Monday, May 31, 2010

Parrish and Heimbecker

Parrish & Heimbecker Elevator in Moose Jaw, SK
I was in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan recently and I couldn't help but notice Parrish & Heimbecker's massive elevator in downtown Moose Jaw. I like grain elevators, but this massive concrete structure is not exactly a thing of beauty!
Parrish and Heimbecker Elevator in Moose Jaw, SK
P&H is celebrating its 101st year of operation as a private, family-owned business. They have about 40 locations featuring elevators, sidings, and terminals.

What really caught my eye was P&H's switcher, #8454. This is a loco with a story! It was built by MLW as an S-3 as CN 8454 in January 1952. It was eventually sold to Manitoba Paper in April 1963, then it went to Pine Falls Paper, then to Railside Locomotive Services. RLS leased it to the Prairie Dog Central when the steam engine died. In August 2005 it went to P&H.
Parrish and Heimbecker 8454 in Moose Jaw, SK
Pretty, isn't it? There are lots of photos of this unit on the web.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Waiting Game

I've taken the plunge. I cashed in some Air Miles and now I'm waiting for this baby to arrive.

I can't wait.

This Day, 24 Years Ago

CN 1771 in Halifax. Slide by Walter Matuch
Another blast from the past... CN RSC-14 1771 in Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 30, 1976. Walter Matuch took this lovely slide. I'm not really sure where it was shot in Halifax.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Day, 19 Years Ago

CN 1761 in Halifax. Slide by Douglas Courtney
Douglas Courtney took this nice shot of grubby CN RSC-14 1761 in Halifax on May 29, 1991. By the sand tower in the background, this was taken in Fairview Yard.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Chaleur Turning (Again)

VIA's Chaleur and a bus, in New Carlisle
The Chaleur meeting a bus at New Carlisle, a familiar sight to travelers. May 30, 2009

There is a travel advisory on VIA's web site about the Chaleur:

Train 16 – May 27, 2010 - Due to operational issues, train 16 will terminate in New Carlisle for the next 2 weeks. VIA will provide bus service between New Carlisle and Gaspé. This message will be updated once normal operations have resumed.

Train 17 - May 27, 2010 - Due to operational issues, VIA will provide bus service between Gaspé and New Carlisle for the next two weeks. Regular train service will be provided from New Carlisle to Montréal. This message will be updated once normal operations have resumed.

The CN TEST train ran up the Gaspé line recently, and likely created so many slow orders that it is impossible to get the Chaleur to Gaspé and back in time.

In other news, the diner will be back on the Chaleur starting June 6. Check the menu out.

Of course VIA is still calling the Chaleur the "Montréal-Gaspé train". Maybe they should call it the "Montréal-New Carlisle train, occasionally traveling to Gaspé".

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today's Canadian and BNSF Transfer

VIA 6456 and the Canadian
I shot the Canadian for the first time in a while. As you can see, it has grown to a respectable size.

Right after VIA passed, the BNSF transfer train pushed out of their yard onto the CN main line to proceed to Fort Rouge. As you can see, the ditch lights were not on.
BNSF 3028 transfer train in Winnipeg

Dead Line

CN M420 Scrap Line in Moncton. Slide by WA Gleason.
This is a sad sight. W.A. Gleason caught this scene on slide on August 12, 1997 in Moncton. A dead line of MLW M420 units. I count 6 or 7 units, all apparently missing their prime movers. The closest ones were CN 3527, 3520 and 3525. My 1997 Trackside Guide says those three units were retired in 1996.

CN's M-420s were built by MLW between 1973 and 1976. CN had 80 of them at one point. The units were originally numbered in the 2500 series, but in 1986-7 their sand and fuel capacity were reduced to bring their weight down by 12,000 lbs. and they were renumbered to the 3500 series. In late 1994 some were renumbered back to the 2500 series and the reductions were reversed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What's a Train?

CN 2282 at Diamond, MB
What is a train? It seems like a simple question, but in the context of the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, it is a little more complicated than you might think.

The definition of TRAIN in the March 19, 2008 CROR is:

A train:
(a) is an engine which is intended to operate at speeds greater than 15 MPH;
(i) without cars; or
(ii) with cars and equipped with a TIBS or remote control locomotive at the rear; or
(iii) with cars including a caboose occupied by a crew member; or
(iv) with cars in passenger service,
(b) is a track unit when so designated.

You also need the definitions of ENGINE, TRACK UNIT, and TIBS.

