Saturday, April 22, 2017

New VIA Rail Book!

Noted VIA Rail expert Eric Gagnon has published a new VIA Rail book called "Trackside With VIA: Research and Recollections".

This is the fourth book he's published and I think it's going to be a great one. Like Eric's other books, it's likely to be chock full of data, odd consists, and plenty of stuff you didn't know about VIA Rail.

The official launch is Monday, April 24 but you can order your book now with this printable order form, or by sending an e-transfer to Eric's email listed at the top right corner of his site.

The order form has the pricing, which is $35 for Canadian addresses, including postage, which is a good price in my opinion.

I was the first e-transfer customer so I have been anxiously checking my mailbox for my own copy to join its three brothers? Sisters? What gender are books?

You can read my review of Trackside with VIA: The First 35 Years or my 10 Questions for Eric Gagnon.

I highly recommend you go buy the book if you have any interest in VIA Rail!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Railfanning the Sprague Subdivision

Continuing after visiting Piney, Manitoba... After we visited the Piney train station, a bathroom break was desperately required. Our options were definitely limited...
  • There is no public washroom in Piney - I did consider checking out the community centre but I assumed it was locked. 
  • We hadn't seen any kind of gas station or other possibility for a public washroom since Steinbach, almost an hour away
  • The border town of Sprague was 20 minutes away
I decided our best choice was Sprague, even though that would take us farther away from home. Off we went.

As we approached South Junction, I saw a sign for a Co-Op gas station. HOORAY! I pulled up to the pumps and my family ran into the station to take care of business while I topped up the tank. The gas price was reasonable - 89.9 cents/L I believe. I went inside to pay and use the facilities, then we all got back into the van.

I knew South Junction used to be the east end of the CN Ridgeville subdivision that Piney was on, so I wanted to check out the track and see what traces of the sub were still evident. We drove over to the CN Sprague subdivision and I parked near the tracks and stepped out with my camera.

South Junction

I took a few photos of the area, and as I was looking around, I heard an unmistakable noise in the distance - big diesel engines! Soon headlights came into view to the east and CN 2855 West came thundering through the crossing.

CN 2855 and 2832 leading a grain train through South Junction, MB
I wonder if this building in the back yard of a nearby house was a railway building? It sure looks like one.
Some kind of railway building?
There is still some track in the ground from what was the Ridgeville subdivision. I think that there is some under the pavement of Main Street and I unearthed a bit of track that was covered by last year's grass.

I'd like to come back and see if I could find some dates on that track!

There is a pretty sizable church in South Junction too, the Our Lady of Assumption (Roman Catholic) (Manitoba Historical Society page).

Our Lady of Assumption church in South Junction, MB
So that was South Junction. It was time to head toward home. I had promised lunch / supper in Woodridge, so we weren't heading back the same way we came down. That's OK - it's always good to see new routes!


I wanted to stop by Vassar to see the old train station there. I understood it was in much better shape than the Piney train station.

When we got to Vassar, CN 2855 West was rolling through.

Once the train passed, I saw that the station was well off the road and apparently on private property. You can catch a glimpse of it from the road at the east/south end of the siding.

Here's Vassar siding - 13,529 feet.
Vassar siding
Off to Woodridge. Once we left highway 12 it was gravel on route 203 to Woodridge. I probably should have ducked into Badger to view the abandoned buildings there, but we drove on by.


It's Woodridge on the map but I'm pretty sure it's known to CN as Carrick. When we got there, "our" freight train was rolling through.
Grain cars rolling through Woodridge, MB

Grain in the plains
Once that passed, we headed across the tracks to the Trails End Tavern.

Woodridge is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it is an important stop for snowmobilers and ATVers who frequent the area. There were several ATVs parked outside and from a few online searches it seems the town is an important stop along the way.
Trails End Tavern, Woodridge
We had a very nice "lupper" at the tavern, with great service and good food at reasonable prices. No complaints!

While we were eating, another westbound freight train rolled by. I'm proud to say that I stayed in my seat and didn't run outside at the sight of the crossing bells lighting up.

