Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Trains Return to Lac-Mégantic Today

More than five months after the rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, a freight train will roll through town today. The Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) railway is running a short six-car train loaded with prefabricated panels from Tafisa, a local manufacturer of particleboard and melamine panels. No dangerous goods will be on the train.

Meanwhile, a bidder has emerged for the bankrupt MMA. Railroad Acquisition Holdings, LLC, believed to be a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group. It is expected that more bidders will emerge before the deadline of January 17, 2014.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

2014 Train Calendar

CN 2275 at sunrise, by Steve Boyko
Hello everyone! I've been hard at work producing a train calendar for 2014, and it's finally ready. Please follow this link or click on the Lulu icon below to have a look!

For the month of NMovember, I will be donating $2 from the sale of each calendar to Movember in support of men's health.

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Photo Backups, Again

I want to talk about photo backups again, because they're important. In these digital days, often the only copy of a photo you have is sitting on your hard drive... and that's not good. Back in the print days, at least you had negatives to back up your prints.

I'm talking about photo backups here, but this applies to any file you consider important, including videos, documents, emails, etc.

Experts quote the 3-2-1 rule:

  • Three copies of every important file...
  • Stored on at least two different media types (e.g. hard drive and DVD)... and
  • One offsite copy

Backing your photos up to an external hard drive is good but that is only 2 copies, on one type of media, and no offsite backup.

Offsite backup is important. What if you have a fire or a theft? Your computer and the external hard drive beside it (or in the same bag) are both toast and then you have nothing.

Here's where my photos live:

  1. My desktop computer;
  2. My home server;
  3. An external hard drive on a server in my office (offsite)

So I have three copies, on one media type (hard drives), with one offsite copy. Personally I don't think two media types are really that important, and the convenience of online hard drives trumps the inconvenience of shuffling DVDs. I have 510 GB of photos at the moment - that's a lot of DVDs.

This is my photo data flow:

  1. Take a picture with the camera (1 copy, on SD card)
  2. Import the photos into Lightroom from SD card (2 copies, SD card and laptop hard drive)
  3. Clear SD card (1 copy, on laptop hard drive)
  4. Move photos to desktop computer; Bittorrent Sync on my desktop automatically copies them to my office server (2 copies, 1 offsite)
  5. After each batch of photos, I run a batch script on my desktop that uses RoboCopy to duplicate the files to my home server (3 copies, 1 offsite)
This could be improved. I really should make a copy of the photos to some kind of removable drive immediately after step 2, because often the photos live on my laptop's hard drive for days before I get around to processing them.

Bittorrent Sync is fantastic for this application. I just move the photos to their permanent location on my desktop, and they are automatically copied offsite within minutes.

You could use a cloud backup service like Dropbox or Crashplan. I use Dropbox for sharing files between computers but there's not enough space there for all of my files. I also don't trust cloud backups with my data, but that's a different story.

I use a different method to copy to my home server because I want to be protected against accidental deletion. RoboCopy adds the files to my home server but never deletes, so if I accidentally delete a file from my permanent location, it will still be on my home server. When I do the copy to the home server, I get a log file in my Dropbox and I check it to make sure there aren't any "extra" files on my home server that aren't on my desktop.

How are you protected?

More resources:

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Back to Mortlach

To recap: After my spiritual moment at Mortlach, Saskatchewan, I went to Parkbeg only to find the elevator gone. A little crestfallen, I returned to Mortlach to capture a few more trains before my time was up in the morning of July 14th.

The next train was a westbound led by CP 9621. Since it was still fairly early in the morning, I was shooting against the sun and I didn't expect a really good shot. After some heavy processing, this is about the best that I can do with it.
CP 9621 in Mortlach

Here's the video.

I sat in the shade in my van and read a book while I waited. Mortlach is quite a peaceful place and I enjoyed listening to the bird sounds.

I was playing around with the circular polarizer filter on my camera. I want to show you the difference that it makes. Remember that a circular polarizer removes polarized light. It has the effect of darkening skies, removes glare, and saturates colours. I like putting it on my lens in bright, sunny days to make a bluer sky. Some people forget about the glare part, but I want to show you the difference it makes for reflections off water too.

Remember that pond I used to reflect the train earlier in the day? (I used the polarizer here)
CP 8773 at Mortlach

Here are two shots of the pond, taken a minute apart, one with the polarizer and one without.

See the difference? The polarizer cuts the glare down and allows you to "see" into the water. In this case it is a bit undesirable as you can see how shallow the pond was and the mud colour shows through. In other cases you might want to see the bottom of the water and a polarizer will help.

The reason why the mud didn't show in the earlier photo is because the sun was lower and didn't penetrate the water as well.

