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.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Get on the GO, while you can (Stratford, Part I)

My family recently returned from a trip to Stratford for a family reunion. It's been two years since we've been here. Stratford is best known for its annual summer theatre festival, which has a decidedly Shakespearean flair. For my purposes, it serves as the headquarters of the Goderich Exeter shortline railway. Stratford also serves as the regional hub for Canadian National, which assumed operations on the Guelph Subdivision after leasing out the line to GEXR until 2018. 

On my recent travels to Stratford, I was lucky to be able to spend a fair bit of time at the town's railway station. On the whole, I was able to see two mainline CN freights (CN 568) as well as one GEXR yard job as the crew prepared to head north on GEXR 581. Part of the weekend required a short stay to pick up family on the platform, as they were arriving from London. So that was another one to add to my list. 

Perhaps the rarest catch was the evening eastbound GO Train 3775 from London, as it stopped in Stratford en route to Union Station in Toronto. It's this train I wanted to focus on first, as it is the rarest of birds one would expect to find in a small town like Stratford. Metrolinx launched a pilot project in 2021 to connect a number of southwestern Ontario cities to Toronto via a GO Train. That project will conclude this autumn, without a permanent link being established. All the same, I was able to find myself at the station just after 7 p.m. on Aug. 1 as 3775 made its way past a stopped CN westbound 581. A meet! Two for one! I tried to capture a shot of the control cab making its way to the platform with the Masterfeeds elevator complex in the shot.

This was a surprisingly difficult shot to capture, as Metrolinx has a wooden platform on the edge of the station platform that was obstructing my view. There was also a CN employee in a car parked right next to the tracks. I managed to adjust my zoom and aim my shot in between these visual hazards to get this shot. You can see the searchlight signals appearing double red to the left of the GO Train. CN 581, which was on the second track in the yard, was stopped with three units in the lead. The train was all covered hoppers.

This shot shows you a bit of the visual hazards that could not be eliminated entirely as the GO Train made its way to the station platform. This pilot project by Metrolinx is one that had me scratching my head, to be sure. I'm not sure a two-hour-plus milk run is what qualifies as commuter rail. I did notice when my family arrived on Via Train 87 that the train seemed to be quite full, so I would imagine there was some understanding between Metrolinx and Via about this GO service, which to me is otherwise encroaching on intercity passenger rail service, which is not in its mandate.

Of course, given the size of the Greater Toronto Area, GO already extends quite far on either side of Toronto, making a run out to London not entirely out of character, although to me it's too far. The train leaves London at the crack of dawn and arrives back in London fairly late into the evening. I suppose it's a cheaper option than taking Via, but it begs the question in my mind, which company should be providing this service? It seems to me to be Via, given its mandate to provide intercity service. 

All of this is a moot point, as the GO service will be ending soon, which made me quite happy to catch this train in Stratford. My wife and I also made a quick trip to St. Mary's, near Stratford, where we took photos of the town's beautiful train station as well as its towering train bridge. There is also a GO platform in that city (watch for my St. Mary's post in the near future). 

Seeing this commuter service so far outside the GTA made me wonder why something like this hasn't even entered the local discussion in Ottawa in recent years, as Ottawa tries to sort out its light rail nightmare called the Confederation Line. In an upcoming post, I will share some recent history from Ottawa where leaders were in fact calling for commuter rail on existing rail lines in the city. Alas, I think more people were entranced by the thought of a more European electrified light rail system on a brand new right-of-way, which leads in part to the mess we've inherited today. 

The slight curve on the Guelph Subdivision just past the station does make for some great pictures, although the evening sun was washing out the sky a fair bit. I was not expecting to see an old F59PH unit at the tail end, as these old beasts have mostly been replaced by newer, sleeker MPI MPXpress units, but there it was, rounding the curve as I snapped away.

One final shot of the westbound as it makes its way past the Downie Street crossing. I was happy to capture a few shots without local traffic obstructing my view of the train as it made its way back to London.

I was happy that I could capture a few shots that I will file under different, as this year is the Year of Different. However, it got me to thinking about how much of an opportunity Ottawa missed in not using the rails it has (and recently had) to try some sort of GO Train experiment in the city. In a future post, I will examine what GO service could have looked like in the city, if it had not been for the differing views of our local leadership.