Once our meal was done, we continued on toward home.


We met the tracks again at Marchand. There's nothing but straight track here but the sight lines would be good for a train. The Marchand Hotel was prominently in view.
Marchand, Manitoba

La Brocquerie

Church in La Brocquerie
We passed through the tidy town of La Brocquerie.

I saw a west-facing signal was green, indicating an eastbound train was coming, but I knew my family's patience was wearing thin so I didn't dare hang around.

I did take a moment to photograph an impressive church in the town. This is the St. Joachim Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1898 and dedicated in 1901. The Manitoba Historical Society has a page on it and the Parish has its own web page (in French).

We carried on up highway 210.


The CN Sprague subdivision parallels the highway, and as we drove up the highway, I saw headlights in the distance. TRAIN!

The train and I approached each other, so I picked a spot and pulled over to catch the train. CN 2666 was leading a freight train. 2666 is an old friend - I've seen it a few times.
CN 2666 and a grain train
I really liked the trailing unit - "cowl unit" CN 2419.

CN 2419 at Giroux, MB
We reached Ste. Anne and got back onto the Trans-Canada Highway. We rolled up toward Winnipeg, and as I approached Lorette I saw a train also heading toward Winnipeg.


CN 8100 came to a stop on the main line at Lorette. I guessed they were waiting for a meet but I didn't dare hang around. I stopped for a few shots of the head end and then we carried on home.
CN 8100 at Lorette siding outside Winnipeg


That was the end of our little excursion to Piney, Manitoba and our trip back along the Sprague subdivision. A lovely train station and three trains!

We'll have to go all the way to Sprague next time... and maybe visit Badger.

From here, you might want to:

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Piney Train Station

The decrepit train station in Piney, Manitoba
Our family likes to do something every weekend. Sometimes it's just going out to Costco, sometimes visiting relatives; it's better than sitting on the couch, especially now that the weather is getting nicer.


Last weekend I proposed a road trip - to Piney, Manitoba, to see the old train station. This sad old station has been abandoned for a long time. I wanted to see it before it completely collapsed.

My family was... less than enthused. I promised them a late lunch / early supper at the Trail's End Tavern in Woodridge, Manitoba on the way back, and since they had no better idea, off we went!

The Journey

We drove down the Trans-Canada to Ste. Anne, then took highway 12 through Steinbach and into the wilds. It's very remote through there with long stretches of absolutely nothing but trees. I was glad we had left Winnipeg with almost a full tank of gas.

After an hour and a half, we arrived in Piney. It's not a ghost town but it's not far from it.

The Station

The train station was easy to find. It's on the former right-of-way of the CN Ridgeville subdivision, on the only side street in Piney. It's a pretty lonely street.
Side street in Piney, Manitoba
Across the street from the station is a collection of small old wooden buildings.

It was a warm day so it was nice to walk around and photograph the station from various angles. I was using a monopod to capture three images for making HDR photos. I wanted to shoot HDR because the sky was fairly bright and I felt I wouldn't be able to capture enough detail without recording multiple frames.

Here's the back of the station, photographed from the former right-of-way, which is now just a trail.
Back of the Piney train station
Notice the stuff lying around - pails, chairs, and what's that.. an old fridge, maybe?

I looked in a couple of windows and it appears the station was last used to store appliances.
Stoves in the old train station
It looks pretty dry in there, which is a bit surprising.
Another stove in the train station
The windows have some glass in them but they are open. I didn't enter the train station at all.

One more view of the Piney train station, and then we'll move on to the nearby CN section house and a few other buildings in the town.
Lonely old train station
There's a photo of the station from August 1979 on Flickr - I wish I could embed it but it's not permitted. However, there is a photo by A.L. Szalanski, I believe the same person who posted to Flickr, from the Wikimedia Commons that I can embed. I did a bit of editing to it - permitted by the license - to try to reduce the backlighting.
Piney train station, 1979, photo by A.L. Szalanski - see

The Section House

The former section house is just down the road. It's in worse shape than the station - believe it or not - with a partially collapsed roof.
CN sectionman's house in Piney, Manitoba
You can see it's in the same style as the station, and the same colour too.
Another view of the sectionman's house in Piney, MB
Note the missing chimney as well. You can look right through the front to the staircase to the second floor. I didn't enter this one either, and I didn't walk around it as my family was starting to get antsy.

