Monday, March 25, 2024

November Surprise in Stratford

In November, my family made its way to Southwestern Ontario, as my wife and I were involved in a conference in Waterloo. That meant I was able to bring my daughters for a visit to Stratford, where their grandparents live. While there, I naturally made my way to the town's train station, which is always a treat for me. I haven't been to Stratford's rail yard at that time of year, so I wasn't sure what I would see. Given the seasonal nature of some of the traffic on the CN Guelph Subdivision and the GEXR Goderich Sub, the look of this rail yard likely changes with the seasons.

When I initially walked past the yard, I captured this image of a field full of rail and a blue boxcar in the background. CN maintains a fairly extensive maintenance of way facility to the east of the station, with large piles of track supplies. I thought this made a good image.

Next, I captured a clear shot of this piece of snow clearing equipment, a Jordan spreader. This car has been in the yard for quite a while, but I have never had a clear line of sight to capture it. I was happy to get a shot of it finally. Surprisingly, there were no identifying numbers on the car. I blew up the photo and saw the remnants of an old CR reporting mark and some numbers, but it was too hard to make out what they read. I can assume though that this car once belonged to Conrail, given its CR reporting marks that are still faintly visible.

For those who don't know about this part of the country, snow clearing equipment like this can sometimes be absolutely critical to keeping trains moving. Southwestern Ontario, especially areas not far from Lake Huron, are susceptible to extreme snow events and heavy snowfall, or lake effect snow, as they call it. 

In some areas, the wide expanses of open farmer's field make for dangerous drifting, which requires heavy duty equipment to clear rail lines. I often tell people that parts of the southwest are like the prairies, only with more trees. But the wide open space can still be quite forbidding in the winter. 

The Goderich Exeter Railway up to Goderich, in particular, is sometimes forced to use drastic measures just to keep its line open in the winter. I am guessing this equipment didn't get any use this past winter.

As is often the case, the yard was quiet when I walked by, with this GEXR-clad geep sitting on a stub-end track. I tried to frame it with the old Burlington Northern hoppers in the background, since they were remarkably intact and free of graffiti. Hoppers in this yard are very common, as agricultural products are a key commodity for the GEXR and CN on the Guelph Sub. Also, the Masterfeeds elevator facility is served by rail in the east end of the yard.

I also found this two-bay hopper a bit curious, as its metal sheeting was a bit angular at the ends.

Figuring that was it, as the mainline was showing nothing coming, I went downtown to enjoy some time at a coffee shop and a used record store with my father-in-law. I took one final overall shot of the yard from the platform. The little hint of sun on the old geep was a nice little surprise.

It is always a bit disappointing to capture bits and pieces, but since this trip was an impromptu visit, I figured it was a win since I managed to capture some additional interesting images to share.

Later on the same weekend, we went back to Stratford for another quick visit. This time, I was able to leave the kids with the grandparents so I could wander the town by myself, which I did. I returned to the rail yard and began to see if there was anything I had overlooked on my previous visit. It turns out, I had. As I walked around the yard on the nearby roads, I caught sight of something deep in the yard near the elevator.

Two GEXR units sat near the elevator, with a splash of sunshine illuminating the cab of the front unit. I was quite surprised to see these engines sitting there. I have only ever seen two GEXR geeps in this yard in all my visits to this yard. I figured the extra power might have been needed, as the end of the harvest in Ontario likely meant more moves to and from the elevator. 

I tried a few different approaches to capture these engines in the yard, but I like the shot above the best. I did zoom in to maybe get some more information on which engines were actually sitting back there. The lead unit is ex-Southern Ontario Railway GP38-2 2111. I was not able to get a shot that helped me identify the second unit. I did like the Grand Trunk Western coil car that was in the shot, although it made it a bit more challenging to focus on the engines. You can even see two brooms just to the left of the GTW car, for clearing off switches in the winter, I'm guessing.

Before leaving, I spotted a BC Rail lumber car, so I took a shot, given I don't have many shots of any BC Rail equipment, so I figured it was worth it. I also like that you can see a Burlington Northern hopper in the background. Two fallen flags in one shot.

