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... coming soon!

Until then, you can go back to the beginning and read through.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 6) - Through the Spiral Tunnel

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


Let me explain.

No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
- Inigo Montaya, "The Princess Bride"

Day 5 - Golden to Banff

We woke up at a reasonable hour (7:30 AM or so) to start our short drive from Golden, BC to Banff to continue my 50th birthday trip. It's a mere 139 km drive, only an hour and a half assuming no interruptions for construction or traffic... and we had the whole day to do it in!

Naturally I had factored in some train watching time, so I expected to take a lot longer than 1.5 hours to travel that distance.

We left Golden and headed east on the Trans-Canada. There's some pretty scenic country along that stretch of highway, and the CP main line flirts with both the highway and the Kicking Horse River. Unfortunately, there were no trains running when we drove past, and even if there were, the tremendous amount of road construction would have made it hard to pull over to get a shot.


We arrived at Field. This little town is a division point between the CP Mountain subdivision to the west and the CP Laggan subdivision to the east.

Trains stop here for a crew change and it's not unusual to find a train or two stopped any time you drive by.

This time was no exception, with CP 9609 East stopped by the former telegraph building.

They were not parked in a very photogenic location, especially with the sun not really showing its bright face, so I tried a few different angles to try to get a better photograph of this grain train.

We ended up sitting here for about an hour... thank my patient wife, as usual.

Playing with image editing
It seemed obvious that they were waiting for a meet.

I don't know who Woody is, but he's all over this locomotive.
It turned out that there was another eastbound grain train coming, and it stopped at the former station in Field. CP 9782 was at the head.
CP 9782 in Field, British Columbia
But CP 9609 wasn't waiting for that train... it was waiting for CP 8554 West.

The Meet

CP 8554 and 9650 in Field, BC
CP 8554 came rolling into Field. I patiently waited for CP 8554 to come out of the shadows and into the sunlight to get the shot. It's a pretty nice view here!

They rolled through the crossing and met CP 9609 and its crew, on the ground for the roll-by inspection.
CP 8554, meet CP 9609
That golden beaver on CP 8554 is looking pretty ragged!

Even the end unit, CP 9355, looked pretty good.
CP 9355 on the rear
We hit the road after CP 9355 passed by. I assumed CP 9609 East was going to head out right away so I wanted to get ahead of it.

The Spiral Tunnels

Arguably the most famous railway attraction in Canada, or least the Rocky Mountains, the two spiral tunnels replaced CPR's "Big Hill" and replaced the perilous 4.5% grade with a more manageable 2.2%. There's a viewpoint along the Trans-Canada Highway where you can view both portals of the Lower Spiral Tunnel.

We parked there and went to see if CP 9609 East had caught up to us. I could hear it, and by the time I fought my way through the crowds to get a view, I saw the DPU (CP 9653) far below.
CP 9653 - man in the middle
Less than a minute later, the lead locomotive popped out of the upper tunnel portal.
CP 9609 at the upper portal of the Lower Spiral Tunnel
The photo above is heavily cropped from a 200mm shot from quite a distance away. To right is the same viewpoint, at 85mm and uncropped.

I'm frankly impressed that it is as sharp as it is. Note the "1908" at the top of the portal. The Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens is a good one!

Soon the train looped over itself... not that you can really see it any more. The area is so overgrown that you can't even see the lower portal, and when trains leave the lower portal heading east, you can catch glimpses of the train through the thick tree growth but that's it.

Parks Canada is really dropping the ball here on maintaining this site. Like Morant's Curve, it's up to them to maintain the trees and cut them back where required. If this keeps up, in another decade there will be no point in stopping here as nothing will be visible.

Rant over.
The train looped over itself - trust me
We didn't wait for the train to finish going through... I wanted to try to catch it at Wapta Lake like I did the last time I was in the area.

Sadly there was a ton of road construction by the lake and there was no place to stop. The light wasn't great anyway, so we carried on.

