Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Prairie Railfanning Adventure (Guest Post) - Part 1/2

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.

A Prairie Railfanning Adventure

My family and I headed west through the prairies this past weekend to visit family in Saskatchewan. Our bags were packed and we were out of the house by 8:00 on Friday morning, a little earlier than we would've normally left for this trans-prairie trip. We left with time to spare because somehow I had managed to convince my parents and sister to stop at a well-known railfanning location for a picnic lunch. We made terrible time through rush-hour traffic in the city, then on the highway, construction along the TCH slowed us even more. Construction was constant - huge stretches of highway were being redone, so the normal four-lane 110 KM/H speed limit was reduced to 80, and in some places to as low as 60, and traffic marched westward in a single-file line.

It was almost 11:30 AM by the time we finally reached Brandon, which is normally only a two hour drive from Winnipeg. CN's main line from Winnipeg to PlaP was bustling with activity, but as we sped under the main line at Brandon North, all was quiet. About an hour later, we arrived at my picnic spot, near Arrow River, MB, just as an eastbound was passing through. That construction along the TCH had cost me a train! We lugged our cooler up the hill anyways, and my parents and sister sat down for some lunch while I set up my tripod and hoped to catch another train at this scenic spot.

I was halfway through my chicken sandwich when my dad pointed at the horizon. “Is that a train?” I jumped up and turned my attention to the eastern horizon – sure enough, a flickering light was cresting the hill in the distance. I got ready to capture the train coming past the grain elevator at Quadra, a mile or two away from where I was set up.
CN 347 glides past the Grain Elevator near Arrow River, MB.
The train turned out to be CN 347, with two SD70M-2s easing a solid block of empty centerbeam flatcars through the sweeping curves at Arrow River. This was the only train I saw during my short time trackside.

(Ed: you might remember I was in Quadra recently, but I didn't see any trains)

We were running tight for time, as we still had many hours of driving ahead of us. After packing up and picking off several wood ticks, we continued west to our destination, Wynyard, SK.


Saturday morning, I joined my family on an adventure to downtown Wynyard to visit Home Hardware. They don't have any Home Hardware stores in Winnipeg and mom wanted to check out their cool spinning mops and other handy gadgets. Dad was interested in the comfy Adirondack chairs they had in stock, and my sister and I were passing the time trying on some very stylish sunglasses.

We walked along the tracks on the way to the store, so I snapped a few photos of the small CP yard and station in Wynyard.
CP’s yard in Wynyard, SK. A third GP20C-ECO is hiding behind the two others on a farther track
The old CP station in Wynyard sits boarded up
The yard looks healthy, contrary to what we're seeing here in Winnipeg. A few dozen tanks and hoppers sit in the yard while a trio of GP20C-ECO units sit just beyond the cars. CP also built a new yard office in town, and it seems crews have been busy along the Sutherland Sub just west of town. A new crossing, a pair of crossovers and two ribbon-rail mainlines stretch to the horizon out of the west end of town.

Later on that afternoon I had some free time, so I went back down to the tracks to see what I could see. A CP truck was waiting by the station so I figured a train must be close, as most trains stop to change crews here. I was right - in a few moments a light crested the hill and CP 298 rolled into town.
CEFX 1046 leads CP train 298 out of the yard at Wynyard, SK
CEFX 1046 was in charge of train 298 this day. The train did some switching out of the east end of the yard before it continued east. Jack posted a video:

As the train completed its switching and started to depart, my dad and I drove out of town a few miles and searched for a photogenic spot. We checked out a spot in the hamlet of Mozart, but the light wasn't quite right there, and it wasn’t the shot I was after, so we headed back to the highway and we continued east. The pit-stop at Mozart almost cost me the train, as when we arrived at my chosen spot, the train was only a mile or so behind us and it was doing good track speed. We drove down a sandy grid road for a quarter-mile, and I sprung out of the car to set up. The wind was really howling in this part of the prairie, so I used the car as a wind-block to capture a stable shot of the train streaking through the green farmland.
CEFX 1046 has the short manifest train rolling through the prairies at track speed
A CP toaster brought up the rear of CP 298, and if you look closely directly above the hopper car in front of the DPU, you can barely make out the large grain elevator in Wadena, SK, about 13 miles to the north.
A CP Toaster is shoving hard on the rear end of CP 298
Dad and I were back in Wynyard in time for dinner, and I went to bed satisfied with the shots I had taken.


VIA’s cookie-cutter station building
sits beside the impressive CN station,
currently being restored
We headed back toward Winnipeg on Sunday morning, but the railfanning was far from over. My parents agreed to drop me off in Melville so I could catch VIA 2 and take the train back to the city.

I was on the platform at 12:30 PM, which is the train's regular arrival time for Melville.

Unsurprisingly, it was running late. A quick call to VIA's 1-800 number revealed that No. 2 was running a couple hours behind schedule and was estimated in the station at 4:00 PM. A three-and-a-half-hour wait wasn't so bad - CN kept me entertained with train after train through town.

A dash of blue is trailing three CN units
on a westbound Intermodal train.
This train is slowing for a crew
change at the west end of the yard
It was bittersweet seeing those trains, as it was likely that most would end up delaying VIA 2 even further. One train pulled into town from the east and sat on the track nearest to the station for over two hours. A retired CN employee was waiting to catch the VIA with me at the station, and we were discussing different theories as to why the train had been sitting in town for so long. As it was nearing 4:00 PM, the freight train was still blocking the track closest to the station. This is the only track VIA can use to pick up/drop off passengers in Melville – passengers aren’t allowed to cross the tracks here to board the train due to safety concerns.
CN 2500, a C44-9WL is accelerating out of Melville Yard with a long intermodal train in tow
The freight train refused to move, and other trains were going around it on the siding. I called the VIA hotline again, and found out my train had been delayed until 5:30 due to the freight traffic. I conveyed the bad news to my fellow passenger, and I decided to grab some supper at the CO-OP nearby and go for a stroll to see the sights in downtown Melville.
A pair of AC units led a manifest freight into Melville on the mainline. This train was sitting on the mainline for two hours before continuing west.
When I returned to the station with some supper and a few snacks for the train ride, the hiss of air brakes releasing was a welcomed sound. The AC units on the head end of the massive freight train pulled the slack from between the cars, and with a bang, the train was on the move again.

It was nearing 5:30, and even with the track cleared, there was still no sign of VIA. At a quarter to six, I called one last time, and they claimed that VIA No. 2 was still scheduled to arrive at 5:30 in Melville – that shows just how much the folks working at VIA’s call centres know.

Will VIA 2 finally arrive? Was Jack stranded in Melville for days? Find out next time in the exciting conclusion to Jack's Prairie railfanning adventure!

Read part 2!

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