Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Canada 150 Train Comes to Winnipeg

CP 1401 in Winnipeg
The Canadian Pacific "Canada 150" train came to Winnipeg - and what a gorgeous train it was!

You may recall I was planning the shoot a while ago. The train was scheduled to be on display in Winnipeg on August 4th from 5 PM to 8 PM at the Southdale Community Centre in Winnipeg, on the CP Emerson subdivision.

I listed five opportunities to shoot the train. After negotiations with my wife, I was able to capture it at the community centre (and departing), and in the morning of August 5th as it left Winnipeg.

The Train at Southdale

Canada 150 train on display at Southdale
Honestly, CP couldn't have picked a better spot to showcase this train. The four units and part of the train were easily visible from the west, well lit by the setting sun, and easily accessible from any direction. Thank you, CP!

I arrived on site shortly after 6 PM. The show had already started but I bypassed that at the start to get some photos of the train while the light was still good. The sun was out but there were some clouds threatening to block the sunshine, plus there are some trees to the west that were going to cast shadows on the train. Shoot while you can!

I met up with a few local railfans who were up by the head end (nice to see you, Jeff, Ken, David and Chad!), took a few photos and chatted for a bit. I decided to walk up the train on the sun / west side and take some photos along the way.

CP 4107 in Winnipeg
CP 1900 - not a lot of "B" units around these days!

CP 4106 was a late addition

Walking the Train

I wanted to photograph every car, since the train was so pretty. I have seen some of these cars before on the Holiday Train but not so up close and personal. Many of these cars are part of the Royal Canadian Pacific collection, used for some very expensive trips!

There were some private security people posted all along the train, but as I found out, they were there to keep people from crossing under / through the train and to keep people from vandalizing the train.

I chatted with a couple of them and they were very nice.

The lead car behind CP 4106 was CP 95, a former baggage car that is now a generator car. It has the Royal Canadian Pacific shield on it.

Following CP 95 was MOUNT ROYAL / CP 93, then KILLARNEY / CP 71 and BANFFSHIRE / CP 85. The first two are superficially similar - both 83' passenger cars with an end platform - but MOUNT ROYAL weighs 15 tons more than KILLARNEY (102 tons versus 87 tons). I wonder why?

After BANFFSHIRE were two special cars for this train - the "Spirit of Tomorrow" car and the stage car.

The Spirit of Tomorrow

The "Spirit of Tomorrow" car has over 8,000 "pixels" on the car. Each "pixel" is a card that a child has written their hopes for "tomorrow's" Canada on it. I think it's a really neat idea.

The finished car will be part of the 2017 Holiday Train.

CP 102 is the ERNEST "SMOKY" SMITH car underneath. Ernest Smith was the last living Canadian Victoria Cross recipient. He received his VC for tremendous courage at an action in northern Italy in 1944. This railcar was dedicated to him in 2003, less than two years before his death.

Next is the stage car, boxcar CP 42901. This is one of the two stage cars used in the CP Holiday Train and features a wide stage that drops down to host the performers at each stop.

CP 42901, the stage car
The car was repainted with a giant Canadian flag replacing the Holiday Train logo, and it had panels added on each side, with the Canada 150 logo on one and the CP Beaver shield on the other.

Craigellachie... I'll be visiting you soon!
Following that was MOUNT STEPHEN / CP 74 and ASSINIBOINE / CP 70. Those two had their platforms facing each other.
Platform to platform
Someone was out making a phone call, but didn't really want to be photographed. :)

Up next was NR CRUMP / CP 79, STRATHCONA / CP 82, VAN HORNE / CP 77, gym car CP 104, business car CP 2, and finally theatre car SANDFORD FLEMING / CP 1.
What a beautiful train!
In the weeds...

The Show

The show at the CP Canada 150 train
There were several performers travelling with the train, including:

  • Canadian country music artist Dean Brody
  • World champion hoop dancer Dallas Arcand
  • Country singer Kelly Prescott
  • The CP "house band" Rail Road Ramblers
  • Canadian band Eagle and Hawk (Edmonton and Winnipeg only)

By the time I got around to the stage, Dean Brody was performing... and he was putting on a good show!
Dean Brody in Winnipeg
Now, country music isn't really my thing.. to say the least.. but I enjoyed Dean's songs. He was performing with a lot of enthusiasm, interacting with the audience, and the band sounded great.