Here's a link to a Flickr photo from 1979.

Other Piney Buildings

I saw three other interesting buildings in Piney and photographed two of them. First was the old Piney municipal office building.
Piney municipal office building
This looks very much like the old false storefronts of Prairie businesses. I like how the arched portion has wood shingles.

Clearly this building isn't in use any more but its roof appears to be in decent shape.

The second building I photographed was the Thompson garage, located right in the middle of town and very prominently located.
Thompson's Garage in Piney, Manitoba
Piney also has an old school - two, I think, actually - but I didn't photograph them. There is a community centre that appears to be active, no doubt serving the community and those around it. It also has a government garage.

Rail Abandonment

A mixed freight/passenger train was in the 1950/04/30 CN employee timetable. Train #207 would leave South Junction (junction with the CN Sprague subdivision) Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 08:15, passing through Piney at 08:50 before arriving at Emerson Junction (junction with the CN Letellier subdivision) at 12:10 PM. The corresponding eastbound train, #208, would leave Emerson Junction at 10:50 AM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and pass through Piney at 15:40 before arriving at South Junction at 16:30. Clearly it wasn't a fast transit, taking 4 hours westward and 5.5 hours eastward to travel the 72.7 miles between the two junctions.

The mixed train was gone from the timetables by 1967 but I expect it was cancelled much earlier than that.

Sometime between the 1970/04/26 and the 1973/04/29 timetable, the subdivision was basically abandoned. The April 29, 1973 employee timetable states no movement could take place east of Ridgeville except with the superintendent's authorization. The portion between Emerson Junction and Ridgeville was kept open to service the two grain elevators in Ridgeville.

I believe the subdivision was officially abandoned in 1977. The portion from Emerson Junction to Ridgeville was kept as the Emerson Extension. Today only about a mile of that still exists, and it was used for switching purposes in Emerson but it hasn't been used for a few years.

Moving On

As I mentioned above, my family was getting antsy so it was time to leave Piney. A bathroom was required, and none were available in Piney... nor had we seen any since we left Steinbach. I felt it was best to continue on to Sprague, where I was certain there would be facilities.

So, back to highway 12 we went, and continued... to some Sprague division railfanning through South Junction, Woodridge, Giroux and Lorette!

See Also

Friday, March 24, 2017

VIA's Canada 150 Wrap Visits Winnipeg

Canada 150

This year is Canada's 150th birthday, thanks to the British North America Act passed on July 1, 1867 (fun fact: there were more Acts after that, mostly revisions to add more provinces and territories). VIA Rail is wrapping some of its locomotives and cars to commemorate the occasion. Some don't like the wraps, but they're different and we railfans like unusual things.

A few VIA locomotives have already been wrapped, but they are P42 locomotives that don't leave the Ontario-Quebec corridor, so nobody outside those two provinces will see them. VIA wrapped the first F40PH-2 locomotive, VIA 6454, and sent it on the Ocean to the Maritime Provinces.

A few railfans tipped us westerners off that VIA 6454 was going west on the Canadian.


Acting on that hot tip, I set out early Thursday morning to try to catch VIA 1 coming into Winnipeg with the first "CANADA 150" wrapped locomotive, VIA 6454, leading. I got up at the crack of 5:45. A quick check of VIA's web site showed the train was an hour late, so I hit the road after a quick shower and breakfast toward Dugald and points beyond.

No green signals were seen as I rolled through Dugald. I liked how this signal looked so I stopped to take a photo.

I parked at one rural crossing just east of town. After fiddling with my phone for a bit, I decided the angles weren't great so I relocated. MISTAKE.

As I came up to the tracks a few miles east, I saw headlights bearing down on me.

