Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: British Columbia Railway

British Columbia Railway, by J.F. Garden
I recently borrowed the book "British Columbia Railway: From PGE to BC Rail" by J.F. Garden from the Winnipeg public library. I would freely admit that I didn't know much about BC Rail (as I refer to it) and I looked forward to learning more.

This is a fantastic book.

It's quite an imposing book. Weighing in at about 3.5 pounds and 456 pages, this is not a light read in any meaning of the phrase... but it is highly readable.

The book starts with a foreward by M.C. "Mac" Norris, former CEO and President of the British Columbia Railway.

The history of the Pacific Great Eastern, the British Columbia Railway, and BC Rail is intertwined with the history of politics in British Columbia. The railway has always been owned by the government and subject to the whims of whatever political party was in control, so Mr. Garden goes into considerable detail on the history of the railway and how it was affected by the parties in power.

This sounds really dry, but it isn't. The author writes in a fairly tongue-in-cheek style, and the text is liberally decorated with high quality photographs of the railway. British Columbia is incredibly scenic, and the photography in this book is outstanding.

60 pages are dedicated to the Pacific Great Eastern, and another 118 pages are devoted to the successor, the British Columbia Railway.

My favourite part of the book is "A Tour of the Line: BC Rail", showcasing numerous locations on the BC Rail network from North Vancouver through Prince George and Chetwynd, with branch lines well represented as well.

This book's first printing was August 1995, so it doesn't cover the end of passenger service on October 31, 2002, nor the 2003 sale of BC Rail to CN. It would be interesting to see another edition of the book that fills in that 8 year gap, but perhaps it's best that the book ends on an optimistic note, full of hope for the future of the railway.

"British Columbia Railway" is chock full of excellent photographs by the author, as well as many, many photos by outstanding railway photographers such as Steve Smedley, Greg McDonnell, Dave Wilkie, Roger Burrows, Nils Huxtable and Ken Perry among many others. The caption information is generous and really adds to the photographs.

I can't say enough good things about this book. If you have any interest in the PGE, British Columbia Railway, BC Rail, or even CN's operations on the former BC Rail territories, you should get this book. Used copies are available on Amazon or you may be able to find it in your local library.

If you purchase the book from Amazon using the link provided, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

See Also

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What's on CN 2329 East?

Just for something a little different, let's look at some of the cars found on CN 2329 East, spotted on September 13, 2018.

CN 2329

By the name I've given the train, obviously CN 2329 was on the head end. 2329 is a GE ES44DC locomotive, built in mid 2010.

I first spotted this locomotive on train 404 on April 4, 2011 (see "404 on 4/04"), several hundred feet further east from the photo above. The second time I spotted 2329 was on October 9, 2012, pretty much at the exact same location. I might take a lot of photos in the same area... what do you think?

There was another locomotive on the train. You'll see it soon...

MGLX 625056

MGLX 625056 in Winnipeg
The first freight car I photographed was this Saskatchewan! car now owned by MobilGrain, MBLX 625056. The taggers have been all over this car, unfortunately. I always liked the green SK cars.

GTW 138205

Long live the Grand Trunk
The next car I photographed was heavily weathered GTW 138205, sporting the giant white "GT". It even has its multicolour ACI label visible to the right of the "T". I can't quite read the built date but it looks like "11-76", which is comparable to the dates on other GTW cars like this that I have photographed. 40+ years of working... too bad rail cars don't get a pension when they are retired.

CN 395299

Faded glory
Next up is highly faded CN 395299, with its Canadian Wheat Board logo and lettering barely visible. I remember it being almost pink in colour to my eye. Another car on borrowed time...

CGEX 1085

Cargill's CGEX 1085
I see a lot of Cargill grain cars. CGEX 1085 here is one of the common types, but I also see a lot of Cargill cars with external, vertical ribs. The reporting marks tend to be CGAX, CGEX or CGOX. I don't know if there is any reason for the difference in reporting marks.

You'll see another Cargill car shortly.

EFNX 160760

A truly boring car
I took a photo of EFNX 160760 not because there was anything interesting about it, but because it is a prime example of today's truly boring rail cars. This 5200 cubic foot car was built in September 2016 and is one of many cars in Element Financial's fleet of rail cars available for lease.

In "days of yore", railroads owned a lot of rolling stock. Not any more. I believe the majority of today's rail cars are owned by lessors like Element who lease them out to customers. It probably makes a lot of financial sense for the railroads to be out of the lease market, but I miss the corporate logos on rail cars. This car is truly and literally the beige among the rapidly disappearing GT blue, the UP yellow, and the rainbow Canadian grain car fleet.

