Saturday, December 17, 2016

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train in Finch, Ont.

On November 27th, I made my way south of Ottawa toward the tiny village of Finch, Ontario to catch the Canadian Pacific's annual Holiday Train. This was the first time I have ever seen this train in person and the experience was great. I have to credit the railway for putting together this train for the 18th consecutive year. I have been very critical of CP recently, but full credit to the company for this effort, which always draws huge crowds and helps local food banks in the process.

The drive down from Ottawa was about an hour, so I made sure to arrive about 15 minutes early with a plan in place to shoot the train. I knew from looking at video from past years that the Finch stop draws a massive crowd, so I decided to find another spot in the village to shoot the train from a safe, legal standpoint. The shot you see below is where I initially wanted to set up, but a number of railfans beat me to the spot.

I made sure to get a few shots of the crowd waiting for the train. These railfans represent a tiny sliver of the people who were waiting for the train.

My Plan B was essentially just a minor relocation. Bergin Street in Finch runs parallel to the tracks so I set up there, but not before parking my car down Main Street. The OPP had just about the entire network of side streets blocked off, including Bergin, although a number of area farmers opened up their fields for parking. Anyway, the lesson here, as always, is to have a back-up plan. I was glad I did not choose this location where these railfans were.

I have come to the realization this year that a good railway shot should also put your image in some sort of context. The shots these railfans got from this vantage point are fine, but the backdrop of trees doesn't really tell you that the train is approaching a town. It doesn't really give you an idea of where the train was.

With this shot, you begin to see why I chose my spot down the street. For one, my spot allowed me to capture the farm across the tracks from Bergin Street. Here you see CP 2323 (that was the train number and the locomotive number) crossing a large stockpile of hay that has been wrapped up for the winter. This is a common scene in Eastern Ontario, since hay is a common crop, but that was part of the point of setting up where I did. Hay fields, to me, say Eastern Ontario. Again, it's the context that was important to me.

This is the shot I envisioned as soon as I walked down Bergin Street. I wanted to capture the train and the silo. This was my favourite shot of the train from this meet. This is one of those rare times when I plan a shot in my mind and the one I capture turns out exactly the same. You can see the first four CPR boxcars with the 'Canadian Pacific Holiday Train' script trailing behind the GP20ECO. This is also the first time I have caught a rebuilt ECO unit.

I liked this shot below because the CPR employee is leaning out of the vestibule of CP101 Dominion and preparing for the stop. The old oversized passenger cars were an amazing site to see. I also was happy to capture them in front the silo. The holiday train's consist was essentially eight decorated XP class box cars, one additional boxcar in the middle and four beautiful old CPR business cars. The first boxcar was CPR 220305. Looking at the shots available online of this boxcar, it's obvious that the railway uses the same cars for this special train year after year.

The other business cars in the consist were CP71 Killarney (centre, below), CP77 Van Horne (trailing car, built 1927) and CP84 Banffshire (you can see a small piece of it on the left and in the shot above behind Killarney).

Here's a shot of Van Horne approaching the Main Street crossing in Finch. I like how even the ETD is decked out with a ribbon. The back of the car is decorated quite tastefully, I must say. You can see a tiny bit of the crowd on the right side of the photo. I was astounded by the number of people that came out to see this train. It makes me realize just how much people appreciate the railways. I dare say the population in the village more than doubled when this train stopped. I was very fortunate to find an unobstructed view of the train.

Once the train crossed Main Street and came to a stop, I crossed the tracks on Main and took a few shots from the other side of the tracks. I couldn't help but stare at the old 1920s heavyweights and wonder if my grandfather had ever serviced these cars when he was a rolling stock mechanic in Chapleau, Ontario.

The lighting wasn't great on either side of the train, since it was cloudy and dark in the late afternoon. But, the clouds did eliminate the problems with shadows which was nice. It made the final photo editing process rather painless for once. I chose to shoot the train in Finch because all the other stops in Eastern Ontario (Merickville, Smiths Falls and Perth) were too late. As much as I like the challenge of shooting trains at night, I didn't have the time that day or the patience to wade through the crowds at night.

One last shot. I took this because I liked the lines I was seeing through my viewfinder and I liked the idea of getting the sign in the shot.

All in all, I was really satisfied that I made the effort to see this train. It was a late birthday gift from my wife. She asked what I wanted and I simply asked for a little bit of time to do this.

