Friday, June 7, 2024

The Overpass Debate

Note: Due to my ongoing efforts to move, my time online to pursue blogging is severely limited. I will be taking the siding for a few weeks, to focus on housing matters. The situation has improved, as we have bought a new home (near the Beachburg Sub!) and are in the process of selling our house. This is a stressful time for me, as I have mentioned in the past, so I appreciate your patience during this pause. In the meantime, here's a post that's been in the can for a while. I will continue with my Ottawa to Sarnia series when I return. - Michael

One of the things my family did in the early days of the pandemic was search for new exotic playgrounds for my children to play at throughout the city. In the summer of 2020, I took my daughters to a park next to the Smiths Falls Subdivision in Barrhaven. That was when I saw my first real glimpse of the overpass that now takes Strandherd Road over the Smiths Falls Sub. For those in the city, you know that Strandherd is an extremely busy road that is being widened and cannot handle its current capacity. The overpass really began to take shape over that summer. It also got me to thinking a bit about Ottawa and our railway etiquette in the city.

First things first, as we were leaving the park, I heard the familiar sound of a Via Rail corridor train heading east toward Fallowfield Station. I had my iPhone with me so I fired off a few shots of the train through the trees. I like this shot below the best.

I don't know that I've shared too many shots from my iPhone on this blog over the years, but I was glad to have it at that moment as the train went by at a fair clip. The sun was hiding behind clouds and making for some funny shadows, which explains some of the weird lighting in the shot. I decided to leave it untouched. 

Here's a shot of the tail end of the train, which was a double-ender with a P42 bringing up the rear.

This was pretty much the best I could do. I was trotting across a soccer field and trying not to use my phone's zoom function, which pretty much guarantees you a highly pixelated shot. As I have mentioned many times on this blog, I have really grown to like railway photos that place a train in its surroundings. I am as interested in the landscape around the train as I am in the train. I think there's so much more to the story than capturing an engine at the head of a train. This is why I like shots where the train isn't dominating the majority of the frame. I think the surroundings tell as much of the story as the train does.

But as I looked over at the Strandherd overpass, I couldn't help but think back to the years before 2020, when many of the signals and crossing guards were malfunctioning in Barrhaven, which had local residents suggesting all their level crossings should be switched over to overpasses or underpasses. 

I chuckled at those debates, as I have lived in cities with far more level crossings, many of which accommodate both long freight and passenger trains. Ottawa drivers don't know how good they have it. There is a high frequency of Via Rail traffic going through their neighbourhoods, but the inconvenience of a short, quick passenger train going by is quite minimal when you compare that to the time it takes for a giant freight train passes by. We're talking about the difference between a few seconds of waiting and a few minutes.

Having seen the delays these freight trains cause first hand when I lived in Kitchener, I know how these many crossings back traffic up, yet I don't recall much of a conversation about what needed to be done. Drivers accepted railways as being part of their landscape and learned to adjust their days according to the possibility of a delay. 

2016 shot of a flyover being constructed over Greenbank Road in Barrhaven. 
Greenbank flyover in 2023
I know I've made this point before, but Ottawa drivers really don't know how to live with railways anymore. The days of transcontinental freights going through the city are long gone, as are the days of more frequent short line traffic, like when the Ottawa Central Railway was at its busiest. 
While it is true that the residents of Barrhaven have more transportation headaches than many other parts of the city (they are also situated under the flight path approach to the Ottawa International Airport), the limited intrusions caused by Via Rail's corridor traffic are laughable when compared to what other cities have to live with. And never mind the once-a-week freight traffic, which usually consists of a freight train of no more than five cars.
I remember years ago when someone was complaining about the Arnprior Turn causing headaches for people in the Valleystream neighbourhood, when the once-a-week freight train rattled their homes with what the blogger described as "tar sands" oil tank cars. I was less than impressed with this blogger's ignorance, to say the least.  

Ottawa has become a spoiled city, where people think railways and crossings are a nuisance to be eliminated. Yet, they don't often think of the vital role Via plays in this city, or the role the rails could one day play in a future commuter transportation system.

Yes, overpasses are safer and better in the long run. I'm not suggesting they aren't the way to go from a safety perspective. However, I fear that people in this city have no concept of how to live with trains. A  collision between a Via Rail corridor train and pickup truck at the Barnsdale Road (country road, with clear views) level crossing is a good example. Anyone who thinks they can outrun a passenger train at this crossing is clearly not aware of the speed of these trains.

Sometimes, common sense is just as useful as improved infrastructure.


Eric said...

" railway photos that place a train in its surroundings" says a lot, Michael. I have a some sort of need to always be close enough to pick out the engine/car numbers. Some would say this results in a lot of wedge shots, and rightly so. With the barely-numbered Ventures, I can probably stand to be farther away anyway these days. Roster shots leave me totally cold, though. I'm always looking for the context: buildings, topography etc. in roster shots.

And I think you're right about one of the least-train'ed communities out there - Ottawa.

And common sense at the end of your post...if it's common, why does it seem that there's so little of it out there!?


Eric May said...

Trains with surrounding context is always preferable for photos. Best of luck for your move.

Steve Boyko said...

Some people just like to complain.

I like your phone shots!

I hope you and your family are much happier in your new home, and your old house sells quickly and at a reasonable price.

Keith said...

Sorry to hear you've had to resort to a new home to deal with the nuisance, but it sounds like you might have picked something more suitable, and interesting if it's backing onto the Beachburg Sub.

I've got all kinds of Iphone shots that I've been meaning to send your way. Just quick grabs from the rural east end when I've been fortunate enough to catch the 589 or a Via consist from Montreal. I'm hoping to upgrade to a new phone soon, so will see what the Pro version of an Iphone is capable of relative to the old one I've been hanging on to.

Anonymous said...

All the time I’ve been in ottawa, I have never once encountered a train. Ottawa really does have it good. In comparison, chatham has much more trains, yet everyone is just able to deal with it. Also good luck on the move!