Quickly I slapped my tripod down, mounted my trusty old Canon S3, aimed it vaguely toward the tracks, and turned the video recording on.

I fumbled with my DSLR as the train rolled by, totally missing focus and not getting a single frame of the train.

I said a few choice words - caught on video but later cropped out - and threw everything in the car and set off in hot pursuit.

I know it's not level - I was lucky to have it pointed at the train at all!

Sadly I was unable to catch VIA 1 and I gave up the chase.


As noon approached, I resolved to do a better job documenting the event. I headed to Carman Junction, where CEMR's tracks diverge from the CN Rivers sub. There's a nice little bend there where you can shoot straight east.

Going Once..

After a short wait, I saw headlights in the distance and got excited, but it turned out to be CN 8011 leading a 2+1+1 container train west.
In the weeds - CN 8011 in Winnipeg
That was OK, but not the Canadian!

I was messaging with Jack Hykaway, who told me that VIA 1 was stopped at Subway. A message that the Canadian got a yellow signal was a welcome sign!

Going Twice..

Headlights in the distance again! Turn on the video camera, raise the "big gun" lens, and... containers. Another CN intermodal. Hello CN 8864... must be SD70M-2 day.

This train crossed over from the north to the south track in the distance, then rolled past me with a healthy dose of Canadian Tire containers.
Red red red - like a Taylor Swift song
Again, nice, but not the Canadian.

My old Canon S3 was doing video duty on the tripod.
The Camera Eye

Hot on the heels of 8864's train was another headlight... FINALLY VIA!


The silver nose of VIA 6454 was a welcome sight after the squat red noses of the SD70M-2s. My plan was to shoot them head on with my DSLR, then drop that and shoot each car with my iPhone while my video camera rolled on. Too ambitious? We'll see!

Here it comes!!
I clicked and clicked as 6454 approached, scaring a bunch of birds as it rounded the bend on the north track.
As 6454 filled my lens, I dropped the DSLR - believing utterly in my camera strap - and banged away with the iPhone to document the consist. A quick swivel to capture Kootenay Park trailing the train and then VIA was gone.
Not bad for a phone shot!
I threw everything in the car and took off in pursuit mode, hoping that they would get a stop signal due to the two intermodals they were following, but that wasn't to be. I roared past Mark Perry and his trusty red truck, trying to catch up to VIA as she was catching up to the second intermodal train. I realized quickly that I wasn't going to catch up on the unpaved road, but VIA was passing CN as they both raced west.

I gave up the chase and turned around to go chat with Mark for a few minutes before heading home, SD cards full and a big grin on my face.

The consists

First CN Train
  • CN 8011
  • CN 2609
  • CN 8829 (DPU in middle)
  • CN 8947 (DPU on rear)

Second CN Train
  • CN 8864
  • CN 5761

  • VIA 6454
  • VIA 6428
  • VIA 8604
  • VIA 8123
  • VIA 8500
  • VIA 8332 Laird Manor
  • VIA 8330 Hunter Manor
  • VIA 8314 Cameron Manor
  • VIA 8401 Acadian
  • VIA 8311 Burton Manor
  • VIA 8227 Chateau Varennes
  • VIA 8708 Kootenay Park

Lessons Learned

  • Pick your spot and STAY THERE
  • You can't get every shot - I don't have any side shots of 6454 yet
  • Take a second opportunity if you can

Monday, March 06, 2017

Meet Me At Midnight

CN 2002 in Ste. Agathe, Manitoba

The Plan

I heard there was an early Sunday morning BNSF detour train (CN F306) running on the Letellier subdivision. Since Sunday morning is my fun day, and I'm not afraid to shoot at night, I went out around 11 PM, with my ever-tolerant wife shaking her head at my insanity.

My understanding was that CN 533 was meeting 532 in Morris, and then 533 would meet 306 at Ste. Agathe. Friend and RailsMBSK member Mark Perry was at the controls of 533.

