Friday, December 22, 2023

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

It's the end of the line for another year. It feels like it did when I was in university and took the train home from Ottawa, arriving in Sarnia. I remember the relief of getting off the train and onto the platform, where my brother was usually the one to pick me up. I feel that way now, sitting in my home office, reflecting on the year and getting off the train, so to speak.

Without getting into detail, this has been a tough year for me and my family, although there have been some bright spots, to be fair. However, I feel more relief than anything that school is winding down today as is my wife's teaching schedule, as well. I'm relieved that the next few weeks at work will likely be quite light, which is great for me as I work from home. It means time to relax with my children with no imminent demands other than spending time with family.

I can't help but think that, someone, somewhere, is on a train right now, going over their year so far at university. They're proud of what they've accomplished on their own, but they're also secretly thrilled to be going home to their old bed and to the waiting arms of their empty nest parents.

I can't help but think of some older folks who are taking the train to visit with their grandchildren in a distant city, ready to relive the memories of their own family Christmases, when their own children were just little. Now they can see Christmas through the eyes of their grown-up children, who are carrying on the family traditions in their own way.

Finally, I can't help but think back to the countless hours I've spent on the train over the years, mostly between Sarnia and Ottawa. They were mostly happy times, as I watched the scenery roll by, talked to friends or listened to music as I relished being home with my family. Now that I'm older and my family doesn't really travel as much at this time of year, I think of those times on the train with greater nostalgia. 

I think of the time I sat behind Walter Gretzky on my way home and how he was holding court with countless people who were coming up to him just to say hi and shake his hand. I think about my high school friend (who went to Queen's University in Kingston) and I  spending hours on the train, just cracking each other up for hours, which made the time go by much faster. I think about catching one of the last trains into Ottawa before the massive ice storm essentially shut the city down.

So many memories, and these are just a few.

Railways will always hold a special place in my heart, given their role in my family's history and in my own life. Writing about them is a pleasure and it's been quite therapeutic during this very challenging year. 

I will be starting up the blog at some point next year. I might ease the pace to biweekly for a bit, given personal circumstances and my mental health, but I can assure you I have lots of material to share, much of it left over from this year. 

And that's not even considering some train watching I might be able to do over the holidays.

I thank everyone for stopping by this year. Merry Christmas everyone, and all the best for 2024.




Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Updated: The curious case of the coat hanger

This has been a weird year, to be sure. Without getting into details, I have faced a fair bit of adversity, which will culminate in a court hearing where I will attempt to secure a peace bond next week against someone harassing my family. There have been other fairly serious incidents I have found myself dealing with this year. I count about four major challenges, including this latest incident. So any and all pleasant surprises mean that much more to me.

Through all of the adversity, I am proud to say I have managed to maintain this blog at a rate of about three posts per month, which has been a great source of pride for me and a relief, to be honest. My passion for railways is almost a form of meditation. I find that I can sit trackside, or on a station platform, and just let the sound of the wind and the nearby buzz of life clear my mind. It's my happy place, no matter where the station is or what's happening around me.

Here's one small surprise that has capped off my year. I came across this hanger at a nearby church a few weeks ago, which was a cool surprise. It got me to thinking.

When was there ever a time when a railway made its own coat hangers? I thought of a few possibilities. I thought possibly CN had them at its stations, for first class travellers. Maybe they were in place at CN offices? Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure suggested as well that they could very well have been in place in sleeping compartments on long distance trains, which also makes sense. Here's a view below from a postcard, which shows both CN and CP westbounds in 1971 at the new Ottawa Union Station. Possibly some of these hangers were on this type of train, if it was a long distance train. If it was in corridor service, likely not. Note the Alco/MLW unit on point on the CN train.

Eric also recalled that Via Rail had its own hangers that were brown, with the yellow Via logo standing out in raised plastic. 

Ed. Note: Originally, I thought this hanger may have been from the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa's classiest hotel and a former CN Hotel property. In my distraction this week while putting together the post, I somehow forgot to add in this original theory of mine. Thanks to Kevin for reminding me!

It made me nostalgic for a time when railways were businesses that were all encompassing operations, from the station, to the rail yard, to the intermodal truck trailers, to the seats on a passenger coach to a ship, to an airplane. There was a time when railways did it all. Who remembers the old orange CP Air planes? I do. 

Needless to say, I took a hanger from home and swapped it out with the CN hanger so I could have a small piece of railway history in my house. I did wonder how these hangers managed to make it into this church. CN was once a thriving operation in Ottawa, but it has not had a major presence here in some time, especially on the passenger side. I am guessing that someone must have worked for this railway locally and taken the hangers to the church before they were thrown out. Just a guess. The hanger is mostly made of wood with a strong steel underframe. They were clearly built to last.

As we approach Christmas, I had one more image to share. Recently, I was in Waterloo with my family. During my time there, I was able to visit St. Jacobs and the Waterloo Central Railway yard in town. I will have lots of images to share of this yard next year, but there is one image I did want to share of WCR's Christmas caboose. 

Even the reporting marks (HOHO) are done with great care. Kudos to this railway for its attention to detail. My daughters were with me at the time and they really liked this caboose. They insisted that I take a few pictures of them in front of it. 

When we visited, the WCR had not yet started offering holiday trains for families, but they were clearly getting the consist ready. A few of the old maroon passenger cars in the yard had been equipped with Christmas lights. It made me think of the time I saw the CP Holiday Train, bedecked in lights, in Finch, Ont. in 2016.

The caboose was a nice scene on a chilly November morning. 

I bring up these things just to point out a few bright points and a few surprises from this last year, which has been a challenging one. Here's to a few more brights spots on the horizon.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Along the main line in Kitchener

I don't know what it is about Kitchener, but I have had some good luck in this city in the few times I have visited the area. You might remember that I caught some GEXR action in the grey and rain one time at the Lancaster Street crossing in 2018. In November, I was in Kitchener-Waterloo for a conference where I was giving a mental health presentation, which left me with some spare time to do little exploring and some railfanning in St. Jacobs and in Kitchener. 

