Monday, April 24, 2017

Hello again

Recently, I was able to shift my work hours around on a Wednesday, which allowed me to try and catch the ever elusive Arnprior local, CN 589. The Arnprior Turn, as many in the city call it, makes a weekly run of caprolactam out to Nylene Canada in Arnprior. The train departs Walkley Yard in the morning, waits for clearance from dispatch in Montreal to cross the Walkley Diamond and the Capital Railway Ellwood Subdivision in between O-Train trips. It then proceeds west toward Arnprior on the Beachburg Subdivision before proceeding on the Renfrew Spur past the old Nepean Junction.

In recent months, local rail watchers have said that 589 passes through Kanata at March Road around 9:30 a.m. A few told me they caught it at this time recently, so I figured I would set up at my favourite spot, the Trans-Canada Trail crossing near Corkstown Road. At around 9:30, I saw GP9 4139 rounding the corner from Bells Corners.

The sightlines along this stretch of Beachburg are better in the spring, since the trackside brush has yet to bloom. I took a few long shots of the train as it made its way to my spot.

As the train neared what CN calls the Cyclepath crossing, I backed up on the trail to reduce the wedge factor. It's very easy to get a bunch of wedge shots at this crossing, so I made a mental note to plan a wider shot so I backed up before the train even came into view.

I took a few shots of the train emerging from behind this brush, since I wanted to try and catch the train's reflection in the trackside ditches. Anyone who lives in this area knows we have been getting record rainfall over the last month. That makes for some photo opportunities trackside, since most of the tracks in the city are surrounded by water right now. Call it a glass-half-full take on a dreary stretch of weather.

This was my favourite shot. The old GP9, the scruffy trackside brush, a few hints of green and nary a shadow to contend with. For a train enthusiast in Ottawa, it doesn't get much better than this.

One final going away shot as 589 proceeds beneath the Queensway, or the 417. The tank cars were pretty standard GATX standard issue black, although the lead car appeared to be blue. I checked the number, UTLX 220919 and found that it belongs to the T096 class, which typically consist of white tanks with a centre black band. Some call it a saddle style tank car. It would make sense since this train often uses those types of saddle tank cars.

Anyway, that was my meet with 589. I am compiling a post of some of my favourite shots of this train, which still seems to be the favourite among local railfans. I can only imagine people from outside Ottawa rolling their eyes. Imagine looking forward to a single weekly train that usually consists of three to five cars.

That's the life of a railfan in Ottawa.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sometimes, it pays to miss a deadline

I was busy preparing another rail history post for this week when I realized that the idea I was working on was much larger than I had anticipated. This presented a small predicament. While I have enjoyed digging in to this latest historic post, it left me wondering what I might want to share in its place this week.

Well, credit two rambunctious kids for this week's post. I love my daughters, but they were getting a little crazy by the end of the Easter long weekend. My wife was giving me that look like she needed a break so I packed my kids in the car and took them to Fallowfield Station. My goal was to catch Train 42 from Toronto. I singled out this train for two reasons. One, it's a double ender, which means it has a P42 on each end of the consist. Two, I have seen recently that it has consistently featured a wrapped P42. I had a camera freeze up the last time I tried to catch the wrapped P42. This was the best shot I got at the Twin Elm crossing back in early March. Can you see the Canada 150 wrapped P42 at the back?

I wanted to make up for that camera malfunction and was pleased when I saw Train 42 approaching Fallowfield Road. This is what I saw. Made me smile. It also made me realize this might be the first time I have ever looked forward to seeing a P42. Ever.

I rolled down the windows and let my daughters hear and see the train from the safety of the car. I stepped out to get a better shot. Here's my favourite shot of the meet.

Via 918 leads the way. I've noticed Train 42 is typically a five-car consist with a GE unit on either end. This one in particular had a repainted Business Class car, a Canada 150 wrap, an older LRC coach in the old colours and two renaissance-painted LRC cars. The consist was trailed by P42 902, which was in the renaissance scheme.

Here's the shot of the wrapped car. Hello, Halifax, Stratford, White River and Montreal. Note the train's reflection in the puddles in the ditch. A nice surprise when I was reviewing the images.

Here's one final shot from the platform. You can see P42 902 with the trailing lights glowing orange. Or so it appears in this photo.

Actually, here's a bonus shot of the trailing P42, showing signs of wear near the rear. Those new wraps sure are hiding a lot of nicks! The units that have not been wrapped look positively beat up by comparison.

As mentioned, this week's post is a bit of a impromptu post, since my original idea was not ready, but I am really excited by the next post. It includes a bit of everything. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Return of the golden rodent!

I have to admit I was surprised when I read a recent CBC article about the Canadian Pacific Railway when the railway's CEO Keith Creel mentioned that the CPR was going to reapply its golden rodent beaver logo to engines when they hit the shops for overhauls. It's a small gesture that is no doubt meant to heal the rifts that developed at the railway during the tenure of E. Hunter Harrison.

I was happy to hear of the decision, especially because, as a railfan, I have almost no images of this logo. In fact, this might be my only shot of the famous beaver.

This is a shot taken from a service road next to Walkley Yard in Ottawa in August 2013. I don't have any shots of the true golden rodent on the locomotives, although the possibility of catching one now in the coming months and years makes me keen to sit trackside on the Winchester Subdivision.

However, judging by comments from fellow railfans in Eastern Ontario, it seems as though the Winchester Sub has become much quieter of late, with many telling me they have been skunked sitting trackside at Bedell or at Smiths Falls.

I know the feeling. The last time I sat trackside in Smiths Falls, all I saw were these two units idling deep in the yard. Looking at these units, I can only imagine how sharp the beaver will look in that gaping red expanse on the long hoods.

