Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The best of 2019

It's been an interesting year as one of Ottawa's few dedicated railway observers. My trackside time thankfully increased a great deal this year, although much of what I saw happened outside of Eastern Ontario. But there were some interesting developments locally, not the least of which was the ongoing drama and countless setbacks for the O-Train Confederation Line. Of course, we are now preparing for CN's departure from the city and wondering what might come next for freight rail in the area.

But, putting aside all the drama, there was some interesting action to see this year. I was thankful to catch up with the Arnprior Turn in March. It was being led by a GATX leased geep, which made this meet in Bells Corners a lot of fun. It also helped that I was able to stand on pile of snow that was about 10-12 feet high, which allowed me to get some decent shots of the short train. Oh, did I mention that the train rumbled through Bells Corners in the middle of a snow squall? It was a great catch, and what might be my last time catching this CN train. Who knows?

Right around the same time, I did find myself with a few minutes of free time on St. Patrick's Day, which allowed me to catch up with this Via 40 clad F40PH-2 on the tail end of the westbound corridor train en route to Toronto. It was the first time I have caught up with an F40 in this wrap scheme. I did catch up with one more later on in the year. Read on for that meet. One of the bonuses of Via's new policy of placing a locomotive on either end of its corridor trains is that we now have double the chances of catching a wrapped locomotive, if that's your thing. I took a few shots of this trailing unit and was happy with how the photo came together, with the beautiful late winter sky providing some great contrast to grimy F40.

Just last week, I found myself in the eastern half of the city with a few minutes to spare so I dropped by the central station to see if there was anything to capture. It was a dark, foggy day, which made any attempt at crisp photos a real challenge. I did snag this wrapped F40, but this was the only vantage point that was useable, since all other points of view were marred by the overhead wires that obscured my preferred angles. I left the wire in the shot below since it allows you to see the fog blanketing the cityscape behind the trains. An eastbound Via corridor train is about to leave the main en route to Montreal via the Alexandria Subdivision. I'll have more to share of this quick jaunt to the station in a future post.

My summer trip to Southwestern Ontario ended up being a gold mine for me, as I was able to catch up with a number of trains, including this genset idling along the edge of the Nova Corunna plant near Corunna, Ontario. This switching operation has expanded in recent years, as the plant is undergoing a massive multibillion-dollar expansion. I like this shot, since it captures a busy industrial operation that is almost never seen. I was really lucky to get this shot.

Back in June, I had some time to myself and I used it to spend some time at one of my favourite trackside locations, Bedell, Ontario, just outside Kemptville. The CP Winchester Sub is not terribly busy but I did get lucky. I snagged a few shots of this eastbound mixed freight making its way to Montreal on the south track. I caught up with a few railfans in Smiths Falls, who told me the frequency of trains on this line is something like 8-10 per day. However, new CTC signals are being installed on the sub, which has many wondering if there will be an increase in traffic to follow. We can only hope!

Speaking of Smiths Falls, I did manage to make my way here twice this summer. One day in June, I was lucky enough to catch a number of Via Rail trains, but also the Perth Turn, which was making its way to Omya. The going away shot around this curve makes for some interesting photographs. I know this is not a preferred vantage point for many photographers, but I always like to get a shot that is different every now and then. Anything to avoid stockpiling countless wedge shots. Again, with the new signals coming online on the Winchester Sub, who knows what's in store here?

Speaking of the Via meet, this was my favourite shot of a westbound train sitting tight as an eastbound train makes its way past the old passenger station en route to Ottawa. I caught a number of corridor consists in Smiths Falls that day, but capturing this meet offered something different. My fellow railfans who were camped out like me barely moved for a number of the Via trains that rushed by, but did they get up for this meet. There was even an interesting repainted streamliner on the westbound train, which you can read about in this post.

On August 16th, I had some spare time to sit at the historic Stratford, Ontario train station on the former GEXR ( now CN) Guelph Subdivision. There were no CN trains that morning, but I did catch a short GEXR train getting started for its run to Goderich. The little train had a Southern Ontario Railway unit leading the way. This was only the third time I have caught active GEXR operations on the Guelph Subdivision. The fact that I could frame this train in front of an elevator made it even more satisfying. This was my shot of the year.