Dean Brody, #ConnectingCanada
I had a look at the SPIRIT OF TOMORROW car on this side. I liked a lot of the messages here. Click on the image to expand.
I didn't take many photos of the dark side of the train. They would have been awful. I did take a lot of photos of Dean and a few of the crowd. The light wasn't great, but you work with what you have.

As I was walking away toward the head end, he launched into his signature song, Bring Down the House. That one I knew!

Head and Tail

Back at the head end, I met up with photographer Kevin Siemens and chatted for a bit. He and I met at the destruction of the Meadows grain elevator... something I will write about soon. Too many posts in the queue already...

Anyway, we waited patiently to get a head-on shot of CP 1401. It took a while to get a gap with no people in it - and you know patience isn't my strong suit - but eventually the opportunity came.
CP 1401 head on
This is a combination of 3 shots using Adobe Lightroom's HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature. I did that because I was shooting toward the sun and I didn't think I could get enough range without blowing out the sky or having the locomotive's nose be too dark.

The train was scheduled to depart at 8 PM to go back to the CP downtown yard. There was a rumour that the train would be heading south to Grande Pointe to meet a northbound train. That would have been exciting... but the engineer of the train came along and a quick conversation confirmed that the train was just backing up to the yard.

The engineer - another Steve - was very friendly and I had a good conversation with him. He was quite happy to be driving the train and considered it an honour to be able to run an F unit.

Just before 8, I walked back to the rear of the train to record its departure. There were a few other railfans there as well as some "muggles" aka casual onlookers. At 8 sharp the train started backing up and off it went. I took video of its departure.

I went home after that.

The Next Day

The train was due to leave Winnipeg at 9 AM. I decided to catch it crossing the Floodway as it headed east on the CP Keewatin subdivision.

I wanted to shoot it from the east side of the Floodway, facing east. Since it was leaving in the morning the light would be on the nose - great.

Unfortunately, I had never tried to photograph from that area before. I drove up Deacon Road / highway 207 then turned left right after the tracks. I photographed the CP Holiday Train in 2016 right at the intersection, but I had never been near the Floodway.

The departure of the CP 150 train
I couldn't find any way to get from the Springfield Road 63N to anywhere near the Floodway bridge. There is a little private crossing above the "K" in the map above, but it is nowhere near the bridge.

Time was running short, so I decided to head for the west side of the bridge. There's a walking trail along the Floodway. I parked at the public lot at the end of Gunn Road and walked the kilometre up the trail to the tracks.

I set up there and the train made its appearance at 09:07, right on time.
CP 1401 and the Canada 150 train leaving Winnipeg
It looked glorious in the early morning light, and sounded great too!

Bye bye, F units!
Here's the video of its departure.

Love those maroon cars!
Off to Ontario
So that was that.

A Bonus Train

As I was halfway back to my car, I heard a horn to the north. Another train! I quickly trotted back a ways and set up to record CP 8850 dragging a grain train west across the bridge.
CP 8850 and the Floodway Bridge
There was nothing really remarkable about this train, but it was nice to catch it nevertheless.


Thanks to Canadian Pacific for organizing this train and show, and travelling across most of Canada so Canadians can experience a train and a great show for themselves. Thanks to engineer Steve for chatting with me, and thanks to certain anonymous railfans for detailed information on the train and its schedule.

See Also

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Call It a Learning Experience

Sometimes it just doesn't go right. You're out taking photos but you're not "feeling it", or you make a poor decision and miss a great shot. All you can do is call it a learning experience and try again another time.

That was me on July 27th. I looked out around 8 PM and noticed the sky was looking nice, so I decided to hit the road and see if I could catch a sunset train or two. I debated which way to go - Rivers or Sprague subdivision - and decided to head east to the CN Sprague subdivision.

The First Train

Here's a map of the area, courtesy of Google Maps. The Sprague subdivision runs from the top left / northwest to the bottom right / southeast in this area. The Perimeter Highway runs around Winnipeg - hence the name - and highway 1 is the Trans-Canada Highway and parallels the Sprague for a number of miles out of Winnipeg.

As I drove across the Sprague subdivision on highway 100, I saw headlights to the southeast. I was taking the exit to highway 1 anyway, as the sight lines on that overpass are such that you can't look directly southeast unless you are already taking the exit. Often I take the exit while looking for trains, and if I don't see any, I turn around short of Deacon's Corner and go somewhere else.