The players:
  • CN 532 - Daily Winnipeg to Emerson local train, bringing cars to BNSF
  • CN 533 - Daily Emerson to Winnipeg local train, bringing cars from BNSF
  • CN 306 - BNSF detour train returning east to the US via Emerson

CN 533

When I left, I wasn't sure if the detour train had left Winnipeg yet, so I drove down to Morris, hoping to catch the 532/533 meet. You may recall that I saw the 306/533 meet in Morris recently.

I was a bit late as I saw CN 533 pulling out of Morris as I approached. I ignored it and went into Morris to try to grab CN 532 before it left, but it was already gone.

Returning to highway 75 I chased 533 north, passing it and setting up at the same rural crossing I shot at the last time I was photographing detours. I didn't take any video here, just my Canon T1i on a tripod... 2.5 seconds at f/8.0, ISO 100. This was just after midnight.
Ghostly CN 2002
Right after the locomotives passed, I took the camera off the tripod, tossed it in my AmazonBasics backpack, tossed the tripod in the back seat, and took off for Ste. Agathe.

As it turns out, I didn't need to rush. They were crawling up toward the switch well after I got there. I set up to take a few photos, intending to photograph the engines as they paused for the conductor to throw the switch to the loop track. Here they are coming to a stop.
Coming to a stop
I tried a few photos - I thought they were good - but it turns out I didn't have the focus. Check out this long exposure (25s) of the conductor walking back to the train after throwing the ground throw switch. Totally not in focus!
Focus? We don't need no stinkin' focus!
Obviously, I didn't use the "live view" trick I wrote about earlier. Oops.

The track at the Viterra grain elevator in Ste. Agathe is arranged like this, as far as I can see.
CN 533 was coming from the bottom of the diagram (south) and went around the loop counter-clockwise. They stopped short of the north switch to wait for the arrival of 306.

There's a road called "Mission Road" that parallels the track at this location. I parked off to the side and walked up to the head end of the train. The two tracks that join the CN line to the loop track are crossed by Mission Road and are signaled with lights - surprisingly!

I took a few photos of 533 sitting there with the pride of the fleet, ex UP Dash-8s CN 2002 and CN 2036. The best of the photos leads this post.

Finally, 306

At 01:47 AM, 306 rolled on by with BNSF 7490 and 7209 leading a long brown string of freight cars. I shot video here on my Canon S3 but it was really bad. Here's  a long exposure of 306 passing by (10 seconds, f/8.0, 17mm, ISO 100).

The rest of the train was mostly brown BNSF hoppers with the occasional leased car mixed in. I popped off a flash on some long exposure shots to see what it looked like.

I think with better timing I could have had several logos show up side by side. I only had one flash at the time and it took a few seconds to recharge before I could fire it again. I was just holding it in my hand and manually firing it at full power.

Once the train passed, I headed south on highway 75 to the same crossing that I had photographed CN 533 at earlier. I put the Canon T1i on a tripod, and after carefully focusing, I put it in video mode. Flashing red battery symbol! Ack!

I grabbed my spare battery from the backpack in my car and swapped batteries. Fortunately I had lots of time.

Here's the video:

Lighting provided by my car's high beams, of course.

I gave up the chase after that and headed home. When I got home, I started the video uploading to YouTube and went to bed.

I think there are a few more BNSF detours yet to go through Winnipeg. I probably won't be shooting any more at night - work and all that, you know - but who knows, maybe I'll catch another one during the day.

Further Reading and Watching

Thursday, March 02, 2017

VIA's "Canada 150" Wrap Sucks!

VIA's "Canada 150" wrap SUCKS.. or so many railfans say.

What do you think?

The Scheme

Up close and personal

Our great country is turning 150 years young this year. The federal government has many plans for celebrating this birthday and one of those is for VIA Rail to decorate many of its locomotives and passenger cars. So far several P42 locomotives have been wrapped and one F40PH-2 (VIA 6454), as well as some LRC passenger cars.
Jasper, Brantford, Halifax Quebec City

The wraps feature a giant yellow VIA on the head end with "CANADA 150" on a red rectangle, and four city names on the rear - with different cities on each side.

The passenger cars have a similar wrap.

