Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Magnificent Seven: Highlights of 2023

Last year was a year where my railfanning was quite concentrated. I saw a lot of Via Rail action, mostly because my evening schedule on Wednesdays allowed me to meet the same westbound train many times. Rather than taking the same shot over and over again, I began experimenting with different angles and ideas, which ushered in the Year of Different. There was also a chance meeting with CN's Arnprior Turn, a few sightings of freight trains along Highway 401, lots of photography from a trip to Stratford, a few cool shots from Kitchener-Waterloo and a couple of other scattered highlights.

I like to temper the railfan posts with other posts that are more focused on history and research. Sadly, those posts were in short supply last year, for a variety of reasons. All told, I was able to get 37 posts online last year, which was my highest output since 2019. I have considered easing my pace to biweekly this year for a while, but a recent influx of new material means that I can continue my current pace for now.

So, the highlights...


At the tail end of Via Rail's buffer car period, I found myself at Ottawa Station and was able to get a shot of  Via Rail buffer car 8318 Craig Manor bringing up the rear of westbound train arriving from Montreal. It wasn't long after I took this shot that an investigation into the structural efficacy of the old silver streamliner cars showed that they were safe to use without the need for an extra car. But it was fun to see so many outliers in the corridor for a while.


In late May, I was happy to be able to get a first glimpse of Via Rail's new Siemens equipment at Ottawa Station. This was Train 24 bound for Montreal. It would be a few months before more of this new equipment began entering into regular revenue service across the corridor, so this catch was fun, as there were still just a few in operation last spring. It was a difficult morning to get quality images, as the harsh morning sun and scarce clouds made for some harsh glare. The shots near the Belfast Road overpass were a little easier, but the sky was a complete washout.


As I was driving my daughters to dance class in the Colonnade Road area, I saw the Arnprior Turn returning on the Beachburg Sub to Walkley Yard. I managed to catch the train on the Prince of Wales flyover, which was one of my finer catches, given the scenic location. I have caught several Via Rail corridor trains at this spot in the last year, but this catch was special.

Read the post here


It's always a coup to catch something unusual, especially when it's something that you won't likely be able to see again. In late July and early August, I was in Stratford, where I was able to catch an arriving GO Train that was making its way west back to London. Metrolinx has since shuttered this service, which was a pilot project linking London to Toronto in a commuter service. I often see these trains when my family travels through Toronto on Highway 401, but being able to see these trains in a small city like Stratford is a case of capturing some rare mileage. I'm glad I did.


I don't want to give away too much since these images are for a post that has yet to be shared online. However, my family found itself in Kitchener-Waterloo in November, which gave me several opportunities to railfan, including in Kitchener, where I saw some local yard action. Nothing special, but photos of a freight train in an exotic location are always fun for me. But it was in St Jacobs where I was able to capture some cool images that are worth mentioning. This town, north of Waterloo, is home to the Waterloo Central Railway yard, where the tourist railway has built an old-fashioned trackside flagstop platform and shelter. I have a model train structure just like this. It was cool to see something like it in real life. More shots from this yard to come soon.

Favourite shot of the year

I can't think of a shot I like more than this. I have one or two that are for upcoming posts that come close, but I have to say that this is my favourite. To be able to catch a CN freight on the platform in Stratford as it makes its way past some GEXR units was just about the perfect shot for me this year. It includes all the things I love. I love small towns, short line railways and seeing freight trains, since it is such a rare treat for me. You can see the full set of shots in this post.

Train 59

I needed to include a shot of Via Train 59, since I have caught this train more than any other in the past year. After taking photos of this train through the spring and well into the fall, I realized how many different methods I had tried to get shots of this westbound train. I intend to collect all these shots in a post sometime this spring. This shot below might be my favourite from last year. The shaggy trackside greenery adds a nice contrast to the train just past the curve in the Smiths Falls Sub.

There were other highlights from 2023, including winning the first ever Trackside Treasure Annibursary prize for excellence in railway blogging, an award initiated by one of the most prominent rail bloggers in Canada, Eric Gagnon.

This blog also logged the 10th anniversary of its birth, which was a nice accomplishment. Then there was the 400th post. 

All in all, there was much to celebrate in 2023. Here's to many more posts. Thanks for continuing to be along for the ride. I appreciate every person who reads and reaches out.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Not quite a wonderland, but...

I left it until the final day of Christmas vacation to get out there and do a little railfanning in Ottawa. It was a very quiet couple of weeks with my kids at home, which is exactly what I needed after a hectic couple of months leading up to Christmas. But I was feeling the itch and I figured I might as well get a few shots of the new Via Rail Siemens equipment while there was actually snow on the ground. I would not call it a winter wonderland, but it was something a little different. It was a dry couple of weeks through Christmas, so the sight of falling snow was a welcome sight, even if it was a bit chilly for photography, at least by recent standards.

True to my desire to get a variety of different photographs, I started by taking a shot at the signals just east of the Fallowfield crossing, the left of which was showing straight green over red. The signals to the right govern the movement of trains on the Fallowfield passing siding, when it is used. They are almost always showing red over red.

I then moved to the end of the east parking lot of the station, to get an unobstructed view of the train approaching from the east, as the lot was full and the views from the west lot did not look promising. My daughter came out to see "the new Vias" as she calls them. She has taken to doodling the Via and CN logos at home, which is a hopeful sign. I'm not sure I made a railfan of her, but I have managed to get her interested in hockey, so maybe trains aren't a huge stretch. 

The approaching Siemens consist was headed up by the control cab car in the lead and the locomotive at the rear. A blog reader said these trains don't have much of a horn. Since Via trains usually use a horn as they approach the Woodroffe Avenue crossing before the station, I was curious to hear what they sounded like, but I didn't hear any horn from this train, which was Via Train 43.