OK, rant over. Incidentally, another photo of this very rail car is available on RRPictureArchives.NET.

CNA 385112

What's that in the top left corner?
CNA 385112 looks like a pretty ordinary 4740 cubic foot rail car, with external ribs, built in March 1972 and still sporting its ACI label. However... what's that in the top left of the car?

Aha! Cargill!
This was a Cargill car! Also note that it used to be NAHX 5xxx3 before CN acquired it.

These little details keep me watching the train after the locomotive(s) go by.

The FURX Cars

I saw a string of these gray FURX cars on the train next. You can see they are three bay open top hopper cars, 2400 cubic feet. I can see external controls to open the doors, so they must be pneumatically controlled. I see the pistons to operate the doors and there are nozzles on the cars labelled "AIR". It's weird how the middle door is "C" and the "A" and "B" doors are on the ends.

FURX was First Union Rail, recently renamed to Wells Fargo Rail. It's another railcar and locomotive leasing company.

The 86 Foot Boxcars

PHRX 4794
The real "win" on the train for me was this pair of 86 foot boxcars, with the PHRX reporting mark. The PHRX reporting mark is owned by Premier Horticulture Ltd., a company founded in 1923 around sphagnum peat moss. Their head office is in Rivière-du-Loup (Québec).

I remember seeing 86 foot boxcars on the New Brunswick East Coast Railway in northern New Brunswick. There is a lot of peat moss on the Acadian peninsula, and in fact the former Caraquet and Gulf Shore Railway (and later CN Caraquet subdivision) hauled a lot of peat moss.

Eric Gagnon has an excellent article on 86 foot boxcars hauling peat moss.

PHLX 206036
I'm sure you noticed the locomotive...

CN 3826

CN 3826
This shiny locomotive, CN 3826, is one of the 260 new Evolution-series locomotives GE is building for CN to ease its power shortage. I imagine this was one of the first revenue runs, as the locomotive is still clean!

Shiny new loco
Note the CN Aboriginal Affairs logo that these new locomotives wear. I love how there are labels with tiny letters along the frame edge... someone is very optimistic that these will be readable! My guess is that they will become covered in grime and be unreadable within a month.

Canadian Grain Cars

A rainbow
There was a rainbow of Canadian grain cars near the tail end of the train to finish things off.

I hope you enjoyed this little rolling stock review. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Encounter at Beach Junction

VIA 1 passing through Beach Junction
I decided to capture the Labour Day VIA Rail "Canadian"... but I didn't want to go out to Dugald or Anola like I had been doing. I wanted to try something... different.

As I scrolled through Google Maps, following the route of VIA 1, I found the highway overpass near Beach Junction and the north entrance to CN's Symington Yard. This overpass is where the 4-lane Lagimodiere Boulevard crosses over the two-track CN Redditt subdivision.

Looking at the satellite view, I saw that the shoulders on each side were really wide - more than a lane's worth - so I was not very concerned about safety from the cars zooming by at 80+ km/hr. You have to watch that with overpasses - some of them have very little space between the cars and the guard rails. Safety first!

There's no place to park on the overpass, but there are side streets nearby, and I don't mind walking a bit.

My alarm went off at 6:03 AM on Monday morning, and I hopped out of bed and checked VIA's web site to see where VIA 1 was. It was approaching Elma, supposedly an hour away from Winnipeg, so I had lots of time. I quickly dressed and grabbed my Lowepro SlingShot 102 AW and hit the road. I normally bring my AmazonBasics camera bag, but since I knew I was going to be away from my car for an extended period, a small camera bag seemed more appropriate.

Waiting for the sun to rise
Within 20 minutes, I was "on station". It was a chilly 8 degrees Celsius, and I was glad I wore a light coat. I was wishing I had brought my gloves, too!

The First Train

I noted there was an east-facing CN train stopped just west of the overpass, just before Panet Road. These days, CN's trains pause a bit as they wait for their turn to enter a yard or proceed farther down the line. That's the curse of having so much traffic...

Eventually that train started to roll forward, and I took a few photos as they rolled under me and proceeded into Symington Yard.
CN 2438 and 2023
It was a nice cowl leader - a Dash-8!

After nine minutes, the tail end passed me and they curved around into the yard.
Round the bend
It was not long before the second train came along... and the third.

The Second and Third Trains

I saw a train coming out of Symington Yard, led by CN 2951. I decided I would shoot video, to show the train squealing around the curve and onto the main line.

