Monday, December 04, 2017

The 2017 CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific Railway has run the Holiday Train since 1999, crossing Canada from east to west. The train collects funds and food for local food banks, and puts on a good show too!

In the past I've photographed it in Winnipeg - at night - but this year I decided to see it on Sunday as it traveled from Winnipeg to Portage la Prairie for the show there.

According to the schedule, it was due to arrive in Portage la Prairie at 12:15 and the show would go from 12:30 to 1:00 PM.

My intention was to leave my house around 10 AM, railfan CN toward Portage, then cut over to CP around Poplar Point and catch the train coming in, then go see the train in Portage. I had to be back in Winnipeg shortly after 2 PM so I couldn't linger past 1 PM in Portage.

Why railfan CN instead of CP? Easy.. more trains. I wasn't expecting CP to run any trains around the time the Holiday Train was running, so I thought CN would be the better choice.

I did railfan along the CN Rivers subdivision and it was quite productive, but I'll leave that for another post. I arrived at High Bluff and drove around, looking for a decent spot to photograph the train.

I wanted a spot where I could see the whole train, but I didn't want just open prairie.

I found this barn and decided it needed to be in the photo.

Now.. the waiting game.

This year, CP posted a Holiday Train tracker web site where you can see its position in real time. SO. HANDY.

I was able to determine where the train was, so I didn't have to stand outside my car the whole time waiting for the train.

It was about 11:25 when I took the above photo of the barn. According to the tracker, the train was in Rosser, having just left Winnipeg. I was a little concerned because I couldn't see how the train could make the 50-odd miles remaining between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie in 50 minutes to be on time.

While I was waiting, and checking the app, two CP freight trains came by. Again, I'll write about them with the other trains I saw that day.

Finally, the Holiday Train passed at 12:10.

That's the shot I wanted.

I took a little video here with my iPhone:

I hopped in the car and carried on toward Portage la Prairie. The train wasn't going terribly fast so I was able to jump out a kilometre or two later to get this photo.

I wanted to get them at Tucker passing the Viterra grain elevator there. I was easily able to beat them there, and one of the two CP freights I had seen was crawling along on the south track.

There was someone already there with a video camera waiting for the train, and somebody else pulled up in a truck to capture the event. I waited for CP 2249 to pass the freight and took a few photos. I liked this one the best:

Here's a bit of a wider view showing the grain elevator as well.

The Holiday Train stopped at the yard entrance to line a switch - I think - and I drove down between the CN and CP lines to capture the train arriving. Here it is with the large crowd waving to the train.

It came to a stop at 12:46 - 36 minutes late - so I didn't have a lot of time to photograph it before I had to leave. I saw Trainboy Productions there and chatted with him for a few minutes - I'll add his video to this post when he posts it.

Here's a whole-train view in Portage la Prairie. As Eric Gagnon said on Facebook, the view is unobstructed by grain elevators (that used to be here). I would have been fine finding shots around grain elevators. ;)

They were on a stub track - maybe the yard lead?

It was 1 PM so I had to go. I didn't see the show but I understand Colin James and Emma-Lee were great.

That was the 2017 CP Holiday Train for me.

See Also

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

London Town

VIA 905 in London, Ontario
Think what that money could bring / I'd buy everything
Clean out Vivienne Westwood / In my Galliano gown

No, wouldn't just have one hood / A Hollywood mansion if I could
Please book me first class to my fancy house in London town
- "Rich Girl", Gwen Stefani featuring Eve
When I was in southern Ontario in early August, I planned my route from the Leamington area to Waterloo and realized I would pass right by London, Ontario. A glance at the VIA Rail schedule showed that there was a good chance of catching at least one VIA train at the time I would be near London - VIA 73 at 14:23.

Not knowing the area at all, I decided to get downtown to the station and see what angles were possible there. The tricky part was that although London is basically right beside the 401 highway, the downtown certainly isn't and it took some time to get downtown.

I found the station without trouble (thank you Apple Maps) but parking was a problem. As I drove around, a VIA train slid into the station from the east. I decided to park in the Impark lot across York Street, paid my fare, and sprinted across to try to get any kind of shot before the train left again.
Richmond Street goes under the tracks, and I grabbed this quick shot to record the engine number if nothing else.
Not my best work

VIA 6457

I was on the "wrong" side of the sun so I jogged under the tracks to get to Bathurst Street on the south side of the tracks. I should mention that it was a hot day and of course I had no water with me.