Anyway, back to trains. The third train I saw at Mortlach was CP 8641, heading east. I decided to take a vertical shot for variety.
CP 8641 at Mortlach

I did do a landscape shot too.
CP 8641 in Mortlach
I didn't take video here, because the batteries in my Canon S3 had already died. Oh well.

After that train passed, I headed back toward Pense. As I passed Belle Plaine, I saw a train headed by CP 8879, CP 6029 and CP 3030 heading east as well. Fortunately they slowed and came to a stop, so I stopped on the opposite side of the highway and took some photos from afar. The crew of CP 8879 dismounted to do the rollby inspection.
CP 8879 in Belle Plaine

Here's the meet with CP 9616.
CP 9616 and CP 8879 meet near Belle Plaine

That was the end of my railfanning for July 14th. Not a bad morning at all! Back to the start

Other Saskatchewan railfanning:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Some Recent Trains

I wanted to share a few trains I saw recently. I parked near Diamond with my laptop at noon time on the 23rd, hopping out to shoot trains as they went by. Not a bad way to spend a noon hour.

First up was CN 103, which showed up just as I arrived near Diamond. CN 2296 was the lead engine.
CN 2296 outside Winnipeg

CN 8837 was mid-train. Note the "new tire" on the rear of the truck.
CN 8837 in Winnipeg

CN 8012 was pushing on the rear.
CN 8012 in Winnipeg

About an hour later, the Canadian came rolling along.
VIA 6455 leading the Canadian

This was still a summer consist with 20 cars... not bad.
VIA Rail Canadian

About 15 minutes later, CN 104 came rolling in with two SD70s for power. CN 5619 was on the head end...
CN 5619 on CN 104

... and Illinois Central 1039 was behind her. I miss the black IC engines but this doesn't look too bad.
IC 1039 on CN 104

I didn't realize they were meeting CN 199 until I noticed that CN 5619 had her headlights dimmed. I wasn't quite in the right place to catch the actual meet.
CN 2600 on train CN 199

Nice to see those BC Rail units still kicking around.
BCOL 4606 on train CN 199

That was the end of trainspotting for me for that day. It was nice to get out and exercise my new lens. I'll have to write about the lens soon. :)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shoot It While You Can

In a recent post I mentioned I was at Mortlach, SK on July 14 and shot a train there. Afterward, I decided to head to nearby Parkbeg to photograph the elevator there...

This is what I saw:
The elevator was gone! I was shocked. I had driven by this elevator quite a few times over the years, and even stopped there once, but I had never photographed it. Now I can't.

Here's a Google Street View from just about the same spot showing where the elevator was.

It just goes to show you - shoot it while you can.

Here's a nice photo of the former Parkbeg elevator I found on Flickr.
SKSW11h00 Parkbeg Grain Elevator with Moon, Saskatchewan
Photo by Gregory Melle.

Here's a video of the demolition, uploaded on September 6, 2011.

Another grain elevator came down on September 4, near Winnipeg. It was the Paterson elevator at Marquette on the CP Carberry subdivision. Fortunately I did photograph this one.

John over at the CP Rail Manitoba and Minnesota Subdivision blog wrote a great post on the demolition, complete with photos of the demolition.

I've been photographing a bunch of elevators but there are so many more to see!

After this disappointment, I returned to Mortlach for more trains.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bakken Crude By Rail? Under Review

In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, many people have many questions. People are asking what traffic rolls through their communities, agencies are reviewing emergency response plans, people are wondering whether rail or pipeline transport is safer, new regulations were rushed out, and even the Canadian Senate was involved.

In August, Omnitrax Inc., owner of the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill, announced they were planning a test shipment of oil to Churchill for export. The plan was to ship 330,000 barrels* of oil to Churchill for loading on a tanker. About $2 million in upgrades to port facilities were required to increase the pumping capacity there.

Groups have come out in opposition to this plan, including the Wilderness Council and the province of Manitoba. This is natural, considering what happened in Lac-Mégantic. One has to consider a few points, though:
  • the Hudson Bay Railway is already shipping light petroleum products (gasoline and diesel) to Churchill;
  • the Hudson Bay Railway has had reportable accidents every year from 2003 to 2012;
  • emergency response to a spill on the line could be very difficult as much of the line is in very remote areas.
I just don't know whether it is a good idea or not. The railway needs the traffic but I think they need to provide some convincing assurances that it will be transported safely.

Irving Oil
The CBC is reporting that Irving Oil is shifting "away from rail to transport crude" and will be doubling the amount of oil they will be receiving by barge from Albany, NY. Currently they are receiving a shipload of oil from Albany via the tanker Afrodite every 8 days, and the article says this will double shortly with another ship being added to the route.

The article is very misleading as it does not ask how the oil gets to Albany. Very likely it is being shipped by rail in the United States.

