Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Doubly Bad News for Churchill


On Monday, the Port of Churchill handed layoff notices to approximately 50 of its workers and gave notice that it will not be shipping any more grain this year. This effectively shuts the port down, although reports indicate that it will be officially open until August 6th.

Omnitrax, based in Denver, owns both the port and the Hudson Bay Railway that serves the port and other northern communities.


On Tuesday, one of the major shippers to the north, Gardewine North, was informed that the Hudson Bay Railway will be cutting their service in half and only running one freight train per week.
Gardewine North truck trailer on flatcar, Thompson, MB
Churchill and many other communities are not accessible by road and therefore depend on the railway for supplies. The alternative is flying supplies in, but this is very expensive and you can't bring in bulk fuel by airplane very easily!

You may recall that the railway and port were both put up for sale in December. Soon afterward a group of First Nations sent a letter of intent to purchase the line, but apparently this has fallen through.

There's more bad news for the Hudson Bay Railway with the announced closure of the Tolko kraft mill in The Pas, Manitoba..

EDIT: also apparently someone set one of their (dormant) locomotives on fire.

What To Do?

It's difficult to know what to do.

Churchill is not required as a grain port as grain is normally shipped to Vancouver and Thunder Bay and both have recently expanded their facilities. With climate change and the thawing of the Northern Passage there is a possibility of increased shipping in the far north. Churchill is the only rail-accessible deep-water Arctic port in Canada and it has some strategic importance.

However, it is losing money and the railway is expensive and difficult to maintain. Omnitrax wants out and I can't see CN stepping in to buy the line back.

I think the only chance to save the port and/or railway is for the federal government to resume subsidies. The current Churchill Port Utilisation Program is set to end after the 2016 shipping season.

One alternative is for the federal government to acquire the port again. The mayor of Churchill is calling for this.

We shall see what happens in the next week or two. Omnitrax has said nothing so far but no doubt the pressure is increasing on them to make a statement. Manitoba's premier has called this move "leveraging on the fears and hopes and the security of Manitobans".

UPDATE: Omnitrax responded to some of CBC's questions. Lots of finger-pointing on all sides.

Is it time to consider building a road all the way to Churchill?

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Railway Coastal Museum, Newfoundland

The St. John's, Newfoundland railway station
Newfoundland's Railway Coastal Museum is located in the historic railway station by the port in St. John's. The museum covers the history of the Newfoundland Railway and successors CN and Terra Transport, as well as the coastal boats so important to the Rock's outport communities.

The station itself was completed in 1903. The large station building hosts the museum as well as the provincial archives. The tracks were on the back side of the station, which now has a passenger car split lengthwise into two as part of a display in the museum.

Here's what the passenger cars look like on the inside.
Interior view of cars in the Railway Coastal Museum
I really like how each section of the "two" passenger cars is set up as a different car. There's a railway post office (RPO) section at the far end of this photo. Other areas include a dining car kitchen, a dining car seating area, a sleeper, coach seats, bathroom and the observation platform shown here. A great use of space!

Example panel
The majority of the museum is a series of professionally-made panels describing the history of the railway, the coastal boats and the telegraph system. Many panels include little stories from Newfoundland and many photographs are included. They are packed full of information and are well worth reading from start to finish.

There are other displays including artefacts from the railway and coastal boats, including some models of ferries, so important to Newfoundland.

There is a model train layout, which appears to be a 3-rail O gauge layout. It was not in service when I was there. It seems a little out of place, as it looked quite rough compared to the professional look of the rest of the museum.

A well stocked gift shop features numerous books, toys and other items such as jewelry. I purchased the excellent Rails Around the Rock book by Ken Pieroway and a few other items.

Exterior Display 

Outside the museum is a two car display headed by CN 906.
Speeder and railway cars in St. John's, Newfoundland
CN 906 is a GMD NF110, one of nine 1200 horsepower diesel-electrics built for CN in 1952-1953 for Newfoundland service. There are two other survivors, NF 900 in Clarenville and NF 902 in Lewisporte. I saw both of those and I'll share them in another post.

Behind 906 is CN 1805, a mail car/Railway Post Office (RPO) car built in 1952 by Canadian Car and Foundry. It was on display in Bowring Park until 2006, when it was moved to this location.

On the rear is CN 568, used by the city as a Visitor Information Centre for fourteen years from 1989 to 2003. This car was built for the Newfoundland Railway in 1949, and worked in service for the first years of CN on Newfoundland until it became a work car in the late 1970s.

CN 568 and 1805 behind CN 906 in St. John's, Newfoundland
I highly recommend a visit to the Railway Coastal Museum in St. John's!

