Monday, August 29, 2022

Summer Observations in Ottawa

I will admit that I have mixed feelings about CN's weekly train out to Arnprior, CN 589. While it's fun to catch this train, as you almost always have to earn it, it seems like it's sometimes the only thing us rail enthusiasts in Ottawa want to talk about.

Recently, I was taking my daughter to soccer and heading down Carling Avenue around the intersection with Herzberg Road in Kanata, when I saw CN 589 heading east back toward Walkley Yard after making its weekly run to Nylene Canada. My daughter in the passenger seat was able to capture a few images from our vantage point with an iPhone. Granted, these are not ideal shots by any means, but any sighting of this train is always a plus in my book.

You can tell my windshield has seen its share of bugs. The image is a bit grainy and blurred, but you can see the usual two-engine consist of a CN GP38-2 and the former GATX GP38-2 leading the way home. That cyclist nearly ruined the shot, but we just managed to squeeze the train in. There are five tank cars in tow, although the much-talked-about GT caboose is nowhere to be seen. I've noticed on Facebook in recent weeks that the caboose has yet to make another appearance in the west end, which makes my recent meet with it all the more special.

This (above) might be the second best shot, but it's all relative when you're shooting through a bug-stained windshield with an iPhone. Here's a tip I've learned about iPhones. They are perfectly acceptable to use if you are fairly close to a train but the shots pixelate in a hurry any time you zoom in, especially with the older models. I use them in a pinch when I don't have my proper camera, but I always resist the temptation to use the zoom for this reason. 

In recent weeks, people that follow the weekly Arnprior Turn have been wondering why they haven't been using the Grand Trunk caboose. I was in the area of Walkley Yard and managed to capture a fleeting glimpse of the caboose in the yard in late August. 

This image was taken at the end of Albion Road on public property. I know some people still make their way into the yard on the service road that is an extension of Albion Road. I can's stress it enough that this is not a great idea. That road is more than likely on private property and is not a public road. Don't risk it.

While I was at the end of Albion, I had a fairly clear view of the new O-Train diesels that will soon be plying the Trillium Line all the way from Bayview to the southern extension past the airport. From an aesthetic point-of-view, these new units are much better looking than the electric trainsets that make their way east and west on the Confederation Line. I won't get into the recent mechanical failures and technology failures that took the O-Train out of service yet again. The best thing going for the O-Train right now is not that many people take it, as most public servants continue to work from home. The uproar over this malfunctioning line would be a lot louder if more people actually used it. But, for now, here's one of the new diesels.

I should mention that, with the ongoing construction happening on the Trillium Line, which is behind schedule, one of the developments that will affect railfans is happening in Walkley Yard. The city is building a maintenance facility in Walkley Yard that blocks much of the view railfans once had from the Bank Street overpass. This is unfortunate from our perspective, as this overpass did once offer a reasonable view of Walkley Yard from a safe, publicly accessible vantage point. This means you will not be able to get a view like this anymore.

This shot, from 2017, can no longer be duplicated, as there is a large maintenance facility on the left track, which blocks much of the view of the yard. Thankfully, the vantage looking west toward Walkley diamond is still unobstructed, so that area is still in play for photographers. 

Recently, I spent some time in Waterloo, Ontario and saw its own light rail system, dubbed Ion, in action. My friends in that area say the system runs very well and has rarely had any operational problems since it began operating on a full-time basis. I will explore this system in a future post.

Finally, the big stir this summer in Ottawa was caused by the Canadian Pacific bringing some business train equipment to town, behind its F-series units. Some have called this the Royal Canadian Pacific train, which I'm not sure is entirely accurate. I did managed to snap some shots of it from Conroy Road from quite a distance, thanks to the zoom on my camera. The CP police officer, who told me he was from Regina, said the train was in town so the railway could entertain VIPs as part of its sponsorship of the CP Women's Open golf tournament at the nearby Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club. 

The next day, August 29, the train was scheduled to head back west and leave Walkley Yard in the morning. A group of railfans waited at Fallowfield Station, but the train had not shown up yet, as it had obviously not been given clearance between Via's many corridor trains to and from Toronto on the Smiths Falls Sub. I stayed as long as I could, sacrificing my lunch hour, but I only saw Via Train 52. I did like that it was being led by a wrapped F40PH-2. I don't have that many shots of these old warhorses in the wrap design. It was better than nothing, but I was quite disappointed to have missed the CP heritage equipment. Oh well.

