Friday, September 30, 2016

Fall observations in Ottawa

Fall is here and it's time to get out there to catch some railroad action amid the autumn colours. It's one of the great opportunities for railfans in Canada. With that in mind, I had some time recently to check out some of my usual spots, just to see what was happening along the local tracks.

This first shot shows a string of five hopper cars at the SynAgri feed mill in Twin Elm. Those red hoppers are Potash Corp. hoppers, just like the ones I caught last year in late fall. I thought about trying to catch a train going by the mill, since I was already there and I knew a train from Toronto was due. Unfortunately, the neighbouring farmer hadn't yet harvested the corn, so the visibility to the tracks was limited at best. I grabbed this shot but made a mental note to come back. Capturing a train going by this mill would make a great shot, especially with a string of hoppers parked on the spur.

I returned the next day to get a shot of the mill from Cambrian Road (the above shot was taken from Twin Elm Road). Here we see a Potash hopper and a AEX patched hopper. I think these hoppers are empty and waiting weekend pickup since it appears in the top shot that they were busy unloading the cargo and tarping off large piles next to the tracks.

In the shot below, you can see the first traces of the leaves changing colours. And get a load of the licence plate on the fence. I thought I'd keep that in the shot for some variety.

Speaking of hints of fall, I took this shot at Fallowfield Station recently and caught this fairly typical corridor consist headed west toward Toronto. I was happy with the clouds and the colour of the field next to the station. Again, fall! I'm hoping to catch some fall colours in the railway shots in the coming weeks. Looking through my railway shots, I noticed that my fall collection is a little thin.

As I cruised along the Smiths Falls Sub, I noticed that most of the MoW equipment on the spur in Richmond is gone, which suggests to me that most of the track work in the city has been finished for the summer season, although you will notice that there's a large pile of ballast next to the Via train in the above shot, so maybe there are a few tasks left to finish.

Prince of Wales Bridge

Recently, the city decided to fence off the Prince of Wales Bridge, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's a bad thing since it means there are no immediate plans for the city to use this bridge for commuter rail, which seems like a natural move. However, coupled with this move to fence off the bridge, we have finally heard from city councillors regarding what should be done with this bridge. Happily, we have finally heard from them that the city's long-term plan for the bridge is to indeed use it for light rail, which is the first time we have heard this from the city in a long time. Baby steps...

Many people were disappointed by the move to essentially do nothing with the bridge, since many were pushing for this bridge to be converted to a recreational path. The city says it doesn't have the budget for this. Those who have been using this bridge as an informal recreational path have balked at this and have cut through the fences that now bar people from crossing the river on the old CPR right-of-way. Others staged an informal picnic on the bridge as a way to protest the city's inaction.

City police and bylaw officer intervened and put an end to the impromptu picnic. It should be noted that, although this bridge has been used as a pedestrian crossing for years, it's private property and should not be used. Besides, it has not been maintained properly for years, so there's always the safety issue as well. If that's not enough to dissuade you, the city has warned would-be trespassers that they have dispatched more police and bylaw officers to the area to catch people on the bridge.

One final note. The Municipality of La PĂȘche in Quebec says it has worked out a deal to bring the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train to town, to use as a static display at the old CPR turntable in Wakefield. Those in the Ottawa area may recall that this steam train was a poplar fixture on the old Canadian Pacific Maniwaki Sub on the Quebec side of the river. The train stopped operating in 2012 when heavy rains washed out part of the track. The owners of the tracks, the municipalities along the line including the City of Gatineau, have not been able to commit the funds to repair the extensive damage to the line.

A number of offers have surfaced over the years to resume operations on the line, but nothing has solidified. So it appears that the rail line will more than likely not see any more trains. Creating a display in Wakefield isn't a bad idea, since there have been suggestions that the rolling stock and engine used on this line could be scrapped if nothing is done to resume operations. Curiously, the steam train operated with Swedish equipment, so any display in Wakefield will not celebrate the trains that actually operated on the Maniwaki Sub, but will remember the equipment that was purchased to operate the steam train.

There have been a few mentions in the local coverage that there are still efforts to find an operator for a seasonal tourist rail operation. We can only hope, since it would be a shame to see this amazingly scenic line scrapped.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

St. Clair River Industrial Spur at Rokeby Line

My brother surprised me a few weeks back with a couple of shots he grabbed while meeting a CN local on the St. Clair River Industrial Spur. This shot was taken at the level crossing just south of Corunna. The power on these trains often looks like this, with a couple of geeps from Sarnia yard facing in either direction helped out by a yard slug. This shot was taken in early August. In St. Clair Township, CN has a number of customers, not the least of which is Nova Corunna, which you may recall I wrote about a little while back, and Nova Moore.

