Thursday, July 25, 2019

Some interesting rolling stock in Smiths Falls

As I wrote about last week, a recent trip to the Canadian Pacific yard in Smiths Falls yielded some interesting finds, even if I was unable to catch a mainline freight making its way through town. I did however, catch the Perth Turn, just as it was about to take off for the Omya plant at Glen Tay. When the train, headed by an ECO unit, took off, it happily uncovered an interesting assortment of rolling stock in the yard, some of which I had never seen before. Given how little activity there is in this yard these days, you have to take what you can get, so I decided to focus on the rolling stock in plain view before calling it a day.

Here's the first car that caught my eye. It was patched for a leasing company but it was the centre logo, long since covered over, which had me intrigued. The AEX mark belongs to a leasing company listed as the Andersons. I have not been able to find any other photos of this car but I did find another car in this number series. Apparently, they were once ENDX (GATX) and NACX (GE Leasing) cars. Given its colour, which was once likely red, I'm hoping someone out there might find something recognizable about this car. I couldn't find much.

Here's another I have never seen before. This is the French side of the car, obviously, which prominently announces that the car handles chemical products. A close examination of this car shows that there was once an Alcan logo on the right side of the car. You can still make some of it out if you look really closely. The car is now patched RS, which means it belongs to the Roberval and Saguenay Railway, which would make sense, since that line is a resources (ore) carrier owned by Rio Tinto Alcan. This was one of my better finds in recent years.

You may have noticed this car bringing up the rear of the Perth Turn in last week's post but I thought I'd share another shot of it in profile. I wonder if it might be a buffer car for this train's return trip. Although I can't imagine a train with calcium carbonate would require a buffer. Either way, it's an outlier on this consist. It's patched for CAAX, which is listed as a subsidiary of ConAgra.

This is just a shot of a Norfolk Southern boxcar mostly hidden behind a line of tank cars. I was trying to find anything at this point, as there was not much else to capture.

One final shot. I had to strain my camera's zoom to get this shot. A few fellow railfans thought this might be the end of a train whose crew had its time run out, but it stayed there throughout the morning that I was trackside. A subsequent visit to this yard the following week showed that this consist was still in the yard for whatever reason. I guess car dwell time wasn't a big deal in the case of these cars.

As I mentioned, I was at this yard a week after this visit, as I brought my daughters to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario nearby. While trackside at the yard for a brief moment, I managed to once gain catch the Perth Turn and few other items of interest. I also have a few thoughts and tidbits to share about the railway museum. Stay tuned for more dispatches from Smiths Falls. I didn't intend for this summer to be a Smiths Falls extravaganza, but I'm hoping it's a breath of fresh air for those who might be tiring of endless Ottawa photos and non-news items (read: O-Train). I know I'm enjoying putting these posts together.

Speaking of news, the RTG Group has told the city that the first phase of the Confederation Line is ready to hand over. More than a year past their deadline, they are done, apparently. We'll see...

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Perth Turn

As I mentioned last week, I recently had enough time that I was able to drop by the rail yard in Smiths Falls. Although the trip was a bust in that I was not able to see any mainline freights passing through, I did get to see a fascinating Via Rail meet in front of the old Smiths Falls station. But the highlight for me was seeing the Perth Turn take off from the yard.

For those who might remember, I managed to catch a few shots of this train a few years ago, with two units. This time, the line of cars was being pulled by a single ECO unit, 2304.

CP serves the OMYA plant just west of Perth, where calcium carbonate is produced. Calcium carbonate is used for a variety of consumer products including toothpaste, antacids, calcium supplements, vitamins, building materials, cement, limestone aggregate and more.

This train usually features a number of tank cars that you don’t often get to see on the rails. I have seen these cars sparingly elsewhere, but mostly in this yard.

Given my position between the old Via Rail station and the CP office building, there was only a series of going away shots to be had, which is okay. I have really forced myself to break free of the mold of the wedge shot whenever possible.

When the train pulled away, I noticed a number of the old OMYA logos on the cars had been painted over, since the cars are now repatched for SHPX (ACF Industries or American Car and Foundry). It’s too bad that the logo is gone, because it is extremely rare to see a company logo on cars these days. Companies have been moving away from owning or controlling fleets of cars. There are still a few branded cars out there, like the Potash hoppers, for example, but not a whole lot more.  I think back to some of the Sclair and DuPont hoppers I used to see in and around Sarnia when I was younger and how, even then, there weren’t all that many of these types of cars to see.

The run west to Perth is a fairly short one, as the train follows CP’s Belleville Subdivision through Perth itself before ending its run at Glen Tay, where the plant is situated next to Highway 7.

Sadly, this was the only freight train I saw this day as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday in Quebec might have shut down some of CP’s operations there, thus lightening the traffic to and from Montreal, where CP’s operations end.

Still, a small local is better than nothing and I should add that this local is at least 10 times as long as the Arnprior Turn.

Also, there was an unexpected bonus to this train leaving when it did. It revealed another string of cars, some of which were intriguing enough for me to take some photos. I'll share those next week.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sure, it looks cool, but...

On my lunch break a month ago, I made my way to the western portal for the new O-Train downtown tunnel. I did it for no particular reason other than to get some photos of the new Alstom Citadis Spirit trainsets making their way into and out of the tunnel. Given I went on a brilliantly sunny day, it was easy to get a few shots from the overpass over the tracks that also houses the upper level of the Pimisi O-Train station.

