Thursday, March 31, 2016

Union Pearson Express: Take note, Ottawa

Toronto, Part I - The following post is the first of four I have put together to chronicle the various trains I saw on a recent trip to Toronto with my family in mid-March.

What do the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the 2015 Pan-American Games and Canada's 150th anniversary have in common? Maybe the better question would be what should these three events
have in common? Well, in my opinion, they all should be good news for commuter rail. In the case of the Olympics and the Pan-Am Games, both host cities used their events to dramatically improve their commuter rail between their downtowns and their airports. Meanwhile in Ottawa, the potential to link Ottawa's downtown to the city's airport remains less than certain. And that's a shame. Especially considering that next year would be the ideal year to have this project done.

But, let's focus on the positive first. The Union Pearson Express (UP Express) is a rail service that connects Toronto's Pearson International Airport with the city's Union Station. The commuter trains make the connection in 25 minutes each way at intervals of 15 minutes. Without getting into the history of this rail line (there is quite a history), the most important element to highlight is that the service began operation last year in time for the Pan-American Games in Toronto. This is crucial, I think, because the UP Express is proof that, given a sense of urgency, we can find the political will to get important projects like this done. A world-class city needs a rail link between its airport and downtown. End of story.

I also referenced Vancouver. In the case of that city, its Sky Train commuter service was extended to the airport via the Canada Line. By all accounts, this expansion of that service has been a hit in the Lower Mainland and is exceeding ridership estimates. Again, this is an example of a special event providing the impetus for an important infrastructure project to get done.

I will mention Ottawa in a minute, but first, here's a shot below of a two-car consist (Nippon Sharyo diesel multiple unit) crossing below Spadina Avenue near the GO Transit North Bathurst Yard, where a parked GO Train awaits its evening run.

The UP Express heads west beneath Spadina Street and past parked GO Trains in North Bathurst Yard on March 14, 2016

Now, I am not going to pretend that this service is the pinnacle of what commuter rail should be. Those who have followed the story of this train know that there have been complaints about the high fares charged by Metrolinx (these fares were recently reduced), the falling ridership and the fact that an electric train was not used when the service launched last year. To me, the electric train argument is the product of those who don't realize how complex this project was and those who don't understand just how green these trains are (EPA Tier Four compliant).

This shot below shows another Pearson-bound trainset passing by the condo I rented for my family during our brief stay in Toronto. I will have many more photos to share from this high vantage point in later posts.

The UP Express heads west between Spadina and Bathurst streets in Toronto on March 13, 2016

This brings me to Ottawa and the opportunity this city will miss to have a downtown-airport rail link in time for 2017, when Canada's 150th birthday will make Ottawa a destination for a number of special events (like an expected Grey Cup and the Olympic curling trials) and many more tourists than usual. An extension of the existing O-Train Trillium Line to the airport will not happen anytime soon. The visionaries at City Hall here are still talking about this airport extension as a nice addition to the city's second phase of light rail expansion, if the money can be found. The proposed $100-million airport extension, which would make use of the existing remnants of the old CP Prescott Sub, would require a spur be built to the airport, since the existing rail is not close enough to the terminal. The city has said that passengers would have to change trains at the end of the current Trillium Line and board a separate train to the airport, if a link is built. That is a big problem, but it should not be a deal breaker. I am amazed that the city does not see this airport link as a bigger priority.

The current end of the line for the O-Train at Greenboro Station. This view shows the existing track that leads south through airport lands. It is currently CN trackage that is sporadically used to service the National Research Council's surface transportation research facility on Lester Road.

The biggest problem I have about this dithering is that an airport extension would not only largely make use of an existing right-of-way, it would also serve as a crucial link to Barrhaven and Riverside South, two massive south-end neighbourhoods that need better commuting options more than most other areas of the city. So, if the city can't find the will to build an airport extension, should it not place a heavy emphasis on connecting Barrhaven and Riverside South to the LRT network as soon as possible? If they did, the airport extension would be more of a natural add-on to the network.

