadian Pacific Holiday Train' script trailing behind the GP20ECO. This is also the first time I have caught a rebuilt ECO unit.

I liked this shot below because the CPR employee is leaning out of the vestibule of CP101 Dominion and preparing for the stop. The old oversized passenger cars were an amazing site to see. I also was happy to capture them in front the silo. The holiday train's consist was essentially eight decorated XP class box cars, one additional boxcar in the middle and four beautiful old CPR business cars. The first boxcar was CPR 220305. Looking at the shots available online of this boxcar, it's obvious that the railway uses the same cars for this special train year after year.

The other business cars in the consist were CP71 Killarney (centre, below), CP77 Van Horne (trailing car, built 1927) and CP84 Banffshire (you can see a small piece of it on the left and in the shot above behind Killarney).

Here's a shot of Van Horne approaching the Main Street crossing in Finch. I like how even the ETD is decked out with a ribbon. The back of the car is decorated quite tastefully, I must say. You can see a tiny bit of the crowd on the right side of the photo. I was astounded by the number of people that came out to see this train. It makes me realize just how much people appreciate the railways. I dare say the population in the village more than doubled when this train stopped. I was very fortunate to find an unobstructed view of the train.

Once the train crossed Main Street and came to a stop, I crossed the tracks on Main and took a few shots from the other side of the tracks. I couldn't help but stare at the old 1920s heavyweights and wonder if my grandfather had ever serviced these cars when he was a rolling stock mechanic in Chapleau, Ontario.

The lighting wasn't great on either side of the train, since it was cloudy and dark in the late afternoon. But, the clouds did eliminate the problems with shadows which was nice. It made the final photo editing process rather painless for once. I chose to shoot the train in Finch because all the other stops in Eastern Ontario (Merickville, Smiths Falls and Perth) were too late. As much as I like the challenge of shooting trains at night, I didn't have the time that day or the patience to wade through the crowds at night.

One last shot. I took this because I liked the lines I was seeing through my viewfinder and I liked the idea of getting the sign in the shot.

All in all, I was really satisfied that I made the effort to see this train. It was a late birthday gift from my wife. She asked what I wanted and I simply asked for a little bit of time to do this.

A few final thoughts. Anyone thinking or railfanning in Eastern Ontario needs to add Finch to their list of spots. There is a nice stretch of green space next to the Winchester Sub that allows you to catch trains safely and legally. This sub still sees a fair bit of traffic. There are a number of spots in this town that offer great vantage points. Just west of Finch, the county road parallels the sub at many points, which offers a number of other spots where you can shoot some mainline action.

One final observation. I was horrified to see so many people waiting for the train who had absolutely no concept of railway safety or awareness that train tracks are private property. One dad was walking with his son and didn't seem to mind when his son wandered over to the tracks and began walking on them just minutes before the Holiday Train came through town. Also, I didn't take photos of a few of the railfans ( in the top photo) who were far too close to the tracks.

On a day when Finch was overflowing with OPP officers and railway officials, these people were taking an awfully foolish risk of wandering onto the tracks or even near the tracks. I understand that some people aren't as aware of rail safety or railway etiquette as I would be, but it's just common sense. Trains are big, heavy and dangerous. Stay clear, stay safe, as the railways remind us.

Okay, with that public service announcement out of the way, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for dropping by the blog this year, especially those who commented or emailed me with tips, photos or suggestions. I have had a lot of fun sharing my passion for railways with everyone and I truly appreciate the response I have received on this blog this year. This will be my last post of the year.

Merry Christmas to everyone. All aboard for another year!

See you all in 2017,

hammond.michael77 AT

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Favourites, Part II

If the first half of 2016 was dominated by passenger trains and commuter trains, the second half of the year really did feature a great assortment of freight trains in a variety of locales. The end of the year even featured a very special mixed train, better known as the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Better still, the second half really did bring a couple of firsts for me as a rail enthusiast. Let's continue our little trip through the past year. (Catch up with Part I here)

In late July, I was able to break away and found may way to Bedell, Ontario, a tiny trackside community just outside Kemptville on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Subdivision. I waited there for a while before I came across a westbound empty ethanol train. This was the first time I have encountered one of these trains since I began photographing again a few years ago.