Incidentally, I was quoted recently in the Portland Press Herald in regard to idle tank cars in Maine.

* there is some confusion about whether the plan was for 330,000 barrels or gallons. Personally I can't imagine it was gallons because that's about 10 tank cars and hardly worth mentioning.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Photos of New NB Southern Slugs

Railway photographer Mark Perry photographed two of the CN slugs purchased by NB Southern in Winnipeg and gave me permission to post them here. Thanks, Mark!

By the way, Mark has some great photos up on Flickr and a book. Check them out!

NBSR 269 in Winnipeg. Photo by Mark Perry

Note the raised headlights on ex-CN 269, absent on 501. As I said before, the 2xx series slugs seem to be used for road service and industrial switching, not for humpyard work, so they need visible headlights for crossings.

NBSR 501 in Winnipeg. Photo by Mark Perry

You can read about the slugs that NB Southern purchased.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Upcoming Winnipeg Railway Events

September 21-22Winnipeg Railway Museum - Railway Days -10 AM-5 PM at the VIA station downtown at the corner of Main St. & Broadway, admission by donation.
As well as the usual special displays by railway enthusiasts and vendors and SIG's, the new model railway layout enclosure will be operating.  It's still a work in progress but quite impressive. All being well, the VIA Churchill train will be on display on Saturday, and a modern engine and caboose from BNSF Manitoba will be there both days.

October 19-20: Manitoba Mega Train, sponsored by Vector Garden Trains and the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club. 9 AM-5 PM at 1871 Ellice Avenue (near the airport), admission $5, $3 for children 3-12, family pass $15/day.

November 16-17: Selkirk Christmas Show, sponsored by the Selkirk Model Railroad Association. Selkirk, Manitoba. Details not available at this time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Spiritual Moment

This summer we drove from Winnipeg to Banff to spend a week in the Rockies. We stopped in the Regina area going west and going east, and I took the opportunity to go see some trains while we were there. This post is from July 14. We were staying near Pense, SK about halfway between Regina and Moose Jaw.

I set my alarm for "bright and early" because I wanted to maximize my time before I had to be back for other activities during the day. I stepped outside just after sunrise and the combination of the fog and the sun on the horizon made me get my camera out and start shooting before I even left the driveway. This is my favourite of the shots.
Not bad, eh? If you like it, you can buy a print.

I decided I wanted to shoot the grain elevators at Mortlach and Parkbeg, west of Moose Jaw, so I headed out on the Trans-Canada. At Belle Plaine one can sometimes see a train waiting for a meet, and sure enough there was CP 9719 and CP 5959 waiting in the fog.
CP 9719 at Belle Plaine Saskatchewan

I didn't hang around. I carried on past Moose Jaw, pausing to photograph this modern Cargill grain elevator just west of the city. The canola was in fine form this year.
Cargill grain elevator, Moose Jaw

After some more driving, I arrived in the small town of Mortlach. As Prairie towns go, it was quite nice, with two intersecting main streets and a few local businesses in the town.

I found what I was looking for, the Paterson grain elevator. Unfortunately I missed the Saskatchewan Pool elevator, which was demolished in September 2011.

The elevator had a few beat-up gondolas beside it.
The grain elevator at Mortlach Manitoba

I found a big puddle from the rain the night before to use for a reflection. I took a number of photos and after about 10 minutes, I heard a horn in the distance. Soon CP 8773 East came rolling through.
CP 8773 in Mortlach

Canadian Tire on the move...
Canadian Tire on the Move

The mid-train engine was CP 8778.
CP 8778 in Mortlach

I have to share. That was a transcendent moment for me. Everything just lined up so nicely and I was so pleased with the photographs. I'm not a religious person but that was... spiritual.

Oh, here's the video.
All right. After that, I decided to keep heading west to Parkbeg to shoot the elevator there... read on!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

CN Slugs Going to NB Southern

CN slug 501 in Winnipeg

NB Southern has purchased four CN slugs. The four are CN 251, CN 269, CN 501 and CN 508. Two are currently in Winnipeg (CN 269 and CN 501) and the other two are in Edmonton.

The four were part of a long list of units for sale on CN's web site this summer.

A little history of these units:
  • CN 251 was converted from a GP9 in 1990.
  • CN 269 was converted from an MLW S3 in 1991.
  • CN 501 and CN 508 were purpose-built as slugs in 1978 as  CN 261 and CN 268 and were renumbered in 1990.
You may recall that NB Southern bought a CN slug, ex CN 519, and it is now NBSR 008.

I understand the four slugs needed some work before they were road-worthy. I don't know when they will be heading east but I expect it won't be too long.

