Thursday, June 30, 2016

Chasing Trains Through Banff, Part 3 - Field to Canmore

This is the third and last in the series. In part 1 I chased a train from Seebe to Banff, and in part 2 I chased from Morant's Curve to Field.

In my last post, I was just grabbing a sandwich at a deli in Field, British Columbia when an eastbound grain train was doing a crew change. I was just barely able to get down to the one crossing before CP 8775 East rolled through. I hope the crew didn't think I was trying to beat them to the crossing... I guess I was trying to get there first, but only to park, not to cross.

CP 8775 leads the charge
I amused myself with photographing some of the grain cars while waiting to see if there was a DPU locomotive. I assumed there was because one loco for so many grain cars - in the mountains - seemed a little crazy.

I don't know who CLEVZz is but it's all over this DME car
There was in fact one DPU, on the rear.
CP 8613 brings up the rear
This was one of those situations where the "going away" shot was better than the "coming" shot. I'm glad the sun was peeking out now and then.

I went back to the town proper and there was another train pulling into Field from the west. This was a container train led by CP 8768 and 8807. I shot the head end and then took off in pursuit of the eastbound grain train.

My understanding is that the whole area by the Field station is off limits, based on the signage I saw, so I did not approach it. The above photo was taken from a picnic area in the town. I'm not sure how close you can get to the tracks without trespassing - you can see there are no fences to mark the boundary.

I headed for the Spiral Tunnels overlook to try to catch CP 8775 going through the tunnels. You may know that there are actually two spiral tunnels in the Kicking Horse Pass. The public viewpoint is overlooking the Lower Spiral Tunnel.

The place was pretty full of tourists, and the train was just through the lower tunnel mouth when I got there. I took a few photographs and I was marveling at how much this was overgrown - as bad as Morant's Curve from the previous post.

Here's CP 8775 about to cross over her train.
CP 8775 in the Spiral Tunnels
There might be an angle to actually see both tunnel mouths at the same time, or it might be too overgrown by now. It was too crowded to be able to choose your angle. I basically inserted myself between a couple of people to get the shot, then got out of there and kept going east.

I wanted to catch the train by Wapta Lake, where I had paused earlier in the morning, so I drove just past the lake and parked at the pull-out there.
It's all scenic around here
That's the little car I was driving there on the right.

I jogged back to the lake to await the arrival of CP 8775 East. It took a while for them to finish climbing the 2.2% grade but they showed up in fine style and I got the shot I was looking for.
CP 8775 by Wapta Lake / Cathedral Mountain
It would have been nice to have some sunshine, but at least the track wasn't shadowed and there was some light on the train.

I overtook them en route to Lake Louise, and I found a spot where the track paralleled the highway for a quick grab shot as they rolled by. They were proceeding at a good clip by this point.
Roadside grab shot
Nearer to Lake Louise, the track goes under the highway at Stephen (hey, my name!) and splits into two tracks. Originally there was a single track between Stephen and Lake Louise, but the grade was up to 1.8% and CP wanted to reduce this. A new track was built north of the original to reduce the grade to just over 1%.

I was surprised to see my first train of the day, potash train CP 8646 West, sitting in the siding at Stephen and under the highway. They weren't making good time!

I found a safe spot to pull off and walked back to photograph CP 8775 East passing CP 8646 West. By this time it was raining and I had a few water droplets on my lens. I really need to get a lens hood for my 18-55mm lens.
Waiting for Godot, I mean, CP 8775
CP 8775 came peeking around the curve.
They rolled by and kept heading east. I think this would be a nice location with better weather, and maybe a slightly better angle. Everything is fenced off so you can't go down and wander around, which is probably for the best.
Two trains passing in the rain
There was another train waiting between Stephen and Lake Louise, an intermodal train with CP 8725 mid-train.

I dropped into Lake Louise very quickly and spotted this unusual car on the spur track there. Apologies for the poor lighting conditions - I was in a hurry and didn't take any time to get a decent angle.
CP 421372 at Lake Louise
I asked what this car was on RailsAB, and I was told it is basically a giant air blower to force air into the Spiral Tunnels to help the workers there.

In the background, CP 8775 East is rolling past, so I wasn't able to get any shots of the train here.

I elected to take the Trans-Canada Highway east toward Banff, rather than trying to keep up with the train along the 1A / Bow River Parkway. The weather was getting worse and worse and making any time on the 1A is difficult.