Much has changed since I got those shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway in 2018. For one, the Guelph Subdivision in now back in CN's hands while the trackage east of the city into Toronto is essentially in the hands of Metrolinx. The last time I was in Kitchener last year, I didn't catch anything. But on the whole, it's been a spot where I've had a lot of success. It makes up for the years I lived in the city and didn't take any railway shots.

This time around, when I was approaching the Lancaster Street crossing near Victoria Street, I noticed that a CN conductor was flagging the crossing, which I found a bit curious, since the signals and gates were operating. It turned out, there was a crew in the Kitchener yard assembling a train. I managed to park my car in a nearby parking lot and walk down a sidewalk to get a few shots of the motive power shunting cars near the crossing. This was the first shot, which was taken from the west sidewalk on Lancaster. There were three four-axle geeps at work, two with the sergeant stripes. Interesting that the lead unit did not have its headlight on.

Here's a shot closer to the crossing. You can see that the crew had the power partially on the main line, as they hitched onto some hopper and tank cars in the yard. I waited around for a few minutes, to see what they were going to do, but my daughters were a little restless in my car, so I decided to move on. The early morning sun was not making it easy to get a shot, since many angles were a no-go due to the harsh light washing out images and casting unworkable shadows.

We were about to leave the area and make our way to the nearby Kitchener Via station near the corner of Victoria and Weber streets when the crew had the geeps moving again. They moved back into the yard in a position where the light was over my shoulder. it made for a decent shot, especially with the curved track. The zoom on the camera made it seem like I was in the yard, when I was still at the Lancaster crossing. Always stay on public property and be aware of the train's movement. Again, even with the engines moving, there was no light on the lead unit shining.

Within a few minutes, we were at the Via station just to see if there was anything to see, as I often say. See what there is to see. It's something railfans in Ottawa usually resort to, in the absence of a sure thing. The signals on the main line suggested there was nothing to see, which was fine. I like the Kitchener station. It's a nice old station, even if it's a little ragged around the edges. It's clearly seen better days, but it fits the character of Kitchener, which is as tough a town as I've ever seen. Also a town of good people, I should add. Great people, in fact. To be honest, it did appear as though some maintenance had been done to this old station in recent years.

I took a quick shot of the station and roamed the platform a bit. I've taken Via from Kitchener into Toronto a few times, since when I lived in the city, the GO Train service was not yet established. Speaking of the GO Train, as I looked east down the tracks from the eastern edge of the platform, I could see the trains parked on a spur just past the Weber Street flyover. In this shot below, I wanted to get as much of the cityscape in as I could. Here you can see the topography that the rail line traverses, a piece of the flyover and the GO Trains on the north side of the main line.

The last shot I took was an attempt to get the trains in the shot with fewer visual distractions.

I'm not sure it's all the much better, but the other shots where I zoomed in were not as sharp as this image. I made sure to keep the signals in the shot as well as the main line, as I think the topography is a visually interesting element. 

On the same trip, I took my girls up toe St. Jacobs to have a look at the Waterloo Central Railway yard on the Elmira Subdivision. That trip unearthed some surprises, which delighted not only me but my daughters as well, but I will save that for another post. 

All in all, it was a fun trip back to a city where I lived for a short while. It's interesting that I maintain such fondness for a place where I barely lived two years. I chalk it up to the people I met when I lived there. I will say this about Kitchener. Good people.

Monday, November 20, 2023

On The Road Again

I'm pleased to be able to offer up something new, which is a little less heavy than my previous two posts. I thank those of you who reached out to me regarding my post about mental health and the situation my family and I find ourselves in at the moment. I'm happy to say that the situation has stabilized as the police have helped us restore calm for the time being. My mental health has improved and I am starting to feel more like myself again.

Recently, my family went on a short trip to Waterloo, Ont. for a music conference. This was a business trip for my wife, as she is the chair of a provincial music association. For me, I was giving a mental health presentation, but it was also a chance to get out of Ottawa and visit family in nearby Stratford. I have a pile of interesting pictures from Stratford, including some images from my summer visit, but I will save those for other posts.

I should also note that I had a chance to visit the Waterloo Central Railway yard in St. Jacobs and the CN yard in Kitchener, both of which yielded some cool, and even unexpected, shots. It was an incredibly productive trip for me as a train-starved railfan.

For this post, I wanted to share some images captured while my family was travelling to and from Waterloo. This has always been a fun game I have played while on Highway 401. In this case, we had incredible luck, as my wife managed to get some fantastic images of trains.

Our first meet was in Kingston, as we were approaching the Highway 15 interchange, where the CN Kingston Subdivision is visible from the highway. An eastbound local had made its way past the highway overpass (Ed note: A reader said the photo was likely taken near County Road 11A) when my wife captured this image. The train is being led by CN ES44AC 2933, with two boxcars and a long string of covered hoppers in tow. As we were going in opposite directions, I give my wife full credit for getting this shot. I have really grown to love these shots, which are from a distance and do not have any of the 3/4 wedge effect. It's almost a full-on parallel shot. I am of the opinion that a train image doesn't need to have the train as the dominant feature in the image for the shot to be compelling.

We didn't see anything else on our way, since we were driving fairly late and the darkness prevented any further shots. But I did get this shot of a fading western sunset as we were on the 401 in the Toronto area. I was in the passenger seat at the time, I should add. All these images, in fact, were taken from the front passenger seat. Safety first!

On the way home, we took the 407 toll highway, as we were leaving on a weekday morning and the traffic around Toronto was a major obstacle to our timely return to Ottawa. I'm glad we took the 407, since we were able to catch this image of three CN units resting near its Brampton yard. This is second time I've caught a string of units on this flyover. Unlike the other time I caught engines on this bridge, this time around, these are all heavy hitters. The last time, I remember catching an old GP9 warhorse. This image, again, is courtesy of my wife in the passenger seat.