Just before leaving the yard, the searchlight signals east of the yard came to life and showed that a train was on its way. I stuck around for quite a while waiting for that train, but it never showed and I had to move on. I made my way once again to a great used record store in downtown Stratford and found a cheap copy of Gordon Lightfoot's first Greatest Hits record on vinyl. I love listening to Gord at dinner time. So I missed the train, but I gained the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Not a bad trade-off.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Wednesdays at the Overpass (Part II)

In the last post, I explored some different ways of shooting the same train at the same spot, since I often meet westbound Via Rail Train 59 around Hunt Club Road on Wednesday evenings. Let's be honest. If you are going to take up rail photography in Ottawa, you have to be prepared to catch lots of Via Rail corridor trains and think of creative ways to mix up your images. I often see photos taken at Fallowfield Station on various social media channels and I have to say, the shots all look pretty much the same. I am as guilty of this as anybody, which is why I don't go to Fallowfield much these days, unless it's in search of Via's new Siemens trains or something unique. 

The last post covered my shots taken from the spring through to the end of July. In August and into the fall, the elements around the tracks began to change, which at least gives you something else to play with other than your angle. 

August 9

In August, I returned to a spot just east of the tracks at the edge of a plaza on Antares Drive. This time, I tried to get a shot of the train before it proceeded under the overpass. This time around, P42 911 in the Love the Way wrap is leading the charge west toward Fallowfield. The sunlight on this evening was a little harsh, as the cloud cover was almost nonexistent. But I like the lines of the overpass. Also, note the switch stand in the left of the frame. That switch stand was soon to be removed.

August 23

Okay, so this is not the Hunt Club overpass, but this flyover over Prince of Wales Drive is very close to the overpass. I chose this spot on this evening, since it allowed to assume a perch in the shade. This flyover, made of stone, is just past the point where the Beachburg Sub crosses the Rideau River. I have considered trying to get a shot of the train crossing the river, but I haven't yet found a vantage point to capture this image. Something to work on for this year. Still, I love this spot. The only downside is there are a fair number of hydro wires to work around. You can see the tip of one in the top right corner.

Sept. 14

The following week, I decided that I would try to capture an image of the train beneath the overpass, as it made its way past the concrete pillars. This experiment almost didn't work because, as you are following the train past the stationary pillars in front of it, your camera will sometimes focus in the pillars and not the train. That obstacle, combined with the harsh sunlight at this spot in the evening, made for a few wasted frames. I did manage a few frames where the F40 came into view fairly well, so I think it was worth a try. I'm not sure I would try this shot again in this spot, without a better game plan.

Sept. 20

The following week, I decided to try a wider shot from a vantage point quite a bit west of the spots I had tried before. The problem on this evening was the sun was washing out the train in most shots, especially since the consist was made up of silver HEP cars. I stuck with it since I figured I could work with some shadows. Even this shot is somewhat unsatisfying. I left this shot unedited, just to show you how difficult the sun can be at times. The sky is washed out and the only thing really saving the shot is the shadows from the nearby brush. You will notice that the spur serving Bentley Avenue is in the process of being dismantled in the foreground.

Sept. 27

I've used this angle before but my goal on this evening was to capture some of the changing colours in the leaves trackside. You can even see the signals peaking out from beyond the turnout at Federal Junction. I always like it when I can capture those signals in a shot, which is not always possible. On this evening, I made sure to set up a fair bit west so I could capture the bend on the track. I tried to get a shot of the train coming around the bend, but my focus was distracted for a moment and I didn't get the train on the curve.

Oct. 11

October was a bit of a lost month for me, due to many factors, so I wasn't really thinking of anything creative when I took this shot, although I like the colours trackside. The evening light at this hour was beginning to dim significantly, which made for less glare, but the trackside colours hadn't really changed the way I wanted to them to change, since the warm summer seemed to delay the colours in the Ottawa region. The P42's headlights also didn't help.

Oct. 18

Note the difference in daylight from the last shot. This was my first attempt at getting a vertical shot at the overpass, although I was in a familiar spot, looking toward Federal Junction, on the north side of the overpass. This shot is blurred, as I was only armed with my iPhone on this evening. I don't think I was planning on getting any shots that evening, but I decided to do something at the last minute. I don't mind a blurred shot, as it conveys speed and drama when done right. I'm not sure I achieved that with this shot, but it's different than the shots I had captured earlier that summer, so there's at least that.

