Saturday, April 22, 2023

Spring Observations in Ottawa

I'm happy to bring back a feature I used to have in this blog regularly, when I would round up a collection of newsworthy photos and talk about the goings-on in Ottawa. The challenge this type of posts poses is that sometimes, there just isn't enough to mention and then there's the added headache of actually getting out there to record what's happening. A few recent developments in my life at least allowed me to capture some interesting photos, so the observations post is back.

The first was a simple doctor's visit to Riverside South, an area of the city where the O-Train Trillium Line will soon end. Those who read this blog know that the extension of this line follows the former CP Prescott Subdivison right-of-way, some of which was still in place before the extension construction began. Like anything with the O-Train, it's not simple. The extension is behind schedule and is not expected to be ready anytime soon. But, before I went to my doctor's appointment, I took a couple of quick snaps of the O-Train Riverside South terminal, which looks to be nearing completion.

This is a shot taken from Limebank Road, which shows you the terminal as well as the rail bridge over the road. But, there was another interesting item in this area that made me think that work here is wrapping up or nearing its end.

I spotted this piece of maintenance-of-way equipment parked in the track right before the bridge over Limebank Road. Just a few days ago on the Eastern Ontario Rails Facebook page, someone posted a picture of a new diesel O-Train doing a test run on tracks in this area. You might recall from this post that I took a picture of this new O-Train parked in Walkley Yard last summer

Later in the week, I had to return to the doctor's office to retrieve a form, so I made sure to make my way through Barrhaven, past the Via Rail Fallowfield Station because I figured a free train sighting was worth the slightly longer drive. I was rewarded by the sight of this westbound corridor train making its way to Toronto in the rain.

This was about as common as it gets for Via these days, as an F40PH-2 lead a line of four LRC cars through the signals just west of Woodroffe Avenue. Since I was on my way home and caught something, I fugured this was a win. I don't know how much longer this scene will be common, as Via is about to undergo a radical change in look in the coming years, as its Siemens trainsets become more common and the older rolling stock is retired. 

Case in point: earlier this week, another new Siemens trainset was spotted crossing the border near Sarnia, Ont. as it made its way east to Montreal, presumably. Those shots were shared with me by a blog reader in Sarnia, but I chose not to add them in to this post, because I wasn't sure the shot was taken from public land. I don't want to encourage trespassing on railway property.

Back to Fallowfield Station for a second. I got a few other interesting shots when this westbound came in to the platform. I like this shot, simply for the lines on the parking lot tarmac. This is the eastern edge of the platform, closest to Woodroffe, where these lines are meant to keep cars from parking in a laneway that allows Via crews to access the platform. I've never seen it actually used, but I would imagine it's for snow clearing vehicles mainly.

As is my new custom at Fallowfield, I tried to get a scene of people boarding the train. I have mentioned this a fair bit recently, but this station really doesn't offer a lot of great photo opportunities from different vantage points, so one is often left to get creative. This was my attempt at something a little different.

To me, the real attraction of this image is the cloud bank over the station. You can see a few passengers waiting for the on-board crew to open the doors to the coaches. You can also see how narrow the platform is at the station, which really restricts your photography here, unless you retreat to the empty parts of the parking lot and shoot from a more generous angle. That is the approach I often take. I'm not a huge fan of these head-on shots, unless there's a good reason for it. In this case, there were enough elements to justify the shot.

This leads me to my last shot. How does that expression go? Be careful what you wish for? Well, for years, I've wanted to get a photograph of the Transitway trench that the Confederation Line O-Trains use. This trench is, of course, the old right-of-way of the CP Carleton Place Sub, which was used for years as a bus-only road, dubbed the Transitway. When the Confederation Line was built, the trains took over this right of way up to Tunney's Pasture. When the line extends to Corkstown Road in the west end, the entire length of this old trench, which ends at the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, will have rails once again.

So, why was I able to finally get this shot?

This week, I found myself in the unfortunate position of being on strike, as a member of the federal public service. As such, I was at Tunney's Pasture to take part in a picket, which has been my reality since Wednesday. The one upside was I was able to at least get a shot of some O-Trains plying their way to and from the downtown using this old trench. I like this shot because there's some interesting cloud cover and elements of the city in the background. The train itself is not really the focal point of the image. Many, many shades of grey! It's a metaphor for this entire strike situation. As much as I was pleased to get this shot, I hope I don't find myself in this part of this city for too long.