We wanted to visit Moraine Lake after we caught this train, so we kept going to the Lake Louise exit. There were a lot of cars around, and there were people directing traffic at each 4-way stop. That was a first in my experience!

We went straight to the old Lake Louise station - now a restaurant - and I waited by the display cars for the train to come along.

Lake Louise

CP 9609 East at Lake Louise
CP 9609 came storming around the corner. She put on a lovely show and sounded great as the train rolled on by the station.

Nice wave from the engineer!
The wave
For those who care, I believe the train took a few minutes less than an hour to run the 20.4 miles from Field to Lake Louise.


We left the chase off here and went to Lake Louise proper.

Or, I should say, we tried to go to Lake Louise.

There were so many people around that there was no place to park and they were turning everyone away.

Our alternate was nearby Moraine Lake, which was also full.

There was overflow parking with a shuttle bus, but it was already well after lunch time so we decided to give it up for the day and come back early the next day.

Apparently this was a great "fall foliage" day and everyone was out to try to see it one last time. It was a nice warm day, perhaps one of the last for the season. The free admittance to national parks as part of the Canada 150 celebrations probably helped, too.

Anyway, we headed down the Bow Valley Parkway aka Highway 1A aka the long way between Lake Louise and Banff. I wanted to see if there were any trains and my wife wanted to see wildlife.

We stopped briefly at Morant's Curve.
Morant's Curve
There were the usual collection of photographers there, but we didn't linger too long. I stayed for about 10 minutes, taking a few photos and chatting with a professional photographer there. He was hoping to catch a train and we talked angles and exposures and composition. Fun!

I really wanted to try a different location this time - Castle Mountain.

Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain, Banff National Park
There's a rest stop close to Castle Mountain that overlooks the Bow River and, more importantly to me, the CP Laggan subdivision. It's here and it even has a bathroom!

I parked here and then went to scout angles and set up while my wife waited in the car.
Panorama at Castle Mountain
You can see that it's pretty scenic! There's a nice curve to the west and a straight section to the east. A path leads across the top of the slope so you can get around pretty easily. I wouldn't say you can get very close to the track without clinging to the side of the hill and/or being too close to the tracks for safety.

After about 35 minutes, a train came along... from the west.
CP 8913 at Castle Mountain
I liked this spot!

After 8913 and 8608 rolled by with their train of containers and autoracks, all was quiet for another half an hour. Eventually I heard a train coming from the east and set up to record CP 8957 West, another intermodal train.

CP 8957 at Castle Mountain
The lighting was a bit challenging, since it was 3:30 PM in the mountains on a cloudy day.

The train looked pretty good going away, too.
Going away
This train had a DPU, CP 8747.
CP 8747 in the middle of a train
I was happy to bag both a westbound and an eastbound train at that location. I packed up and we continued down the 1A / Bow Valley Parkway to Banff.

Breaking Up

When I started this series, I intended to have a post for every day of our trip. I'm breaking that "rule" now as we saw several more trains in the evening. This post is long enough, and the trains we saw were special enough, that I'd prefer to put them in another post. Coming soon... thanks for your patience.

Up Next

The rest of day 5 was spent in Banff, trying to photograph the Rocky Mountaineer. That didn't happen, but only because something better came along!

You might want to read:

Saturday, November 11, 2017

They Shall Grow Not Old

Lest we forget
It's Remembrance Day. Let us take a moment to remember the men and women who have served - and died - for our country to protect our way of life. We appreciate and remember you.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
- Ode of Remembrance

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Passing a Half Century (Part 5) - Mountain Meet

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

The show business officials
Turn a deaf ear to the stage
Their hearts are locomotives
And their minds are narrow-gauge
- Stephen Fearing, "The Life"
Swingin' good times
We started the fourth day of my 50th birthday trip in Sicamous, British Columbia. This was my actual birth day.

After a nice rest in the Best Western - and a nice free breakfast - we got back in our Chrysler 300 and headed out... a few hundred metres to the bridges over the Sicamous Narrows.


