Friday, July 28, 2023

Beachburg Sub 10th Anniversary: Something Old, Something New

It's a little late to be celebrating something that passed in April, but when I was clearing out my email folder the other day, I came across something from 2015 and it made me a bit nostalgic for the early days of this blog, when blogging was more of a thing online.

On April 30, 2013, I began blogging about railways in Ottawa and elsewhere, while mixing in my reminiscences of times spent trackside throughout my life. Inspired by blogs such as Trackside Treasure and Traingeek, I decided to give it a go. Truthfully, I only had about 10 ideas that I started with, based on my limited number of historic railway photos from my youth. I look back and wonder how I managed to keep this initiative on the rails, given the scarcity of material to work with in Ottawa.

When my thoughts began to return trackside at that time, my initial wanderings took me to the Via Rail station on Tremblay Road as well as the west-end station on Fallowfield Road. At the time, it had been so long since I had taken photographs of trains, everything was new and a novelty. This initial collection of early photos, combined with my trove of older photos from my youth, was barely enough to maintain about half a year of posts, so I eventually began going trackside more often and accepting submissions from friends and family.

It was through these interactions with other railfans that I began to learn much more about railroading in Ottawa, including the existence of a weekly freight train that plied the Beachburg Sub rails each week on its way to Arnprior.

To be more specific, in 2013, CN made two west-end runs per week, as it made a separate run up the Smiths Falls Subdivision to Kott Lumber and SynAgri during the week, while returning on Sunday to collect empties. I can't imagine such a bounty now that all west-end freight service has been combined into one run up both the Beachburg/Renfrew and Smiths Falls Subs.

But when I began mentioning the Arnprior Turn, CN's weekly freight train, something happened. Word got out among railfans and my blog began to attract a wider audience, some of which has stuck around to this day. CN 589 has been a popular subject from Day 1 and it has generated more activity on this blog than anything else. That was why I was shocked to see this submission in an old email, which I had never posted. So, here it is eight years later.

This is a near perfect shot submitted to me by a reader named Patrick. It was taken near the March Road Tim Hortons in Kanata in June 2015, while the crew was stopping for a coffee before heading west to Arnprior. To be honest, I haven't heard from Patrick in years so I don't know if he's still in Ottawa so I will simply go with his first name and thank him belatedly for this cool image. You can see his other contribution in this post. You'll notice from these 2015 images that there's just a single unit (GP38-2 4703) leading this train. Back in 2015, this train was a single-unit operation. CN didn't start doubling up its units until the last few years. Most of my shots of this train are with a single unit.

Since the early days, I have managed to navigate the ebbs and flows of what the local railways offer here in Ottawa. I have also survived two severe bouts of mental illness to keep this blog going. I have never mentioned this before on this blog, but I was inspired to mention it now, thanks to Steve Boyko, the man behind, one of the best railway blogs I have ever found. Steve has been open about living with mental health challenges, and I will support him by saying I live with mental illness. I won't get into it too much, other than to say that I have become a mental health advocate since I started this blog, because it's a cause I believe needs more attention. I don't plan on saying too much about it here, but I am open to anyone asking me any questions, as I am a public speaker on this topic and am always there to help people.To be honest, this blog has proven to be quite good for my mental health, as it sustained me through some of my darkest moments in 2015-16. 

I recall sitting in front of a screen and doing research on railways, all the while trying to keep my anxiety and depression at bay. Somehow, that wasn't what derailed this blog. The pandemic took care of that. In 2020, when the full impact of the Covid outbreak meant the world was shutting down, I found my life to be incredibly confined, with kids learning from home and very little options for entertainment. I should have gone trackside more often, but I found that I was exhausted by blogging and constantly chasing photographs to generate new material. Also, the pace of posting a new entry every week proved to be impossible. So, I parked the blog in 2020 for a prolonged sabbatical, although at the time, I thought it was a retirement.

But it was a trip to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario that brought me back. I found this trip energizing, as my daughters and I strolled through the grounds of the old CN station in Smiths Falls. Shortly after that visit, I began to look at the photos I had stockpiled over my break and found that I had more than enough to keep the blog active for half a year, provided I slowed my pace to bi-weekly. That seemed to work for me and things got rolling again, albeit at a more sedate pace.

A lot has changed since I began this blog, including the continued surge of railfans sharing the majority of their passion on social media. Truth be told, I have not really recovered the original readership I was blessed to amass initially. Some of my railfan friends have returned, but some have moved on. That's okay. I like to write about railways and whoever drops by is a bonus. I don't focus on my numbers all that much, although it's always neat to see that I've hit upon something that people enjoy. 