I felt it was a good thing I did jog, because 6457 pulled ahead about 90 seconds after I took the above photo.
VIA 6457 and friends in London
VIA 6457 had coach VIA 8112 and galley business car 4004 in tow.

"Whew," I thought, "glad I caught them before they left."

I turned my attention to the station platform, where I could see a train with a P42DC "Canada 150" unit was waiting.

From where I was, it was very difficult to get any kind of shot. I should mention that there is a chain link fence between Bathurst Street and the tracks.
There's a train there, somewhere
I took all of these photos by holding my camera up above the fence and shooting more or less blindly in the direction of the tracks.

I shoot in manual almost all the time, so I already had the right exposure, but the focus and composition were a bit "hit and miss". This led to tossing about 40% of my photos and a lot of cropping. You do what you have to do!

As I stood there, wondering whether I should move to a new location or stay where I was, I heard the ding-ding-ding of an engine bell. Here was VIA 6457 coming back... on a different track, I presume.
VIA 4004 leading the way
Note the person in the end of 4004 keeping an eye out.

They headed east, and I never saw them again. I'm not sure where they were going, backwards.. I know there's a wye in town so maybe they were going there to turn the train around.

VIA 905

Right after VIA 6457 and friends rolled by, the "Canada 150" train in the station left. It turned out to be VIA 905 leading, the same locomotive I saw two days earlier at Jeannette's Creek.
VIA 905 in London
In fact 905 had the same cars on the train, too, just in a different order. 905-4007-4006-4110-4113.

I'm pretty sure that was VIA 73.

I told you I was shooting more or less blindly by holding my camera above the fence line. Here's an unmodified photo showing some of the "interesting" compositions I was getting.
A little horizon leveling might be in order
Not my best work.

In less than a minute, they were gone.
Gone, baby, gone

Wrapping Up

I can't 100% explain why VIA 6457 and those two cars were there. My theory is that they came with VIA 905 from Toronto as a "J train" (two trains together) to be prepositioned to be a train to Toronto later in the afternoon.

Any other ideas?

Here's a view of the VIA station from across the street.
The VIA Rail station in London, Ontario
I left right after that and headed toward Waterloo... with a side trip to Salford to see the Ontario Southland Railway shops.

Both CN and CP have yards in London but I didn't see any of CP's and very little of CN's. Michael at the Beachburg Sub blog has written three blog posts on London to date, focusing on CN and CP, so head on over there!

I see London has one model train store, Doug's Trains - or is it Pete's? My model train directory has it as Doug's but the Google Street View shows it as Pete's. Who really owns the store???

See Also

Monday, November 27, 2017

Grinding It Out

Some railfan excursions work out really well and you see something new, or different, or get a great photograph. Some... well, on some excursions, you are just grinding.

"Grinding", for those who aren't computer gamers, is doing repetitive actions in a game to gain points or experience to advance in the game. Sometimes it's called "farming". An example would be going out and killing some monsters in the game and collecting gold. It doesn't advance the plot but it gains your character some money or experience points.

Sunday afternoon was a grinding expedition.

I knew the photos weren't going to be spectacular from the start. It was a gray, overcast day with no prospect of any sun. I didn't expect any unusual power but I was hoping to catch one of CN's "new" rental units (see below).

I decided to head to the CN Sprague subdivision. As I approached it, I saw a train coming into Winnipeg from the east. I barely got to Symington yard before the train.

Symington Yard

CN 2037 and BCOL 4647 coming into Winnipeg
CN 2037 and BCOL 4647 were  hauling a decent-sized train. They stopped briefly after they passed me, probably to line a switch, then carried on.
BCOL 4647 and CN 2037
On the second track was a hump yard set with CN 6016, GTW 5948, CN 6010 and slug CN 203.
GTW 5948 in Winnipeg
These are permanent members of the hump fleet here in the 'peg.

On the third track was an intermodal train led by CN 2657 and CN 2141. I wasn't sure if this train had just arrived or was about to depart. It turned out that it had just arrived and was probably pushing its containers back into the intermodal yard in Symington.
So. Many. Wires.

The Redditt

It didn't look like anything was coming in on the Sprague, since that train had just arrived, so I decided to go east and check out the CN Redditt subdivision. That's Redditt with two "t"s, not the well-known Internet site with one "t".