More to come from Newfoundland...

See also

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Arlington Street Bridge

The Arlington Street bridge in Winnipeg
There has been some discussion recently on replacing the Arlington Street bridge in Winnipeg. This bridge was built in 1912 (in Birmingham, England!) and spans the CP Winnipeg yard and is due for replacement soon.

Railfans know this bridge as a good platform for watching trains from above, and it is in the backgrounds of many Winnipeg yard photos.
CP Winnipeg yard with Arlington Street bridge, October 2011
The yard itself has come up in conversation with respect to railway relocation. You may recall I mentioned the provincial Rail Relocation Task Force formed in January to investigate the options to move railway lines (mostly CP) out of Winnipeg. At the time former Quebec premier Jean Charest was appointed to lead this task force. Since then, we've had a provincial election and the Conservatives are now in power, and they've shown little appetite to continue with this study. UPDATE: the study has been cancelled.

Arlington Street bridge, Winnipeg
Last week, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said that plans to replace the bridge must go ahead, regardless of what might happen with the Task Force. The city has a web page set up for the study and a functional design PDF. Naturally the city staffers are recommending the Chief Administrative Officer be given the authority to spend up to $5 million on a non-bid / sole source contract. sarcasm More responsible use of city money end-sarcasm

The study has a round figure of $300 million (-30%/+60%) to replace the bridge by 2020 with a new four-lane bridge. The current bridge is two lanes with steep approach ramps at either end. It is not pleasant to drive across and definitely needs some improvement.

There are a few options outlined in the appendix of the report (PDF) including:

  • span the yard at the same location
  • build a new bridge about midway between the existing Arlington bridge and the existing Route 62 bridge, and remove the existing Arlington bridge
  • remove the Arlington bridge and expand the existing McPhillips underpass

Personally I think CP needs to be heavily involved, as their plans for the yard would factor into this a lot.
CP yard in Winnipeg
If you look at the yard today it is pretty empty compared to how it has been. If CP was willing to narrow their yard somewhat, it would really affect the bridge design and perhaps location. I doubt that CP is really interested in reducing their capacity, though.

I hope this doesn't become another huge boondoggle like the Waverley Street underpass, but it certainly has that potential. Another project to keep an eye on.

More on this bridge at Heritage Winnipeg's site.

Here's a video I took several years ago of a pair of switchers going under the bridge.

More posts about bridges

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Toasters, Red Barns and Other Nicknames

Railfans spend a lot of time waiting for trains. I'm convinced this is when we come up with nicknames for particular types of locomotives. Here are a few common ones.

The Toaster

Probably the most well-known railfan nickname is the "toaster", a name now applied to most if not all GE locomotives. I believe it was first applied to the Amtrak AEM-7 and P42DC locomotives due to their toaster-like shape, and the fact that GE also makes household appliances like toasters.
Amtrak 58, Philadelphia, 2005
More recently GE locomotives have acquired this nickname for the burn marks on the sides of some locos.
I think it's browned enough
There's a great photo by Stephen Tripptree of a CSX unit belching flame on Railpictures.

I've also heard "techno-toaster" for the P42DC or for a Dash-9. Speaking of Dash-9, I believe that's another railfan term.

Red Barn

The GMD SD40-2F is commonly known as a "red barn" because it is a cowl unit and wears the Action Red of CP Rail.
CP 9021 in Winnipeg, MB
Ten of these "red barns" have found their way to the Central Maine and Quebec Railway, including CP 9021 above. Frank Jolin has some great shots of them on his Flickr profile, including this one.

Big Mac

EMD's SD70MAC, SD80MAC and SD90MAC locomotives are called "Big Macs" for obvious reasons. The "M" is for a safety cab and the "AC" means they use AC traction motors rather than DC.
CP 9109 at La Salle, MB
CP 9109 is/was an SD9043MAC.

Covered Wagon

Pretty much every EMD "E" or "F" locomotive (think E8, F7, etc.) is called a covered wagon. These are called that because they are cowl units, where the shell sits on the frame.
Covered wagon E9A CN 102


I've heard the SD40-2W units called "thundercows" but I don't know why.
"Thundercow" CN 5279 on the CN Family Day train in September 2014

Spongebob Squarecab

This was a new one to me. I can't remember if I saw it on Instagram or Facebook, but it refers to CSX cab rebuilds like this one from Flickr:
CSX 4053 SpongeBob and new track

It does look a bit like Spongebob SquarePants.