At the highway 93 intersection I took the exit and went to the tracks near Castle Junction. I decided on a telephoto shot - I had been using my wide angle 18-55mm lens all morning - so I broke out the 70-200mm and popped this one.

CP 8775 up close and personal
After the head end passed the crossing, I hopped back in my car and returned to the Trans-Canada. I wanted to catch them at the Banff station and that would be it for my train chasing.

At the station, I decided to shoot video with my iPhone.

At about the 2:25 mark in the video, you'll see me move, since apparently I was standing in the middle of the access road and someone wanted to use the road. Ooops. :)

After recording their passage, I got back into my car yet again (I wonder how many times I got in and out of that car?) and headed toward Calgary. I passed the train as it ground toward Canmore, and just for fun, I shot it one more time near the tourist information building in Canmore. Not a great shot, but what the heck, it's digital, play around!
Getting a little arty with CP 8775
There's a bike path parallelling the tracks at places between Banff and Canmore. I tried to capture a cyclist and the train and I really like how this one turned out:
Bikes and trains
OK, that was the end of my chase of CP 8775.

After that I went to the city and visited some of the fine Calgary train stores!

Thanks for reading along; I hope you've enjoyed these chases through Banff National Park. I love the area and always look forward to visiting the Rockies. Thanks to CP for sending a few trains along to liven things up!

Further reading:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Chasing Trains Through Banff, Part 2 - Morant's Curve to Field

I was in the Banff area in early June chasing trains. Part 1 is here.

After photographing the potash train CP 8646 West at Banff, I drove on the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise, then took highway 1A back a few kilometres to famous Morant's Curve.

It was fairly overcast there, alas. One thing I noted immediately is how overgrown it is getting, especially on the western side of the curve.

I had my scanner with me so I strung the antenna up and sat back in the car to read my magazines and listen to the scanner. I could hear an end-of-train squawk* quite clearly, which was a good indication that a train was nearby.

Soon an eastbound train came rolling along, with CP 8741 at the head of an empty sulphur train. Check out how overgrown these shots are!

Unfortunate tree placement...

Careful timing here to actually see the nose of the locomotive...

Compare that to this photo from 2010:

It's amazing how much it has grown in 6 years.

Anyway, back to CP 8741. Almost the whole loco...

Here it is, finally...
CP 8741 at Morant's Curve
It's very disappointing, really. I understand a few railfans have complained to Parks Canada. I think it is a jurisdictional problem between Parks Canada and CP. Something should be done, or this famous spot will become like the Spiral Tunnels - overgrown and pointless.

At least the east view is still relatively unobscured.
Sultran sulphur cars at Morant's Curve
I wasn't sure if CP 8741 was the sole power on this empty Sultran train, but the approaching roar of another locomotive put that to rest. Familiar ex-Olympic unit CP 8876 was pushing on the rear.
Ex Olympic locomotive CP 8876 at Morant's Curve
I've seen that unit three times now. Once it was leading a grain train in Banff back in 2010 and I saw it in Winnipeg this January as a mid-train DPU.

CP 8876 receded into the distance, and I returned to my magazines. I heard some chatter on the scanner about trains at Eldon and Massive, the two sidings to the east of Morant's Curve on the CP Laggan subdivision. It sounded to me like there was a westbound coming.

By this time, a few tourists had stopped and were waiting for trains too. There was a family that I think was from the Netherlands, a pair of British gentlemen and a few Japanese tourists. I chatted with the British gents, the only ones who appeared to be able to speak English, and waited for the next train. They told me that they were hoping for a train soon as their wives were getting impatient to get on with the touristing. Sounds familiar!

A group of canoeists came padding along the Bow River and I amused myself by photographing them. I was helped by a rare moment of sunshine.
Canoeists on the Bow River
A couple of the canoe photos actually made decent stock photos.

By this time the British gents were packing it in. Just as they walked toward their cars, headlights appeared to the east. I ran over and told them, so they came back to see... our old friend CP 8646 West, the potash train from my last post.

CP 8646 at Morant's Curve
The "amateur" railfans were quite pleased with this and took lots of photos. The British gents were quite impressed by the length of the train. I haven't railfanned in England but I know their trains are a lot shorter than our multi-mile trains.
Railfans at Morant's Curve
I took a couple of shots to the east, trying to catch the train between the encroaching foliage. I managed to catch the rear DPU in a gap:

You can see the fog was really rolling in by this time.

