Monday, February 27, 2017

Goodbye Goderich

This past summer, my family's presence in the Goderich area ended as my in laws packed up their life and moved to Mitchell, Ontario. The bad news for me is that it means I will no longer be able to take in all the railway heritage and GEXR operations in this Lake Huron port town. The good news is Mitchell is still on the GEXR Goderich Sub, so I hope to catch something different this summer when I visit my in laws in their new home.

This shot, which is a scan of a print, is courtesy of my railway colleague in Kingston, Eric Gagnon. You know him by his blog, Trackside Treasure. This shot above shows GEXR GP9 177 (once named Titania) along with three other geeps working the salt mine yard in Goderich Harbour. GEXR continues to serve the Sifto salt mine and the related mining industry in the Goderich, although its traffic is lighter than it once was since the town has lost other industries over the last few decades (the Volvo heavy equipment plant being a prime example). Despite this, there are possibly better times ahead for Goderich as federal money to establish this town as a deepwater port on the lake (the only such port on the Canadian side of the lake) means better prospects could be ahead for the railway.

As you know, this town has quite a rail history. You can read about in these following posts:

Rather than get into the history again, I thought I'd share a few quick picks and memories. The first memory I have is being able to see the results of a massive project to move the old Canadian Pacific station from its original spot to its new beachside locale a few hundred metres away. I wrote about this a fair bit and am happy to share that the owner of the building has faithfully restored this building, despite some nervous locals who weren't sold on this project. The town now has a unique restaurant on the town's beach that is a perfect spot on a summer day. The inside of the building really does look sharp, as many of the original design elements were kept.

It's interesting that I've filled so much space on the blog with musings and photos from Goderich. I was actually never lucky enough to catch trains in action in all my time spent trackside in the town. I did catch some cool still lifes though. This shot below shows the local switcher, GP 4001, tied up for the day while a string of covered hoppers await their next move.

I have shown this shot, below, many times, but I always love showing it again. This is one of those shots where everything comes together. Look at the colours of all the hoppers and the grass growing between the rails. This screams small town short line to me. I was really happy when I caught this site.

Here's another view of the silent rail yard, as seen just beyond the East Street Station platform. You can see the GP9, the hoppers, the old CN station and a slowly crumbling trackside shack. Lots going on.

As much as I will miss this railway town, the silver lining is that I will soon be able to discover another trackside opportunity in Mitchell, hometown of Montreal Canadien great, Howie Morenz.

I am really hopeful that I can catch a shot like this one, possibly alongside a great elevator. That would be a fine addition to my GEXR collection.

Small piece of trivia: Do you know why GEXR once named its GP9s, such as the Titania, above?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Common sense prevails as LRT moves forward

It's always a good news/bad news situation when it comes to Ottawa's light rail plans. The city recently unveiled its latest update for the second phase of its light rail expansion. The bad news is the $3-billion price tag for the second phase now stands at $3.6 billion dollars, thanks to previously undisclosed infrastructure projects that will be part of the second phase.

Here's the best news, in my opinion. The first project to be complete under Phase II will be the southern extension of the Ellwood Sub (known publicly as the Trillium Line) to Bowesville Road in the city's south end. This means the communities of Riverside South, Findlay Creek and Leitrim will have a much faster route to downtown Ottawa when this phase is done in 2021. Remember that there is an existing right-of-way (the old CP Prescott Sub) in place. Included in this project will be a spur line to the Ottawa International Airport and a 3,500 spot park and ride at Bowesville where people can park and hop on the train. All in all, this is good news for the growing south end and great news for those frustrated with the congested Airport Parkway. This should have been a priority long ago, but better late than never.

Diesel O-Train C4 at Bayview Station earlier this month

So, the bad news? The Trillium Line will be shut down for a year and a half as the extension of this line is underway. Considering the city didn't seem at all interested in this common sense project until recently, I would gladly sacrifice this line for a year if it meant that it was extended to where it should be by 2021.

O-Train heads south near Young Street on Feb. 20

The next part of the second phase to be completed will be an extension of the eastern half of the Confederation Line from Blair Station to Trim Road, instead of Place d'Orleans. I'm glad that the city is moving quickly to further extend the train to Trim, since this is where it needs to be in the east end, and as soon as possible. This project will be finished in 2022 and will include a widening of the city's Highway 174 to accommodate light rail through the centre median. This will be a painful process for east end commuters, but having railways running in the centre median is smart and saves money, as there will be no costly land expropriations, neighbourhood fights and other hassles that go along with building rail lines through urban communities.

