Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Are Train Horns Obsolete?

The city of Saint John, New Brunswick is moving closer to banning train horns at two crossings in the city.

Map of the area,
courtesy of Google Maps
Two crossings, at Rothesay Avenue and Thorne Avenue, are busy with trains crossing them multiple times a day traveling to the refinery, the crude oil unloading terminal, the potash terminal, Irving Paper, and other local industries. I don't know how many trains a day pass through those two crossings but I would think it is more than a dozen.

Residents have been complaining about the noise from the train horns, especially at night.

The article says the railway, NB Southern, is not in favour of removing this protection but will abide by the province's risk assessment, provided the city assumes liability for any accidents or injury caused by the ban on train horns.

This raises a bigger question - are train horns obsolete? Is there any point to blowing the horn for a crossing any more?

"Quiet zones" or "whistle bans" have popped up all over the continent. Here in Winnipeg, most of the city seems to be a quiet zone with horns only being sounded on the periphery of the city or during emergencies. Some people also question the efficacy of train horns with car drivers listening to music or talk radio at high volumes with rolled-up windows.

A TSB accident investigation delved into the effectiveness of locomotive horns. Larger vehicles such as trucks or buses make a lot of ambient noise and their drivers have trouble hearing train horns. This study indicated that only 14% of vehicle drivers involved in vehicle-train accidents heard the train's horn when the horn was sounded prior to impact.

Horn placement on the locomotive has an effect. A study indicated that mid-engine horns are less effective than horns on the nose. However, horns on the nose affect the crew's hearing more, so there is definitely a trade-off.

One alternative is a wayside horn, where the horn is physically located at the crossing and automatically sounds as a train approaches. These can be 10-12 dB quieter than locomotive horns (better for nearby residents) and have been shown to be at least as effective as train horns. However, there is an increased cost, of course, as every crossing has to have a system installed.

What's your thoughts on the train horn? Is it obsolete?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Take Me To Church

At the end of my Northwest Manitoba Elevator Trip series, I mentioned I would post photos of some of the churches I encountered along the way.

I'm not religious, but I appreciate the architecture and history of churches in Manitoba and elsewhere. The Prairies are well known for their Ukrainian influence, which is part of my own heritage, and the Ukrainian churches are well represented here.

The very first church I photographed was in Glenella. This is the St. Andrews United Church, established in 1906.
St. Andrews United Church, Glenella, MB
It's a very simple country church, a good start to this ecumenical tour.

The next church I saw was in Makinak. I posted that one already.

The next two I photographed were in Dauphin. The first was this impressive church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Resurrection.
Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Resurrection, Dauphin
This church was designed by the famed church architect Father Philip Ruh and built in the mid 1930s. I didn't go in it but the link above shows some lovely Ukrainian iconography inside.

The second Dauphin church I saw was the St. George Orthodox Church, another Ukrainian beauty.
St. George Orthodox Church, Dauphin
The next one I photographed was the much more modest All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church near Dutton, Manitoba.
All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Dutton, MB
While in Inglis I grabbed a quick photo of one church in the town, the Bethany Lutheran Church.
Bethany Luthern Church, Inglis
Not all of the area churches are Ukrainian!

Heading north, the next church I photographed was in Bowsman.
Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, Bowsman

I found was this abandoned Catholic church in the ghost town of Renwer, Manitoba, my second favourite church.
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Renwer
I'm not sure what the smaller building on the left is/was, but it appears to be related to the church. The church building seems to be in decent shape but some of the windows are broken. I didn't approach it so I don't know what it is like inside.

I did a bit of HDR to shoot the church against the sun.

Passing through Cowan, I shot this Ukrainian church quickly, as I was running a bit short of time.
Church of the Holy Ghost, Cowan
The real gem of the trip was the next church, spotted on highway 10 just outside Cowan, at Sclater.
Sclater Ukrainian church

This abandoned Ukrainian "Our Lady" church was built in 1921. Again, I didn't approach it but it definitely has seen better days. I wish I had more time to look at it.

Continuing on, I photographed two churches in Ethelbert. The first was the very well maintained St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church.
St. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Church, Ethelbert
At the other end of Ethelbert is this Greek Orthodox church.
Ruthenian Greek Catholic Parish of Sviatoho Ducha, Ethelbert

Two more!

Here is an impressive church in Winnipegosis with an impressive name, the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1929.

This is another Father Philip Ruh design, like the one in Dauphin. Don't confuse this church with another of the same name in Cooks Creek, Manitoba.

The last church I photographed was a more modest church, the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist, in Fork River Manitoba.
Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist, Fork River
There you have it - 14 churches photographed in a day to go along with the 20 grain elevators I photographed. There were many churches I missed or chose not to photograph. I hope you liked the ones I did photograph.

