Friday, February 22, 2019

Some facepalm moments

A few railway headlines recently made me think of bringing together another themed package for a post. The new Via Rail order for Siemens Charger locomotives made me shake my head. Not because I don’t think the chargers aren’t a great pick. They seem like very capable locomotives and they are, in my opinion, a real aesthetic upgrade over the hideously ugly P42s and the boxy F40PH-2s.

But the paint scheme has me baffled, if Via follows through with its goals to have a yellow black and grey colour scheme. I don't have a huge problem with the colours on the surface, but it seems really odd that a railway would use a light colour on the top of a locomotive, where it is sure to bear the signs of engine exhaust in no time flat. Yes, the Chargers will be much cleaner-running engines than what we see on the rails today, but yellow on top and black in the centre? Makes no sense. I won’t get into the longstanding issue I’ve had with the railway over its incoherent colour schemes and liveries over the years. Pick a good scheme and stick with it.

I don’t have a problem with the half maple leaf on the end of the unit, since Ottawa’s city buses have sported the same leaf design for decades. It’s the choice of yet another new colour scheme that makes no sense to me. Look to railways like CN and UP as good examples of sticking with a good thing. It creates trust and reinforces the best things about your brand.

This leads me to my favourite railway target of all: the bumbling City of Ottawa. Let’s just put it this way. It’s absolutely bizarre how the consortium building the new Confederation Line LRT could have gotten this far along in their testing and not have some sort of plan in place for a heavy snowfall. I mention this because one of the city’s new Citadis Spirit LRT consists was marooned somewhere on the Confederation Line because of the heavy snowfall. That unfortunate blunder cost the consortium a few days of testing, as they figured out how to clear the line and rescue this train.

I will say nothing of the growing realization that this consortium will miss its third completion deadline, if recent media reports are to be believed. But not having a plan in place for heavy snowfall? In Ottawa? C’mon, people. I know that no one at city hall has any clue about railways, but we all know about snowfall. Figure it out.

Here's a quick shot of one of the new Citadis Spirit O-Train consists at Pimisi Station on the Lebreton Flats. Behind you will see Place du Portage, the massive government office complex in Hull. I waited for a while for this train to pull out of the station, so I could get a better shot of it, but it just stayed there, seemingly stuck. Kinda fitting.

And one of the companies that is responsible for this first phase of the LRT is also in the running to be part of the second phase of the railway construction. That contract will be handed out next week. I won't say much about the company: SNC Lavalin.

All I will say is I am not all that impressed with the delays with phase one, nor am I pleased with what I've read about this company, as it pertains to national affairs, if the media is to be believed.

For so many reasons I will not get into here, we can do better.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

One of these things is not like the others

I've been sifting through my years of photos and trying to put together some thematic posts in the last little while. This week, I came across another idea as I was driving to Drummondville, Quebec (don't ask, long story). After I had finally made my way past Montreal, I found myself heading east on the Autoroute 20 around Saint Hyacinthe when I came across one of the more bizarre sites I've seen in my years observing railways. There, in the middle of a 100km/h stretch of a four-lane divided highway, was a single track level railway crossing. I was amazed that a railway would cross a major highway in this way, as it seemed to me to be a very dangerous proposition. As I was driving by, I noticed an "Exempt" sign, which I have generally understood to mean that the crossing is longer in use. Still, at one time, it was and as I was driving by, I noticed a CN GP9 switching local industry not far from the highway, errr, autoroute. 

That got me to thinking of some of the strange things I have seen in my time trackside, so here is a small sampling of random disorder.

In the early 1990s, I came across the experimental Bombardier HR 616 freight diesel in the Sarnia Yard. It was hitched to a string of idle locomotives. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but realized years later that this unit was quite rare indeed. This model of diesel was even loaned to CP for a while, even though it still sported the CN safety scheme.

More recently, I was trackside in Bedell and about to leave, when I spotted a long tank train barreling west toward my spot. The train was an ethanol train, which meant each tank car was exactly the same. 

Well, not quite. What's that white tank car doing in that consist?

