Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Heck of a Morning

I went out early on Sunday, March 18th (2018) to see some trains and grain elevators. I really wanted to photograph a grain elevator at sunrise. It turned out that it was overcast so there really wasn't a sunrise. No worries - the trains still move and the elevators are still there!

I decided to head toward Gregg and Harte on the CN Rivers subdivision. I was considering an overhead shot from the overpass by the Harte grain elevator. I headed out around 6:15 AM, before the sun came up.


I drove past Portage la Prairie to Bloom, by the new G3 elevator. I saw there was a train in the 134-car loop track. I pulled off the highway to take a few photos when I noticed a green signal facing west, and a headlight in the distance to the east. I set up my tripod to capture the action.

The sun was still below the horizon, so it was long-exposure time! A 2.5 second exposure captured the gate coming down, the train in the loop track, and the green-over-red signal.
Dropping the gate
21 seconds later, here's the train smearing through the scene. See anything unusual about the signal?
Both the green and red are lit in the top signal! The long exposure captured both the green signal at the start of the photo and the red that came on after the locomotives passed the signal. By the way, the train had CN 2428 and CN 2153 leading, not that you can tell from the photo!

Once the train passed, I spent a few minutes photographing the train and elevator. The train was periodically inching forward to line up the next hatch under the spout. That must be a boring job!
CN 5730 and CN 5667 loading grain at Bloom


The ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator at Gregg
I arrived at the Gregg grain elevator after an hour of driving. The ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator looked pretty much the same as when I saw it in May 2014. The equipment off to the side has changed - upgrades, I guess!

I took some photos of the elevator, then wandered around Gregg, photographing the nearby Kerfoot Church, the old school and an old barn. You can see those photos in my guest post on Everybody Has To Be Somewhere - a great blog.

No trains were around, so I headed west along the grid roads toward Harte.

As I drove along, I encountered a north-south railway track.

Petrel Junction

Looking toward Petrel Junction
This was the first road crossing of the CN Carberry subdivision, which branches off from the Rivers subdivision at Petrel Junction. In the photo above, you can see the Rivers sub left-right across the horizon.

The Carberry subdivision runs from here south through its namesake town, Carberry. South of the town, it takes a hard right to head west past CFB Shilo into Brandon where it meets the Cromer subdivision. This branch line serves the McCain plant in Carberry, the extensive Canexus plant in Brandon, and the spur at CFB Shilo.

There's a little two track "yard" at Petrel just south of the road I was on. It's a pretty lonely place.

I kept driving west, and as I approached Harte, I saw an eastbound train! I found a north-south road and beat it up to a crossing to capture the approaching intermodal train.


Long train on the lonely prairie
There's something about seeing such a big, long train on the open prairie. Even a ten-thousand foot long train looks pretty small when there's nothing around but a few gravel roads, the occasional house, and a whole lot of emptiness.

Anyway. CN 3028 was the power on the head end of this train. I assumed there would be another locomotive farther back in the train to provide a little more motive power. I know CN is pretty stingy with locomotives, but it's a lot to ask one locomotive to pull a train like this!

Note the Harte grain elevator at the far left of the photo above.

My trusty vehicle, Railfan Two
My little 2014 Honda Civic has been on a lot of these grid roads. I bought it in February 2014. Later that summer, I said to my wife, only half-jokingly, that more than half of the first 5,000 km on the car was spent on gravel roads.

Soon the mid-train locomotive came into view. I was quite excited to see that it was not a normal CN locomotive.
Not a CN locomotive!
This was one of the recent batch of locomotives leased by CN. This one is CREX 1501, an ES44AC owned by Citicorp Railmark Inc. (Citirail). It's pretty new!
CREX 1501 rolling through the crossing


Harte grain elevator
After the train passed, I continued on to Harte. There is an ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator here, and a few houses just south of the tracks.

The shots above and below are from the (rare) overpass over the tracks. I am not sure why a middle-of-nowhere place like Harte warrants an overpass where other, more major roads like highway 5 have a grade crossing over the same railway line. It's a mystery.