See more blog posts containing churches

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Circular Polarizers

I've written about circular polarizers before, but I wanted to revisit them one more time.

In case you don't know what a circular polarizer is, it is a filter that screws onto the end of your lens to allow you to polarize the light coming into your lens. It is used for two main purposes:

  1. Reducing reflections and glare from water, glass, etc.
  2. Darkening skies
To see an example of #1, look at this comparison from July 2013:
Note how the polarizer allows you to see into the water a bit more. In this case it is undesirable as you can see the muddiness more, but that's what it helps you do.

I used a polarizer in Kamloops to photograph the salmon run. It made a dramatic difference in the ability to see the fish under the surface of the water.
That shot was not possible without a polarizer.

I used a polarizer yesterday at Elkhorn, MB to perform #2, darkening the skies.

I didn't edit the Elkhorn photos at all except to adjust the crop a tiny bit to get the same composition, and I applied the same lens correction to both in Lightroom.

You can see how the polarizer brought a lot more interest to the sky. The sky is darker and the clouds are better defined.

I like dark blue skies so I like to use a circular polarizer... when I remember it. The only downside to using a polarizer is that it reduces your exposure by a couple of stops, so you need a bright day to avoid reducing the light so much that you have to use a high ISO or slow shutter speed.

A circular polarizer is pretty much the only filter that you can't totally simulate in Photoshop.

Hoya PRO1D circular polarizer

Personally I use a Hoya 58mm Circular Polarizer on my 18-55mm lens and a 67mm Hoya PL-CIR on my 70-200mm lens. You have to get the right size for your lens! I recommend you get a slim frame polarizer so you don't have any vignetting problems. (note that these are affiliate links, in which I get a commission, at no extra cost to you)

This video shows you how circular polarizers are used. Basically you screw it on the end of your lens, and when you are ready to shoot, you turn the polarizer until you get the amount of polarization that you want.

To recap, a circular polarizer is used to cut down glare and reflections, and to darken skies. It's a useful item to carry around with you, especially when shooting outside or when photographing water. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Inside the Inglis Elevators

As part of my northwest Manitoba grain elevator trip, I visited the elevator row in Inglis, Manitoba. I wrote about the outsides of the elevators here and now I'm going to write about the interiors.

Inglis has two elevators that are open to the public, the N.M. Paterson elevator on the end and the Reliance grain elevator in the middle of the five elevators. The Paterson office holds the site office and gift shop, so stop in here to find the tour guide and pay your fee for the tour. Don't do what I did and wander into the elevator on your own! :)

The N.M. Paterson Elevator

The Paterson elevator in Inglis is open to the public. You can stick your head in one of the 20 bins to look up to see how far up it goes.
A bin in Inglis' Paterson grain elevator

I used flash to illuminate it as far as I could. I think this bin has been modified somewhat as I don't think they would have had those horizontal boards - a place for grain to accumulate.

This is the selector wheel, used to select which bin the grain would flow into.
Grain elevator selector wheel

This is the manlift for the elevator. Basically you step on it, step on the bar across the floor to disengage the brake, then pull on the rope hand-over-hand to pull yourself (and the platform) up. There are counterweights to make the job easier. On the way down you simply step on the brake lever and you glide down.

The counterweights are calibrated to be a little less weight than the operator. Obviously people who weigh significantly different than the operator can't use the manlift very well. The manlifts at Inglis are immobile, fortunately.
Grain elevator manlift

The balloon annex is filled with a photo gallery and a little movie viewing area. It is all very nicely done. When I visited, they had a display called "Echoes From The Dust: The Disappearing Prairie Grain Elevator".

Most if not all were by Tim Van Horn, who has a great collection of grain elevator photos on Flickr.

The Reliance Elevator

One of the Reliance elevators is also open to the public.

Here's the elevator's "leg" with the door open to show the individual cups that bring the grain to the top for distribution into the bins. The selector wheel is visible at the top.
Grain elevator leg

Here's a look up the manlift "shaft". It's not really a shaft at all and the manlifts are pretty crude as far as person-elevators go.
Manlift shaft

This is the driveway in the Reliance elevator, showing the grating in the floor where the grain was dumped.
Reliance driveway

The Reliance Office

Every elevator had some kind of office, either attached or nearby, where the elevator agent worked. The agent was responsible for the elevator and worked from here when he wasn't in the elevator itself.

The engine that drove the elevator's leg were generally located in the office building, to reduce the risk of fire from the engine. I'm guessing the tin on the walls was to help reduce the fire risk as well. I've seen tin on other elevator office walls as well.

