Thursday, June 30, 2016

Postcards from Alberta

In the first year of this blog, I shared two posts from a trip I made to Alberta in 1992. You can read about my railfanning adventures in this post and this post. That trip was a great experience for me because it was the first time I travelled on my own, even though I wasn't even 16 years old yet. From a railfanning perspective, this was one of the first times I specifically set out to take photos of trains and I'm glad I did. I was able to get photos of a CP grain train, the Rocky Mountaineer and the Lake Louise train station. These are among my favourite rail photos, more than 20 years later.

Recently, I was going through a number of old items that had been packed away when I discovered three postcards I bought while visiting Heritage Park in Calgary with my aunt, uncle and grandfather (the one who worked as a labourer in the Crowsnest Pass region). I figured I should share them and bring to a conclusion my series on Alberta, years later.

The first postcard features a shot of one of the park's former U.S. Army 0-6-0 steam locomotives (2024 in this shot, the other is 2023). The engines were in use as late as the 1960s in British Columbia for Pacific Coast Terminals' switching operations.

The railway is a big part of this history museum. The historic village has a number of railway items on its grounds, including a sand house, roundtable, roundhouse, water tower and railway station. The railway itself operates on a 4300 foot loop and comprises three locomotives and 30 pieces of assorted rolling stock. It's been so long since I've been there, I can't really offer many insights into this railway other than to confirm that I rode this train and enjoyed the experience.

Here's a postcard that should be recognizable to just about any Canadian railfan. This is a shot of the CP Rail photo freight, which was staged a various sites around Canada at the time when the Canadian Pacific Railway adopted the action scheme and rebranded itself CP Rail in 1968. This shot, I learned, was obviously staged at Yoho at one of the famous spiral tunnels that the railway used to ease the grueling grade that trains had to mount to make it through the Rockies. This train was broken up into two pieces for this photo. The railway also took pictures of this train along the shore of Lake Superior and in the Laurentians in Quebec. The lead unit, 4242, was sadly never preserved and was scrapped when it came to the end of its life. Kinda sad that the railway never bothered to save the first unit painted in the action red. Here's a good piece of trivia. Can you identify the use of each of the boxcars you can see (red, yellow, green, blue)? I ask this because I couldn't without researching it online.

And one final postcard from the trip. This one is a collage of trains in the Rockies, including that famous CP photo freight, but you can also see a Via Rail triple header (all F units), a Via Rail train being helped by a CP high hood geep and a CP mixed freight that is not quite as photogenic as the photo freight.

I know that I had these postcards displayed with my train photos in an album for years before I scrapped that album. I'm glad I kept them all these years later. If only I had been so careful with some of my own railway photos from this time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Making Lemonade (Part II)

As I mentioned last week, I recently headed out to shoot some railway action, even if it was just Via Rail corridor trains. The goal was to get some railway photos that are different or showcase some items of interest along the line. One of my favourite spots to get photos is an area beneath Highway 416 along McKenna Casey Drive. You can see my winter photo at this spot below or you can see a few more in this post.

As soon as I arrived, I had a few decisions to make. The first was do I zoom in like I did in this test shot below or do I use a wider shot to capture more of the train as well as the cows in the field? I decided to use a wide shot, since it would capture more and it didn't seem to wash out the sky either.

My next decision as where to set up. This is where this area presents a challenge. McKenna Casey has narrow shoulders, except for one stretch, which was luckily right where I wanted to set up. After I safely pulled over and away from traffic, I sat and waited in my driver's seat, since I knew Train 55 was due any moment after leaving Fallowfield Station.

Here is the first of the resulting shots. The sky looks much better, but the compromise was I had to set up across the road and had to contend with the barrier, which was blocking part of my shot. I opted to keep the barrier in the shot because I wanted the cows in the frame as well. I liked the resulting shot. The next time I am there, I am going to try zooming in a little. If it is safe, I might cross the road and shoot from the other side of that barrier. We'll see.

