Thursday, September 21, 2017

Found in the rail yard (Part II)

London, Ontario, Part II

My wanderings in London continued as I found my way to the Canadian Pacific's Quebec Street rail yard. Compared to the CN yard, which is in the middle of a very busy section of the city, the CP yard is in a much quieter spot, largely hidden away from its surrounding neighbourhood. However, the Quebec Street overpass does over off some great views of this rail yard, even though electrical wires make it extremely challenging to get unobstructed views. The mix of rolling stock in this yard is very similar to what I found in the CN yard. Both yards had their share of covered hoppers, tank cars, gondolas, some boxcars and autoracks. This is what I saw at the CP yard.

I was surprised by the mix of motive power in the yard when I arrived. Two units, which were clearly geeps (GP 38-2 3113 and 3130) were parked on a stub-end track with an ES44AC. Not your typical engine in a rail yard. I was actually really impressed with how new and clean the CP facilities looked, compared to the CN yard across town.

As I mentioned, it was incredibly difficult to get decent shots without capturing some of the electrical wires in the shot. The image above is the CP local I caught, which was just putting itself together. You can just make out the wire in the bottom left of the photo. This local was a real treat to watch, since it included some rolling stock I had never seen before as well as some older CP Rail boxcars. It also had a unit with the golden rodent on the side. This was the first time I had photographed one of these units. Stay tuned for more about this train in a future post.

After sticking around to shoot the local, I took off as there were no through freights on their way, by the looks of things. I did go back to the yard the next day and found very little happening, although two units were idling near the CP yard office, including another unit with the golden logo. I was happy to catch a glimpse of this once again. The two units were not crewed, so I didn't stick around.

However, I did manage to get a great overhead shot of CP GP38-2 4426 from the overpass, which allowed me to catch some details on the engine that I would not otherwise be able to appreciate trackside.

I made sure to get an overall image of the yard from the overpass. You can see the local train in this shot. For the most part, it was pretty quiet in the yard when I visited, but it was still worthwhile to get a view of CP's operations in this busy railway city.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Found in the rail yard (Part I)

Lambton County 2017 Part IV
London, Ontario, Part I

I've been to Sarnia Yard many times over the years and as anyone who watches trains in Sarnia knows, there really is only one decent spot to shoot pictures in that yard. The old Via Station, off Campbell Street, offers one of the few legal spots with a decent vantage point. The drawback is, given the direction where you are shooting the action, you almost always have to make do with terrible light. Cloudy days are usually best there. And now that the pedestrian portion of the Donahue Bridge is now closed off, forget about taking shots of the tunnel entrance.

When I went down to visit family in the Sarnia area, I tried to stay away from the yard so I could focus on getting some shots of trains moving on the Strathroy Sub (mission accomplished), the St. Clair River Industrial Spur (check) and the CSX Sarnia Subdivision (check).

However, I did manage to drop by the yard and spotted something I hadn't seen before.

Yes, it was track maintenance day in the area. I say this because I saw these types of MoW equipment on both the CN tracks and the CSX tracks in the area that day, although this was the only opportunity I had to get a decent shot. Other than that, all the action in the yard was taking place behind that long line (actually multiple lines) of covered hoppers.

The skies were threatening as you can see from the top image, but I did manage to see a set of GP9s and a slug idling away, no doubt in preparation for work on the St. Clair River Industrial Spur, which is where those engines are situated. It began to rain shortly after I arrived and the gantry was not suggesting that anything was imminent, so I moved on.

Shortly after my time in Sarnia, I visited London for a family wedding. It was during this week that I discovered the Highbury Road overpass, which offers a stunning view of the London East CN yard, and Egerton Street, which amazingly crosses over multiple tracks (I think it may have been seven) in the yard. I don't think there are many places where a rail yard is as open as this one, so I took full advantage of the opportunity. I was amazed at what I was able to see up close from Egerton Street and from Pine Street, which parallels the yard and allows you some great close-up shots of interesting rolling stock. Here is what I found.