Sicamous - Houseboat Capital of Canada!
The Mara Lake empties into the much larger Shuswap Lake, and there are two bridges over the narrows - the highway bridge and a railway bridge, which is an operating swing bridge.

Sicamous bills itself as the "Houseboat Capital of Canada". We didn't go looking for houseboats, but I assume there were a lot of them!

I was hoping for a train, so I spent some time walking around on the road bridge (the R.W. Bruhn Bridge, built in 1962, apparently being considered for a replacement), taking photos and wishing really hard for a train.

I got the photos, but I didn't get a train.

There used to be a branch line from Sicamous down to Vernon, a former CP line that became the Okanagan Valley Railway, a subsidiary of OmniTRAX. This railway operated from late 1998 to September 2009. The railway is gone now, sadly. (More on the OVR)

There is a bit of a stub track there, which contained a few gondolas overloaded with old railway ties and a backhoe.

That bridge was as far west as we made it this trip.

We headed east, en route to Three Valley Gap. On the way, we passed a few of British Columbia's many amazingly beautiful lakes, and I had to stop at one of them to take a few photos. BC is so beautiful.
Yet another beautiful lake - Griffin Lake, I think

Three Valley Gap

Three Valley Gap
I mentioned that we had originally planned to stay at the Three Valley Gap hotel, but changed our minds before the trip. I still wanted to stop there, however, as they have a good collection of railway rolling stock there in a roundhouse.

We paid the $12 entrance fee and wandered through the "ghost town". It's a collection of buildings from various locations gathered together to try to recreate a pioneer town.
C.B. Hume & Company at Three Valley Gap
It was interesting - my wife liked the pharmacy - but I was intent on visiting the roundhouse and the cars there.

I won't get into detail on the roundhouse - it probably merits its own post - but I'll make a few comments. The roundhouse is modern and looks it. It's quite large - 24 bays and about 300 feet in diameter. The roundhouse has the largest fully covered turntable in North America.

Inside the Three Valley Gap roundhouse
About half of the stalls are occupied, with various pieces of rolling stock from various eras, mostly passenger cars. There are a few noteworthy cars - including ex VIA 1 (with a cardboard cutout of Pierre Trudeau) and ex BC Rail Caribou. Some are in the roundhouse and some are on display elsewhere on the property.

I admit we rushed through the facility, spending just under an hour there. We probably could have spent another hour looking at the antique auto museum, studying their collection of fire trucks, and going into more of the buildings in the village.

However, Revelstoke was calling.


Channeling my inner Greg McDonnell
We headed east toward Revelstoke to visit the excellent railway museum there. Like Cranbrook, I will describe the Revelstoke Railway Museum separately... but I'll say it was an excellent experience. It's a top notch museum well worth visiting. It's unabashedly CPR, as it should be, on CP's main line.

Rolling stock on display outside the Revelstoke railway museum
I visited the gift shop and bought a few more BRMNA books to add to my collection. You may have seen these soft cover books - focusing on broad topics like Canadian Pacific in Manitoba, or very niche topics. They are out of print but pretty common in gift shops and at train shows, and relatively inexpensive.

Crossing the Columbia
After we toured the museum, we bought sandwiches at a local supermarket and went to the Centennial Park along the Columbia River. It was a lovely place to have a little picnic lunch and take in the sights.

The weather was lovely, and CP even sent a train across the river during our lunch. I didn't catch the lead engine numbers, but the trailing locomotive was CP 9677. It didn't matter... because I saw that train again later.

On our way out of town, I stopped at the CP yard in Revelstoke and snapped a few long distance photos of equipment parked there.

There were a few snow plows, a yellow caboose with multimark, and this interesting spreader, CP 402862.

