Tuesday, September 26, 2006

NB Southern excursion train this Friday

NB Southern is running another passenger excursion from McAdam to St. Stephen this Friday, September 29. It will leave McAdam at 11 AM and arrive in St. Stephen by 2 PM. It will leave at 2:30 and arrive back in McAdam by 5 PM. This excursion is the annual UNICEF run and two-way tickets are $45 (one-way $25). Contact Bill Young in St. Stephen at (506)466-4557 or swcon@nbnet.nb.ca.

NB Southern business train, Bayshore, 2005/06/04

I'll make a guess at the power and say they will use the newly-repainted 2318 like the excursion train I saw last Saturday.

I'd love to go shoot this train, as I've never railfanned the St. Stephen subdivision, but I have work commitments. The UNICEF run was October 2 last year and of course I was busy then too. If anyone takes any shots I'd love to see them!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Saint John Railfanning, 2006/09/23

Today my family and I went to Saint John to see the model train show and do some shopping. The show was in Millidgeville so I decided to cross Reversing Falls and head up Adelaide Drive. As we drove along Chesley Drive, I glanced up Bentley Street only to see the crossing lights flashing and NB Southern van 422990 enter the crossing. That can mean only one thing - a passenger excursion! I beat it to Harbour Station by a less-than-optimal route, but I still got there just ahead of the train at 11:05. I took some quick shots before we headed off to the train show.

The consist was 2318, 5471, 5448, 5537, 422990.

These kids were happy to have their picture taken.

After the show, we ran down Rothesay Avenue to McAllister Drive. Along the way I saw CN 5706, 5303 and another unit (24xx?) at rest in the Island Yard and CN 7010 by itself down by Tim Horton's at 12:15. Lunch time!

Around 14:45 I was out to the van in the mall parking lot and I saw a bunch of tank cars rolling by in the distance. I assume CN 305 was heading out to Moncton.

We headed home later in the afternoon. I decided to take the Grand Bay-Westfield route in the hopes of catching the NB Southern eastbound freight. It was raining fairly hard when I heard the beep of the EOT device on the scanner at the Epworth Park Road. I turned around quickly and parked by the crossing. Within two minutes the eastbound rumbled into view at 16:35.

The consist was 9801, 2319, 2317, 9802 and 59 cars.

Notice 2319 has the Sunbury logo and 2317 does not.

There were a couple of covered hoppers, a few tank cars and quite a few boxcars on the head end, with about six or seven loaded NBSR chip cars and about a dozen empty NBSR log cars trailing. There were no autoracks nor any intermodal equipment.

I used my new camera to shoot the train and I was pretty pleased. I had it on continuous shooting and it performed well, except I need to remember to pan with the train to keep the focus. Still, it performed well in the dark rainy day.

Taking The Plunge

I took the plunge today and bought a Canon S3 IS camera. After all the talk about digital SLRs, I decided to get a camera with an integrated lens instead.

First impressions... the S3 comes in a nice-looking box, and everything is packed well. The box includes the camera, strap, instruction manuals, USB and A/V cables, four cheap batteries, and a 16 MB SD card. There are five (5!) books in total, with French and English versions of the camera user guide, two versions of the software user guide, and a Direct Print user guide.

The neck strap is adjustable, which is nice but means it takes a bit longer to attach. The lens cap comes with a strap to attach to the neck strap. I like that - less chance of losing the cap. The cap itself doesn't seem to "grab" the lens very well and I have the feeling it might pop off by itself. We'll see if that becomes a problem.

The "Before Using the Camera" guide tends to jump around a bit. They tell you to attach the strap and the lens cap, then jump right into setting the time and so forth without mentioning that it might be a good idea to put batteries in. I'm smart enough to figure that out (barely?) but I think a step-by-step guide would be better.

I quickly discovered that if you turn it on with the lens cap on, it knocks the cap off. I like that a lot. I can't count the number of times I've turned my video camera on, then looked through the viewfinder only to see complete darkness. Maybe that's why the lens cap doesn't grab on very hard.

When you first turn the camera on it wants you to set a date and time. This is quickly done and then you're ready to shoot. Of course, it wanted a memory card so I put the 1 GB SD card I purchased in the camera.

More to come!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Several tons of railway paperwork for sale

Want to buy some railway plans and deeds? Yes? How about 9700 of them on eBay?