The three units in the yard were idling and ready to go when I first arrived. I liked that they all represented a different CN paint scheme. Also, the yard engines seemed to parked on the track right next to a scrapper's yard, which helped add another industrial element to the shot. That's quite a pile of old cars heaped up next to the tracks.

There was nothing going on the first time I arrived, even though the yard engines seemed to be set for action, as the lead unit was lit and seemingly ready to go. The second time I visited the yard proved to be a gold mine as I was able to catch two eastbound freights in the yard, one from the Highbury overpass (stay tuned for those trains in future posts).

From Pine Street, I was able to get relatively close and take a shot of this twelve-axle heavy duty flat car. I have never seen one these in person and was happy to snap a few shots of these brutes. I was a bit surprised by the relatively small cargo attached to the car, which is clearly meant for much larger items. There were several of these cars in the yard, which were shunted around a few times in the days I was in the city.

This shot above gives you an idea of how close you are to the action while on the sidewalks of Egerton Road. Again, I am surprised that there is this type of access to a rail yard in London. You can see some large silos in the distance. I wasn't able to make my way to those elevators to see what they stored.

You can see the limits of the yard from Pine Street. I was surprised how many people ignored these signs and crossed over multiple tracks to get to where they were going. Security seems to be light here and the potential for danger seems immense, given how little people seem to care about the dangers of being around trains. Stay off private property, especially when it's something as potentially dangerous as an active rail yard. Railway officials often say anytime is train time. I can't stress this enough.

One final shot of a lonely ex-Government of Canada grain hopper, now patched for CN. I took this shot because it also gives you an idea of how large those heavy duty flatcars are.

I purposely spaced out all that I saw in this rail yard, as well as the CP London rail yard because there was simply too much to cram onto one post. Stay tuned for four more posts that will show you my meets with two massive CN freight trains, one CP local and all the rest of the miscellany I saw in the CP yard.

I can't wait to railfan in this city again.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My first great chase

Lambton County 2017 Part III

I've read about so many chases in other blogs over the years, but realized recently that I've never really had a good, long chase with a happy conclusion. Until now.

Recently, my family travelled to Southwestern Ontario, where we were visiting family. I decided to travel from a spot in rural Perth County, where we were visiting grandparents, to my hometown of Corunna using nothing but country roads. I did this with good reason. One of the roads that would lead me toward Corunna paralleled Canadian National's Strathroy Subdivision from its namesake town all the way to Sarnia. That drive would offer me a good chance to get photos of a freight train, since the road I was on (named Napperton Road in Middlesex County and Confederation Line in Lambton County) is not only close to the Strathroy Sub, it is also traversed by a number of intersecting country roads that lead to the tracks. Easy enough, right? Wrong.

I had just checked out two level crossings in Strathroy before I headed out onto Napperton Road, as I was convinced a meet was not going to happen in that town. I was about five minutes outside of Strathroy when I noticed the tail end of a freight train thundering its way west toward Sarnia, and at quite a clip. Clearly, I was going to have to drive for a while to catch up and maybe dart down a road (safely, of course) to catch this train. I managed to reach the head end of the train after about 10 to 15 minutes of patiently trying to catch up. I fired a few blind shots with my camera, being sure to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. Needless to say, very few turned out, especially considering how far the track was from the road at this point.

This shot reminds me of some of the shots I took with a cheap camera in the early 1990s. It's blurry, but given the distance to the tracks and the movement of my car, it was the best I could do. This gives you an idea of where I was in relation to the Strathroy Sub.

The chase lasted far longer than I had anticipated because of a few wrinkles, mainly the fact that the road I was on passes through Kerwood, Watford and Wyoming before it reaches Sarnia's city limits. I managed to get ahead of the train by the time I reached Watford, but the speed limit near the Confederation Line-Highway 79 intersection fell to 50 km/h, which meant the train passed us, as it was maintaining a steady speed of about 80-85 km/h.

