Friday, October 15, 2021

Ghost in the Yard, Part I

Those who have been with me on this blog from the beginning know that I often do a lot of rail photography in Sarnia, where I grew up. I was finally able to travel with my family this summer and even squeeze in a little time trackside at Sarnia's train station. 

I'm not a picky railfan. I see so little here in Ottawa, I will settle for watching a rail yard being switched. That was what was happening when I visited the yard on a cloudy morning in late July. To be honest, the cloudy conditions were ideal for me, as lighting from the station vantage point is tricky at the best of times, with the trains always being obscured by shadows. That morning, there were no such headaches, thankfully.

The first hint of activity was east of the station, as a consist of coil cars, a few hoppers and a long line of tank cars made its way toward the station. With the exception of the coil cars, this was a pretty typical consist for Sarnia, as much of the railway's local customers are in the Chemical Valley, which usually require tank cars and hoppers. These two types of cars are by far the dominant presence in this yard.

I tried to include some of Sarnia Station in the first photo. At this point, I caught a glimpse of a ghost in the consist, but I wasn't sure. In this photo, you can see an old GP9 long hood forward leading the way.

I had to wait a while for this train to make its way closer to the station. While I waited, I snapped a shot of this hopper car that is lettered NOKL, which you would think would belong to the Northwestern Oklahoma Railroad, but this is another case of a shortline leasing its reporting marks to a leasing company. 

I looked up its history, because I was interested in the plate on the upper right hand side of the car and found that this car once belonged to First Union Rail (FURX) and Iowa Interstate (IAIS). The plate in the upper right corner once sported the Equity logo, which you can still make out in the middle of the car. There's a tiny decal still there. Here's a closer shot of that old logo.

With an assist from Eric Gagnon at Trackside Treasure, I was also able to find out a few more things about this car, which Eric told me was once referred to as the "sash scheme" hoppers, which have a capacity of 4,750 cubit feet. They were made by Thrall. Eric also shared that there are a number of more common yellow hoppers with the Equity plate on them.  

Here was another NOKL lettered hopper with the XTRA lettering down the side. I know I have said this before, but taking photos of any type of rolling stock that is out of the ordinary may seem like a waste of time now, but it could one day prove interesting. I always makes sure to find a car or two to capture whenever trackside.

This car once had the reporting marks CFWR, which belong to the Caney Fork and Western Railway, a shortline owned by Ironhorse Resources in Tennessee. 

As the yard job finally approached the station, I was able to confirm my suspicions about the rare piece of motive power in the consist. And there is was. Ex-GT 5849 GP38-2 still in its original GT colours. I know this might not seem all that rare to some more regular rail watchers, but it's the first time I've seen this scheme in person since the early 1990s. So, rare for me. What's even cooler is that this unit was once Pittsburgh and Lake Erie 2156. So it has a lot of history.

Here's a shot of just the GT unit. A nearby railfan at the station told me that the unit has been making the rounds in Sarnia for a few months. In the shot below, you can see that one of the front number plates had to be replaced. Not a great match, but it gets the job done, I guess. I also find it interesting that there is no CN stencil below the side numbers. It's as if the GTW never ceased to be its own operating entity.


Here's an overall shot of the yard job. I had to strain the limits of my camera's capabilities to get a clear shot. It was a hazy morning and the rain was just about to fall. You can see three yard signal sets in the background as well as the Indian Road overpass over the rail yard.

Here's a more conventional shot of the yard job, with a bit more clarity.

You can even see a carbon black covered hopper behind the coil cars. That hopper is either coming from or going to Cabot in the Chemical Valley. I got a better shot of that type of car when another yard job approached from the west end of the yard from behind a string of other cars. Stay tuned for that in the second part of this series.

In a way, I was lucky enough to catch a meet between two yard jobs, although they were a few tracks apart. It was quite a challenge trying to capture an image with both trains in the frame. I will leave that for the following post.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Something Old, Something New in Smiths Falls

You better believe that when I took my family to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls in August, a trip to the Canadian Pacific rail yard was on the agenda as well. I told my wife that this would be a stopover before we hit the local Tim Hortons. She seemed fine with this and stayed in the car. My oldest daughter decided to come with me and walk along the old platform in front of the original Canadian Pacific (later Via Rail) passenger station. 

As is the case in Smiths Falls these days, timing is everything. This is not a terribly busy rail yard at times. It's such a different place compared to the CN rail yard in Sarnia, which is one of only a few other points of reference for me. However, there is one thing you can almost always count on seeing in the Falls. CP always has two units assigned to the yard and they are usually idling a few tracks out from the main line. And by this, I mean the middle of the yard.

