Tuesday, December 06, 2016

2016's CP Holiday Train

2015's Holiday Train
I wanted to shoot the CP Holiday Train this year, as I did in 2011 and 2014 and 2015. However, I didn't want to shoot it at the same ol' location, so I elected to get it a little east of Winnipeg as it approached our fair city.

After a bit of Google Maps scouting, I decided on the Deacon Road crossing just east of the Winnipeg Floodway. This crossing has two roads paralleling the tracks right next to it, providing a handy place to park off the road, and wide open spaces to see the train.

I wasn't the only one with that idea, as there were already a few cars parked nearby. Fortunately a large field of view was available and I took it. I set my tripod up and took a few test shots.

If you've ever tried night photography, the hardest part is getting the focus right. Fortunately there were some signals next to the road crossing that could be used for reference.

Once I was happy with the focus, I played around a bit with shutter speeds and aperture. I had the camera in full manual - exposure, shutter speed, ISO and focus - and settled on a 30 second shutter speed at f/7.1 and ISO 200.

After that, all I had to do was wait. And wait. The train was late!

Fortunately I was able to sit in my warm car and listen to podcasts. I left the camera outside on the tripod, chillin' in the -7 C temperature. I was a bit concerned about the battery but I figured I could swap it out for my spare if it started to blink.

Eventually a glow was visible on the horizon... it was train time! I fired up the camera and the battery light was blinking, so I opened the passenger door and fetched the camera bag to get the spare battery. Spare.. spare.. where is that spare battery?!

No spare battery.

Train approaching.

What to do?

I popped the camera off the tripod, took the battery out, palmed it and shoved my hand in my pants pocket to warm it up. I was careful not to jostle the lens and change the focus or zoom.

I watched nervously as the train came closer.. closer.. then popped the battery back in, slammed the camera back onto the tripod and powered it up. It would have to do!

iPhone out in my left hand, I waited for the right moment. As the train split the signals, I hit the shutter button and the "record" on my iPhone and watched the train roll on by.

This was the result.

Holiday Train Streak
It was a bit more exposed than I would have liked. If I could go back I would try 15 seconds instead, but I still like it.

An hour of waiting for 30 seconds of train... sounds about right!

Oh, here's the video I took:

See the Train

The train is all about raising money, food and awareness for local food banks and food shelves. Bring a non-perishable item along and enjoy the show!

See Also

Saturday, December 03, 2016

HMCS Iroquois

HMCS Iroquois, Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 2013.
That's probably the former HMCS Provider behind her.
Last week, the former HMCS Iroquois was towed out of Halifax harbour to its final destination in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. She was paid off (retired) on May 1, 2015 and was the lead and name ship of the 4 ship Iroquois class of destroyers. With her retirement, HMCS Athabaskan is the sole remaining ship of that class in service with the Royal Canadian Navy.

The four Iroquois class destroyers were built to provide area air defence for the navy. This defence used to be provided by the Banshee fighters aboard HMCS Bonaventure, Canada's last aircraft carrier. When the Banshees were retired in 1962, Canada's navy had no air defence, so the Iroquois class was conceived. Their armament included a fully automatic 5 inch gun, a Mk III RIM "Sea Sparrow" system for air defence, a Mk 10 Limbo anti-submarine mortar and two torpedo launchers.

These ships were also called the Tribal class, because they were each named for native tribes in Canada: Iroquois, Huron, Athabaskan and Algonquin. They shared the names of 4 of the 8 ships of the World War 2 Tribal class destroyers, a very successful anti submarine destroyer escort.

A Long Aside

Before I was a train geek, I was a ship geek. My dad was in the military. When we were posted to Moscow, USSR, I remember reading his Jane's Fighting Ships books he would bring home from work. I knew all the aircraft carriers in the world and studied all of the Soviet ships and compared them to their equivalent American, British and French ships. I had a lot of time on my hands in Moscow...

In 1979 my dad was posted to CFB Shearwater outside Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Our house was on Barracuda Drive and this was the view from our house (courtesy Google Street View).