Guess which track is the main line and which is the siding.
There was no sign of any more trains, and my time was running out, so I headed up to nearby Oberon to visit my favourite grain elevator before starting my trip back to Winnipeg.

I did see this neat old brick house in Harte itself. It looks like it is occupied and well maintained.


The Oberon grain elevator
Whenever I'm in the area, I always try to see Oberon. It's my favourite grain elevator in Manitoba.

I carried on down highway 5, and saw a train sitting down by the Gregg elevator... so, back to Gregg.

Gregg, Again

Cooling their heels in the siding at Gregg
CN 8830 West was sitting in the siding. "Death star" IC 1007 was the trailing unit. I like those black Illinois Central locomotives.
IC 1007 in the siding in Gregg
After about 15 minutes, another westbound train came rolling along on the main track. CN 5712 West rolled on past, pulling another couple of miles of containers, while the crew of 8830 were on the ground, giving it a careful rollby inspection.

Side by each
I didn't hang around to watch 8830 leave... time was running out for me.

I headed south on highway 5 to the Trans-Canada Highway, then east toward Winnipeg.

The CP line along the Trans-Canada is usually a disappointment... it sure was when I headed west earlier in the morning, but on the way back, it produced one train.

Near Austin

A really bad photo of CP 9772 West
Unfortunately, they were coming out of the mid-morning sun and I was on the wrong side of the tracks. I pulled over and grabbed a few shots, expecting them to be pretty awful. Look at that sky!

CP 9772 was the lead unit, with UP 7889 in second position and CP 8792 well back in the train. The going away shot was just as bad.

Oh well.

As I approached Winnipeg, I left the highway to travel along the road paralleling the CN main line from about mile 18 to mile 10 of the CN Rivers subdivision. One last chance to get more trains... and CN didn't disappoint.

Another Leaser

Wrapping around the curve
The Rivers sub is pretty straight, but there is a curve around mile 16 that is a favourite for railfans. I caught up to this eastbound and shot it coming around the bend. Cowl unit CN 2421 was leading, but what was that behind it?

GECX 9144 up close and personal
It was GECX 9144, an ex CSX Dash-8. Another leaser... and a lot older than the first one I saw that morning. It was originally built for Conrail as CR 6244 in June 1994. It became CSX 7379 and recently joined the GE rental fleet.

The train was plodding along, so I was able to get ahead of it for a few more shots... and a video.
Clearly ex CSX
Here's the video of the train pounding the diamond at CN Diamond.

That was the end of my railfanning... a great morning of trains and grain elevators.

Speaking of trains and grain elevators, Eric Gagnon's two new books are well under way. Follow their progress at

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Faces and Places Along the Railway

Faces and Places Along the Railway
I recently found Elizabeth A. Willmot's book Faces and Places along the Railway at a used book store here in Winnipeg. You can consider it a sequel to her better-known book, Meet Me at the Station, and continues the same theme of an affectionate look back at railways in Ontario during the steam age.

The book is copyright 1979, so it is a little out of date, but since she was writing about the early days of railways it doesn't matter a lot.

A little over half of the book is devoted to photos and stories about 17 railway towns or topics, from Amherstburg through Kingston and Owen Sound and featuring locations like the Hog Bay Trestle and the Brockville railway tunnel. Each town or topic gets at least one photo and a few pages of history and stories about the railways that went through the town and the people who worked on them.

The latter portion of the book is more photo-heavy, with photos of "Faces From the Steam Era" with short captions, and 12 railway stations in the "Meet Me at the Next Station" section with full page photos of each station and a one or two sentence caption for each.

I freely admit that I don't know much about railways in Ontario, so this book was a great introduction to towns I have never been to. It also helped draw together the little bits and pieces I have learned about Ontario's railway history into a more coherent story. I have been to Amherstburg, Ingersoll and Woodstock, but I still enjoyed seeing the photos of those stations from the 1970s.

All photographs are in black and white.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian railway history, and especially to those interested in Ontario's railway history in particular. It's an easy read.