Here's a shot of the entire consist emerging from the Highway 416 overpass. The trees along the road presented another challenge, but I wanted a shot that captured the whole train. I have noticed that many of my shots of late are wider shots that encompass more of the train.

As mentioned, here's a February 2015 shot another Via corridor train heading below the 416. This shot was a complete fluke. I was heading toward the McKenna Casey crossing when I saw the signals flashing. I checked my rearview mirror and saw no one else on the road so I pulled over next to the barrier and got some stellar winter shots. Again, shooting from this side of the road is difficult and I do not recommend it unless there is no traffic on the road.

I thought I would share this last shot that shows the old streamliners gleaming in the sun. The cows don't seem to be fazed by the train. I think this has become routine for them.

So, that is my attempt to make some lemonade and break up the monotony of shooting Via corridor trains. As I mentioned last week, I am going to try and find some other interesting spots along this line that will make for some more diverse rail photography.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Making Lemonade (Part I)

Let's start with the obvious. Railfanning in Ottawa is not easy and it can be downright frustrating. Most railfans don't want to spend their time chasing around four-coach Via Rail corridor trains. Recently, I realized that I hadn't been out to shoot any trains in more than a month. And now that CN's west end freight trains (589 on Tuesday and Wednesday) seem to be combined at times, it means the chances of shooting freight trains is becoming a little more difficult. So, what is a railfan to do? Well, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right?

I decided to head out recently just to shoot something. I went to Via's Fallowfield Station to shoot Train 55, which was due to arrive in minutes before making its way west to Toronto. The skies began to open up on my way to the station, but I immediately thought that this was a good thing. I didn't have many good shots of trains in the rain, so this would help create a little diversity in my rail photo collection.

A few other surprises resulted as I took some shots of Train 55 heading across Woodroffe Avenue. Let's take a close look at the shot below, which on the surface is nothing special.

Most obviously, I decided to include a piece of the station platform in the shot to showcase the puddles and capture a bit of the rain in the shot. But I also made sure to fit in some of the trackside ballast pile and bundle of ties next to the pile. You may recall that I spotted some rail maintenance of way equipment in Richmond in this post. The condition of the line near the station seems to show that work has been done on this line fairly recently.

Here's another shot of Train 55 as it makes its way across Woodroffe. Notice the slope of the line as it approaches the station. You can also see the new signal equipment showing straight red for eastbound trains.

This is my favourite shot of this meet. You can see the reflection of the signals on the side of the train and the grade of the line is very clear in this shot. If you look closely, you can also see the rain in front of the locomotive. The train is being led by P42 912, which I am sure I have captured several times before.

Now compare this shot of 912 with this earlier shot (2011) of 908 along the same stretch of line. In the older shot, you don't see the grade at all. This might be due to the fact that the older shot was taken a little further west on the platform. Still, I was surprised that I never got any shots of the grade before. The other big difference is the size of the consist. The older shot shows a consist that is between 6-8 cars long.

In the spirit of capturing different elements in my shots, I made sure to stick around as the train readied for departure. Just before it left, I captured this shot of a Via service manager (I have always called them conductors, but that term seems out of date now) on the platform making one final check before the train began to move.

I was impressed enough with my efforts that I returned to the station the next day to try and capture some more shots. I changed my position a little, backing away from the platform, so I could lessen the wedge effect. The lighting wasn't as kind the next day, so this was about all I could muster. The interesting thing was the next day's train was being pulled by P42 913. Almost as if they had planned it that way. Other than this shot, I didn't have much to show for the second day.

Getting back to the first day, I noticed that Train 55 was moving toward Fallowfield Road very slowly, so I drove to the opposite end of the Via parking lot and captured a shot of the train heading west. I'm not sure why the train was crawling toward the Fallowfield crossing. Usually, corridor trains gear up pretty fast out of Fallowfield. You can see the rain falling in my shot pretty easily in those little blotches in the sky. It was hard to shield the lens from the rain, but such are the challenges of shooting in the elements. This shot also captures the new signal equipment on the Smiths Falls Sub.