The train was close... closer than I would have liked. I didn't have much time to pick a spot to photograph it. It was too late to stop and photograph it from the overpass. I could have stopped just after the bridge over the floodway and taken a side shot, but I wanted to be on the other side of the train - the sun side.

As I approached the highway 207 intersection it was clear they were going to get to the intersection before I did, so I had to pull over and shoot from the highway on the "wrong" side of the light.

Fortunately I was fairly close to the tracks at that point but there was a lot of brush in the way.
A curious consist
Nice light on the nose... BC Rail second unit... wait, what's that in third position?
Kansas City Southern 4692
Kansas City Southern 4692 was paying a visit to Winnipeg! What luck!

That was exciting. This was only the second time I've seen a Kansas City Southern unit. I know I haven't blogged about the first time I saw a KCS unit (two, actually) but if you were on my mailing list, you would have seen the photos. You're on my list, right? You know where to go to sign up..

ANYway, I was stoked to see that. I watched the head end in the lovely evening light...
Soft train light
The train was entirely covered hoppers... maybe a frac sand train?

As the tail end approached, I spotted something else interesting on this train.
One of these things is not like the others
The passenger car was CN CHAMPLAIN (ICMW 101314). I saw this car back in September 2014.

As I understand it, unoccupied business cars like this are supposed to be marshaled at the rear of the train, but there is some rule about not being the last car on the train... I had a quick look but I couldn't find the regulation.

I photographed it, but I was not satisfied with shooting it from the "wrong side" of the sun.

The First Train, Round 2

I decided to try to get ahead of the train and photograph it from the other side of the train. I had two possibilities... beat the train to the crossing at Tinkertown Amusements (see map above) or take Fermor Avenue overpass and find a spot there.

By the time I caught up to the head end, they were already in the crossing, so the Fermor overpass was the only option.

I was there well before the train, and I noted that two tracks were being used to feed the hump yard in Symington. I thought about shooting from the overpass but I thought the view might be blocked by the strings of cars feeding the hump.

I zipped around on Fermor / Plessis Road / Symington Road - see map below. The red arrows indicate my trip and the blue arrow indicates the train's direction of travel.

It's a bit annoying to have to go all the way around, but there's no crossings, so... you can see where there used to be a crossing at bottom right. You can still go to the end of Symington Road (N) but the view is very restricted there. The Symington Road on the south side of the tracks is much better in the evening as you are on the "good" side of the light.

Fortunately I got there before the train, so I could photograph it before it disappeared behind freight cars.
Wires, wires everywhere
I made a bad choice here. As you can see there are fallen telegraph wires everywhere along here. I could/should have gone just a bit farther to get a clear gap... instead I got this:

Not my favourite
Here's the other side of KCS 4692. By then the light was pretty low and I was shooting at 1/60s shutter speed so it's a bit blurry.
KCS 4692 in Winnipeg
They passed the hump yard units - CN 6015 and friends.
Passing the hump yard dogs
Here's the tail end passing the hump yard units.
CHAMPLAIN and CN 6015 and friends
Those last two might be my favourites of this train. I know I complained about the telegraph wires but I think they added to these shots.

I had a hunch there was another train coming on the Sprague subdivision. I don't know why I felt this.. but I had a feeling. I headed east on the Trans-Canada toward Lorette siding to see if my hunch was correct.

As I approached the Lorette siding - the first one on the Sprague subdivision - I saw the lights facing west were lit - red. That meant there was a train on the east side of the signals. It didn't say anything about whether the train was going east or west, just that there was a train in the block.

I continued up to the siding and in the distance I saw headlights. My hunch was right.

The Second Train

By this time I was past the start of the siding, so I had a couple of choices if I wanted to get on the "sun" side of the train.

There is a private crossing in the middle of the siding. I'd never used it so I had no idea what the view was.

The other option was to continue to the west end of the siding, where I knew there was a signaled crossing. I chose this option.

I didn't have much time, but I made it there a good 30 seconds before the lights started flashing. I saw there is a dirt road paralleling the track on the west side, so I drove my Civic down there toward the signals, thinking maybe of including them in the shot. Bad idea.

I slammed on the brakes and bailed out to get the shot. Someday I swear I'm going to forget to put the car in park.

That train was moving!

Panning CN 2899
The above pan was the best of the photos. That was at 1/50s and the train was really motoring along.

The next photo shows why I picked a bad location.
BSW - Big Stupid Wire
Notice the giant wire and poles totally ruining what could have been a lovely sunset photo.