A little further along, after we had rejoined the eastbound 401, we were travelling through Clarington on the east side of the GTA when we levelled up to an eastbound freight train that was moving at a pretty good clip.

My wife managed to snag a pretty decent shot of the DPU unit operating mid-train. Once again, I love that this shot captures more than just the train. The cloud bank in the sky and the scattered sunshine makes for a visually interesting image. You can see the DPU peaking out between some brush, as well as some lumber cars, a boxcar and a tank car. The DPU is CN 2222, an ES44DC.

Sadly, we were not able to successfully get the front end of the train, as the roadside brush and the differing speeds of the train and our car meant we couldn't find a clear line of sight, although I will say that the train was lead by a lone unit, possibly another ES44DC. I can't be sure, as I only had time to quickly glance over since I was driving.

As I have mentioned before, I always try to snag a few bonus train shots when I am travelling along the 401, as the CN mainline parallels the highway for a stretch in Kingston, as well as in parts of Toronto. We did pass by CP trackage a few times in our travels as well, but I was not able to catch any CP trains, which is a shame.

Much of my photography this year has been remarkably consistent in that the railways featured on this blog are predominantly CN and Via. In the coming weeks and months, I aim to change that, simply by sharing some great shots of the Goderich Exeter Railway in Straford and some shots of the Waterloo Central Railway in St. Jacobs. 

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

A Remembrance Day story of bravery, second chances, gratitude and trains

I have often shared stories of my father's side of the family, since my grandfather and all my uncles worked for the Canadian Pacific or Via Rail at one point in their lives. One story I have not told is the story of my mother. And yes, railways play a large part in her story as well. I am sharing this story now, as it is close to Remembrance Day in Canada and this part of my family's story is quite compelling.

My grandfather on my Italian side (we called him Nonno) came to Canada following the end of the Second World War. He had been forced to serve in the Italian army under Mussolini and then had to retreat back to Italy while avoiding the Germans, when Mussolini was assassinated and the Italians left the Axis powers. 

The story about my grandfather goes that he and his friends found themselves disbanded as part of an occupying force in the former Yugoslavia. When the army disbanded, they had to ditch their uniforms and sneak across the entire country under the cover of night, to avoid Germans, who were hunting down Italians as traitors. My Nonno relayed to my uncle that they had to rely on the kindness of the people whose country they were occupying, to provide them food, clothes and places to sleep. What made things worse for his group was that one of their comrades was injured and could not walk. 

He told my Nonno and the other troops to leave him there, but they made the decision that he was not going to be left behind. Instead, they fashioned a sled and used their belts to drag him across the country until they safely returned to Northern Italy. The did it because they all agreed they couldn't face his family if they left him in Yugoslavia. It's an amazing story and it's the only war story that I know of in my family. It's hard to imagine someone I know being forced to survive like that. 

My Nonno came to Canada on his own and took a job as a track labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the Crowsnest Pass area in British Columbia. There he worked until he could earn enough money to secure passage for his family to come to Canada (Both of my grandfathers worked for the CPR). My Nonno never forgot what Canada had given him: A second chance. He lived in the Italian community in Windsor and was one of the people who built the Fogolar Furlan Italian community centre. To the day he died, he always had an Italian flag and a Canadian flag where he lived. This shot below is a rare image of him and my Nonna in Windsor in the 1950s. That little guy wandering around is my Uncle John (Giovani).

My mother came to Canada when she was seven years old. She didn't remember much of the ship that took her from her home in Northern Italy to Halifax. But she told me that her first memory of that time landing in Halifax at Pier 21 was how cold it felt, which shocked her. She told me as well that she remembered sitting on long wooden benches at the Pier 21 processing facility, as her family was brought into Canada. I had a chance to visit this historic site and it was a powerful experience for me, a first generation Canadian on my mother's side. Her entry in Halifax would have been around 1956. It's quite possible that she was brought to Windsor by a steam engine. Possibly. This would have been right around the full transition to diesel F units.

I wonder about her route. I doubt it took her through Ottawa. If it had, she would not have gone through the Tremblay Road station, as the downtown Union Station was still operational, next to the Rideau Canal in the 1950s. But if she was on a train with diesel power on CP, it would have looked something like this below, I think. This is the eastbound Dominion with an E unit in 1967. It would definitely have been on cars that were maroon and grey,

Could she have ridden on an old heavyweight maroon coach like these on the CPR Christmas Train in Finch Ont.? I wonder.

From Halifax, my mom only told me how utterly long and exhausting the train ride was that brought her all the way to her new home in Windsor, Ont. I can't imagine how much of a shock it would have been to immigrants to truly experience the immensity of this country for the first time, which is unlike anything in Europe. I don't know what railway she would have taken, but I assume it might have been a little of both the CNR and CPR, given where her trip started and where it ended. I can also imagine there were likely connections to be made in Montreal at the old Windsor Station (Windsor Station in Montreal, explain that to an immigrant heading to Windsor!) and in Toronto at the Union Station.

My mom ended up growing up in Windsor, where she graduated from an all-girls school, St. Mary's Academy, before embarking on a career in teaching. She told me growing up in Windsor was tough in the 1950s and 1960s, as Italians were subject to fierce discrimination, which is understandable given their role in the Axis powers under their dictator. 

But it was a happy ending for my mom, as she found a peaceful life in Canada, free of the uncertainty and poverty in post-war Northern Italy. She didn't tell me all that much about her entry into Canada, except to say that it was an eye-opening experience on the train. 

My Uncle John, My Nonno and me at Heritage Park in Calgary in the early 1990s.

