Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Cabooses of Ottawa (2003-2022)

Since I began blogging in 2013, I have had a few moments where I was able to take in CN operations at Walkley Yard in the city. This is a tricky task, as the yard is largely inaccessible. At the end of Albion Road, there is a gravel access road where a few businesses retain civic addresses, which makes the road a grey area. I do not go down the gravel access road, as it seems to me to be trespassing. However, I have had occasions in the past to see that CN has made use of several cabooses, which provide for a little bit of interest in an otherwise dull railfanning city. 

The cabooses CN has made use of have varied in quality and origin. Given that CN largely stopped using cabooses by 1990-91, it makes the stories of the cabooses in use in Ottawa over the years that much more interesting. Mostly, the cabooses have been used for backwards movements or shoving movements, where the train's conductor needs a safe platform to observe what's ahead on the tracks as visibility from the engine is restricted at the rear.

CN 9106 (ex OCR 9106, ex Devco 9106)

In 2013, it was hard not to see this caboose from the end of Albion Road. It was parked in plain view, not far from the old maintenance building in the yard. It did not appear to be in active service.

By the time I started taking photos near Walkley, like this shot in 2015, the old caboose was a mess of graffiti and broken windows. You can just make out the marking of CN 9106 below the Devco Railway script above. But, upon closer inspection, the 9106 number was once followed by OCR, which is blacked out in this image. That means this caboose predated CN's operations and was used prior to 2008 by the former Ottawa Central Railway. I found this image online from 2003, which gives you an idea of how long it was used in the area.The Devco part had been painted over long ago, but the car retained its green and yellow Devco colours, if you don't count the abundance of graffiti.

This caboose is an AAR M930 class wide vision cupola caboose, which was a common van used by many Class I and regional railroads right up until the industry discontinued the use of these cars. This common caboose was built by International Car Co. from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s. They were in service until the end of the caboose era. CN also made a number of these cabooses at its shops in Montreal.

This caboose saw service on OCR and CN until it was taken out of service at some point in the early 2010s, at which point it sat in Walkley Yard and was left to the vandals. It's a shame that it was not preserved, as it probably saw a lot of service on the Devco Railway, the Cape Breton coal carrier that served the island's remaining coal mines and Sydney's interantional shipping piers between the late 19060s before that railway ended operations officially in 2001.

CN 79834 (ex Ottawa-L'Orignal 2000, ex OCR)

This caboose was in active service as late as 2013 in the city. It was a curiosity by any stretch, mostly because of its odd paint job and the even more curious inscription "Millennium" that was once stencilled onto the left side of the van. It disappeared from Walkley Yard years ago, but was used for shoving moves on the Vankleek Spur as recently as 2020, as per this webpage. The car was built at the CN Point-St-Charles shops under the same number it bore through its later years of service with CN.

The car was sold to the Ottawa-L'Orignal Railway in 1996. The railway, which operated between Glen Robertson on the Alexandria Sub and Hawkesbury, was then bought out by the Ottawa Central, which continued to use the van until 2008 when CN bought OCR and a host of other assets, which meant this old caboose was back with its original owner.

Here's a 2013 shot of an Ottawa crew assembling a train on a Sunday morning, with the old Millennium caboose behind the engine.

These days, the old warhorse is back where it started, used for shoving moves in the Montreal area. It's interesting to speculate what happened to this van. When was it repainted from its original CN colours to blue? How did that paint scheme disintegrate? To be honest, it looks like the paint on this car was applied with roller brushes. I would love to know the story behind its unique appearance.

The only mystery I managed to solve was that the caboose was numbered OLOR 2000 when it was owned by the Ottawa-L'Orignal Railway, which would explain why it was called the Millennium caboose. Maybe someone on the railway had a sense of humour? 

DAWX 79872 (Ex CN 472000 boxcar)

This caboose, which was a former CN caboose, was in storage in Walkley Yard for years. The company that owns it is D.A. Walmsley and Company. It was attached to an RDC9 unit, also owned by DAWX. Sadly, both of these cars were subjected to arson, the RDC unit just recently. There isn't a lot of information about DAWX online, although a picture from locomotive and railway car rebuilding company IRSI in Moncton, New Brunswick provides a clue. This photo shows an old CP RDC, owned by DAWX, being rebuilt at the facility. The company clearly has railway holdings. I have not been back to Walkley Yard in a number of years, so I'm not sure what is to become of its torched RDC unit here or what happened to its previously torched ex-CN caboose. The only information I could find about this caboose is from the Bytown Railway Society, which lists some of its history in this document. From this document, I learned this old caboose was actually a converted boxcar. That's about all I could find. How these cars came to be stored in Walkley Yard is a mystery. I can imagine there would be better places to store cars where the security was better.

GTW 79047

The most recent caboose to ply the rails here is this relatively fit looking Grand Trunk caboose, which has been used on the Arnprior Turn of late. You don't have to look too hard online to find photos of this van in various CN yards across its system in Michigan (ex-GTW territory), Ontario and Winnipeg. It has seen a lot of yard duty, judging by the photos I have seen in various rail photo forums.