ENGINE: A locomotive(s) operated from a single control or a cab control car, used in train, transfer or yard service.
TRACK UNIT (TU): A vehicle or machine capable of on-track operation utilized for track inspection, track work and other railway activities when on a track.
TRAIN INFORMATION BRAKING SYSTEM (TIBS): A system with rear and front of train radio communication components capable of: 1. monitoring and displaying brake pipe pressure on the rear car; 2. calculating and displaying distance measurement;3. initiating an emergency brake application at the rear of the train from the head end; and will be equipped with a red light and/or red reflectorized plaque at the rear of the train.

First off, a train has to have an engine or a track unit. A stand of cars by themselves is not a train.

Note the requirement that the engine has to be intended to operate at speeds greater than 15 MPH. A "yard transfer" can operate on main track but not exceeding 15 MPH.
TRANSFER: An engine with or without cars operating on main track at speeds not exceeding 15 MPH and need not be TIBS equipped.
CN 7251 and slug 275 in Winnipeg
OK, so a train has to have an engine intended to operate at greater than 15 MPH. It can have: (i) no cars; (ii) cars with a TIBS or loco on the end; (iii) cars and occupied caboose; or (iv) passenger cars.

Some examples:
- intermodal freight with engines at head end, TIBS on tail end: TRAIN
- VIA's Canadian with engines and passenger cars: TRAIN
- GP9 and slug with cars, remotely controlled: TRANSFER
- engines running light: could be either TRAIN or TRANSFER, depending on intended speed

The CROR lump all types into a movement.
MOVEMENT(S): The term used in these rules to indicate that the rule is applicable to trains, transfers or engines in yard service.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because some rules apply to movements and some just apply to trains.

For example, I have always wondered why BNSF never uses the ditch lights when going between their yard in Winnipeg and CN's Fort Rouge yard.
BNSF 2001 in Winnipeg, Oct 15 2009
The CROR specifies in rule 19 that "A train must have ditch lights displayed continuously in the direction of travel when the headlight is required to be displayed full power." (emphasis mine)

The answer is there. The BNSF job is a transfer, not a train, so it is not required to use ditch lights. Rule 17 says it must use headlights, and that is why you will see the single headlight on but not the ditch lights.

In most cases, the CROR uses the language "train or transfer" to cover both types, but you need a sharp eye to note the exceptions.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday's CEMR at Oak Bluff

CEMR 4000 and 4002 switching at Oak Bluff outside Winnipeg
I happened to see the Central Manitoba Railway (CEMR) switching at Oak Bluff just south of Winnipeg on the Carman subdivision.

A pair of ex CN GP9s, CEMR 4000 and 4002, were shunting a few cars at the lumber yard, while the rest of their train waited just north of the Perimeter Highway.
CEMR 4000 and 4002

There's a lumber dealer there that receives centerbeam flatcars, and a fertilizer? dealer that gets hopper cars. Sometimes the siding is used for storage.

See Also

BNSF 1685 to Return to Winnipeg

BNSF 1685 in Winnipeg, 2004/12/28
BNSF 1685, long-time resident of Winnipeg, will be returning to her old stomping grounds in July 2010. BNSF informed the Prairie Dog Central tourist railway that they will be donating the retired GP9 engine.

BNSF 1685 was built for the Midland Railway of Manitoba as #2, and served the city for many years in that capacity, and later as BNSF 1685 before being retired.

This is great news for the PDC and for Winnipeg. The orange unit was a familiar sight in Winnipeg and it is good that it is coming home.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Shogomoc Historical Railway Site Opening

Bristol (Shogomoc) railway cars
The Shogomoc Historical Railway Site opens for the season on Tuesday, June 1. Come see the restored 1914 CPR railway station, their railway cars, gift shop, and park.

I visited the site in August 2007. A lot has been done since then!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

OCS Clearances, Round 2

This is a followup to my entry about OCS clearances. I want to talk about proceed vs. work clearances, and rule 104.

The original, sample clearance was: "Item 1. OCS clearance #1234 to train CN 532, engine 2238. Item 5, proceed from Sparks to Andrews. Item 7, protect against Foreman Smith between Sparks and Andrews. Item 12, complete at 1225 RTC JBM."

Proceed versus Work Clearances
One point I made was that this is a "proceed" clearance, meaning the train* can only go in the direction indicated and cannot back up without getting a new clearance. A "work" clearance allows unlimited backup moves. Why wouldn't the RTC issue work clearances for every train?

Simply put, a work clearance gives the entire section of track to the train until the train crew releases it. This is fine if that train is the only one due to run on that section of track, but if someone else (another train, a maintainer, etc.) wants to use that section of track, they have to get permission from the first train.