I wonder how many other families have similar stories about this country involving a train bringing them to their new home. Every Remembrance Day, I have mixed feelings, given my family history. I am thankful for those who served for my benefit. I have only ever considered myself a Canadian. I am lucky that my grandfather on my father's side was exempted from military service, since he was missing a finger on his trigger hand. 

Despite my Italian family's history, which began on the wrong side of the Second World War, this country gave them a second chance, and much of that was due to the sacrifices of the brave Canadians who served for my family's freedom. For that, I am thankful and I remember.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Every picture tells a story, sometimes a story you don't expect

I want to share a few photos with you that tell stories that you would never know about, unless you took the photo. I am sharing these photos, some seen before, to illustrate a point. I have often sought refuge trackside amid the storms of my life. And when I mention storms, I'm not talking necessarily about tough times. Yes, we all go through tough times. I'm talking about the mental health struggles that I experience when some of these tough times pop up in my life.

Exhibit A is this photo I took of Via Train 59 last night in the dying daylight around 6 p.m. It was taken from the Hunt Club Road overpass. 

I have been taking a photo of this train each Wednesday for months. Most evenings in the summer, it was something to do while I waited for my daughter's dance class to finish. I intend to share all the different styles and angles I employed over the course of this year at a later date.

But last night, I allowed myself to think about the people riding that train. Were they happy? Were they going to see loved ones? Was their journey bittersweet as they might have been leaving family? Were they headed toward some exciting adventure in Toronto? Were they getting off at one of the stops in between? 

In many ways, the train is a microcosm of our society. There are so many stories being told on each train that takes people from Point A to Point B. The stories lie in the why. Why are people going where they're going? Why are they taking the train? Why this train? Why the evening? 

I had a similar moment like this in 2016 when I was a father for the second time and I was driving around my baby daughter to get her to relax a little bit. She didn't like me all that much and was not too happy when Mom went to work and she was stuck with me, a person who couldn't feed her. 

So, we went for drives in the country and one time, I took this shot near Twin Elm, which is one of my favourite shots of all time. I thought about the people in that train at that moment, and wondered about their stories and the welcome they would receive when they reached their final stop.

Here's one final image to share that is connected to the first two. In each case, merely seeing a train coming down the track has allowed me to leave my everyday worries, if only for a minute, and become a kid again, marvelling at this massive machine thundering toward me. That sense of awe has never really left me. 

This final image is from Sarnia in 2014, when I caught a train heading west into the St. Clair Tunnel. You can see it going downgrade pretty fast in the shot.

In each case, catching these trains and watching them offered me a break from everyday life. In the case of the image just above, I can clearly remember how much I was struggling with my mental health when I took some time for myself and went hunting down trains before meeting my friend for lunch. At this moment, I remember struggling with the effects of my antidepressants, which were wreaking havoc on my body. I remember hardly being able to hear my friend at lunch, since the medication was making my ears ring or buzz. This was the in the initial stages of a long process where I realized I had to stop taking certain medications to preserve my hearing. Now, nearly 10 years after taking this shot, I have surgery coming up to repair my hearing, which has been affected by medication and a rare hearing disease. I am hearing impaired, which I don't often admit.

In the case of the second image of the Via near Twin Elm, I was suffering from debilitating anxiety since life with a newborn is tough, especially when you're an insomniac, like I am. Another symptom of my anxiety disorder. At that moment, I recall how tired I was when I took that shot, but how much relief I felt in getting a cool image that made me happy and allowed me to share something compelling with my railway friends online.

The first photo, taken last night, is the hardest for me describe, because I am going through an extremely difficult time right now. My family has had to make use of the Ottawa Police to protect us from someone in our neighbourhood who is intimidating us and guests to our home. This week, we were successful in getting the police to warn this individual to leave us alone, which was met with a half-hearted agreement. We also have initiated the process to seek a peace bond against this person. 

We have spoken to the police far too many times since September 12, when this mess began. I won't get into too many details, but my family is now in the process of considering moving, as we don't feel safe in our own home. We had to resort to calling 911 last week, which was met with my wife being put on hold for 45 minutes before she was told there would be no response. That resulted in me filing an official complaint through the Ontario body that polices the police.

I was not at home when this last incident happened, which was awful for me, as I had to rush home, with two crying daughters, hoping and praying that my wife was okay.

Things have cooled off since last week, but everything in my life that should either be a priority or should bring me joy, is taking a back seat to this awful situation. My first priority is to ensure my family's well-being. This blog has not been on schedule as of late, due to this ever-present threat and my debilitating anxiety.

So last night's photo allowed me to think about something pleasant, if only for a few moments. That's why railways will always be a part of me. Ever since I was a kid, trains have made me happy. It's something that is in short supply right now. We really need to cling to things that bring us joy in life. 

This November, the Movember movement has expanded its mission to also focus on men's mental health, suicide prevention mainly. Men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women. That's a staggering statistic. I ask that if you know of anyone raising Movember funds this month, please consider a donation. 

And keep doing what you love. You never know how important the little things might become.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Fall Observations in Ottawa

Today seems like the typical October day we are all accustomed to here in Ottawa. It's cold, rainy and the leaves are falling from the trees like the rain. We're finally seeing some colour in the leaves, thanks to the overly warm late summer weather vacating the region. 

I haven't done a great deal of railfanning lately, some of which is due to a stressful situation that has been ongoing since early September. This has taken its toll on my mental health. I don't usually share things like this on here, but this is the reason my posts have not been punctual and I really don't know what hiding the reasons does for me. As a mental health public speaker, I am reminding myself to just own it. So, that is my explanation. 

I did get trackside earlier this week and noticed that the Siemens work crews were busy dismantling an old industrial spur near Hunt Club Road, on the Smiths Falls Subdivision.  This image below, taken from the Hunt Club overpass, shows some of the results of the work on the mainline.

Siemens is the successor to RailTerm, which was the company that maintained much of Via's network of tracks in this city. The old spur, which once connected a few businesses on Bentley Avenue to the mainline, still runs behind a few light industrial operations. This image below shows the spur's connection to the mainline now completely dismantled.