Since the beginning of this year, I have increased my pace to every 10 days, meaning I am posting about three times a month. I don't know if I will continue this pace or go back to bi-weekly, but I have found that picking up the pace keeps me more disciplined in my writing, which is good for my mental health.

I have also focused a fair bit this year on trying new approaches to railfan photography, as evidenced by this shot I recently took beneath the Hunt Club Road overpass. This summer, I will be visiting some different places outside Ottawa, which will give me the chance to possibly shoot some freight trains and other railway scenes. That will be a nice break from the seemingly endless parade of passenger panoramas I have amassed trackside in Ottawa this year.

Through the years since beginning, I have been blessed to connect with many good people who have helped me in many ways. I have also had a chance to shoot railway scenes in Toronto, Markham, Scarborough, Oshawa, Ajax, Montreal, Hull, Kitchener, Waterloo, Sarnia, Corunna, Courtright, Wyoming, Stratford, Bloomington, Indiana, Kissimmee, Florida, Lakeland, Florida, Plant City, Florida, Kingston, Bedell, Kemptville, Smiths Falls, Ogdensburg, New York, London and a few other places I am probably leaving out.

It's been an interesting decade. From the heartbreak of CN pulling up the Beachburg Sub north of Nepean Junction to the thrill of CP bringing its business train to town last summer, it's been a journey filled with twists and turns. It's hard to believe I am now 392 posts into this initiative, closing in on 400 and looking ahead to 500. Railways have always been a part of my life. I am endlessly fascinated by them and like nothing more than sharing my thoughts and images with like-minded people.

Thank you for being along for the ride.

hammond.michael77 AT gmail dot com

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The ghost that haunts me (Part II)

In the first part of this post, I shared a few photos of CN's Arnprior Turn crossing the Merivale Road flyover as it returned to Walkley Yard recently. I was extremely lucky to capture this shot, as it is a rare opportunity to capture something different in and around Ottawa. I recently dubbed this year the Year of Different, as it seemed to fit with my goal to capture some different railway images for the blog. Truthfully, it was done out of necessity as well, since the overwhelming majority of my images this year have been of Via Raul corridor trains. There are only so many images you can capture of F40s and P42s and four LRC or HEP cars. Sure, it was cool capturing some rarer Via rolling stock during the tail end of the buffer car period, but that has come and gone, leaving me with fewer options for railway images to capture.

So, as I mentioned in the first part of this post, I caught images of 589 crossing over Merivale Road, while traffic was stopped. When it began moving, I knew I might have a chance to catch 589 crossing over Prince of Wales Drive, since its speed is severely restricted on the last remnants of the Beachburg Sub. I decided to give it a try, as I had time to spare before my daughters' dance class on Colonnade Road.

Colonnade parallels the Beachburg Sub for a short stretch in what was once known as Nepean, just north of Hunt Club Road. There was a parking lot to pull into, which allowed me to get a clear vantage point of the old stonework flyover that takes mainly Via Rail corridor trains over busy Prince of Wales Drive. The one issue I encountered was I barely had enough time to set up, which meant I couldn't run fast enough to get a spot beyond the wires. In weeks past, I have caught images of Via Rail's westbound Train 59 on this bridge a few times, which I will be sharing later.

This time, it was 589 I was desperately trying to catch.

I was really happy with this shot, given that it was rushed. I would have liked to have been beyond the hydro poles, but this was the closest I could get as my timing was extremely rushed. I like that I captured two old GP38-2s with the sergeant stripes. The old stonework flyover is a nice feature as well, as it goes well with the old geeps. The only giveaway that this image isn't from the 90s or 80s is the parade of newer cars on Prince of Wales.

Here's a shot of the caprolactum empties it is bringing back to Walkley after unloading at Nylene Canada earlier that day. This meet fulfilled my Year of Different objectives well, as I was able to capture an image of a freight train in two new spots and each shot was taken from a vantage point that was not a 3/4 or wedge shot. The evening light was just about perfect, as the clouds in the sky reduced any potential shadows that would have required a fair bit of touch-ups afterward. 

One final shot of the last three tank cars before I headed back to take my daughters to dance class. If you look carefully, you can just make out the cab of the geep to the extreme left of the image. All in all, it was a lucky meet and a wise decision on my part to bring along my camera after initially toying with the idea of not bringing it along.