I was glad I brought my monopod, as I could record the train easily without too much camera shake or strain on my arms. As I kept recording, I heard another train behind me, and after about 4m 45s after I started recording, CN 2596 East rolled past on the north track and went into the yard.

It was really cool to see the two trains passing on the curve. They almost looked like model trains!

The Fourth Train, and a Friend

CN 8833 East
It was a container train, crossing over from the north to the south track - and carrying on past the yard.

Just before this train showed up, I received a message from Mark Perry. In the past few weeks, Mark and I have both gone out to photograph VIA 1 coming into the city, both in the same area, but we never ran into each other. It's been amusing, really. Anyway, he messaged me asking if I was out shooting VIA. I replied and told him where I was, and he said he'd be there shortly.

Note the track curving off to the left in the photo above. That's the CEMR Pine Falls subdivision, leading to their yard on Day Street. The Central Manitoba Railway runs down that track onto CN and then into Symington to interchange cars with CN. They also continue west on the Redditt and then the Rivers sub to get to the CEMR Carman subdivision.

Here's a black-and-white photo, in homage to Mark, who likes black and white photos.
Black and white rules!
This was definitely "cowl day", with two cowl units on this train - CN 2418 and BC Rail 4601.
BC Rail 4601 and a CN cowl unit!
Mark drove by while the train was going by, and parked nearby. He walked up to the other side of the overpass and photographed the train going away.
Mark and the "going away" angle
There was a hot air balloon nearby. It would have been a great morning for going up!
CN and the hot air balloon
We had about a 25 minute wait for VIA 1 to arrive.

Mark is a great railway photographer. His photos and articles have been published in a number of books, and magazines such as TRAINS. I admire his work and his photographic style. I keep urging him to write a book but so far, he's not interested. I'll keep trying!


It's coming right for us
The "Canadian" came around the corner out of Transcona yard and started down the straight section.

I took a few overhead shots, then switched to the sun side.
The problem with shooting into the sun... dark nose
I suppose I could have stayed and kept shooting "head on" - I do like head on photos - but I had visualized the shot I wanted before I came to that location, and I wanted to get it.

Here it is.
The side glint
Three locomotives, four domes, stainless steel... I feel very lucky to be able to see this train.

Some day I want to ride this train
The only problem with this location is that the "going away" shot is no good... you can't sprint across four lanes of traffic and jump the giant gap in the middle between the pairs of lanes. Not safely, anyway.

Not a good "going away" photo
After VIA passed, Mark and I both packed up our gear and headed out. I had family stuff to do and Mark had to get to work!

Post Game Analysis

Overall, I was very pleased with that location. I feel it has a lot of potential for overhead shots, which are certainly in short supply in the Winnipeg area. You can see signals to the west, which are very helpful for knowing when a train is coming. Parking is available at the mall or nearby side streets.

The only downsides I see are that you can't switch sides easily, and you are definitely in the public eye when you're up on the overpass in such a high traffic area.

I'll probably be back!

It was great to see Mark again and finally meet up after a few inadvertent joint VIA photo sessions.

See Also

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Churchill Line to be Repaired

From Mike Spence / Town of Churchill
It's hard to believe, but a deal has been reached to sell the rail line to Churchill, and to repair it. I wasn't entirely sure this day would ever come!

Since the rail line washed out in numerous places in late May 2017, there have been many calls to the owner, Omnitrax, to repair the line. They commissioned an engineering survey and announced in July 2017 that it would cost a zillion dollars up to $60 million to repair the line. Since then, not much has happened.

Now, everything has changed.

A consortium of First Nations, Fairfax Financial Holdings, and AGT Limited Partnership - collectively called Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership - have purchased the railway line, the Port of Churchill and the marine terminal in Churchill from Omnitrax.

I have to assume that the entire Hudson Bay Railway is part of the deal, which would include the branch to Flin Flon as well as the main line between The Pas and Churchill.

I think it is very encouraging that two groups of First Nations and northern communities - One North and Missinippi Rail - are involved. This includes 30 First Nations, 11 non-First Nations communities in Manitoba, and seven Kivalliq communities in western Nunavut. Local ownership should encourage usage in ways that Denver-based Omnitrax couldn't envision.

Repairing the Churchill Line

There's no official word on who will be hired to repair the line. I've heard rumours but nothing has been announced yet. All reports say that repairs should begin immediately. Time is certainly running out!

Hopefully it will take a lot less than $60 million to open the line and get freight and passengers moving again. I imagine they could get the line open for freight before winter. It might take a long time for a freight to crawl over the line, but it's still a lot better than waiting for a ship!

Passenger Service to Resume?