Find Faces and Places along the Railway on, or on
Disclosure: If you buy the book using the Amazon links provided, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

See all my book reviews

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Sunrise and Sunset

For my last post in the "not just waffles and chocolate" series of Belgium train posts, I'm going to post some passenger train photos, in the order I took them.

February 13 - sunrise in Aalter
Here's a train at sunrise on the 13th. I'm fascinated by the electric overhead lines. Have a look at the little details as we go through these photos. Power wires, support wires, support poles, tensioners, weights... lots of little things.

February 15 - sunset in Aalter
A Desiro ML trainset at sunset in Aalter.

A Belgian signal light in Aalter
With a busy line like the Antwerp-Brussels line, you have to have signals to control traffic. Signals like this are everywhere.

I can't claim to understand Belgian signals after observing them for two weeks, but I can tell you that red means "no train coming" and green means "train imminent".

This page has a ridiculous amount of detail on Belgian train signals.

Note that in Belgium, trains normally go on the left track when there are two tracks.

February 15 - train in dying light
It was getting pretty dark but I managed to capture a Desiro ML train zooming into Aalter. There's a road bridge over the tracks down from the station, and I stood to the side to capture the train. I would have liked to have been right over the train, but there are walls on either side of the overpass preventing any view of the tracks. I imagine that's to prevent any debris - intentional or otherwise - from falling onto the tracks, but it also prevents photography!

February 16 - VIJF VAKKEN
"Vijf Vakken" translates to "five boxes" or "five pockets". I think it means there are 5 parking spaces at this location, which I confirmed by using Google Street View.

February 16 - blue skies
Literally one minute later, the Desiro left and this train was still waiting at another platform. You'll notice there are a lot of tracks here - maybe six - with four of them at platforms. The outer two seem to be used for through trains that don't stop.

February 17 - on board
On board a train on February 17. I think this was a Desiro ML trainset but I'm not sure. This was early on Saturday as I took the train to Brussels to meet my wife at the airport.

February 18 - TGV!
I caught a French TGV train out the window as we rolled past at sunset. This must have been Ghent.

February 19 - Passing by
A Desiro ML trainset comes rolling into Aalter as a double-decker train waits on the adjacent track.

February 19 - switches in Aalter
These are a bit of a mystery to me. These rotary switches are located on a post or wall on every train platform, as far as I can see.

Here's the sequence that I observed whenever a train was readying to depart.

  1. All of the onboard train crew blow their whistles.
  2. They look up and down the train to confirm nobody is trying to get on or off.
  3. All but one person gets on the train.
  4. The last person walks over to these switches and turns one.
  5. They get onboard, press a button on the train, and the train departs.
My guess is that this is a request to depart the station, or a signal to the traffic controller that they are departing. It doesn't change the signal being displayed - it was already green before they turn it.

February 20 - 137 km/hr
We were rolling along at 137 km/hr when we were heading into Brussels for some night photography.

February 21 - Sunrise in Ghent
By this time, I was staying in Ghent and commuting to Aalter by train. I was waiting for my train when I photographed this Desiro ML trainset. I like that clock tower, part of the Gent-St-Pieters station.

February 21 - there's my train!
Turning the other way, here's my 07:46 train coming out of the sunrise. I was taking L578 toward Zeebrugge-Dorp. Train L578 starts in Mechelen, north of Belgium.

30 minutes later, I was in Aalter taking this photo.

February 21 - Sunset in Aalter
It was a nice morning for train photography, apparently!

February 23 - Onboard display
Here's the onboard display in the Desiro ML train, L578. It was 07:47 so it was just about to depart, ready to roll to Aalter. Note that I was in 2nd class!

February 23 - 1867 in Aalter
Some sweet sunset light on the nose of 1867, a EuroSprinter ES60U3.

Finally, here's my last train photo in Belgium, our train from Gent-St.-Pieters to the airport.
February 24 - last train
Thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed this series featuring trains in Belgium.

See Also

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Freight and Trams - and Cookies

For this post in my Belgium train series (part 1), I will feature freight trains and trams. I was hoping to wrap this series up in one post, but there are too many photos that I want to share, so I'm splitting it up.

