Thursday, July 28, 2022

Sometimes, you get a second chance (Part I)

Rail karma is something I'm sure we've all experienced. You just miss the head end of a train or you get trackside just in time to see the flashing end-of-train device winking at you in scorn as it disappears down the tracks. Then there's the times when you sit trackside and nothing materializes. I can't tell you the number of times I've experienced all three. 

That was why, when I arrived at the Sarnia rail yard for one last chance to see some trains on a family trip last summer, I was disappointed to see a very long freight train slowly making its way west toward the tunnel beneath the St. Clair River. I decided to watch it anyway, to see if maybe there was a DPU unit or some interesting rolling stock.

Then something happened. The train stopped. Then it began to back up. Could this be a second chance for me? Well, yes and no.

Let me explain.

As I was shooting any type of rolling stock I found interesting, I noticed the train was slowing down. Then it started backing up.

The backup move allowed me to snap a few shots of rolling stock, like this CN coil car, with the maroon IHB cover. Again, this was all very routine for me. I was just hoping that the train might back up enough that I could get a shot of the head end. Sadly, it stopped just short of the end of the platform. I walked along a public road as far as I could to get a shot of the two units from public property, but the train was just not cooperating.

This was about as close as the crew came. Over the course of ten or 15 minutes, the train backed up and then moved forward several times. More recently, readers have told me that this is due to the railway scanning its trains before they cross international borders. In this case, it wouldn't back up to the platform or move past CP Hobson sign. So, I decided to improvise and see if I could use the signal gantry near the platform to get some worthwhile shots.

This shot above had the most blue in it, which was nice, since I was shooting after 8 p.m. and the daylight was beginning to recede while the shadows grew longer.

Here's a shot from the platform. I do like the reflection of the setting sun against the side of the train, but I don't like that a pole pretty much blocked out the power from this vantage point. All in all, it was a frustrating few moments.

On one hand, if the train started moving, I had a great chance to get to a vantage point near the St. Clair Tunnel and get my first ever shot of a train entering the tunnel. On the other hand, if the train sat where it was, I was limited in my ability to get a shot from in front of it. After a few minutes, I decided to risk my position at the station, figuring the train was not going to back up and give me the shot I wanted.

I decided to risk getting a vantage point near the tunnel to get ahead of this train. 

But it's never that easy. Railfans in Sarnia know that the pedestrian walkway near the tunnel has been closed for some time, essentially, eliminating that potential spot. That left the Donahue Bride. This bridge provides a link over the tunnel track between the actual residential south end of Sarnia and the northern edge of the Chemical Valley. 

Luckily, there is a pedestrian sidewalk on the bridge, which affords you a long view of Sarnia Yard and the long descending track leading to the tunnel. 

There were two things I had to consider. Was the train in a position where I could see it from the bridge? And was it going to stay there? Also, how effective could my image be, considering how much I had to rely on the zoom function? 

I was about to find out. I'll leave that to the next post. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The traffic jam

This March, while I was visiting family in the Sarnia area, my brother and nephew took me on a tour of their favourite spots in the area, including many railside haunts. On our way home, we saw a CN train perched near Telford Road, just east of the limits of Sarnia Yard. My nephew was excited by this slow moving train, as we had not seen any freight trains at speed during our day of railfanning in the area. This was the train as it approached the crossing and then stopped. Note that the Strathroy Subdivision is double-tracked here, and there are trains on both tracks visible in the image below, taken from the Confederation Line.

Just a few minutes earlier, we had left Sarnia Yard, where another freight train, this one heading west toward the Paul Tellier Tunnel, also stopped before proceeding down the grade to the tunnel. A few railfans in the parking lot explained to us that the train was backing up and proceeding forward for a reason. At first, I'll admit that I was curious as to why this train would be doing this, unless they were assembling part of the train that I could not see. The railfans said they were "x-raying" the train. I'm not exactly sure that is the right term, but the sense I got from what they told me was the the train was being scanned before it headed into the United States. Here's a shot of the consist inching forward.

At either end of the yard, there were two enormous freight trains, one due east and one due west. Neither was moving. I joked to my nephew that it was a genuine rail traffic jam. Of course, this was not the case, as precision scheduled railways do not usually have trains with massive dwell times taking up space in congested rail yards. Sarnia Yard usually has its share of cars in the yard, but it's never what you would describe as congested or backed up. The blocks of cars appear very organized, at least to my untrained eye. Still, it was an odd sight to see two freight trains, on both tracks on the main line, apparently motionless. 

Moving back to the train due east near Telford Road. Here is a shot as it moved ahead past the end of the westbound train from the image above. I find it interesting whenever I see autoracks behind the engines. It's not something that was terribly common when I was growing up. These cars always seemed to be blocked onto the end of a train. Not the case anymore.

You can see in the image above that the fields looked to be almost ready for planning, even in mid-March. Going back to the westbound train, which we watched for awhile before giving up, here's a shot of the head end through the gantry, which governs trains movements around the tunnel. The bridge also controls the connections to the converging St. Clair River Industrial Spur (and by extension, the CSX Sarnia Subdivision) and the Point Edward Spur, both of which merge into the yard west of these signals.


While I was at the yard, I did spy a tank car that had an old logo on it that is not terribly common these days. I remember these CGTX tank cars when I was younger, but they have slowly disappeared over the years. It was cool to spot one. I know it might seem like a mundane image, but I think it's more important now to capture images of old rolling stock than ever.

These images we got from the yard and from Telford Road rounded out a great day or railfanning, even if the actual number of trains we saw was pretty light. You can check out our other adventure from this day in the post Next stop: Glencoe

One last shot of an old GP9 idling behind the old roundhouse. This engine is on the approach track that trains off the St. Clair River Industrial Spur and CSX Sarnia Subdivision use to access Sarnia Yard. Sadly, this engine didn't move either. It seemed like a gridlock kind of day when nothing was moving. My nephew wasn't thrilled. I was just happy to get a few images.