Nov. 1

This was the end of the line for my experiment with Train 59. This shot does not really convey how dark it was on this evening. There was a storm cloud making the daylight disappear rapidly, in addition to it being November. I didn't do much in the way of experimenting on this final meet. I figured a shot in the evening twilight would be enough to make this shot stand out. Sadly, many of the shots didn't come out as sharp as I would have liked, so I chose this one, which was reasonably crisp, even though it has the guy wire in the way.

Now that the time change has come and gone, I have more daylight to play with, which means I am starting to think of new areas in this part of the city to get some train shots. I'm not sure I will be able to get new shots, but I'm willing to give it a try. As I said, you have to take what you can get in Ottawa, since there are few options. At the very least, you can change the background, even if you can't change the trains.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Wednesdays at the Overpass (Part I)

Last year, I spent many evenings watching Via Rail's westbound Train 59 pass by the Hunt Club Road area, since I was there every Wednesday evening as my daughters were at a nearby dance class. The school does not allow parents to watch, which is actually a good thing for me, as it gives me the time to run errands and sit trackside each week. While taking photos of the same passenger train each week in the same way seemed like a waste of time, I decided early on that I was going to try and get as many different shots as I could. Over the course of the year, I did manage to capture some interesting angles and some differences in the train's consist. These meets also allowed me to take shots of the efforts to dismantle an old industrial spur along Bentley Avenue, just to the west of the Smiths Falls Subdivision.

Train 59 departs from Ottawa's main train station on Tremblay Road every weeknight at 5:49 p.m. It meanders its way west along the Beachburg Subdivision through the city and crosses the Rideau River where it then proceeds over a stone flyover over Prince of Wales Drive before it heads through Federal Junction, where it enters the Smiths Falls Subdivision and begins to veer southwest. 

The train passes by Federal and Hunt Club Road around 6 p.m., as it enters a stretch of track where the less severe speed restrictions allow it to open up a bit. Train 59, which is led by a P42 or F40, usually has four to six cars. They are often the old HEP silver coaches, although it does sometimes have LRC coaches. Train 59 makes stops in Fallowfield, Smiths Falls, Brockville, Kingston, Belleville, Trenton Junction (conditional), Cobourg, Oshawa (conditional) and Guildwood (Scarborough, conditional), before arriving in Toronto at 10:33 p.m. 

April 17

My first week where I caught the train was April 17. In this case, I decided to camp out on the east side of the tracks at the back of a parking lot off Antares Drive. The benefits of this spot include capturing the sky behind the train, although it can be a double-edged sword with the shadows. I tried this spot a few times with mixed results. In this shot, F40PH-2 6436 leads four of the old silver coaches under the overpass on a grey April evening. I do like that this spot gives you a great backdrop of the overpass. That long stretch of steel girders above the train makes for an interesting backdrop. Given the tough light, I didn't mind the shadows in the image. You can also see pieces of old rail in the foreground.

April 26

Shortly after that first shot of the year, I returned to the same spot on Antares Drive, to see if I could get a better image under sunny skies. I did like the blue and the clouds I got in this shot, but the shadows cast by the evening sun meant I was on the wrong side of the tracks to get a decent, clear shot. As the train got closer to my vantage point, the darker the shadows became, which was a disappointment, so I stuck with some shots where the train is a little further back. In this case, F40PH-2 6407 was leading a string of four silver coaches in different Via liveries. This was a typical look for this train, as it often sported the old silver coaches over the course of last year.

May 3

In May, I started off by taking a shot from the top of the Hunt Club overpass, looking north. This is a spot where you can get a pretty dramatic shot of trains from straight on, or from a side perspective. In this case, I went with a straight-on shot. 6407 was again leading the way, with six HEP cars in tow this time. In this shot, you can see the first hints of spring as the trackside brush and foliage are turning green. This perspective also allows you a chance to get some smoke in a shot, which is always a fun added element that shows some drama. Often, the trains are gearing up as they emerge from the turnout from Federal Junction. The one drawback is the guy wire that cuts through the middle of the train. I have worked around this wire in other shots, but in this case, I didn't. It doesn't kill the shot, but it is an annoyance.

