Saturday, July 29, 2017

Summer siding of life

With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot for the use of his song of a similar name...

Well, it's time for me to go on vacation and recharge a little bit. I will be visiting family in Southern Ontario while looking after my daughters, as my wife will be away for professional training. So, it should be an interesting week.

When I return, I hope to have lots of material to share from my travels down south. I also plan to carry on with another post of Summer Observations in Ottawa, not to mention a few more posts about why rolling stock is important. Yes, the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society will resume its meetings shortly.

Also, you won't want to miss my brother's guest post from his travels in Ohio where he ran across some impressive Norfolk Southern freights with some interesting run-through power.

That's all coming up, but first I need to get out of Ottawa and relax.

See you all soon!


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer observations in Ottawa (Part I)

There's no shortage of rail news in Ottawa this summer as the city gears up for the launch of its Confederation Line light rail service next year. But it's not just the O-Train that is making the news. There are a number of other interesting items I have come across in recent weeks.

Let's start with something simple. In my years watching Via Rail at Ottawa's Central Station, I have not seen all that much of the maligned Renaissance equipment. Back in 2013, I caught some of this equipment a few times, but then noticed that it largely disappeared from the regular mix of corridor trains I watched. That isn't to say that it wasn't being used. I'm just saying that I didn't see it much. Of course, given the problems this equipment has experienced in recent years, it's not much of a stretch to say these coaches have seen light duty in the corridor compared to what Via originally intended.

Well, lo and behold, I did catch some of the Renaissance equipment recently, as it was being pulled by F40 6445. This was a surprising consist for me, as I have not seen the Renaissance equipment being pulled by an F40 before. I was under the impression that only the P42s were able to couple with the Renaissance cars, but I guess that is not the case. This was Train 24 headed to Quebec City. I've taken this train before (LRC coach, of course). It's a great ride.

Another interesting development at the station. Via is now using the northern spur at the edge of the station yard. This stub of a track has only seen use in recent years as a storage track for Via's snow clearing equipment. But, as you may have noticed in the top left of the photo, work to raise the platforms has put some of the trackage in the station yard off limits, which is likely what pressed this old track into service. Note the train in the hole. F40 6427, a Business Class LRC coach in renaissance colours and three old streamliners in the blue and yellow. Who says Via is boring?

I took some photos of Train 24 from the Belfast Road overpass. I made sure to cross over to the eastern side of the bridge to catch the train as it departed on the Alexandria Sub. The consist was led by Renaissance baggage car 7001, which is a refurbed shell of a sleeper. You can still see where the windows were covered over. Note, also, that the Business Class coach still reads "Via 1." Time for a new patch?

While I was at the station, I took a look at the ongoing work on the O-Train Confederation Line. The wiring is largely up from Blair Station in the east all the way to about Hurdman Station, just outside the downtown. Here, we see on of the many hi-rail trucks that roam the line. I even caught one of the makeshift maintenance of way cars, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Here's a shot of a worker doing some work on a crossover just in front of the Via station. You can see the station canopy in the top left. That shell you see top right will be the O-Train station that links commuters to the Via Station. As expected, the commuter station that serves the Via station will no longer go by the name "Train" since it seems a little redundant. It worked as a name when buses served the Via station on the Transitway, but as a LRT station, the name didn't work so the city has renamed the commuter station as Tremblay Station, to reflect the street where the Via station is located.

Much of the work on the west side of the Confederation Line does not appear to me to be as advanced as the work on the east side of the line. There is no catenary up between Tunney's Pasture and the downtown. There is some track laid, but there are gaps still between LeBreton and the western approach to the downtown rail tunnel. There is also no trackage in place at the end of the line at Tunney's.

I should mention that, while work on the Confederation Line is briskly progressing, another commuter rail development is beginning to make headlines. The Moose consortium, which is pushing to establish a GO Train style commuter service between Ottawa and various towns outside the city, is making its pitch to communities as we speak.

I'll speak to that in more detail in the next post because there is too much ground to cover. I have to admit, I am skeptical about Moose's plans but I am also intrigued by the group's ambition and its approach.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part II)

Welcome to the second meeting of RSAS - the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society. As we mentioned in our inaugural meeting, there is much for us to learn from the humble freight car. Last week, we talked about how rail cars have changed in the last few decades. Today, all we see is container trains, but it wasn't all that long ago that trains regularly featured a slew of boxcars.

So, with last week's start behind us, I humbly present the second reason why it's important to photograph rolling stock.

2. Photographing rolling stock is perhaps the best way we can learn about railway history these days.

Let's face it. The major North American railways are not all that concerned with their history (Norfolk Southern is the one exception and Union Pacific has some reasonable heritage units). For the most part, your best bet for catching a glimpse of rail history is to find it on an old car. And, given the life span of cars, many of these old cars will likely not be on the rails much longer.

