Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Last blast of winter (Part II)

This past March Break, I was lucky enough to be able to visit my family in Southwestern Ontario for a few days, which also meant some time spent trackside doing a little bit of railfanning. In my first post about this trip, I shared some photos of an eastbound CN mixed freight that was waiting in the siding for another train to pass. The weather conditions were less than ideal, as a snow squall off Lake Huron was pelting parts of Lambton County at the time I was finishing up my drive from Ottawa. But it did allow me to get a few winter railroading pictures, which is always a good thing, since I have not been active trackside this winter in Ottawa. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I caught a freight train waiting on a siding outside of Watford (at Kingscourt Road) for another train, or so I thought. When I made my way down the Confederation Line, I made sure to make a quick detour down Wyoming's main street, called Broadway Avenue, to see if I was right.

Sure enough, I could see lights coming from Sarnia, which meant there was another eastbound train that was scheduled to overtake the eastbound on the siding near Watford. I quickly made my way to Wyoming's Via Rail station, where I could get some shots of this fast moving train as it hustled east to Toronto. I tried to fit the Wanstead Farmers Co-op grain elevator in the shot, but I didn't get the entire communications tower, as I figured it would not add much to the image.

This shot was actually taken from behind the Via Rail station platform, as that platform was a little too close to the tracks and didn't offer a terribly flattering angle for the train. I decided to pull back. I did get the Via Rail marker in the shot, which was a bonus. In this vantage point, the eastbound is just about to cross Wyoming's main street, Broadway, at speed. The speed restrictions through this town are pretty liberal, as the trains whiz through the downtown at what appears to my eye to be somewhere near 80 km/h. It's a well maintained track with heavy continuous welded rail on a very flat, straight right of way. Perfect for fast freight, in other words.

Given the light dusting of snow and the steady gusts of winds, the train was kicking up quite a cloud, which you can see in the first image. This consist was a straight line of empty autoracks heading back toward Toronto.

This might be my best conventional shot of my first day in Southwestern Ontario. In this shot, a pair of CN SD70M-2s 8896 and 8845 are approaching the Wyoming Via Rail station platform with a full string of empty autoracks in tow. This was the train that necessitated the mixed freight in Watford to take the siding near Watford.

Given the snow cloud that this train was kicking up, the going away shot was a complete wash, but here it is anyway. At least you can see the Via Rail signage.

Given the difficulties the snow presented, I decided to see if I could come up with some compelling images that illustrate the speed of this train. This shot below was my favourite. I took it from a ground level point of view.

After that shot, I decided to see if I could catch a few fallen flag emblems or interesting autoracks. As I have mentioned many times on this blog, railfanning can't just be about catching the engines or the front end of the train. There has to be more to it than that. That's my outlook, anyway.

We'll start with Grand Trunk. It's a personal favourite of mine, given it was the railway across the river from Sarnia for many years prior to CN swallowing its identity whole.

 How about the just purchased KCS?

Or some Mexican railways?

This was another car of interest. I haven't seen many of these in person. Note the shared truck in between what looks like two cars, but is one unit. No railway logos on it either. It does carry the COER reporting mark, which belongs to the Illinois-based Crab Orchard and Egyptian Railroad, although this might be a case of a smaller carrier lending out its reporting marks. The railway itself connects to both UP and BNSF and is owned by Progressive Rail.

So those were the noteworthy items on this seemingly mundane empty autorack train. I was quite happy to have captured the COER cars, as it led me down a path of discovering this tiny railway in Illinois, which just so happens to have its reporting marks on a newer autorack in Ontario.

After that happy meeting with two trains in less than 10 minutes, I completed my journey and spent the day with my sister and her family. Later that day, as I was making my way to my brother's house to close out my day, I happened across more trains. All in all, it was a great day to capture the last few breaths of winter in Ontario.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Last blast of winter (Part I)

Over the March Break, I made my way to Southwestern Ontario to visit my family. I haven't seen any of them much since the beginning of the pandemic, so I made a solo trip down south to see them. I was looking forward to a few days without snow, since Ottawa was still pretty much covered when I left. Little did I know that a wide swath of lake effect snow squalls would hit right when I was driving southwest along Highway 401.

By the time I reached Watford, along Highway 402, I had had enough. I turned off the highway and made my way to the Confederation Line, a road that parallels the CN Strathroy Subdivision for much of its length through rural Lambton County. I was not all that far removed from Watford when I came across a mixed freight on a siding near Kingscourt Road, a narrow gravel concession. Since I was making good time on my drive and I had no family in tow, it was time for some quick railfanning.

Here is my first shot.

CN ET44AC 3024 is joined by a surprising partner. BNSF ES44C4 8200. It's always fun to catch something rare, especially a BNSF unit. I don't know if this unit's appearance was a result of run-through power from Chicago or a short-term lease. Both possibilities are likely as this train was headed eastbound toward Toronto, which means its departure was probably from Chicago. Just a guess.

The first time I saw BNSF units in person was way back in 2014. Here's the post from the last time I caught up with some of these orange units.

By the time I got to this crossing, it was clear to me that this train was waiting for the passing of a westbound train, or so I figured. As the snow was flying fiercely in the wind, getting some clear shots of this train was not as easy as you'd assume. Sure, it was stationary, but the combination of wind, trackside overgrowth and a dark, overcast sky meant I had to try getting some different angles. 

