Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The summer of my not-so-amazing luck

I guess you could qualify 2020 as a year of not-so-amazing luck, but this summer is a little more succinct for our purposes. Case in point. I was travelling with my family to visit our in-laws in Stratford. Usually, from a railfan's perspective, there's something to see along the 401, whether it be through Kingston or Toronto. This time around, the Kingston Subdivision was quiet. When we reached Toronto, there were two CN freight trains heading in opposite directions east of the city. One of them I missed while I was cleaning the lens of my camera. You look down for a few seconds and the opportunity is lost. I couldn't believe it. A few minutes later, we began to catch up with a westbound freight train, but we reached the head end right around a spot in the highway where the vantage point was just a bit too cluttered to capture anything useful. Seeing as I was in the passenger seat and trying to fire a shot across the driver, I decided not to push my luck. I'm sure my wife appreciated my restraint.

This is all I was able to capture along the 401 through the GTA.

We'll file that under better than nothing, I guess.

I was excited to go to Stratford, since the Goderich Exeter Railway originates at the Stratford station. The old GEXR Guelph Subdivision belongs to CN once again, which at least presented the possibility of a through freight, which some folks who railfan the area suggest is not all that uncommon. I've seen estimates that there are between 2-4 through freights on this line, which is generally agreed to be a relief route for the Dundas Subdivision in Southern Ontario.

The morning I camped out next to the station, all was quiet. It was a Saturday and it was clear that the GEXR wasn't about to run out to Goderich, as the local engine was parked. But it was a unit from the old Southern Ontario Railway near Hamilton, so it was at least something different. You might recall that I caught the GEXR local with both a GEXR and SOR unit in 2019. In fact, in reviewing last year's post, I was able to confirm that the old SOR unit is the same one.

After a little while, it was obvious that nothing was going to happen that Saturday morning before the Toronto-bound Via corridor train arrived. Case in point. Goderich Sub was clearly not ready for anything (at least not when you see these clamped onto the rail).

The signals all around the yard showed straight red. The searchlight signal off in the distance was dark, so I figured I should take a shot of some of the features in the yard, which was largely empty save for a few flatcars.

The morning sun was making most images pretty tough to get, so I decide to get creative and try to make use of any available shade. This image was taken from a publicly accessible piece of land along Niles Street. I like the pastoral feel the morning light gives this scene. You can also see the distant grain elevator and the prairie styled Stratford station. Can you also make out the CN Stratford West sign?

I'm not sure this one turned out better, but I did try and capture the golden morning sunlight from beneath a dew-drenched maple tree. I do like how the sun is hitting the rails, although the morning sky is clearly being washed out by the early morning sun.

So that was the sum total of my efforts from the Saturday morning. I did manage to catch something fairly interesting later that day and the following morning. That will wait for another post. Since I've done so little railfanning, I'll have to space things out a bit.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

It's not the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

The summer of my not-so-amazing luck continues, but before I get into some new content (finally have some new meets and pics to share!), I wanted to touch on something that seems to be top of mind here in Eastern Ontario and Ottawa these days.

No, it's not the perpetually awful O-Train.

It's the fate of freight railways in the capital. In case you've been living under a rock, you know that CN has filed to discontinue service on the former Ottawa Central in this region. It doesn't come as a surprise to me, since this is hardly a strategic or important operation for this railway.

But I do want to remind you of a few things. You might recall (or you might not) that the former head of the Ottawa Central told this blog that he thought there was a good opportunity for a short line to resume operations in the city. This is not a railfan offering his opinion. This is the guy who successfully operated OCR in this region for years, before a recession forced the hand of OCR's parent company.

Here's another item to consider. Closer to my hometown, there is a significant portion of the old CSX Sarnia Subdivision, which has been dormant for several years. The railways wanted to pull up the line, but the Municipality of Chatham-Kent bought the rails in its territory to try and salvage an important freight link for its businesses and farmers. The prospects of a new operation were dim for years. At one point, Ontario Southland considered the operation, but backed away.

Well, lo and behold, a company has indeed purchased the line with the intention of operating a short line, mainly for rural customers along the line. I mention this because I see the CN operation here in Ottawa as very much the same type of short line. It has a limited customer base, but the beautiful part is, there seems to be very little overhead, compared to what OCR had to shoulder when it operated here. And who knows what a company focused on carload business can do when it has feet on the ground in the city who are solely focused on small customers?

So, I will say once again that this is not the end of freight railways in Ottawa. Not yet, anyway.