The trackage behind the fence doesn't look like it's been used in a number of years, as much of the trackage is completely surrounded by brush and weeds. I can't even begin to guess when there was last rail service to this spur. It seems like 10 years at the very least.

This shot below shows the old switch stand, ready to be hauled away.

While I was up on the overpass, I waited for westbound Via Train 59, which passes by this area every evening around 6 p.m., which works for me as I am in the area waiting for my daughter's dance class to finish. 

I've been setting up here for a few weeks, while I still have some evening light, but I'm thinking that the gathering darkness at this hour will shut down my weekly shots of this train for a while. To be honest, I've run out of ideas for new ways to shoot this train. I've been trying to get a fall shot with lots of colours in the trackside trees, but the unusually warm weather has kept much of the foliage from turning colour. You can see hints of colour in this shot, but it's not what I wanted.

I'm hoping that, possibly, things will get a bit more interesting soon, as Via Rail has expanded the usage of its new Siemens train sets to include a number of Ottawa-Toronto trains. It'll be nice to get some shots of the new equipment, while there's still a novelty to it. I'm sure we'll grow a bit tired of it soon enough.

Also, OC Transpo is testing its new diesel light rail trains on the expanded Trillium Line, which will now connect from its former southern terminus at Greenboro to Riverside South, with a branch to the Ottawa International Airport. This is likely cold comfort to people who rely on this service, as it was slated to be operational by the end of the year, but is now scheduled to begin next year. The delay is disappointing, but given the complexities of the pandemic and severed supply lines, it's not a big surprise that these delays pushed back the start date.

Hat tip the Bytown Railway Society for completing its long renovation of CN passenger coach 4977. The BRS showed off the newly refurbished car on its Facebook page recently and it looks great in its olive green livery. Given the limitations of what the society can do on its trackage at the Canada Museum of Science and Technology, it seems like the society is going to try and find a home for the car where can it can actually be put to use. It's a shame the BRS no longer has access to active rails. 

Another tip of the hat to the BRS for successfully completing the new home for its 4-8-4 steam locomotive 6200 on the lawn in front of the museum. The move to a new spot necessitated the laying of temporary track and a move of the old hulk for the first time in many years. The old brute looks great, as the BRS made a few cosmetic upgrades to give the engine a nice shine that befits its status as an Ottawa icon.

Here's a shot of the engine from 10 years ago, without its number plates or brass bell. Its looks evene better now.

I'm hoping to have a little more to share in the coming weeks, as my family will be travelling and I will have the chance to get to other parts of the city, due to a number of appointments outside my west-end neighbourhood. Sometimes, I need the necessity of appointments and business to get out there and explore a bit soemtimes. Whatever it takes.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Beachburg Sub Post 400: Time to give thanks

Stratford, Part III

A little serendipity on this Thanksgiving Monday in Canada, as I was sifting through my recent photos and wondering what to share for this latest post. When I scrolled through my recent posts, I realized that this post will mark my 400th since I began this blog in 2013. There have been a few bumps along the way and a sabbatical, but it's still pretty cool to reach 400. Think of how many hockey players have reached 400 goals or how many baseball players have reached 400 home runs. It's a little different on the Interweb, as you can easily produce and proliferate at a prodigious pace (that pun is for Eric Gagnon of Trackside Treasure). Nonetheless, I am happy to hit this round number.

In late July and early August, I was in Stratford for a family reunion, which allowed me several opportunities to see trains. You can see the photos of a meet between a GO Train and CN freight in this post. Or, if you prefer freight, you can check out some of the rolling stock on the freight train waiting in the hole for the GO Train. Those images of CN 581 and a few interesting cars are in this post.

Earlier during my stay, I caught a westbound freight train making its way through the yard, although the train was initially waiting behind a signal to proceed, so I was lucky to get the chance to set up and get a few shots of it waiting. Since I could not see the signal from my vantage point on the public platform, I'll leave it to you to figure out.

This was my first shot of CN 568 westbound, waiting to proceed from the signal, which is not seen in this image. You can see the Masterfeeds elevators just to east of the yard and a few strings of covered hoppers. This was not an easy shot to get. There are a number of visual hazards at the edge of the Stratford station platform that were not there prior to the GO Train experiment in Southwestern Ontario.

This shot gives you an idea of what you need to work around when you see a westbound train approaching the platform. Not an easy task to work through these distractions to get a clean shot!

Since the GO Train service to London will not continue beyond the fall, the platform erected to accommodate GO passengers with disabilities might not last much longer. Via does not make use of this ramp, as its trains are too short to reach it. The railway has its own equipment to accommodate passengers with disabilities. 

The cloud cover was actually a blessing for me as I awaited this train to make its move, but sadly, the sun peaked out for a few minutes, which meant I was on the shadow side of the train. I backed up on the platform and picked an image I wanted to get. I decided to frame the CN westbound against the parked GEXR GP38-2 and the covered hoppers in the yard. I call these images railway family tree shots, where you see multiple railways together in an image, but not as shared power on a train. You might recall I did the same in Smiths Falls in 2017 with a passing westbound Via train and some parked Canadian Pacific GP20s.

The reason I chose this freight train to feature on a Thanksgiving post is because it was mainly a grain train, as the two CN geeps were pulling a consist of mainly covered hoppers. Not the most exciting thing to see, but when you rarely see freight trains, you're always thankful. I also thought that a train that might be carrying part of the annual grain harvest was as good as anything to feature as we count our blessings.

Two paint schemes and an old GP9 warhorse to boot. I was happy to see and old GP9, as even Ottawa has seen a scarcity of these units lately. Over the years, CN has used a fair number of GP9s in the Ottawa area, but the power of choice in Eastern Ontario these days seems to be the GP38-2s, from what I've seen. It's been a few years since I've seen a GP9 in Ottawa.