Remember when I talked about careful composition? I didn't do that here. Driving just a bit farther would have opened everything up and that lovely sunset photo would have been possible. I didn't have time to set up the shot and I blew it.

I did manage to salvage a half decent photo with some serious editing. 
Thank you, Adobe Lightroom
This photo is basically the same as the one with the wire, except that:
  • I've cropped in a LOT
  • I removed the wire
  • Lots of spot healing
  • Various editing to keep as much quality as possible
At least I got the exposure right for the setting sun.

So those were my two "learning experiences".

Lessons Learned

  • Look for shots without "foreground clutter"
  • It's better to get in position quickly and then spend a few seconds composing, than to try to get the "best" location and have no time to compose
  • Some editing skills can save a photo
Better luck next time!

If you like abandoned places, check out BW Bandy's blog Everybody Has To Be Somewhere. He posts frequently and includes a few grain elevators now and then. He likes photographing hay bales, so I took this photo between trains and include it here for him.

See Also

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Planning the Shoot

Heading to the Show Canadian Pacific is running a "Canada 150" train across (most of) Canada from west to east to commemorate Canada's 150th birthday year. This classic train has four "F" units on the head end - certainly a rarity in Canada! The train several of CP's Royal Canadian Pacific heavyweight cars and two special cars - the "Spirit of Tomorrow" car and a stage car for the show they put on at each stop.

Naturally, I'd love to photograph this train.

It'll be on display in Winnipeg on Friday, August 4th from 5 PM to 8 PM at the Southdale Community Centre, 254 Lakewood Boulevard, which is actually not that far from me. This is on the CP Emerson subdivision and I understand they will proceed from the yard to that location, then back up into the CP yard again after the show, since they'll head to Thunder Bay next. Complete schedule here.

For opportunities like this, it is very important to plan ahead to maximize your photo opportunities, visualize what photos you want, and plan how to get them!

As a Winnipeg railfan, I basically have five chances to get the train:
  1. Coming into Winnipeg from Regina on the CP Carberry subdivision
  2. The move from the CP yard to Southdale
  3. Parked at Southdale
  4. The move back from Southdale to the CP yard
  5. Leaving Winnipeg on the CP Keewatin subdivision
Let's look at each one.

CP Rail Edmonton, Leduc Sub.

Coming Into Winnipeg

Realistically I would only be able to catch it somewhere between Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, and honestly it would be between Marquette and Winnipeg, a stretch of some 16 miles. It's open terrain and with some luck you might be able to get it twice.

The trick is knowing when it is coming into Winnipeg. Hopefully railfans will be posting on the RailsMBSK Facebook group so we can get some clues. I know there have been a lot of reports as it has traveled through BC and Alberta and now into Saskatchewan.

I may or may not be able to catch it on the way in.

Moving from the Yard to Southdale

Likely this will be done mid-afternoon on August 4 to position it for 5 PM. Looking at Google Maps, I think the best shot would be at Point Douglas crossing the Red River. That would be a nice photo and the light would be pretty good. Failing that, by the former Central Grain on Archibald would be decent as would a couple of other spots along Archibald.

I'm not going to do this as I have other plans for Friday afternoon.

At Southdale

Photographing the train during the show would be great to catch the crowd and the vibe, and to enjoy the music and performances. It's probably not prime railfan photo time but I think it would be important to include the crowds in the photo to give a sense of the occasion.

I will try to be there but I will certainly miss the first part of the performance.

Moving Back to the Yard

The same locations I mentioned above will work but it'll be close to sunset, so I would say the bridge shot would be killer if the sun was still giving enough light. They certainly won't be backing up very fast so chasing it would be easier.

Leaving Winnipeg

If they left in the morning, that would be great as you would have light on the nose of the train.

I would be tempted to go out Deacon Road / highway 207 to here and walk over to photograph them crossing the Floodway. It's wide open and there's a rise you can stand on to get the whole train.

You can't chase them on the Keewatin as there aren't any parallel roads. I guess if you were really ambitious you could go farther east into the Whiteshell or into Ontario but I am not that ambitious.

Again the question is when they will leave Winnipeg.
CP Rail Edmonton, Leduc Subdivision.

What Shots To Get?