The Gillam-Winnipeg train... hopefully soon the Churchill-Winnipeg train again?
It's very premature to speculate on when VIA Rail will resume service. I imagine they will do so as soon as it is safe to do so. You may recall they had to extract their stranded train by ship late in 2017.

VIA has been running one weekly train between Winnipeg and Gillam (VIA 692/693), as well as a train between The Pas and Gillam (VIA 690/691) and between Thompson and Gillam (VIA 694/695). They're doing the best they can, given that the track is impassable not far north of Gillam.

I'm sure railfans will be watching this closely... I'll be reporting on my Twitter feed and here when I can.

See Also

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: EW-83J Lens Hood Clone

EW-83J lens hood on my Canon lens
Lens hoods are a useful accessory for your camera. They serve a couple of purposes - keeping side light from reflecting off your lens and causing problems, and protecting the end of the lens. Normally when you buy a lens, it comes with a cap but no hood. Mid to high end lenses, like my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L lens, often come with a lens hood. However, my 17-55mm f/2.8 lens did not come with a hood.

You can buy one from Canon, but it's around $75 Canadian, which is ridiculous for a piece of plastic. So several manufacturers have made similar hoods for the same lens. I bought the BlueBeach version of the EW-83J.

At the time of writing, it's $12 Canadian, which is much more reasonable for a shaped piece of plastic. Shipping is extra, of course, unless you add enough to your order to get free shipping.

Please note: if you buy anything from the Amazon links in this post, I receive a small percentage of anything you buy as a commission, at no extra cost to you.

EW-83J lens hood
The hood comes in a plastic bag - actually one bag inside another, for some reason - and is just the hood with no instructions. Here are my instructions.

  1. Take it out of the bags.
  2. Screw it onto the end of your lens.
  3. Twist it until it doesn't obscure your photo.
  4. Go take some photos.
It's pretty simple.

Some Amazon reviewers have complained that it doesn't fit quite right, and they had to trim it a bit with a hobby knife to make it fit. I found it was a snug fit on my lens - which is good - and so far it has stayed on and done its job. I've been using it for a few weeks now.

To be honest, it fits just as well as the Canon lens hood that came with my 70-200mm lens. That Canon hood sometimes doesn't thread right on the first try, so I have to back it out and try again. Not a big deal, as you normally aren't slapping a hood on in a hurry.

EW-83J lens hood on the Canon 17-55mm lens
It has kind of a petal shape. Make sure you orient it right so that it doesn't block anything in your view. If you have it 90 degrees out of whack, it will cause a little vignetting, just like the "real" Canon hood does.

I'm very satisfied with my lens hood. If you need a hood for your Canon 17-55mm EF-S f/2.8 lens, you might want to buy this one!

You can browse all lens hoods on Amazon, but I really recommend that you search for your particular lens to find a hood made specifically for it. You want a good fit, and read the reviews to ensure people are happy with it. In the end, it's just a piece of plastic, so all that can really go wrong is that it doesn't fit right.

Good shooting!
Ready to photograph!
See all my reviews

Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review: Canadian National Steam Power

Canadian National Steam Power book
I recently read the book "Canadian National Steam Power", written by Anthony Clegg and Ray Corley. This book was an authoritative work on CN's steam locomotives. It was written in 1969 and is a little dated, perhaps. I am not a steam locomotive expert by any means, but it was an interesting read.

The book starts with a brief history of CN, especially of its major founding railways - the Canadian Government Railways, the Grand Trunk Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway, and the Central Vermont Railway. All of these railways eventually became part of the Canadian National Railways, which became today's CN.

There was a lot of discussion about renumbering of locomotives as the railways merged together, along with different classes of steam locomotives and retirement of old locomotives as the CNR came into being.

Other, smaller, railways were also merged into the CNR, such as the Kent Northern in New Brunswick and the Inverness Railway in Nova Scotia.

There is a tremendous amount of data in this book. As I said, I'm not a steam fan, but I think it would be a great resource for those who enjoy steam locomotives.

I enjoyed reading the first half of the book, with the details on the history of the CNR and the steam locomotives that were acquired by the CNR both before and after it was formed.

The data section left me a little cold, but at the risk of repeating myself, I'm not a steam fan.

You can find this book on Amazon and maybe at your local library.

PS - you could instead buy Canadian National Steam! by Donald R. McQueen, which is based on this book based on Clegg and Corley's original book. There are also eight roster books that follow on to that book.

