Thursday, January 28, 2016

Via 42 at Twin Elm

Once in a while, it all comes together and the fates smile down on me. Recently, I've been exploring the rural areas in Ottawa's southwest end. I usually make it a habit to cruise through the Twin Elm area, since it allows me to cross the Smiths Falls subdivision at Eagleson Road, Barnsdale Road, Twin Elm Road, Cambrian Road and Moodie Drive. I noticed recently that I was crossing Twin Elm right around a time when the traffic control signals on the subdivision changed from a yellow aspect to green. This was a hint to me that quite possibly a train was due. I was right, since Via's Train 42 from Toronto breezes through the area right around 4 p.m. A few weeks ago, I was driving south down Twin Elm Road when I saw the crossing gates lower. The road was empty so I stopped well before the gates and rolled down the window to get a few shots.

A F40 and four LRC cars is the usual consist for this train, as I have come to cross paths with it several times in recent weeks. But on the day when these photos were taken, a number of things seemed to come together. The sky was an interesting mix of clouds and clear patches. The twilight rays of the sun had cast a beautiful glow over the countryside as I framed this shot below of Train 42 rumbling through the countryside.

What I like about this shot is that it could be anywhere in Canada. It has a prairie feel (okay, maybe too many trees), but it also reminds me of southwestern Ontario. The mix of snow and golden weeds adds a nice contrast to the landscape. I tried to get my car between the hydro poles so I wouldn't get them in my shot, but I still managed to get a wire in there, which I left in because I didn't want to crop out too much of the sky. I've got a photo editing program, which is rather basic, which does a terrible job when I want to remove wires from my shot. Anyone have any suggestions for a basic editing program that does the job?

The next shot I was particularly proud of, I have to admit. I am not a great photographer by any means and I don't have sophisticated equipment. This means some of my images lack the quality you will find on other blogs. But, as I mentioned at the outset, sometimes it all comes together and I manage to get a shot that makes me look like I know what I'm doing.

In this shot, F40 6404 leads Train 42 to the Twin Elm crossing. I love the sky in this shot as well and the clouds of snow being kicked up by the LRC coaches. I can imagine people aboard that train, staring out at the windswept landscape, being thankful that they are warm inside the train and almost at their destination. They might be looking at me wondering, what is that guy doing taking photos of this train?

A small bit of news regarding Ottawa's Central Station. The National Capital Commission, the federal agency that is charged with various planning and design functions in the capital region, has approved the design concepts for the renovation of the station. These renovations have been planned for some time. They include raising the outdoor platforms (see current platform below, from this January 2013 shot) to a height equal to the bottom of the doors of the coaches. This would make the Ottawa platforms similar to the ones at Montreal's Central Station and Quebec City's station.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Gone but not forgotten: The Forest Subdivision

Some cities bury old rail lines and their rail history. I won't write about how this came back to haunt Ottawa. Instead, I want to focus on a historic rail line, long gone, which is celebrated in southwestern Ontario.

The old Canadian National Forest Subdivision has an interesting history. At one point, it was the Grand Trunk Railway's main line between Point Edward (Sarnia) and Toronto. The line was opened for business in 1859 before standard gauge was adopted among North American railways. The rails were 5 feet, 6 inches apart (1.67 metres), before being changed to the standard 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches (1.435 metres) in 1872.

The rail line initially ran down what is now Cathcart Boulevard in the city and crossed through the lakefront park, Canatara Park, before ending at a terminal in Point Edward where the Bluewater Bridge now stands. The right-of-way between Blackwell, via Cathcart Boulevard, and Point Edward, saw scheduled service until 1967. That stretch is now unrecognizable. However, the old right-of-way that branched off south at Blackwell that connected to the Strathroy Subdivision has been maintained as a multi-use trail.

The image below is a small monument to Sarnia's railway heritage. A small railway platform sits near what was once the Blackwell flag stop. This flag stop served passengers until passenger service was discontinued by CNR in 1952. This area is located in north Sarnia. You will notice that the platform has some actual rails incorporated into it. Nice touch.

Also, a bench made with old railway iron. Again, a clever nod to the area's railway past. I'd love to know how they bent those old rails for this use.

The old line has more recently been known as the Howard Watson Nature Trail. It seems to be an incredibly popular trail for people to use. The trail itself runs between Sarnia and Camlachie, a small village north of the city. The photo below (all shots in this post are courtesy of my brother Marc) shows the old right of way, which parallels Lakeshore Road in Bright's Grove. You can make out an old railway bridge straight ahead.

