Monday, January 21, 2019

Thank you, rail friends: Another post of random rail photos

I have mentioned often that I am fortunate to get contributions from many readers and friends. This has really helped me this past year, since I have only been trackside a select few times, due to the usual busy life items that occupy your time when you have a young family. Going through my old email the other day, I realized I have several images that people have sent to me that are worth sharing. Often, I will hang on to images people send me, just in case I can put them together in a thematic post. But, sometimes, the photos on their own do not lend themselves to any larger ideas, which necessitates a post of random images.

I don’t mean to diminish these images, however. I actually love putting together the occasional post of random images.

So, without further preamble, here’s another instalment of random railway photos. This batch are courtesy of my brother Marc, a frequent contributor to the blog, and my brother’s father-in-law, Kevin, who took some photos at a museum in Arizona for his grandson, also my nephew.

This first photo made me laugh a bit. My brother took this photo of this car, since he had never seen this logo (URL?) before. When I looked at the photo, I only wished he had taken a photo of the former UP diesel that was being used on the train. I have only been able to see one such instance of leased power this past year in Wyoming.

Here’s another shot from my brother, which he saw in Sarnia yard earlier this year. It’s an old BC Rail GE unit, which has obviously seen a fair bit of action, judging by the dirt and dust it has acquired. The unit is in the BC Rail blue scheme, which I believe was a latter day livery.

My brother was in Goderich over the summer and spotted these two former GoC grain hoppers parked near the Sifto salt mine on the Goderich harbour. I wonder if these cars were being used for salt use. (Answer - they're not. The tracks those cars are on branch off to the town's infrequently used grain elevator, according to a reader)

My brother passed along a few shots that his father-in-law, who visited the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler, Arizona. The highlight of the photos passed along to me were the shots of the old silver-clad E unit 97.

Here’s another shot.

The museum had a number of privately owned passenger coaches, which are used for all kinds of excursions. But there were also some other assorted gems, like this old Southern Pacific maintenance of way crane.

Here’s an old oil-burning SP steam locomotive X2562.

As always, you're free to contribute to the blog!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Updated: A Most Unlikely Survivor: The Renfrew Subdivision

Note: This post is meant to focus on the more recent history of the Renfrew Sub under CN control and not its early years as part of the Canadian Atlantic Railway all the way to Depot Harbour. - Michael

Since 1894, Ottawa has been connected to neighbouring Renfrew County via a rail line that was and is still known as the Renfrew Subdivision. Although its viability as a freight line has long since passed, the rail line continues to persist and may one day become an important piece of Ottawa’s rail future.

As it stands today, the Renfrew Subdivision extends from the end of the Beachburg Subdivision, at a point that was once known as Nepean Junction. From this point, the tracks travel roughly 43 kilometres west to the Nylene Canada plant at the edge of Arnprior. You’d be forgiven to think that this rail line is part of the Canadian National system, but it’s really not. The rails are owned by Nylene Canada while the actual land where the rails are laid is owned by the City of Ottawa. CN still delivers a weekly load of caprolactum to Nylene Canada, no doubt under contract, since the rail line itself is technically known as the Ottawa-Arnprior Railway.

Before Nepean Junction was scrapped, this is where the Renfrew Spur branched off from the Beachburg Sub (2014)

You might wonder why this rail line has lasted so long, when most other secondary lines in and around Ottawa have been removed. The answer is Nylene Canada. This plant took the steps to buy this rail line because the management of the plant felt there was no other practical way to move caprolactum from Texas to Arnprior other than by rail. So, while CN still operates over the line, it’s only as a contractor. CN first filed to abandon the Renfrew Subdivision in 1987.

Due to its six-figure losses on the line, CN was given permission to abandon the line in December 1988. Shortly after, Nylene Canada predecessor BASF took steps to buy the rails while the old Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton purchased the land, with an eye to future transit uses.

In 1987, CN moved a total of 96 cars on the line, 95 of which went to Nylene (BASF), one to a customer in Carp, while a single car was shipped out from BASF. The railway reported a loss of $328,730 on the line for 1986. During the abandonment proceedings, CN was discussing the possibility of BASF being served via its old diamond connection with the old CP Chalk River Subdivision through Arnprior. Those talks didn’t amount to much and now, both lines are gone through Arnprior proper.

It’s interesting to look through documents from the abandonment proceedings at the time, since the Teamsters Union suggested that CN had two other customers on the line that were looking for better service, Sullivan’s Lumber (now a Rona outlet) in Arnprior and Carp Flour Mills in Carp. I doubt that three customers would make this line profitable, but it’s always interesting to see how differently these small rail lines are viewed, depending on your point-of-view.

When the Ottawa Central Railway took over freight operations in Ottawa in 1998, it inherited this line and ran weekly service out to Nylene Canada, sometimes on Thursdays and sometimes on Sundays. When CN bought out OCR in 2008, it resumed weekly operations to Nylene Canada, mostly on Wednesdays.

CN 589 westbound near Corkstown Road, just east of the beginning of the Renfrew Spur (2017)

While the demise of this line as a going concern for CN is not all that uncommon in the years post deregulation, the line’s history and possible redemption as a future commuter line make its story worth exploring.

The rail line was completed in 1894 as the Ottawa, Arnprior and Renfrew Railway, one of many lines that dotted the Ottawa Valley at the time that railways relied on timber, natural resources and early small-scale industry to serve the valley. Three years before service started through Renfrew, the line was merged into the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway. In 1899, the line was merged into the Canada Atlantic Railway, which in turn officially became part of the Grand Trunk in 1914. The GTR was then combined with other struggling railways to form the Canadian National Railway in 1920.

