Monday, July 30, 2012

Ontar-eye-O, Part 2

In my previous post I mentioned I went to southern Ontario. I wanted to shoot one of the Corridor trains "en route", so I went to VIA Rail's web site and looked up the Toronto-Windsor train schedules.

I wanted to catch a train between Windsor and Chatham, and these were the trains operating in the late afternoon/early evening:
  • Train 73: Chatham 15:36, Windsor 16:26
  • Train 78: Windsor 17:45, Chatham 18:30
  • Train 79: Chatham 22:19, Windsor 23:10
After looking on Google Maps and doing a little math, I figured I could catch train 78 in Belle River at 18:05 or so. I set out and drove north across the peninsula. Let me tell you, the roads are made for east-west travel and not for north-south travel! I approached Belle River at about 17:55 and came across train tracks. I stopped and had a look for a bit before I realized they were the CP tracks, and not the VIA tracks! I got back into my car and drove up to the centre of Belle River, only to see VIA 78 flash by in the distance, right on time. :(

I poked around a bit in Belle River and took some photos of the bridge at mile 90.2. You can see that it is a three-span bridge.
Belle River bridge

Clearly this used to be a two-track bridge at one point. The bridge on the left is a pedestrian bridge, wisely put there to keep people from walking on the train bridge.
Belle River bridge

I drove back out of Belle River, only to see a CP autorack train receding in the distance. 0 for 2!

I went back to Essex to take some shots of the station and grain elevator, and also to have supper. Just before I reached Essex, I crossed the old CN CASO subdivision. The Caso (Canada Southern) was built back in 1872-1873 and is one of the oldest lines in Southern Ontario. I don't know the full history but at times it was owned by the New York Central, Conrail, and then jointly by CN and CP. You can see from the photos below that CN ceased operation in the spring of 2011 and it has grown over fast.
CN Caso subdivision

Give it a few years and you won't be able to see the rails at all.
CN Caso subdivision

Moving on to Essex, here is the (presumably defunct) grain elevator in the centre of town. The train station is directly opposite it.
Grain elevator in Essex Ontario

Here's the marvelous train station in Essex, in daylight this time.
Train station in Essex Ontario

A view from the other side of the tracks.
Train station in Essex Ontario

I have a couple more posts from southern Ontario, one featuring the little station in Leamington and the one VIA train I actually saw, and another featuring the old train station and steam engine in Windsor.

Thanks for reading. Read on!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ontar-eye-O, Part 1

Last week I went to southern Ontario for work. I flew in and out of Windsor and worked about an hour away from there. I had a few brief opportunities for railfanning while I was there.

But first, on the way to the airport I paused at the BNSF yard in Winnipeg to shoot BNSF 2322 and make sure it was still there!
BNSF 2322 and BN 12580 in Winnipeg

Then I flew to Windsor. I arrived in the early evening and poked around a bit in Windsor before heading out. I saw the VIA Rail station and took a few photos, but there were no VIA trains scheduled for a few hours.
VIA Rail sign in Windsor

Here's a view of the station. This station is currently being replaced by the building in the distance to the right. You can read about the new station here.
Windsor VIA Rail station

I went inside to take a few photos. The station agent said it was OK as long as she wasn't in any of them!

There are a few upgrades in the existing station. It has wireless Internet, and these new e-ticketing machines.
E-Ticket machine in Windsor, ON

Here's the arrivals and departures board. Four trains each way per day, not bad for the western end of the Corridor.
Arrivals and Departures board in Windsor Ontario

I left Windsor and headed east. On my way, I decided to make a quick stop in Essex to see the historic train station there. Of course, it was dark so I took some long exposure shots. This was my favourite, of the 1909 Essex Terminal Railway caboose.
Essex Terminal caboose 53 in Essex Ontario

Here's my best night photo of the station. Note the grain elevator silos in the background. They had a light on in the entrance and that made it difficult to get a balanced shot. I should have tried an HDR shot.
Essex train station at night

In part 2 I relate how I tried to shoot a VIA Rail train (missed), a CP train (missed), and finally a VIA Rail train in Windsor (got it) as well as more photos of the Essex train station during the day. Read on

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Radio Interview

VIA's Canadian in Winnipeg
VIA's Canadian in Winnipeg
I was interviewed by CJBK radio (London, Ontario) this morning about VIA Rail. Host Mike Stubbs wanted to know my opinion on VIA Rail, where it is going and where I thought it should go. I basically said that in general I think VIA is healthy in the Ontario-Quebec Corridor but services are threatened outside that area. Of course the Ocean was cut in half, the Canadian is losing 1/3 of its trips in the winter, stations like Sackville and Amherst are becoming unmanned, and there are rumours that the Gaspé train may be reduced to coaches only.