Note that some cities are duplicated across units or cars.

Here's VIA 3351 wrapped, featuring "Halifax", "Stratford", "White River" and "Montreal".
Halifax, Stratford, White River, Montreal

There are some subtle differences between cars, beyond the names on the sides. Some early cars and locomotives had white numbers but apparently they are now using black numbers, which stand out better. Also later locomotive pilots and underframes seem to be being painted black instead of silver.

VIA 6454 at Berry Mills, New Brunswick - photo by Matt Landry
The F40PH-2 wrap looks good on the side but I'm surprised that the nose is plain silver with no adornment other than a small "VIA" and Canadian flag. Maybe future F40 wraps will be a little different.

Here's a video showing VIA 6454 near Moncton.

Eric Gagnon has been keeping track on his blog. I don't want to try to duplicate his efforts. I want to go meta and comment on the commentary swirling around the railfan forums.

How Do You Feel?

I'd say that the majority of railfans either dislike it or really, really HATE it.

VIA 916-76  020417

The Haters

A few people question the actual design:
Where are the Canadian flags or the Union Jack, as we are celebrating Canada's 150 years?
The scheme design would appeal to me a lot more if instead of that *CANADA 150* banner down the flank it simply had the 1867-2017 maple leaf symbol in its place.
Some people really, really, really don't like it.
it would insult a circus if I suggested that it looks like a circus train. Mickey Mouse would have been kicked out of Disney Land if he ever designed such a crappy paint job.....or "Wrap-job". Via Rail I thought was trying to be a "Class Act", but this wrap job is plain and simple "GARBAGE"
Tell us how you really feel! ;)

The Likers

Some people do like it.
Personally, I think it does exactly what VIA wanted it to do. It's bright, bold, and indisputably eye-catching.
Some are picking the lesser of two evils:
Good job by VIA wrapping the LRC cars. The more they cover the ugly teal green the better!
Nice to see something other than the Ren scheme!


Some railfans have taken to calling the scheme the "silver banana"... which I guess is better than the railfan nickname for the Loto Quebec unit VIA 6414.

I think Eric Gagnon is trying to champion "Roll Up The Wrap To Win" combining the wrap with Tim Hortons' famous contest. Good luck with that.
You win! Or do you?

My Comments

I'm very surprised by the hate being levied against VIA Rail and this wrap.

Railfans love something different, whether it is an Illinois Central unit still in "death star" black, or VIA's Glenfraser car vs. a normal VIA LRC car, so why wouldn't you like to see some cars and locomotives in a different scheme? Most people liked it when VIA wrapped the F40s with the Telus or CBC wraps, for example, although nobody liked "the Turd" / Loto Quebec.
I always liked the Operation Lifesaver unit
I think people don't like it because they feel VIA could have done it better.

To that I say, be thankful that VIA did anything at all. VIA Rail has a very hit or miss record of commemorating Canadian milestones. They did commemorate Canada's veterans with the Veteran's Train and Canada's war brides the next year, but those were local initiatives. VIA completely ignored the 100th anniversary of the Ocean. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe VIA doesn't have a good history of remembering history.
Double Spiderman 2! Is that Spiderman 4?
I would also say to some railfans - who do you think you are? VIA isn't going to check with every railfan to see if they approve any upcoming wraps or plans. I've noticed that some railfans seem to think that VIA, or CN, or CP, need to check with them before repainting anything. What the heck?

We're people who sit trackside and photograph trains. We have no influence, nor should we. We're lucky that we live in countries where we A) can photograph trains without being harassed or arrested, and B) have the time and money to be able to enjoy our hobby. Sheesh.

If railfans had designed it, "VIA" would be in CP script, the car would be half maroon and half blue and yellow, with the British Union Jack superimposed over the Canadian flag, and every train would tow a replica of the Turbo. I'd try to Photoshop that hot mess together, but I can't bring myself to do it.

As my mother-in-law says, "it is what it is" so enjoy it or hate it while it's around. At least it's not the Turd.
At least it's not this

Leave a comment - how do you feel about it?