See my other book reviews

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Waiting for the Sunset Train

I still can hear the whisper of the summer night
It echoes in the corners of my heart
The night we stood and waited for the desert train
All the words we meant to say
All the chances swept away
Still remain on the road to the dune

- "Desert Moon", Dennis DeYoung
After a successful evening of sunset Sprague subdivision railfanning, I went out again the following evening, hoping for some more good photos. This time I didn't take my son along, so it was a solo outing... kind of like Dennis DeYoung's first solo album, "Desert Moon".

I elected to start on the CN Rivers subdivision, since it has the highest rail traffic of any rail line around Winnipeg. When I arrived "on scene", there was an eastbound freight train rolling by, with another east-facing train sitting at mile 10. I chose to chase.

CN 2421 East

Too much train on my hands
CN 2421 and IC 2465 were powering that eastbound grain train. I elected to photograph them at Harstone Road, which is a crossing just west of one of my usual spots, Carman Junction.

I chose this location because I could get on the north side of the tracks, where the sun was. Since it was an eastbound train in the evening, the light wasn't great so I had to make the best of it.

IC 2465 - not a "Blue Devil"
These Illinois Central (IC) 2400 units (C40-8W locomotives) were originally owned by GE's Locomotive Management Services (LMS) and were leased to Conrail and painted blue. Eventually 12 of them became IC 2455-2466 and were dubbed "blue devils" by railfans. I like seeing them.

Sadly, IC 2465 was repainted sometime between 2013 and 2015 and is no longer blue. This was actually the first time I saw this unit, so I never saw it as a "blue devil".

Eric Gagnon has a great article on CN leasers between 1994 and 1998 that includes the "blue devils" when they were still LMS units.

Someone had dropped a pizza box in the middle of the road, so I had to include that in a photo.

MGLX 397044 and pizza
Note the ex Saskatchewan Grain Car Corporation car... now MGLX (Mobil Grain). It's one of several hundred purchased from the province.

About 15 minutes later, a westbound train came. As I drove west to find a spot to catch it, I found that CN 8899 East was still sitting at mile 10 on the north track. I pulled off the road and I was able to catch the meet.

CN 8800 West, Meet CN 8899 East

East meets west
I like how someone has cleared the grime off the reporting mark on CN 8800.

PRLX 250 returns
Note the unit in second position - PRLX 250 again! I saw that the previous night coming into Winnipeg, so here it was, continuing westward out of the city.

I definitely had to chase this train!

I headed west, past Diamond, to mile 15. There I set my old Canon T1i up on a tripod to record video, then shot the train as it went by.

Little potash train on the prairie
Those locomotives and the pink potash cars looked pretty sweet in the sunset light.

Another shot of PRLX 250? Why not?
PRLX 250 redux
The third unit was CN 2225, for those keeping score at home.

Here's the video...

I didn't feel like there were going to be any more CN trains for a while, so I decided to take a quick trip north to the CP Carberry subdivision and see if I could catch a train there before I had to head for home.

Luck was with me, because as I arrived trackside, I could see a headlight in Rosser, several miles to the west of me.

I found a crossing and setup for video and still photography. As the train approached, I could see it was an oil train. The sunset sure looked nice shining off all of those tank cars!

CP 9668 East

Shot of the day
I took a number of photos as the train approached. Say what you will about unit trains, to me they look very nice stretched out across the Canadian prairie... especially with some sweet sunset light on the side. This was truly "the best of times", in my opinion.

As the train passed, I pivoted to get the "going away" view as they approached a set of signals.

Sunset snake...
Sunset snake
The tail end had another locomotive on it, and as the end approached, I saw it was a BNSF locomotive, BNSF 7413. I photographed them passing the signals, then I threw my gear in the car and gave chase, hoping for another photo of the BNSF unit.

BNSF 7413 splits the signals
Here's the video...

I wasn't really able to catch up to the train, but I grabbed this long distance photo of BNSF 7413 and the buffer car on the rear of the oil train before giving up and heading home.

The Grand Finale
As I turned onto St. Mary's Road, I spotted this sunset scene and had to pull over to capture it. That's the Investors Group Field stadium on the left, home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (arch-nemesis of my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders).


PS - I quoted Dennis DeYoung at the start because I finally saw him in concert, here in Winnipeg, on August 16. Dennis is the former lead singer of Styx. He and his band played at the magnificent Burton Cummings Theatre. I sat in the 4th row and enjoyed the performance of the full album "The Grand Illusion" plus many Styx hits. At 69 he still sounds great, and his band was excellent.

Dennis DeYoung and band in concert
If you get the chance, go see Dennis - or Styx - in concert. Both put on great shows.
Dennis DeYoung, up close and personal!
I don't think I mentioned it here, but I saw STYX on Vancouver Island...
STYX.. 72485

See Also