Getting back to my trip to Southern Ontario for a moment, this westbound train through Mandaumin also featured some sort of elevator in the shot as well as a CN 100 clad road unit, which made it a cool catch. You can also barely make out that the first car behind the power is an old Southern Railway boxcar. I really liked this shot as well. In total, I was able to catch two long-distance freights on the Strathroy Subdivision this year.

So those are my highlights as a blogger this year. In the new year, I can promise you that I will at least have some great random reader photos to share. I have a stockpile of them that I have yet to sort out thematically. I intend to tackle that backlog in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that.

Also, I will be travelling with my family over the holiays, which means train shots at an exotic (at least for me) location. I don't want to divulge too much more, since I want it to be a surprise.

I am also hoping that I can get out there in Ottawa and possibly capture some local railway action, as I know that is what a lot of readers come to see. I appreciate that there is a local following that keeps coming back. To be honest, it's quite humbling because the people who read this blog are very knowledgeable and they still see value in what little I bring to the table. So thank you to everyone for dropping by.

That will wrap up this year's adventures on the Beachburg Sub. My best wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone out there. Thank you so much for stopping by and spending a few minutes here and commenting. I appreciate it all.


hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com.

Friday, December 20, 2019

City of Ottawa looking to acquire CN's remaining Ottawa trackage

Here's a breath of fresh air if you are a long suffering railfan or rail advocate in Ottawa. According to the Capital Current, the city is actually in talks with CN to purchase the small pieces of trackage it still owns in the city, which includes the tracks in and around Walkley Yard and the Beachburg Subdivision leading up to the old Nepean Junction. 

The story notes that the talks are very preliminary but are a priority since the old CN line roughly parallels Hunt Club Road through numerous large subdivisions in the southern portion of the old City of Ottawa and in the western suburbs of Nepean. The story also notes that the talks will likely pick up once the discontinuance of service is made official and the line is offficially on the block.

The story itself has some curious statements. A city official told the Current that the city already owns the Renfrew, Carleton Place and Prescott trackage. But, back up a bit and that statement doesn't make a lot of sense. 

Yes, the city owns the land for the Renfrew Spur, although not the actual tracks, which are owned by Nylene Canada in Arnprior. The city may "own" the Carleton Place trackage, but that is also a misleading statement, since no part of the old Carleton Place Sub is intact anymore. The last little bit in Bells Corners was ripped out to make way for a suburban street that will lead to an infill residential development near the Bellwood trailer park community. And the rest of the old right-of-way is now a recreational trail through parts of southern Kanata and the older part of Stittsville. The Prescott trackage, the remnants of the old CP Prescott Sub, are being transformed into an extention of the O-Train Trillium Line leading to the Ottawa airport and the Riverside South community. The trackage was still used occasionally to spot cars at the NRC research facility near the airport. Beyond that, the line was ripped up.

The story does point out that a government would be able to buy the rails at the salvage rate, rather than the going commercial rate. This is also a statement worth examining, because there was a great deal of controversy when the Pontiac municipality in Quebec desperately tried to salvage the old CN tracks within its boundaries, but found that the railway's idea of "salvage" rate was exorbitant.In other words, the municipality thought the price was set far too high, as a way to lift the rails and use them elsewhere on the CN system.

I have to ask, if securing these tracks was such a priority for the city, where were city officials several years ago when a portion of the Beachburg Sub leading into North Kanata and beyond to Fitzroy Harbour was torn up? What a waste of an opportunity to connect Kanata via rails to the rest of the city. As it stands now, Kanata will have to wait for Stage 3 to get light rail while much of the rest of the city (Orleans, Blackburn Hamlet, Westboro, Riverside South, Crystal Beach, Bells Corners, Algonquin College, parts of Nepean) will have rails within close proximity when Phase 2 is complete. 

If I lived in Kanata, I would find that utterly unacceptable.

Councillor Shawn Menard did say that, "it is the city's intention to acquire these lands." I just hope that means for rail purposes. As we know all too well, once the rails are gone, they're gone.