I decided to carry on with my original plan and head to Field, BC to try to catch an eastbound train to follow. I drove past Lake Louise and soon discovered this very cool mountain (Cathedral Mountain) across Wapta Lake, with the track running along the lake. I paused here for 15-20 minutes, hoping for a train, but nothing came along, so I continued on past the Spiral Tunnels to Field, BC.

I arrived in Field and stopped at The Siding Café to grab some lunch. I ordered a ham deli sandwich, and while that was being made, CP 8775 East was getting ready to leave Field.
CP 8775 at Field
I know this isn't the classic photo of Field with the station in the photo, but I was in a hurry and I don't know Field very well! :)

In the next installment, you'll see a quick grab shot of another train at Field, then we'll chase CP 8775 east through the Spiral Tunnels through Banff to Canmore!

Read part 3

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chasing Trains Through Banff, Part 1 - CP 8646 West

I spent a morning chasing trains through Banff National Park (and a bit of Yoho National Park) earlier this month, and it was fun!

The consensus among experienced Alberta railfans was that the best way to railfan the area was to pick up an eastbound train in Field, BC, or a westbound near Exshaw, AB, and chase it through the Banff-Lake Louise area. I resolved to grab a westbound near Exshaw, chase it to Field, then chase an eastbound back toward Calgary. That's kinda what I did...

Come along for the ride...


But first, a little background. My wife attends an annual weekend conference in Calgary, and normally this conference is in the late fall. I go with her to keep her company when she's not conferencing, and I do a little railfanning on the side. The problem with railfanning in the late fall is that the days are short.

However, in 2016 her company decided to hold the conference in early June, when days are just about as long as they get. Great!!

No-Train Friday

We like to arrive early on Friday so we can go out to Banff, an area we love dearly. This year we arrived late in the morning, grabbed our rental vehicle and hit the road for Moraine Lake.

Moraine Lake, enshrouded in fog
Moraine Lake is near Lake Louise, a vastly more famous lake, but Moraine Lake has its own beauty to it. There isn't a famous hotel there but it has lovely green water and great views all around.

Unfortunately the weather was poor on Friday and it was quite overcast. You can see from the photo that the mountain tops were shrouded in fog / cloud, and it was raining off and on. We didn't let that stop us from going for a little walk and exploring the area, but it definitely put a literal damper on our enthusiasm for long walks.

While we were in the area, we visited Lake Louise too, and it was similarly enshrouded. There were a lot more tourists at Lake Louise but it was not as busy as it is when the sun is shining! We visited the shops at the chateau and took the back road to Banff. I stopped at Morant's Curve but there were no trains around. We visited the waterfall behind the Banff Springs hotel and threw a few rocks in the Bow River, as per tradition, then headed to the Grizzly House in Banff for our traditional fondue. Highly recommended for the good food, great service, and tacky 70s decor!

On our way back to Calgary, we talked about what I was going to do Saturday while my wife was at the conference. I wasn't keen on railfanning in the mountains if the weather was going to be the same as it was on Friday, so I decided to check the weather when I awoke Saturday morning and decide whether I was going to hang around the city or head into the Rockies.

Chasing the Westbound

It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Calgary when I awoke. I showered quickly, kissed my wife, and beat it out of town toward the mountains! I was full of enthusiasm for the great shots I would get, and hopeful that CP would actually send a few trains through while I was there. Past experience has shown that there can be periods of several hours where no trains run.

My plan was to follow the Trans-Canada until I neared Exshaw, then cut over to take highway 1A/Bow Valley Trail (which parallels the CP main line) into Banff and go from there. I took the exit to Seebe and found an overpass over the CP Laggan subdivision. I decided to sit and wait there for a little while and find a train. If it was a westbound, I would follow it through Banff and beyond. My intention was to go all the way to Field, BC and then chase an eastbound train back to Banff and call it a day.

I parked on the shoulder and spent some time walking around, looking for decent photo angles. I was really wishing for an eastbound train, since it was 7:15 AM and the sun was still low and in the east.

After about 20-25 minutes of waiting, I heard a distant horn to the east, indicating a westbound train. All right, show time! I decided to shoot it "going away" to the west to get the best light on the train.

CP 8646 West came rolling along with CP 9369 and a long Canpotex potash train.
CP 8646 and 9369 near Seebe
I do love the Rockies.