Using a proceed clearance means the track behind the train is released as the train moves. If another train wants to follow the first train, all the RTC has to do is call the first train, find where their tail end is, then give a clearance to the second train up to the current position of the first train. As the second train approaches the end of its authority, it can call the RTC and repeat the whole process. This keeps more trains moving.

Rule 104
If you read the OCS clearance form, you may have noticed items 8 and 9.

Item 8: Rule 104(b) WARNING - You may encounter the following switch(es) lined and locked in the reverse position:

Item 9: Rule 104(b) PERMISSION - The following switch(es) may be left lined and locked in the reverse position:

I'm not sure why it says 104(b), because the CROR shows it as rule 104(i). It starts with "A main track switch may be left in the reverse position when;..." and has a list of conditions where it may be left in a reverse position.

Imagine you are the crew of a long, heavy freight train, say a loaded ore train leaving the Nepisiguit Subdivision near Bathurst, NB. You approach the switch at the east leg of the wye at Nepisiguit Junction and stop. The conductor dismounts and lines and locks the switch in the reverse position, allowing your train to proceed onto the mainline.

Without this rule, the conductor would have to wait until the train passed and stopped on the main line, then line and lock the switch in the normal position and walk the length of the train to the head end. Remember, they couldn't back the train up to pick up the conductor because they wouldn't have a clearance past the switch's mileage.

To save time, they are permitted to leave the switch in the reverse position. The next train to be given authority to pass that switch will have a note in their clearance that the switch may be reversed.
NBEC 1868 and the empty ore train on the Nepisiguit Subdivision
NBEC 1868 and the empty ore train are on the Nepisiguit Subdivision, having just left the main line

This was very common at Nepisiguit Junction, and likely still is. The empty train coming onto the Nepisiguit sub would put the switch in the reverse position and leave it reversed while the train went to Brunswick Mines, loaded up, and came back to the mainline. Because it was still reversed (assuming no other train went by in the meantime), the loaded train could roll right through without stopping. The next mainline train would stop and reline the switch before proceeding.
VIA 6414 at Nepisiguit Junction
VIA 15 at Nepisiguit Junction, stopping to reline the switch.

The CROR are full of rules like this, used to protect the trains and also to help traffic flow easily and safely.

* I say "train", but strictly speaking I should say "movement" to be more general. What's the difference? Wait and see. :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

OCS Clearances

If you have a scanner, you may have heard the RTC (Rail Traffic Controller) give an "OCS Clearance" to a train. It might sound something like this:

"Item 1. OCS clearance #1234 to train CN 532, engine 2238. Item 5, proceed from Sparks to Andrews. Item 7, protect against Foreman Smith between Sparks and Andrews. Item 12, complete at 1225 RTC JBM."

What does all that mean?

First of all, OCS stands for Occupancy Control System in Canada. This is what is known as "dark territory" where there are no signals to govern train movement. All movements must be authorized by the dispatcher / RTC. This OCS clearance is the authorization for train 532 to occupy track on the Letellier subdivision.

You can read about OCS in the Canadian Railway Operating Rules, specifically the 300 series of rules.

In order to interpret the OCS clearance, you need to have a copy of CN's OCS clearance form (to know what the items mean) and a copy of the timetable for the appropriate subdivision (to know where the locations are).

Here's a blank OCS clearance form.
CN OCS clearance form

Here is the CN Letellier subdivision, from the August 1 2009 timetable.
CN Letellier Subdivision
OK, now we'll go through each item.
"Item 1. OCS clearance #1234 to train CN 532, engine 2238."
This is pretty straightforward. It identifies the clearance number for reference, and most importantly identifies what movement will own the clearance.

"Item 5, proceed from Sparks to Andrews."
There are three key items here. The two obvious ones are the bounds of authority, the timetable locations Sparks (mile 3.0) and Andrews (mile 36.2). There are no sidings listed on the Letellier subdivision, so the limits are the station boards at those two locations. If there were sidings, the limits would be just outside the fouling limits of the sidings (CROR rule 304.1).

The third key item is the word "proceed". This means that the train must go in the direction specified, and cannot back up without getting a new clearance. There are very limited exceptions, specified in CROR rule 308.1.

The RTC could have said "Item 6, work between Sparks and Andrews" instead and that would authorize as many backup moves as the train crew wished.

"Item 7, protect against Foreman Smith between Sparks and Andrews."
This tells the train crew that Foreman Smith is somewhere out there, and it is the train crew's responsibility to contact Foreman Smith and get permission to pass through. Foreman Smith may not even be aware of the train until s/he gets contacted.