That raises the next question of what will happen to the remaining freight services in the city and Eastern Ontario. CN is clearly checking out of the region. I wonder if that means that someone like James Allen from the old Ottawa Central is looking at starting a scaled-down freight short line operation in the city that would provide freight services in off hours under a running rights scenario with the city. I also have to wonder if such an operation would even be worthwhile.

Although, it's important to remember that a short line could very well reach out and attract new business, since they are much better equipped to run this type of operation, compared to CN.

Any freight operation would require some cooperation with the city since the rails would have to accommodate both standard freight trains and light rail operations.

I suppose we can at least be content for the moment that the city is actually doing something constructive for once. In my opinion, they should have been taking this approach years ago, but what's done is done. Let's just hope that there might be railfanning worth pursuing in this city in the years to come.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A brief glimpse of a tunnel train

So I can finally share the remaining photos of my trip to Southwestern Ontario, with this one final post. If you've been following along with my recent posts, you know that I had a couple of interesting encounters with freight trains along the Strathroy Subdivision this summer, one at Mandaumin Road and another at Camlachie Road. There might actually be one more post of odds and sods from my summer wanderings, but this last post is pretty much it.

This summer, I spent a week playing chauffeur and defacto camp counsellor to my two daughters and my nephew, a train fan. So, at the end of the week, after I had taken them to a downtown museum, I made sure to take a quick peak at the rail yard, since it is not too far from the downtown. When I arrived, I was treated to this site.

Three large diesels appeared to be positioning cars in the yard for a run down to the St. Clair Tunnel. Or possibly this was just routine switching, but my guess is this was a pre-tunnel movement, given the size of the consist that was being maneuvered. Anyway, the harsh sun wasn't doing me any favours, but there was nothing I could do. This is the only legal spot to take photographs of the yard. Sadly, it is almost always like this in the afternoon. I decided to get a shot with the gantry prominently featured.

I made sure to take an up-close photo of the logo on the nose of 3163. The crew inside the cab didn't seem all that fazed by my presence. You can also clearly see the railway coding beneath the number. Can someone share what EF-444zc means? I seem to recall someone saying somewhere that it has to do with where the engine is serviced? Is it also an internal CN way of labelling its diesels outside of the manufacturer model name?

This was also a cool catch. CN doesn't have all that many leased units roaming its system, judging by the reports I've read about its business slowdown. This unit was the third in the lash-up. Look at the exhaust fans at the rear! This shot really accentuates just how large they are.

This lash-up seemed like a lot of power for switching, which made me think the crew was putting things together for a run through the tunnel. Although, true to the PSR way of railroading, even the crews of the mainline freight trains are required to do switching at the end of their shift if they have time remaining, right? I remember reading that in an article somewhere about the E. Hunter Harrison-led railways. Someone with more knowledge can clarify or correct me if I'm off base.

This shot below might be one of favourite shots of the year. I tried to get the flags and the station in the frame along with the train. The shadows were harsh, even after some colour correction, but I still think this is a really cool shot.

Here's a close up of the train as it continued to back up into the yard. The heat lines show you that it was quite a warm afternoon when I took this shot. You can also see the exhaust from the engines obscuring the light standard behind the train. My nephew was pretty happy to see this action. My girls were somewhat interested, since they don't see trains very often. After a few minutes, I turned the car toward home and left, thankful to have a brief glimpse of this consist.

There were a number of interesting things at the roundhouse, which is somewhat visible from the station parking lot and I got a few decent shots, but I think I will save them for a future random post. I actually have a fair number of random shots from readers that I think I will package into a few random posts. Stay tuned for those. There are some pretty cool shots to share, including a train full of windmill blades.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Images of the tunnel accident aftermath

This really hasn't been a great year for Canadian National, has it? The railway that just recently had to lease dozens of locomotives just to keep up with an unexpectedly large uptick in demand found itself in the doldrums, somewhat. Of course, everyone knows about the eight-day strike that really clogged up yards and left customers in a lurch in late November. Then there were the layoffs when business began to falter.