A few final thoughts. Anyone thinking or railfanning in Eastern Ontario needs to add Finch to their list of spots. There is a nice stretch of green space next to the Winchester Sub that allows you to catch trains safely and legally. This sub still sees a fair bit of traffic. There are a number of spots in this town that offer great vantage points. Just west of Finch, the county road parallels the sub at many points, which offers a number of other spots where you can shoot some mainline action.

One final observation. I was horrified to see so many people waiting for the train who had absolutely no concept of railway safety or awareness that train tracks are private property. One dad was walking with his son and didn't seem to mind when his son wandered over to the tracks and began walking on them just minutes before the Holiday Train came through town. Also, I didn't take photos of a few of the railfans ( in the top photo) who were far too close to the tracks.

On a day when Finch was overflowing with OPP officers and railway officials, these people were taking an awfully foolish risk of wandering onto the tracks or even near the tracks. I understand that some people aren't as aware of rail safety or railway etiquette as I would be, but it's just common sense. Trains are big, heavy and dangerous. Stay clear, stay safe, as the railways remind us.

Okay, with that public service announcement out of the way, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for dropping by the blog this year, especially those who commented or emailed me with tips, photos or suggestions. I have had a lot of fun sharing my passion for railways with everyone and I truly appreciate the response I have received on this blog this year. This will be my last post of the year.

Merry Christmas to everyone. All aboard for another year!

See you all in 2017,

hammond.michael77 AT

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Favourites, Part II

If the first half of 2016 was dominated by passenger trains and commuter trains, the second half of the year really did feature a great assortment of freight trains in a variety of locales. The end of the year even featured a very special mixed train, better known as the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train. Better still, the second half really did bring a couple of firsts for me as a rail enthusiast. Let's continue our little trip through the past year. (Catch up with Part I here)

In late July, I was able to break away and found may way to Bedell, Ontario, a tiny trackside community just outside Kemptville on the Canadian Pacific Winchester Subdivision. I waited there for a while before I came across a westbound empty ethanol train. This was the first time I have encountered one of these trains since I began photographing again a few years ago.

The shot above is my favourite, due to the lighting and the look of the sky. I nearly ruined the shot by including the small weed bush in the frame, but I was lucky enough to get a few shots of this fast moving train with the bush not blocking anything.

I was also quite happy with this shot as well, since it showcases an old cylindrical hopper with the multimark and a Soo Line ribbed hopper. There's that bush again, as well! Hopefully, CP's weed spraying will take care of that next year.

In late August, my family was travelling to London when we began to pass a very long freight train on Canadian National's Kingston Subdivision along the 401. It was a great catch since my wife managed to capture a number of interesting features of the train, including the mid-train DPU. I think the greatest surprise was the flat car full of axles right behind the two lead units. It's not a load you see every day.

There were a number of interesting shots from this meet, but I think my favourites included shots like the one below, which define the seemingly random nature of freight trains (although we all know there is a method to how these consists are organized).

On the way back east from London, I came across another long CN freight train. This time, my wife managed to catch another mid-train DPU along with a string of containers crossing the Humber River. I worked with these shots a fair bit and was happy with the black and white treatment (click the above link to see that shot). I included the colour shot here because I really think the star of this image is the sky.

While I was in London, I managed to catch a westbound CP mixed freight on the Galt Subdivision. This meet also meant another first for me since the second engine in the consist was a CIT Rail unit. I have never caught one of these units before. It certainly did make for some more interesting shots on the head end of this train.

The light was tricky, but I had to make do with my spot since the rest of the vantage points were off limits. The shot below was taken as the train crossed Industrial Road. This train also had a number of interesting freight cars in the consist including a flat car with utility poles and a number of gondolas with tarped off contents that are still a mystery to me.

Around Thanksgiving, I was able to visit family in Sarnia, which meant a fair bit of time was spent trackside at the Sarnia CN Yard. I was lucky enough to catch the CSX-CN interchange. This was one of the longest CSX transfers I have seen in the yard. The light was tricky, but I was still happy with this shot since I managed to capture a fair bit of the train along with the gantry.

There were also a few tunnel trains that passed by when I was at the Sarnia station, including this one. I have managed to catch a fair number of interesting rolling stock shots this year. I like this one because it features a few tank cars, a few boxcars, a few autoracks and some interesting lines.

