Thursday, June 29, 2017

Havelock: The railway town, the subdivision, the history

This post is the fourth in a rail history series I intend to extend through 2017 as we celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Click the links to read the first and second  and third rail history posts.

Havelock, Ontario is still a railway town, despite it all. The village, which sits on the easten edge of Peterborough County, has always been closely tied to the railways for its entire history. In the last thirty years, the fortunes of the rail line through the village have waxed and waned. Unlike other remote villages that have lost rail service, Havelock’s railway might actually have better days ahead.

Today, the town’s railway operations still reflect the past and present in a relaxed pastoral setting.

I have passed through Havelock countless times, mostly in 2003 and 2004, when I lived and worked in Peterborough. The village’s railyard, which is operated by Canadian Pacific subsidiary the Kawartha Lakes Railway, still serves as a steady railway presence for the area, which is on the edge of both Eastern and Central Ontario.

For railfans, the railyard is an easy place to take in some action. Even without any activity in the yard, there is much to see. The village’s former railway station, a designated heritage site, has been preserved since it last served as a passenger station in 1990. The station has housed a restaurant since 2004. Former CP Rail caboose 434700 has sat on the side of Ottawa Street (Highway 7) for years and is fully preserved.

Two GP20ECOs bracket GP38-2 3021 at Havelock Yard near the end of the Havelock Subdivision. Check out the faded golden rodent in the middle!

The yard itself still sees regular activity as Havelock is the junction between the Havelock Subdivision and the Nephton Subdivision. The Nephton Sub is critical to the Kawarwtha Lakes Railway, since it connects the railway’s main customer, Unimin, which mines nepheline at the Blue Mountain mine, about half an hour north of Havelock. Nepheline is a mineral found in igneous rock. The mineral is a key component in plastics, fibreglass, ceramics and glass. So, it's not uncommon to find covered hoppers in this area, obviously.

The Kawartha Lakes Railway regularly uses GP20ECOs and other geeps on both subs and in the yard. In the past, SW1200s were used for local service in Peterborough (due to their ability to handle the tight curves of local spurs) while GP9s were used along the rest of the line.

Havelock Yard in late June. Note the old Boston & Maine covered hopper. Covered hoppers are common in this yard as CP subsidiary Kawartha Lakes Railway serves a nearby nepheline mine and now serves area businesses by delivering carloads of roofing granules that are loaded onto trucks.

I recall many a time working at the Peterborough Examiner in the evening and watching Toronto-bound nepheline trains rushing through town, led by GP9s. Our newspaper's property went right back to the tracks, so passing trains were always a neat break in the evenings.

But back to Havelock.

Havelock has long tied its fortunes to the railway. Rails were originally laid through the area as part of the Ontario and Quebec Railway, which became part of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1884. The line through Havelock originally connected Toronto with Perth and was used as a passenger connection to Ottawa (via the Havelock Sub connected to the Belleville Sub at Glen Tay and that Sub linked up to the Smiths Falls Sub, which stretched through Smiths Falls to Ottawa).

Canadian Pacific passenger train heads west out of Havelock en route to Peterborough and Toronto. This shot was taken six years before rails east of Havelock were torn up. At one point, this sub extended all the way to Perth (Canada Science and Technology Museum archives).

Via Rail discontinued service over the Havelock Sub in January 1990. At that point, through service to Ottawa had long since been discontinued. The section of the sub from Glen Tay (Perth) to Tweed was abandoned in 1971 while the section from Tweed to Havelock was scrapped in 1988.

Havelock's passenger station as seen from Havelock Yard. This station has been preserved and serves as a restaurant (Canada Science and Technology Museum archives).

Since passenger rail was scrapped on the sub, there has been a steady push from some to re-establish passenger rail operations on this line, which is bolted rail. The latest serious push for passenger rail happened in 2008 when Peterborough’s MP Dean Del Mastro led efforts to have Via Rail establish RDC service between Peterborough and Toronto. There was a commitment from Ontario and the federal government to contribute $150 million to upgrade the line for passenger service.