Eastbound O-Train makes its way to the downtown transit tunnel, as seen from Pimisi Station

I don't want to get into the messy history of this new line. The consortium building this new railway missed its completion deadline in the spring when the system was to be turned over the city so it could commence transit operations. That last delay meant it's been more than a year since this line was supposed to open to commuters. There are many, many different angles of this debacle that I could get into, but I'm growing really tired of blogging about it.

Now we're told that the city will officially take ownership of the line in mid-August and trains will roll in September. That's the last pledge, anyway.

Westbound O-Train makes its way toward Pimisi Station during a test run

Ottawa LRT is a notoriously tight-lipped consortium that has repeatedly failed to explain to the public why it is taking so long to finish this project. The city, for its part, has also been notoriously vague regarding a number of aspects of this project, often giving maddeningly bureaucratic answers to the simplest of questions. The company that built these trains, Alstom, is trying to ease fears that these European trainsets will be able to handle the Canadian climate, even though they have never before been in use in North America and have so far proved to be unreliable at times.

I could go on and on, but I won't.

As a communications guy, I will reserve my criticism for the mayor and councillors who have been trying their hardest to drum up any sort of excitement for this new line. The problem I have with their barrage of social media outreach about this rail line is that it is completely tone deaf. Every time I see a councillor's tweet with video of the new O-Train being tested, I roll my eyes. The tweets are usually accompanied by some sort of overly positive, hopeful comment about how we should all be very excited about commuting on these trains.

If I was in communications with the city, I would advise those around the council table to adjust their tone to acknowledge the fact that these delays are extending the grief for many people in the city. It hasn't made a huge difference to my commute, but for some, it's been a constant hassle. For the residents who live on roads where hundreds of buses have been rerouted each day, it's been a nightmare.

The constant barrage of positivity coming from the city is understandable, but misguided. When you have a project this far behind which is causing this many headaches, you can't fault the citizens of Ottawa for rolling their eyes and not getting on board with vapid cheerleading efforts. Instead of telling us all to don't worry, be happy, maybe a change is in order as we (possibly) approach the finish line.

Maybe change the message to say we're sorry for these problems, but it will be worth it. I would appreciate that approach much more than what I'm seeing right now.

Program note: I mentioned last week that I would share photos and commentary about the Perth Turn, which originates in CP's Smiths Falls yard. I will share that post next week, but wanted to bump up this post, given that it now appears the LRT project may actually, finally be close to being ready.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Meet me at the station

I had an interesting experience in Smiths Falls recently, which saved what was otherwise a disappointing day trackside. I found myself with some free time recently and decided I would either head to Prescott or Smiths Falls to catch some trains. Prescott promised many more trains on the busy CN Kingston Subdivision, but there were no really solid spots to set up and get the shots I wanted. And Prescott was farther away. Smiths Falls was indeed closer but promised far fewer trains on the somewhat light Winchester Subdivision. I made my decision that I would try my luck in Smiths Falls since there were great sightlines on either end of the CP yard, not to mention a safe, shaded railfanning bench to sit on and read while waiting.

What I hadn’t thought of was that the yard and the mainline would be quieter than usual, due to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday in Quebec, which shut down just about everything in the province and likely whatever was happening at the end of the CP line. That meant I saw no mainline freights coming through the yard, which was really disappointing.

However, I did manage to see the Perth turn head out of the yard with ECO unit 4301 pulling a sizeable string of tank cars and covered hoppers for the OMYA plant in Glen Tay. I have caught this train before, so it was a decent consolation prize to see it again. I will share photos of this train next week.

There were two interesting factors that made the day unlike other trackside experiences I have had in the past. One was there were other railfans at the old station, waiting to see something like me. They had a scanner, which was a bonus for me, since I usually don’t use one. I generally really on watching signals. I don’t usually encounter other railfans when I am out there trackside. In fact, I think this might be the third time I have ever run across fellow photographers since 2009, when I rediscovered my trackside pastime.

After a while, it was obvious that all we were going to see were Via Rail corridor trains, which was not worth the drive for me. But then something interesting happened. A westbound Via stopped on the outside track in front of the old station, as it waited for an eastbound train to clear the switch from the Via Brockville Subdivision, just past the station.

This was the first real meet I have caught in several years (not counting shots of multiple trains at Via’s Central Station). Two for the price of one is always fun. The other railfans sitting near me didn’t even bother to get up and take shots of two earlier Via consists that came by, each pulled by a F40 with typical LRC coaches. I don’t blame them. I took a few shots, but neither had anything worth sharing. The angles, track curvature and trackside buildings offered some new elements, but I didn’t have anything I was thrilled with.

But then at the back of the stopped train, I spotted something that I had never seen. This consist had some stainless steel streamliners, which is always a bonus. But one of the stainless steel cars was adorned with Via’s unfortunate renaissance colour scheme. I was the first to catch this and point it out, which had the other railfans up and taking photos.

The eastbound train came soon enough, which allowed me to get a few cool shots of the meet between two wrapped P42s. It’s not what I was hoping to come away from my free morning trackside, but it was something new, which is always a good thing.

And that stainless steel car with the new colour scheme? Not impressed at all. I am glad Via got rid of the faded Canada flag decals. I was disappointed that they have retained the bureaucratic Government of Canada wordmark. But that gaudy colour scheme on a stainless steel car?

Why, Via, why?