There was nothing going on in CN's Transcona yard - cars but no locomotives - so I headed out toward Dugald. There was no indication of any action as I passed through town, and I went just east of Dugald and looked east down the arrow-straight track and saw nothing. Oh well.

Back to the Sprague

I returned to the CN Sprague subdivision. I saw there was a green signal facing Symington, indicating it was clear for an outbound train, but nothing was moving yet.

I drove out to the Lorette siding and found a 4-unit train sitting there.. led by shiny CN 2991 then grimy CN 8865, CN 5773, and CN 8852.
CN 2991 and friends in the CN Lorette siding
CN 2991 was shiny and new so I took a few photos of it.
Side view of CN 2991
You can see how the sky was pretty dull... there was a little colour in it due to the (hidden) sunset but it wasn't really photogenic.

The train had about 15 or 16 loaded coal cars... odd for Winnipeg.
Loaded coal cars
I continued down to Dufresne, wondering if another train was in the 6500' siding there. There was no train, but the new LED signals were well lit up.
Signals and the Dufresne grain elevator
On my way back, I passed the train at Lorette again with no sign of the train it was supposed to meet. I finally did spot the train right at Deacon's Corner but I wasn't able to get over to photograph it. It had CN 2909 on the head end of the intermodal train, with another locomotive on the rear.

By this time, it was almost 5 PM and it was time to hit the grocery store and get home to make supper. Also, it was getting pretty dark.

The Emerson

As I crossed the CP Emerson subdivision on my way home, I saw a headlight to the north. I went to a quiet crossing just north of the Perimeter Highway and waited for the train to come. I decided to put my camera on the tripod and take a 1 second exposure and let it streak, rather than try a pan. I had my phone out to take video.

It was a potash unit train with CP 8750 and CEFX 1059 leading the charge.
CP 8750 smearing the sky
I do like long exposure train photos!

That was enough for me... off to Sobeys!

CN's Leasers

I mentioned that CN has some "new" rental locomotives. CN has been experiencing a surge in traffic and is short on crews and power. They have been aggressively hiring people and now they've leased a bunch of locomotives. There are a lot of rumours about how many locomotives they are getting but here's what I do know is "on the property":

  • 19? CREX ES44AC locomotives in the 1500-1520 series
  • 2 PRLX SD75 locomotives (201 and 204, patched Warbonnet units)

There are rumours of more but that's what has been confirmed to date. The CREX units are apparently getting microwaves installed so they can lead on CN. Union rules on CN require a microwave and refrigerator in the lead locomotive, so usually American locomotives have to trail on CN because they don't generally have both of those. CP's union doesn't insist on having a fridge or microwave so CP's trains often have "foreign" power leading.

I'm sure I will catch a CREX unit soon... I just have to keep grinding!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 8) - Rocky Wraps it Up

For my 50th birthday, my wife and I drove through Alberta and British Columbia. You can start at the beginning here.

The Rocky Mountaineer in Banff
I awoke early on day 6 of my 50th birthday trip to Alberta and British Columbia to go see the Rocky Mountaineer. You may recall I tried to see it the previous evening but got distracted by an unexpected Royal Canadian Pacific.

At 07:35, RMR 8012 and 8016 were idling in Banff at the head of about a dozen cars, facing west. The sun was about to crest the mountains, making the light a bit challenging for photography.

I shot a series of 3 bracketed photos to merge into an HDR photo to do the best I could with the light.

An Aside on HDR

What does all that mean? Well, the problem with photographing into the sun (like the lead photo) is that the sky is bright but the train is dark. You can set the camera's exposure so that the sky is properly exposed but then the train is just a dark mass. Alternately, you can set the exposure brighter so that the train is properly exposed, but the sky is too bright and becomes pure white. Neither is good.

When nothing is moving, you can shoot a "High Dynamic Range" photo by photographing the exact same scene with different exposure settings.

In the above trio of photos, you can see the sky is OK in the left one, a little dark in the middle one, and totally blown out in the right. The train is a dark blob in two of the photos and nicely exposed in the right one.

What HDR, or exposure blending, does is to merge these photos into one, taking the best of each photo. Here's the result - with some cropping and a bit of editing.
Signal and train in Banff, Alberta
There are specialized programs to do this HDR processing, or you can do what I do and use Adobe Lightroom's built-in HDR processing.

