Friday, December 23, 2022

Merry Christmas: Here's wishing you peace, love and trains

Yesterday morning (Dec. 22), I spent a few hours trackside in Bedell, near Kemptville, as my wife was undergoing minor surgery at the area hospital (she's fine!). The quiet hours spent in the chilly December air had me feeling philosophical. The conclusion I came to is, I am a lucky man. I have a wonderful wife and two awesome daughters. I live in a safe, beautiful city. I do not fear for my life at the hands of an aggressive tyrannical regime. I live a comfortable life with a safe, secure job. I am free to express my opinions, live my beliefs, and pursue my passions. 

I have not always thought this way. In fact, I laugh at my younger self, who was often far too absorbed with all the challenges in my life. Too much time spent focusing on what was missing rather than being thankful for the abundance that was all around.

This photo is a great example of what I was pondering. Yes, there were no trains that went by in my hours trackside. Yes, for a train-starved Ottawa railfan, that is a major disappointment. But then, as I watched the sun slowly climb through the thicket of brush across the tracks, it began to illuminate this old telegraph pole, which still stands trackside, albeit in the scrub. The lighting and the position of the sun hit just perfectly and I grabbed a shot of the scene, not wanting to miss this cool sight.

This is all I got from a morning spent trackside. There was no parked rolling stock, no ties and little else to photograph. But this one shot made me smile. Again, it's an example of being grateful. I was given one brief moment of sun that illuminated a piece of railway history before my eyes. A little bit of magic.

This year has been a pretty good year for me. My family has maintained its health and we were able to do a lot more than we have done in the previous two years. I was able to indulge my railway hobby a fair bit. The end results were not what I expected. Instead of a bunch of photos of mainline freights and other things on my railway wish list, I manged to get a lot of unorthodox shots or quirky stuff this year. In years past, I would have thought of that as a failure. This year, I take it as an unexpected gift.

My point is, I am lucky, no matter what life throws at me. Gratitude has made railfanning much more fun. That, in turn, has made this blog much more diverse in its content and commentary.

So this Christmas, I simply want to thank everyone who has been a rail friend to me this year and in years past. The internet can often be a place of ugliness and bile. That was one of my fears when I began blogging. I will never claim to be the most knowledgeable railfan out there and I leave myself open to being corrected as much as I can. 

But everyone I have come across on this blog has been unceasingly decent to me. For that, I thank you.

So I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I will be spending it with my family, going to church, reading a railway book (I've asked for one) and likely playing with whatever I bought my girls for gifts (I forget! old age!). Possibly, there will be an attempt at winter railfanning.

Here's wishing you peace in a sometimes troubled world, the love of everyone around you, and happy times spent indulging your fascination with trains.

I'll see you in 2023.

Michael Hammond

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Pop-up Post: Here come the . . . new O-Trains?

This year, I have been pacing this blog so that a post is shared every other week, but the problem with that pace is that it doesn't leave much room for me to share items that a newsworthy. So I am speeding up the pace of the blog a little bit for the time being, as there is a lot to share and the backlog of posts is getting to the point where some information is becoming outdated by the time some things are ready for publication.

This post is a short one, but it does come with an interesting story. Long story short, my two children were down with the flu last week and our supply of childen's medication was quite low. As we needed to get them through about 5-7 days of fever maintenance, I made the decision to go down to Ogdensburg, New York to get some children's medication there. Alas, there was very little available, since many Canadians near the border are doing the same thing as me. I did manage to get some, but it was a tough pill to swallow, as the border is about an hour's drive from Ottawa. Hardly worth the gas, although a full tank only cost $30 in the U.S. Glass half full.

As I was driving south on Highway 416, I noticed a large flatbed truck making its way north toward Ottawa with a large plastic-wrapped railcar in tow. As I was driving in the opposite direction, I could only steel a quick glance and file the information away.

As I approached the bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Prescott, I noticed another flatbed truck with a similar railcar in tow, which was wrapped in plastic. As my car was stopped and it was safe to take a photo, I managed to get a quick shot of the mysterious rail cargo.

I was a little confused at first, since the trucks on this piece of rail equipment struck me as something that you'd see in a heavy rail vehicle, and not the typical trucks of a light rail car or power unit. So, to find something by way of comparison, I took a look at a shot I took from the end of Albion Road of a new O-Train sitting in Walkley Yard this past August. It's a Citadis Spirit trainset, which will be the train in use when the second phase of the O-Train Confederation Line is ready for use, supposedly next year between Corkstown Road in the west end and Trim Road in the east. The shot below doesn't show you the trucks, so I couldn't use that as a comparison but I thought the curvature of the end of the unit was similar to what I saw in the plastic-wrapped car. The reason I'm doubtful though, is that the O-Train below has a distinct hump on the end of the roof and the car under wraps does not. 