To the left is a large jetty at Shearwater and Halifax is visible to the right. Often visiting US Navy warships and submarines would dock at the jetty in front of my house, because Halifax didn't permit nuclear-armed vessels to dock and the US Navy would never admit whether they were carrying nukes or not. My dad and I toured many ships and submarines and I have many fond memories of those visits.

One time we were in a US attack submarine and I looked at our house with the periscope. Great optics on that thing!

Another time we were awoken early one morning by a guided missile cruiser playing the "Star Spangled Banner" over their loudspeakers, complete with the forward missile turret moving up and down and around in tune with the music.

We would often see the Canadian ships sailing in and out of Halifax harbour, and they were a familiar sight when we would go into Halifax to shop. When I was a little older I would bike by myself to Dartmouth and take the ferry across to Halifax to visit the gaming stores in Halifax (I remember "Odyssey 2000" was one of them). The naval ships were easily visible from the ferry.

I believe Iroquois and Athabaskan were assigned to Halifax and Huron and Algonquin were assigned to Esquimalt on the west coast. They were a common sight as were a few of the retired St. Laurent class of frigates, and of course the Oberon class of submarines.

A Tracker on display in Winnipeg
Being in Shearwater, the sound of Sea King helicopters and Tracker patrol planes flying overhead was common. I remember one time my cousin was visiting and we were inside my house, when he asked, "what's that noise?"

"Noise?" I replied. "I don't hear anything."

"It sounds like a really loud airplane."

I listened again. "Oh, that's a Tracker." I was so used to the sound that it didn't register any more.

Back to the Iroquois

Iroquois was towed to Liverpool to R.J. MacIsaac Construction, where she joined sister ship (ex) HMCS Algonquin and the former supply ship (ex) HMCS Protecteur for disposal. I'm not sure if they will be completely scrapped on site but their military material and all recoverable material will be removed.

The Iroquois class were built between 1969 and 1973. It was 46 years and two days ago that HMCS Athabaskan was launched, which is a long darn time for a warship to still be in active service. Many of our ships are worn out.

Former Iroquois (L), HMCS Fredericton,
and unknown ship, Halifax, October 2015
For example, HMCS Protecteur. She was not a lucky ship in her last few years. Protecteur collided with Algonquin in 2013 during a training exercise, tearing a huge gash in the port side of Algonquin's hangar and hastening her retirement. In 2014 Protecteur suffered two fires in 2014. One of those fires left her powerless and adrift for 11 hours before being taken in tow to Hawaii. Protecteur and her sister Provider were slightly older than the Iroquois class and they suffered many failures before retirement.

All four of the Iroquois class received TRUMP* (Tribal Refit and Upgrade Modernisation Program) upgrades in the 1980s. This upgrade was really a rebuilding, as they were converted to anti-air warfare vessels with the addition of SM-2 Block 2 surface-to-air missiles to replace the marginal Sea Sparrows, a Phalanx close-in weapons system (CIWS), and major electronics upgrades. Their turbines were replaced, the twin funnels were replaced by a single funnel, and they received new command, control and communications features to enable them to operate as lead ships for the new Halifax-class frigates.

(* a topical acronym these days)

Today's Fighting Ships

HMCS Charlottetown (Halifax class), in Halifax
Only HMCS Athabaskan remains and she is scheduled to be retired next year. That will leave the 12 Halifax-class  frigates as the Royal Canadian Navy's sole warships until the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy starts delivering ships.

The Halifax-class ships were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Saint John at the former shipyards there. I remember seeing them under construction as I traveled to the nearby Courtenay Bay power plant for work. They are in the midst of being upgraded with new electronics and will serve the navy for many years to come.

The RCN also has the 12 Kingston-class coastal defence vessels, which are primarily manned by naval reservists. These vessels are lightly armed and are not what I would call "fighting ships".

RIP HMCS Iroquois and let's hope that we get some new ships into our fleet soon to continue defending Canada's long shorelines and serving overseas as required.