Given that CN mostly services petrochemical plans in the township, the trains along this spur don't offer a great deal of variety. Most trains consist of black or white tank cars, depending on the loads, and covered hoppers. You can read about what CN carries on this line and their carload numbers by checking out the Nova Corunna link I posted above.

As you can see below, it's not always a complete wash when you railfan on this spur. My brother was lucky to catch this old Union Equity covered hopper (GROX 60662). It's a three-bay hopper. You can just make out the patch on the upper right hand side of the car. Here's another shot of this car, which gives you a better look at the patch in the corner.

In late August, my brother was taking his son to the rail yard, as is their weekend custom, when he caught an unusual yard engine tied up to a CN GP9 and slug 230. This unit, CCGX 4009, has previously worked on the Orangeville Brampton Railway (OBRY), but has found its way onto the CN system of late. I found a few shots online of this same unit in London. CCGX is the reporting mark for Cando Contracting, which operates freight trains over the OBRY line between Orangeville and Mississauga.

Here's another interesting find from my brother in late August in Sarnia. This boxcar, SLR 140, is an XP commodity handling boxcar for the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway. It's not often you find a boxcar with such a short car number. The railway is a Genesee & Wyoming concern operating between Montreal and Portland, Maine.

My thanks to my brother for continuing to provide some interesting shots from southern Ontario. I can only hope I have such luck when I go down to visit in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Something special in London

As I mentioned last week, my family recently visited London, Ontario for a family gathering, which also gave me the opportunity to see some railway action on Canadian Pacific's Galt Subdivision. Luckily for me, our hotel was very close to the Galt Sub in the east end of the city near London International Airport. I could see a tiny sliver of the right-of-way from our hotel room window.

I hopped over to the right-of-way, which is double tracked at the Industrial Road crossing, where I was perched. I didn't have to wait long before a westbound mixed freight rumbled through at a leisurely pace. Luckily for me, there were a few surprises in the consist, which allowed me to check off a few firsts from my railfanning list.

Here's one of my favourite shots below of CP 8825 and a blue (!) companion leading the way, with a cut of autoracks behind. I should mention that I had to sit on the shadow side of the train when I met this consist, because all other points of view were off limits. So I had to shoot as much as I could and hope the shadows weren't too onerous to retouch.

Before I get into what I saw on the freight train, I should mention that I spotted these signs along the right-of-way. Safety first.

This was about as close as I could get while remaining off CP property. I used my camera's zoom to try and get a shot of this track, which looks to be in the process of being dismantled. If you look closely, you can see a bumper in the distance, but what I found curious was how a large section of the track appears to have been pushed off the ballast. It reminds me of some of the crazy track configurations I had on my train sets when I was younger.

Back to the train. As it approached the crossing, I was almost unaware of the leased power behind the lead engine, since the sun was creating such a shadow. When I cleaned up the shots, I realized I had caught CEFX 1024, an AC44CW unit owned by CIT Rail. What makes it special for me is that this is the first time I have caught leased power. That's what happens when you are a railfan in Ottawa. You sometimes have to wait years to see something different.

Watching the CIT unit cross Industrial Road made me realize how much I miss the old Conrail locomotives in their blue livery. When I used to visit grandparents in Windsor, I would sometimes see those old blue units, back when Conrail operated over the CASO Sub. The blue on the CIT unit seems to match the old Conrail blue.

As for the rest of the train, the rolling stock didn't disappoint, as there were a number of different types in the consist, including this lumber load, which was followed by a grey tank car carrying sodium hydroxide (or lye or caustic soda, depending on the term you prefer).

There was a long line of these gondolas with their loads that had been tarped over. Anyone venture to guess what they were carrying?

You might notice that I changed my angles and vantage points a number of times as the train went by. This is because the train's speed allowed me to get creative with my shots. This was especially important since the sun and shadows were limiting a number of obvious points-of-view.

I am always happy to find old CP Rail rolling stock still in revenue service, like faded red boxcar CPAA 211050, which either had its multimark painted over or was clad in the awkward post-multimark years when the railway still went by CP Rail but essentially had no logo.

This car caught my eye, since it carried what appeared to be untreated hydro poles. This was another first for me. I see lots of lumber cars in Ottawa when I actually do see freight trains, but I have not caught one of these. The car's number, 710035, was hastily scrawled on one of its outer prongs, but I wasn't able to capture who owned the car.

Toward the end of the train, there was a long cut of containers, which is when I slowed shooting. I still have a hard time trying to find anything interesting when shooting intermodal cars, but I did shoot this one which stood out amid the containers. You can see how shooting the train straight on didn't really make for great shots.

As the end of the train neared, there was another long string of autoracks, so I wandered around and set up for a shot of the end of the train. I was happy with this final going away shot.