I've been doing a lot of HDR photography with static trains like this, or landscape photography.

Anyway.. back to the story.

Meetup in Banff

Before the Rocky Mountaineer could leave, it had to meet an eastbound CP freight train.
CP 8653 in Banff
I did a little pan of CP 8653 -  shutter speed of 1/20s at f/8.0 for those who are interested. A little grimy, a little grainy...

CEFX 1053 was the trailing unit.

The crew of the Rocky Mountaineer were out to give the train the rollby inspection.
Inspecting the train in Banff
This train had a mid-train locomotive, CP 8821. More panning! This time I used 1/10 second for the shutter speed. I usually photograph in manual so I am using the dial on my camera to spin shutter speed up and down as the train goes by, depending on what type of shot I want.
Pan of CP 8821 in Banff

Green Means Go

After the Canadian Pacific freight train passed, the Rocky Mountaineer got the green light to head west. I took a few more photos of the train then beat it west to try to catch it en route.
This would be better without those pylons
My intention was to get them at Muleshoe or thereabouts. I had photographed the Rocky there twice before and I like the spot very much.

Too Casual

Unfortunately, I screwed it up royally.

I was far too casual about getting to the spot on time. I got to the location in good time, but I ambled down toward the track like I had all the time in the world.. of course I did not have much time.

I heard the train coming while I was still walking toward the track, so I had to run while fiddling with camera settings and also keeping an eye out so I didn't trip and fall.

The result?
Nice mountain.. but the train is hiding behind a tree.

This one, two seconds later, is not too bad. It's definitely the best of the series I took.
The Rocky Mountaineer along the Bow River
The rest of the train was a surrealistic smear of bad pans.
I'm grateful that I got one half-decent photo out of the series.

After that hot mess, I went back to the hotel and met my wife for breakfast at the Ricky's All Day Grill attached to our hotel. Good food at decent prices.

After that, we did get to Lake Louise. We parked in the overflow parking and took the shuttle bus to the lake. We walked to the other end of the lake and it was such a lovely day for a walk.
Lake Louise
I can't get enough of Lake Louise.

That was really the end of my railfanning trip. For the rest of day 6, and the start of day 7, my plan was to not plan and follow my wife's lead. We wandered around Banff, visiting the Banff Springs and the waterfall behind it, and of course some shopping.

The Vermilion Lakes

We have been to Banff several times but we never made the drive to the Vermilion Lakes, so I suggested that we should see them. They are just outside Banff so it's an easy visit.

Mid-morning on day 7, we drove along the road beside the Trans-Canada for a while, parked and walked along one of the many paths.

It's quite lovely there and it's a peaceful retreat from the crowds in Banff.

As we were walking along, I heard the hum of an approaching train. A little telephoto work revealed CP 9706 crawling along the shores of the lakes.
CP 9706 along the Vermilion Lakes
The train looks pretty small compared to the mountains!

That was the last train I saw on the trip. We drove around a few other locations near Banff and then headed into Calgary to the airport for the flight home.
It's always fun to see little Piney, Manitoba on the Air Canada in-flight maps. I still remember the Piney train station.

Trip Statistics

  • 6.5 days
  • 2,259 km driven
  • 27 trains photographed
  • 1,612 photos kept
  • uncounted memories made


I am so grateful to have been able to make a trip like this... I'm grateful that I could afford the time away from work and my kids, and the money to pay for gas and food and lodging.

Most of all I am grateful to have a wonderful wife who supported my idea. She's a great travel companion, on railfan and non-railfan trips, and I love her so much.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 7) - Not the Rocky

For my 50th birthday, my wife and I drove through Alberta and British Columbia. You can start at the beginning here.

Ah, Banff
Sure as that old whistle's blowin'
There's a tug upon my heart
Somewhere in that misty mornin' light
There's another brand new start
- Doobie Brothers, "Keep This Train A-Rollin'"

Day 5, Continued

When we left off, my wife and I were on day 5 of my 50th birthday railfan trip, heading to Banff, Alberta on highway 1A (also known as the Bow Valley Parkway), after chasing a train through the Spiral Tunnels to Lake Louise.

We drove into town and I stopped at the train station at about 4:30 PM to ask when the Rocky Mountaineer was coming in. The person behind the RM counter said they would be arriving around 7 PM. Great!