The train must have slowed a bit because as I pulled out of Watford and continued west, I found myself just about caught up with this massive train by the time I hit Wyoming. I was hoping to pull ahead of it and catch it at the Broadway Street crossing, just like this meet I had at the Wyoming Via station earlier this year.

But the slower speed limit in Wyoming (again 50km/h) ensured I would have to catch up to this train again. The slowdown in Wyoming was made worse by the fact that a tractor trailer took an unusually long time to turn from the Confederation Line onto Broadway.

So, after more chasing, I was finally able to overtake the train for a third time as it neared Sarnia. In fact, I managed to set up on Blackwell Side Road, the last road the Strathroy Sub crosses before it enters Sarnia yard. If you're keeping count, that means I had to cover about 60 kilometres before I was able to get proper shots of this train. It's a good thing I was heading in this direction anyway otherwise that's a lot of time and distance devoted to one train.

Here's what I saw.

The early morning sun washed out the sky beyond the limits of my photoshop program. However, I did like that I was able to frame the train against this farmer's field, which looked to be a soybean crop. Had I been given the luxury of a little more time, I would have been able to cross the tracks and set up in a more sun-friendly location although it was still fairly early in the morning (before 9 a.m.) so the sun would have posed a challenge from any angle.

Here it is a little closer. Note that the position of the sun was such that the sky began to reveal itself a little more in this shot. A typical cut of covered hoppers led off the consist, likely destined for a number of refineries, possibly in Sarnia or possibly farther afield in Michigan or Chicago, depending on where this train ended up.

Above you see the going away shot (with blue sky). Below is a shot of the power crossing Blackwell Side Road.

Now, staying true to my recent emphasis on rolling stock, let's see what CN ES44ACs 2875 and 2916 were pulling.

St. Lawrence Railway boxcar 163. Railfans love these. I often see them elsewhere.

A new railway logo for me. GACX 516123 Southern Illinois Railcar hopper.

Some of the more colourful hoppers out there today - Potash Corp. hoppers. It's always refreshing to see rolling stock on the rails that isn't just a blank sided car with the reporting marks of some leasing company.

Tidewater Grain Company  GRDX 7739 hopper looks like it's seen a lot of action and a couple of touch-up paint jobs.

Who says flatcars are boring? Steel a glance at this load! Reporting marks HJPX. Another first.

There were a lot of visual hazards near this crossing, so not every picture was distraction free. However, despite the pole, I was pleased to catch this BRIX-patched hopper, branded for Incobrasa Industries of Illinois. This company deals with soybeans and makes all sorts of products based on soy. So, through observation, it appears that this train had a definite Illinois flavor to it (there were also a few Wisconsin Central and Illinois Central cars). Of course, most trains rolling through Sarnia are headed for Chicago, so this is hardly surprising to see.

I made sure to take a quick couple of shots of long strings of freight cars just to serve as a reminder of how long this train was. With the exception of the trains with mid-train DPU, this was one of the longest consists I have seen pulled by two lead units.

Always a bonus when I come across a fallen flag (sort of). I used to have multiple photos of GT and Central Vermont rolling stock, only to lose those shots some years back. Now, I at least have one shot of a GT hopper. I wish the light was more forgiving, but still a great catch for me.

Also, it was great to catch a Cargill-branded hopper. As previously mentioned, anytime you see rolling stock with any colour, it's worth capturing. I have not seen many hoppers painted for Cargill, which has a huge grain and oilseed elevator facility on Sarnia Bay, served by the CN Point Edward Spur.

Finally, the end.

When I went to visit family in the Sarnia area, I didn't think I would have so many railfanning adventures outside Sarnia Yard, but it ended up that all of my adventures took place outside Sarnia Yard. It made for the start of a record railfanning month for me.