At a minimum bid of $100,000, they can be yours! Just bring a cube van and a strong back to carry them home. Oh, and a wad of cash. Thankfully the HST is included in the bid amount.

Seriously, the items look very interesting to a railway paper collector like me, but I can't see how the seller expects someone to buy it as one lot. I would gladly spend $15-20 for one plan, but 254 plans in one lot? I think not.

It'll be interesting to see if anyone bids at all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More detail on new NB Southern units

As reported earlier, NB Southern will be receiving two GP38-3 locomotives from CRANDIC, aka the Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railroad. These units are rebuilt GP35 units just like NB Southern's 9801, 9802 and 9803. The CRANDIC units are painted in a gray and yellow scheme reminiscent of Union Pacific's colours, and are numbered 110-112 or 114. At this time I don't know which particular units will be shipped to NBSR.

Here are some photos: 114 and sisters (RailroadForums), 112 (RailPictures).

Incidentally, CRANDIC is selling a cab ride on eBay as part of a fundraiser for the United Way of East Central Iowa. Currently it is selling for US $521.11 and closes on Sunday September 24. That's an innovative fundraiser!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NBEC this afternoon

I went up to Miramichi for the Miramichi Model Train Show, and on the way there I heard NBEC 403 preparing to leave Miramichi for Campbellton. I rushed to the yard only to see the power disappearing in the distance at 14:43. Train 403 had CFMG 6902, 6910, 6908, and 6907 leading 24 loads and 36 empties, including the 17-car Ultramar Tank Train set at the rear. 6907 is going to Campbellton for servicing overnight and returning tomorrow.

After the show, I returned to the yard to try to find the yard power. They were nowhere to be seen. I heard them on the scanner shunting, but after checking the lower yard, UPM, and finally the port, I figured they must have headed over to the other side of the river. Then I heard them call a foreman to tell them they were tying up and going off shift, so I figured they must have returned to the yard. They had.

NBEC 1856 and 1816 were parking by the depot when I arrived. I spoke with the very friendly engineer and he told me NBEC is purchasing 6 new 3500HP units, possibly as a replacement for the SD40 units they have. I'd like to see that!

Notice the shiny new front end on 1856. It was involved in a grade crossing accident near Noel, Quebec on July 14. It has also received the SmartStart upgrade so there are some new stickers on the hood and the handrails and roof have been repainted.

Contrast that with good old 1816.

"New" NB Southern units

NB Southern will be receiving two used GP38 units in a couple of months to bolster their roster. They are coming from CRANDIC and I have to assume they are the two GP38-3 units advertised for sale. Those are ex-UP GP35s converted to GP38-3, just like the 980x units NB Southern already has.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

More derailment photos

Dwayne Porter very kindly sent along some photos of CN rerailing CN 2641 at the entrance to the Courtenay Bay potash terminal. I blogged about this yesterday. Dwayne took the photos with a camera phone so the quality is not the best.

Here's CN 2641 with its rear truck off the track. You can see the Courtenay Bay power plant's three stacks in the background as well as a few Irving transfer tanks (not the refinery).

The "big hook" CN 70634 is positioned behind the engine.

The crane is now doing its lift to reposition the end of CN 2641.

Thanks again, Dwayne. Check out his impressive model railroad!

Friday, September 08, 2006

CN derailment in Saint John

I'm a little late with this one, but better late than never. As reported in RailsNB CN train 306 suffered a small derailment in Saint John early in the morning of September 5 at the entrance to the Courtenay Bay potash terminal. Apparently one of the engines picked the point of the switch and at least the two lead engines (Dash-9 units 2641 and 2624) went "on the ground". There is some confusion as to whether the third engine (SD75 5683) derailed or not. 5683 eventually left Saint John with 64 cars at 14:00 for Moncton, arriving at 16:50.

Several pieces of track equipment were sent from Gordon Yard in Moncton in the morning of September 5 to help fix the track.
CN Track Repair in Saint John. Photo by Ron Grant
Thanks to Ron Grant for the photos.
CN Track Repair in Saint John. Photo by Ron Grant

At 16:30 CN hi rail crane 70634 was working on the remaining two engines to rerail them and by 20:00 only one engine was still derailed. It was put back on the tracks on Wednesday the 6th. Track work continued on the 6th and was completed on the 7th. The "big hook" went back to Moncton Wednesday afternoon.

