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.