But, for my money, the truly compelling story is the messy late June crash of a train in the middle of the St. Clair Tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan. A reader reached out to me anonymously with information about that crash. This reader allowed me to share what they had gleaned, on the condition that I not reveal anything about where this information came from.

So, for what it's worth, the messy derailment was, according to this source, likely caused by an unbalanced load in a gondola car, which derailed on a descent into the tunnel. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this information, but I will caution that it is by no means an official explanation. So take it for what it is worth.

The crash caused a considerable amount of damage to one of CN's busier transnational routes that connects Eastern Canada to Chicago (via Michigan). The track into and in the tunnel had to be ripped up and the entire right-of-way regraded and relaid. Readers who follow this blog from Sarnia managed to share some photographs with me (taken from public vantage points). I was told the pedestrian bridge that links Sarnia's Chemical Valley with South Sarnia was barricaded to prevent people from watching the construction efforts. Considering this walkway is surrounded by chain link fencing, I have to wonder why the local police and the railway would go to such lengths to hide these activities. Yes, this was an embarrassing accident, but preventing access on a public walking path is unfortunate, if it was guided by anything other than safety concerns.

After round-the-clock efforts for the better part of a week, the tunnel was reopened to traffic, which allowed the refineries in the valley to clear the backlog of cars on their spurs.

So, with the help of some folks in Sarnia, includng my brother, here are a few shots of what happened after the derailment. Some of these pictures were taken from the pedestrian walkway before it was closed off by local police.

The above image is of a road unit with two damaged couplers. I'm told this might have been one of the units in the accident, although I don't know what the head end of this train sustained any damaged or derailments. Take this image for what's it worth. It was indeed taken right after the derailment.

 Another shot of the unit with damaged couplers.

Shot from the Donahue Bridge walkway, this is the main line looking east toward the rail yard. You can see the debris on the side of the tracks.

 That looks like shredded pieces of an autorack, shot directly overhead from the pedestrian walkway.

A fleet of maintenance-of-way equipment ready for action.

This is a shot of the rebuilding efforts from the edge of the pedestrian walkway after it was closed. As you can tell, getting a clear shot of the repair efforts was tough at this point.

You can clearly see from this image that the tracks are long gone, with construction equipment busily working to fix the grading.

This might be my favourite shot. On the evening of the crash, a reader went out around sunset to catch some efforts to pull cars out of the tunnel, including these autoracks. You can also see shredded debris on the lower left.

My thanks to everyone who ended up getting these unique shots. Thankfully, no one was hurt in this accident and everything returned to normal in short order.

Friday, November 29, 2019

CPR's forgotten "Union" Station

When I was researching the fate and legacy of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s station in Westboro, there was an associated bit of Ottawa railway history that I stumbled across for the umpteenth time. This week, I decided to take a deep dive and unearth a little more of Ottawa’s railway history. This week, let’s look at CPR’s original Ottawa train station, the Broad Street Station.

The station hosted passenger trains for the CP for four decades, not to mention freight activity in its six-track yard.

Try looking for any trace of this station now and you’ll get nowhere. That’s because Broad Street no longer officially exists. Some crumbling asphalt is still there near Albert Street if you look closely enough, but the road itself is largely covered over by decades of neglect, unchecked weeds and planning incompetence. The street itself saw all its remaining structures emptied and razed as the LeBreton Flats were emptied in the 1960s. For those interested, Broad Street, or what’s left of it, is on the western half of the LeBreton Flats, just west of Booth Street and the Pimisi O-Train station.

But the station itself was long gone by the time the Flats were cleared in the sixties. In fact, by the time the National Capital Commission decided to clear the entire area, the Canadian Pacific had already moved its passenger operations twice. The second Broad Street station closed in 1920, which meant some of Canadian Pacific’s passenger operations were shifted to Ottawa’s Union Station. I say some, because it’s not that simple, of course. I’ve spoken to more than one rail historian and they have different takes on how much passenger traffic was shifted to the downtown station after Broad Street closed.