All in all, it was a good catch and it was even better since there was a waiting freight in the hole as well. I will share shots of that train in the next Stratford post.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Standing on the shoulders of giants: My blog's acceptance speech for an award!

I'm not one to bask in glory, by any means. Especially when it comes to my blogging efforts, I try to maintain a humble attitude with what I am sharing. I can always learn something new from someone and I am always prepared to acknowledge when I am off the mark (off the rails, at it were?). That said, I have tried to curate an intelligent, informed and interesting blog about railways in Ontario since launching the Beachburg Sub in 2013

My inspiration came from a few blogs I noticed immediately in 2010. One of those blogs, Trackside Treasure, just celebrated its 15th anniversary, which makes it a wily veteran by Interweb standards. Much to my shock, I noticed my blog was not only mentioned in the Trackside Treasure 15th anniversary post, but this blog was also lauded.

The Beachburg Sub has won the first ever Trackside Treasure Annibursary Prize. 


Trackside Treasure's Eric Gagnon is one of the most knowledgeable and thoughtful bloggers that Canadian railways have seen. He is always generous with his time when you have a question (which I often do) or when he comes across something he thinks would be of interest to you. I cannot tell you the number of times he has saved one of my posts or given me an idea for a new post, just by reaching out via email. If you have not checked out his blog, I would highly recommend you take a day and explore all it has to offer.

Eric is based out of Kingston, so I thought I would use one of my shots from Kingston Station last November as a tribute to Eric and his continuing efforts as a rail enthusiast and historian, dare I suggest.

I first discovered Trackside Treasure in 2009 or 2010. I had just lost my job as a reporter, due to the Great Recession and had to move from Kitchener back to Ottawa, where I accepted a temporary job in communications with the Government of Canada. The job was a thankless one with far too much downtime at first, which did not help my mood much. I was quite sad about losing my job as a reporter and was a very reluctant public servant.

One day, I found his blog and I began reading posts about trains, which I found very comforting at a very difficult time. When I returned home to my apartment after discovering the blog, I spent a few hours just reading through the posts. It was like the world's best train magazine, but everything was Canadian and the geography was familiar (i.e. - No windy posts about some narrow gauge steam-powered scenic railway I have no interest in somewhere in the wilds of America).

Through Eric's extensive knowledge, including his technical expertise, I have learned a lot about trains and the railway industry. It took a few years, but I decided to take the plunge myself and began this blog in 2013. The rest, as they say, is history. I have traded messages with Eric many times since my blog began and am happy to share that Eric is just as warm and genial via email as he is on his blog.

That is why I appreciate it when people I look up to appreciate my efforts, however modest my scribbles may be. As part of the Annibursary, I plan to pay a visit to the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario in Smiths Falls before the end of the summer, to support their efforts in preservation. Call it paying it forward.

Indeed, I would not have started blogging had I not discovered Eric's blog, or even Steve Boyko's Traingeek blog. There are many other blogs I visit, including Rolly Martin Country and Prince Street Terminal, to name a few. They all offer their own unique take on railways. All are interesting and worthy of your time. And there are many more out there.

That's why my acceptance speech for this award is titled, Standing on the shoulders of giants. It's because I am. These are the blogs that are the measuring stick. I just hope that this blog lives up to their high standards.

My thanks to Eric Gagnon. May Trackside Treasure continue to be that brilliantly glowing searchlight signal in today's murky times!

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Happy 21st Birthday, Fallowfield Station (Part I)

Here's a quick trivia question. How many Canadian cities have more than one active passenger railway station? This is easy for many railfans. Montreal has its Central Station downtown as well as Dorval Station to the west. Toronto has Union Station as well as Guildwood Station in Scarborough. And, for the last 21 years, Ottawa has had its Central Station on Tremblay Road, which is east of the downtown, as well as Fallowfield Station in the southwest neighbourhood of Barrhaven.

The story of this suburban station is an interesting one, and it requires a little bit of local and national history to understand how it came to be. After all, it's a rare feat for any city to open a second railway station in the 21st century, never mind an urban centre like Ottawa, which had a population around 800,000 when Fallowfield was opened in 2002.

I began taking shots at Fallowfield Station in 2012. This is a shot of Fallowfield Station at dusk in 2013 as a P42 leads an eastbound corridor consist into the station before finishing its run at Via's main station on Tremblay Road.

