Friday, June 30, 2023

The ghost that haunts me (Part I)

I've called the weekly CN freight run to Arnprior the Ghost several times, and for good reason. It's a tricky train to catch, if you are so inclined. The Arnprior Turn, as it is commonly known, has changed a fair bit since I have begun to take notice of it with the advent of this blog in 2013. When I first started blogging, CN made two weekly trips to the west end of the city. It made a run out to Kott Lumber and SynAgri on the Smiths Falls Sub on Sundays (and sometimes Thursdays I'm told, depending on demand). The run to Arnprior was on Wednesdays, which continues to this day. 

Of course, the two runs out west have been combined into one run now, as CN 589 heads up the Smiths Falls Sub early in the morning before backing up to Federal Junction and then proceeding  west up the Beachburg Sub to what was Nepean Junction, where the now continuous line becomes the Renfrew Spur, which takes the train to Nylene Canada in Arnprior. This is the usual routine, if both runs are needed. If there is nothing to do on the Smiths Falls Sub, CN crews proceed directly up the Beachburg Sub to Arnprior.

To be honest, I don't pay as much attention to this train as I once did, because I have been branching out in my blogging a bit, trying new things, finding new subjects as well as thinking about new spots and angles to capture railway action in this area. That doesn't mean that I don't sometimes look out for it. Since I work from home, I do have opportunities to swing by trackside to catch this train, in theory. But, even breaking away on my break time is a difficult thing to do, which means I usually don't chance it, as my workday can become busy in an instant (like it did this week).

But as I find myself in the Colonnade Business Park every Wednesday evening, when my daughters go to dance class, I have time to keep an eye out for 589's return to Walkley Yard. Over the winter months, the timing hasn't worked out, as the daylight was nonexistent. However, I did see the train twice over the winter months. It got me to thinking that, once the time change happened and I had daylight, I would start bringing my camera each Wednesday, just in case I got lucky.

For the most part, the timing hasn't worked out, as the Arnprior Turn has been unpredictable. There are shifting factors that affect this train's timing. The most obvious is the switching that needs to be done in Walkley Yard before 589 prepares for its trip west. The next factor is whether 589 needs to make a run to Kott lumber or (rarely) SynAgri in Twin Elm, which isn't always the case each week. Depending on its timing on the Smiths Falls Sub, there is the Via Rail Toronto-bound trains that CN needs to accommodate, as they have the right-of-way usually. 

Add all those factors together and it can be hard to predict when this train makes its way to Arnprior and back to Walkley Yard again. There's also the factor of how many tank cars of caprolactum that Nylene Canada requires. There have been weeks where I saw a single tank car in tow on this train, while other weeks see as many as 6-7 cars. The unloading process is not terribly straightforward, I'm told, as caprolactum isn't like unloading a tank full of petroleum gas.

So, long story short, it's anything but predictable, which means you always need to be ready. Case in point was a few weeks ago when I was bringing my daughters to dance class and nearly left my camera at home. I was having no luck catching this train and I was getting a bit discouraged by my bad luck. At the last minute, I decided to take my camera anyway, just in case. I'm glad I did. The railway gods finally smiled on me.

This is a shot of the train heading east back to Walkley Yard on a flyover. Since traffic was at a standstill on Merivale Road, I quickly snapped a few shots through my windshield as the train trundled by. I would never attempt this otherwise, but I knew it was relatively safe as the cars around me were not moving. For once, I was thankful for an unusually congested Merivale Road, which is a nightmare of outdated urban development, with retail plazas tacked onto each other in seemingly endless links.

This shot shows two GP38s in a somewhat faded safety scheme. There were four tank cars in tow being brought back to Walkley. This shot came out surprisingly well, as it fits with my newfound desire to get some different shots of trains this year. You can see the hydro towers that follow the Beachburg Sub in this part of Nepean. You can also see the billboard for a local store on Merivale, which is a strip mall nightmare. But, I like that all these elements came together in this lucky shot.

As I followed the train, I tried to get a few more of the tank cars in the shot, but the glare and reflection from the windshield killed a few shots. The shot above was the best I could do. 

The interesting thing here is that, given the speed restrictions on the Beachburg Sub, I knew I would have time to proceed to Prince of Wales Drive ahead of the train, since it was in the direction of my daughter's dance class on Colonnade Road. Since we were early for class, I passed by the dance class on Colonnade Road and headed for the Prince of Wales flyover, which sees Via corridor trains every day, as well as this weekly freight train. I knew it was going to be tight, but there was a parking lot where I could safely park and a grassy hill next to Prince of Wales Drive, with a great view of this rail bridge.

I have been experimenting with shots from this vantage points recently, as Via's Train 59 passes by at the same time every night. It's a great spot to get a different image, if you're so inclined. I will be sharing shots from this spot in the comings weeks and months. Stay tuned for that.

Something different: Challenge accepted!