That’s because there’s the matter of the Ottawa West station to consider. The original Ottawa West station was built at the same time as the Broad Street Station was closed in 1920. CP also operated the Bayview Avenue Ottawa West station as an additional passenger station up until the 1960s. So, the operations at the Broad Street Station were shifted in two directions. The CP did indeed use the Union Station downtown for some of its operations, but photos of the Dominion calling at Ottawa West station back up what one rail historian told me a few years ago. That was that the Ottawa West station was used for transcontinentals at one point, while the Union Station was used to support corridor passenger operations. Also, early schedules for Ottawa West in the 1920s showed that it hosted the Trans-Canada Limited as well.

 Broad Street Station in 1908, with Ottawa streetcar out front

Look at a timetable from the 1950s, as I did, and you will see designations in the schedule on some trains that read “Ottawa (Union),” especially on corridor trains. This makes me think that there was a shifting division of the passenger operations, although it’s not clear to me exactly what trains departed from Ottawa West and Union over the years and why. The reason I get confused is, despite pictures of the Dominion calling at Ottawa West, the schedule I consulted from 1956 listed only two trains as using the Ottawa West station, one from Ottawa to Brockville and the other from Ottawa to Chalk River.

It wasn’t always this confusing, of course. Although Ottawa’s Union Station was meant to be a passenger station for the Grand Trunk (later Canadian Northern and finally Canadian National), Canadian Pacific and New York Central, CP used its own station on Broad Street from the 1880s until 1920. And CP wasn’t alone. The New York Central also had its own terminal on Mann Avenue, near the edge of what is now the University of Ottawa campus.

What’s interesting about the Broad Street Station is that it is was once considered to be Ottawa’s Union Station, a designation that clearly predated the construction of the downtown station that was also known as the Union Station. The original CPR station opened in 1896, to replace the Canada Central depot that burned down in 1895. The CPR, of course, took over what became the Carleton Place Subdivision from the Canada Central years earlier. But a railway presence on Broad Street goes back to 1871, when a station opened its doors there to connect two major railways at one point. In 1879, construction wrapped up on the Prince of Wales Railway bridge to connect Quebec rails to this original union station.

The original CPR Broad Street Station (see above behind another streetcar) was destroyed by the great Ottawa-Hull fire of April 1900. The second CPR station on the site was opened in January 1901 (top two photos). If it looks familiar, it should. The moment I saw the images of the station, it reminded me of the CPR Windsor Station in Montreal. The architect who designed the Broad Street Station was from Montreal and was responsible for a number of other CPR stations. The station also bears some striking similarities to the Chateau Laurier.

The fact that it opened in 1901, eleven years before the opening of the downtown Union Station, might account for the CPR’s decision to stick with the station even after the magnificent downtown GTR station opened its doors. I would imagine it would be a tough pill to swallow to bail out of a station that wasn’t even 20 years old.

However, that is just what CPR did in 1920 when it moved its operations to Union Station downtown and to the Ottawa West station. A few articles I read pointed to the opening of the Interprovincial Bridge in 1901 (Alexandra Bridge) between downtown Ottawa and Hull as the turning point for railways. Over the years, more activity began to focus on that bridge, which once carried trains over the river. That might have been the reason for CP to transfer much of its trains to the downtown station.

It's hard to find accurate information about when the Broad Street Station was officially torn down, but it seems as though it was around until the 1930s before it was demolished. A real shame too, given what a beautiful structure it was.

All links will take you to information specific to this station. The Branchline Magazine link takes you to the most comprehensive selection of photos of the old Broad Street Station

Colin Churcher’s Railways in Canada

Old Time Trains


Branchline Magazine

Friday, November 22, 2019

Westboro's forgotten train station

Walk through Westboro today and you’d be hard pressed to see the vestiges of its grittier past. Today, the trendy suburb west of Ottawa’s core is home to expensive homes, trendy shops and all sorts of infill development.

But when you read about its past, you begin to see how the railway played a significant role in its development. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the village’s efforts to secure a railway station and look at what the railway did for the area.

