Thursday, August 25, 2016

Keeping pace in Kingston

I love travelling along Highway 401 through Kingston. Just about every time I drive through this stretch, I get to see a train. In mid-July, my family was on its way to the Hamilton area for a family reunion, which necessitated a jaunt down the highway. Since I was driving, my wife had the camera ready in case we saw something. She must have had a sixth sense for this behemoth of a train because no sooner had she taken out the camera when we saw a long string of tank cars bringing up the rear of this train.

For the sake of this blog post, I will start with the front end first, even though it was the last part of the train we saw. My wife snapped a few shots of the head end, including this shot of CN ES44DC 2326 and C44-9W 2596. Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Check out the flat car behind the locomotives.

I blew up one of the head-end images to show you what was behind the power, A CN flat car was loaded with axles. I was surprised when I looked closely at my wife's images to see that. You don't see that as a buffer car very often.

A little further back, there were a few CWR cars in the consist carrying rails west. It seems like an endless trend. Rails torn up in the east to feed new infrastructure in the west. I hope this wasn't the case here.

This train had a little bit of everything and it was not strictly organized in large blocks. This shot shows some of the variety in the consist, including an AOK boxcar, which we know belongs to a leasing company, even though the AOK patch suggests it is an Arkansas Oklahoma Railway car. Not so. You can read about my first encounter with AOK here.

As we overtook the train and made our way past it, I kept pointing out things that I hoped my wife could snap and, to her credit, she nailed just about everything, which is no small task along this stretch of the highway Although there are some points where the highway and railway parallel each other, there are lots of trees and contours to the road near Kingston that make photographs a little tricky in some spots. Here's a shot of some TTX autoracks. A little further up the consist, there was a great old Grand Trunk autorack, but the highway veered away from the right-of-way and we couldn't shoot it through a tangle of trees.

Here's another shot that shows you how this train was organized. Make no mistake, there is order on this train, even if it seems random to the untrained eye. Three loads of lumber trail a string of tank cars while AOK and CN ribbed boxcars follow.

This is where some of the shots became tricky. The highway veers away from the Kingston Sub a few times along this stretch of road east of Kingston. Here between the trees, we can see a few gondolas with covers. I would guess they are carrying steel.

I can honestly say that my wife earned a strong A from me in her first real effort to photograph a train. Her efforts in trying to catch this DPU unit were solid, but I would dock her a bit for not catching the whole unit. Still, I was pleased she got what she did since this is the first time I have caught a DPU. Again, please see my above comments about living in Ottawa. There are so many elements of modern railroading that I never see in Ottawa.

Toward the end of the train, we saw a long line of tank cars. I like this shot because it shows a contrast between a newer Procor tank car and an older rusting tank car. I also like the greenery in the shot.

One final surprise. As we finally passed the freight train and headed on our way, I saw a Via Rail corridor train headed in the opposite direction (east, or to the right of the image). My wife managed to snag a shot of the passenger train passing the freight train. You can just make out the lead units of the freight train to the left of the image. I was driving at the time so I didn't realize that the Via train had a P42 at the end of the consist, which I haven't often seen. I'm pretty sure there was a P42 on the other end, but we sadly didn't catch that end in an image.

There are a number of other shots from this shoot, many of which feature blurry trees and other hazards between the highway and the tracks. I was happy my wife was able to have so much success in her debut as a railfan. Sadly, I don't think I've sold her on the hobby, though.

You can read about my previous efforts photographing trains on the 401 in these posts.

No such thing as too much of a good thing
Railway bridges of Ontario
So close and yet...

Friday, August 19, 2016

Once again, Ottawa drops the ball

I shouldn't be surprised by the city's latest gaffe on another piece of rail infrastructure. But even by my low expectations, the city's decision to do nothing about the Prince of Wales Bridge is astounding.

The city is considering spending $300,000 to fence off the 136-year-old bridge to prevent people from using it as an informal link across the Ottawa River. For those keeping score, that means the city has essentially sat on its hands since it purchased the bridge in 2005.

So, let's simplify things before I go off on yet another rant about this city's utter lack of vision when it comes to railways.

This bridge could essentially be used for two different things right now. It could either be transformed into a recreational pathway, which would seem like the typical thing for Ottawa to do. I wouldn't mind this option, except for one tiny little detail.

