Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CN Derailment in Downtown Winnipeg

There was a derailment in downtown Winnipeg late this afternoon, around 4:40 PM. According to CN's Twitter account "At ~4:40pm local time, 9 cars on westbound CN freight train derailed upright on CN main line in downtown Winnipeg. No leaks or injuries. Loaded cars contained sand; 2 derailed tank cars empty. CN crews on site, working to restore service. The cause is under investigation."

The cars in the above photo appear to be derailed. Notice how the car second from right is not connected. I noted sparks flying as crews were apparently cutting the couplers to separate them.

There was plenty of equipment and personnel in the nearby parking lot. That's the Fort Garry Hotel in the background, and you can see the dome of the VIA station above the truck cab.

There were personnel walking the train. Here I saw two people on the William Stephenson Way overpass. The end of the train is just off the right side of the photo.

Note the angle of the covered hoppers in the two photos below... clearly derailed.

Thank goodness they didn't fall off the overpasses!

I hadn't read my news this afternoon so I was totally unaware. I had headed up to the north end of Winnipeg after supper to get some video tapes converted to digital, and on my way home I noted the sparks flying from the stopped train and investigated.

Apparently CN believes the track will be clear late this evening. It's fortunate the cars were all upright and it doesn't appear that they traveled very far after derailing.

Global has helicopter video! The north track looks pretty torn up.
News reports:
Update: The CN Communications Twitter account responded to my inquiry and told me that one track was opened by midnight Wednesday night. The track is reported clear as of Friday night.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Return to Banff, Part 2

My family camped in Banff, Alberta in July 2013. In part 1 I described a successful early morning of railfanning in Banff and at Morant's Curve. Here I complete the tale, still at Morant's Curve near Lake Louise.

After the three CP trains rolled by, there was a lull for about an hour. During that time I walked up to the small parking lot near Morant's Curve to look at the interpretive display.

At 08:18 CP 9724 started around the curve.

You can see that the sun has finally reached the track!


Here's the video:


That was exciting... but I decided it was time to head back to Banff to try to catch the Rocky Mountaineer. On my way there, I saw a bear up the hill from highway 1A. I took a couple of really long shots before continuing on.

Once I rejoined the Trans-Canada Highway, I spotted a westbound CP freight waayyy in the distance. I stopped at a scenic viewpoint and took a couple of photos of CP 8877 West.


I arrived at the station in Banff to find a large crowd of people waiting for their train. At a few thousand dollars per person, there was a lot of money spent on the Rocky Mountaineer!


They came to a stop and the passengers started boarding. It didn't take very long for everyone to get on board.

This is my favourite photo of the Rocky Mountaineer in Banff.

I like the "swoop" theme they have on their train now. Contrast that with the red-white-blue scheme they had in 2010:
Note that 8012 was the second unit in 2010, and it was the leader on the Rocky Mountaineer in 2013.

I didn't hang around to see them leave as I wanted to catch them "on the road". I took this near head-on photo and headed west.

In 2010 I had waited at Banff for the train to leave, and ended up sprinting to get a shot of the Rocky on the road. I wanted a bit more time to set up so I left before the train. I drove to Muleshoe on the 1A and parked at the scenic outlook, and headed down toward the track with my cameras and tripod.

I set up the tripod and put the Canon S3 on top, then fired a few test shots with my T1i. Given that the sun was off to the left but ahead of me, the lighting was tricky. I ended up using an exposure bias of -1.3 stops to keep the sky from blowing out. It's always a good idea, if you have time, to fire off a test shot or two and see how it looks and check the histogram to ensure it's not over- or under-exposed.

The Rocky Mountaineer rolled along and I captured this photo - exactly what I was looking for.

Compare that to 2010's photo, taken with a different camera, fog, and not as much preparation, but in the same location.

The Rocky Mountaineer was going at a good clip, as shown by the video:


Those domes look very comfortable!

That was the last train I saw in Banff. We did go up the gondolas to Sulphur Mountain, always a fun trip.

Here's a few random landscape photos to show you just how beautiful Banff is.
Cascade Ponds

Lake Louise
Moraine Lake
I can't wait to go back... maybe in 2016.

See also:


Return to Banff, Part 1


Back in the summer of 2013 my family and I went back to camp in the Banff area for a week. You may recall that we were there in 2010.

We parked our trailer at the Tunnel Mountain Campground just outside Banff proper. That was the same place we camped at in 2010 and in fact we were in the same spot. While we were there, the Google Street View car came through. My son and I were going to get water when we spotted it. I fetched my camera and took a photo of the car.

It took a photo of me, too... in my pajamas!

Anyway, back to trains. I went to the Banff station on the evening of July 16th but nothing came along.

I went out to Banff West early in the morning of July 18th, hoping to capture a train there. The light was great but there was no traffic... in the 3 hours I was there. Disappointing. (I had better luck in 2010)

Here I am pensively watching for trains.

I negotiated one more trip out, on the morning of July 21st. This time I saw trains. I went down to the Banff station about half an hour before sunrise and there was a train. CP 8929 was heading west at 05:27.

This was at 1/50s at f/1.8 with my 50mm lens.

After the train passed, I headed to the railfan Mecca, Morant's Curve, to catch 8929 there. Fortunately I arrived about 3 minutes before the train did (06:16)!