I've often seen some strange consists at the Ottawa Via station. Usually, Via Rail corridor consists are made up solely of LRC coaches or stainless steel Budd streamliners, but Via sometimes mixes it up. Sometimes you see a rare P42-F40PH-2 lash-up, usually when a locomotive needs to be bailed out. Whenever you see an outlier in the consist, it's a treat.

Then there's the rare single carload that you might see on a freight train. This used to be much more common. That's what makes it so special these days when you catch a single car that stands out on a long train. Here's one of my favourite catches, which happened in Wyoming in 2017. I should mention that this train had five diesels leading the way, which is itself an outlier these days.

This one is from a freight heading west on the Kingston Sub. My wife caught this load of axles right behind the power. Makes me think that would be an easy thing to replicate on my home layout, once I get back to working on it.

Here's another oddity I found when I caught a CP mixed freight westbound on the Galt Sub at Industrial Road in London in 2016. A single load of untreated telephone poles. Who said carload freight was dead?

This one might be my favourite. When I chased trains as a kid in my hometown, there was always the potential for something special on the CSX Sarnia Sub, like this very rare B&O clad GP38-2. This one lasted well into the 1990s, surviving a Chessie and CSX repaint. I have a HO scale version of this type of unit on my layout (although my Ho scale version is a GP35).

I can't wait until I find my next outlier. When you rarely get to see trains, it's the oddities that are the rare prize. I wonder what's next.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Lament for the boxcar

I'm not one to endlessly talk about how things were better when I was young. After all, I grew up without cellphones, the Internet, digital cameras, millions of TV channels and many of the other modern conveniences that we now take for granted.

But I will say this. When it comes to railways, I miss boxcars. They used to be one of the more common types of rolling stock on any freight train. When I was younger, I recall seeing an endless assortment of boxcars pass through my hometown on the CSX freight trains. It wouldn't be uncommon to see CP Rail, CN, Central Vermont, Grand Trunk, Port Huron & Detroit, Chessie System, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line or Conrail boxcars on a train. Many of the cars were your standard boxcars (think of the once ubiquitous CN brown boxcars). But some would have ribbed exteriors and some would be impossibly huge, like this one below in the CN Sarnia Yard, used for auto parts. They almost always had interesting railways graphics and were very much the standard bearer for railways alongside the locomotives. Think of all the slogans Southern Railways used on its boxcars, as an example.

I think the best thing about boxcars is how they add such a graphic element to railfanning. They still fly the flags of railways, both past and present, in a way that is somewhat lost today with the proliferation of containers and homogenous leasing company rolling stock. Here's a great example of what we have lost from an aesthetic point of view.

This is an old St. Lawrence Railroad boxcar, in CP Rail's Windsor Yard in 1991. You can also see a Bangor & Aroostook boxcar in the background. Behind that boxcar is Detroit's Renaissance Center, home to General Motors' headquarters.

I'm not saying I don't enjoy watching today's long container trains. I think, when taken as a whole, they are quite interesting to shoot, given their symmetrical dimensions and their mix of colours. This shot from the London CN Yard is a good example of the interesting visuals containers sometimes offer.

But what I think we've lost as railfans is the ability to pick out individual cars in a freight train to shoot. There's always a cool boxcar worth grabbing in a photo, in my opinion. I have more boxcar photos than any other type of rolling stock. I don't have many individual wellcar photos, by comparison.

There isn't much to cheer about if you're a railfan in Ottawa, but I will at least say that at least we do have a fair amount of boxcars still plying the rails here. I have snapped a few interesting ones over the years. This one I spotted in Walkley Yard, which made me think of the trains I watched as kid in Corunna. I like that there's a little stencil next to the door that says "A CSX Quality Car."

Here's another cool shot of a string of boxcars early one morning at Walkley Yard. It's an image that could have been taking 20 or even 30 years ago. But, it's actually 2013.

I'm always thankful when I catch an old boxcar on a passing freight. It's like watching a bit of history pass by. This one looked like it was hand painted.

Have you noticed that most museums or tourist railways have lots of boxcars, like this one on the Waterloo Central?

Railways today are great at what they do. But they are not nearly as colourful as they once were. Even though I know why boxcars are on the wane, part of me wishes they weren't.