Signs and Details

Here are a few signs in and on the Inglis grain elevators. I've seen some of these at other elevators, especially the second "no smoking" sign.

I love the Ukrainian text

Always make your nightly inspection before closing

A very common sign on grain elevators
Thanks for my guide - she was very helpful - and thanks for reading!

Further reading:

Friday, July 24, 2015

The First Decade, in Statistics

We were vacationing on Vancouver Island when Confessions of a Train Geek turned 10. I totally missed it. I guess that's good, focusing on vacation instead of on my blog...

My first post was on July 9, 2005. As my wife just pointed out, we were on vacation then, too, returning from visiting Quebec and Montreal. I guess I made my first post in a hotel room in Edmundston, NB!

I celebrated post #2500 just two months ago and reminisced then, so it seems redundant to go over it again. Instead, I'll provide statistics! Whee!

I only have statistics from May 2010 to now in Blogger, so my statistics are really only for the last 5 years.

In the last 5 years, this blog had 851,460 page views. I'd like to double that to account for lifetime page views but I'm sure it was less than that in the first 5!

My most popular post by far is January 2015's Instagram for Railfans, with a distant second being a post about Thomas the Tank Engine coming to Canada in 2013.

Google and my own account for the majority of referrals, with Eric Gagnon's Trackside Treasure providing the top blog referrals. Google eclipses Bing and Yahoo! in referrals by more than 10 to 1! Let's not talk about AltaVista...

Several variants of "train" and "geek" are the top search terms, with "via derailment", "grain elevator", "winnipeg" and "CN train" rounding out the top 10.

Canada is obviously the top traffic source, but the US is not far behind; France, China and Germany fill out the top 5 countries visiting this blog. I honestly would have expected the UK to rank higher but it's #6 on the list.

Internet Explorer is the top browser, followed by Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera. Mobile and search browsers follow. Recent stats show that IE has fallen way behind so I think the Internet Explorer hits were from a few years ago before the rise of Chrome.

This one is not a surprise - most visitors use Windows, with Mac users a distant second. However, if you look at the last month, mobile devices are used by a pretty significant percentage of my readers.

I have 1817 comments on my blog. The oldest is a comment on this post. Who knows - maybe Chris McMahon was my first reader! ;)

For those of you who read to the end, I salute you! Thanks for reading, as always.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paintball With Museum Cars?

Diner 5433, Hillsborough, July 2006
The CBC recently reported that the New Brunswick Railway Museum recently turned two railway cars (a sleeper and a diner) over to the paintball business next door to it in Hillsborough. The paintball group (Atlantica Outdoor Recreation Centre) will be using the cars as props for their paintball and other games.

Museum curator Art Clowes (disclaimer: a friend of mine) said that the museum is unable to afford the upkeep for some of its cars, so the paintball group will look after them until the museum is able to restore them. Atlantica owner Aaron Nelson said they would do some minimal maintenance on them.

A bed in the sleeper
The CBC article failed to mention that the museum already turned over the remains of a CN flanger and an old outside-braced boxcar (perhaps two?) to the group.

The cars were all on the south leg of the wye in Hillsborough by June 20th.

The cars involved are:

  • Diner 5433, originally CN 5433
  • Sleeper Saint John River, originally NYC 10161, Agawam River
  • Flanger 56471 (burned in the 1994 fire)
  • Boxcars 74857 and 74886 (burned in the 1994 fire)

Personally, I have no issue with it. I know the NB Railway Museum is desperately short of volunteers and of money, so if someone can find a use for these cars other than scrap metal, they should go for it. Commenters on the CBC talked about the use of cars for rental cabins... all well and good but it all requires money and time, both in short supply. The NBRM has had its issues with volunteers in the past (I know, I volunteered there for several years) but I'm firmly of the opinion that if you aren't willing to help, you don't get to complain about how things are done.

The dinner train in happier times. Hiram Creek Trestle, June 2002.
Keep in mind that the diner hasn't been used since the last dinner train in 2004, and the sleeper hasn't had any maintenance except for a coat of paint several years ago. The flanger and the boxcars were damaged in the tragic 1994 fire and since then have languished on the scale track. Nobody paid any attention to them as they were basically written off. It's lucky they weren't sold for scrap.

I'm interested to hear what you think of the use of these cars.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Northwest Manitoba Elevator Trip - The Road Home

This post is part 5 of a series featuring the grain elevators of northwest Manitoba. Please visit here for the first of the series.

After Birch River, it was time to head east and make my way home. I had three elevators left to capture, with Ethelbert being the first.

On my way to Ethelbert, I saw these two lovely old vehicles set up on the side of the road. Someone seemed to have placed them just for their picture value... I appreciate that!