I checked the old searchlight signals and it was clear there was nothing coming on the main line, which was no surprise, so I decided to see if there was any interesting rolling stock in the yard. I did find this tank car, still painted in the Omya scheme. Of course, these cars are quite common in these parts, as CP serves the Omya plant in Perth, delivering what it needs to make its calcium carbonate-derived products (think of toothpaste and many other consumer and building products).

This may not be all that exciting to some, but I was happy to find one of these cars that still had the Omya logo on it. I have a lot of shots of these cars from years past, but almost all of them now have no logo on them. I've mentioned it many times on this blog, but I'll mention it again. What seems mundane today might just be a gem a few years from now. 

I also love taking overall shots of this yard, which is one of the few I have seen that was designed on such a pronounced curve on the main line. It allows you to see lines of cars stretching quite far into the distance. Again, for someone who never sees trains these days, any shot is worth taking.

If you study shot carefully, you'll notice three different styles of tank car (grey, black and white), some more of the white tank cars bound for Perth and a long string of autoracks, including one painted for the Grand Trunk at the end. 

But all of this is secondary to the idling engines in the yard, which is about all there is to see in Smiths Falls for much of the day. Some mornings, you might get to see crews get a consist together for a run to Perth (I've caught this type of action two times. You can read about it here and here.). This time around, nothing was happening. The two units in the yard were idling and the air brakes were making some serious hissing noises. My daughter found it unsettling.

Here was the shot I took. Here are a few things I found odd about the lash-up. First, I don't know that I've seen units lashed up like this. They are usually connected on the long hood ends. The next thing I noticed was that there were two very different units together. Unit 2304 is obviously a rebuilt GP20ECO unit that are the go-to choice for yards and local runs on the CP, judging by my past experiences in this yard and at a few other CP spots I've visited. But engine 3037 is a GP38-2, obviously in need of some new paint, judging by the look of the red on the long hood.

Okay, so it's maybe not as surprising as a regular to this yard would expect, but it was the first time I've seen this type of old and new together in this yard. For someone who so rarely gets to the rail yard these days, anything out of the ordinary is worth mentioning.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Goodbye McKenna Casey, Part II

In my last post, I shared a few photos and a few thoughts about changes to the Smiths Falls Subdivision in the Barrhaven area of Ottawa. The Strandherd Drive level crossing is being replaced with an overpass and the resulting construction of that overpass has severed McKenna Casey Drive, a rural road that connects Strandherd with Moodie Drive. For my purposes, it also eliminates a crossing where I have captured countless Via Rail corridor trains, as well as the odd appearance of CN's 589 local, which once used to ply these rails shortly after 10 a.m. on Sundays on its way to Kott Lumber and SynAgri.

I recently visited the area, proper camera in hand, to see what there is for railfans now that the road has been turned into a cul-de-sac just east of the 416. It turns out, this area might even become a better railfan spot than before (Note: Blog readers have pointed out that there is a proposal to connect McKenna Casey to another road).

The road is almost deserted, as it only serves a few local residents who live there. That means you can drive up to the end of the cul-de-sac near the old crossing and wander a bit, trying to set up a nice shot along the line. You can also go back to where Highway 416 goes over the road, to get some nifty shots of the train passing beneath the highway spans.

First off, here's a view of the Strandherd overpass, taken from near the old McKenna Casey Crossing, which is blocked off to cars. This shot was taken in the summer. The overpass is now completed over the right-of-way.

As you can see, the overpass is starting to look like it might be ready in a few months. The rail line itself has not seen any interruptions, as is the case sometimes when infrastructure projects necessitate a shoo-fly track. In this case, nothing has changed, other than the blockade of McKenna Casey Drive.

Since I was in the area, I decided to wait for a morning westbound, which passes by McKenna Casey just after noon. I decided to shoot from beneath the highway overpasses, as they provided much-needed shade.This shot was my favourite.

That giant pile of gravel behind the F40 unit is the berm for the overpass on Strandherd. You can make out the other F40 on the other end of the train. It would have been pretty easy to get a shot through the barricades, but I figured if I stayed beneath the highway spans, I could also get a shot of the train passing beneath the highway, which is always a challenge. I've shot here before a few times, so I thought I would try my hand at it again.

F40 6405 leads the way as the train approaches the Moodie Drive crossing. The skies were rather hazy so there was little chance of getting any type of good colour in the middle of the day. Besides, the forest fires in northwestern Ontario this summer produced large plumes of smoke that affected the skies over Ottawa for parts of July and August.

Here's another shot. Some might argue that the concrete pillars block much of the train, but the point of shooting beneath these spans is to place the train in a specific place with some context. That was my thought process, anyway. Some might disagree with this approach.