Here's another shot. The bridge crosses Perch Creek, also a flag stop on the old Grand Trunk line in earlier times. As you can see, the trail is well maintained.

Another shot from the woods.

And another shot from below. I'm not sure what the "Pig Roasters" graffiti is about, but I have an idea that it's likely a shot at local police. Not terribly clever. Given the tricky lighting beneath this bridge, I did a fair bit of touching up to make sure all elements of were visible. That explains the sepia tones you might notice.

As I was reading about this line, I discovered a number of interesting tidbits.

1. The Grand Trunk built a connection between its line and what is now the Strathroy Subdivision at Blackwell in 1882 (top photo). This was done when the Grand Trunk absorbed the Great Western Railway, which originally operated what is now the Strathroy Sub.

2. The connection also cleared the way for the GTR to divert its traffic to the St. Clair River Tunnel, in south Sarnia, in 1891. Before the tunnel was built, the Grand Trunk ferried 1,000 cars a day across the St. Clair River, by two ferries.

3. The line once served as a major transportation route for sugar beets, which were loaded onto freight cars in the north end of the city.

4. The GTR's old terminal in Point Edward once served as a the second busiest immigration hub for people wanting to settle in the American West. This hub was second only to Ellis Island for the number of people it processed.

CN took control of this old GTR line in 1923 when the Grand Trunk was folded into the Canadian National Railways crown corporation. As mentioned, passenger service on this line was scrapped in 1952. The CN Forest Subdivision in the Sarnia area was abandoned in 1981, with other segments following in the late 1980s.

When it was last fully operational, the subdivision began at Sarnia Yard and ventured east where it served the following towns:

Forest (47.5)

This shot, from the Lambton County Archives, shows the former Forest train station, now the town's library.

Thedford (38.7)
Parkhill (30.0)
Ailsa Craig (22.3)
Lucan (15.2)
Granton (9.3)
St. Mary's (Junction with former CN Thorndale Subdivision)

This was the makeup of this subdivision until 1981, when the section between Sarnia and Forest was abandoned. In 1985, the section between Forest and Parkhill was abandoned. In 1988, the line was completely abandoned.

As mentioned, a part of the line in Sarnia has served as an official trail since 1986. There is a portion that crosses under Highway 402, which is being eyed as a right-of-way for a road. Those who love this trail are opposed to the idea, but suggestions have been made where the road would be built with a dedicated right-of-way for the trail. I'm sure this is not a great option for those who love this trail, but it seems inevitable that a strategic right-of-way will surely give way to development.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cedarview Road and other winter observations

I was reminded the other day of how much fun it is to shoot railroading action in the winter. Fellow Ottawa railway blogger Dave M of Ottawa 589 passed along some shoots he took of the Arnprior local heading out to Nylene Canada on its weekly Wednesday run. He graciously invited me to join him, but I was unable to go, but he did plant a seed. I was inspired the following weekend to head out and get some shoots of Via's morning 643 train to Toronto, which passes through Barrhaven at about 9:30 a.m after it leaves Fallowfield Station.

Those who read this blog know that I often take shots at the McKenna-Casey Drive level crossing, but on this morning, I decided to try a new spot on Cedarview Road. Those familiar with west-end Ottawa know that Cedarview Road's northern stretch ends at the Smiths Falls Subdivision, before Cedarview South continues through Ottawa's rural hinterland. Once you arrive at the cul-de-sac, you can park your car and make your way to a spot right next to several evergreen trees. Once you slip past them, you can find a good spot next to the security fence where you can get a nice long shot of the tracks. This one below is a good example of how much of the line you can get in a single shot. What I love about this first shot is that, if you take away that cellular tower on the left and the houses just behind the right-of-way, this scene could have been shot just about anywhere.

Of course, one challenge at the Cedarview vantage point is the nearby pedestrian walkway below the tracks, which explains those two concrete blocks, which will affect your shots when the train approaches your spot. Here's a closer look at Via 643 en route to Toronto.

And here is a close-up of F40 6417 and its consist of four LRC cars kicking up some fresh snow on the western edge of the Barrhaven neighbourhood. The one drawback of my spot was that the trees were so close to the security fence that I was unable to turn around and get some going away shots of the consists. This was a tough break since the train hadn't yet geared up to speed as it approached the Strandherd Drive crossing, just beyond this spot.

So, instead of those shots, I figured it would be fun to get some close-up shots of the coaches kicking up a little snow. That's one of the fun parts of shooting in the winter. The movement of snow really allows you to capture the power and speed of these machines in ways you can't in the summer.