Of course, this gesture by Creel will likely be seen by many CP employees as a pointless gesture, if larger issues aren't settled. Reading some articles lately, it's obvious that a great deal of bad blood has developed between CP management and the rank and file, particularly over the policy of mandatory railroad training for all CP employees, whether they are involved in the operational side or not.

In particular, employees represented by the Teamsters are upset that engineers are being required to train managers on how to operate trains. This policy seems particularly galling since many feel it will prevent employees from having any leverage in the event of a labour dispute. Also, how would you like to train the person who will replace you in the event of a strike? I don't know that either side has a good solution for how to end this standoff.

This latest news comes shortly after news that CP employees are worried about the company's engineer training practices, which employees feel is throwing rookie engineers into challenging situations without proper experience. This story outlines one of those situations, which is scary.

Canadian Pacific handout photo

I spoke my mind about Canadian Pacific in this recent post so I won't go into it again, other than to say I'm worried that publicly traded railways are sacrificing too many fundamentals for the sake of appeasing shareholders and bowing down to the altar of quarterly profits. Of course, as a longtime business journalist, I would level that criticism to a number of publicly traded companies. I wonder what's happened to long-term vision. When all that matters is hitting analysts' quarterly expectations, sometimes, the lack of vision hampers a company in the long term. Ask any former Nortel employee how this type of mentality worked out for them.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ottawa's railway gift that keeps on giving: the Chateau

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

I was thinking about my attempt to chronicle the history of railways in the Ottawa Valley this year as part of my Canada 150 project when it occurred to me that I was missing perhaps the most obvious piece of railway history in Ottawa: The Chateau Laurier Hotel.

Anyone who has visited Ottawa knows about this iconic hotel. It was built by the Grand Trunk Railway across Rideau Street from Ottawa's Union Station. The Chateau was meant to rival the hotels built by GTR rival Canadian Pacific. It was also meant to be the official hotel of government leaders and visiting dignitaries. Today, it remains the city's most prestigious hotel and continues to host tourists from all over the world and any number of world leaders.

To read about Ottawa's Union Station click here.
To read about my first Canada 150 post, click here.

I thought I'd share a few interesting tidbits about this hotel, which truly does epitomize the golden age of passenger rail in Canada. Let's begin with this shot, which is one of the photographs that is posted in the main lobby of the hotel.

Note the passenger train passing beneath Rideau Street and the boats on the Rideau Canal in this photo

The Chateau, seen here shortly after opening, was meant to serve that railway axiom "If we can't export the scenery, we'll import the tourists." That was a quote from William Van Horne of the Canadian Pacific, but you get the idea. The hotel wasn't nearly as big as it is now but it was an impressive structure in rough-and-tumble Ottawa in the early 1900s. It was the first hotel of this quality in the capital.

The hotel is still connected beneath Rideau Street by a tunnel. The tunnel is now off limits, although I would imagine it may still be used by delegates attending conferences at the Government Conference Centre, as Union Station has been known for years.

You can see the triple tracks on the edge of the hotel in this shot. The rails are long gone, but a service road is still in place, which uses part of the old right-of-way

Here's another fun fact. The hotel is one of the few that has been owned by all three of Canada's transcontinental railways. The hotel was originally built by the Grand Trunk, but was then brought under the control of the Canadian National when the CNR absorbed the Grand Trunk in 1923. The railway at one point had the CN wet noodle logo on its entrance lettering. In 1988, the hotel was sold to the Canadian Pacific hotel subsidiary. When CP began to divest itself of everything but its railway operations, the hotel became part of the Fairmont chain.

The construction of the hotel wasn't immune to politics, as is the case with just about everything in Ottawa. There was some serious opposition to a hotel being built on a piece of Majors Hill Park, but the hotel was nonetheless built, thanks to the help of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier. It likely didn't hurt that the government had already subsidized the Grand Trunk's Pacific extension, so a little further help in getting this hotel build doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

Even before the hotel was opened, there was a question about what it would be called. Charles Melville Hays, the head of the Grand Trunk, wanted to call the hotel the Chateau Laurier, after the Prime Minister, although Mr. Laurier was reluctant to have the hotel bear his name. There was a suggestion that the hotel be called Majors Hill Hotel, after the park that it backs onto, but the Chateau Laurier name was eventually picked. You can read the letter that Hays wrote to Prime Minister Laurier in the lobby of the hotel. I'm not sure how comfortable Mr. Laurier would have been to have received such an honour, especially since he was still alive. It seems like an honour one would bestow on the deceased.

This is a shot of the beginning of construction from 1909

When the hotel and railway station were officially opened in June 1912, there was very little fanfare. The reason for the subdued affair was because Mr. Hays, who had led efforts to build the hotel, died on his way back to Ottawa aboard RMS Titanic.

The tragedy of his death still resonates in the city, since it is widely known that Mr. Hays still roams the halls of the hotel. Numerous guests and hotel employees have reported meeting the spirit of Mr. Hays, who is often described as a friendly spirit.

The chateau-style construction is similar to the style that was employed for many other railway hotels, including the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City and the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, to name but a few.

This Canadian style of construction has become Canada's calling card throughout the world in many respects. For example, visit the Canada pavilion at Disney World's Epcot theme park in Florida and you will see a scaled down recreation of the Chateau Laurier.

Please excuse the reflection of my hands in some of the shots. I snapped a few quick shots of the historic photos on the walls of the hotel earlier this week. The lighting was not terribly easy to work with, considering I was armed only with an iPhone.

I like this last photo more than any other in the hotel. It looks like those ladies are having a great time at the end of that train!