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