We checked into our hotel (the Elk + Avenue, a nice but rather expensive hotel). After a bit, we headed over to the station to see the Rocky.

Meet at Banff

At first I went to Banff East (at Compound Road) but nothing was around. I was listening to my scanner and heard chatter about a meet at the station, so we drove over to the station and parked there. My wife sat in the car while I went over to the crossing at Mt. Norquay Road to wait.

A guy driving a blue Alberta pickup showed up and started wandering all over the tracks, taking photos and being rather unsafe. I don't know if he was a railfan and I didn't speak with him.

A few minutes later, CP 8948 East showed up.
CP 8948 East
It was pulling a big ol' grain train.

CP 8948 and the Banff station
You can see some of the Rocky Mountaineer staff on the platform by the station.

This train had a shiny locomotive on it, freshly repainted CP 9835 with the new "golden beaver" logo.
Shiny CP 9835
CP 9835 and 8639 were the first two locomotives to receive the new, simplified beaver and came out of Relco's Albia, Iowa shops in July 2017.

It's so rare to see a clean locomotive on CP these days! 9835 really stood out.

After standing on the ballast, too close to the train, Mr. Unsafe took off.

The train wasn't going very fast, and the reason why became evident when the tail end passed me. Here's the other train!
CP 8622 at Banff with buses
CP 8622 was waiting on the main for the other train to clear. They took off to the west without delay.

Speaking of shiny, freshly repainted locomotives...
CP 8622 leaving Banff
Another new "golden beaver"!

I saw an interesting car in the train. It is lettered COER 354978 but I could see the KCS underneath the patch. Apparently there are a few of these kicking around.
COER 354978 in Banff
Here's a photo of the same car in August with the same graffiti. I found that photo on this thread featuring my friend Bill Brillinger!

Here's the video I took of CP 8622 West.

After the DPU - CP 8819 - passed by, all was quiet for about half an hour.
All quiet in Banff
Everyone was waiting for the Rocky Mountaineer to show up. I talked with a couple - from Tennessee, I think - who were going to ride the Rocky the next morning. They were really looking forward to the trip and were out to see their train come in.


Eventually, a headlight in the distance...
Ummm... what?
Wait... that's not the Rocky Mountaineer...

It was the Royal Canadian Pacific!

Anyone remember this show?

It was a very pleasant surprise!

CP 1401 and the Royal Canadian Pacific in Banff
I was delighted to see the RCP - and maybe a bit puzzled. Why was it here?

Oh well... don't ask questions, just take pictures!

They pulled up until the whole train was at the station, and stopped briefly.

Given the poor lighting (it was 7 PM and not very bright out) I took some 3 frame HDR photos and combined them.
A fine looking train
The conductor got out and uncoupled the power from the train. If you expand the photo above, you'll see him down at the junction of CP 4106 and CP 95.

Once the power was uncoupled, they pulled ahead through the crossing, then reversed along the siding waaaayy down to the east to the other siding switch.
Giving it the run-around
While they were doing that, I walked along the station platform and recorded the consist: CP 1401 / CP 4107 / CP 4106 / CP 95 / CP 77 "VAN HORNE" / CP 103 "MAJOR ROGERS" / "ROYAL WENTWORTH" / "CRAIGELLACHIE" / CP 74 "MOUNT STEPHEN".

I thought the view of CP 1401 coming up with the mountains in the background would look great.

So did this person.
Thanks for getting in the shot
Wouldn't this have been nice without the chimping photographer?
So close
No, I'm not bitter. ;)

There was quite a crowd on the end of MOUNT STEPHEN watching the proceedings. That's the bride on the left.
An audience for the couple.. er, coupling
I took video at a few points and combined them into this video.

Ninety Minutes

At this point I realized I had been out railfanning for ninety minutes. My wife, my ever loving, very patient wife, was a bit annoyed that I took so long. Very understandable! Now I know the limit. :)

So I didn't wait for the Rocky Mountaineer to eventually arrive. I figured we could catch it departing in the morning.

We wandered around Banff looking for a restaurant that didn't have a huge waiting list. It was tough! We finally found the Bear Street Tavern, a place that advertises "ridiculously good pizza". We had eaten there on a previous visit and it was just as good this time. Highly recommended.

Next Up

We spent day 6 in the Banff area, starting with a little chase of the Rocky Mountaineer before we finally got to Lake Louise. One more post in this series... READ ON!