"Item 12, complete at 1225 RTC JBM."
This shows the OCS clearance is complete and there are no further items.

Once the crew writes all of this down, they repeat it back to the RTC to confirm that they received it correctly. The OCS clearance does not go into effect until the train crew repeats the entire clearance including the last line.

That's enough for now. There are a lot of interesting variations possible but this gives the gist of the OCS clearance system.

EDIT: Added timetable page for CN Letellier subdivision.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Canadian Pacific Railway derailed a train near Carstairs, Alberta last Wednesday, May 12. Here are some photos. (news: CTV Calgary, Global TV, CBC) The same photos are also in a Flickr gallery.

CP 9771 and CEFX 1043 were the power at the head end of the container train.

That followed CP's derailment last Tuesday outside Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Bad week for the CPR!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Idiot Railfans

Check this video out from England.

Now, which one was more stupid:
1. First guy putting his tripod on the rails? or
2. Second guy too close to the tracks, with his back to the 2nd train? or
3. Guy who said "yoo hoo" to warn of the oncoming train?
Nobody really comes off too well in this video.

Keep safe out there. Your safety is worth more than "getting the shot".

Friday, May 14, 2010

Alco Memories

I miss those NBEC MLW / Alco units.

Here's train 591 (the Dalhousie turn) with NBEC 1813 and 1857, in the evening of October 6, 2003.

A little further south, NBEC 1845 brought a short woodchip train from the Nepisiguit Subdivision into Bathurst on May 28, 2007.

One more... with a different Alco, a C-424. NBEC 4230 and RS-18 NBEC 1840 were en route from the port in Miramichi to the yard on September 20, 2002. This was "back in the day" when the C-424s were on yard duty in Miramichi.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Here's a sad little video someone took, of a dead line of ex-NBEC and CFMG locomotives in Chicago last year.

The units shown are RS-18s NBEC 1813, 1851, 1857; C-424 NBEC 4235; and SD40s NBEC 6905 and CFMG 6906, 6907, 6909 and 6910.


11 Years And Counting

It's hard to believe that I have been chasing trains for more than 10 years. My first recorded train sighting was on May 13, 1999 when I saw NBEC 1857 shunting boxcars in Dalhousie. I was captivated!

At the time I was shooting film, of course. I had a Minolta Maxxum 5000i SLR and I happened to have it with me to shoot scenery and wildlife... not to shoot trains. I soon got into the habit of bringing my camera anytime I thought I might be near train tracks.

Since then I have moved from the Minolta to a Sony DCR-TRV25 video camera (that I still use), to a Fuji point-and-shoot digital (still works), to the Canon S3 I use now. The picture quality has improved each time, partly due to the camera quality and partly due to my increasing skill at photography. However, I don't mean to imply that I am an expert photographer by any means! I still have a lot to learn, but I think my techniques are much better now than they were when I started shooting trains.

After 11 years I have not lost my interest in trains. My wife might disagree with me, but I hope I never do lose that interest. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A TTC Car in Phoenix

Phoenix Trolley Car Sign
I was wandering around Phoenix one night when I came across this sign. I'm not a huge fan of transit equipment, but hey, it rides on rails so I took a closer look. Imagine my surprise when I saw this car deep in Arizona.
Ex-TTC 4607 transit car in Phoenix
This is ex-Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) car 4607.
Ex-TTC 4607 transit car in Phoenix
It turns out that Valley Metro, the transit authority for the Phoenix area, has a transit terminal in that area. As part of the terminal, they have a little fenced-off area as an outdoor display of older transit vehicles.
Phoenix Transit
See on Google Maps.

As it happens, there is a Phoenix Trolley Museum a few blocks north of this location.

Monday, May 10, 2010

QTTX 130532 in Winnipeg at CG Power Systems
When I was waiting for CN 532 to arrive on Friday, I noticed a few flatcars up the line from where I parked. I walked up and found this company, CG Power Systems Canada makes distribution and power transformers. Some of those are very large, and many of them would ship by rail. QTTX 130532 is a depressed-center flatcar specially designed for shipping loads like these.

Interesting as that was, there was another, even larger flatcar there.
KRL 300301 in Winnipeg
This car is owned by Kasgro Rail Lines, and has a load limit of 200,000 lbs. More information on KRL 300301.

This company has two spur tracks at around mile 0.6 on the Letellier Subdivision, just south of Fort Rouge. I had no idea there were any online industries on the Letellier sub inside Winnipeg, other than the ones around Chevrier. You learn something new every day!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Shooting Slides in 2010?

I would have thought everyone was shooting digital now, but apparently some people are still shooting slides. Huh.