CP 8949 was a mid-train DPU. I shot that but the photo was nothing special.

However, I heard an end-train DPU roaring toward me, and that excited me because that would provide that "eastbound" train I wanted! I jogged up to the overpass to get a more overhead view of the loco going away. Here's CP 9834 shoving her heart out.
CP 9834 near Seebe
I was super happy with that photo! :)

I ran back to my car and headed back to the Trans-Canada to try to beat the train to Canmore. I didn't know any good spots to railfan in Canmore but I knew that I could get to the tracks quickly near the tourist information bureau, on the west side of the town. I did that thing and was there seconds before the train came through.

CP 8646 West in Canmore
I made sure to include the CANMORE station sign in the shot.

Here's the mid-train DPU locomotive, CP 8949.
CP 8949 in Canmore, Alberta
I was really liking the sun and weather!

I didn't hang around for the last unit, as I already had a good shot of it and I wanted to try for another spot before Banff.

Previously I had noted a few spots where you could see the track from the highway, and I thought I might try a shot there where you could get the train with sun on the side and the mountains in the background. At 100 km/hr it was easy to get ahead of the train again and I found a good spot to pull over and take a grab shot. Keep in mind the tracks are on the south side of the highway so I was shooting across four lanes... still, this was my favourite shot of the entire day.
Even Railpictures liked this one!
I was very happy with everything in that shot.

However, note something... the low cloud and deep shadows. Uh oh...

I got to the station in Banff before the train and set up to shoot CP 8646 passing the station. The angle of the sun is all wrong there but I made the best of it. Warning - some fairly heavy editing in the photo below.

CP 8646 in Banff
I ducked under the station awning to capture a few shots of the train zooming by. Stay back from the yellow line!
Canadian Pacific in Banff
Here's our old friend the mid-train DPU again.

At this point I decided to leave off the chase of CP 8646. I had bagged it at four different spots and I didn't think I would get anything new out of it. I made the decision to roll west on the Trans-Canada and come back to Morant's Curve from the Lake Louise exit, rather than try to chase 8646 along the slow 1A / Bow Valley Parkway.

In the next post, the weather sucks, but I get lucky at Morant's Curve, then head to Field to chase an eastbound back!

In the meantime, why not read about my visit to Banff in 2010 or my return in 2013?

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Prairie Railfanning Adventure (Guest Post) - Part 2/2

Local railfan Jack Hykaway shared this great railfan adventure. Follow Jack on YouTube! He included so much content and so many photos that I have broken it into two parts (Link to part 1)

VIA 2 Arrives

A backlit VIA 2 rolls into Melville six hours behind schedule
Melville is a crew change point for VIA and for most CN trains, and when a fresh VIA crew showed up at the station, I knew the train must be close. I asked the engineer what time the train would be due in the station, “It shouldn’t be long now, the train is very close” he replied.

The engineer waited on the platform with myself and the retired CN employee. He informed us that he would have the pedal to the metal for the trip to Winnipeg and that we would only be meeting three westbounds on the trip to Union Station.

Finally, at 6:30, the distinct sound of a VIA horn shattered the silence. The train crawled into Melville station, running six hours behind schedule. I was anxious to get on and relax for the ride to Winnipeg.

I was welcomed onboard by the Service Manager, and he showed me to a free seat. I didn’t spend a minute in my coach seat. Instead, I made a bee-line up to the dome car. It was completely empty, which gave me the opportunity to grab the best seat available.
VIA No. 2 departing Melville
At 6:40, the two F40PH-3 locomotives rumbled to life, and with a jolt, the train started rolling forward. The locomotives hustled the long train out of the yard and onto the mainline. The wind was behind the train and with 6,000 horses on the head-end, we were doing good track speed in no time flat.
Outside of Melville, we met an intermodal, led by a CN SD70M-2 and an IC Deathstar SD70
By the time we reached Cana, we were doing 80 MPH with nothing but clear signals stretching to the horizon. We maintained the aggressive pace through Waldron, Bangor, Atwater, and Zeneta, but we slowed for the sharp curves near Yarbo and Gerald.
Both F40s belch fumes as they spring along the mainline near Yarbo, SK at 80 MPH
The Mosaic K2 Potash Mine near Gerald, SK
Large potash mines dominate the landscape in this region. Mosaic has two huge mines near Yarbo, on the North and South sides of CN’s mainline. Since Melville, a few other passengers joined me in the dome, and they were admiring the impressive mines. A VIA crewmember was quick to inform the passengers over the PA system that what they were looking at was a potash mine.