He asked about privatization and I said I thought it would not be viable, as VIA is heavily subsidized, just like roads and airlines are. Mike also asked if I thought the European model would work in Canada and I said in general, no, because of the great difference in population density and distances.

All in all, I think it went well.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Opinions on VIA Rail Cuts

VIA 6449 at Belledune
VIA Rail's Ocean near Belledune

There were dueling opinion pieces in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald about the recent VIA cuts modernization, especially the Halifax-Montreal Ocean.

The first article said that the VIA cuts won't affect tourism in Halifax because the service wasn't being used. Bob Sime, a travel consultant, was quoted as saying that "the airline today is the rail and bus coach service of yesterday".

Personally I find it hard to believe that hardly any tourists use the Ocean, and another travel consultant, Carl Fowlerwrote a rebuttal, pointing out that ridership on the Ocean actually increased in 2011 over 2010. Mr. Fowler did highlight some service problems on the train and pointed out that the cut from six to three trips/week is going to "devastate" the train.

VIA Rail is also laying off station agents in many of its stations as it is going to e-ticketing. I don't have a complete list but they include stations in Ontario and Quebec.

I stated my opinions in this article. You can see other articles on the cuts all over the web.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Busy Day

Thursday, July 12 was a busy busy railfanning day. It started at noon when I went out to shoot the Canadian. I went down to my new favourite spot by Carman Junction around mile 8.3 and set up. Soon I realized that there was a CN freight coming east. I was hoping it would not skunk me like a certain previous time, but fortunately it was on the north track. CN 2592 led CN 2609 and a medium-sized intermodal train. I believe it was CN 102.
CN 2592 in Winnipeg

As the train rolled on past me, I saw a set of headlights in the far distance to the east. Here comes VIA!
VIA 6413 passes a CN train

The end of the CN train passed and shortly after that, VIA 6413 came around the curve.
VIA 6413 in Winnipeg

Now... here's a funny little picture from the same time. Guess what happened? (answer at bottom of post)
Dark VIA 6413

I took a video of the two trains.

After work, I traveled out toward the CN Rivers subdivision again. I saw a container train rolling over route 90, and it turned out to be CN 199. I gave chase, although I figured I would not catch up to it.They met an eastbound train and I caught a glimpse of the head end at Shaftesbury Boulevard as I waited for the light to change.

I continued on westward and 199 got away, but I heard them get a rollby inspection from a train. Curious, I kept going west of Diamond and found CN 112 stopped on the north track. They were waiting for a green light. Here they had just received their light, turned their headlights on, and were preparing to head out.
CN 2308 in Winnipeg

I took some shots as the head end passed, then jumped in my car and gave chase. It was quite easy to pace them at the start, as they were still pulling hard to get moving. I fired some shots out my side window and ended up with a half-decent pacing shot.
CN 2308 in Winnipeg

I then pulled up to Hall Road to take video. I thought I had plenty of time but in fact I was a bit rushed and missed a bit of horn noise at the start.

All very exciting, but there was one more train to see! CN 106 was still to come into Winnipeg. Here they are near Diamond.
CN 8883 in Winnipeg

Here's the video from the same location.

That was quite enough for me, so I headed for home. But wait! There's more... when crossing the CN Letellier subdivision, I saw CN 532 rolling south, so I took a quick exit and shot them as they approached the Perimeter Highway. CN 5532 on 532... love it.
CN 5532 on train 532

I have no idea why the door was open, except perhaps to provide some cooling for the crew.

Answer to why the VIA photo was so dark: My camera was set to meter on a single point (the center of the lens) and I had pointed it at the headlight. The camera metered for the headlight and so the shot was very underexposed. I like the effect!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Assiniboine Park Steam Train in Trouble?

Most residents of Winnipeg know this, but probably nobody outside Winnipeg knows that there is a steam train operating in Assiniboine Park here in the 'Peg. It's a miniature train that runs in a large loop through the park, headed by a coal-fired steam engine. It has been here since 1964, brought here from Pennsylvania by the father of the current owner, Tim Buzunis.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported that ridership is down by at least 50% this year, mostly due to a closure of one of the gates in the Park. The gate was closed due to construction near the Zoo and this has changed the traffic flow in the park such that many visitors no longer drive by the train to go to the zoo (CBC article).