CN 306 brings loaded potash cars from Penobsquis to the potash terminal early in the morning. The power from CN 305 often runs light to the potash terminal to pick up the empties in the afternoon before assembling its train for departure to Moncton. More about 305 and 306

Chop goes the Geep

NB Southern 3701 has been in the shop for a while, getting some work done. I was told it would emerge looking quite different, and it sure does!

NBSR 3701 chop nose

NBSR 3701 chop nose

Thanks to Dwayne Porter for giving permission for these photos to be posted, and to Steve O'Brien for passing them along. 3701 isn't finished yet. For one thing, you can see it still needs some number boards, safety stripes and so forth.

In case you're wondering what it used to look like, here it was on June 4, 2005 with the high nose.

NBSR 9803 threw a couple of pistons through the side of the block on August 21, so it will be getting 3700's engine and 3700 will be scrapped.

There's one more bit of NB Southern news... but it will have to wait a bit.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Videos versus photographs

Regular readers of this blog will note I usually shoot video instead of stills. If I can I will set the video camera on a tripod and shoot stills as the train goes by, but I shoot video when I have to make the choice. I generally prefer video because I like the action, and most people in the area shoot stills so I want to do something different. The skeptic would say that I don't shoot stills much because I'm not very good at it.

Be that as it may, I recently spent a few days shooting only stills. It allowed me to reflect on the different choices one makes when shooting stills versus video. I thought I would share some with you. I've omitted the classic things you should consider when taking pictures, like lighting and composition, because they are important no matter how you're taking the picture.

Things More Important For Stills
I think location is more important for still photography than for video. You get one chance to get the shot, one chance to make an impact in a single frame. The drama, excitement, or whatever you are trying to capture can only be conveyed with that single shot.

A friend of mine who shoots only passenger trains looks for locations where he can shoot the entire train in one frame. With video I can let the train roll through the frame so you'll get the entire train if you wait long enough. Creative use of zooms or pans can also add excitement to a video, though I recommend they be used sparingly. Too much of the zoom-and-pan can lead to seasick viewers!

Timing is critical for stills. You can compose the frame perfectly, but if your timing is off when the train arrives the shot is sub-standard at best. This is my major frustration with shooting with my el cheapo digital camera - I can't predict exactly when it will record the photo. Often I end up with the train a little forward or back of where I really wanted it to be.

Things More Important For Video
Background noise is something that still photographers never seem to think about. When train chasing, we often jump out of our cars and shoot from a road, sidewalk, or other very public place. The videographer has to be aware of what kind of background noise is around, be it cars, people, wind, or barking dogs.

Wind is definitely a problem at times. Some good video I've shot has been ruined by the constant pfssssshhhh of a strong wind blowing by the microphone. I try to minimize it by putting my thumb over the microphone, and you can make some attempt to minimize it when editing the video, but all of these also lose the sound of the train itself.

Focus can sometimes be a challenge for video when the camera is left on autofocus. My camera (Sony DCR-TRV25) will sometimes "hunt" when taping a train, especially in lower light conditions. There's not much worse than watching a clip where the focus goes in and out. For some reason VIA's Renaissance cars really confuse the autofocus sensor and it can't maintain the focus. If I remember and I have time, I will focus on a spot on the track and then set the camera to manual focus. This works as long as you are not panning or zooming. In those cases you have to take your chances.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. I like shooting video, but stills are great too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Permission to copy? NO.

I've been told that someone is reposting my photos on a couple of Yahoo! groups without my permission. I do not grant permission to do this. If you want to refer to one or more of my photos from this blog, please post the URL of my blog post and do not copy the photo itself. Thanks!

ATVs and Trains Do Not Mix

While at McAdam yesterday, I witnessed a near miss between an ATV and a train car. Here it is, on video.

The ATV driver had driven across one crossing around the end of a freight car, only to find the second crossing blocked by an engine. So he sat there, unaware that a three-engine set was about to couple up to the freight car he just passed (and was uncomfortably close to).

I was too far away to warn him, and I couldn't yell at him because he wouldn't have heard anyway with his helmet on, and the ATV and engine both idling away. I'm glad noone was injured and I hope he learned a bit of a lesson.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NB Southern in McAdam

My kids and I went to McAdam today to see what we could see. My wife thought me brave (or crazy) to take all three kids, especially the 4-month-old. Hey, I have to start him on the train brainwashing experience early. We arrived in McAdam just after 12 noon. NB Southern 9801 was on the wye with CRGX 4928 tacked on the end.