The shot above is my favourite, due to the lighting and the look of the sky. I nearly ruined the shot by including the small weed bush in the frame, but I was lucky enough to get a few shots of this fast moving train with the bush not blocking anything.

I was also quite happy with this shot as well, since it showcases an old cylindrical hopper with the multimark and a Soo Line ribbed hopper. There's that bush again, as well! Hopefully, CP's weed spraying will take care of that next year.

In late August, my family was travelling to London when we began to pass a very long freight train on Canadian National's Kingston Subdivision along the 401. It was a great catch since my wife managed to capture a number of interesting features of the train, including the mid-train DPU. I think the greatest surprise was the flat car full of axles right behind the two lead units. It's not a load you see every day.

There were a number of interesting shots from this meet, but I think my favourites included shots like the one below, which define the seemingly random nature of freight trains (although we all know there is a method to how these consists are organized).

On the way back east from London, I came across another long CN freight train. This time, my wife managed to catch another mid-train DPU along with a string of containers crossing the Humber River. I worked with these shots a fair bit and was happy with the black and white treatment (click the above link to see that shot). I included the colour shot here because I really think the star of this image is the sky.

While I was in London, I managed to catch a westbound CP mixed freight on the Galt Subdivision. This meet also meant another first for me since the second engine in the consist was a CIT Rail unit. I have never caught one of these units before. It certainly did make for some more interesting shots on the head end of this train.

The light was tricky, but I had to make do with my spot since the rest of the vantage points were off limits. The shot below was taken as the train crossed Industrial Road. This train also had a number of interesting freight cars in the consist including a flat car with utility poles and a number of gondolas with tarped off contents that are still a mystery to me.

Around Thanksgiving, I was able to visit family in Sarnia, which meant a fair bit of time was spent trackside at the Sarnia CN Yard. I was lucky enough to catch the CSX-CN interchange. This was one of the longest CSX transfers I have seen in the yard. The light was tricky, but I was still happy with this shot since I managed to capture a fair bit of the train along with the gantry.

There were also a few tunnel trains that passed by when I was at the Sarnia station, including this one. I have managed to catch a fair number of interesting rolling stock shots this year. I like this one because it features a few tank cars, a few boxcars, a few autoracks and some interesting lines.

Back to the CSX transfer for a moment, I followed this train deep into the yard. In this shot, you can see three consists. Two CN consists are shunting beneath the Indian Road overpass while the CSX interchange makes its way toward the overpass. Three trains, one image. A first for me in Sarnia.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I managed to catch a fair number of shots with CN units making a fair bit of smoke in the midst of their duties. This was the first time I have caught this type of action.

My final stop includes a shot I took Nov. 27 in Finch, Ontario. This is the CP Holiday Train making its way to town as a number of railfans get their shots ready. I will share a number of shots of this soon.

It's been an interesting year. I have a number of photos submitted to me that I have yet to use. I hope to start showcasing them in the new year.

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016's Favourites, Part I

I'm coasting into the Christmas break this year and with good reason. I am about to start a new job and have already finished Christmas preparations at the homestead. So, in the spirit of things winding down, I thought I would go through my posts this year and share a few of my favourite images with you. This post covers the first half of the year. I will cover the second half of the year next week.

This first shot was taken shortly after the new year. Ottawa had just emerged from one of the freakishly warm Christmas seasons in recent memory, so the site of snow was a welcome site for me. I made sure to find some time to take shots at the end of Cedarview Road in Barrhaven to get some winter shots of this passing westbound Via Rail corridor train. Later on in the year, I took a shot from the same point of view and was surprised with how different the view was. For example, there are a number of homes behind that train that are obscured by the snow flying in the train's wake.

Later on in January, I began to experiment with shooting around Twin Elm, a rural hamlet that is crossed by the Smiths Falls Subdivision. I found myself at the Twin Elm Road crossing a few times with my baby daughter, since I was on parental leave and these rides in the car would calm her down when she refused to nap in the afternoon (ahh, the memories).