VIA No. 2 about to cross the impressive trestle near Gerald, SK
After crossing the impressive trestle at Gerald, the engineer opened the taps on the F40s and we were making good time again by the time we reached Spy Hill, SK. As we crossed into Manitoba, the train began its descent into the Assiniboine River Valley, which meant we could no longer keep our fast pace.

A wide shot of the interior of the dome in the skyline car
This is the most scenic part of the seven-hour journey. The tracks cling to the side of the valley wall as they descend towards St Lazare, MB. Three quarters of the way down, a spur branches off to the south of the mainline. This line swings back into Saskatchewan to connect the Potash Corp potash mine at Rocanville, SK with CN’s mainline. At St. Lazare, VIA 2 crossed the Assiniboine River on a through truss bridge, then the train tilted around a broad corner and followed the meandering course of the Assiniboine River on the valley floor.
The train flies through the through truss bridge near St Lazare, MB
Immediately after crossing the bridge, VIA No. 2 passes through St Lazare proper, and swings around a corner as it passes through town
A scenic highlight on the trip and a favourite railfanning spot among prairie railfans is the impressive trestle at Uno, MB. At approximately 1,500 feet long, it feels as if the train is floating in mid-air while crossing the impressive structure. Passengers sitting behind me in the dome scrambled to grab photos of the spectacular views down the valley at this location.
The power passes the station sign at Uno, MB.
In a few minutes the train will be high above the valley floor on the impressive Uno trestle.
As we left the Assiniboine River Valley behind, passengers filed out of the dome car, leaving only me and a few others to enjoy the views. At Arrow River, the sun’s position made for an interesting shot as the train swung around the broad curves.
The sun reflects off of the shiny roofs of VIA’s classic Budd equipment
as the train passes through Arrow River, MB
As the track straightened out for the run to Rivers, the engineer let the horses run on the two F40s once more.
VIA 2 exits the Assiniboine River Valley near Miniota, MB.
The train is passing under an old wooden bridge just outside of town
The train brakes were applied when we encountered a Diverging-to-Stop signal at the west end of Myra Siding. It was a perfect meet with a westbound freight – neither train had to stop.
VIA 2 met CN 2239 at Myra Siding as it headed west with a long string of manifest freight in tow.

VIA 2 got back onto the mainline and the train drifted into its station stop in Rivers, MB just as the sun was falling behind the horizon.
VIA 2 gets clearance, and proceeds out onto the mainline following a meet at Myra
Sunset in the Skyline
The train was only stopped in Rivers for a few minutes before we departed for Winnipeg in the fading light.
Departing Rivers, MB with darkness quickly falling
There was still enough light outside to make out the overpasses at Grants and at Moffat – both of which are popular railfanning locations, but there were no railfans waiting on us tonight.

Darkness fell by the time we reached Harte, and the train pierced through the night for the rest of its trip to Winnipeg.
Rounding the curve at Grants Cut. Note the Panorama Car a few cars back in the consist
We made good time to Portage La Prairie thanks to recent track work at Firdale. At PlaP, we stopped for ten minutes to let a handful of passengers disembark. From there, there was nothing but double track between us and Union Station, except for a few hundred yards of single track at Nattress, where the mainline crosses the Assiniboine River again. The engineer skillfully guided the train through the fog at a blistering 80 MPH along this double track superhighway. We cruised by two stopped intermodal trains waiting for us to clear the single track at Nattress, then we were the only train on the line until we reached Winnipeg.
LED signals light up the night as the train speeds towards Winnipeg
It wasn’t long before locations familiar to me, such as Calrin and Diamond, flashed by the windows in the darkened dome. We rounded the curve at Portage Junction at about 12:50 AM.

The train finally pulled through the train shed at Union Station in Winnipeg at 1:00 AM, only five and a half hours after leaving Melville.

Number 2 would be cleaned and serviced in Winnipeg in just half an hour. Re-boarding for the trip through Ontario would commence at 1:45, and departure would be somewhere around 2:00, putting the train a mere two hours behind schedule – not bad for a train that rolled into Melville six hours late!

Thank you, Jack, for this great guest post! Check out Jack's great videos on YouTube.

Back to part 1