Back to the CSX transfer for a moment, I followed this train deep into the yard. In this shot, you can see three consists. Two CN consists are shunting beneath the Indian Road overpass while the CSX interchange makes its way toward the overpass. Three trains, one image. A first for me in Sarnia.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I managed to catch a fair number of shots with CN units making a fair bit of smoke in the midst of their duties. This was the first time I have caught this type of action.

My final stop includes a shot I took Nov. 27 in Finch, Ontario. This is the CP Holiday Train making its way to town as a number of railfans get their shots ready. I will share a number of shots of this soon.

It's been an interesting year. I have a number of photos submitted to me that I have yet to use. I hope to start showcasing them in the new year.

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016's Favourites, Part I

I'm coasting into the Christmas break this year and with good reason. I am about to start a new job and have already finished Christmas preparations at the homestead. So, in the spirit of things winding down, I thought I would go through my posts this year and share a few of my favourite images with you. This post covers the first half of the year. I will cover the second half of the year next week.

This first shot was taken shortly after the new year. Ottawa had just emerged from one of the freakishly warm Christmas seasons in recent memory, so the site of snow was a welcome site for me. I made sure to find some time to take shots at the end of Cedarview Road in Barrhaven to get some winter shots of this passing westbound Via Rail corridor train. Later on in the year, I took a shot from the same point of view and was surprised with how different the view was. For example, there are a number of homes behind that train that are obscured by the snow flying in the train's wake.

Later on in January, I began to experiment with shooting around Twin Elm, a rural hamlet that is crossed by the Smiths Falls Subdivision. I found myself at the Twin Elm Road crossing a few times with my baby daughter, since I was on parental leave and these rides in the car would calm her down when she refused to nap in the afternoon (ahh, the memories).

This was my favourite image from these meets with Via Rail corridor trains. This shot was taken of an eastbound corridor train right around sunset. The sky really made this shot work, even though the light was less than ideal. It did take a fair bit of editing to get this shot to look like this.

My efforts in catching up with the Arnpior Local (The Arnprior Turn) on the Beachburg Subdivision were largely fruitless, although I did catch the train one time on the way back from an appointment. I caught this tiny consist on a snowy March morning at Northside Road in Bells Corners. I almost missed the train, so I had to fire off some blind shots as I drove along Northside and focused on the road. This was my favourite shot from that meet.

On the March Break, my family spent a few days in Toronto as a little vacation. We stayed in a condo near GO Transit's North Bathurst Yard. From our 37th floor perch, I captured countless images of commuter trains, Via J-Trains, and the Union Pearson Express. I took a few trips trackside and caught this shot of the UP Express. I think this shot really captures the essence of downtown Toronto. You can see the Bathurst Street bridge, a pedestrian bridge to Front Street, numerous trackside signals, a gantry, condo buildings and a whole lot more.

Those days in Toronto were filled with all sorts of opportunities. I decided to make the most of the time there and get shots of GO Trains from a variety of vantage points. Here is a shot of an eastbound consist with a Metrolinx painted car first in tow. You can just see the North Bathurst Yard to the right of the shot with a few trains waiting for rush hour.

As I mentioned, being on the 37th floor next to the tracks offered some unique opportunities to get shots that I wouldn't otherwise ever be able to get. Here we see two eastbound Via Rail consists heading to Union Station, one led by an F40 and another led by a P42. Note the contrasting paint schemes.

In the midst of all the family fun, I was able to get a few minutes at Roundhouse Park, right across from the Rogers Centre. I was able to capture a few cool images, like this olive green clad Canadian National geep.

In April, I was visiting a friend in Richmond when a late season snowfall dusted the area. I was surprised when I approached the Ottawa Street crossing to see this maintenance of way consist on the spur. I later learned it was used by Via Rail for a number of their area track improvement projects over the course of the summer. If you look closely, you can just make out the snow falling over the swamp next to the tracks.

In June and July, I began to experiment with the area of the Smiths Falls Sub which crosses beneath Highway 416. This shot below is probably my favourite because it also captures a storm headed north toward the city.

Here's another shot from the same shoot with a little more of the train crossing beneath the highway.

In Part II, there were a number of shots I managed to get outside of Ottawa and a few other surprises.