This was my favourite image from these meets with Via Rail corridor trains. This shot was taken of an eastbound corridor train right around sunset. The sky really made this shot work, even though the light was less than ideal. It did take a fair bit of editing to get this shot to look like this.

My efforts in catching up with the Arnpior Local (The Arnprior Turn) on the Beachburg Subdivision were largely fruitless, although I did catch the train one time on the way back from an appointment. I caught this tiny consist on a snowy March morning at Northside Road in Bells Corners. I almost missed the train, so I had to fire off some blind shots as I drove along Northside and focused on the road. This was my favourite shot from that meet.

On the March Break, my family spent a few days in Toronto as a little vacation. We stayed in a condo near GO Transit's North Bathurst Yard. From our 37th floor perch, I captured countless images of commuter trains, Via J-Trains, and the Union Pearson Express. I took a few trips trackside and caught this shot of the UP Express. I think this shot really captures the essence of downtown Toronto. You can see the Bathurst Street bridge, a pedestrian bridge to Front Street, numerous trackside signals, a gantry, condo buildings and a whole lot more.

Those days in Toronto were filled with all sorts of opportunities. I decided to make the most of the time there and get shots of GO Trains from a variety of vantage points. Here is a shot of an eastbound consist with a Metrolinx painted car first in tow. You can just see the North Bathurst Yard to the right of the shot with a few trains waiting for rush hour.

As I mentioned, being on the 37th floor next to the tracks offered some unique opportunities to get shots that I wouldn't otherwise ever be able to get. Here we see two eastbound Via Rail consists heading to Union Station, one led by an F40 and another led by a P42. Note the contrasting paint schemes.

In the midst of all the family fun, I was able to get a few minutes at Roundhouse Park, right across from the Rogers Centre. I was able to capture a few cool images, like this olive green clad Canadian National geep.

In April, I was visiting a friend in Richmond when a late season snowfall dusted the area. I was surprised when I approached the Ottawa Street crossing to see this maintenance of way consist on the spur. I later learned it was used by Via Rail for a number of their area track improvement projects over the course of the summer. If you look closely, you can just make out the snow falling over the swamp next to the tracks.

In June and July, I began to experiment with the area of the Smiths Falls Sub which crosses beneath Highway 416. This shot below is probably my favourite because it also captures a storm headed north toward the city.

Here's another shot from the same shoot with a little more of the train crossing beneath the highway.

In Part II, there were a number of shots I managed to get outside of Ottawa and a few other surprises.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Ottawa's Railway Station gets a little respect

Say what you want about Ottawa's Railway Station, but you can never accuse it of being boring. The station, which was opened in 1966, has always had a couple of factors working against it. But in the past few years, it has begun to gain a little respect.

Let's start with some surprising facts about this station. Did you know the Tremblay Road station has been open 50 years? That means it has been open for business just three fewer years than Ottawa's Union Station, which operated as the main railway hub in Ottawa's downtown from 1912 to 1966.

Did you know that the Tremblay Road station won a Governor General's Medal for architecture in 1967? Or that it was ranked as one of the 500 most significant buildings produced in the last century by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2000? Or that in 2007, it was presented the Ontario Association of Architects’ Landmark Award? Or that it was designated a heritage railway station in 1996, just 30 years after opening? Pretty impressive for a building that doesn't get a lot of love.

July 8, 2013 view of the platforms at Ottawa's Central Station as a Montreal-bound corridor consist eases out from the platforms. You can see the main building in the top right hand corner of this shot.

Many locals still bemoan the fact that the city's original Union Station was moved from the downtown to Tremblay Road, which is not exactly central like Via Rail's stations in Montreal, Toronto or Quebec City. The Tremblay Road station will also never measure up to the historic charm of the old Union Station, which is now the Government Conference Centre and soon to be the temporary home of Canada's Senate.

However, a few developments in the last few years promise to ensure that the Tremblay Road railway station gets a bit more respect in the years to come.

First, a pedestrian bridge has been built over Highway 417, which now connects the station to the neighbourhoods north of the highway, not to mention the city's baseball stadium, RCGT Park, home of the 2016 Cam-Am League champions, the Ottawa Champions (rather presumptuous name, but we backed it up with a championship).

