Thursday, July 26, 2018

The warbonnet in Wyoming

This year has been a tough one for my trackside adventures. In short, I haven’t been trackside nearly enough, due to many factors. However, recently, I went back to the Sarnia area to visit family for a large family reunion, spanning three generations of my family. It was a great event. I managed to get away when the festivities were over to sit trackside in Wyoming, along the Strathroy Subdivision.

You will recall that I saw something pretty special last year in Wyoming, when I saw this freight train (below) rolling west with five CN units. It reminded me of my younger days watching trains when long freights were usually led by more than two units.

When I arrived at the Broadway Street level crossing area in Wyoming, the signal controlling eastbound traffic was flashing yellow while the westbound signal was solid red. The signal for eastbound traffic is easily visible from the Broadway level crossing in Wyoming, although I had to use the zoom on my camera to see what the westbound signal showed.

After a few minutes, the signals changed. The eastbound signals went solid red while the westbound signals changed to solid green. This gave me a hint that something was coming from the east.

The train I saw wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did result in a first. 

My first decision was where to set up. There’s a gravel access road behind the Lions Hall in Wyoming, which is a public road, since I saw cars parked there. I got some great shots from an area around the Via Rail station last time I caught a train here, but I wanted to try something different this time. So, instead, I set up west of the station, closer to Broadway Street.

About 10 minutes after the signals changed, fast-moving and surprisingly short train came barrelling through town, led by a CN unit and an old Santa Fe warbonnet-painted unit, now owned by a leasing company. I was pretty happy to finally catch a glimpse of one of the many leased units prowling the CN network this year. 

Here's a closer look. This unit is ex-BNSF, ex-AT&SF  PRLX SD75M 205. Looking online, there are a few photos of this leased unit making the rounds through Ontario this year. I was pretty happy to catch it.

Shooting trains in Wyoming is not all that easy, even though the frequency seems to be pretty solid. The biggest challenge is the speed of the trains coming through town. Since the crossing is protected by highway guard gates, the trains seem to be coming through town at around 80 km/h (just a guess). That means you have to pick your subject of interest and get as many frames as possible. After I snapped photos of the engines, there wasn’t much to see except about 20 tank cars and a few covered hoppers. I snapped a shot of this hopper, mainly because it seems someone made the effort to cover over a fair bit of graffiti. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see in terms of rolling stock.

Back in April, I had a trackside day planned that was cancelled at the last minute, but I am hoping to finally reschedule that day and make up for lost time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

First look at the Confederation Line in motion

This was a happy accident. I was waiting for a connecting bus at the Lebreton bus stop on the Lebreton Flats when I turned around and saw that OC Transpo was testing its one west-end Citadis Spirit light rail consist near Pimisi Station.

Sadly, my bus was arriving right at the time when this trainset was pulling out of Pimisi Station (for those interested, Pimisi is an Indigenous word for the eel that is native to the Ottawa River). So, I took a few shots of the train quickly with my iPhone.

A few observations from this short view. One is that the new O-Trains sadly have the same electronic bells that their diesel cousins have on the Trillium Line. I have read complaints more than once from railfans here that the electronic bells are no match for the real thing.

In this case, this train's electronic bell was not working properly. The sound was coming out very choppy, but this is only a test run, so I'm assuming they will iron out those glitches before November, if in fact that Confederation Line is ready to begin operations. City officials in recent weeks refused to confirm the November start date for the new light rail service.

The second thing I noticed is how these trains appear to be floating or levitating. The wheels are very much shielded by the train's body, which makes for an odd site for people used to watching conventional trains.

The last thing I noticed was that I wasn't the only commuter that was taking an interest in the train's testing. There were a number of people waiting for their bus who turned around and watched the action, which is an indication that people in the city are at least curious to see this new system in action.

People in the east end of the city are likely more accustomed to seeing these trainsets undergoing testing between Blair Station and Cyrville Station, which has been happening for months. The west end of the line, as I have mentioned before, is quite a bit less developed than the east end, so testing between Tunney's Pasture and Pimisi has only begun in the last few weeks. 