I basically would like three different photos:
  1. A "whole train" or nearly a whole train view;
  2. A nose on photo of the F units; and
  3. Views of the cars, preferably with spectators

Your Turn

What do you think? Where are the good shots? Do you plan on seeing it if it is coming your way? (consult their schedule) Have you seen it already? Comment below.

PS thanks to BCR_766 and David Gray for posting photos to Flickr!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Three Passenger Trains in Northern Québec (Guest Post)

The following is a guest post by Al in Vancouver... enjoy!

In June and July of 2017, I had the opportunity to ride three passenger trains in northern Québec. This guest post will focus on overall impressions and tips for railfans.

Sept-Îles - Schefferville

1-IMG_9369 This passenger service is operated by Tshiuetin Rail Transportation, owned by three first Nations in the region.  The head end crew and track between Sept-Îles and Emeril, Labrador are provided by the QNS and L Railway, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Iron Ore Company of Canada.

The train operates twice weekly.  As tickets are non-refundable and the person at the phone number listed on the website told me the train is never full, I decided to buy my ticket at the station in Sept-Îles the morning of departure.  I was surprised to learn they only accept cash (no credit or debit cards) at the station in Sept-Îles.  There is no ATM at the station.  After all passengers with tickets were boarded, I was allowed to buy my ticket and board.  Photo ID is required at boarding.  Seating is first come, first served.

I was surprised at the length of the train:  Two locos (TSH 7205, 601), baggage generator TSH 1423, four baggage (TSH 1422, 1401, 1455, 1445), cafeteria TSH 1000, three older coaches (TSN 1002, 1004, 1005) and two newer coaches (TSH 13518 and 13517).  I was directed to sit in an older coach with red seats (TSH 1004) which was also equipped with a projector and screen suspended between the luggage racks to show movies.  I sat far enough away from the movie equipment so that it would not obscure my view out the window.  A Québec tour group (tour conducted en français) occupied the first newer coach while the trailing coach was kept for employee use.  I estimate 50 to 60% of the seats were occupied.

None of the windows on the train were clean; disappointing as this affected the view.  Even if they were clean, I believe the age of the windows would still diminish the view.  Fortunately a photographer with the tour group was given supervised access to open the vestibule windows, and I was able to use this for photos soon after we left Sept-Îles.  The interior of the train was kept quite clean.

The first 100 miles north from Sept-Îles pass through beautiful scenery as the route climbs along the Moisie River.  Sit on the left (west side) of the train for the best view.  We had a few meets with QNSL iron ore and work trains.  Speeds are generally between 30 to 40 mph.
It is interesting to watch the changes in scenery as the train climbs the Canadian Shield and gains latitude north through Labrador.  While the track is in good condition south of Emeril, there are sections north of Emeril that are rough and slow.

We arrived Schefferville around 20:30.  I did not have accommodation reserved but managed to arrange a clean, quiet and efficient room for $75 at a facility for workers named Bloc Orange.  From what I saw of the conventional motels, it is easy to pay over $200.  There is no road access to Schefferville, so things are expensive.  Your mobile phone will not work for voice or data unless you get a local SIM card.  Also note that WiFi gets very congested during the evenings due to high usage over limited bandwidth.

The road between the town of Schefferville and the train station is gravel.  If you decide to walk like I did, there is a good chance someone will stop and offer you a ride!  There is a taxi service in Schefferville, but there was a long wait once the train arrived.  I was also told the taxi is not open in time for the morning southbound departure.
The southbound trip the following morning was on the same equipment, except that locomotives TSH 601 and 701 were leading.  The station at Schefferville accepts credit and debit cards for tickets. Again, photo ID is required at boarding.  There was no tour group southbound and both of the newer coaches were kept for employee use.

We arrived Sept-Îles around 22:00.  The train was turned prior to the station stop.  Apparently it is not unusual for the train to arrive hours late due to meets and slow orders.

There is a good thread about the train on and a CBC documentary on YouTube.

Full photo album on Flickr

Senneterre to Montreal

VIA Rail operates this train, as well as the Jonquière train described below, over CN tracks.  Each train is operated with a single F40PH-2 loco, one 8600 series baggage car and one HEP2 coach. They operate three times a week.  Seat selection is not pre-assigned.

Due to limitations in my schedule, I chose to do this trip one-way from Senneterre to Montreal.  In retrospect, I would have done a return trip on this route, as the scenery is nice and because this train is always at the rear of the combined Senneterre and Jonquière train south of Hervey, providing access to a window facing out the rear of the train.