So what, you may think. Ottawa doesn't have a rail link to its airport. Big deal, right? Well, it is a big deal because getting to Ottawa's airport is already a hassle. The airport is served by a single city bus route, the 97, which is a milk run route, to say the least. The 97 bus originates it the city's west end, Bells Corners to be more specific. Anyone wanting to get to the airport via bus will have to budget at least an hour in transit to get to the airport.

Also, the "parkway" serving the airport is insufficient, to say the least. The road is a two-lane road, which very often bogs down when traffic is heavy. Making matters worse, until recently, the city had an Airport Parkway and an Aviation Parkway, which served the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. So, unless you know the city, you could very easily get confused. Thankfully, the Aviation Parkway has been renamed. But, I still find the Airport Parkway is a road not easily accessed as it stands now, tacked on to the end of Bronson Avenue. The alternate route to the airport, via Uplands Drive, is also a route you need to know in order to get to the airport on time.

My point is a rail link would simplify transportation to the airport immensely. Right now, your best bet getting to the airport is taxi or car, if you know the route and if you don't get lost or bogged down in traffic.

So, let's end on a positive railfanning note.

UP Express, top right, headed west for Pearson International Airport, passes an eastbound GO Train headed for Toronto's Union Station on March 13, 2016

I caught a bunch of great meets at this junction, just west of Bathurst Street and north of Fort York. Here we see a GO Train bound for Union Station while a two-car UP Express heads for the airport. I saw two- and three-car UP Express consists while in Toronto and was impressed with this little train. There may still be challenges ahead for this train, but it does add a great element to railfanning in Toronto.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Twin Elm: The gift that keeps on giving

As I was sorting through some recent shots I took at the Twin Elm Road crossing, I remembered that there was a previous photo taken at that very crossing from 1980. This shot illustrates how little has changed in this rural area of Ottawa. The surrounding farms today are pretty much what they were when this shot was taken. The right-of-way hasn't changed much, except for some new signaling equipment that was recently installed.

What strikes me about this shot is that the crossing sign is missing, to say nothing of crossing gates that are essential on high-speed corridors today. This consist, led by an Alco FPA4 6793, features four of the classic blue and yellow cars (photo from the Canada Science and Technology Museum archives). Now contrast this shot with the shot below, which I took Jan 29.

My shot shows Train 42, led by F40PH-2, approaching the Twin Elm Road crossing. The poles alongside the tracks are now gone and a crossing signal and barrier are in place, but there is little else that is all that different from the top shot.

I was quite happy with how this hot turned out, given the composition of the sky and the resulting colours that are prominent at this time of day.

Here's a closer shot of the consist as it speeds by my car. Just like the top photo, the consists remain four cars long for the most part. It's fascinating to see how little has changed along this subdivision.

This area has given me some of my best photos of late. I would highly recommend any local railfans to explore this area. There are stretches of Twin Elm Road where you have an unobstructed view of the Smiths Falls subdivision. When a train makes its way through this area, you are able to shoot the entire consist. Closer to the crossing, you are able to get some pretty dramatic angles in your shot. It also should be noted that you have the opportunity to shoot at Cambrian Road, Barnsdale Road and Eagleson Road crossings, all of which are less than five minutes from this crossing. You are even able to catch the bi-weekly CN on Tuesdays and Sundays (schedule has changed of late).
This is an area worth checking out.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

RMEO Part IV: The best of the rest

Last summer, my family visited the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls. I made sure to take photos of just about everything. In this post, I thought I'd share some photos of a number of pieces of the museum's collection that didn't merit their own post.

You can read about the museum's S3 locomotive here.
You can read about the museum's two Canadian Pacific cabooses here.
You can read about the museum's dental car here.

The car below is an oddity for sure, at least by today's railway standards. This 1947 Cadillac sedan was originally owned by a Toronto doctor. The doctor donated the car to his friend "Buck" Crump, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Crump promptly sent the luxury car to Montreal where the railway converted it into possibly the most comfortable inspection vehicle the CP had ever seen.

The car, numbered M-260, was assigned to the president and used for division inspections. There are some interesting modifications on this car. One is that the steering wheel was used for air brakes while the car itself was placed on a rotating turntable, which allowed the car to avoid needing wyes or diamonds in order to turn around. An air horn and bell were also added to this eight-cylinder, seven-tonne car, which has 32,000 miles on the odometer. I also love the CPR beaver logo on the driver side door.