What many people might not realize is that the Renfrew Sub once stretched from central Ottawa to Whitney, a distance of 145 miles or 233 kilometres. Going further back, it was once a key part of John Rudolphus  Booth's empire that linked his timber holdings in the Algonquin Park area to Depot Harbour. The Ottawa portion of the line originally began by branching off from the Alexandria Subdivision just southeast of the old Alexandria alignment when that line proceeded up the Rideau Canal to the old Union Station downtown.

A vintage CN system map, which shows the former Renfrew Subdivision extending beyond the town of Renfrew. At one point, the rails went all the way to Whitney. These days, the line barely makes its way into Renfrew County

The Renfrew Sub generally ran east-west along what is now the Queensway. Even before most of the railway lines in central Ottawa were taken up in the 1960s, the Renfrew Sub between Deep Cut (its junction with Alexandria) and Chaudière Junction (its connection with the CP Ellwood Sub where the Queensway now stands) was taken up. CN operated its last train on this old right-of-way in 1952 and the rails were pulled the following year.

It’s interesting to note that the 80-foot strip that CN owned where the Renfrew Sub operated had to be expanded by 100 feet when the land was sold off to what is now the National Capital Commission. That meant having to negotiate with landowners in order to have the proper amount of space to build an expressway. That would never happen today.

Even while its downtown portion was being pulled, the sub hosted daily freight service in the 1950s between Ottawa and Renfrew. By the mid-1960s, the frequency had dwindled to three freights a week. By 1974, service was reduced to an as-needed basis. In 1983, tracks between Whitney and Renfrew were pulled up.

One of the few spots in the city where you can actually see the old remnants of this line is through the old Nepean Equestrian Park, now known as Wesley Clover Park. Just west of Moodie Drive, right off of Corkstown Road, you will see a recreation path running arrow straight toward the Beachburg Subdivision and the old Nepean Junction. The trail is known as the Watts Creek Pathway. That is one of the few visible portions of the old Renfrew Sub.

The decision to sever the downtown portion of the Renfrew Sub was an easy one. The line essentially paralleled the much busier Beachburg Subdivision through central Ottawa. Whereas the Beachburg Sub was an essential component of CN’s northern transcontinental line, the Renfrew Sub was already seeing its traffic wane, with a number of industries fleeing Ottawa’s central areas, as the beautification efforts began transforming the face of the city.

Looking at old railway maps, it’s fascinating to see how CN and CP operated in decades past, when carload operations were the norm, which often ensured the vitality of these small rail lines. Of course, now that CN and CP are focused on economies of scale, this approach to business is long gone. But the Renfrew Sub through downtown Ottawa at one time counted a fair number of small-scale industrial customers along its right-of-way.

Fellow blogger Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure pointed out an old photo of downtown Ottawa, where a gravel dock is clearly visible along the Rideau Canal on the opposite bank near the old Union Station. I have seen that photo before, but his message was a good reminder of why there were once so many rail lines dotting the landscape through the central part of the city.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Looking back and looking ahead

I'm hoping that 2018 was an anomaly for the blog, since I didn't quite follow the usual script. There were quite a number of things I wanted to do, but it didn't work out the way I planned. Since my railfanning was severely curtailed due to life, I had to switch gears quite a number of times and start focusing on issue-based posts, history-based posts and thematic posts more so than I have before.

But in the end, I was happy that I was able to explore new space in the previous year, although I'm not sure I want to neglect my trackside adventures like I was forced to do last year. That said, there were a few moments from the previous year that I really enjoyed sharing with you. The biggest highlight was meeting this CN train in Wyoming in the summer.

I was really happy to catch some CN leased power on this train. And it was an old ATSF warbonnet to boot, which was particularly cool.

Speaking of CN, I did catch up with the Arnprior Turn.

As usual, in Ottawa, one has to often content themselves with Via Rail corridor trains if they want to survive. Even with this plentiful supply of corridor trains, I didn't get out to see much in the preceding year, but I did catch a few things that I was happy to share.

This was a shot from July. This train was bringing my wife home from Montreal after a few days away from the family. You can see a piece of the new Ottawa platforms in the shot.

Speaking of platforms...

And very early last year, I had some fun on the Belfast Road overpass near Ottawa's main railway station. This was my meet with a Via 40-clad P42.

I was also thrilled with this shot of a F40PH-2 pulling a string of renaissance cars toward Montreal. This might be the best going away shot I have taken.

I would mention something about the city's ongoing O-Train Confederation Line drama, but I don't know that there's much to share other than the planned handover of the new east-west line has yet to happen. That means the trains are not running yet. So, instead of sharing photos of the yet-to-be-finished Confederation Line, I thought I'd share this shot of the Trillium Line, with two trainsets about to pass each other near Bayview. I was really happy with how this shot turned out.

Looking ahead, I have resolved to get out there a little more. But I have been working on a number of posts that will explore some fascinating rail history from the Ottawa area. Given how much has happened with Ottawa railways even since this blog has started, I think examining rail history is even more important now.

Stay tuned for some posts regarding the history of the Renfrew Subdivision and a multi-part account of the final days of the Northern Transcon. I've been working on these posts for a while and hope to be able to share them soon.

And, much to my surprise, I found out today that this post is my 275th post for this blog. Thus begins the countdown to 300. I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and I wish you the best for 2019!



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