The plan fell apart when Via Rail studied the feasibility of passenger rail operations on the line and found that the service would lose $2 million annually. Local rail proponents had estimates that wildly differed from Via’s assessment and continued to push for Via or Metrolinx service on the sub. Metrolinx estimated it would cost $541 million to equip the line for commuter trains. At one point, local proponents wanted to buy the Havelock and Nephton Subs from CP and contract the railway to continue freight operations. The idea was to get a cut of the freight revenues from KLR to help establish passenger rail on a solid footing.

So, that was the end of it, right? Well, not exactly. For reasons known only to Via, there have been more recent efforts to study the feasibility of passenger rail along the Havelock Subdivision. These efforts have included looking at reacquiring land between milepost 90.8, east of Havelock, and the old junction with the Belleville Subdivision in Glen Tay (Perth). You may recall Trains Magazine explored this idea in a recent story it ran about Via Rail’s uncertain future. This section of the old sub is now part of the TransCanada Trail.

Having passenger rail on the Havelock Sub would at least solve capacity issues for Via Rail between Toronto and Montreal and Ottawa, where it has to contend with the busy freight demands on CN tracks. However, it also raises a question. Which communities are crying out for Via Rail service along this more northerly line? Other than Peteborough, the Havelock Sub mostly passes through small towns such at Norwood and Cavan. I suppose the idea Via is considering is establishing an express route between Toronto and Ottawa, which would supplement current service that serves larger communities along Lake Ontario. That’s just a guess on my part.

Whatever the future holds for this old rail line, it seems at the very least that the days ahead won’t be dull.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Some random notes

When I started this blog back in 2013, I knew it would sometimes be tough to keep up the pace. Truthfully, I have had some trouble of late keeping up with my usually weekly entries. However, I did just want to share that I have lots of idea for future posts although I am finding that it is taking me longer to develop them than I had anticipated. Sadly, my railfanning has been severely curtailed in recent months. And even when I have had time, the railways have slapped me in the face with some skunkings.

Case in point: During the March Break, my family made its way to the Toronto area for a short little getaway, mainly for the purpose of taking the kids to the Toronto Zoo. I had some time during that week to sit trackside just a little way down the road from Macmillan Yard. You'd think that would guarantee some train sightings, but I managed to find the one period of the day where there was nothing going on along that sub.

Anyway, be patient with me. This too shall pass. The school year is ending and some opportunities are popping up. I have some great stuff still to come.

This shot above is from my May meet with a CN freight train in Wyoming, Ontario along the Strathroy Sub. I am including it for two reasons. One is that it shows the old siding that once served Wyoming industry, including its feed mill. I could not find a good shot from that meet that properly catured this disused rail line until I uploaded this one. This shot shows you that, although the line has seen better days, it appears to be intact. Whether it actually still connects to the main line is another question.

You can read about this meet here.

The other reason I am showing this shot is because I am planning a few posts that hopefully showcase some of my better shots of rolling stock. I find the rail blogs that interest me the most are the ones that feature not only the motive power fronting trains, but also the cars as well. As has been mentioned in a few blogs of late, there are a number of pieces of old rolling stock that are fast disappearing, soon to be replaced with faceless, nameless leased private car fleets. So, I'm hoping a post or two about rolling stock might further stimulate some interest in my fellow rail enthusiasts to get out there and capture some great pieces of rolling stock as well.