Second, the city's Confederation Line light rail system is in the process of being built right through the station's property, which promises to directly link the Via Rail station to the downtown in a way that has been lacking since the station was built. Commuters will soon be able to board the LRT and get to the railway station without minimal fuss.

Finally, more than $21 million is being spent on ongoing renovations that will greatly enhance each traveler's experience at the station. Indeed, these are exciting times for the station.

June 26, 1971 view from the west side of the platforms when both CN and CP passengers trains used the Beachburg Subdivision.

The most obvious change that travelers will notice at the station will be the platforms. They will all be raised so that travelers will be able to board their coaches without walking up any steps. This will replicate the platforms that Via Rail has at its Montreal and Quebec City stations. The other major change is these platforms will be heated. If you have the misfortune of coming to Ottawa in the winter via train, this scene below is what you might face when you get off the train

Winter storm in early 2014.

The image below shows you what the platforms will look like when they are finished next fall.

Via Rail Canada publicity image

The station will also get new elevators that will improve access to the platforms. The station already has an aesthetically pleasing tunnel below the platforms, which ends with a massive and impressive circular ramp that you can take to the main concourse, if you decide to skip the escalators. I've done this a few times, just to prolong the experience a bit.

The station will also get roof repairs, electrical repairs, Business Class lounge renovations and washroom renovations.

Beginning in November, the railway also boosted the number of departures from Ottawa Station by two, meaning that there are now nine departures to Toronto and Montreal each day. This station accommodates 800,000 travelers each year, making it the third busiest railway station in the country.

Via Rail Canada publicity photo

When you think of how much has happened in the past 20 years around this station, it's hard to believe that there was so little surrounding this depot at one point. For example, most local take for granted that Trainyards retail development. Some might not remember that much of this land was railway property and some of it housed railway tracks.

Closer to the station, a few office buildings have been built in recent years on railway land that sat unused for quite a long time. Up until very recently, there were a few dilapidated railway structures on the other side of the chain link fence that surrounds the station's tracks.

Even on the other side of the highway, a fair bit of retail development on Coventry Road has really quickened the pace of the area around the station. When you think of the pedestrian bridge and light rail connection, the disrespected station in the middle of no man's land seems to be a little less lonely these days.

Happy 50th Birthday to Ottawa Station. I often rave about Ottawa's old Union Station, but I have to admit I truly do like this station. Here's hoping it remains a busy fixture in the city.

Via Rail Canada Facebook image

Friday, November 18, 2016

This is why I bleed action red

Let's forget about Hunter Harrison, Bill Ackman, Pershing Square Capital Management, operating ratios, profit per share and the rest of the soap opera that has typified the Canadian Pacific Railway's recent history. Let's forget about blind trusts, Norfolk Southern, hostile takeovers and everything else. Let's forget for a moment the argument that rail systems need to span the entire continent. All of these items are worthy of discussion, but there's something more important about the CPR that is worth considering.

Canadian Pacific's Rideau at Ottawa's Central Station in 1967. I had this postcard for years before losing it. I had it so long I didn't even know who gave it to me. I was lucky that I got another copy from Trackside Treasure blogger Eric Gagnon. Thanks Eric!

The Canadian Pacific Railway is quite far removed from that iconic entity that brought Canada together from sea to sea in the late 1800s. I'm not naïve enough to think that this railway is anything other than a for-profit company that is beholden to its bottom line and shareholders. We live in a capitalist country and I don't have a problem with a company doing all it can to earn as much as it can. That's how it works.

But I'm disappointed with this railway because it means so much more to me. The Canadian Pacific's history runs deep in my family. At one time or another, just about all my uncles, my father and both my grandfathers worked for this company. I'm immensely proud of that fact because the CPR is more than just a company in Canada's history.

So, why am I disappointed with all the shenanigans that have typified the railway's recent history? Well, from a personal point of view, I think the company can do more to honour its rich history. I think it's better than this.

But to truly explain just how deep this company runs in my family, I'd like to share a few stories.

