Friday, July 04, 2014

Railfanning Prince George, Part 1

I had to fly to Prince George, British Columbia last week for work. I knew I would be working long hours, but I knew it was just about the longest days of the year, so there would be plenty of light for railfanning!

I flew out of Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon, June 22. As we climbed out of the city, I saw the Prairie Dog Central passenger train approaching their home station at Inkster Junction. Too bad I couldn't reach my camera! The flight to Vancouver was comfortable and uneventful. I spent my time in YVR in the Air Canada lounge, typing away on my laptop and watching a Lufthansa 747 get loaded and taxi out.
Lufthansa 747 at Vancouver Airport (YVR)
I hopped onto the little prop plane for Prince George, and in just over an hour, we were there. It was around 8:30 PM by the time I picked up my wee Ford Fiesta and drove into town. I could see the big Grand Trunk Pacific bridge and sprawling CN yard from the hill overlooking the city, but I didn't spend any time railfanning.

On Monday morning (June 23), as I drove past the CN yard to the mill I was working at, I spotted the two VIA Rail Skeena trains parked nose to nose at the northwest end of the yard.
VIA Rail Skeenas in Prince George
VIA Rail Skeenas in Prince George
The Skeena (aka VIA trains 5 and 6) runs three times/week between Jasper and Prince Rupert. The trains in both directions lay over in Prince George overnight.

After work on Monday, I did some serious railfanning. Let's look at the map for Prince George.

The CN yard runs east-west with a bit of a tilt. 1st Avenue parallels the south side of the yard for its entire length, so it's pretty easy to see it. At the east ("right") end, River Road goes over the tracks between the yard and the long GTP bridge over the Fraser River. At the west ("left") end Cameron Street crosses over the end of the yard. This is nice for railfans as you can see down both ends of the yard.

The north side of the yard is taken up with industries as well as the CN Intermodal Facility. A lot of containers are stuffed with lumber products to be taken to Prince Rupert for shipment to Asia. I saw a container picker truck working pretty much non-stop.

The VIA Rail station is located a few blocks east of the intersection of highway 16 and 1st Avenue and it shares the building with the BC Tourism office.

Back to Monday evening. The first train I spotted was a CN grain train heading east. It rolled through the yard and stopped at the east end for refueling and a crew change.
CN 5407 in Prince George
CN 5407 in Prince George
I drove over to River Road and found a nice parking spot near the Grand Trunk Pacific bridge. A very brief walk took me to the overpass over the tracks, and a nice view of the yard.
The CN Prince George yard, viewed from the east
There's CN 5407 on the left. In front of that train is a short spur that goes to a scrapyard. To the right (north) of CN 5407's train is the main yard ladder, mostly empty at this time. On the far right is the intermodal terminal, and one of the two tracks directly in front of the camera contains a yard shunter that was approaching me. Note the blue flag protecting the intermodal yard.

That yard shunter rolled closer and closer, and I was interested to see that it had a slug as well as a Wisconsin Central engine.
CN 7231 in Prince George
CN 7231 in Prince George
I'm pretty sure the guy in the green vest was a trainee. They threw the switch behind the WC engine and went back up the yard.

After a while, they came back again and I had relocated to 1st Avenue to shoot them from the side, having tired of shooting toward the setting sun! This provided a good side view of WC 2003.
WC 2003 in Prince George
Wisconsin Central 2003 in Prince George
They carried right on past me and onto the magnificent Grand Trunk Pacific bridge over the Fraser.

This magnificent structure stretches 810 metres over the Fraser River. Construction began in August 1913 and the bridge was completed in 1915. The bridge has a single track with a roadway on each side. These roadways were used for cars and pedestrians from 1915 until 1987 when the Yellowhead Highway bridge was completed. The roadway is still used by CN, as I saw a hi-rail pickup zoom across it.

After the short train rolled across, I went down to the nearby river walk and took a few photos of the bridge.
The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway bridge in Prince George, BC
The far end has a rare lift system that was briefly used to allow river traffic to pass. This is a direct lift system where it could lift one span vertically. Most railway bridges that open either swing the span horizontally or tilt it up, but this one lifted the span straight up. It appears it was not used after the early 1920s and in 1954 it was fixed in place.
CN 5745
Lift section of Prince George railway bridge
Note CN 5745 preparing to run light, long hood forward, across the bridge.

I decided I had to go to the other side of the bridge to see what was there. There's quite a junction there on Pickering Road.
The CN yard is on the left, a large sawmill is in the top right, and I believe the track running from bottom left to the right is a former BC Rail subdivision... presumably the Prince George subdivision.

There are a few interesting details around. There's a scanner nearby to read the ID tags on freight cars, there's a rail lubrication site to lube the curves, and a few abandoned buildings nearby. I noted the prominent CN "private property - no trespassing - violators will be prosecuted" signs where the road crosses the many tracks, so I didn't go there... too bad, because I'd like to see how all that complex track works.

While I was looking around, a CN local came rolling by, pulling a lot of wood chip cars.
CN 7257 in Prince George
CN 7257 and company in Prince George
Note the crew standing on the front of CN 7257. They had a good look at me as they went by. They were presumably returning to the former BC Rail yard, as they didn't cross the bridge. The slug was CN 260 and the trailing engine was CN 4714.

The wood chip cars were a motley mix of CN cars, BC Rail cars, and these "Eurocan" cars lettered for CN.
Eurocan wood chip car in Prince George
Eurocan was a mill in Kitimat, BC that closed in early 2010. There are quite a few of these cars in Prince George, feeding the local mills.

I noted Loram grinder LMIX-608 was in the siding nearby. I went back to the yard and spotted an intermodal rolling through the yard, led by CN 2668 and CN 2324. By then I was beat and I headed back to my hotel for the night. It was a long day!

Coming up in part 2 and beyond... more slugs, a GMD1, the other end of the CN yard, a road freight, the railway museum, and more Skeenas!

PS - check out this great blog about a BC Rail model layout under construction.


Chris vanderHeide said...

The CN/Eurocan woodchip car should be ex-EURX 1000-1099 series. Sold to CN after the mill closed obviously.

With your permission I'd like to borrow that photo for my Canadian Freight Car Gallery web site.

Also, that WC GP38-2 is an Algoma Central Railway unit. ;-)

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Chris, thanks for commenting and providing the back story on the Eurocan car and the WC Geep.

By all means, borrow the photo and thanks for asking.