Here's more of an overall shot of the train. You can see from this shot that this is a true mixed freight. The first few cars in the consist say it all. TTX Boxcar, gondola, steel coil car, lumber car, covered hopper and boxcar. It reminded me of my younger days when I would often see CSX freights rumbling through my hometown with cars very rarely separated into blocks.

I did manage to cross the tracks, as there was no movement. Here's a shot from another angle. This gives you a better idea of the consist. I had to do a fair bit of colour correction to compensate for the gloomy day and poor visibility.


When I got the best shots I figured I could get, I decided to retreat to the warmth of my rental car and make my way to the next major crossing in Wyoming, to see if my theory about the approaching westbound train was true

But not before I tried some shots that were a little different. This one worked out well, as the crossing sign on Kingscourt Road added some much needed colour on an otherwise cold, grey blustery day.


When I was first approaching the train, I noticed two large trees at the side of the road near to where I was taking some long shots. Before I left, I tried using the old trees as a frame for the train, just to give some context to the scene.

I like the shot, even if it wasn't as sharp as I would have liked. The blur in the photos is pretty much the blowing snow, as I arrived at the scene right at the edge of a snow squall. 

The Strathroy Subdivision, like the Winchester Subdivision in Eastern Ontario, was once double tracked from Sarnia all the way to London, but with the installation of modern signalling, the line was reduced to single track a number of years ago, with a number of passing sidings kept in place to help maintain an efficient two-way route between Toronto and Chicago. This is what CP has done on the Winchester Sub in recent years.

Just east of CN's yard in Sarnia, there are several passing sidings in the rural parts of Lambton County, which are often used to keep this busy route flowing in both directions. I was quite fortunate to turn off the 402 when I did because I was able to catch this freight train with foreign power and also check out the situation in Wyoming, just west of this spot.

It was in Wyoming at its tiny Via Rail station when I caught the train that this consist on Kingscourt was awaiting. I'll save that until the next post, as it features some elements that are worthy of their own discussion.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Hide and Seek, Part II

Ah, to go back in time and right past wrongs. I often think of my time in Kitchener and kick myself for not using that time to capture the then-Goderich Exeter Railway Guelph Subdivision action. I lived in KW from 2007-2009. The only train photograph I came away with was a shot of the trestle over Kolb Park on the city's eastern boundary. You can check that photo out in this post. Since living in the city, I have had very few opportunities to return. I did go back in 2018 and managed to catch a few really cool things, which are even more meaningful now that GEXR is but a memory on the Guelph Sub. You can check that post out here.

This is all a very long-winded way of introducing the second part of my Hide and Seek posts. Hide and seek is really just a fancy way of putting a name to my maddening pursuit of railway pictures from the passenger seat of my car when my family is driving on Highway 401. This summer, my family made two trips to Southwestern Ontario and saw a few things on the way. The second trip was much more fruitful, but I want to focus on one area where I never expected to see anything, but I did.

When you are travelling westbound on the 401 through Kitchener, you don't have to wait long once you exit the 401 and drive onto Highway 8 before you might see some trains. You have to look to the right of your car as you head into Kitchener (west). If you strain your eyes and you are lucky, you will see the Canadian Pacific switching, mainly autoracks.

You will notice that this is not much of a photo. I had to blow it up, sharpen the blurred lines and crop out the extraneous highway dividers. But it feels so good to earn a bonus shot, especially for me, since I so rarely see freight trains and CP freight trains especially. You can even see a hint of some golden farm fields in the background.

I almost came away with a brilliant shot, but then this happened. The shot is pretty sharp and there would have been nothing blocking my view of these distant engines, but then the dump truck ruined my shot. Taking shots from a moving car is the definition of crap shoot. You never know what you are going to end up getting or just narrowly missing. Hence, hide and seek. Sometimes, you get something and sometimes, it all disappears in a flash.

But I was happy to get anything, to be honest. When I lived in Kitchener, CP was a busy railway in and around Cambridge, which is on Kitchener's southern border. CP switches for Toyota in Cambridge, along with a number of smaller light industries in the area. But, the automotive production plants are its big business here. The railway built Wolverton Yard specifically for its flourishing autorack business at a time when it was not really in the habit of such capital expenditures. The yard handles Kia and Hyundai distribution, as well. I do remember when I was covering stories for the Record newspaper in Cambridge, I would sometimes happen across CP's switching moves and my eyes would linger for a moment. There are some great spots in Cambridge to watch local switching. Alas, I never took any photographs.

I knew I had to be aware when we pulled into Kitchener on Highway 8 this time around, since I first noticed the CP switching moves last year when we travelled the same stretch of road. This year, I was ready and I was lucky enough to see a train once again. Great train karma for once!

The shot above is not bad, all things considered. You can see that the head unit, GP38-2 3118, is in need of new paint. You can barely see the Canadian script or what's left of the golden rodent. I wasn't able to get a clear shot of the second unit, which looked like it had newer paint. Considering how few CN geeps I have seen (excluding the GP20ECO rebuilds), I was happy to see this old warhorse.

This shot below is the one image that was clear enough to allow me to identify the one unit. As you can see, much of the train is obscured, but that's how this game is played.

It's not much, but when you see as little as I do, every small victory counts.