A few notes about the O-Train Confederation Line work. The work is proceeding pretty quickly right now as a number of the rail stations are starting to take shape, which I am able to track as my bus passes by them on my daily commute to downtown. The interesting things I've noticed about the new light rail line are as follows:
  • The line is using a number of concrete rail ties
  • The grades on the line are sudden and steep. This makes sense since the electrified light rail trains would be able to mount these grades given their rather short consists and, well, light weight
  • It was mentioned a few years ago that the city might be open to freight operations to share this line at some point. I don't think this will ever happen, given the grades I saw.
  • Some sort of light show will indeed proceed at the Lyon LRT station (below ground) in downtown Ottawa, although not on July 1st, as was originally planned. The show will start shortly after Canada's birthday and will run through September. You will need a ticket to get into this show
Here's an embarrassing confession about light rail. I have to say I can't believe I didn't figure this out sooner, but here goes. I didn't realize in all my reading about the Confederation light rail line that all express buses would unload their passengers at Tunney's Pasture in the west and Blair in the east. I know that the city has said all along that the train would reduce the number of buses in the core substantially, but it was never clear to me that all express buses would stop at Tunney's and Blair, at which point all riders would be forced to hop on a train for the last few minutes of their commute. This means all buses picking up riders in Orleans and Kanata, for example, will go no further than the end of the Confederation Line.

This means all express bus riders will no longer have a seamless commute. They will be forced to get off their bus and ride the train downtown. I don't like the idea that I will have to do this, but if it saves time, I'll get used to it. I have my doubts that this arrangement will work as has been advertised. We'll see.

That being said, I still think Tunney's and Blair were poor choices for the initial east-west LRT line. Both stations do not really have much of a population immediately around them to capture riders in their immediate vicinity. I know this will be a moot point when Phase 2 is completed. Speaking of, the federal government has committed up to $1.9 billion toward the second phase of the LRT in Ottawa. This phase will extend the Confederation Line to Trim Road in the east and Moody Drive in the west. The second phase will also see the Trillium Line extension proceed all the way to the airport.

At work, I have been put in charge of a promotion campaign, which has required me to design internal posters. One of the overriding themes of this campaign is that the workplace will be thoroughly modernized and ridded of much of its paper-based processes. I was asked to come up with some ideas, so I obviously suggested that the modernization project is like going on a long journey, which can often be tiring but ultimately satisfying at the end. I suggested a train or airplane theme (Am I a good public servant or what? Did you notice the lack of favoritism?)

Well, the train theme was chosen, so I have been able to indulge my passion a bit at work, which has been great for me. I was busy searching for images of passenger trains when I noticed that Via Rail Canada now has a private archive of photographs which are available for use, under certain conditions, the most important being that the images be used in a way that promotes Via and train travel. I contacted the railway and told them what I was doing and was granted access to the archives. I just thought I would pass the information along to anyone who might be interested. I don't think I will use these images on the blog right now, but I may in the future. There are some great shots of the Canadian, in particular.

One final note. I am planning more historic posts in light of all the Canada 150 hoopla this year. My next post will focus on a railway town on the edge of Eastern Ontario that might just one day see its importance as a railway hub re-emerge. Stay tuned.

Canada 150 Posts

Almonte, Ontario
Chateau Laurier
The History of Walkley Yard

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Prince of Wales Bridge: Oh, no, not again

Just when you thought it was safe to put this piece of Ottawa's rail past and future on the back burner, the Prince of Wales Bridge has once again made headlines. The bridge, which has not seen action in many years, has long been neglected by its current owner, the City of Ottawa. After years of rejecting calls to preserve the bridge for use as an interprovincial light rail link, the city has finally come around to the idea of using the bridge for commuter trains in the future. So, all is well right? Well, not so, apparently.

As many locals know, the Prince of Wales Bridge was once a key piece of the Canadian Pacific Railway's rail network in Ottawa. It once played a key role in connecting the CP Ellwood, Prescott, Lachute and Maniwaki Subdivisions in the National Capital Region. In the final days of the Canadian Pacific's presence in the region in the late 1990s, the bridge was lightly used although it did connect CP to its last remaining customers on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. After CP left Ottawa, the bridge was purchased by the city as part of the deal it struck to buy the Ellwood Subdivision, which is now the O-Train Trillium Line.