Note, I said the train was made up of mainly covered hoppers. There were a few tank cars in the consist, surrounded by hoppers. A little variety is always nice.

The cloud cover returned quickly, which cast a fair shadow over the train as it made its way by Downie Street, next to the station. Not an easy day to get a clean shot.

Here's one final shot of the train rounding the curve past the station. I tried my best to get a shot of the entire train, including the engines, but the visual distractions could not be avoided in this shot. Still, as I have been making an effort to do different things this year, I like the results of this shot. Remember, 2023 is The Year of Different. Go out there and find a new perspective, new angle, new approach to your railway images.

So, as I circle back to the theme of gratitude as I complete Lap 400, I would like to thank everyone who drops by to read my meandering musings on the railways and helps me out with advice, information, tips and photos. I have gotten to know a few people through my blogging over the years and I am thankful for their friendship and guidance.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Monday, October 2, 2023

Moving the People in 1940

Twenty or so years ago, I met up with my family in the Niagara Region over the Easter weekend, as it was a reasonable half-way point between where I lived at the time (Ottawa) and where they were (Sarnia area). Over the course of our adventures, we happened across this antique shop that had items flooding every room of a somewhat dilapidated old farmhouse. I remember the uneven floorboards and endless curiosities. As antiques aren't really my thing, I spent some time going through old issues of Life Magazine. I found one of the older issues from 1940 and bough it for something like $5 or so, just for the historic value of the old stories.

There are some fascinating stories about the Second World War in the magazine, but the old relic eventually made its way onto a bookshelf and sat there for many years, untouched. Recently, as I was going through other items in the bookshelf, I dug out the old magazine and started leafing through it again. I was quite surprised to find five railway advertisements in the magazine, which was a pleasant surprise.

The ads speak of the unparalleled comforts of the passenger trains of the Union Pacific (the Challengers), the Santa Fe (El Capitan) Southern Pacific (Arizona Limited) and the New Haven (Pullman Standard streamliners). There was even an ad for Lionel Trains.

When I read the ads for each railway, there were a few things that really struck me. The first was how much description went into the ads and how important rail travel was in North America, particularly in 1940. We all know what role the railways played during World War Two in mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops to fight on the side of the Allies in Europe and later in the Pacific theatre against the expansionist Japanese empire. 

One question you might have is why a railway would advertise in 1940, at a time of global conflict. I had to check my history to see when the United States entered in the Second World War. Sure enough, it was following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 7, 1941. War was declared with Japan on December 8, while Germany declared war with the United States on December 11, given the the Nazi-led administration was friendly with the Japanese emperor. 

By way of comparison, Canada had already been in the war since 1939, as our country was quick to support the United Kingdom.

So, given that historical context, it makes a little more sense for the Santa Fe Railway to advertise its passenger services between Chicago and Los Angeles in 1940, although even without the U.S. being at war, I still wonder about the wisdom of this type of advertising. The reason I wonder is that it was generally accepted that by November 25, 1940, when this ad ran, the country was still very much feeling the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But there are clues in this advertisement that allow you to understand the railway's thinking. The most obvious point to consider is that this is a promotion for El Capitan, the discount streamliner that often played second fiddle to the railways' Super Chief, the railway's flagship luxury passenger train, which began running in 1936. 

The difference between the two trains was the Super Chief had many amenities that El Capitan did not, including sleeping cars, which was the major difference. The running time between the two cities was quite impressive at just a shade under 40 hours for both trains. Both trains made twice-weekly departures in each direction.

Given the importance the railway placed on its passenger service, there was priority given to these trains on its fairly straight route between the Windy City and Los Angeles. And whereas the Super Chief was dubbed the Train of the Stars, as it was known to host celebrities, El Capitan was very much the People's Train, which hosted people who needed to get from Point A to Point B without much fuss. Given the economic realities of the country in 1940, the promotion of this discount train makes sense in a national publication like Life.

A few things to consider about this train. 

1. Despite its economy-based fares, the train featured a lounge and a "counter service" diner featuring Fred Harvey meals. These two amenities were a step down from something one might find on the Super Chief, but it shows you how the railways placed great importance on passenger travel in times past.

2. The railway advertised the services of a "courier nurse" on this train, whose job was not defined in the ad, but it seems this job was close to what was once known as a stewardess. There is a small photo of someone helping passengers recline their seats and sleep for the overnight portion of the journey. 

3. Going from Chicago to Los Angeles would cost you $39.50 in 1940, or $65 round trip, although the one-way fare could be augmented with a $5 surcharge for extra fare, although that is not clearly explained in the fine print. The round-trip ticket would run you $65 between these two cities.

4. The Bank of Canada inflation calculator estimates that this fare would cost the equivalent of $783 today, although I doubt those figures, since the inflation situation in Canada is likely skewing that number a little higher than it should be. Even so, $39.50 sounds like a large sum in 1940, at a time when money was scarce.

5. In 1940, the Santa Fe was clearly advertising the benefits of its streamlined FT locomotives and cars, as you can see from the prominent image of the train near the top of the ad. This would have likely been quite a novelty at the time, as the transition to diesel engines was not yet fully realized on most railways. Given the lack of servicing these diesel units required when compared to steam engines, the timing of this journey would likely have been reduced a fair bit, making it attractive to passengers.

And, in case you're wondering, a subscription to Life cost $4.45 in 1940. Stay tuned for more vintage ads from this old magazine. It turned out to be a fascinating historic find and an educational tool to explore railway history.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Summer Observations in Ottawa

Over the course of the summer in Ottawa, there have been a few railway developments worth noting. Happily, we won't have to dwell on the city's ill-fated Confederation Line light rail service terribly long. Those who live here know that this system continues to experience severe operational problems, relating to the fact that the trackage was found to be improperly installed. After another service stoppage, repairs to the rails to allow trains to properly negotiate curves and the discontinuation of many double-long trains have allowed the commuter line to return to operation in some form.