So how does a station get built in an urban centre in what was then known as Ottawa-Carleton? Well, that is your first clue. Up until 2001, the City of Ottawa as we now know it was an urban centre that housed 11 separate municipalities, including the old City of Ottawa, Gloucester to its east, Nepean to its west, as well as Kanata, Vanier, Rockcliffe Park and some other townships and smaller municipalities. 

Nepean, for our purposes, is the most important of the former municipalities, since it encompassed a huge chunk of land to the west of the old City of Ottawa. Given its massive suburban neighbourhoods and communities, the issue of transit in this geographically large former city was critical. In the 1990s, the city council for Nepean put great emphasis on transit as one of its priorities. There were also strong voices for better regional transit at the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, which was the senior level of local government that handled issues that transcended the boundaries of the old municipalities.

One area that required transit solutions was the burgeoning community of Barrhaven, which is now a city in and of itself, with a population north of 50,000 alone. Despite the efforts of Nepean city councillors and regional councillors, nothing was done with the idea for a west-end train station until a former Nepean city councillor and regional councillor broke into federal politics.

Former Nepean Councillor David Pratt, who would go on to become a minister in the Paul Martin government, was the champion who revived the idea of building the Fallowfield train station in 2000, when the government had set aside $400 million for Via Rail infrastructure improvements. It's important to note that, at this time, Via Rail had many friends in the federal government, including Transportation Minister David Collenette. Collenette would be Via's last true blue friend in government, as he was a big proponent of railways as a solution to many modern environmental and infrastructure challenges.

Surprisingly, from Mr. Pratt's proposal in 2000, the idea to build a suburban train station did not take long to become a reality. With the political will in place, the project gained traction and started quickly. The project was officially unveiled in June 2001.

Already, there were elements in place, such as an OC Transpo Park and Ride parking lot for commuters at the corner of Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road, on the northern edge of Barrhaven. At this point, the bus-specific Transitway system of bus lanes had not been completed to Barrhaven, but was on its way. 

In November of 2002, construction of the $1.2-million station was completed and regular service as a stop began. The train station is the first stop on all westbound Toronto trains and the last stop on all eastbound trains terminating at the Tremblay Road station. 

This is a scanned image from the Ottawa Citizen of former Transportation Minister David Collenette (left) and former Via Rail Canada Chairman Jean Pelletier (right) on the first day of operations at the Fallowfield train station in November 2002.

The opening of the station was imperfect, as Via Rail had a multibillion-dollar wish list of items it needed to modernize its fleet and operations at the time. However, the $400-million government funding did not go nearly far enough in addressing any of those operational goals, which tended to overshadow the opening of the suburban station.

There were plans leading up to the opening of the station for Via to establish overnight service to Toronto, which never happened. There were also plans to shorten the travel time between Ottawa and Toronto, but this never really happened, although it can hardly be expected that shortening time would be a guarantee when Via is a tenant of CN on much of the rails between Ottawa and Toronto. 

Via now controls its own rails on the Smiths Falls Subdivision to Smiths Falls and the Brockville Subdivison (ex-CP) to Brockville. From there, it is a tenant on CN rails all the way to Toronto and beyond. This means it is at the mercy of CN dispatchers, who often give priority to their own freight trains. There is also the matter of Metrolinx GO Trains in and around Union Station, as well.

The opening of the Fallowfield station happened not long after Via had discontinued service in Prescott, Trenton and Maxville in Eastern and Central Ontario. In many respects, it was a time of mixed messages and uncertain fortunes for Canada's national passenger railway. Even then, its fleet of F40PH-2 locomotives and HEP cars seemed old. Its LRC coaches had long since been imperfectly coupled onto the F40s, since the original Baombardier-built LRC locomotives had proven unreliable in the corridor. The railway's experiment with British renaissance cars was not yet on the horizon, although we all know how that turned out. 

Much like today, Via was an operation in flux, in search of a more secure future with better equipment. But, as a Crown corporation subject to political whims of the government of the day, planning is never easy for this railway. It certainly wasn't easy then either, despite the backers it had in its corner.

In the next post, I want to tackle some questions about the station. Why was it called Fallowfield Station? Why not Barrhaven? Why was it built where it now stands? Why not closer to the more populated parts of Barrhaven? Can you ride the train between the Tremblay Station and get off at Fallowfield? 

Indeed, there is more than meets the eye when you're talking about this station.