Once the train was through the concrete maze, I took a few going away shots of the trailing F40 at the rear as the train disappeared behind some brush.

So, despite losing a pretty cool level crossing that was photogenic for train photos, I think local rainfans will agree that they have also gained a key advantage with McKenna Casey Drive being closed off. The road is no longer busy and it now provides a quiet, safe place to get shots of trains without having to worry about traffic. 

As railfans in Ottawa, you have to take the wins, no matter how small they are.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Goodbye McKenna Casey, Part I

As if we haven't suffered enough as railfans in Ottawa. Now we are faced with the loss of one of the best level crossings to shot at in the city. Let me rephrase that. We're losing one of the best crossings to shot at in the west end of the city. My blog has always been heavily tilted toward Ottawa's west end. My friends in the city's east end might think differently.

McKenna Casey Drive is a rural road that, until recently, connected Moodie Drive with Strandherd Drive. At one point, it was likely a very pastoral, sleepy rural route, but in recent years, it was clearly being used as a short cut into the sprawling suburban swath that we call Barrhaven.

No more. With the advent of a Strandherd overpass over Via Rail's Smiths Falls Subdivision, McKenna Casey's connection to Strandherd seems like it will be severed, judging by the signs and the blocked crossing halfway between Moodie and Strandherd. I discovered this when I was out for a bike ride a while back and wanted to cut across McKenna Casey to get to Moodie, so I could take a direct path back to my area. When I arrived at the crossing, it was barricaded, which meant I had to partake in a small portage through the ditches to continue my ride.

It made me sad to know this crossing will be eliminated, but I am hopeful that this vantage point will still be accessible for photography. As I began to kickstart this blog again, I thought about this crossing and it occurred to me I have a number of interesting pictures from here, not to mention memories. It was one of the first places I took my oldest daughter to watch trains, when she was very young.

I even caught CN's Sunday 589 running light, back when CN used to regularly retrieve cars on this line on the weekends. 

The shot below is one of many I took of Via Rail corridor trains heading west from Fallowfield Station when they begin to gear up for their run to Smiths Falls. The trains, at this time, really began to pick up speed. The speed limit posted on this stretch of track is 65 mph for LRC passenger equipment.

To get an idea of what's happening, here's a map that clearly shows a stretch of the road being erased from the map east of the crossing.

You will notice from the map that McKenna Casey also crosses beneath Highway 416. Given that this road will no longer be a through route, I'm hoping that it could provide railfans with a quiet spot to watch trains without having to worry about traffic. I have attempted to take shots beneath the highway a few times. This was my favourite shot from those attempts in 2016.

Here's a close runner-up from the same year. 

I suppose it depends on what happens to this area once the Strandherd overpass is finished. I will miss getting weird angle shots like this, below.

Possibly the new Strandherd overpass will allow to an aerial shot and the new dead-end McKenna Casey could mean a quieter spot to railfan along the Smiths Falls Sub, free of traffic concerns. I can only hope.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Old friend, new spot

Let's begin the reunion tour with a familiar face. When I walked away from blogging in the fall of 2020, I was pretty sure that I would never see this train again. I have never been so happy to be wrong. For the first time in two years, I caught up with CN's Arnprior Turn, or whatever you know it by, whether it be the Arnprior Local or simply 589.

I have to give local railfans credit for this catch. I've been keeping an eye on the Eastern Ontario Rails Facebook group over the last year. I have to tip my cap to the railfans who have dedicated themselves to catching CN 589, which makes its way out to Arnprior every Wednesday to deliver caprolactum to the Nylene Canada plant.

The biggest change with this train over the last year or so (possibly longer) is that the train now makes a run up to Kott Lumber on the Smiths Falls Sub before heading back to Federal Junction (13 km backward movement) to reconnect with the Beachburg Sub and Renfrew Spur. This means a longer timetable for this train. By watching the Facebook group and seeing that 589 usually carries lumber car empties out to Arnprior, I knew that Kott must be included on the Wednesday run now. Previously, 589 made a separate run on Tuesdays and Sundays to Kott and SynAgri, both on the Smiths Falls Sub. The newer run meant 589 was passing through Bells Corners and Kanata much later than it once did. 

That had me thinking that I could catch the train at Fallowfield Station, simply by being there at a certain time and watching the rail signals. I knew I had a chance if I left for my appointment early, which meant I would have to pass by the station anyway. Sure enough, I wasn't there more than two minutes before the signals governing eastbound traffic went from straight red to straight yellow, flashing green and solid red. Something was coming from the west.