Thanks for reading this little departure from my usual train and photography related topics. I read about the last voyage of HMCS Iroquois and was inspired to write this.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Stored Cars in Mossleigh, Alberta

Stored cars at Mossleigh, Alberta
This past summer I was headed to Lethbridge for work, and decided to take a slight detour between Calgary and Lethbridge and go via highway 23 rather than the more direct highway 2. It doesn't add much to the trip and it was a new route for me.

The small town of Mossleigh, AB is less than an hour out of Calgary and hosts the Aspen Crossing excursion train / campground / restaurant complex. It also has three grain elevators and a lot of stored cars on the grain elevator siding.

After visiting Aspen Crossing I went over and photographed the elevators and as many of the cars as I could see without trespassing.

My understanding is that most of the cars are not owned by Aspen Crossing but are being stored there. Several of them used to be stored in De Winton, AB.

Stored railway equipment in Mossleigh, AB
Here are the pieces of equipment I saw.


Parrish & Heimbecker 8454
8454 was originally CN 8454 and is an MLW S-3 built in January 1952. It worked at Manitoba Paper, Pine Falls Paper, the Prairie Dog Central, and Parrish and Heimbecker in Moose Jaw before coming to Aspen Crossing. See also: 8454 on the Prairie Dog and Aspen Crossing's New Locomotive Gets Delivered.

CP 105

CP 105 at the Aspen Crossing Railway
This car went through several hands before arriving at Aspen Crossing. It started out as UP baggage-mail car 5811, built in 1949. It went to Doyle McCormack as DLMX 5811 and was acquired by CP for use with steam engine CP 2816. A few years ago CP put it up for sale and Aspen Crossing bought it.

45 Tonner

45 ton locomotive at Aspen Crossing
This 45 ton GE locomotive was built in April 1958 and worked for Manitoba Sugar for many years. It went to Rogers Sugar in Taber, AB after Manitoba Sugar was shuttered, and then came to work at Aspen Crossing. I believe it was their first locomotive.

Ex CP Baggage Car

I don't know the lineage of this car other than its last job was as a CP Rail work car. The label says "Cook Diner Sleeper". It may have been CP 411742.

CP 404924

ex CP 404924 at Mossleigh, AB
This was another ex CP Rail work car, labelled as "SERVICE TOOL CAR". This was originally CP 4230, a baggage-express car built in October 1948. It was reassigned as a work car in 1967 and became CP 404924.

CP 42816

CP 42816 at Mossleigh, AB
Boxcar CP 42816 was partially visible from behind one of the elevators. This boxcar was built in June 1952 as CP 199001.

Behind CP 42816 was a CP caboose that I could not photograph without trespassing. My guess is that it was CP 434719, since that was stored with 42816 and 42506 in De Winton, but I don't know for sure.

CP 42506

CP 42506 in Mossleigh, AB
Boxcar CP 42506 was also peeking from behind a grain elevator. It has a multimark on it but it's not visible in this photo. This Hawker-Siddeley built car was built in August 1965.

CP 226277

Boxcar CP 226277 in Mossleigh, AB
CP 226277 is one of several boxcars at Mossleigh.

CP 403629

CP 403629 at Mossleigh, AB
Boxcar CP 403629 still has a faded "Canadian Pacific Railway" showing through the faded paint.

There was a snowplow next in line but I couldn't see very much of it at all, so no photo!

Crane and CP 418214

Crane and flatcar CP 418214
This crane / flatcar combination was next. The crane is ex Canadian Pacific Railway, according to the lettering on the cab, but I don't know what its number was. The flatcar is ex CP 418214.

Caboose CP 434470

Caboose CP 434470 at Mossleigh, AB
Fairly modern caboose CP 434470 was in the line as well. This is one of over 300 cabeese built by CP's Angus shops in Montreal between 1972 and 1981.