Also, as the O-Trains are designed to be accessible with seamless walk-on, walk-off capabilities, I'm not sure this piece of equipment fits the bill, although I realize that the platforms would rise above these trucks.

Since some have mentioned that Ottawa has had most of its light rail equipment delivered by truck, I figured it could be a piece of light rail equipment other than an end unit. But I'm not sure. Possibly a new piece of diesel equipment for the Trillium Line expansion? A piece of unrelated equipment destined for testing at the NRC facility near the airport? Can anyone else shed light on this mystery?

In this press release from Alstom, the company that makes the O-Train, it mentions that the trains are being "assembled" in Belfast Yard, where the current O-Train fleet is maintained. So, this further clouds the issue. In what state do the O-Trains arrive in Ottawa? Is this piece of rail equipment something else that is perhaps bound for the NRC facility for testing?

Can you help solve this mystery? There were two of these heading to Ottawa on December 13.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Guest Photos: Freight Train meets Via on the Alexandria Sub

A good friend of the blog, Keith Boardman, has really been my eyes and ears in the east end of Ottawa. To be honest, those who are looking to capture some rare CN freight trains in Ottawa are much better off focusing on the Alexandria Subdivision rather than the weekly run up to Arnprior. Sadly, since I work from home and do not have the time to go out into the east end much, I don't have many photographs of anything beyond Belfast Road. That's where Keith has come in over the years with news, photos and tips from the east end. 

Keith has come through in a big way many times. He recently shared an interesting collection of photographs from the east end when a CN freight train returning from Coteau met a Via corridor train on the Alexandria Subdivision.

This is my favourite shot, below, of CN's freight returning from picking up cars at Coteau. It is waiting on the siding for a Via Rail passenger train. As the Alexandria Sub is Via's trackage, this is one of the few places in Canada where passenger trains get the priority of movement. You can see the signal lights, the plows up sign to the left and the ditch lights of the CN geep. Lots of cool elements in this picture, not counting the snow and the outline of the rails amid the white.

And here's the reason the freight was waiting in the hole. A speeding Via Rail corridor train with a F40PH-2 in the lead is heading east and kicking up some snow as its speeds past.

After the corridor train is past, the freight gets the all-clear signal. The next shot Keith took that I really like was this shot, below, which gives you a rare glimpse of a freight train in the Ottawa area that has more than three tank cars, like the weekly Arnprior Turn. It's a going away shot, but the different colours of the box cars are the stars of this image, in my opinion. The NS boxcar is almost completely covered in graffiti. You can also see a TTX Railbox car and a mysterious white boxcar, which does not appear to have any clear markings. Also not sure about the light blue boxcar in the left of the shot

Keith also sent me pictures of another meet he caught. I shared them earlier this year but thought I'd share them again with the fulls story from Keith. Here is what he told me about this meet:

From Keith's Dec. 2021 email:

I was passing through Carlsbad Springs at 8:28 this morning and the signals came on as I was about to cross Piperville Road. I know there's a westbound Via that goes through around 8:05 give or take, but didn't think it would be running that late. A Railterm truck was parked on the side near the crossing and a worker was out of it, so I assumed he was testing the crossing equipment. 

It seemed he wasn't, so I looked down the track towards the siding,and I could see a light, with ditch lights coming through the fog. Turned out it was the blue and white leased unit (now a CN unit), with a second power unit in tow. I couldn't get a very good pic as the Railterm truck was immediately to the left of my view of the approaching consist. 

I like Keith's spirit. Despite the visual obstruction with the Railterm crew trackside, he managed a few shots of the Coteau train. Here's one more shot he was able to improvise.

I have some other shots Keith took, including a few he captured of the Arnprior Turn in the west end. Keith clearly gets out more than I do. 

I will leave these other images for future posts, which I intend to share in the coming weeks. I might increase my frequency of posts to every 10 days, as I have a massive backlog of topics to cover, not to mention a year-end post with some highlights. 

Stay tuned for two very hard-won shots of some antique freight cars I saw in Ogdensburg, New York. Also, I have shots from Kingston from Novemeber, which I intend to break into two posts. I have two posts worth of shots from Waterloo, Ontario, from a summer trip I took there. I also have a few shots from a summer trip to Gananoque, Ontario. It's been a relatively fruitful year for this blog, although my biweekly pace has helped me considerably. 

My thanks to Keith for these shots and the ones I have yet to share. Stay tuned for more from Keith.