Let's start with my grandfather, Egidio. My grandfather (I called him Nonno) was born in northern Italy and came to Canada after World War II to build a new life for his family. My Nonno was pressed into enlisting for Mussolini's army and was forced to fend for himself in what was then Yugoslavia after the Italian army disbanded when Il Duce was overthrown.

My Nonno, Uncle John and me at Heritage Park in Calgary in the summer of 1992. You can see a piece of the park's passenger train in the background.

I'd imagine that he likely had seen enough by war's end and welcomed the opportunity to come to Canada. When he did, he found work as a general labourer for the Canadian Pacific in the Crowsnest Pass area. I only know this from my Uncle John. My Nonno spoke very little English, even though he lived in Canada for fifty years. He knew I liked trains and once gave me a book Canadian Railway Scenes Vol. I by Adolph Hungry Wolf. He would sometimes mimic the motions of a steam engine to me to try and explain what he did. As I grew older and learned more about railways, I knew that what he did wasn't glamorous. He fixed tracks, tamped down ballast and did a lot of the grunt work that often goes unnoticed. It was hard work. For my Nonno, it helped build a future for his family, including my Mom.

My other grandfather, Paul-Émile, worked for the Canadian Pacific in Chapleau, a town in Northern Ontario that owes its existence to the CPR, since it served as a servicing point along the transcontinental main line. My grandfather worked as a rolling stock mechanic in Chapleau and then Windsor. Again, since he didn't speak a great deal of English, I mainly know about his work through stories he told my Dad and uncles.

My grandfather and me in Mirabel, Quebec, 2005

And the stories are amazing. My Dad told me this summer about some of the more colourful duties that fell to my grandpa. Whenever there was a wreck, my grandpa was dispatched to the crash site to help repair the cars and get them back on the rails so they could be towed back to Chapleau to be fixed properly. My grandpa also was dispatched to crashes when he was transferred to Windsor. You can see a photo of one of these wrecks in this post.

My Dad told me that my grandpa was often away from home for weeks, which makes sense considering how much territory there is west of Chapleau where the railway crosses nothing but wilderness. One of the fringe benefits of going to these crash sites would be that the crews were able to take home the damaged merchandise that fell out of the boxcars. My Dad said my grandpa would often return home loaded with all sorts of things that had fallen out of the boxcars and couldn't be salvaged otherwise.

My grandfather worked for the railways for decades and brought me aboard my first locomotive in Windsor when I was very, very young. I still remember him sitting me in the engineer's seat and showing me how the engine worked. Years later, when I was a teen, he brought me back to the Windsor yard, where I was able to take photos from a vantage point I wouldn't otherwise have access to. His former co-workers greeted him warmly when he showed up and told him how much they could use his expertise at the yard.

Canadian Pacific yard in Windsor in 1991

This summer, my Dad told me about another chapter in our family's railway history. When my Dad was in grade nine or ten, he landed a job with the Canadian Pacific in Chapleau. On Sunday nights, he would board a train westbound toward Manitoba. He would ride a caboose in the back of a freight train. He carried a box of food for himself for a week. At a given point, the train would stop and let off my Dad and a few others. Over the course of a week, my Dad would bunk in a trackside bunkhouse and spend his days repairing tracks "in the middle of the bush" (his words). He said that his supervisor would keep in touch with dispatchers via a trackside phone so the crew would know when to keep clear of the tracks when a train was coming through. This work would continue through the week until my Dad boarded an eastbound freight and returned to Chapleau.

My Dad said he spent a summer doing this work. His older brother, my Uncle Claude, did the same thing, although my Dad said my uncle worked further west on the line. Both my uncle and my Dad told me it was incredibly hard work. They also spoke of working with local First Nations youth on these track gangs. The First Nations part of the crew would work half days, since they were expected to spend their afternoons hunting and fishing.

Later, when my Dad's family moved to Windsor, he worked with my Grandpa in the Windsor yard, doing things like trackside inspections and greasing the bearings on the old freight cars. Again, he said the work was incredibly hard, which made his decision to work for Ontario Hydro much easier. At one point, the railway offered my Dad a job, but the railway dynasty wasn't to be.