On the topic of the LRT, there has been a fair amount of chatter in the media this week about city commitments to implement most of the recommendations that came out of the provincial inquiry into the O-Train's many failures. Those with any idea of this system know it has many, many problems. I won't get into it here, but there is hope that possibly there is finally a political will to get this right. Although many aren't holding out much hope since the system was completely shut down by our recent ice storm, which stranded no fewer than five trains on the Confederation Line, leaving it to the Ottawa Fire Services to get people off these disabled trains. It begs the question why the system continued to operate when everything else in the city pretty much shut down.

There's also planned stoppages this weekend to deal with leaks in the downtown tunnel.

The problems seem endless. Such is the state of transit in Ottawa.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Something is better than nothing

I've made the trip from Ottawa to the Sarnia area on Highway 401 more times than most people. Being from Sarnia originally and having lived in Ottawa most of my adult life, the trip is unavoidable as much of my family remains in the Sarnia area. While it is a long, often boring drive with very little in the way of scenery, it at least gives me the opportunity to get a glimpse of the busy CN, Via Rail and GO Train operations along the CN mainline through the Greater Toronto Area.

Recently, my family spent part of our March Break in Toronto, as we visited the city's zoo. On the way into Toronto, I was able to get a quick shot of what appeared to be an eastbound local freight as it made its way east around the General Motors office building in Oshawa.

Of course, it wasn't much of a shot as it was taken from the passenger seat of our car, which was travelling west on the highway. The train was lead by a solo unit, which I believe was CN 2334, which is an ES44DC. I got a few shots where the number was almost legible, so this is my best guess. The train was about 50 cars long, with two buffer cars behind the power and another buffer car at the rear.

This was about all I saw on my travels, with the exception of a freight I glimpsed in Kingston as it passed below the highway, but I was not in a position to capture a proper image from the eastbound lanes across to where the train was.

Oshawa is an interesting place.When I was a reporter at the Peterborough Examiner, this city loomed large in the Central Ontario economy. Many people commuted into the city to work at the GM plant, or for the industries that fed the plant. I recall being assigned a series of stories about downtown revival in a number of cities, including Oshawa. At the time (2003), the city's downtown had seen better times, although efforts were afoot to create housing in the core and take advantage of the creation of what was then known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (OIUT), now known as Ontario Tech University.

Given the waxing and waning fortunes of the city's automotive industry, Oshawa had certainly seen changes of fortunes over the years. It still maintains a robust economy, given its commuter town status that feeds into the City of Toronto. Oshawa's GO Train service remains steady, which insulates the town from economic busts, as many people have the option to work in Toronto and live in Oshawa. I'm not sure how much of this has changed amid the pandemic, when many people ditched their daily commute to work from home.

As you can see, the Oshawa Via Rail/GO Train station is a busy place, with frequent GO Train service, not to mention a steady presence of autoracks. It's tough to photograph from the 401, but I tried. It's a modern, well-equipped station with a massive park-and-ride parking lot for commuters. Ottawa would love to have the same type of ridership for its troubled O-Train as GO Transit enjoys in cities like Oshawa.

As we were heading east, we passed by the GO Transit maintenance facility in Whitby, which is a train facility I would like to visit. You can just make out the GO locomotive at the left, parked in front of the building.

Here's another shot of the maintenance facility, with a few cars parked in front near the paint shop.

As I as preparing this post, I remembered that I had taken a quick shot of the Union-Pearson Express at the Pearson International Airport last September when my wife and I were returning to Ottawa from a trip to Indiana. This shot was taken from inside the terminal, but I liked how it turned out, even with the window frames in the shot. You get a clear idea of the size of these trains as well as the UP Terminal at the airport. There's something about the look of these trains that I like. I can't put my finger on it. I like them, though. I suppose anything is better than Ottawa's hideously ugly O-Trains.

I often mention on this blog that travelling along the 401, or anywhere outside of Ottawa for that matter, is an opportunity to capture an image of railway activity. I realize that many of these shots are not all that riveting and most don't show you all that much, but for me it's part of the challenge of capturing something when travelling through southern Ontario. 

Once in a while, you get something. When you never see mainline action, something is better than nothing.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Capture Via's rainbow era while you can

On Jan. 12, I found myself trackside at Via Rail's Tremblay Road station east of downtown Ottawa. I didn't really have a goal in mind, other than to see what was coming and going. I was hoping to maybe catch a glance at the new Siemens Charger trainsets, but none were in operation that day. 