You might recall that in a recent post, I declared 2023 as the Year of Different, where I challenged my fellow rail enthusiasts to get creative and capture different railway images this year. A good friend of the blog Keith Boardman accepted the challenge and shared this shot from near Fitzroy Harbour, a picturesque community in the extreme northwest edge of the amalgamated city. Fitzroy a spot where the old Beachburg Sub crossed the Ottawa River into the Pontiac Region of western Quebec, before crossing back into Renfrew County before reaching its terminus in Petawawa. Of course, before CN dismantled its Northern Transcontinental line through Algonquin Park, this was once a busy rail line with regular freight trains. Even after it was truncated, the old Ottawa Central regularly serviced customers in the Pontiac and even as far as Petawawa, before the economic recession in 2009 led to OCR selling its assets to CN. That was it for the Beachburg Sub past Nepean Junction.

But, even though the rails are gone past Nepean Junction, there are still reminders of what once was in this area. I'll let Keith pick up the story. Here's what he wrote:

I happened to be travelling on Galetta Side Road where you'd turn north to go to Fitzroy Harbour a couple weeks ago. I've been on this road many times over the years, always wondering what the scene would have been like had the Beachburg Sub still been in use. As I passed by where it crossed, this little structure caught my attention. It was interesting in that it's still painted and lettered with the CN logo. Pretty sure nobody has bothered going in it now for several years, but it still stands.

Thanks to Keith for sharing this shot of an old CN utility shed, which seems to be near a telecom tower, which might explain why it's still in place. You can even see the CN 8231 numbering on the side of the shed. 

I was thinking of Keith's shot the other day and I figured it fit thematically with this post. As I looked at the shots of CN 589 making its way over Merivale Road, I wondered how many trains used to ply these rails in their prime? How many trains did people see each day on their commute? It's funny how many rail fans talk about these days with fondness, when a generation of Ottawans probably couldn't even tell you anything about this rail line at all. Many think it's abandoned and they'd be forgiven for thinking that.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, as the song says.

By the way, the title of this post is a play on the 1991 album, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, by Canadian band the Crash Test Dummies. I was never a huge fan of theirs, but they had their moments. I appreciate their devotion to their craft. Their music was anything but dumb.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Catching up with the next generation of Via Rail

A few weeks ago, I found myself with a clear calendar on a Saturday morning. In addition, thanks to a timely tip from a railfan on Eastern Ontario Rails on Facebook, I knew that Via Rail was using its new Siemens Charger trainset on Train 24 eastbound to Montreal. 

Train 24 was at the station when I arrived, and it was indeed one of Via's new Siemens trainsets, with its rear-facing cab leading the way north. I couldn't see the Charger locomotive, since Train 24 was partially hidden behind a west-facing LRC consist that was queued up for a run to Toronto. 

I have to say that it's been a good run for Via Rail fans in recent years. First, there was the Canada 150 wraps, followed by the Via 40 wraps. More recently, there were the repurposed Love The Way wraps. That's not to forget the plethora of schemes applied to the silver streamliner HEP cars in recent years. Add it all together and we are only now emerging from an impressive rainbow era of Via Rail. 

But, on to business. The Siemens trainset was sitting on a track in the middle of the station yard and the morning sun was blazing, which was casting shadows on my side of the platform. Add to this the Ottawa Station's canopies over the platforms and the newly installed chain link fence around the yard, and I knew I had my work cut out to get some quality shots.

Luckily, the security fencing has squares cut out of it, for the purposes of fire hoses, I'm guessing. I'd also like to think Via was throwing us railfans a bone, but I'm guessing it was for fire department purposes. Here's what I initially saw. I knew I would have to wait until the train made its way from underneath the station canopies to get a better shot. But this shot was okay, taken through one of the square cutouts in the fence.

I tried getting some shots from various cutouts in the fence, but nothing seemed to really capture the image I wanted. However, I kept trying.

This shot shows you the complexities of getting a clear shot of this train on the platform. It was obscured by the west-facing train and it was also bathed in shadows from the harsh morning sun. Still, it's always fun to get two trains in one shot, even if they are both parked.

When the train began to pull out of the station yard, my view became unobstructed. The sun was still blazing and there was nary a cloud to work with, so I took a few shots and hoped that I could touch up the elements a bit afterward. I like this shot quite a bit. It gives you a clear shot of the Charger locomotive as well as the signalling equipment in the east end of the station yard. That stop sign is for railway baggage carts and platform maintenance vehicles. It is now protected by a chain link fence, which is a relatively recent addition to the area.

 I also made sure to get a shot of the engine by itself. This unit is 2203.

Here's one final shot of the train passing beneath the Belfast Road overpass. I was originally planning to take photographs from this overpass, but ongoing construction closed the road both ways, which was really frustrating. It's the second time this road has been closed. I did notice that a few construction workers were watching the trains from the west sidewalk on the overpass.

I didn't stay long at the station, as I had my two bored daughters in tow. I convinced them to come with me in return for a visit to a local restaurant for a fruit smoothie in return. Not a bad deal for them. But I didn't want to press my luck with their patience. Besides, I think I have enough Via Rail photos from the first half of this year. There's only so much I can shoot. I did like that I got a few pictures from the Tremblay Road station, as I have only been here a few times this year. This as by far the most productive visit. 