My daughter's dance classes have resumed after a short summer break, which means I am back in this area on Wednesday evenings, which allows me to hope that I might catch up with the Ghost once more over the summer months. Last week, we were too late to catch it, but I did capture a shot of Via's Train 59 heading under the Hunt Club Road overpass. I saw a few interesting things while in the area, which I will share in an upcoming post.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Two for one

I've noticed that I've featured an inordinate amount of Via Rail trains on the blog so far this year, which is a function of where I've been between January and July. In other words, I haven't left Ottawa much, so it's been a persistent parade or passenger train perfection of late. This can be tiresome for railfans, many of whom in Ottawa yearn to see regular freight trains. However, once in a while, even Via Rail can offer up something a bit different for the jaded Ottawa railfan, which makes it worthwhile to be trackside. I do not count myself among the jaded railfans locally. To be honest, I've been so busy trying new photographic techniques and finding new places to shoot as well as new perspectives to capture, even the repetition of Via Rail corridor consists has been fun.

On May 28, my wife was returning to the city after a weekend working in Waterloo. As she was making her way back east, I tracked Train 44 on the Via Rail tracking app, which was pretty cool. I didn't check the schedule otherwise, but I probably should have, since there was a westbound five-HEP consist waiting to leave Fallowfield Station when I arrived. It was Train 59, being led by F40PH-2 6410 in the pre-wrap Via Rail green/grey/yellow scheme. As I pulled into the west parking lot, the train was easing west on the main line, which was a bit disappointing, as I wanted to get a quick shot. But then, it stopped. 

Given the harsh sun at 6;20, when I arrived, there were some pretty intense shadows being cast on my side of the station, but I had to make do. Train 59's departure time is usually 6:12 p.m., as per Via's schedule, but on this evening it was starting late. As it idled west of the station, right before a crossover onto the station's second track, it hit me that Train 44 was given clearance to arrive ahead of Train 59 taking the main past Fallowfield Road. Train 44 was already running late, since it was scheduled to arrive at the same time as Train 59 left. My wife was texting me from the train and explaining through gritted teeth that CN was routing a number of trains ahead of Train 44. I tried to explain to my wife that this is the way it goes when you are a tenant on CN rails. 

After a few minutes, I could see the lights of Train 44 heading east toward the station. This meant that, in the 11 years I have been coming to Fallowfield Station, I was finally being rewarded with a meet. A dubious drought was finally going to end. This also allowed me the chance to once again try something different, as I have made it my goal this year to be different in my approach to trackside photography and musings.

The sun's positioning totally washed out the sky to the west, but I was really pleased with this shot nonetheless. Looking carefully, you can see Train 44 making its way east, but also the crew of Train 59 getting some fresh air next to the F40. Not sure why they got out of the cab, but it made for a human element in the image. You can also see the signal reading red over red. I didn't zoom in on the crew, for the purpose of their privacy. 

The next shot would be when Train 44 made its way past the end of Train 59, which would be another cool shot. I had my two daughters with me, ready to greet their mom, so I had to make sure they were not getting in the way of my shot and also keeping their distance from the rails. Luckily, they know their railway safety as I have taught them to respect the power of trains and the potential danger. So, it was a waiting game to get this shot, below. You can just make out the silhouette of the Train 59 crew in this shot. F40PH-2 6448 eases Train 44 into the station, about 20 minutes behind schedule.

I played with the zoom on the camera and tried a longer shot. I'm not sure which one I like better.

After Train 44 made its way to its spot on Track 2, I turned around to get a shot of its arrival at Fallowfield Station.

You can just make out the Via Rail employee crossing to the Track 2 platform to ensure everyone gets back to the main platform safely. All in all, it was an unexpectedly fruitful few minutes trackside on the Smiths Falls Sub.

In the last few months, I have been doing a bit of light research on this train station, which has an interesting history, given that it is now 21 years old. I am fascinated by the fact that Via would build a suburban station in Ottawa at all. At some point over the summer, I am going to share a three-post series about this station, how it came to be built and why it's such an oddity in today's highly centralized railway industry.

Stay tuned for that. Some of the information I dug up about this station might surprise you. At the very least, it will make some local rail watchers laugh. That's a small hint of the politics surrounding this station.

But for now, I hope you enjoyed this meet as much as I did. The only other time I have caught a meet like this was in Smiths Falls in front of the old Via station in the CP yard there. But having finally captured my first meet in Ottawa, I have to say this one was a little sweeter.