The remainder of the cars were owned by Nagel Tours / Funtrain Canada Inc. and used on the Okanagan Valley Wine Train from 1999 to 2003 from Kelowna, BC. When the Wine Train shut down, they were parked in Kelowna for years until they were sold and hauled out, two at a time behind a rail truck, in late 2015 just before CN removed the track to Kelowna. You can read the press release of their sale and Caboose Coffee's story of the Wine Train.
Former Okanagan Valley Wine Train cars
These cars are ex CN, ex VIA Rail "blue and yellow" cars, mostly from CN's massive 1954 car order.


ELMSDALE is a sleeper built by Pullman for CN in 1954.

FTRN 752

FTRN 752 in Mossleigh, Alberta
FTRN 752 is a café-lounge car built in 1954 as a coach, CN 5502, before being rebuilt as a café-lounge car, CN 3004. It became CN 752 then VIA 752.


FTRN BOULEVARD CLUB aka "The 50s/60s Rock and Roll Car"
FTRN 658 is a club galley car, subtitled "The 50s/60s Rock and Roll Car". This car went through a number of changes in its lifetime, starting out as CN buffet sleeper #1015 "VALLEY MILLS". It was rebuilt as a diner (CN 1355) then became CN 658 "BOULEVARD CLUB" and finally VIA 658 "BOULEVARD CLUB".


FTRN CLUB YORK aka "Variety Car"
FTRN 659 had a similar history to BOULEVARD CLUB above. It started as CN Buffet Sleeper #1018 "VALLEY ROAD", then diner CN 1355, then it became CN 659 "YORK CLUB" and then VIA 659 "YORK CLUB".


FTRN MOUNT ROYAL CLUB aka "The 30s/40s Hollywood Car"
This car actually started as a coach, CN 5639, and was rebuilt to club galley car CN 653 "MOUNT ROYAL CLUB" before becoming VIA 653 "MOUNT ROYAL CLUB".


FTRN 5552 / KAMLOOPS in Mossleigh, AB
FTRN 5654 / KELOWNA in Mossleigh, AB
KAMLOOPS and KELOWNA are both coaches built in 1954 by Canadian Car and Foundry, still with their original CN numbers and in their original roles.

FTRN 654 / The Western Car

FTRN 654 aka "The Western Car" in Mossleigh
FTRN 654 is another club galley car. It was originally built as a parlour car as CN 582 "LAKE O'BRIEN" but became CN 654 "ST. JAMES'S CLUB" and then VIA 654 "ST. JAMES'S CLUB".


FTRN 5603 was another coach, built as CN 5603 in 1954 before becoming VIA 5603 later in its career.

FTRN 9653

Baggage car FTRN 9653
Baggage car FTRN 9653 was the last car on the siding. Note the faded VIA logo, not covered over with the Okanagan Valley Wine Train logo like the rest. This car was built by National Steel Car (NSC) in 1958 as CN 9282, but became CN 9653 later on and then VIA 9653.

Stored equipment at Mossleigh, Alberta

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

How to Fix Backlit Photos in Lightroom

Backlit photo - before and after
Here's a common problem. You see an interesting subject but the light is behind the subject. This is called "backlit" for obvious reasons.

Maybe you can't move to a spot with better light, or the subject is a train that's moving and you have to get the shot now. You take the photo anyway and you end up with something like this:

Can we make this better?

To quote Bob the Builder, "Yes We Can!"

The quick version of what we're going to do in Adobe Lightroom is:

  • Boost shadows
  • Reduce highlights
  • Increase saturation
  • Deal with noise 

Let's get to it.

What Does "Backlit" Mean?

Let's define what "backlit" means. It's defined as "illuminated from behind" meaning that the light source is farther away from the photographer than the subject is, and the light source is in the same direction as the subject.

It could mean that the light is directly "in line" with the subject, silhouetting the subject; or it might not be in line and simply causes deep shadows like the photo above.

Why is Backlighting Bad?

First off, it isn't always bad. In portrait photography you often want backlighting - often combined with a little flash.

However, in landscape or railfan photography, backlighting is usually undesired. Why?

The main reason why backlighting is bad are the deep shadows it causes, which obscure details. A secondary problem is the sky, which is often too bright or pure white from the camera trying to expose for the subject and "blowing out" the sky.