Here is 589 pushing four tank cars east toward the station with the conductor on point on the last tank car to keep an eye out. In the above image, the train has just crossed Fallowfield Road. As I was standing there in the Via Rail parking lot, it occurred to me that this was only the third time I've caught CN 589 on the Smiths Falls Sub and the first time I've caught it at the station.

The four-car consist snuck up on the station and did not use its horn as it crossed Fallowfield Road. I made sure to back up in the parking lot, so I avoided having a wedge image like the initial shot above. People who have been to Fallowfield know that this is not easy. You need to position yourself at a spot at the end of a parking lot on either side of the station. I chose the west parking lot since someone decided to obstruct my initial spot at the end of the east parking lot. I was happy with my initial shots, but was disappointed to see no lumber cars in the consist.

As I backed up, I realized this was the first time I was shooting a train this way, as it backed up. So the traditional going away shot and the initial shots were reversed. I tried to catch some of the corn field in my shots. You can see a piece of it to the right.

This shot above is my favourite of this meet. I had a few other shots with the train closer, but the Via banner to the left of 9411 was obscuring the engine. It's a challenge you face when you shoot near a passenger station. Luckily for me, the west parking lot was almost completely empty, which meant my shots here were not obscured by many cars or trucks. 

The above shot has a little more of the cornfield in it. The shadows were a little funny in the morning, especially given the angle of the sun and the angle of tracks. I played around a bit with this photo to eliminate the shadows a bit and brighten it up. 

Here's a final image, shot straight on, with much of Fallowfield Station in the frame. All in all, it was a successful meet. I learned a few things during this meet. The most important was to keep a close eye on the track from the platform, since the approaching train had no lights shining or horn blaring that would normally give you a warning. Instead, it was only by using my zoom that I noticed a large black circle, in this case a tank car, slowly coming into view. Also, my attempts to study railway signals and understand them have really come in handy.

This post was a happy surprise, as I had planned another topic for my first foray since returning. But after seeing the images, I figured that maybe it was better to start with a bang and give the people what they want. I've had mixed feelings about 589 in the past, to be honest. It's always nice to catch a freight train in Ottawa, but I don't want this little runt of a train to be the only thing I blog about, so I had to think about whether to start the blog's reunion tour with this meet.

In the end, I figured it was worth it, as I haven't had a meet with 589 in two years. I hope to maybe get out there in the coming weeks and catch it again. I suppose playing your greatest hits, as it were, isn't always a bad thing.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Reunion Tour

Hello again, friends of the iron horse. Last October, I shut down the Beachburg Sub blog, thinking that I just didn't have any gas left in the tank (coal in the tender, perhaps?) due to my sheer exhaustion with the pandemic and my busy life in general. I pretty much said I was done, but you might recall I did leave the door open a crack.

Today, as I returned from the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls, I realized I have amassed enough content, thoughts and photos for a pretty good run on this blog.

I am happy to be back again sharing some thoughts with you and a few photos I have amassed in the last year or so. I will start off with a declaration, however. I can't commit to anything permanent at the moment. I will begin posting at regular intervals (every two weeks) for the time being and see how far I can go. 

The reason I am being careful about this reunion tour of sorts is that I honestly don't have much time to be trackside and I don't want to post on this blog if my thoughts and photos aren't up to my own standards. Plus, I know most people who read this blog know a hell of a lot about railways, so I don't want to insult anyone with half-baked posts and substandard photos. 

Life in the pandemic, especially with young children, has made any type of trackside photography extremely tricky for me. Working from home has proven to be a blessing and a curse! So, what little I have I will share, but that's all I can guarantee right now.

So, what direction is this blog going to take? It will still be about Ottawa and beyond, but I think I will be leaning much closer to the beyond for a while. To be honest, I was tired of blogging about all the nothing that is happening in Ottawa. So, what's to come in the months ahead? I have some adventures to share from my sporadic time trackside in Bedell (Kemptville), Ottawa, Smiths Falls, Toronto and Sarnia. I have also been giving some greater thought to the expanding light rail system in Ottawa, although I don't know that I will pay it any great attention in this blog, as I find the topic rather tedious these days. Same goes for the never-ending exit of Canadian National from Ottawa. When will this railway finally pull out for good? It's anyone's guess. Will a short line railway take over here? Many feel this prospect is remote. I am somewhere in the middle between cautious optimism and outright skepticism.

What's so special about this old warhorse of a passenger car? Stay tuned.

As always, I hope you enjoy what's to come. I have some material that I am very proud to share and explore in depth. If you are a regular, make sure to tell a friend and share the word that this blog has returned (for now, at least).

If you want to reach me, you can email me at hammond.michael77 AT gmail. You can always share your pictures if you want to see them in this blog.

Thanks. Highball!