While I'm talking about winter in Ottawa, I should mention that I've been out to Twin Elm a few times lately, although never at a time when a train was passing. I took this shot of the right-of-way facing east from Twin Elm Road. You can see the yellow aspect on the signal ahead.

Up until a few weeks ago, there were a few Potash three-bay hoppers still at the SynAgri mill just down the road from the Twin Elm crossing. I haven't seen any new hoppers spotted at the mill in recent weeks, but you can see huge piles of tarped-off potash (presumably) right off the SynAgri spur. This hopper, below, is heavily tagged by graffiti taggers.

So those were my little winter adventures in the last few weeks. Since Ottawa appears to be in the midst of winter for real now, I am hopeful that I can add a few more winter gems to my photo collection.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Trains de banlieue and other Montreal sightings

I recently made a quick daytrip to Montreal for an appointment, which meant I took the train into the heart of one of Canada's great railway towns. In my previous post, I featured some grainy shots of trackside industry, bridges and other items of interest.

When I made it into Montreal, I had to hop aboard the city's subway, the Metro, to make my way to the Westmount neighbourhood where I had my appointment. The city's subway is a great system with frequent subway trains making their way in either direction on a set of double tracks. For those not familiar with these blue and white gems, they are different from conventional subways in that the subway cars run on rubber tires. I have ridden this system several times and have always been impressed.

After a few station stops, I emerged from the underground at Vendome station, which is both a subway stop and a station for Montreal's trains de banlieue, or suburban commuter trains. Much like GO Transit does in the Greater Toronto Area, AMT connects suburbs on and around the island of Montreal. Here is a link to the system's map, which gives you an idea of this railway's reach.

I had a few minutes to have a snack outside, so I sat down as close to the tracks as possible and waited for a few trains to appear. I didn't have to wait long before I saw some action.

I was a little limited by my vantage point, but it was enough to get a few shots of some AMT (Agence m√©tropolitaine de transport) Bombardier ALP-45DPs (including top photo). These rather unsightly units have the ability to operate using overheard catenary or via the locomotive's twin diesel engines. My research shows there are 20 of these units in revenue service.

This shot above gives you an idea of the rolling stock used. Like GO Transit in Toronto, AMT trains also use Bombardier bi-level coaches, although the coaches are not tapered at the ends in the same way. There are 160 of these cars in the fleet.

Not long after the first train made its way toward the downtown, another came rumbling up into the station while another arrived from the downtown, making its way west toward the suburbs. The train that was headed downtown was being pulled by F59PH, which were once more common on the GO Trains. AMT has 21 in its fleet including a few it purchased from GO. I was a little underwhelmed by the livery on these engines.

You will notice, unlike GO, AMT also uses single-level coaches in its fleet, like the cars on this train, above. There are 24 of these coaches in the fleet. A better (albeit obstructed) view of the consist heading downtown (below).

One interesting element of this system in the downtown is that many of these trains stop right at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens. When you make your way through the arena, you can easily find the AMT station stop, which allows you great sightlines to take photos of these trains, if you're so inclined. I arrived there during off hours, so there was nothing to shoot, but I filed it away for the next time I might find myself in the city.

Like the GO Trains, the AMT trains operate in a push-pull fashion, with cab units on the opposite end of the consist to the locomotive. This was taken aboard Via Train 30 as it made its way to Montreal's Central Station.

Later in the day, I did some wandering around the downtown, trying to see if there was anything else to shoot and share. There is a raised viaduct-like structure that allows trains to make their way downtown to the Central Station without disrupting traffic below. It makes photography difficult from street level, but I did manage to capture a few interesting sites.

Below you can see an AMT consist idling as it waits to head into the Central Station for its evening run to the suburbs. I couldn't get any closer since pedestrian access near the viaduct was limited.

As mentioned in my previous post, here is the shot of Via Rail P42 pushing a string of Renaissance coaches into the Central Station. This is the first time I have seen these cars since 2013. In the shot below, you can see a conductor (see explanation below, thanks to Jeff) watching out as the train backs into the station.

And here's a shot of the head end of the consist being pushed by P42 917.

Just before the tracks make their way below a hotel and into the station, there is an old piece of railway architecture with this logo.

And one last shot as I made my way out of the city and back home.

Quick railfan question: For those who have seen both AMT and GO Trains or have travelled on both systems, which do you prefer? Which one of these commuter systems is more pleasing to your railfan eye?