That was the highlight of my brief trackside encounter in London. I have been fortunate to catch a few CP freights this summer. Click here to see my encounter with a CP ethanol train in Bedell.

In the coming weeks, I will be visiting family in Sarnia and hope to have some CN and CSX action to share in the fall.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

On the road in London and Toronto

Recently, my family travelled to London, Ont., which allowed me once again to get a look at some railways outside of the Ottawa area. The weekend proved to be filled with a wide variety of railway scenes, including this shot taken from Highway 407. We were on our way home when we decided to take the northern bypass through Toronto, to avoid the 401. We were lucky to catch this long CN intermodal train heading east over the Humber River on the Halton Subdivision. The shot below shows you the mid-train DPU locomotive. We were a little too far off to identify the unit, but I think the shot has so many more interesting elements. This shot was taken by my wife from the passenger seat of our car as we made our way east on the 407.

I really thought the sky was the best feature of the shot. I worked with my photo program to convert this into a black and white shot, which I thought would work since the train was pretty far off and was bathed in shadow anyway. I like how this shot turned out as well.

Here's one final shot, where my wife zoomed in a bit to capture a bit more detail. Years after beginning to photograph trains again, I can now say I have captured a grand total of two DPUs in my travels (well, my wife has, but I was there!). Considering how little time I have to actually see trains, I think this marks some progress.

While in London, I had a little bit of time to sit trackside and am happy to report that I did see some action on Canadian Pacific's Galt Subdivision, which goes through London. I will share those photos and observations in an upcoming post. But, I thought I would share a few more general observations about London.

Here's a piece of trivia to start. Do you know which Via Rail station is the fourth busiest in Canada after Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa? Yup, it's London. On a way to a wedding through the city, I snapped a quick photo of London's downtown train station, which is quite a good looking structure, especially compared to the institutional and sterile station that it replaced. After seeing some of the other Via Rail stations that have been built in Ontario recently, I have to say this one is probably my favourite. From the outside at least, it's a good mix of a modern train station and a classic rail station. If you look closely to the right of the shot, you can see some beautiful Via Rail streamliners parked and ready for their next run.

Since London finds itself as a key point along Via's southwestern corridor, this station sees a number of trains each day between Toronto and Windsor, not to mention the two daily trains between Toronto and Sarnia.

I couldn't help but notice that, unlike Ottawa, London's busiest rail lines are not all sealed off from the city's major arteries. Many busy roads, including downtown roads, intersect with railway tracks at level crossings.

The city is served by Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and the Goderich Exeter Railway, not to mention Via Rail. This makes London a great place to see trains, if not the most convenient city to get around in when a train comes through. And make no mistake, this is a busy railway town. The trains that make their way through the city are long.

London has lost a great deal of its manufacturing and production in recent years, including the old GM Diesel, McCormicks and Kellogg's plants, to name a few. As we drove through some industrial parts of the city, I noticed a fair bit of trackage snaking its way through old rail served plants, but I couldn't see a whole lot of places that appeared to be using local rail service. Of course, there are still a number of rail-served customers in the city, but it's obvious that much of the railway action you will see in this city will be long haul freights making their way between Toronto and Chicago or Toronto and Windsor/Detroit.

For a railfan, this city offers a lot. There are a number of level crossings, rail flyovers, embankments and other features that give you lots of choice if you decide to do a little railfanning. Up until recently, you could even have dinner at the city's historic railway station on Richmond Row in the downtown, but the restaurant there just recently moved out. Still, the old station is worth the visit.

Stay tuned for some shots of my meet with a westbound CP freight, which produced a few surprises.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Summer reading: A piece of Ottawa's railway heritage unearthed

This week, I decided to skip my usual commentary to bring some fascinating reading to your attention. As you may know, I am a history buff and was fascinated to learn that acheology crews have come across parts of the old Canadian Pacific Railway 1870s roundtable that was once located in the Ottawa West yard (the photo below is the shot of the roundhouse that replaced the original).

Instead of explaining the whole story to you, I would encourage you to check out the extensive story found in the Kitchissippi Times, a well regarded community newspaper here in Ottawa. The newspaper posts its stories for free, so no need to worry about a paywall.

Here's the link to the story.

There are a number of photos of this site online at the Times website. I am hopeful that the developer will factor in some sort of plan to preserve this roundtable, which would become an interesting monument or courtyard in any future development of this area.

And while we're talking about the old Ottawa West Yard, here's a post from my blog's early days where I did some archeological exploring of my own around the old rail yard, when this area wasn't off limits due to construction. I'm glad I went there when I did.

Let's hope everyone takes an enlightened approach to Ottawa's railway past and preserves the old roundtable, which could prove to be an important piece of the city's industrial heritage.