Let's get the obligatory 3/4 wedge shot in there. As much as I am trying to get different shots these days, I still have to take some of these more straightforward shots, as the new Siemens units really do demand it. That's car 2303 in the lead.

I like to get shots of trains loading on the platform, since it is a different image. I try to position myself far enough away from the crowds, to avoid taking photos of anyone that would allow them to be recognized. I like this shot, since I made sure to frame the Via logo on the locomotive in the upper right corner. 

Next, I tried to get a shot of locomotive 2204 at the end of the platform. It was a little trickier than I thought it would be since the Siemens trains are a fair bit more lengthy on the platform than the more usual consists with P42s/F40s and a mix of 4-6 cars in tow. Even with the double-enders that Via has been using in recent years, this train was sitting much closer to the eastern edge of the platform. I had to angle myself carefully to stay on the edge of the platform and get a shot safely.

Before leaving, I went to the west parking lot to get some more shots of the train making its way west toward the Fallowfield crossing. Luckily, the western lot was mostly empty near the end so I was able to get a shot of the train leaving, but the light standards at the edge of the lot didn't help with the image. Those shots didn't work out, so I focused on framing the train against the signals near Fallowfield Road. I like this shot best, as it captured the snow against 2204.

All in all, it was a fun, quick trip to the station and my daughter thought the new train was pretty slick. She is looking forward to our family's first train trip to Toronto in June, when we will take our daughters to their first Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre. I was glad in a way that we received some unexpected snow (this as before the massive 20-25 cm snowfall we saw on Jan 22-23) and well into Sunday, as it allowed me to get some winter railway shots. It's just not as fun when the winter shots have no snow on the ground. A good first effort for 2024.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Dive right into 2024 (Stratford Part IV)

Happy New Year, fellow friends of the iron horse. I was considering how to start the new year and what to write about when it hit me. Just start with some cool train photos. That was what I decided. There is lots of material left over from last year's adventures, which will be shared over the weeks and months to come. Sadly, I wasn't able to make it trackside over the Christmas holidays, but that's okay. There was very little snow after Dec. 25 and I was still working my regular hours at home, so the opportunities for something seasonal didn't materialize.

So let's start with some shortline summer action shots, shall we? On July 30 while in Stratford for a family reunion, I had a chance to stop by the Stratford station to see if there was anything going on in the yard. Luckily, there was. The GEXR crew had two geeps idling in the yard and ready for some work. Later on, CN 568 came passing through, which you can check out in this post. In the harsh early morning sunlight, I wandered around the yard from publicly accessible vantage points, as the crew assembled a string of hoppers that seemed to be destined for Goderich or other points along the GEXR Goderich Subdivision. Here's a shot from the crossing. The morning sun was washing out the sky, but I still like this shot.

I have a friend who takes shots from this vantage point, so I decided to follow his lead and get an overall shot of the yard action. This is in keeping with what I started last year, in the Year of Different. the goal is to get some railway images that aren't dominated only by the train. In this case, I wanted to get the grain elevator and the overall yard in the image. I didn't get all that I wanted, but I think this shot conveys the overall size of this railway operation.

Here's another example of a shot that is different. I wouldn't have taken this shot even a few years ago. The crew in this shot is getting ready to couple its two hoppers with a few more cars, some that are hidden behind the boxcar. It's the human element that I like in this shot, even though the morning sun did not do me any favours.

The engines went back and forth getting the cars the crew needed to take up the Goderich Sub, which allowed me to think about different shots and elements to capture. There's nothing like a good smoke shot! In fact, I dedicated a previous post to smoke.

As everyone knows, GEXR is a shortline owned by the Genesee & Wyoming Inc. shortline company, so it's not uncommon to see orange units in the yard that aren't technically GEXR units. In this case, the power was supplied by a Southern Ontario Railway GP38-2 2111 and Huron Eastern GP38-2 3510. Here's a closer look at the Huron Eastern logo, which is a small departure from the G&W logo.

While SOR has been absorbed back into the CN empire, HESR continues to operate close to 400 miles of track in Michigan's thumb area and into Flint and Saginaw in the lower peninsula of the state. Here's something that I thought was odd, though. Since I have been taking shots in this yard in Stratford, I have spotted more G&W units that are not GEXR than I have actual GEXR units. I would imagine the reason for this is that things are likely quite fluid between the various operations that G&W oversees across North America.

One more observation from this shot. The aftermarket horn on the SOR unit, as it was moving across the crossing, was more like a car horn than a train horn. It was quite pathetic, to be honest! I often see people on train forums that can rhyme off the actual make of horns on engines. In all honesty, that is a level of detail I just don't have room for in my brain.

Here's shot that required some editing, as the morning sun was playing havoc with my shots. I decided I would accept some form of distortion and shadow for the chance of getting a shot of the engines in action against the backdrop of the grain elevator. I liked how this turned out, despite the obvious imperfections. It screams early morning or late evening. 

Here's one final shot with a blue sky in it, as the sun was throwing me a bone. The shadows were harsh still, but the colours came through pretty well in this shot as the crew stretched out its consist before backing it up again to pick up more cars. I didn't stick around for it to depart, as my daughters were getting a little impatient, so I decided to wrap up my wanderings shortly after taking this shot and a few more.

Looking through my photos from Stratford this summer, I can see I have a lot more to share. This early morning bit of shunting was fun to see but there were a few more surprises the yard still had to offer me. However, it wasn't until I returned to Stratford in November that these surprises were fully revealed. All in all, it was a fun bit of railfanning on a pleasant July morning. And that wasn't counting the mainline freight that came through later on.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas break. Here's to more rail musings and conversation in the year to come.