I figure it be worthwhile to share these photos now, while there's still a novelty attached to this light rail line. To be honest, I don't think I will be taking many pictures of thee trains, although I will say they are growing on me. When I first saw them, I thought they were pretty ugly.

What do you think? Is this something worthy of railfanning?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Forward thinking in Gatineau

As part of my railway wanderings in Hull recently, I came across the old Hull West station, which still stands on avenue Montcalm. The modest wooden station has seen better days. The roof definitely needs to be replaced, but a few businesses have made use of the building since it was last used for rail purposes. Right now, an arts store calls the station home. Before that store, a restaurant was located in the building.

The trip to see the station was an interesting little walk for me, because it revealed a couple of surprises.

As many people on this side of the river know, the City of Gatineau used the old Lachute Subdivision right-of-way through the city to construct its RapiBus express commuter service. This is the same approach that the City of Ottawa used to build part of the first phase of the Confederation Line LRT service (part of the new Confederation Line uses the bus Transitway, which was once part of the old CP Carleton Place Sub in the west end).

What I found to be really refreshing in Gatineau’s case was that, when the work on the bus road was done, the city reconstructed the old Lachute Sub. The line is now owned by the city, having most recently been used in 2007 by the Quebec Gatineau Railway, which used the sub to access the Eddy Spur and its last remaining customers in old downtown Hull.

Last used in 2007. This is what has happened to the Lachute Sub near the Ottawa River. The rest of the right-of-way has been rebuilt through Gatineau proper.

With this rail line in good shape, I would imagine the city would have a much easier time of realizing its light rail goals to connect downtown Hull with Aylmer in the west and the old City of Gatineau in the east. This is a forward-looking approach that has been in short supply in this region of late.

I don’t mean to harp on this again, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been possible had the City of Ottawa considered buying the portion of the old Beachburg Subdivision from Nepean Junction into North Kanata. As it stands now, the second phase of the Confederation Line will not reach Kanata, which is where the largest commuter demand is in Ottawa. North Kanata is an area that is bustling with technology businesses and has a sizeable amount of newer subdivisions. As it stands now, this area will continue to be served by buses for the foreseeable future. Had the city taken a forward-looking approach like Gatineau, who knows what might have been possible?

However, this is the same city that, until it was essentially forced into a corner, was prepared to convert the Prince of Wales Bridge into a pedestrian and cycling path over the bridge. This is also the same city that will not entertain working with CN to get light rail operating on the existing Beachburg Subdivision past Federal junction, a stretch of track that is essentially unused save for two trains on Wednesday. And let’s not forget that before the city, the old Regional Municipality sat on its hands as the old CP Carleton Place Sub was converted into a recreational path (albeit, a wonderful piece of the Trans-Canada Trail). Now, with the explosion of residential development in Stittsville, light rail would provide a welcome option for an area where the roads are at capacity, to say the least.

Where the Canadian used to roam. This is the old Carleton Place Sub in Stittsville, a suburb of the city that now numbers more than 30,000. How useful would this be for light rail now?

The plans for Gatineau’s light rail system are still very much in the early stages, as the environmental assessments and other early legwork need to be done. However, given that the Lachute Sub is in such good shape and the old remnants of the Waltham Sub right-of-way appear to be there for the taking, you have to think that Gatineau is in a much better position than Ottawa was, partly due to planning smarts and partly due to luck.

Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe old rail lines are worth keeping after all.

Side note: While checking out the old Hull West station, I noticed there was a nearby sign that said “CP parking only,” which was obviously overlooked when CP stopped using the Lachute Sub back in the late 1990s. Next to the tracks, there’s a no trespassing sign that asks people to report any untoward activity to CN Police. I wonder why. It’s my understanding that Gatineau owns these tracks. I can’t imagine why that sign would be there. As a contrast, if you go to the entrance to Walkley Yard in Ottawa, you’ll see a no trespassing sign that lists a private security firm’s name and number.