Phoenix Sightings

I was in Phoenix, Arizona back in mid April, for work. I was staying downtown and I didn't have a rental car. On two evenings I took a walk to the nearby Union Pacific yard to try to get some shots with my old Fuji digital camera.

There are very few good locations to shoot the yard. Everywhere you look, you see these signs.
Union Pacific Private Property, Phoenix, Arizona
Of course, I respected the signs and did not go past them.

Here are a few shots I did manage to get. You can shoot the east end of the yard from an overpass, but if you shoot in the evening like I did, the sun is in your eyes.
UP 1407 in Phoenix
That's the downtown in the background, with Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to the left.

This is a view of the west end of the yard, on an overpass next to Chase Field.
Union Pacific train yard in Phoenix
In the background to the right, you can see a long line of stored locomotives. I estimated there were over 30 stored there.

That night, I wandered around a bit, and on my return I was surprised to see a westbound train leaving the yard. I grabbed this quick shot through the fence on the overpass.
UP 1527 and 7275 in Phoenix
UP 1527 and ex-Cotton Belt unit UP 7275 headed up the train.

I hope you enjoyed my brief glimpse of the Union Pacific yard in Phoenix, Arizona. Maybe next time I'm down there, I'll get a chance to take a few more photos!

Friday, May 07, 2010

CN 532 Today

CN 2238 in Winnipeg Manitoba
I heard CN train 532 was getting ready to depart the Fort Rouge yard around noon today, to head south on the Letellier Subdivision to the U.S. border. I went to just north of the McGillivray Boulevard - Pembina Highway junction to get the shot.

I saw the tree there and thought I'd get a bit artistic. What do you think?

The train itself had CN 2238 and 5646 for power. I didn't count the cars but there must be over 100.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

CN 1700

I was driving south on the Perimeter last night, after a Prairie Dog Central meeting, and I saw an eastbound train on the CN mainline as I approached Wilkes Avenue. I saw that it had four engines on it, two conventional CN engines followed by a blue ex-BC Rail engine. The fourth engine, though, was something unusual, in an orange-brown livery. Time to chase!

I took the exit and headed east on Wilkes Avenue. Before too long, I was ahead of the train and I could stop to grab a quick video in the rain and approaching darkness.

The mystery engine is CN 1700, a GE B39-8E that BC Rail acquired in 2000. It has special orange-brown livery for use on the Whistler Northwind, a service that ended in 2002 after only two years of operation.

CN 1700 still wears the same colours, albeit somewhat faded, and it has the Whistler Northwind logo on the side.

The following is a very nice video by boots176 of the same unit, back in 2002 when it was still pulling the Whistler Northwind.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

National Train Day Saturday

Amtrak's Coast Starlight in California
Saturday is National Train Day (in the USA). Amtrak is running a number of equipment displays across the U.S. If you're in the U.S., why not attend an event?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Trans-Quebec Express

There's a new railway idea in Canada... the Trans-Quebec Express. The idea is to have a railway run from Gaspe to Nunavut through Quebec... over 9,000 km of track.

Of course, it really isn't a new idea. The author of the site says he has been dreaming of this for over ten years. There is an article in Nunatsiaq Online stating that a petition with over 4,000 signatures was presented in Quebec's "National" Assembly.

I don't think I need to say any more about this idea. Good luck!

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Safety and a willingness to obey the rules are of the first importance in the
performance of duty. If in doubt, the safe course must be taken.
- CROR introduction

The Canadian Rail Operating Rules are the set of operating rules used for all Canadian railroads. These rules provide the basis for all railway operations in Canada, and include such items as track clearances, CTC, switches, signals, engine bells, and on and on. The May 2008 version is 107 pages long.

I and a number of other Prairie Dog Central volunteers completed our rules training today, after two full days of study and testing. I plan to volunteer a fair bit at the PDC this year, after a few stints last year, and this rules card allows me to begin my training on the engines.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fredericton Train Station Gets Refurbishment Go-Ahead

Fredericton train station, 2003/05/03
The Daily Gleaner is reporting that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has given its approval in principle for the refurbishment of the train station in Fredericton. The station will have the main section refurbished, and the baggage section on the rear will be demolished. The Fredericton Railway Company (owned by J.D. Irving) must still submit detailed plans for approval.

Read the article.

Time Machine

Things change on the Internet. Yet, you can often go "back in time" to see what used to be around. The good folks at maintain a history of many web sites.

Have a look at my web site 9 years ago. It looks a lot simpler and has a lot less content.. and of course it was four years before I started blogging. Time flies!