I digress. I could also mention the many delays that are pushing back the start of service on the newly expanded Trillium Line, which thankfully is powered by diesel light rail trains. That operation seems likely to be operational at some point toward the end of the year or early next year, depending on the update you believe from the city. There have been sporadic sightings of test runs in the past few months, as the builders are trying to finish partially completed stations all the way out to Riverside South.

Can we move on? Talking about the city's light rail system is such a drag.

The good news is that Via Rail Canada recently announced the restoration of more service to and from Toronto, which is the result of increased demand for rail transportation. Two more trains have been added, as of Sept. 1, which restores services to and from Toronto to roughly half of what was available to travellers before the pandemic. The restoration of service in Ottawa is part of a larger return to normal across the Quebec City-Windsor corridor. 

For local railfans here, I can't imagine two more Via Rail corridor trains will elicit much enthusiasm, but I suppose it can only hasten the imminent arrival of the new Siemens equipment, which continues to arrive from its U.S. manufacturer. More trains means more equipment needed, right?

I haven't done a lot of wandering about the city this summer, especially not trackside, although I have had a number of opportunities to catch Via Train 59 westbound on Wednesday evenings, as I am trackside at that time when my daughters are at a nearby dance class.

I noticed over the summer that an industrial spur that once served some small industry on Bentley Drive has been disconnected.

This is a shot taken in July from the Hunt Club Road overpass. Over the course of the summer, I haven't noticed much work being done beyond the initial removal of some of the rails at the switch point. I wasn't surprised to see this, as this spur has been covered over with weeds and brush for a long time. It doesn't look as though it's been used for years. And it doesn't seem as though CN has much interest in reaching out to small industry to maintain carload service along any of these spurs in west Ottawa. The slow rolling CN exit from Ottawa drags on, as the railway seems to be maintaining the remaining service to a few customers and that's it. 

If there were any interested parties looking to start a short line service here, they have yet to materialize and it doesn't look like there's much infrastructure left to work with, even if someone had the notion to get started here. Sad, but that's how a multibillion-dollar transcontinental railway operates. There is little room for small backwater operations that don't meet its margins.

I have not seen CN's Arnprior Turn returning to Walkley on the Wednesday evenings when I am near the Beachburg Sub near Merivale Road. Although, it's always cool to see the remnants of the old Northern Transcontinental line when wandering along the tracks.

Much of this old infrastructure has long since been removed from the Beachburg Sub. However, a few of the old searchlight signals remain, turned aside form the tracks, like this one, which was staring forlornly off at the adjacent soccer fields. 

Later this year, I'd like to share some of the many shots I have taken of Via Train 59, an evening departure from Ottawa Station that passes through Federal Junction around 6 p.m. each night. I have tried to get as many different creative shots as I can around this junction, which is almost completely hidden from view. 

Here's a shot I got below the Hunt Club Road overpass, near Gurdwara Drive. The shot proved to be tough as something would be blurry, and it wasn't going to be the train. I don't know if I will try this vantage point again, as it was extremely difficult to keep the train in focus with the camera I have. 

However, I was reasonably happy with this shot, as the F40 and the first class coach match each other with their wraps. Much of this train was wrapped, in fact, but it was not a complete matching set.

The fall hopefully will bring with it some more interesting shots and possibly more variety. I did manage to travel to Waterloo near the end of summer, but my time was completely booked up, which did not allow for any rail sightings. 

I still have a great deal of material to share from Stratford, the GTA and a few other unexpected places, thanks to the contributions of friends. For now, this is what passes for news from Ottawa.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Mainline freight action near the station (Stratford, Part II)

In a recent post, I shared a few images of evening GO Train 3775 returning west and stopping in Stratford, en route to London. This is part of a pilot project where Metrolinx is providing weekday commuter service between London and Toronto's Union Station. For commuters along the Guelph Subdivision, the imminent discontinuation of this service will likely come as a disappointment. For me, I was grateful to catch the evening GO Train, complete with an old F59 trailing, in a rare setting. 

The bonus was that, as I waited for the GO Train, a eastbound CN mainline freight train was waiting for the GO Train to pass. This train, CN 581, was led by three idling engines, which were parked east of the Via Rail station, close to CN's yard office on Regent Street.

The parked freight was carrying mainly covered hoppers, making it quite possibly a grain or agriculture-related movement, as the Guelph Subdivision passes through some of Ontario's richest and most productive farmland. I was quite pleased to capture an image of an old Burlington Northern three-bay covered hopper, still visually intact sans graffiti. 

This car has 4,750 cu. ft. of storage space, made in 1992 by Trinity Industries for BN, all numbered in the 467XXX series. Given its fairly recent build date, that makes it positively new, in terms of the railway-branded fleets that are becoming less and less common these days. I know a lot of railway vets dislike BN's cascade green and white scheme and its ultra modern symbol, but I always liked it. It must have something to do with not growing up with BN's more well-loved predecessors, the Burlington Route, Great Northern and the Northern Pacific. I'm too young for them.

The train had quite a few of these old BN hoppers, still lettered BN, although this lettering is, of course, one of many combinations belonging to BN successor, BNSF Railway. In the late summer, this is the type of train that is quite common in this area, not to mention on the Goderich Exeter Railway, which originates in Stratford. I did catch a GEXR yard job preparing to embark for Goderich earlier in my stay in Stratford, but I'll save that series of photos for another time. That train was also very heavily weighted with covered hoppers.

Once the GO Train made its way west, I made my way east down Regent Street, which parallels the Stratford Yard. From a public vantage point, I managed to capture a shot of the head end of Train 581. There were some visual hazards, but I think they add to the scene quite nicely, as they put the image of this train in context. The head end was led by GP40-2 9449, which was given the new scheme in recent years. The second unit, also a recent convert to the scheme, is GP38-2 7501, although it does not have a wide safety cab hood, as 9449 does. The final unit is GP38-2 4725, still in its original sergeant stripes. 