Canadian Pacific spanned the world at the time.

My nephew loved this locomotive, which I took him to see. This steam engine, built in 1912 for the Canadian Northern, was a 4-6-2 coal-burning locomotive later converted to oil. The locomotive was used for both freight and passenger service. It served in these two capacities for the CNoR and CNR until it was sold to the resource line Quebec, North Shore and Labrador, where it worked in revenue service until 1961. The locomotive was then donated to railway museum Exporail. In 1992, it was leased to the Smiths Falls museum, where it has been ever since. The museum had the engine laid out with a consist of two boxcars and a caboose.

This wooden caboose below was one of 15 built by the Canadian National in London, Ontario in 1947. This caboose belonged to the last roster of wooden cabooses built by the railway. It was retired from revenue service in 1983 and was donated to a museum in Cornwall. In 2001, it was donated to this museum, where it was restored. It looked like it needed a fresh coat of paint, but the interior was immaculate. Despite the fact that it is a wooden caboose, this car has some modern touches, like an oil stove, rather than a coal stove. It also was equipped with air brakes.

Inscription on this yellow boxcar (see shot above, in front of the CNR caboose) reads: "Insulated and Heated Car. For Cleaning Lading Only. Accept Bulk Commodity."

This plow was one of my favourites. One of the reasons is that it's such an odd looking car. The Goderich Exeter Railway still uses a plow just like this one to keep its lines clear, especially in the Huronia region. This car, 55400, was built in 1935 by National Steel Car in Hamilton. This plow worked by harnessing the power of the compressed air in the train's braking system.

This shot gives you an idea of what it was like to sit in the cockpit of one of these cars. The three gauges you see read main reservoir, signal line and train line. I was surprised how simplistic the setup was when I climbed into this car.

This old wooden boxcar was something of an anomaly. There wasn't much to read about it in the brochure the museum gives visitors. There was nothing on the outside to indicate the origin of this car. By digging a little, I found that this car was built in 1923 for the Canadian Pacific. There is little more out there about the story of this car.

I did find it interesting that there was this door at the end of the boxcar, which suggested to me that this car may have been modified at some point for maintenance of way duties, although that is just a guess.

I spotted this tank car at the edge of the museum's property near a maintenance shop. It reads Casco on the side. It looked like it needed a fair amount of work before it was added to the permanent collection.

That concludes my four-part recap of one of Eastern Ontario's more fascinating museums. My family and I had a great time wandering the grounds and the restored CNoR station. Smiths Falls should be very proud of this museum. I know I will be back.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

All American Diesel in Canada

In Spring 1991, I sometimes would hop on my bike and race to the nearby CSX tracks when I heard a train approaching my hometown. One morning, I caught a huge four-diesel mixed freight, which was one of the better catches I have ever had.

Fast forward a few decades.

A great surprise awaited me the other day when I visited the Chesapeake & Ohio Canadian Division Facebook group. It turns out, one of the photos I took that spring day had much more historic significance than I had imagined.

This is a shot of GP38-2 2002, repatched for CSX but previously bearing the B&O markings on the side of its hood. This unit, which was originally B&O 3802, was like any other GP38 that were used almost exclusively on this rail line between Sarnia and Chatham in the 1990s.

But this unit, it turns out, has been preserved at the Baltimore & Ohio museum in Baltimore, Maryland because it is historically significant. There was a reminder stenciled onto the side of this unit, which read "Do Not Dismantle. On release from service, hold for shipment to B&O Museum via Locust Point, Baltimore."

The stencil was applied in 1992, which meant my photo was taken the year before the locomotive was officially tabbed for the museum. But the question is, why was this unit designated to be saved?

Upon reading about this unit's story on the museum's website, I was surprised to read that this locomotive was dubbed the All American Diesel by Trains Magazine in 1982. At the time it was chosen, this locomotive was already in Chessie paint. It turns out, despite the patch being applied to this unit in 1992, this locomotive wasn't retired from service until 2000. Not a bad return for a diesel manufactured in 1967.