Freight Trains

Train? What train?
There are certainly more passenger trains than freight trains in Belgium, at least on the lines I saw. The freight trains run on the same tracks as the passenger trains, but far less frequently.

I noted three major types of freight being carried:
  • Containers
  • Automobiles
  • Tank cars
Little trucks by rail in Belgium
Freight services are provided by private companies. The locomotive below is owned by Rhenus Logistics, a very large multinational company. This particular locomotive is a Bombardier TRAXX MS, one of three purchased for cross-border electric operation.
Rhenus Logistics locomotive
The container train was a relatively short single-stack train. I think it had about 20 platforms. Notice that the car on the right is at least two platforms long, as the truck (wheels) is shared between the two platforms. We have similar cars in North America, and they are called "3 packs" or "5 packs".
GTS containers in Aalter, Belgium
I think it's pretty safe to say that Europe does not have any double-stack (one container on top of the other) trains due to tunnels, overpasses and other limits to how high a train can be.

Here's a train I spotted in Ghent while rolling by.
Europorte 4001 in Ghent
Europorte 4001 is a diesel-electric locomotive, a Stadler (or Vosslo) EURO 4000 model. These six-axle locomotives are relatively new, with the first of the series built in 2006. They have an EMD 710 diesel under the (rigid) hood and are used in freight service. Note the dual cabs so the crew is always facing the direction of travel.

European tank cars are interesting to me as they seem to lack the top valving and safety cage that North American tank cars have.

Ghent has a maintenance-of-way depot which featured a few interesting pieces of rolling stock. It took me a few days to capture a decent photo of it with my phone.
Check out that boxcar!
I liked that outside-braced boxcar very much. European railways "sweat the assets" too, it seems.


Tram in Ghent, Belgium
Ghent and Brussels both had sizable fleets of trams, or streetcars if you prefer. These modern trams travel over three different lines in the city. We took trams 1 and 4 between the train station area (where our bed and breakfast was) and the touristy Korenmarkt area.

I think these are Bombardier Flexity trams but I'm not 100% sure.

The trams are really nice inside - brightly lit, spacious with lots of handholds. There are not as many seats as you would think there would be, but I guess the total capacity is higher if you force more people to stand. I noted in the mornings that these trams were pretty full.
Inside a tram
It's amazing what curves and tight spaces these trams can get through. We walked down some pretty narrow streets in Ghent and they had tram tracks running through the street.
Two trams
Thank goodness for sidewalks.

Unfortunately for us, they closed one tram route after we had taken the tram to the Korenmarkt area for some delicious fondue. We had purchased our return ticket and stood waiting at the tram stop for close to an hour before someone walked by and told us that they saw some work being done on the tram line.

We were a good 20 minutes' walk from our hotel, but it was a nice night so we decided to walk back. On our way, we passed the work area and saw a crew doing some track work.
I've been working on the.. tram line.. all the live long.. night..
While in the Korenmarkt area, I amused myself by taking some long exposure photos... some of which included trams.
Trams by night in Ghent
The driver of the stationary tram saw me with my camera and tripod and did a little dance for the camera. :)

I already posted some tram photos from Brussels in part 1 and part 2 of this series.

Station-Ary Photos

Ceiling in the Gent-St-Pieters station
The Ghent train station (Gent-St-Pieters) has a lovely ceiling in the main station area. I shared an external photo of the station in my last post.
Departures board at the Ghent train station
The Brugges train station (Gare de Bruges) is, quite frankly, ugly. It was built in 1939 and is an uninspiring yellow brick station. I couldn't bring myself to take an external photo of it, but I did like some of the art inside the station.
Art inside the Brugges train station

Moving On

Track 6 in Aalter, Belgium
In my next post, I will finally wrap up the Belgium series with some sunrise / sunset photos of trains in Belgium. Soon!

PS one Belgian delicacy I really enjoyed was speculoos cookies.
Speculoos cookies
These sweet biscuits are common in the northern area of Belgium and our company provided them in the cafeteria. I ate a lot of them... those and the pastries might account for the five pounds I gained in Belgium (sigh).