The Siemens trains continue to be in use between Ottawa and Montreal mainly, with the occasional service to Toronto, judging by what I read online. It won't be long until their presence on the rails becomes more commonplace. I wonder if we will then pine for the days of LRC coaches, HEP cars, F40s and P42s? I won't miss the P42s but maybe some of other equipment, especially the silver streamliners, as they hold a special place in my memories.

For now though, I enjoyed the novelty of seeing something new.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Déjà vu in St. Jacobs

Last summer, my family was in Waterloo for a music camp at Wilfrid Laurier University (here's the post about KW rail sightings). It was in close proximity to St Jacobs, which is the home of the Waterloo Central Railway tourist line. Longtime readers might recall my first visit to this railway's yard, which is located along the CN Elmira Subdivision. The first time I shot this operation in 2018, it was a cold wet November day, when the rails were silent. My daughters and I took a few photos from public property and had to take shelter before a downpour spoiled our fun a bit (or, my fun, to be fair).

This past summer, in a break during our music camp activities, I managed to break away and head north to St. Jacobs to see if there were any other old antiques in the yard that I didn't catch on my previous visit. Luckily for me, there were some great old antiques on display, although their position in the yard made it difficult for me to get some decent shots. And despite the fact that we visited the area in the midst of a prolonged dry spell, we had to duck into our car again to avoid a sudden downpour. Eerie déjà vu.

A quick bit of history. The Waterloo Central is a tourist line that has operated on the CN Elmira Sub for a number of years and is the latest incarnation of a tourist operation that has operated on this line on and off over the years. Up until the Region of Waterloo repurposed much of CN's tracks in Waterloo for its Ion light rail operation, the WCR began its runs from Waterloo. Now, the short line starts its runs from a retail area just south of St. Jacobs, near the border with the City of Waterloo.

When my daughter and I arrived last August, there was a collection of old locomotives huddled next to the short line's engine house. My daughter and I both took some shots of this scene. I wish I could have gotten some clean shots of these engines, but I did like how this one turned out. It really fits with my new approach to rail photography, where I am trying to get creative with my images.

You can see former BC Rail MLW S13 locomotive 1002 clad in the old Canadian Pacific-inspired maroon, grey and yellow scheme. This unit was built in 1959 for BC Rail predecessor Pacific Great Eastern. After its life at BC Rail, it was sold to the Ontario Southland Railway in 1997. The Waterloo Central took ownership in 2018.

At the back is what I assume is former Canadian National SW switch engine 1012 in the old CN yellow and olive green scheme. In consulting the Southwestern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society's (organization behind the Waterloo Central) fleet of engines, this one is not listed. The photo I took does not capture the full unit number, so its story remains a mystery for now.

In the foreground is a Waterloo Central heavyweight baggage car painted again in the CP maroon and grew scheme. The WCR has made great strides in recent years in painting much of its fleet or repainting it in a CP maroon and grey scheme. I recall during previous visits that some of its cars were still sporting the original Via Rail blue and yellow scheme, albeit with the WCR logo in place of the Via logo. Here's a better shot of the old baggage car.

If you are looking for old RDCs, the WCR has several of them in its St Jacobs yard, including this one, which was parked next to a heavyweight coach with a rear facing porch. Two different eras of passenger rail side by side. It was cool to get an image of these two together.

Here's another shot of more RDCs, a little to the south of the Via Rail painted unit. These ones have seen better days, as their faded blue and yellow liveries attests. You can just see a bit of a heavyweight coach in the foreground. These photos were taken from the edge of a nearby school yard. It was a challenge to shot through the brush at the edge of the tracks.

At this point, the rain had begun to fall. I took this shot from the end of a suburban street, which abuts the tracks. You can see a former Essex Terminal Rail caboose linked to a maroon-clad caboose and another WCR maroon and yellow baggage car. This society has an extensive collection of passenger equipment and cabooses, including a Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo caboose. I was not able to get a clear shot of that car, as the rain turned into a downpour shortly after I took this shot.

This was the best I could do to get a shot of the TH&B caboose, which was tucked in behind another passenger coach near the engine house. The engine house, it should be noted, is where the group keeps its steam engine. I have never seen that machine out of the engine house. I find it interesting that the WCR paints its passenger cars with both the "Waterloo Central" and "Waterloo Central Railway" lettering, as you can see from this car. You can also see the Waterloo Central lettering on an RDC to the right. That RDC sports the CPR maroon and yellow scheme.

Here's one final image from my visit. It's strange how that clear blue sky turned into a downpour in a matter of 10 minutes. I wish I could have taken a better shot of this old coach, but railway employees were clearly somewhere on the property when we visited and their cars were parked right in my shot. Oh well.

I made sure to return to the yard the next day as well, to see if anything had moved or anything was operational. Sadly, all was quiet when I visited both days. Still, getting to see these antiques up close from public property was a real treat. It's like paying a visit to a railway museum for free.