Two O-Trains meet near Somerset Street on Feb. 20

The good news for the western Confederation Line extension is that the western leg of the line will be extended from Tunney's Pasture to Moodie Drive by 2023, which will bring the train closer to Kanata much earlier than previously planned. The original plan was to have trains in Kanata by 2031. The extension to Moodie Drive is good news for Bells Corners and to Department of National Defence workers, who are in the process of moving into the old Nortel Networks Campus on Moodie. The original second phase plans called for the end of the line to be at the Bayshore Shopping Centre.
Still, I'm sure a few west end residents are wondering why they are the last ones to get light rail extended to their neighbourhoods as part of this plan.
I'm also still curious, given the city's change of heart on the southern extension and its plans to extend light rail over the Prince of Wales Bridge eventually, why nothing has been done to investigate light rail over the existing Beachburg Sub/Renfrew Spur in the west end. These lines are lightly used, to say the very least, and seem to be ripe for further use. And they just happen to cut through Kanata, which desperately needs better transit options.

Construction is proceeding at Bayview Station as O-Train C4 pulls into the station on Feb. 20

In total, 36 kilometres and 22 stations will be added, including the recently announced Moodie station.

In a related commuter transit vein, the city is now putting its old Bombardier Talent trainsets up for sale. At one point, the city was considering using them in some fashion, but those plans were never seriously considered. The Talent trainsets were the original train consists used for light rail in Ottawa until they were replaced by Alstom Coradia LINT units. I'll miss the old O-Trains. Happy Trails!

I won't get into the details of why the expanded service on the Trillium Line has not reached the frequency of a train every eight minutes at every station, as was promised. Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson did mention this week that he was disappointed that the newly expanded service as not delivered as promised.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Almonte: A town proud of its rail heritage

This post is the first in a rail history series I intend to extend through 2017 as we celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

It's been six years since Canadian Pacific trains have thundered through Almonte, Ontario, a picturesque town just southwest of Ottawa in Lanark County. The town, which is now known as a haven for tech entrepreneurs, has been a railway town since before Confederation. Having been settled in 1818, due to the Mississippi River rapids that powered several mills, Almonte was first served by the Brockville and Ottawa Railway. In 1864, the railway opened an extension between Almonte and Arnprior, which connected the Grand Trunk in Brockville with the timber concerns in the Ottawa Valley, all the way up to the Ottawa River at Sand Point.

Over the years, Almonte's numerous mills, many of them involved in textiles, were served by the B&O and its successors. That was because the B&O quickly ran into financial trouble when it extended its line to Arnprior. The Canada Central was given the rights to build rail further up the Ottawa Valley, which it did. By 1881, the Canada Central reached Mattawa, which would form an important part of the backbone for the Canadian Pacific transcontinental mainline. CP purchased the CCR in 1881, which essentially established railway service for Almonte for the next 120 plus years.

This shot, above, is one of the earliest photos I could find of the railway in Almonte. Amazingly, this scene would not change much over the next hundred plus years, as much of the town's 19th century buildings were preserved, This image, from Library and Archives Canada, is undated, but would likely date back to the early 1900s or the turn of the century. The only information listed on the photograph states that the train is passing a flour mill on the Mississippi River.

Unfortunately, Almonte's railway history is best known for a horrific crash that happened on Dec. 27, 1942. On that day, in bad weather, a troop train bringing soldiers from the Canadian West slammed into the back of a local, which was carrying passengers from various Ottawa Valley towns to Ottawa for the evening. The crash killed 30 people, all in the local. A number of factors were blamed for the crash, but the largest cause was that the railway had no official in Pakenham to stop the troop train, which was gaining on the local. If the troop train had been stopped for 20 minutes, the crash would have been prevented.

This shot, from the National Archives, shows the aftermath of the crash. There is a plaque near the site of the crash in Almonte, which honours the 39 people killed and remembers the bravery of local residents and soldiers in the troop train, who worked to help 150 people who were injured in the crash.

Almonte's rail history sadly no longer includes the old Canadian Pacific station. It's unfortunate that the station didn't get saved, given how much of the town's 1800s-era stone structures have been faithfully preserved.

However, you need only look at the rail bridge over the Mississippi River today to see what impact the railway had on this town.

This shot, above, is from the Canada Science and Technology Museum archives. I would say this shot is probably from the early to mid 1980s, given the prominence of the large multimark on two of the three units and the yellow reefer boxcar.