My Dad's little brother, my Uncle Michel, did work for the railways for a while, working for Via Rail at Toronto's Union Station, but that was it. My cousin worked for CP for several years in dispatch before he moved on to another career in the railway industry.

Me on board an old Canadian Pacific switcher at the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls, Summer 2015

And then there's me. My connection with this railway has been peripheral at times, but it seems as though the CPR has always been there.

Going to Windsor to visit my grandparents as a kid was always a highlight, since it pretty much was a guarantee that I would see a CP train. There was one crossing at Howard Avenue that was the best bet, since it wasn't far from the CP Yard and the old Michigan Central Railway tunnel. I remember how excited I was when a long freight train would slowly pass by, as motorists on the busy thoroughfare would patiently wait. That crossing was replaced by a flyover a while ago.

When we visited my Nonno's house, also in Windsor, I used to stand at the end of his driveway, since his street, Wellesley, provided a direct view to the CP tracks. For a young railfan, it didn't get any better than this. Seeing the old multimark go by was a thrill for me, since I mainly saw Chessie System trains in my hometown of Corunna.

Then there was the summer of 1992 when I went to Alberta by myself to visit family, including my Nonno and Uncle John. That trip included a few days in Banff where I visited my sister, who was working there for the summer. One of my best memories of that trip was railfanning at Banff station where I saw this unit grain train. (You can read about my railfanning in Alberta in this post and this post.)

When I worked for the newspaper in Peterborough, I remember watching the Kawartha Lakes Railway trains rush by our newspaper offices at night, en route to the Nephton mines. There were a few times when I would have to stop my evening jogs after work when a train was passing through town. It was always nice to feel that draft of wind when the train passed by.

I often travelled the Highway 7 between Peterborough and Ottawa during that time of my life. The highlight of the drive was very often going through Havelock, where the Kawartha Lakes Railway still maintains a small rail yard that parallels the highway before the line branches off to the Nephton mines. I often considered pulling over on my trips to and from Ottawa to take pictures, but I never did since I wasn't in the habit of taking rail photos then like I am now.

More recently, since I began this blog, I have had a few occasions to see some CP action in Bedell (You can read about my most recent time there in this post).

Empty CP ethanol train westbound at Bedell, Summer 2016

The whole point of these stories is that this railway has always been a part of my family's story and a part of my story as a railfan.

That is why all this drama surrounding the railway makes me sad. I won't argue the economics of mergers or the improved performance that the railway has shown under its current management. Like I said, it's a public company and it is doing a good job of making money for its shareholders.

But I also know from a number of sources that the morale in the company is low. I know that its CEO is not terribly respected by the rank and file, although it's no mystery why he is loved by investors. I won't get into the particulars because it's not my place.

I will only say this. I think this company can do better to live up to its legacy. There are no doubt many other families with similar stories to that of my family. And there are many other stories of how this railway has helped shaped Canada.

I don't begrudge the company for wanting to do the best it can.

But I think the Canadian Pacific is better than what we've seen in the last few years. Be profitable, sure. But never forget your roots because there are countless Canadians that contributed so that company could endure.

I'm not sure today's CP truly appreciates that.

Friday, November 11, 2016


No one can deny that railways are a dirty business. Sure, locomotives today operate more efficiently than their predecessors by a mile. For all that the railways make of the green nature of their business, it's not exactly like driving a Prius. These massive locomotives need serious power to pull their consists and this requires heavy duty diesel engines. That sometimes results in lots of smoke.

The shot below is one of a few I caught in October around Sarnia Yard as CN diesels went about their business. In this shot, these diesels are putting together a long consist, likely headed west for the tunnel and into Michigan.

I haven't caught too many shots of locomotives mid-smoke, so these shots I thought were worth grouping together. You can't tell by the direction of the exhaust in this shot, but this train was actually backing up. It just so happened that the wind was blowing pretty swiftly in the direction of the train's backward move. The lead unit in this consist is CN C44-9W 2670. The majority of the smoke appears to be coming from the third unit.