I'm embarrassed to say that I have never ridden this train, or even photographed it. I will have to remedy that very soon.

A follow-up article from the Free Press states the park has apologized to Mr. Buzunis and they are putting a new sign up to direct traffic to the steam train. Let's hope this helps keep the train in operation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

VIA Rail Article in Times and Transcript

I was interviewed by Brent Mazerolle, staff reporter for the Moncton Times and Transcript, for a front page article on the VIA Rail cuts. Brent and I had a good chat and he produced a nice article that does a good job at digging deeper than the bare facts. The Times and Transcript has a paywall so I can't link to the article, but Brent gave me permission to post the article here in its entirety. I added some links but otherwise did not alter the content. I have one note at the bottom about a misquote.

Via Rail service has seen ups, downs

Cuts to Maritime passenger service are latest in long line of reductions

By Brent Mazerolle, Times and Transcript Staff

There is perhaps no greater symbol of Canadian railroading’s long history than The Ocean, the Via Rail passenger train that runs from Halifax to Montréal and back, passing through eastern New Brunswick along the way.

The Ocean is the oldest continuously operated passenger train in North America, serving eastern Canada for 108 years as of this week.

As most have heard, though, the once mighty Ocean is about to be reduced to a trickle.

Come October, Via Rail is cutting service between Halifax and Montreal from six round trips a week to three, as the government-owned passenger rail service reduces trips across the country.

If rail passenger service in the Maritimes has suffered the proverbial “death from a thousand cuts” in the past half-century or so, the Ocean announcement is the 999th.

Except for the newly started New Brunswick Southern Railway and Ambassatours Gray Line tourist train that shows cruise ship passengers around Saint John, the Ocean is the last passenger train in all of Atlantic Canada.

At least 45 employees will lose their jobs in the Maritimes — 30 in Halifax and 15 in Moncton — because of cuts to The Ocean service and also because of a move to e-tickets.

At one time, such cuts to rail service and job losses would have spurred a vocal public outcry in the Maritimes and especially in a once proud railroad community like Moncton, where the train station was once a hub of activity.

It also would normally spur protests on New Brunswick’s north shore, where the train’s importance is more pressing because of a lack of air travel, divided highways, and widespread bus service.

But instead, the cuts have been met largely with silence, except from a handful of railway enthusiasts.

As passionate and knowledgeable as any of them and more articulate than many is Winnipeg resident Steve Boyko.

A former New Brunswicker, he is also particularly in tune with the history of passenger rail in this region.

His website and his frequently updated blog Confessions of a Train Geek are exceptional resources for anyone interested in Canadian railroading, past and present.

Boyko sees the muted reaction as a result in part of the way Via took the news and “spun it pretty hard.” Indeed, the title of the corporation’s press release announcing the cuts was titled, “VIA Rail continues its modernization and takes action to better meet customer demand.”

However, “it all depends on local support,” he says.

Contrast the reaction here to the reaction of people on the Gaspé peninsula to relatively minor changes to their rail service in 2009.

Boyko’s posting on at the time captured some of the passion folks in Gaspé have for their train:

“(P)rotestors blocked the railway track at Barachois, Quebec and delayed VIA 16, the Chaleur. They were protesting several things: the removal of the on-board cook, VIA’s refusal to add extra cars for the holidays, and the removal of the Chaleur name from the train. They put tables and chairs on the track, then had lunch. The track was blocked from 11:40 to 13:15.”

Boyko said the protest had broad community support.

“The protest was organized by Rural Dignity of Canada, a grassroots organization that fights for smaller communities’ rights. The federal MP, provincial MNA, and the mayors of Gaspé and Percé were present, as well as the Roman Catholic Bishop of Gaspé and the Anglican Bishop of Quebec City.”

The protests worked.

If there hasn’t been that kind of passion here, it’s probably because many of us just aren’t riding the rails any more.

According to a Via spokesman, a majority of customers who use the train line are not dependent on it.

“For a lot of the customers that use the Ocean train, the main driver for them taking the train isn’t necessarily because they have to get from here to there. A lot of people are taking the train as an experience,” said Malcolm Andrews, senior advisor for the company’s community relations.

Total ridership along the Ocean train line has dropped by about half over the past 15 years because of the twinning of the Trans-Canada Highway and the number of new airlines that operate in the region, Andrews said.

Another sharp contrast is just how much rail travel has been cut in this region in just the past 22 years.

You don’t have to look to some distant past, to the days when trains were hourly and Moncton was such a rail centre linking us to the rest of the world that having Winston Churchill stretching his legs on the platform of the Moncton station at the height of the Second World War barely received a mention in the papers of the day.