Since crews here have to do a fair bit of backward moves on the Smiths Falls Sub to Federal, not to mention on the Vankleek and former OLOR, it's not surprising that CN would want to have one of these old warhorses around to make things easier for the local crew. It certainly has provided a fair bit of excitement among railfans in the area who are making the weekly run to Arnprior a regular spectator sport of late.

Many of us bemoan the lack of variety on today's modern railways. CN's continued use of cabooses in this region certainly gives local railfans one tiny thing to brag about that those along the mainlines cannot claim.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Let's begin at the end

I'm old enough to remember when freight trains had cabooses at the end. I remember, in fact, the union campaign, Trains are safer with a caboose. Of course, the march of progress was unstoppable and the caboose went the way of the dodo on many railways in the 1980s. CSX maintained them on the Sarnia Subdivision until the early 1990s, which was cool for me when I watched trains when younger.

So imagine my surprise on June 8 when I heard the Arnprior Turn (CN 589) making its way through my neighbourhood and I decided to follow it, only to see this at the end. It was a GTW 79047 caboose still in its original scheme. Of course, there was no crew in the cupola, or even in the caboose. The car is clearly being used for shoving moves, giving the conductor a safe platform to watch the tracks ahead.

Of course, this isn't the first time CN has made use of an old caboose in its Ottawa operations. CN has made use of an former Devco caboose and the famous Millennium caboose in past years. Walkley Yard even hosted an old CN caboose hitched to an old RDC unit, both of which were owned by a company in Toronto and patched DAWX.

Over the course of my wanderings trackside, I did see CN using the infamous Millennium caboose once when it was shunting cars in Walkley Yard. I just managed to get this shot from the end of Albion Road on public property.

I will get into the history of CN's cabooses in its Ottawa operations in my next post, but for now, let's just admire the fact that the railway has used more than one caboose locally over the course of the last 10 years. It's an anomoly for sure, but not unexpected, given that there is a significant amount of shoving operations that the railway needs to perform in this area.

On June 8, I would not have caught up to the train if not for the fact that the crew stopped at a private crossing before March Road to grab a coffee at Tim Hortons, which sits trackside along the Renfrew Spur. That allowed me to park near the Tims and get some shots from March Road, like this head-on shot, which is not possible usually. The skies washed out on this shot, given the angle of the sun but I did manage to frame the trackside sign. You can just make out a railfan to the left of the shot. He had a camera set up on a tripod on the private crossing, which is blocked to vehicles.

Right when the train was easing to a stop, I took a quick photo of the two units from across Carling Avenue. I noticed the GATX unit doesn't seem to be a leased unit anymore. It's patched CN 4905, which suggests to me that the unit is now CN property.


As the train slowly made its way toward March Road, I tried to get some shots of the overall consist, which featured four tank cars loaded with caprolactum and the GT caboose bringing up the rear.

CN continues to use two GP38s on its run to Arnprior, including the GATX unit, which has been a common site in Eastern Ontario for the last several years. The March Road crossing offers a fairly unobstructed view of the Renfrew Spur right-of-way, although you do have to position your shots around a few guy wires and trackside poles. But at least the crossing gives you clearance against the trackside shrubbery, which can ruin your shots.

This is a shot of the March Road crossing, which gives you a better shot of the GATX unit. This is the first time I have captured anything at this crossing. Now that I know what I'm facing here, I will definitely come back, if the chance presents itself.

Even though I was on the sunny side of the train, this side of the caboose was not nearly as photogenic as the other side, which sat in the shadows. There was no graffiti on the other side, while this side was pretty marked up. 

Not knowing if I would ever see this old relic again, I tried to get it from as many angles as I could, including this profile shot, which gives you a view of the entire train as it makes its way slowly east toward the Huntmar crossing and eventually, Arnprior.

One final shot as the train made its way west. I don't take a lot of vertical shots but I took quite a few this past week, which made for some interesting shots. All in all, it was a lucky meet, as I decided at the last minute to chase this train on my break from work and caught it only because of its unscheduled stop near March Road.

It was quite a week for the Arnprior Turn, as it was featured in a story on CTV Ottawa's local newscast. The message that Nylene Canada was delivering was nothing new. There's 40 kilometres of track that the company owns that is being used by one customer. The company would obviously like to see more customers use rail service. It's a great idea in theory, but as readers of this blog know, Nylene has made this pitch before to the Ottawa Sun. I mentioned that story, which was behind a paywall, in this blog entry from 2014.  

I guess I'm skeptical that this latest pitch will get anywhere, since CN is a reluctant service provider in this case, as it is mandated to provide this service to Nylene. If CN does indeed pull out of Ottawa, as it has publicly stated that it wants to do, who steps in? All of the publicity in the world won't help if there is no railway company to provide the service.