You can also see the first car is an Ontario Northland ribbed boxcar, with the chevrons logo. Behind the parked freight were a large string of covered hoppers that were parked closer to the Masterfeeds agricultural products concrete elevator complex, which is on the east end of the yard, near the Romeo Street flyover.

Here's a closer shot of the two lead units, taken from Regent Street.

In both shots, you can see what appears to be a moveable wooden ramp, no doubt used to unload boxcars for use in carload service deliveries to local customers. I'm not sure how much business CN does like this, but it seems to me that this would be why they would keep this ramp around. Also, I'm guessing it might be used if they need to move heavy construction equipment onto a train for MoW service. These are just guesses on my part.

There was also one other cool sighting in the yard, as I explored it from all angles from the surrounding streets. On the side of the yard opposite the station, there was this electrical unit that was parked on a heavy-duty flatcar. I could only get so close on public property to get a proper shot of it. As we were leaving Stratford to head home, I saw a large contingent of local public utility vehicles carting this unit onto a truck for use somewhere in the local electrical grid.

The other rolling stock sightings were part of the GEXR move, so I will save those images for another post.

This meet between the freight train and the GO Train was one of many such sightings that dotted my weekend in Stratford. I was quite happy to catch so much action in Stratford, which can be a hit-or-miss place to railfan these days, unless you're there to catch the regularly scheduled Via service. And yes, I did get a few shots of a Via passenger train making its way to the station, since it was carrying members of my extended family into town for a family reunion. 

More material for another post. Stratford proved to be a gold mine this summer!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The curious history of Fallowfield Station's name

Fallowfield Station is 21 years old this year and, for its entire history, has drawn confusion over its name. Look through old news coverage of the station when it opened in 2002 and you will see that people wrote letters to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen, asking Via Rail to change the name of the station to Barrhaven, where it is located in the southwest of Ottawa's urban area. 

There are a few interesting points to consider when considering why the station is named Fallowfield. The most important point is that the station is technically located on Fallowfield Road, which is an arterial road on the northern edge of the massive suburb. That is a reasonable enough explanation on its face, but it's not that simple. Those who know their geography in the Ottawa area know that a small rural village, located between Bells Corners and Richmond, is called Fallowfield. This beautiful rural community traces its routes back to the 1870s. It boasts a beautiful old stone church, St. Patrick's, which sits atop Steeple Hill (naturally), just off Old Richmond Road. 

For our purposes, it's important to note that the Fallowfield community is located nine kilometres away from the actual station that bears its name. Using St. Patrick's as a reference point, Google Maps shows that the distance from the Steeple Hill area, where many Fallowfield residents live, to the station is 9.1 kilometres. For Ottawa area residents, this is no longer an issue, as most people understand the station and the community are not the same thing, but for people unfamiliar with this city, it begs the question why the station would be named Fallowfield.

The second point to consider is that the station's name is not without precedent. Consider that Via Rail's suburban station in Scarborough is called Guildwood, although in that case, the station is located in a community by the name Guildwood, that eventually was subsumed by Scarborough. Also, Via Rail's station in Hamilton is called Aldershot. Both of these names predate Via Rail, so neither of these unique choices can be credited to Via. But for our purposes, there is historical precedence for giving a station a name that does not align with the community it serves. 

It's important to note that railways have often located their stations in areas that are most advantageous to them, rather than what is convenient to the town they serve. This was often done to discourage land speculators from benefiting from selling overpriced land in an area where a railway was expected to be built. In some cases, a station was built along a rail line that bypassed the nearest town altogether. Look at Gananoque's station in Cheeseborough as an example. In the case of this town, a branchline was opened to the station so the town wouldn't be left behind. Also, look in Ottawa's south end, where the old CP Prescott Subdivision as once located. Consider how far the Manotick Station area is, where the line was went through, from the actual community of Manotick.

In the case of Fallowfield Station, the name is not the product of Via Rail shenanigans. It was the product of an OC Transpo suburban pack and ride facility for its city buses. The park and ride facility was built at the corner of Fallowfield Road and Woodroffe Avenue before Via Rail began to consider opening up its station.

This is where the bizarre railway policy in Ottawa municipal politics enters the picture. When Nepean city council began lobbying for a train station in Barrhaven, one idea was that the Via station would be a useful resource for people in the west end of the Ottawa urban area, who didn't want to travel to the Ottawa Station, east of Ottawa's downtown to catch a train to Toronto. 

But even more than the convenience factor for west end residents, the Via station was seen as an important potential link in a commuter railway network using existing rails in the city. Look at the news coverage from the late 1990s and early 2000s and you will read about numerous local politicians extolling the virtues of a multi-modal commuter station that linked together buses, commuter trains and Via Rail. The idea was for the station to be a GO station, in addition to a link on the Via Rail network.

When I was researching the history of the station, there it was in black in while: proof that this city once had a coherent, reasonable commuter railway policy that included the common sense notion of using the infrastructure in place to move people to and from the suburbs into the core using existing rail. 

Of course, those notions of using existing rails were repeatedly dismissed by so-called progressive visions of a more European rail network, using electric light rail vehicles on a new right-of-way on an east-west axis. We know the rest of that story, which is still sadly unfolding today.

So, why Fallowfield Station? Well, because at one point, Fallowfield Station as supposed to double as a commuter rail station for OC Transpo, so it needed to have the same name as the OC Transpo park and ride bus station that was already in place.

When successive councils repeatedly quashed the idea of using existing rails to serve as a basis for commuter rail service in the city, the name for Via Rail's Barrhaven station became even more questionable. Eventually a decision was reached to include the name Barrhaven in parenthesis on the station signs. 

As Paul Harvey used to say: Now you know, the rest of the story.