You only have to look back to the 1980s to see both The Ocean and The Atlantic running between Halifax and Montréal with their paths diverging at Moncton.

There were also day-liners running from various parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and so passengers could make connections to the two big trains at Moncton and Truro.

Most days, if you missed a train in and around Moncton, you could catch another later in the day.

And though passenger service to Prince Edward Island was long gone, you could still ship freight to P.E.I. by train on a spur that left the main line at Sackville.

“The biggest cuts Via ever had was Jan. 15, 1990,” says Boyko of the day all those day-liners were cut and when the company tried to cut The Atlantic (protests in Saint John led by then-mayor Elsie Wayne reversed the decision, though the service died for good four years later).

Before that, though, the rail lines were still busy.

“On April 30, 1989, there were 29 arrivals and 28 departures at the Halifax train station,” says Boyko, citing some figures he happened to be able to retrieve quickly.

A major factor in all of this is that the federal government has been cutting some of the hundreds of millions of dollars it gives to Via every year.

Former federal transportation minister Chuck Strahl, able to speak more candidly since he retired from politics in 2011, offered this food for thought recently to the Globe and Mail.

Saying Via Rail is still very popular with those who use it in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor, where the railway gets about 85 per cent of its business, he nevertheless questioned taxpayer subsidies even for that.

“The well-to-do business traveller is being heavily subsidized by the waitress working two shifts at McDonald’s because somebody has to subsidize it to make it work,” he said.

“But at least it’s being used, and I think that’s the rationale why it doesn’t get hatcheted.”

He had even less sympathy for keeping Via going generally.

“Train travel in Canada has this romantic notion that if we all just rode the rails, all of our problems will just disappear,” he said.

On the other hand, NDP transport critic Olivia Chow responded by saying Canada is out of step with other G20 nations, which are investing heavily in high-speed rail while Ottawa cuts spending to Via Rail.

Steve here. In general I was well quoted, but the number of arrivals and departures quoted for 1989 were for the entire week, not for a single day. Tom Box deserves credit for the figures.

May 3

May 3rd was a fairly busy railfanning day. On my way to work, I saw a train near Diamond heading east. Here we see CN 8956 heading up general freight train CN 852. It has passed the signals protecting the CN-CP diamond and it is about to cross the CP tracks.
CN 8956 at Diamond

A closeup of dirty CN 8956 about to cross the diamond.
CN 8956 in Winnipeg

Here's the video, taken from just off the diamond.

I went out at noon to catch the Thursday VIA Canadian. I was just "this" close to catching it but I was a bit late to catch the early VIA 1. VIA 6417 was the head end engine and I saw that Strathcona Park was on the tail end, but I was not able to catch it. On my way back, I saw that CP 1532 was working the Fort Whyte area and smoking like an Alco.

After work, I went out toward Diamond again and was rewarded with CN 116 rolling in. CN 8841 made a lovely sight at Hall Road.
CN 8841 in Winnipeg at Hall Road

Here's the video. There was a single engine on the rear of CN 116, CN 8856, our friend from March.

Lots of SD70M-2 engines around!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This Day, 20 Years Ago

CN 1910 in Moncton, NB by JB

CN 1910 looked great in this slide by "JB" dated July 10, 1992. This GMD1 was shot in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Grey Cup Train

The Canadian Football League has announced that it will have a Grey Cup Train touring the country this fall. The train will start in Vancouver, BC in September and will stop at all eight CFL cities, as well as other cities like Moncton and Halifax, before ending up in Toronto in November. Clearly it will be laying over in cities! TSN says the train will have at least three cars, one carrying the Cup, a museum car, and a team car. TSN and other sites have a little computer rendering of the train, provided by the CFL:
This will probably be the first wrap of a refurbished F40... unless VIA is keeping one of the unrefurbished engines for this train.

Here's a video produced for the trip. Apologies in advance for the random zooming in and out. What's up with that?

Keep an eye on for more information. The tour is sponsored by Rona.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

July 2

Here's a few photos from July 2. This was a holiday here so after hanging around the house for a while, I loaded the kids up and went out to shoot trains. I headed toward CN's Symington Yard but was distracted by CN 103 rolling into the yard from the CN Sprague subdivision. I shot them just north of the Perimeter near Tinkertown. I didn't have much time to set up and I wanted to try a pan shot. This is the best of them.
CN 2244 and canola in Winnipeg

Continuing on, I passed the yard and headed up to Transcona. CN 114 was rolling through on the main line, passing CN 112 that was sitting in the siding being refueled. 112 had CN 8899 on the head end.
CN 8899 being refueled
You can see the grain facility on the left and the Fort Garry hotel in the far distance.