I think Savenkoff and Son won't be needing this any more
Its cruising days are over
It took a bit of careful positioning to keep the power poles out of the shot.

Shortly after that, I stumbled across the Louisiana Pacific OSB mill near Minitonas.

The mill is very close to the end of the former CN Cowan subdivision. There's a crossing by the mill at mile 84.03 and the line officially ends at 83.5. You can see a pair of tank cars parked on that last 0.53 miles.

The mill itself is pretty large.

As far as I saw from ground level, and later from Google's satellite view, the facility has a double-ended siding that runs through one of their buildings, as well as a short spur for car storage. In this photo you can see some cars "on the main", with the siding branching off in the foreground and about a dozen boxcars stored on the spur in the background.

I understand that Louisiana Pacific is converting this mill to make SmartSide wood siding and adding about 40 jobs, so that bodes well for the survival of the railway here.

I did not linger for more than a couple of minutes, as I had a schedule to keep and I was slipping!

After passing through Cowan, and grabbing an ice cream from the corner store there, I carried on to Ethelbert.


The town of Ethelbert has a single grain elevator, a former Manitoba Pool/Agricore elevator with a large annex.

This is actually the "B" elevator, as there was an "A" elevator at one point. The foundation appears to be still in place.

Note the difference in lighting. The first Ethelbert photo was taken later, after the sun came out to play. It sure makes a difference having the elevator lit up!

Ethelbert was on the CN Cowan subdivision. A November 1922 article in Canadian National Railways Magazine notes that Ethelbert had a 6.75 million Imperial gallon water reservoir to supply water for steam engines, since many Western towns did not have abundant water like mountain or eastern towns. The article is reprinted in the May-June 1993 Canadian Rail (PDF).

The elevator was listed in the Canadian Grain Commission's list through 2001 with a capacity of 4,550 tonnes.

There is an old railway bridge near the grain elevator. I photographed it but I didn't dare step on it... it could use some work.

(I combined three images using HDR for this photo as the dynamic range was too much for a single photo)

After photographing the elevator, and a couple of churches in the town, I carried on toward Winnipegosis "cross country".

I quickly discovered an old annex on private property just outside town. This wooden annex may have belonged to the "A" elevator in Ethelbert.

On to Winnipegosis!


The National grain elevator in Winnpegosis is a nice-looking structure. It consists of the elevator plus a low balloon annex.

The elevator itself has developed a bit of a lean.

There is a low shed on the other side of the elevator, which apparently was for selling coal and perhaps other commodities like fertilizer.


There is a train station in Winnipegosis, down by the marina at what was once the end of the CN Winnipegosis subdivision. It looks like it is being restored.

This station is a Canadian Northern 3rd class "type A" station, designed by Ralph Benjamin Pratt. Mr. Pratt was a prolific architect and designed many stations and other buildings in western Canada, including the Prince Edward Hotel in Brandon, the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium, and the Virden CP train station.

The railway reached Winnipegosis in 1897. CN used to run a Dauphin-Winnpegosis mixed train service well into the 1970s until they were permitted to drop it in 1977. Like many prairie branch lines, service declined and the CN Winnipegosis subdivision was abandoned in stages, with Winnipegosis losing service around 1983 and the last vestiges ending in 1997.

On to the last elevator of this trip...

Fork River

Compared to Winnipegosis, Fork River's elevator looks very modern and well kept. The entire elevator is clad in new-looking siding. Note the lack of a spout on the track side. I imagine that was removed when the siding was redone.

The Fork River grain elevator was a Manitoba Pool Elevators structure, with a capacity of 2,070 tonnes in 1998. More details here.

Here's a long view of the area showing the various bins around the elevator.

The Voyage Home

I took my last photo of the Fork River elevator at 8:23 PM, and it was time to head home. By this time I was on the road for 17 hours and 40 minutes... I was a little tired.

I picked up some fast food and gas in Dauphin and carried on south. I stopped at McCreary to grab a couple of photos.

I carried on to Neepawa and Portage la Prairie. I remember seeing the headlights of a CN train leaving Portage, but by that point I just wanted to get home, so I continued on the Trans-Canada to Winnipeg and home.

I arrived at home at 12:56, and after stumbling into our house, I went to bed, reminiscing about another great trip.

By the Numbers

  • 1338 km driven, over
  • 21 hours 46 minutes, to capture
  • 20 new-to-me grain elevators, while listening to
  • uncounted podcasts and songs

I have two more posts to write. One will features interior details of the grain elevators at Inglis and the other will show some of the churches I photographed on my way through northwest Manitoba.

As always, thanks for reading and thanks for commenting.. I really appreciate it.