As is the case in Ottawa, Via Rail is often the only railway to observe some days. My first stop was the Belfast Road overpass, which gives you a great view of the station yard to the west and the Alexandria Subdivision to the east. Of course, the view of the station is obscured by a number of hydro wires, but you can work around them with some creative camera positioning and zoom. If you are hoping to catch a westbound train coming from Montreal, the Belfast Road overpass is an ideal spot to shoot facing east, as long as the east sidewalk is cleared, which is not the case in the winter. On the day I was there, a corridor train from Montreal was making its way to the station, but I could only capture it from the west sidewalk, through the traffic. Not an easy task.

Led by P42 918 in a wrap, this train featured a full consist of silver streamliner cars, complete with the requisite buffer cars that sandwich the operational coaches, thanks to a mandate from federal safety officials. 

The buffer car behind the engine was 8103 long distance coach in the traditional Via blue and yellow colours. This was originally a CP coach, and is designated by Via as an HEP1 coach. 

The last buffer car in this train is Via Rail 8318 Manor-class sleeping car, which was also a Canadian Pacific car prior to Via. The nameplate on the side of the car did not carry a name, but research showed that 8318 is officially listed as Craig Manor. This car was also still carrying its original blue and yellow Via Rail colours dating back to the late 1970s. I mention these cars in particular because I really do think we are living in a rainbow era of Via, where many different paint schemes and wraps are vying for a railfan's attention. I wonder if a day will come when we look back fondly at this point in Via's history.

Once this train had tied up, I made my way to the station to take a peak at the schedule. Given the number of people in the station, I assumed more trains were coming or going. While there, the Ottawa Valley NTrak railway club was showing off its prowess in a combined display. I took a quick peak at this model train setup, in between all the fascinated kids. I took a shot at what I assumed was an approximation of CN's Super Continental. Love those old F units!

While I was there, I decided to get a shot of the main entrance to the station. This is kind of an iconic place for me, as it was how I arrived in Ottawa to return to university or the final place I saw before heading home to visit family in the Sarnia area. The Ottawa train station is a very difficult building to capture an image of, given there aren't many good vantage points in the area where you can get the entire building in a shot. But the entrance gives you an idea of the architectural design of the station, which has won awards. Once inside the building, you can certainly appreciate the floor-to-ceiling windows, as it is a very warm, welcoming place.

Before calling it a day, another westbound made its way to the station, this time being led by another P42 (902) in its original Via paint scheme. I tried to get the train as it rounded the curve, for the sake of getting a different shot. I like this one below the best.

Once again, you can see the two buffer HEP1 cars sandwiching the cars in revenue service. This at least adds a little bit of colour to the corridor, allowing those along the rails to see cars (like the Manor sleepers) that don't often grace the rails between Windsor and Quebec City. In this case, the first buffer was HEP1 Business Class car 4000 in the updated business class grey and yellow scheme.

The rear buffer car appears to be Via Rail 8307 Blair Manor sleeping car, once again in the original Via blue and yellow scheme from the late 1970s. It was fun to see some of these cars that very rarely made it through Ottawa before the mandated buffer car order came down from federal safety regulators. I wonder how long this policy will be in place, given the outcome of the tests being done on these cars. I suppose it's a reminder to capture some rail history trackside while you can.

While I was capturing the incoming consist from Montreal, I noticed an eastbound corridor train making its start for Montreal. This consist was a little more standard with an F40 leading a typical LRC consist.

My original goal with this post was to provide a little bit of trackside commentary on winter railroading in Ottawa but I realized that the photos I took tell the story of the many faces of Via Rail right now. There are many different colour schemes at play these days, including the newest scheme in the Siemens trainsets. This seems to be the direction that all of Via's equipment is heading in, or at least the equipment that will remain in use in the years to come. A look at the HEP1 4000 Business Class buffer seems to be a decent match for the newest Via equipment.

But it's interesting that you can see the original Via blue and yellow colours on both the HEP1 and LRC cars, not to mention the various updates and wraps from the Canada 150 and Via 40 years. Then there's the Love the Way wraps, which carried over in recent years. I'm not even mentioning the slightly iridescent scheme on the Renaissance equipment. Put it all together and you have a lot of interesting design elements worth capturing while you can. What seems mundane today might seem fascinating in the years to come. So go ahead and take that additional shot. You'll be happy you did.