Here's CN 114 passing CN 112.
CN 2257 passes CN 8899 in Winnipeg
I really wish I have a better telephoto lens! To be fair, this is shot from a bit over half a kilometre away...

I took another shot as they drew closer.
CN 2257 in Winnipeg

I decided to chase the train. We headed east along the Dugald Road and were able to get ahead of it. I debated with myself whether I would try a grain elevator shot in Dugald but when I saw a nice field of canola, I knew I wanted to shoot the train with the canola in the foreground. Here it is.
CN 2257 and CN 2106 outside Winnipeg

I heard that CN 112 was getting ready to roll, so I took a few photos of it but did not wait around. I wanted to see some CP action. I headed north. All was quiet on CP so I had a quick look at the CEMR yard. I saw that CP 1532 and CP 1594 were parked in the CP North Transcona yard, and CEMR had engine 4000 in front of their shops... but more interesting was CCGX 4010 as viewed through their fence.
CCGX 4010 in Winnipeg

I'm no expert but I kinda think this is the end of CCGX 4010.
CCGX 4010 in Winnipeg

I last saw her in action just about two years ago:
CCGX 4010 in Winnipeg

I returned to the Day Street crossing of CP and saw headlights in the distance to the east. I parked and waited for the train.. and waited.. and waited. It was approaching but taking its sweet old time getting there. Finally it revealed itself to be CP 8761.
CP 8761 in Winnipeg

That was it for the day. I guess that was enough!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Norfolk Southern Heritage Locomotives

OK, seriously, is this not every railfan's dream? Even if you're not a Norfolk Southern fan, the chance to photograph all of these engines in all of these fallen flag schemes would have been awesome. Norfolk Southern deserves praise for recognizing and celebrating their heritage.

Photo from Norfolk Southern's slideshow. I have to say, looking at the railfans in the slideshow, we sure are a geeky looking lot!

I think all of the 20 heritage locomotives are SD70ACe engines. The locomotives are a mix of SD70ACe and ES44AC engines. The gathering is over but the locos are hard at work on NS' network, so there will be plenty of opportunities to shoot them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

NBSR Oil Train With CP Power

Several New Brunswick railfans caught the NBSR unit oil train coming into New Brunswick on NB Southern Railway tracks on July 2. The great thing about this train was that it used run-through Canadian Pacific Railway power... with a great leader.

Jody Robinson was first up with these great shots of the train at McAdam.
ICE 6450 in McAdam, by Jody Robinson

The train had Iowa, Chicago and Eastern engine ICE 6450 on the head end. ICE 6450 is an SD40-2 built in September 1979 as Oneida and Western OWTX 9956. It became a BC Rail BCOL 749 and then ICE 6450, "City of Welcome". I don't know if the engine refers to Welcome, Minnesota or Welcome, North Carolina!
ICE 6450 in McAdam, by Jody Robinson
What a rare sight in New Brunswick!

Behind ICE 6450 was CP 5926 and CP 5928, two more SD40-2 engines. I've never seen CP 5926 but I did see CP 5928 once, trailing on a train through Pense, Saskatchewan back in 2008.
CP 5926 and 5928, by Jody Robinson
It sure is nice to see Canadian Pacific Railway engines in McAdam again.

The fourth engine was an MMA engine, MMA 3603, a GE C30-7 built as ATSF 8016 in 1977.
ICE 6450, CP 5926 and CP 5928 in McAdam by Jody Robinson

Now on to the videos. Gary Lee shot a handheld video of the train leaving McAdam.

Next up was Brian Barchard shooting the train through Harvey. His video combines three NBSR trains, two from June 30 and the July 2 oil train starting at 5:17.

Matt aka saintjohnrailfan shot it at Welsford at the first highway crossing. Nice wave from the engineer! I noticed that there were several doors open on the MM&A engine; maybe it was having mechanical issues.

Dave Dineen aka nbsrfan was also at Welsford and shot it there, at my favourite spot in Grand Bay, and entering the yard in Saint John. Here they all are in one video.

Great shots all around for a great train. Thanks to Jody, Gary, Brian, Matt and Dave for the photos and video. Well done.

Canadian Foodgrains Bank

I was contacted by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for permission to use a video of mine to illustrate how much food they provided last year to help end world hunger. I agreed, and here it is.

Visit their website to learn more about what they do.