This is the CP Laggan subdivision, mile 113. There's a hotbox detector just around the corner at mile 111 (Eldon) so you can get advance warning of a train if you have a scanner.



You can see the sun was just lighting up the tops of the mountains. Technically the sun was up for about 25 minutes but of course it has to clear the mountains.

Here's CP 9722 as mid-train power.

It wasn't long until another train came by, an eastbound this time. They must have been waiting at Lake Louise for 8929 to pass.

CP 8605 East rolled past my lens at 06:35 with a big ol' grain train.




CP was clearly making up for sending no trains back on the 18th... or at least that's what I choose to believe! CP 9813 East came rolling by shortly afterward at 06:57 pulling a potash train.

Here's a view of my "video camera" aka my old Canon S3.



After that burst of trains, there was a break of over an hour before the next train came along... in the next post.

See also:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

25 Years Ago Today


It's hard to believe that January 15, 1990 was 25 years ago today. That was the day that the huge cuts to VIA Rail took effect and many routes were lost or curtailed.

I wasn't a railfan then, but I was aware of the magnitude of the cuts, at least. I know many railfans made the effort to make "last rides" on many routes - they rode the RDCs to Yarmouth, NS; the Canadian through Calgary and Regina; and many other trains that no longer run.


VIA Rail has never recovered. Periodic capital injections have allowed them to refurbish or replace aging equipment, but service has never come anywhere close to the levels it provided prior to 1990/01/15.

One could make a convincing argument that service outside the Quebec City-Montreal-Toronto Corridor continues to decline. The Canadian is rarely on time any more (and only runs twice/week in the winter); the Ocean is running only three days a week (although VIA did run extra Oceans at Christmas last year, a welcome start); and Vancouver Island's Malahat and the GaspĂ©'s Chaleur are on indefinite hiatus.

To support passenger rail, and public transit in general, please support groups like Transport Action (formerly Transport 2000) and Le Groupe Traq. Talk to your MP and your MLA. Ride the trains!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Greatest Hits, Volume One

I was poking around through the blog archives recently and found a few posts that you might not have seen, especially if you're a relatively new subscriber to my blog. Here's a list of "trip reports" / stories that I wrote that you might like. I've gone through them and fixed any broken links that I found.

I hope you like them!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

5 Quick Tips to Improve Your Railfan Photography

We railfans love to take and share photos of trains. Capturing that rare locomotive or great lashup* is a great feeling and you want to share your good luck. Before sharing that photo, however, consider these five tips to improve your photography so you can share your best photos!

* lashup/consist = combination of locomotives powering the train

1. Get On The Sun Side

So many railfan photos are shot into the sun. I know I made this mistake many times.

The frame and trucks disappear into inky darkness, or the sky gets blown out into bright white. Neither are good.

The solution? Get on the sun side.

I know that sometimes this is not possible without trespassing or being unsafe, and of course safety is always first.

If you cannot get on the sun side, at least move so that the sun isn't directly in front of you.

And if there's nothing you can do to move the sun, go for a silhouette photo instead.


2. Ban the Wedgie

OK, that might be a bit extreme, but try to vary your shots so you photograph trains at other angles than just this.

There's nothing wrong with a 3/4 wedge shot. It shows the locomotives well, but it's.. common. Easy.

Try different angles, and different composition, to make your photos really stand out. Shoot the train side on. Try a pan!

Get your camera really low - or really high (find an overpass, stand on a snowbank, or bring a ladder!).

3. Focus On The Details

Rather than show the entire locomotive, zoom in on the details. Noted author and photographer Greg McDonnell includes a lot of detail photos in his books and I think they really set his work apart.

Documenting the details really helps later on to resolve questions that people might have about "how things used to be". As railfans we are also documenting what's going on. We owe a large debt to railfans of decades past who shot the dying days of steam, the first generation of diesels, and so forth. Someday railfans will thank us who capture the last GP9s, the GMD1s, and other equipment that won't be around for much longer.

4. Keep It Clean

Good photography tells a story, and it's hard to know what the subject is when there is a lot of clutter in a photo.

Who doesn't look at that giant box on the left?
I think this needs some "post" processing...

Keep it simple. Move your feet to get rid of distracting elements.

Other elements in the photo help provide context, but the subject of your photo (in this case, the train) should dominate.

5. Edit Your Photos

Please, please, please don't post your photos straight out of the camera (SOOC). All photos can benefit from a little editing.

At the very least, you should:

  • Make sure the horizon is level
  • Get the exposure right
  • Add a bit of contrast

Here's a photo I took in June 2013, almost straight out of the camera. I cropped it but that's the only edit I did to it - so far.

Not bad.. not bad. But it could be a lot better. Here's what I see that could be improved:

  • The horizon slants a bit to the left
  • The trucks are too dark - in fact the  whole photo is a bit dark
  • The grass is a little dull for June

Here's the edited photo.

I think it has a lot more "punch".

There are plenty of photo editors out there. As long-time readers know, I love Adobe Lightroom but there are many other choices including free editors like Paint.NET, Gimp, and PhoXo. If you use your phone for photography, there are lots of editors there too including the built-in iOS photo editor.

I hope these tips help you to produce better railfan photos. Please comment below if you have more to share. I look forward to seeing your photos. Follow me on Google+, Facebook, Flickr or Instagram and let's get sharing!