One last shot of the train beside the station as the passengers boarded.

Those are a few observations from my limited railside adventures this summer in Ottawa. Much of my material for further posts came from outside Ottawa in recent months. Stay tuned for some material from Waterloo, the GTA, Kingston and even a few items from the Sarnia area. And with an imminent trip to the United States looming, I hope to add some railway photos from the heartland of America in Indiana. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Sometimes, you get a second chance (Part II)

As I mentioned in my last post, there are rare times when your train karma will grant you a second chance. I stumbled across one of those rare opportunities on a July trip to Sarnia last year with my family, when I chanced a last-second trip to the Sarnia rail yard.

In my previous post, I talked about a train heading for the tunnel, the front of which I had missed by seconds. I was disappointed to have missed the shot, but then something unexpected happened. The train began to back up. It didn't back up far enough for me to capture the engines in any meaningful way, but it at least allowed me a few going away shots. The train then inched forward. But then it backed up again. This happened for a while, which had me confused. (Note: I have since come to understand that part of the train was being scanned deep in the rail yard) The train was clearly not backing up to keep a switch to the main line clear. It was sitting over a busy switch at control point Hobson. So it was clear to me there was no meet happening with an eastbound train, since that would require this westbound to back up past the switch.

I stood there wondering what I could get in front of this train legally and safely, without resorting to trespassing (most Sarnia railfans will tell you not to even try this, as the CN Police are quite strict about any incursions onto CN property in the area).

So, I decided to try a last-ditch long shot. And surprisingly, it resulted in a shot I have never captured before. I went to the Donahue Bridge, a link between a south end residential neighbourhood and the northern edge of the Chemical Valley. The bridge actually soars quite high above the descending CN track in to the Paul M. Tellier Tunnel.

Unfortunately, a pedestrian walkway on the tunnel side of the bridge has been closed off for quite some time, which eliminated that possibility. However, on the other side of the bridge, facing the rail yard, there is a pedestrian sidewalk. 

There's also a tiny stub-end city street that is used exclusively for trucks that use CN's CargoFlo service. That street was option number two. Lucky for me, the tunnel-bound train was still positioned at CP Hobson, obviously waiting the green light to proceed into the tunnel and head into Port Huron, Michigan. 

Here's my attempt at a very long shot from the Donahue Bridge. You can see the Sarnia Station, signals and an SD70 on point. On the left side of the photo, you can also see a small piece of trackage that is the Point Edward Spur, which serves the Cargill grain elevator on Sarnia Bay. There's also a great deal of poles and lights in the shot, which isn't ideal, but it gives you the impression of a busy yard. I like this shot, but wasn't entirely satisfied that I had the shot I wanted.

That's when I decided to try a shot from the sidewalk near Union Street, a tiny little dead-end slab of asphalt used by trucks to connect with cylindrical hoppers on a spur. You can see my previous visit to this operation in this post. But for our purposes in this post, here are my two attempts at getting some the CargoFlo infrastructure in the shot. You can also see Sarnia Station, the sign for CP Hobson and the trackage leading up to the CargoFlo operation. That turnout you see will lead you to CN's refuelling pad and the Lambton Diesel roundhouse operations. This area is a no-go, so stay on the nearby road if you want to have a look.

I like how the bushes and the loader eliminate the clutter a bit. Also, this angle means the white sign (look just left of the SD70) doesn't block the view of the engine as it did in my earlier shot. For my second attempt, I zoomed a little closer, making sure not to focus too hard on the loader. I like both shots for different reasons, but in this one, the train is definitely not as clear. And the zoom function is distorting the rails a bit.

Getting the camera to properly focus was a tricky task, as there was so much in the frame. All of these shots taken from the bridge and the end of Union Street are quite busy. You can see Sarnia Station, the CN Hobson sign (white, next to the locomotive) and also the Indian Road overpass in the distance. 

Since I was in the area close to the CSX Clifford Street rail yard, I drove to the end of the street to see if there was anything happening in the yard. I was not surprised to find the area pretty quiet. I was hoping that I might get lucky and happen across some CSX activity, but it was not to be. The CSX Sarnia Subdivision has seen some increased activity of late, as the railway has been carting away materials salvaged from the ongoing demolition of the Lambton Generating Station near Courtright (More to come on that in a future post). That process is expected to continue for a year or more, which means local railfans might expect to see a few different consists on the CSX line, most notably gondolas. I was hoping that I might be able to see something like that, but all was quiet. 

Oh well. You can't have it all.