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?


DaveM said...

Great shots Steve!


Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, DaveM!

Michael said...

Great series from the Rockies. The shots from Banff bring back some good memories of when I railfanned there. It's nice to see not much has changed there, except the power of course.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Michael, thanks for your nice comment. I agree that Banff hasn't changed much, at least from 2010 when I first visited it. I'm glad it hasn't changed from your time there when SD40-2s ruled the rails.