Personally, I've only seen CN 501 (my picture above), both times working the hump at Symington Yard here in Winnipeg. Two 5xx slugs are paired with two GP38s to work the hump yard. The 2xx units are usually paired with a GP9 or GP38 and work industries, as far as I have seen.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Two Trains

This is just a short post recounting the two trains I saw on Friday morning.

I saw train CN 111 rolling west along the CN Rivers subdivision just after 9 AM. It had CN 2274 in the lead.
CN 2274 in Winnipeg

One challenge with shooting into the sun like this is to avoid blowing the sky out with the high contrast between the dark train and the bright sky. Typically I would focus on the side of the train, which is much darker than the sky. I used the exposure compensation on the camera to step it down 2/3 of a stop.

CN 2529 was the second unit and has something odd on the side of the engine over the "5". Is it a rear-view mirror?
CN 2529 outside Winnipeg

After the head end passed, I drove west to catch it again. I was surprised to see a train coming the other way. It turned out to be CN 102 and I had just a few seconds to pull over and shoot it.
CN 5611 outside Winnipeg
Note the lack of any class lettering under the "5611" on the side of the SD70I.

I did get ahead of train 111 and shot it approaching Diamond.
CN train 111 outside Winnipeg

I decided to do a pan shot of 2274 this time. I set the shutter speed to 1/80s.
CN 2274 outside Winnipeg

After I watched the train pass for a bit, I saw the mid-train engine, CN 8938.
CN 8938 mid-train

While I was in the panning mood, I shot this CN container. "We Deliver!"
CN container

The train rolled off into the distance, and so did I.
CN container

Thursday, August 22, 2013

More Photos of Lac-Mégantic Engines

Jody Robinson and Gary Lee both photographed the same train that Steve O'Brien saw in Fredericton Junction, with the two (ex?) MMA leased engines CITX 3053 and CEFX 3166 and the MMA caboose VB-1 (not VB-4 as previously reported). These were posted to the excellent RailsNB Facebook group.

Jody photographed the train in McAdam.

Nice photos, Jody!

Gary Lee was positioned at the St. Croix River, right on the border between Canada and the USA. He had some great light! Note the Canadian and US flags on HLCX 6319.

Great shots, Gary!

Gary also posted a video of boaters on the river with the train rolling past.

PS the MMA is saying they need to rebuild the line through/around Lac-Mégantic to make themselves more salable. Makes sense, but of course there are questions about how polluted the site is and whether it will be on its original routing or around the town. The Lac-Mégantic mayor, Colette Roy-Laroche, is quoted as saying restoring rail service is one of the town's main priorities.

PPS the Canadian Senate's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee issued a series of recommendations for transportation of crude oil and natural gas. It's important to note they started this process months before the Lac-Mégantic disaster, although Lac-Mégantic is certainly mentioned in the report. Here's the full report.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lac-Megantic Engines Visit Saint John

The MMA engines from the Lac-Mégantic disaster visited Saint John, New Brunswick last week. The five engines and the remote control caboose were at the NB Southern shops on Wednesday August 14, reportedly for inspection by the Transportation Safety Board. You may recall the engines and caboose were:
  • MMA C30-7 #5017
  • Remote Caboose #VB-4
  • MMA C30-7 #5026
  • CITX SD40-2 #3053
  • MMA C30-7 #5023
  • CEFX SD40-2 #3166
Here's a photo of the ill-fated train somewhere near Farnham, Quebec on its way east showing that MMA 5017 was in the lead. This was prior to parking the train at Nantes and the subsequent runaway and derailment. This photo was taken by Richard Deuso. I don't know who took this photo.

Eagle-eye Steve O'Brien saw the caboose, CITX 3053 and CEFX 3166 depart on a westbound NB Southern train on Friday August 16th. He spotted the train passing through Fredericton Junction at 08:35 and snapped a few photos with his camera phone. The train had six SD40s in total, with a green NB Southern leased SD40-2 leading, HLCX 6340, HLCX 6332, HLCX 6304, then the MMA leasers CITX 3053 and CEFX 3166 followed by the caboose VB-1 and the rest of the train.

The three MMA C30-7 engines are still in the NB Southern shops as of August 20. It is not known why they are still there.

Here are some of Steve's snaps of the train as it crossed the river into Fredericton Junction.
NB Southern leased SD40-2 leads a westbound freight. Photo by Steve O'Brien.

CITX 3053 in Fredericton Junction. Photo by Steve O'Brien.

CEFX 3066 in Fredericton Junction. Photo by Steve O'Brien.

MMA caboose VB-4 in Fredericton Junction. Photo by Steve O'Brien.

Thanks for sharing those, Steve!

PS Note the caboose on this train was VB-1 yet the caboose on the Lac-Mégantic train was reported to be VB-4.

EDIT: Gave credit to Richard Deuso for his MMA photo. Thanks to Steve O'Brien for the update.