This railway link represents this city's only chance to expand its light rail system into Gatineau. So far, neither Ottawa nor the City of Gatineau seems terribly excited by the prospect of extending the O-Train into Quebec. I understand there are complexities with extending an Ontario railway into Quebec. I understand there are jurisdictional issues as well as questions over how such an extension would be funded.

But once this bridge is gone as a railway link, it's gone. There are no second chances. And, if these cities don't think light rail is necessary to facilitate the movement of commuters between the two sides of the river, consider the alternative. All the interprovincial bridges are packed at rush hour, since so many public servants travel across the river for work. In fact, it's well known to everyone in the capital region that both Ontario and Quebec would dearly love to have one more bridge spanning the river to take the heat off  the Macdonald-Cartier, Champlain, Alexandra and Chaudiere bridges.

This Prince of Wales Bridge represents a relatively affordable alternative where thousands of cars could be taken off the road every day. No new bridge to build. Easy, right?

Nothing is easy in the capital when it comes to rail.

I applaud the recent efforts of the Moose Consortium, which has attempted to hold Ottawa's feet to the fire when it comes to this bridge. The consortium's dream is to tie together what is left of the rail network in the capital region and create a private regional rail network, similar in scope to GO Transit in Toronto, if not in ownership.

For years, this group has urged the city to at least maintain the Prince of Wales Bridge to keep it in reasonable shape should there be a change of heart.

The situation has gotten to the point where people are actually signing a petition to save the bridge, although I think most signees are joining the fight in order to convert the bridge into a recreational pathway.

Happily, there seems to be a chance that the city will reverse course and actually stop this plan to fence off the bridge and leave it to further deteriorate. In recent days, some councillors have mused that this plan is not a done deal.

We can only hope that, one day, someone will see the value of this bridge.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Spring and summer action in Sarnia

My brother has been busy in the spring and summer months as he makes his way over the highways and byways of Lambton County. Lucky for us, he usually brings along a camera or iPhone to get shots of trains that make their way over the busy Strathroy Subdivision. I have put together some of my favourite shots that he has sent my way in the last few months.

This one below is my favourite. This is a triple header CN container train headed east on the Strathroy Sub near Blackwell Side Road. I like the colour and lines that he captured in this shot. I also like the field and wildflowers he caught in the foreground.

Here's one that my brother was pleased to catch. You can see two GP9s pulling the CSX interchange freight through Sarnia Yard near the Via Rail station. But it was the car immediately preceding the engines that caught his eye. It's a Seaboard System covered hopper, likely repatched CSX although you can't tell from this photo. You may recall that I also caught an interchange freight train in this yard with some similar CSX history in tow.

My brother also caught another piece of CSX history when he caught this old Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac ribbed hopper. You can see traces of the old RF&P logo from behind the CSX patch. These are the types of catches that will mean more in the future, I think, since many of the vestiges of the pre-Big Six railways will continue to disappear. But for now, it's good to see something like this still making its way over the rails. I wonder what the plate on the right hand side of the car displayed. The railway, which connected Richmond, Virginia with Washington D.C., had the slogan "Linking North and South." Maybe that was a plate for the slogan.

One of these locomotives will be familiar to readers. It's the old GM Diesel switcher from London, Ont. I have caught this unit before. The other unit it new to me. It looks like it has some sort of CP action red-esque paint job, although the stripes on the side of the cab suggest this was not a CP unit. The only clue we have as to where this unit worked is the 456 number plate. It looks like something from the GM Diesel SW series. It's a cool old relic, which sadly is most likely being used for parts by Lambton Diesel.

I included this one not for the train but for the old rail line in the foreground, which was recently torn up. This was the old track that was used to park passenger trains in between their runs to Toronto. As far as I know, this line had not been used for years. It was pulled up by CN earlier this year. As for the train, we're seeing a pretty typical GP9-slug pairing, which has been a common site in Sarnia for years. Given the heavy loads these GP9s have to pull, the slugs help with traction on the rails.

Here's a nice shot of a CN autorack train gearing up for the descent to the Paul Tellier Tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. On the other side of the tunnel is Grand Trunk territory in Port Huron, Michigan. If you ever find yourself in Sarnia, make some time to sit at the Via station so you can catch these tunnel trains picking up speed as they head toward the tunnel. It's quite a site.