In recent months, the city has been busy putting the final touches on the O-Train Confederation Line. The new electrified light rail line crosses over the old  Ellwood Subdivision. The contractor building the line is in the midst of constructing the new Bayview O-Train station, which will allow commuters to transfer from the electrified Confederation Line with the diesel-powered Trillium Line (there will be no rail connection like a diamond due to interoperability issues between the two O-Train systems).

The problem that the city has now is that the old rail line that leads to the bridge was removed, which is a no-no under federal laws. This is the position of the Moose Consortium, a organization that has plans to establish a private regional commuter service on the existing rail lines in the capital region. Now the city is in big trouble, it seems, with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is the body that grants permission for rail lines to be removed. Making matters worse for the city, it appears that it okayed permanent structures to be built atop the old rail line. Now the city has until the end of the month to explain to the federal agency why it has removed rail without following the proper procedures, according to local coverage.

In my former life as a journalist, I spoke to the man behind the Moose Consortium Joseph Potvin and he told me flat out he was going to make sure that the city lived up to its obligations as the owner of the rail line and the Prince of Wales Bridge. He told me more than once that he would do everything he could to make sure that the infrastructure at Bayview was kept in some sort of operational condition. He says fixing this mistake will cost the city $20 million.

Here's what I am wondering. If the city is serious about using this bridge for rail, which finally appears to be the case, why is the city building over this line? If what Moose is saying to true, why would there not be a plan in place to preserve this rail?

Here's the biggest question in my mind: Am I the only one who noticed when the Trillium Line was rebuilt that the Trillium Line's connection to the old trackage to the bridge was disconnected and buried? It's been several years since this part of the rail line was removed, but nothing was said then. While I appreciate that the removal of the 250 or so metres near the new Bayview Station is much more noticeable, I wonder why nothing was said about the original disconnection of the Prince of Wales trackage years ago.

I can only shake my head as a railfan and as a taxpayer that this situation is resolved properly.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A little fun on the 401

When my family recently travelled down to the Sarnia area for the Mother's Day weekend, I once again played one of my favourite games. Whenever we travel Highway 401, I bring along a camera to see if we can get some shots of trains at speed. I've done this many times, with varying results. At the very least, it's a good way to pass the time on what is always a very long ride.

Here's what we got this time around.

When we were passing through Kingston Friday morning at around 110 km/h, a westbound Via Rail train from Montreal overtook us. My wife snapped a pretty cool shot of wrapped P42 912, a renaissance-painted Business Class coach and a wrapped coach.

This stretch of CN's Kingston Subdivision is a gold mine for railfanning, even if you're in a car. A little further west of this spot, the subdivision crosses under the 401 near Montreal Street (I think), which is where we caught a glimpse of this freight heading east. I was a little disappointed with our timing. Had we travelled a little slower, we would have met this one at a better spot along the highway. Oh well.

Not the best shot, but it still works for me. There's just one unit pulling some centre beam lumber cars and a few gondolas and some covered hoppers (out of frame). Maybe a local? I suspect my friend Eric Gagnon might be able to comment on this.

One the way home to Ottawa, we didn't have the same kind of luck, but I did manage to snag a shot of some GO Trains idling near the 401 east of Toronto. You can see some of the glare from the window, which I was not able to photoshop out completely.

And, as we usually do, we came across an endless container train. We usually see a few of these when we travel the highway, although we often catch them mid-train. Still, a good collection of trailers to see, if that's your thing.

Here are two final shots, which illustrate how tough this game can be, although I have to hand it to my wife for being a gamer. Here's a shot she got from the passenger seat, shooting across the driver's seat and across the westbound 401. The first shot is completely untouched.

Another wrap! Here's my attempt to work with one of the shots.

You get the idea. It's sometimes a game of diminishing returns, but it makes the drive much more fun, for me at least.