9801 was emitting a ticking noise, which I assumed was related to the SmartStart unit it is equipped with.

After taking a few snaps, we headed over to the take-out joint to get some fried goodness. The two older kids played in the playground and Jamie and I sat on the bench and listened to the scanner for any activity. Midway through lunch the scanner came alive and it appeared that someone was starting 9801 up. We finished up and headed to the yard just after 13:00.

NBSR 9801 was shunting some empty centerbeam flats around. I spoke with the brakeman, Scott, and he said the eastbound freight should be in just before 2 PM. Scott and the engineer, Trent, were both from Saint John and would be taking the freight to Saint John once the American crew delivered it to McAdam. The Americans usually deadhead back to Maine in a van and return in the morning, while the Saint John crew overnights at the bunkhouse across the pond from the station.

I set up the tripod west of the station between the station and the old telecommunications building. I thought I would shoot with the flower garden and the sprinkler in the foreground for variety. NBSR 2318 East rolled past me at 13:55. The consist was 2318 in the new paint (yay), yellow 2319 and faded green 9802 with 80 cars.

The train had 10 loads and 70 empties, 4062 tons and was 5450 feet long. While it rolled by on the north side of the station, 9801 was still doing a bit of shunting on the south side. I soon learned that 9801 would be going back to Saint John today with the freight. The three units cut off a number of cars and left them on the main line, then switched over to the south side of the station (after 9801 moved back up the wye) and began drilling the yard. They first hooked on to a couple of covered hoppers and the St. Stephen caboose 434919, then did some setouts.

Finally, they switched back to the main and 9801 rolled out again. They cut off all the cars and 9801 was moved in behind the other three units at 14:45.

They did their crew change right there, a little bit east of the station. I took the opportunity to take some detailed shots of 2318's new paint job before they headed out.

Notice how 2318 has number boards on the rear and the 980x units just have the numbers painted on. I think the boards are easier to read.

They started rolling at 14:55 and were clear of the highway crossing at 15:00 with 59 cars in tow. While they were rolling, I loaded the van with kids. That's time-consuming! Note they arrived with 80 cars and left with 59, after picking up 2 St. Stephen cars. That's a setout of 23 cars, assuming they didn't pick up others I didn't see.

I'm told NB Southern is storing a bunch of TTZX centerbeam flats at McAdam and I did see a lot of them around. The rest of the setouts must be for the St. Stephen sub.

I drove down to Harvey, easily beating them there without exceeding speed limits. I thought about shooting by the depot but I settled on a spot partway down the siding. I thought it would provide a more side-angle shot and also keep the horn noise from bothering the kids.

NBSR 2318 East blasted through at 15:30 exactly. Trent gave me a little toot on the horn as they rolled by.

Four autoracks, a solitary doublestack car, and two loaded NB Southern log cars were on the tail end. That's my son Nick watching the train go by.

I'm glad I got to see 2318's new paint job. For more pictures of 2318's new look, please visit my web site.

A shot of 2318... finally!

I was in McAdam today (more details later) and saw NB Southern 2318 leading the eastbound freight. Here's a teaser photo of it...
NBSR 2318 in McAdam

Friday, September 01, 2006

The end of TOFC on NB Southern

I should have mentioned this earlier.. NB Southern Railway ceased to run truck trailers on flat cars (TOFC) about 3 weeks ago. I'm told the last of the flatcars made their run (empty) back to Saint John yesterday and will be sold off. The service was apparently unprofitable, especially due to the byzantine Customs regulations on the U.S. side. It's a shame. When they were first introduced in late 2003 a separate TOFC-only train was run. That was terminated in 2005 and the TOFC were tacked onto the end of the regular trains. It was not uncommon to see 15-20 trailers per train at the peak.


On a related note, I believe I posted earlier that NB Southern 2317 and 2319 (the two yellow units) will be repainted to green. I'm told the Sunbury logos have been removed from at least one of them. Here's where they were.

There was a rumour that the units had been "returned" to NB Southern from Sunbury. In truth they were always owned by Eastern Maine Railroad, a subsidiary of NB Southern.