Take the picture above (August 2016) for example. Those of us who have been around know all about Canadian Pacific's former incarnation as CP Rail. I'm sure many of us take it for granted. But how many young railfans weren't around during the multimark era and don't know anything about the CP Rail incarnation?

Here are a few additional photos of some fallen flags or relics.

Conrail (Summer 1992, Sarnia Yard) These old high-cubes were once common, but they are rare now. Check out the massive double doors. You can even see a little glimpse of an old GT high cube to the left.

Family Lines System/Louisville & Nashville (Summer 2014, Sarnia Yard). There are few railways with a more colourful lineage than CSX.

Sclair and Dupont (Summer 1992, Serviplast Spur, near Corunna). These hoppers are still around, thankfully. How many cars in private fleets were or are as creatively decked out than these hoppers?

CN International Service North American scheme (December 2013, near Donahue Bridge, Sarnia). Who remembers this scheme on CN and CP international service cars? I used to see them all the time but was shocked to see on back in 2013.

 Burlington Northern (October 2016, Sarnia Yard). Thankfully, BN cars are still pretty common. I have always thought BN was one of the coolest looking railways. I loved the logo and the colour scheme. Much better than the ultra modern BNSF Great Northern knock-off look.

Southern Railway (October 2016, Strathroy Subdivision, Sarnia). How many railways put as much thought into their advertising than the Southern? These cars are still around, but I found they have dwindled in recent years.

Chicago & Northwestern (April 2014, Smiths Falls Sub, Ottawa). I love coming across cars where the heritage is literally bleeding through, despite efforts to repatch.

Soo Line (June 2014, Twin Elm, Ontario). The Soo is still a common site, given its longstanding association and integration in the Canadian Pacific system. Still, it's a railway with a colourful history that is starting to fade. How any Soo-painted units are left out there? How many Soo hoppers are left with the wheat sheaf on the side?

These are just a few examples of some of the rail history I have caught trackside over the years. On the surface, there is nothing fancy about these pictures on their own, but I think they collectively tell a fascinating story. Things weren't always like they are today. I'm not saying it was better trackside thirty years ago (okay I might be, but I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man), but it was different. And that's a story worth telling. Who can say what railways will look like in another few decades? Given how much change we've seen even in the last ten years, it seems like snapping a few mundane shots of rolling stock is a worthy exercise.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Reasons to appreciate rolling stock (Part I)

In light of some of the great discussion I have seen lately about rolling stock, I decided to approach the subject of the humble freight car in a series of posts. With that in mind, I'd like to call to order the first session of the Rolling Stock Appreciation Society (RSAS for short).

I can't underestimate how important it is to document every piece of a train that passes by our lenses. I know there are many out there, including me, that sometimes halfheartedly take shots of rolling stock as part of our trackside experience. However, when you consider how quickly things change in this industry, it is sometimes to our detriment when we don't chronicle rolling stock like we do the front end of trains. Yes, the dramatic shot of the locomotive is always what we strive for, but should we be satisfied with the head end only?

Why is rolling stock so important? Well, here's the first reason.

1. What is common today may not be all that common tomorrow.

Case in point. When I was a teenager, intermodal container trains were just starting to really take hold as the dominant form of rail freight. I remember when the double stacks began to show up in Sarnia in the mid-1990s when the new St. Clair Tunnel was build to accommodate them. The site of these stacked containers on an endless string of well cars was jarring.

This shot above, captures the site of two container trains, one headed to Macmillan Yard in Vaughan with the other making its way out. A few decades ago, this shot would likely inspire a much different reaction than it does today.

I doubt very much that container traffic is going to go the way of the boxcar anytime soon, but it's no reason for us to ignore the site. This shot above aptly captures the essence of modern railroading in 2017 (well, this shot is 2013, but you get the idea). It also gives you an idea of what a railway carries and who it serves, based on the stamps on the trailers (JB Hunt, Canadian Tire, MSC, etc.). This allows to more easily understand how railways work.

Now compare the all-too-common intermodal stack trains with something like an old high-cube boxcar. I took this shot in the Spring of 1991 in my hometown of Corunna. This boxcar, which still retained its Louisville and Nashville lettering (although patched for CSXT), was once a very common site where I lived. These massive boxcars carried auto parts and were abundant on the rail lines in Southern Ontario, since the big three (CN, CP and CSX) all served the auto plants and parts suppliers in the region.

Well, lo and behold, these boxcars are now a distant memory and it really hasn't been all that long (less than 30 years). I have a few shots of these old cars and am glad that I do. Not only do they seem more compelling now, but they also help to explain what it was like to be trackside 30 years ago.

So take that boring shot of a freight car. You might be glad you did one day.