May 10

The next week, I tried another shot from the overpass, but a little to the west, so I could get a better profile of the train. The natural light was steadily improving with each week, as was the weather. Still, the wire did present an obstacle. In a few shots, I simply zoomed past the wire, but I found that the image was too close to the rails and didn't offer any other elements. So I decided to share this shot, which has the wire prominently showing in the foreground. Sadly, the natural light was making it a bit too prominent. However, by keeping the shot a bit wider, I managed to get the high voltage power lines in the background, as well as the HLS Linen Service facility to the right of the tracks. You can just make out a piece of the signal tower near the curve in the track. As the year went on, I tried to get that signal in shots, but it was challenging. This time around, it's again 6407 leading six silver coaches. A typical look for this train.

May 17

The following week, I worked around the wire and went for a more traditional (at least for me) shot of the train up close. I used to take these shots a lot more when I restarted pursuing rail photography about 12 years ago. I don't take these types of shots much anymore, but once in a while, they're fun. In this case, you can see what the trade-off is when you use your zoom function to get past that overhead wire. The image of 6411 is taken from the same perspective as the week before, but you don't get much of an appreciation for the city around the tracks. The shadows were pretty fierce at that moment, which is why I chose to stay on the west side of the overpass. I will say that, the crew of Train 59 would sometimes give me a wave when I was on the overpass. They must have caught on at some point that there was always a guy taking photos on Wednesdays. I always appreciate this courtesy from train crews.

May 24

I would love to say this next shot was the result of some deliberate idea or planning, but the truth is, I was a late getting onto the overpass when I heard the rumble of the F40 gearing up. I knew I had only a few seconds to get something. On the east side of the Hunt Club overpass, there is a break in the brush where you can get a quick shot of a train, if that is what you are after. I won't say this is what I was looking for, but I did like the outcome. Sometimes, I find the best railway photos are the shots where the train is not the dominant part of the image. The shadows were once again quite difficult to work with, so I had to touch up the image a bit to soften the shadows. I actually like this shot. It was a spontaneous effort to get something. The perspective, trees and brush all make it unique among the many shots I took of Train 59 last year.

July 12

In June, various other life events prevented me from getting shots. When July rolled around, I picked up my chase again. On a bright evening in early July, I decided to get back to track level. However, instead of setting up on the east side of the tracks off Antares Drive, I tried the west side of the tracks. This was a challenging spot to work with, because you have to get through a fair bit of undergrowth to get to the fence. Also, when you emerge beneath the overpass, it's apparent that someone is living beneath the west side of the overpass, so I tried to keep a respectful distance and not bother this person. I did get some shots of the train before it emerged into the shadows beneath the overpass, but I wanted to share a shot of this F40 beneath the overpass. You can see the consist has shrunk to four cars.

July 19

The following week, I took up my next challenge of getting the train coming around the bend, just past Federal Junction. This required a fair bit of preparation and staging, since the train rounds the bend pretty quickly, so you have to be ready. In this case, this was the first time I saw Train 59 being pulled by a P42. I like how this shot turned out and it's a good example of how a great railway shot doesn't need to have much train in it. In this case, the train is a small part of the image, but I like that it's rounding that bend and picking up speed. You have to look closely, but you can see the red signal hiding behind the trees to the right of the track. I have another version of this shot, cropped a fair bit but I like the long line of the track in this image. And you will see there is no wire in the shot. I set up my camera beneath it. No small feat getting all these elements in one image without that pesky line in the middle.

July 26

To finish off this first part, I'll share the other time I tried something from the west part of the Hunt Club overpass. My idea this time was to get a shot that was less of a wedge shot and more of a side view. Given the person living on this side of the overpass, I camped out well out of this person's area and tried to find a perspective that lessened the impact of the sun. This going away shot gives you the perspective of the entire train, being pulled by a P42. The LRC coaches are a mix of liveries, not to mention a wrap. The train is passing by the now dismantled industrial spur next to Bentley Avenue, which you see just to the right of the second last car. The building to the left of the train is the former Ottawa Sun headquarters, where I worked for a few years. I wasn't sure if this shot worked out as well as I had planned. The train was a bit blurry in the earlier shots, which was a bit disappointing. But I liked the fact that I captured a perspective I hadn't considered before.

I kept taking shots of this train until November, when the light simply didn't permit any further shots. It was a fun experiment, which I might take up again this year, although I'm not sure what I might attempt this year. I might just go to watch the train. I know there is an Ottawa-bound train that comes east shortly after Train 59, so I might try and get shots of that train instead this year. Since my daughters' dance class is a bit longer than it was last year, I have a bit more time on my hands, so I will try to make the most of it.