As far as I know, CN’s police has no presence here, which has me wondering about this sign.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Back to the Future in Hull

I recently transferred to a new workplace across the Ottawa River in Hull. I have begun to explore the old part of the city a bit. Luckily for me, I am located across the street from what is known as the Eddy siding. It’s a stretch of track extending from the Prince of Wales Bridge east through the old section of Hull next to the Ottawa River. Despite the fact that the Canadian Pacific ended its Ottawa operations in 1997, a significant portion of its old trackage remains in place in Hull all the way to the old Eddy plant at the corner of rue Eddy and boulevard Alexandre Taché.

With a little struggling through the bush, you can find your way to a little bluff that overlooks this section of track, where the old Eddy siding branches off from the old Lachute Sub.

Doing a little research on this line, the only reference I could find was to the Eddy siding, although I don’t think this line fits the definition of a siding. In its final days, it was definitely just a spur. The spur veered north from the Prince of Wales Bridge toward downtown Hull. At the western edge of the Eddy property next to Portageurs Park, the spur split into two tracks, one of which made its way between two long Eddy buildings before crossing rue Eddy (just north of the Chaudière crossing over the river) and running alongside the old Domtar facility (next to avenue Laurier). The tracks then made their way beneath the Portage Bridge. The rails have been removed east of rue Eddy for years, although their path is unmistakable.

For those who like to track the traces of rails in Ottawa and Gatineau, this little spur is quite a gem. You can walk along much of its existing length in Portageurs Park along the waterfront. The rails are fenced off near the old Eddy plant, but are exposed closer to the Prince of Wales Bridge.

Nature has reclaimed much of the Eddy siding, like this section near Millar Street in Hull (as seen from Portageurs Park

There are a few pieces of interesting reminders of the old railway operation, although I would advise to stay off the tracks. I'm pretty sure the City of Gatineau  owns the Lachute Sub up to Lorrain Boulevard. The city also likely owns the tracks in Hull. Near the Prince of Wales Bridge, there is a fair bit to see legally on public land.

Here’s an old milepost sign near the Lachute Sub tracks (get your zoom ready).

This is an old switch stand that has been left in place.

Here’s an old silver box that has been covered over in weeds and graffiti.

This gives you a glimpse of the bridge that carried the Eddy spur over what is known in English as Brewers Creek. Just west past this bridge, barely visible from boulevard Taché, is another old switch where the Eddy Spur connects with the old Waltham Sub (I think it's the Waltham Sub). Given how long it’s been since the last remnants of the Waltham Sub were dismantled, I was surprised to find this switch still in place.

This flyover is accessible from a nearby park. This bridge was where the Lachute Subdivision passed under what I am assuming was the Canadian Pacific Waltham Subdivision. Can you see the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill?

Here's a shot of the old flyover from beneath.

Also, near the Eddy plant, you can see where the tracks have been severed with a yellow bumper still installed. There is an interesting piece of maintenance equipment on the rails, complete with little wheels. I’m not sure what it is or why it’s even on the tracks.

Here's another shot.

Finding any fairly recent photos of trains on this trackage is not easy online. There may have been some enterprising railfans who took photos of this operation, but I wasn’t able to find anything. Even finding information about the old CP operations in and around Hull is not easy.

In the next little while, I am going to do a little research on the history of the tracks that all once converged in Hull, including the Eddy Spur, the Waltham Sub, the Maniwaki Sub and the Lachute Sub. Given that Gatineau has announced ambitious plans for a light rail line from Aylmer in the city’s west end to old downtown Hull, it seems as though there will be a bit of a railway renaissance in Western Quebec at long last. It’s a shame there is so little existing infrastructure left, but at least the Eddy Spur is still in place, more or less. I would think it has a bright future ahead as a commuter link between Ottawa and Hull.