There were a couple of takeaways from these two days for me. One was, even if you don't think you are going to get anything new, it's always worthwhile to head out and take some shots. The next takeaway is to always think creatively. I deliberately sought out some different shots. Thanks to the fact that I changed my position on the Via platform and looked for elements other than the train, I managed to get some different shots. In next week's post, I will share some photos that take this approach further. I went out to a scenic spot on the Smiths Falls Sub and managed to capture something special.

One final thought. As several of my fellow rail enthusiasts have pointed out, CN seems to be combining its western freight service in Ottawa. Some have even caught 589 at Fallowfield Station on the siding. I intend to focus my efforts on this station in the coming weeks, simply to see if I can catch this freight train there. If you do see this train there, feel free to let me know and make sure to take note of the time you saw it.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ontario Hydro and CSX: The railway deal that wasn't

I stumbled across a photo the other day of a CSX train passing by the Lambton Generating Station near Courtright, Ont. The photo reminded me of a rail story about this old coal-fired generating station, where I spent a summer working. The photo caption suggested that two rail spurs into the generating station property were used for coal deliveries and fly ash removal. Though the photo was top notch, the information about the rail spur was wrong. I know this because my Dad worked at this power station and I know the story behind the rails into that plant.

So, here is the story behind these long disconnected rail spurs and how they nearly led to a deal between Ontario Hydro and CSX Transportation in the 1990s, a deal that would have changed the fortunes of the rail line.

Could a deal with Ontario Hydro have changed the fortunes of the CSX Sarnia Subdivision in the 1990s? We'll never know. (Stalled northbound freight near Corunna in 1991)

I spoke with my Dad about the rail lines recently and he told me the two rail spurs into the powerhouse (the main building, left of photo) and behind the powerhouse were put in place to deliver the materials needed to build the power plant in the mid-1960s. At the time, the railway delivering those materials was the Chesapeake and Ohio.

Here's a closer shot, below, of the rails without the mark-ups.  You will notice to the right of the photograph that part of the turnout from the Sarnia Subdivision was preserved but a section of track was torn out. This remained the case for decades after the rail deliveries stopped when the plant was built. I find it interesting that these rails remained in place. Was there a thought that these rails would someday be useful again?

In the late 1990s, I was fortunate enough to land a summer job at the Lambton Generating Station, which was perhaps the best summer job I have ever had. I recall walking through the powerhouse and seeing those old rails in place. I wondered then why they were there. It wasn't until recently that my Dad told me about the rails being in place for the construction. The scale of the construction must have been impressive, if the rails were put in place simply to deliver materials for the power plant. Sadly, no publicly available photographs exist of the railway delivering any of these pieces necessary to build the plant.

That brings me back to the early 1990s when the Lambton Generating Station was being retrofitted with scrubbing technology that used lime to remove harmful sulphur dioxide emissions from the generating process. The thought at the time was that the best way to deliver the lime needed was to have it brought in by train. The resulting fly ash that was produced by the scrubbing process would have been shipped out by rail as well. This would have been a pretty big contract for CSX Transportation, which was struggling at this point with the loss of industry on its Sarnia Subdivision.

From a railfanning perspective, I don't think this deal would have changed the look of trains on the Sarnia Subdivision. I would imagine you would have seen more of these covered hoppers in the Courtright area, not that these cars were uncommon along that line at the time.

Alas, it was not to be. At one point, it was decided that rail service was too expensive and that all the lime would be brought in by truck and all the fly ash removed the same way. I have to wonder just how expensive it would have been for a Crown corporation to back away from rail service. After all, Ontario Hydro (later Ontario Power Generation) wasn't exactly the model of cost efficiency.