How To Fix Backlighting in Lightroom

In Adobe Lightroom, there are two main things you can do to fix backlit photos - boost the shadows and reduce the highlights.

If you use other editing programs, the process is likely similar, but I'll go through the process with Lightroom.

The basic steps are the following:

  1. Boost Shadows by about +50
  2. Reduce Highlights by about -90
  3. Increase saturation
  4. Deal with noise
  5. Make final adjustments

Boosting Shadows

In Lightroom, open the image in the Develop module and go to the Basic panel. Try boosting the Shadows to +50 and see how it looks.
Backlit - boosting the shadows
This definitely brings out some detail on the "dark side" of the locomotive, without significantly affecting the brightness of the rest of the photo. Note that the grass in the foreground is a bit brighter too.

Boosting the shadows is a lot easier if you shoot in RAW format with your camera, if you can. RAW format files have a lot more information in them than a JPG file does.

Now we reduce the highlights.

Reducing Highlights

In Lightroom, take the Highlights slider in the Basic panel and slide it down to about -90.
Backlit - reducing the highlights
What we're doing here is reducing the brightness of the sky. As I mentioned above, the sky is often too bright in backlit photos so bringing the highlights down usually reduces the sky's brightness.

If the sky was totally blown out (pure white) then this won't do a lot but it will help. For blown-out skies, you may need to add a graduated filter in Lightroom and reduce the brightness of the sky further. You may also have to reduce the saturation in that filter because totally blown out skies often have an unwanted colour cast to them.

Increasing Saturation

Backlit photos often look washed out, so they benefit from a little colour saturation.

In Lightroom you have two sliders that directly affect how much colour is in the photo: saturation and vibrance. They both affect the intensity of colour in the image but vibrance is a little more subtle than saturation is. This article explains the difference well. Think of vibrance as a gentle way to boost colour where it's needed while saturation is a colour fire hose. A little of the saturation slider goes a long way... but sometimes you have to go wild with it.
Backlit - adding saturation
Now I'm sure you're saying - "hold it, that looks terrible!" That grass looks totally unrealistic.

I agree. Let's fix it with a graduated filter. I dragged it up from just below the horizon to overlap the bottom of the locomotive and horizon a bit, then reduced the saturation in the filter to -40 to partially compensate for the saturation added above. I didn't fully compensate because I wanted a bit more colour in the grass than the original.
Backlit - fixing the grass with a graduated filter
So that looks pretty good. We're almost done.

Dealing With Noise

The problem with boosting shadows in images is that you also boost the digital noise. In film days we'd call this "grain" but with digital images it is noise. Basically, digital cameras record some information for dark areas but not a lot. If you increase the exposure in mostly black areas, this lack of information shows up as noise or pixelated, blocky details. Have a look at the image below, shown at 2:1 size.
Noise in boosted image
You can see how grainy it looks. Also, I haven't sharpened the image yet beyond the default of +25, so we have to do that... but sharpening can often make noise worse, so we have to balance the two.

One very important slider in Lightroom that deals with sharpening is the "Masking" slider. I never knew about this slider when I first started using Lightroom and I wish I had!

If you have the Masking slider at zero, basically you are applying sharpening to the entire image. Often you don't want or need to do that. In our working image we'd like to sharpen the edges of the locomotive and the details on it, but we don't want to sharpen the sky and we probably don't want to sharpen the grass very much. The Masking slider allows us to decide what parts of the image we should sharpen. I'll write more about that sometime but for now this article gives a good overview of sharpening in Lightroom.

Here's the same closeup after aggressively sharpening at 111 (masking 57) with luminance noise reduction of 44.
After sharpening and noise adjustment

Final Adjustments

A few final adjustments will finish the job. I decided the image could use these adjustments:

  • White balance adjustment - temp +350, tint +2 (I thought the original was a bit blue)
  • Brightness +0.36
  • Clarity +10
  • Post-Crop Vignetting -12

Here's the final image.
After final edits
I hope you'll agree this image is a lot better than the original. It won't win any awards but it is definitely an improvement.

