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.