On that same train, my brother snagged a shot of a NS autorack with some graffiti on the side honoring the old A-Team television show. The BA Team members are present on the side of the car, including Faceman, Murdoch and B.A. Hannibal is blocked by the station. I don't normally like shots that showcase graffiti, but I will make an exception here, mainly because I love the A-Team.

Fun fact: In one episode of the A-Team, Hannibal laughs at someone who goes by the name "John Jones" and remarks, "Nobody's named John Jones." Funny comment since Hannibal's actual name was John Smith.

One final yard shot of some old Government of Canada cylindrical hoppers. I have a few of these with my HO scale trains in my basement. I am hoping they will be running on a layout eventually. I at least have them out of storage bins so that's a start. This shot also shows the old siding that once led up to the east side of Sarnia's Via station, where passenger trains were laid up.

Before we move on to the next shot, I would recommend reading up on these cylindrical hoppers in this excellent post in the Trackside Treasure blog and in this fascinating post in Confessions of a Train Geek.

One final shot along the Strathroy Sub of a CN mixed freight headed east toward London and beyond. My brother captured this shot on the edge of the city where the city gives way to prairie-like farmland. Great for taking shots of very long trains.

Thanks to my brother for these shots. I have been lucky enough to receive a great many more shots from my brother this summer, some from Calgary and many more from the Sarnia area. Look for more of his contributions throughout this year. By my count, I now have shared shots on this blog from my brother, sister, dad with my sister-in-law and wife's shots set to make their debut later this year. It truly has become a family affair.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The rolling pipeline at Bedell

I was recently able to spend some time trackside on CP's Winchester Subdivision, as I mentioned last week. Although the sub isn't seeing the frequency of trains it once was, I was happy that I stuck around long enough to shoot something I have never shot before: a unit tank train. In this case, it was an eastbound empty ethanol train, which means it's either CP 667 or 643.

Before you laugh, remember that I live in Ottawa and I rarely see any big time railroading. I can honestly say this is the first time I have seen one of these trains in action, although you may recall that I did shoot a parked tank train in Smiths Falls last summer.

The fast moving westbound train was led by CP ES44AC 8752 and paired with fellow ES44AC 8780.

I was happy with how the shot below turned out, since the sky showed up beautifully, although that bush nearly ruined the shot. I can explain. I had set up trackside and had been waiting for some time before I was ready to pack it in and head home. I had begun to turn my car around to head home when I saw this train coming, fairly quickly it turns out. I had to rush back to my spot and set up quickly. Hence, I wasn't paying attention to the bush as I tried to frame this shot.

I snapped a few going away shots as the train made its way to the Bedell Road level crossing. The train had two buffer cars up front, a CP Rail multimark cylindrical hopper and a ribbed Soo Line hopper. Hey, when all you see is a line of tank cars, you have to make sure to get shots of anything out of the ordinary.

Here's a shot with a little more of the consist in the frame as the locomotives cross Bedell Road. Most of the tank cars on the train wore the Renewable Products Marketing Group logo on the side meaning this train was an ethanol train.

Here's what 99 per cent of the train looked like: a long line of black tank cars. This did not make for very interesting photographs on the surface. But, as I have mentioned recently, I have tried to get as many different shots as possible lately to make up for the limited railfanning opportunities I have. In this case, I tried to think about some nonconventional shots that might work.

This shot below isn't terribly nonconventional, but it is a shot that I would not normally take, since it's basically just a long line of tank cars. However, I managed to get that old signal tower over the South Prescott Spur in the frame. I do like the symmetry of the lines in this image. Although, I was disappointed that the sky kept washing out in some frames.

One of these things is not like the other things. Can you spot the outlier in the consist? Amid a sea of black, one lonely white tank car stood out. You can see it just past the Bedell Road crossing. You can also see the remnants of the old yard in Bedell. That track that is broken up by the crossing is now used for bad orders, although I don't know how often it is used.

And this is the end of the train as it clears Bedell Road and makes its way westward toward Merrickville and beyond.

So there you have it. More than three years into blogging, I have captured my first rolling pipeline on the rails. I was pretty happy with this meet. When you're accustomed to chasing a once weekly three car freight train, something like this is pretty special.