This shot, above, also gives you an idea of the importance of the rail line that went through Almonte. The Chalk River Subdivision was a strategic line for CP for years, as it gave the railway a connection between its northern main line in eastern Canada with its more southerly main line, which in Eastern Ontario is the Winchester Subdivision. Just like CN had with the Beachburg Subdivision, CP used the Chalk River Sub as its northern main line through the Ottawa Valley.

But, just like the Beachburg Sub, the Chalk River Sub was soon deemed too expensive to operate, since most of CP's traffic to Montreal was concentrated through its southern route through Toronto. This made the northern main line rails through the Ottawa Valley obsolete (see also the CP Prescott Subdivision).

In 1996, the Ottawa Valley Railway began operating on trackage between Sudbury and Smiths Falls after leasing the lines from CP. The arrangement meant that freight from the west still travelled over CP's northern route, as CP was a major source of carloads for OVR. That arrangement worked well for OVR until 2009, when CP stopped using this northern route for its eastbound freight, which cut the carloads for OVR from 4000 to 1000 (OVR, which is now a Genesee &Wyoming concern, continues to operate between Sudbury and Temiscaming, Quebec)

An interesting side note to this abandonment is that CFB Petawawa is no longer served by rail. At one point, the military base used both CP and CN (later the Ottawa Central) for delivery of some of its equipment. This made for some pretty interesting movements.

By the end of 2009, OVR's parent railway bailed out on operations in the Ottawa Valley and CP proceeded to start the process of abandoning the Chalk River Sub. Municipalities fought to save the line, none more so than Mississippi Mills, the municipality that includes Almonte. Those efforts failed, as is often the case, and all that is left of the Chalk River Sub now are memories and, in some spots, a recreational trail. This is what has been happening in Almonte, as efforts have been made to develop this section of the old rail line into a trail. Lanark County has leased the old rail line from CP and has recently begun the process to buy the old right-of-way. Meetings were held in January to update the public on how this trail will take shape.

1956 scene from Almonte's old railway station

On a personal note, I am happy to say that I was lucky enough to see trains roll through Almonte a few years ago. The sight of freights rumbling over the Mississippi River is one of the best moments you would have had as a railfan in Eastern Ontario.

Now, all you can do is relive the experience via YouTube. This is one of many railfanning videos you will find at the EasternOntarioTracks YouTube channel, which I highly recommend if you are looking for a nice variety of railway action in this part of the province.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Making lemonade again (Part II)

Last week, I shared some photos from a mostly empty Canadian Pacific rail yard in Smiths Falls. I was disappointed that I didn't see more, since I was told mornings can be the best time to see some action there.

But as I have mentioned in this post and this post from last year, there is always something interesting to shoot, even if it's not readily apparent.

After taking a few shots of two idling geeps in the yard as well as a few strings of rolling stock, I began to think about the type of shot I might like to capture when Via's Train 643 made its way through the yard. With some limited options, I began to do some test shots and plan what I wanted to get.

First things first. I knew I wanted to capture 643 rounding the bend into the train yard. I am shooting from the edge of the old passenger station in the shot above. I was fairly happy with this shot.

P42 909's lighting didn't help with my shot as the train crept closer, but I made sure to adjust where I was shooting so I could get the signals into the shot as well. Again, it's a small difference, but it at least gives me something different.

As I mentioned in last week's post, I set my camera in at a spot where I was hoping to catch the Via corridor train and the idling CP geeps in the same frame. It was not an easy task, since the CP tandem was pretty far back in the yard. But I readied my shot and waited for the passenger train to enter my frame. This was the result.

This is not a conventional shot by any stretch, but I did like what I captured. You can see how empty the yard is, you can see the snow and ice and you can see the nose of Via 643 making its way across the old passenger station platform.

Speaking of the old station, I tried a few going away shots of 643 leaving the yard and merging onto the Via Rail Brockville Sub. Here's a shot with more of the old station in the frame.

And here's a shot that was a little more tightly focused on the train itself.

Before I left Smiths Falls, I dropped by the new Via Rail station on Union Street, just to get a few reference shots. Not a whole lot to look at, but it has its own charm.

I did notice a few pieces of MoW equipment on the siding at the Via station, so I made sure to capture that string before I returned home.

Overall, it wasn't a terribly productive morning for quantity but I liked that I experimented a bit and captured some interesting shots, even if there weren't any freight trains to shoot that morning.