Here's a closer shot, with a little more colour correction. I like how the exhaust is bluring the light standard behind it. I had a tough time shooting due to the angle of the sun, but you have to take what you can get sometimes. There really is no way to catch these trains on the sunny side in the late morning from this vantage point. You may notice a piece of equipment in the foreground that was once used to service the old heavyweight passenger cars. That track is now ripped out from the side of the Sarnia station.

This might be my favourite shot from the weekend. This is a pretty typical scene in the yard, as a pairing of yard engines is shunting a cut of tank cars around. That initial moment when the units begin their shoving movement is always fun to watch as the engines roar and the plumes of smoke blanket the area around the front of the train.

A moment later, the wind begins to dissipate the plume. These units are clearly working hard to get this line of cars moving.

I zoomed in to get a closer shot of the locomotives in the aftermath. It was just a brief moment, but I was lucky to catch a few images of this movement. As much as I love catching a mainline freight screaming down the tracks, I really do love watching small yard jobs making moves like this.

Throughout the year, I have tried to change my approach to photographing trains. This wasn't really a group of shots I was consciously trying to capture, but I'm glad I snagged them just the same since they offer a glimpse of how these machines work.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Hello, old friend

I have terrible train karma up here in Ottawa. I can't tell you how many times I have attempted to catch the Arnprior local (CN 589) only to come up empty handed. Of course, whenever I visit my family down in Sarnia, there is almost always something interesting to capture, although I have to say my preference is always to capture CSX action, since it is generally a rarer commodity.

Happily, when I visited my family over the Thanksgiving long weekend, I found my way to CN's Sarnia Yard twice. On the second visit, I was lucky to catch CSX's interchange with CN coming into Sarnia Yard right around the old roundhouse.

This time around, I was in a position on the Via Rail platform to get a shot of the train making its way around the curve as it emerged from the St. Clair River Industrial Spur, over which CSX has running rights. There are a number of points in the Chemical Valley and points south where the CN Spur connects with CSX's Sarnia Subdivision (the Imperial Oil refinery and CF Industries' Terra Courtright nitrogen complex to name two), but the yard seems to be the most common place for the two carriers to exchange loads and empties.

The interchanges (some call it the CSX transfer) that I have seen have not been terribly long. The last few times I have seen this consist coming into Sarnia Yard, the car count was about 20-30.

This time around, the light was tricky, as were the numerous visual hazards that typify railfanning at Sarnia Yard. I was happy to catch this decent shot of the two GP38s bringing in a long line of tank cars. I saw quite a few molten sulphur cars in this consist, which turned out to be much longer than the usual 20 cars I see.

This shots above and below turned out okay, considering I was on the wrong side of the train. The shots offer a view of the gantry just before tunnel trains reached CP Hobson, which brings them to and from the Paul Tellier tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. The shot below offers a decent shot of the consist, which features mainly tank cars, although there were a few covered hoppers. There was even a car with some liquid carbon dioxide, which CSX/CN customer Air Liquide uses at its Terra Courtright facility.

The going away shot washed out the sky, but I wanted to try and capture a few of these images, because there was activity to the east of this train's location, which I also wanted to capture in one image. Lucky for me, this consist just kept going, which meant the CSX crew had to pull the train far deeper into the yard than I've seen them do in past instances.

Although the sky was completely washed out, I was able to capture some detail of the train as it headed east toward the Indian Road overpass. It's a long line of Procor tank cars. Interestingly, Procor has its own maintenance facility on the east edge of the yard, just beyond Modeland Road, complete with its own access road that is named after the company.

This is why I stuck with the train for so long. In this shot you can see three consists at various stages of organization. The CSX interchange is headed for Indian Road while two CN yard jobs continue their rounds just beneath the overpass. You can also see the broom stick standing out on the switch stand in the foreground. Most switches in this yard seem to be manual, with a broom at the read for when snow needs to be cleared away.

As mentioned, here is the one outlier in the consist. In a sea of black and white tank cars, here is the one tank used to supply Air Liquide. The striping on the bottom in the giveaway.

As I mentioned, I have seen this train a number of times in the yard. Anyone that is a railfan in Sarnia knows to be in the yard around 9:30-10:30 a.m. to catch this train.

You can read about my previous encounters with this train by clicking here and here.