But first, a bit of history. Westboro was not originally a part of Ottawa. It was part of the old Nepean Township (which, itself, eventually became the City of Nepean until it became part of the amalgamated City of Ottawa in 2000). Westboro began as a development scheme for people who wanted to branch out of the old City of Ottawa, which in the late 1800s, had its limits around Western Avenue. Westboro developed as a village and soon grew to become the administrative centre of the old Nepean Township. (That arrangement ended when Westboro was annexed by the City of Ottawa in 1949). Even the famous Nepean bell, which became the city’s logo, was originally stationed in Westboro (that bell now hangs on a fire hall in Bells Corners, which served as Nepean’s seat for a while).

Like any emerging village, Westboro needed transportation links to grow. It was originally connected to Ottawa via what became Richmond Road. That road is still the neighbourhood’s main street, but back then, you either used this road or used the Ottawa Electric Railway Company to get anywhere. The OER had tracks to Britannia. The line passed through Westboro along what is now the Byron Linear Park, running next to Byron Avenue.

For residents of the village who wanted to travel outside of the area, they were forced to make the trek to Ottawa’s old Union Station downtown, or to the old Broad Street station on the Lebreton Flats if they wanted to go anywhere. In 1919, they had the additional choice of using the Ottawa West station, in the Bayview area. But again, the lion’s share of the trains operated through the downtown station.

That might not seem like a big deal now, but before cars, it was not easy to get around, especially on roads and tramlines that were often at the mercy of the area’s harsh winters and soggy springs. So, the village’s backers called for the Canadian Pacific Railway to build a station along the Carleton Place Subdivision, which passed by Westboro. An easy solution, right? Not quite.

Westboro’s first CPR station was nothing more than a concrete platform, located about 600 feet west of Parkdale Avenue, which placed it closer to Ottawa’s western fringes than it did to Westboro. This decision was heavily influenced by the City of Ottawa, according to multiple sources.

The village appealed the decision to the Board of Railway Commissioners and won. The result was that by 1921, a station was finally built at the end of Victoria Avenue* (today’s Roosevelt Avenue). The station had an agent, passenger, freight, express and telegraph service.

Looking for any evidence of this station today is useless. It once sat where a huge trench now serves as OC Transpo’s bus transitway road. That road, of course, will once again revert to rails as the Confederation Line is extended west to Moodie. Work has already begun.

Despite the new link with the CPR network, getting anywhere from Westboro was not an easy task. It was a stop for about three trains each way, including as a flag stop on certain days.

But the trains were not direct connections. Westbound trains ended at Chalk River, where passengers would then have to transfer if they wanted to get to Toronto. Eastbound trains through Westboro ended in Ottawa, which meant locals still had to go downtown if they wanted to take a train to Montreal or somewhere else east of Ottawa.

The station over the years also included some additional tracks, which served as sidings or spurs for the local delivery of coal, animal feed and other supplies for a stove maker (located closer to Hintonburg) and sawmill.

For much of its history, Westboro’s freight rail service was provided by a small steam locomotive switcher out of Ottawa West yard. By the early 1950s, the station was seeing less and less business and lost its agent. By 1958, the CPR closed the station, which was then demolished in 1960. The last passenger train to go through Westboro was the Canadian, which breezed through on July 30th, 1966. That portion of the Carleton Place sub was removed shortly afterward and replaced with a switch off the Beachburg Subdivision in Bells Corners. CPR then guided all incoming and outgoing traffic via trackage rights through Bells Junction.

At the time of its demolition, the CPR Westboro station was not likely seen as anything worth saving. It’s a shame it wasn’t saved, as it would today be a unique piece of history for one of Ottawa’s most celebrated communities.

And just for kicks, I found an old picture of the old CN Renfrew Subdivision over Island Park Drive on what is now the Queensway. Check out the church in the photo, which is still there today. I have been searching for this photo, from the City of Ottawa archives, for some time and finally found it recently. I was hoping to find more shots of the Westboro CP operations around its old station, but all I could find were aerial overhead shots that are in the city's mapping database.

* - One of the sources I read referred to today's Roosevelt Avenue as Victoria Avenue when the train station was built. But another source claimed the street was named River Road.


Kitchissippi Museum

Colin Churcher's Railways in Canada

Ottawa Rewind

Wikipedia - Ottawa Electric Railway Company

Wikipedia - Westboro