Final Comments

This might seem like a lot of work, but one of the great things about Adobe Lightroom is that you can put these into a preset and apply them - bang - all in one shot. I've developed a "backlit" preset to do all this in a few seconds, and then I do whatever minor tweaks I feel are necessary to finish the photo. This takes editing time down from 10 minutes to 1 minute. I hope to package these presets up soon and offer them as a download, but for now you can make your own preset with the settings below, or experiment with other presets like the 101 Lightroom Presets Pack from Digital Photography School.

These are the edits I made to this image:

  • Shadows +50
  • Highlights -90
  • Saturation +71
  • Graduated filter with exposure -40
  • Edge masking 68
  • Sharpening 111
  • Luminance Smoothing 44
  • Exposure +0.36
  • Clarity +10
  • Post-Crop Vignette -12
  • White Balance adjustment

Thanks for reading along!

Further Reading

Disclosure: This post contains one or more links that are affiliate links, for which I may earn a commission if you follow the link and purchase something from the site that they link to.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lethbridge's High Level Bridge

Potash train crossing Lethbridge's High Level Bridge
Lethbridge, Alberta hosts the largest conventional trestle railroad bridge ever built, the High Level Bridge. This bridge was started during 1908 and was completed in 1909, and is just over a mile long at 5,331 feet (1,624m) and rises 314' (95.7m) over the Oldman River.

This colossal structure crossing the Oldman River replaced the more circuitous original route over the St. Mary's River. The bridge was built by the CPR with 12,200 tons of steel and 17,090 cubic yards of concrete, among other materials.
Train crossing the Lethbridge trestle
The bridge was built with the use of a "traveller". This large device was basically a large crane on rails, and it was used to build each section of the bridge.

As that was completed, it was rolled forward on the newly-constructed piece to begin the next section.

The traveller was built on site and placed the last girder in June 1909.

I suppose this method would require a lot of confidence in the bridge piece that you had just completed! (image at right from the Crowsnest Pass Railway Route site)

Looking through
It's interesting to compare this bridge with the Salmon River trestle, the second longest railway bridge in Canada.

  • Length: Lethbridge - 5,331' (1,624m); Salmon River - 3,920' (1,194m)
  • Height: Lethbridge - 314' (95.7m); Salmon River - 195' (59.4m)
  • Towers: Lethbridge - 33; Salmon River - 51
It's notable that the Lethbridge viaduct has 35% less towers yet is 35% longer.

Lethbridge's towers are much wider than most (67' / 20m) and the spans between towers are also longer than most (97' / 30m).

Everyone likes to look at this bridge
The bridge dominates the area and is easily accessible by foot. I've walked under it on the public paths along the river and you can easily see the western end by parking in the Heritage Heights area of western Lethbridge and walking over. It casts an impressive shadow on Google Maps.

I first visited Lethbridge in August 2013. I was lucky to spot a train crossing the bridge but didn't get the head end. You can see that photo above in black-and-white.

I visited again in May 2016 and spent several hours around the bridge one beautiful evening. I parked in Heritage Heights and clambered down to the Oldman river. It's quite a long trip down!

The bridge is quite impressive from all angles. It's difficult to capture the entirety of the bridge without being very far off. I took a little break and just sat and took it in.
Just taking it in
After quite a while, I started back. I heard a thrum in the distance and it turned out to be a potash train, led by a trio of Union Pacific locomotives. They looked tiny way up there on the viaduct.
UP 5522, 5374 and 5546 crossing the Lethbridge viaduct
The train went on and on and on. I think the speed limit is 30 MPH on the bridge but it could be less.
Canpotex cars on the Lethbridge viaduct
Unfortunately this bridge appears to be popular for suicides. I noticed prominent "no trespassing" signs at the end along with a large "LIFE IS WORTH LIVING" sign with a phone number for the Suicide Crisis Line (1-888-787-2880).

If you're ever in the area, I highly encourage you to check this bridge out. It's very impressive.


I found a few videos of the bridge that you might like.

For More Information

Other Bridge-Related Posts