CP 402862 in Revelstoke

Into the Selkirks

East of Revelstoke, you enter part of the Selkirk mountain range. The views are pretty awesome and we had to stop a couple of times to take photos.
Albert Peak, maybe?
After skirting Revelstoke National Park, we entered Glacier National Park. Just inside the park is this interesting structure on the CP Mountain subdivision at Flat Creek.
Mystery structure at Flat Creek
I had spotted it before the trip when scouting locations, and I asked about it in the RailsBC group on Facebook. It's a dimension / shifted load scanner, used to alert train crews if their train won't fit in the Connaught or Mount Macdonald tunnels to the east.

The yellow sign says "NOTICE: When red light is flashing, NO employee or others, either on foot or in motor vehicles are permitted to pass this point due to Avalanche Control."

Not far after this, I found a spot with a little bridge and a snow shed that I thought would be nice to photograph trains at. I believe this was actually Flat Creek under the bridge, but I could be wrong.

This location was the scene of a disastrous derailment on November 24, 1977. CP Extra 5820 West derailed here and dumped most of its loaded coal train into the valley after running away past Glacier. Fortunately nobody was killed but the damage was severe and the line was closed for 10 days. (article 1, article 2, article 3)

I was pretty sure we were ahead of the container train we saw in Revelstoke... but not too far ahead. After a few minutes, I could hear a train labouring along through the mountains. I wandered around trying to find a decent location to capture both the "coming" shot on the bridge and the "going" shot through the snow shed. It helped that there was a little rise that I could stand on to get a little height while still staying well away from the tracks.

Eventually CP 9376 East crossed the bridge and was imprinted onto my memory card.
CP 9376 at Flat Creek
Unfortunately I blew the sky out a bit. The lighting was definitely challenging, as it was overcast and I didn't want to get the train in shadow.

The "going away" shot was better.
About to enter the snow shed
You can see the snow shed around the corner. No need for it yet, but soon!

I photographed a few containers and then we hit the road... hoping for another shot.

The Mount Macdonald Tunnel

In my pre-trip scouting, I found the west portal of the Mount Macdonald Tunnel here - right by the highway. I was interested!

After shooting CP 9376 at Flat Creek, we were heading east when I spotted a good-looking spot to stop to shoot the train again. It turned out to be the portal! Total coincidence.

Not a bad spot!
You can see the tunnel portal to the left.
West portal of the Macdonald Tunnel
The Macdonald Tunnel is 14.7 km (9.1 miles) long and is the longest railway tunnel in North America - and maybe in both Americas. It was completed in 1988 after four years of construction and significantly eased the westbound grade (from 2.2% to 1%), and eliminated the pusher locomotives required to get trains west through the nearby Connaught Tunnel (more on the tunnel here)

Generally westbound trains use the Macdonald Tunnel and eastbound trains use the Connaught Tunnel.

I got there a good ten minutes before CP 9376 East arrived. I took a few photos to get the right exposure. I didn't want to get closer to the tracks because I wanted to stay in a safe spot, and I wanted the mountains in the background of the shot when the eastbound arrived.

I couldn't help but notice a loud humming... coming from the tunnel. Could there be a westbound coming? After a few minutes, I had no doubt. Which train would arrive first?

First Train

CP 9376 East by the Macdonald Tunnel portal
It was CP 9376 East that came first. I was happy with that because I could get an obscured photo of the train before the westbound came.

It was not long before the westbound came - about 2 minutes. CP 8871 West!
CP 8871 West at the Macdonald Tunnel
Wouldn't that have been sweet if the two trains had met in front of the portal?

The mid-train DPU of the eastbound came along very shortly afterward. That Providence and Worcester autorack at bottom right is the second car after the second locomotive (CP 8506) of the westbound.

CP 9663 as mid train locomotive
Finally, CP 9677 came rolling by as the tail-end locomotive.
CP 9677 on the tail end at the Macdonald Tunnel portal
That was the end of that eastbound train for me.

A few minutes later, the westbound finished coming out of the tunnel, with no DPU anywhere in the train.

I was taking video with my phone on a tripod.

