Friday, March 10, 2023

The Past and Future of Rails in Kitchener-Waterloo

This past August, my family travelled to Waterloo, Ont. for a week-long music camp at Wilfrid Laurier University. The weather was ideal with sunny skies and muted summer temperatures. It was also a homecoming of sorts, as I used to live and work in Kitchener from 2007-2009.

While the music camp portion of our trip was exhausting, with parental participation a key component to the day, I did managed to sneak away a few times to explore the city's railway scene. There are a number of facets to this region's railway scene, if you are so inclined to railfan in the region.

For the uninitiated, Waterloo, the city, is situated in Waterloo Region, which consists of the conjoined cities of Waterloo (furthest north), Kitchener, and south of Highway 401, Cambridge. In the south end, CP's Galt Subdivision runs through Cambridge. CP is busy in this area, as it serves both Toyota automotive plants and numerous industrial customers. Sadly, I didn't have the time to explore these operations.

CN serves Kitchener, as its Guelph Subdivision runs through the city. This is the former Goderich Exeter Guelph Sub. The CN line also gives way to Metrolinx trackage, as GO Trains operate from the Kitchener Via Station into downtown Toronto. There is a Metrolinx spur in Kitchener, where trains are kept in off-hours, but it is not accessible to photograph. 

Waterloo does have rails, but they are mainly used by the region's Ion light rail trains. That's probably the best place to start, as I saw more of these trains than anything during the week. This shot below is of a northbound Ion train, having just crossed Seagram Avenue, near the Laurier campus.

Waterloo's light rail system is a highly reliable service, which uses Bombardier trains that ply the rails both off and along city streets. In many places, it's more like a streetcar, as it stops at red lights, makes turns onto streets like vehicles and observes fairly tame speeds. This is a real difference between Waterloo and Ottawa, where the O-Trains do not go anywhere near city streets and run at higher rates of speed, albeit not nearly as reliably.

Here's a shot of the Seagram level crossing. I was surprised by the frequency of trains crossing this street. The number of times the gates are activated makes it a frequent occurrence for drivers to consider when driving in the city. As far as I could see, the trains were seeing light ridership in early August, which is not a surprise, but they were far from empty. The uptake on this service seems to be pretty brisk to my eye, anyway.

Later in the week, my daughter and I had a break in her schedule, which allowed us to check out the rails near Kitchener's Via station along the Guelph Sub. I've had good luck with trains here in the past, as you can see from this post. On this day, however, the rails were quiet. There wasn't even a local in action. The Kitchener train station is quite nice, even if it is a bit dusty looking at times. You can just make out the GO Train ticket machine to the right of the image. This photo was taken from the platform looking back onto Victoria Street.

Here's another shot of the station's trademark outdoor waiting area, with its distinctive arches. Across the tracks is the old Krug industrial building, which is still in use.

One major change I noticed near the station is that the old King Street level crossing at Victoria has been eliminated, as the Ion trains that go north and south along King require a separation from the Guelph Sub. This is a major change since I lived in the city, when this track was a level crossing and often caused a fair bit of commuter distress when longer freight trains made their way slowly over King Street. When I was in Kitchener this past summer, I noticed a few level crossings had been eliminated by flyovers.

There wasn't much happening in the CN yard, which is visible from the sidewalk along Lancaster Road.

Here's another angle. The mainline is the track farthest to the right in the image.

Like I said, not even a local at work! It was a quiet day to say the least. Disappointing.

Later in the week, I took a few shots of the rails in Waterloo itself, as the city still has the remnants of the old CN Elmira Subdivision going through its downtown. Much of this trackage is now in use for light rail trains, but you can still see the remnants of traditional railways in the city. Waterloo's old train station still sits trackside, but is now a men's clothing store.

In the back of the men's clothing store along the rails, an old CN caboose still sits on a disconnected piece of track.

The store's name is Paul Puncher menswear, hence the branding on the caboose. But if you look closely, the old caboose's original number is still visible on the roof ledge. This is former CN caboose 79664. 

I also took this shot of a piece of trackage down an alleyway in Waterloo's core. These rails do still host CN trains, but those operations happen overnight and in the wee hours of the morning, when the Ion light rail operation is not operating.

This was one of my favourite pictures from the week, considering I had almost no luck capturing any live railway action. My schedule just didn't allow me to catch the early morning GO Train or go down to Cambridge to capture some CP action. I had to make do with what I had in Waterloo, which was light rail and any other assorted pieces of vintage railway scenes that crossed my path. 

At one point during the week, I was able to make my way up to St. Jacobs, a small tourist friendly town north of Waterloo, which is home to the Waterloo Central Railway tourist operation. I have blogged about this unique railway before, which you can read about here. I really wanted to go and take some photos of its unique roster of rolling stock and motive power, all of which is able to be photographed from public property. 

I will save these images for a later post.


Eric said...

Hi Michael,

Our August, 1992 visit to Kitchener had a similar result. No VIA, no CN running. Well, except a little switcher easing in and shutting down. You got some neat shots, regardless, and I recognize that light rail equipment from Millhaven Bombardier!

Thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear that that music camp was exhausting, by the way!

Steve Boyko said...

I appreciate seeing Kitchener-Waterloo through your eyes! It's too bad you had no luck on the CN side. I haven't been to Cambridge (yet) but I'll have to try to take in some CP action the next time I'm in town.

Michael said...

Thanks, gentlemen. I have had great train karma in KW in the past, so this was not a big deal. I was also able to bring my daughter into the neigbourhood where I lived, which was fun. The real bonus was getting to see the historic antique engines and rolling stock at the Waterloo Central Railway yard in St. Jacobs. It was like a free trip to a museum. That is coming up in another post.