That leaves me with one shot from my summer at the plant. This is a shot my Dad took of me standing atop one of the power generation units at the top of the powerhouse.  You can see a Canada Steamship Lines coal ship making its way south along the St. Clair River to the left of me. The power plant received its coal from these lake freighters. You can see the coal funnel just to my left in the photo.

I climbed up to the roof of the plant with my Dad on one of my last days of work.

My most vivid memory of that climb to the top of the power station was walking up this long set of metal stairs. The higher we went, the deeper the dark void was beneath us in the unit we were climbing. My dad breezed up the stairs like it was nothing, but I was hanging on to the rails and taking each step gingerly. Man, what  bad time to discover a fear of heights.

Anyway, the rail deal never happened and thus started an endless convoy of trucks in and out of the Lambton Generating Station to feed its scrubbers. It would have been fun to see rail service in that facility, but CSX never had the chance to use those rails again. Looking at the overhead shots of the rails in that area, I wonder if they might be of use again when a new gas-fired power plant is built on the property to replace the controversial Mississauga gas plant that was shuttered before it was completed. I doubt those rails would be of use, since the new plant will not be built near the old powerhouse. However, it is worth noting that two of the units in the old powerhouse have been kept in a condition such that they can be started again if there is a retrofit considered for the old plant.

I guess keeping those rails in place all these decades might not have been such a bad idea.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Something is happening on the Beachburg Subdivision

To borrow a line from Monty Python, and now for something completely different. One of my fellow rail watchers in Ottawa Michael Watson caught this consist on CN 589 as it headed out to Arnprior last Wednesday. He made sure to set up for the train's return later that Wednesday to catch a most unusual site. For some reason, the Arnpior local had two centrebeam flat cars loaded with lumber, on its way back to Walkley Yard. The shot below shows 589 heading east along the Beachburg Sub near Greenbank Road. Can you spot the old dismantled track in the foreground of the shot?

Michael's catch raises some exciting possibilities for us railfans in the area. As I mentioned in this post, CN and the city have invested in improvements at the Corkstown Road crossing on the Beachburg Sub. I speculated at the time over what the investment could mean, since it made little sense to me why the railway would invest in a crossing on such a lightly used rail line.

The first thing I'm struck by is that the train is carrying lumber back from somewhere in the city's west end. If the train had been carrying lumber to a customer on the line, that would make the most sense to me. Is there a new customer on this rail line that is shipping product from a facility in the west end? Was this load of lumber a one-off shipment? Is there another explanation that I'm missing? Surely someone more knowledgeable than me might have a more reasonable explanation. I would point out, again, that Nylene Canada, the company that operates the Renfrew Spur and receives rail service once a week, has mused in the local media about making better use of this rail line. Could it be that someone has attracted more rail business to the old Renfrew Spur?

Here's another shot Michael caught with the two lumber cars at the end of the Arnpior local near Greenbank Road. A five-car consist is the longest I've seen on this train since I've been trying to catch it.

Here's a final shot of 589 headed toward Walkley. I tried to catch up with the local this past week, but it remains elusive. Michael did mention to me that the train seems to have a six-hour turnaround time, in his experience. In his case, he used this rule of thumb to catch the train in the evening after seeing it in the morning. I'm hopeful I can use this tip one Wednesday soon.

I am not an expert on the Renfrew Spur, since I have only seen portions of the line through Carp a few times. My final question is, did this local pick up this lumber on the line somewhere? I mention Carp because I know there is a siding there where track maintenance equipment is parked. I am hard pressed to think of other parts of the line where there might be nearby industry and sidings, which would necessitate any loading operation. I also wonder if there is possibility to ship lumber from Nylene Canada. That would make sense for CN, since they spend a few hours at Nylene each Wednesday unloading their tank cars.

Whether this was a one-off or a sign of things to come, I'm thankful to Michael Watson for catching this and generously sharing his shots and observations with us.

Stay tuned.