Here's the video. Unfortunately my phone ran out of power before the end of the train passed, but it only missed a few empty platforms on the end.

My wife will confirm that I was literally dancing for joy, having seen a meet at the tunnel portal. That was special - the meet, not the dancing. Pretty sure the dancing was awful.

Happy birthday to me!

Kinbasket Lake

Kinbasket Lake
When I was planning this trip, I was asking around for photo locations and Kinbasket Lake was one suggestion. This is quite a long, skinny lake, created by the construction of the giant Mica Dam in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Trans-Canada Highway passes near the very southeast tip of it. There is a campground there - the Kinbasket Lake Resort.

The resort is accessible by a gravel road, and it's about a ten minute drive from the TCH through several switchbacks. I imagine it would be "fun" to take a trailer through there but obviously people do, as the campground had a lot of occupants when we arrived. We parked just outside the campground, after going through the railway crossing just above the campground.

We were greeted by someone who in retrospect was probably the owner, five-time Stanley Cup winner Rick Chartraw. He was super friendly and graciously allowed us to wander around when we asked to take a few photos of the lake.

Note the bridge in the photo below. It'll come up later.
A lovely spot
We spent a few minutes walking around and enjoying the peace and quiet. The smells of cooking drifted from the campground and my stomach rumbled a bit - it was 5:30 PM or so - so we took our photos and started back. Just then, I heard the crossing bells start.

"RUN!" my wife said, and so I did, running up the hill to the crossing to try to catch the train there.

CP 9819 at Kinbasket Lake
There was CP 9819 East, rolling through the crossing at mile 54.59 of the CP Mountain subdivision. It was a potash train.
Potash cars at Kinbasket Lake
That train was really moving! Dozens and dozens of potash cars flashed by, and I couldn't help thinking that it was good that this crossing had lights and a bell, because it would be very dangerous to have simple crossbucks at that location with no sight lines for drivers to see any approaching trains.

CP 9610 was on the tail end.
Panning CP 9610
This trip was definitely helping me practice my panning skills!

While I was doing this, my clever wife went the other way and walked onto the bridge I mentioned above. This was her view of the train:
My wife's photo FTW
I returned from the crossing and she beckoned me onto the bridge to see what I missed. We agreed that she definitely had the better spot.


We returned to Golden, this time to stay for the night. I had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express - again, with points. It was a nice place to stay, as this chain usually is.

I wanted to peek in the Golden yard before supper. I spotted a few interesting cars in the yard, including several cabeese, sleeper units on flatcars, and ex baggage (?) car CP 411697.
CP 411697 and CP 5875 in Golden yard
My wife spotted a deer having a snack by the road and captured this great photo of it.
I'm beginning to think I should stick to writing words and leave the photography to my wife!
I went down to the south end of the yard and spotted CP 2295 and CP 2291 doing some shunting. It was getting a little dark by then (7:15 PM) but I did what I could. It helped that they weren't moving!
CP 2291 and 2295, mountains, and Golden yard
We were just about to leave when I heard a train coming in off the CP Windermere subdivision, led by another pair of ECO units - CP 5007 and CP 2243.

These were harder to photograph because they were moving. I elected to keep the background in focus and let the train blur, rather than pan and lose the background.
CP 5007 arriving in Golden yard
That was finally the end of the train watching for the day.

My meal at Island Restaurant
We spotted a nice restaurant on the island in the middle of the Kicking Horse River, appropriately named the Island Restaurant. HIGHLY recommended.

The service was great, the food was fantastic, and they even brought out a free brownie for dessert when they found out it was my birthday.

Up Next

The plan for day 5 was to travel from Golden to Banff through Field and Lake Louise, railfanning along the way. That's basically what we did, with a bit of detouring... READ ON!

You might want to read:
P.S. I hope you are enjoying this series. I'm sorry it is taking so long for me to write each post, but it takes a long time to edit photos, write and research each post. I'm doing the best I can! :)

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