You can see lots of photos of this unit and the patch at the C&O Canadian Facebook group (see link above), which I have found to be a fascinating treasure trove of photos and information about a largely forgotten rail network in Southwestern Ontario. You can also see what this unit looks like fully restored today on the B&O Museum's 3802 Flikr page.

What makes this even better for me was I caught this unit on a train with four diesels. This was the one and only time I ever saw four units leading a train on this line. Usually, CSX ran two geeps together, with the long hoods connected together.

This has always been one of my favourite railway photos. Now that I know the story behind this unit, it makes this image all the more special. It also makes me feel old to know that an engine I caught is now a museum piece.


Over at Trackside Treasure, blogger Eric Gagnon has posted about the fascinating Sclair covered hoppers that were once common around Sarnia and elsewhere. Eric was nice enough to include a link to an older Beachburg Sub post that included a shot I took of the Sclair hoppers in Corunna. I found one other shot of a Sclair hopper, taken in 1992 that I thought I would share. This car is parked on a spur serving a plastics plant near Corunna. That maroon car to the left is a Dupont hopper. The former Dupont plant, now owned by Nova Chemicals, is located in Corunna on the CSX Sarnia Sub.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

CN 589 at Northside Road

The good news is I finally caught CN's Arnprior local in Bells Corners, which has been on my to-do list for a while. The bad news is I just barely caught it and had to improvise to get a few shots.

The morning I caught it, I fully intended to set up a shot alongside the tracks on a stretch of Northside Road in Bells Corners. Unfortunately, I had a last-minute appointment scheduled for early in the morning across the city, which compressed my timeline somewhat. After navigating my way back to my neighbourhood through snowy conditions, I was driving down Northside, just past the bridge that carries the CN Beachburg Subdivision over Highway 416. As I made my way around a bend in the road, not more than a few metres from a parking lot where I was going to set up, I saw the train plodding along. I was about a minute too late to set up. On to Plan B.

I had my camera out so I pointed it at the train and took a few blind shots while focusing on the road. The consist headed to Nylene Canada in Arnprior was about as short as you will find. CN GP38-2W 4760 was pulling DNAX 300908.

I noticed a strange badge on the side of the tank car, which, upon further inspection, turned out to be Dana Rail Care. It turns out, DNAX 300908 is the reporting mark belonging to the Delaware-based company, which specializes in railcar washing and maintenance. I have never seen one of these cars before, so that made up for the fact that 589 only had a single car in the consist. Considering that I have seen this train in recent months (sans camera sadly) pulling as many as four cars, it was a bit of a let down to catch it with just a single car.

As the road and right-of-way diverged a bit, I was able to get some wider shots of the tiny train. It should be obvious that, if you are planning to shot a train in this area, summer is not a good time since there is so much brush and weeds growing along the tracks.

I was reasonably happy with my shots, especially the snowfall that I managed to catch. I have long thought that my collection of railway images was severely lacking in winter photos. I think I have managed to address some of that shortage in recent weeks.

I thought I would include this shot, which places the railway tracks in context. The rail line winds around the northern edge of Bells Corners, winding past a number of small-scale industrial and commercial facilities. Here 589 slips in behind a commercial complex before the trackage passes over Robertson Road.

I also though I would throw in this initial shot, which I took as I made my way around a bend in the road and first noticed the train. I left in the glare from the windshield, just to illustrate how quickly I had to try and grab some shots. I did end up with a few shots where road signs were blocking the view of the train. In this shot, I just barely squeezed in the train before some of the road signs began.

In recent weeks, I have found myself driving around areas that cross the Smiths Falls Subdivision and have noticed that one of CN's main customers along the line, Kott Lumber, has been ordering two lumber cars at its Moodie Drive facility. This is the first time I have noticed more than a single car at the facility. Further along the tracks, at the SynAgri feed mill, there have been no hopper car deliveries in recent weeks, which suggests to me that the mill will not need any rail service until the spring.
I also mentioned in the summer that bundles of rail ties have been left by the tracks, which suggested that track work was about to be done in and around Ottawa. Those ties are still sitting trackside, which means the track work is still to be done. It might be something for local rail watchers to keep an eye on as the spring weather takes hold here.