Note that not much is open in Senneterre before the train departs (even for the later Sunday departure), so bring food with you or buy it on board.

The scenery is interesting with lots of forest, lakes, rivers and some hills.  As with the other routes, the northern portion of the route provides access to camps, cottages and settlements that do not have good road access.

We were two hours late arriving Hervey due to meets and slow orders.  We pulled into Hervey station for passengers, then reversed out to allow the train from Jonquière to get into the Hervey station ahead of us.  We then coupled to the rear of the train from Jonquière.


The route from Hervey to Montreal is similar to the route between Québec City and Montreal with lots of rich farmland and stretches with good track speed.  There are some significant trestles on the Joliette subdivision (miles 50, 52, 58, 65 and 76), a tunnel at mile 51 and an interesting route through Shawinigan.

As we were still late approaching Montreal, the train stopped at Gare Sauvé for the crew to take a 20 minute rest break, allowing them to extend their operating day by 2 hours.  As the Jonquière train has a later start than the Senneterre train, the Jonquière crew is fresher and this is why the trains wait for each other in Hervey and are coupled with the Jonquière train and crew leading.  By the time we arrived Gare Centrale in downtown Montreal, we were two and a half hours late. Note this train does not use the Mont Royal tunnel, so it takes a while to route through the yard at Saint-Luc.  Most shops at Gare Centrale close at 21:00; fortunately a nearby Provigo supermarket was open til midnight.

I noticed a brochure at Senneterre station describing (en français) an outing using the train from Senneterre to Press, with a re-enactment of the last spike ceremony at Press followed by brunch and return to Senneterre by bus.  Remaining dates for 2017 are planned for August 6 and 20.  Info is available by emailing or calling +1-819-737-2296 extension 221.

The local tourist bureau can suggest activities in the region.  They can be contacted by emailing or phoning +1-888-437-2694 or +1-819-737-2694.

Full photo album on Flickr

Montreal - Jonquière

This train is assembled with the baggage car trailing the coach, i.e., locomotive followed by coach followed by baggage.  I was told this is to allow canoes to be loaded and unloaded using the rear door of the train from the baggage car.
I didn't see this door being used, but I can imagine a stop on a banked curve or conditions at the side requiring rear access.  Note that this arrangement prevents passengers from seeing out the rear of the train.
Between Montreal and Hervey, the Senneterre train is coupled (elephant style) to the rear of the Jonquière train. For this portion of the route, please see my comments above.

Northeast of Hervey, the route follows the appropriately named Rivière-à-Pierre upstream.  The best views are on the north side of the train.  Many cyclists used the train, and at times the coach was around 90% full.  This is a very scenic region with infrastructure for tourists.  There was some freight traffic on the line with a few meets.  Forest product companies seem to be the primary customers.
The descent into the Saguenay region provides some nice views (again, the best view are on the north side) of Lac Saint-Jean, which is huge!

The terminus station in Jonquière is conveniently located at a transit hub, providing cheap transit options throughout the region.  I stayed overnight approximately 10km away in Chicoutimi and used transit both ways.

If you are a cyclist and not familiar with Québec's Route Verte and their 5000 km network of bike paths, check out this link.  More info about taking bikes on VIA trains is on VIA's website.

Full image album on Flickr

Final Comments

I thoroughly enjoyed all of these trains.  Although it is difficult to rank them, I have to say the trip to and from Schefferville provided the most memorable experience.  This is due to the different scenery and the QNS&L railway but also because most people operating and using the train were from First Nations.  I suggest that if you take this train, try to get to know some of them (the seats in the cafeteria car provide a good place to do this).  The person who picked me up on the way to the station in Schefferville made a lasting impression as he shared his background and stories with me.  The farther north you go, the more English is spoken, so language should not be a barrier.  Note that if I did not have access to open vestibule windows, it would have diminished the experience.  You might want to bring something to clean your window!  And you should be prepared for mosquitos.

The Québec tour group I encountered on the train from Sept-Îles also offer tours using the Senneterre and Jonquière trains.  While these appear to be conducted en français, the itineraries may offer some ideas.

I'd like to ride all of these trains in winter; perhaps April or May to allow for longer daylight, before leaves on trees along the line obscure the views.

I hope you get the chance to experience these trains!

Al is a railfan based in Vancouver.  He has ridden the rails on six continents and is a guide with offering custom tours to Japan (a great destination for railfans!) and beyond.