Blue Devils

There are a set of blue locomotives, IC 2455-2466, that were leased to Conrail and Illinois Central. This explains the blue! They are sublettered for IC under the locomotive number but have the big CN noodle. Railfans call them "blue devils" (why devils? I don't know), not to be confused with "blueberries" (the dark blue BC Rail units) and "blue bells" (blue GTW units).
"Blue Devil" IC 2460

Individual locomotives have nicknames too. I won't list them in this post but the most famous VIA Rail locomotive nickname was...

The Turd

You can read some more nicknames here. Weigh in with your own nicknames in the comments!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Avondale Railway Museum

Our family had a vacation on Newfoundland earlier this month, and I did my best to visit as many static railway displays as I could. I say "static" because of course there are no operating railways on the Rock.

One static display we stopped at was the Avondale Railway Museum. This museum consists of a historic railway station building and five pieces of rolling stock, as well as a miniature train.

We visited the museum on July 8th. After navigating the construction on highway 63 near the Eastbound International Dragway, we arrived at Station Street and the museum.

The station itself was originally built as a telegraph repeater station in either 1870 or 1880. It became a railway station in 1900 and continued in that capacity until it closed in 1984 with the end of rail service on the Avondale Branch. It is the oldest surviving railway station in Newfoundland.

The Avondale, NL railway station
The grounds are well-kept and there were workers in the station, working on rebuilding the interior. I saw new laminate flooring being installed in the waiting room and there was work going on upstairs as well. One of the workers allowed me to look around a bit inside.
Looking out the bay window
It sure looks nice inside!
Inside the Avondale railway station
Avondale was listed as mile 36.3 on the CN main line from St. John's. The nearby Brigus Junction at mile 41.6 led to the Carbonear branch. Since Terra Transport/CN closed almost all of its railway stations in early 1984, Avondale was no longer listed in the employee timetables, as you can see in the November 29, 1987 employee timetable.

It seems like almost every railway display in Newfoundland has a snowplow.
CN 3465 leading the plow/passenger train
In Avondale CN 3465 (built in 1953) leads the way.

The full-size train sits on the siding and the main line exists for about 1.5 km.
Perhaps the longest stretch of track remaining in Newfoundland?
I believe the miniature train is used for runs up and down the "main" but when I was visiting, it was not operational. From the following video it looks like it was shut down for maintenance a few weeks before I arrived.

Behind the snowplow is CN 925, a GMD NF210 locomotive built in 1956. The number is painted over, the windows are plated and the number boards are missing. I am hoping this indicates a refurbishment is pending.
CN 925 at Avondale
Next up is a mail car, #233, in classic Newfoundland Railway red. I'm not sure why it is #233 as the 2014 Canadian Trackside Guide says it was always numbered as 5019.
Mail car #233 at Avondale
Behind that is coach #769 in CNR green and gold. This coach was built by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1955 and spent half its career as a work car before the end of the railway.
Coach CN #769 at Avondale
Note milepost 38 with a whistle sign and a flanger warning sign. It seems a little busy. :)

Next to the station at the tail end of the train is Terra Transport/CN caboose #6059, built in 1962.
CN/Terra Transport caboose 6059 in Avondale
Cabooses were used on Newfoundland right up to the end of the railway in 1988.

I like that the museum has painted each car in a different Newfoundland railway style.

It would be fun to ride the Avondale Express!
Engine #595 at Avondale
So that was Avondale. It was a short but sweet visit.

If you'd like to help preserve and restore Newfoundland railway items, Trevor Croft has a GoFundMe page set up to gather funds.

More Newfoundland attractions to come!

See also:
PS - please join my mailing list if you haven't already. I'll send out one or two emails a week with blog post updates, and you can sign up for my weekly photo email as well!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Spring Break Railfanning (Guest Post)

This is another guest post by Taylor Woolston... another Winnipeg railfanning tour by bicycle!

On Wednesday March 30th, 2016, it was the third day of Spring Break, and I decided that I would go and railfan the BNSF Manitoba Railway for a bit. BNSF Manitoba is a is a shortline that owns a few miles of tracks in Winnipeg.

They bring cars to and from CP's Westview Yard at "Garbage Hill", and CN's Fort Rouge Yard, and they also serve a few industries, including ADM, which is right beside their engine house. They usually start their operations at around 10 AM.

After waking up and having breakfast, I packed up my equipment and rode off on my bike towards the BNSF. Being around an hour early, I decided to make a stop at St James Junction, which is a short hop from the BNSF. Here, the CN Rivers Subdivision crosses the CP La Rivere Subdivision. When I got to the junction, I noticed something north of the diamond on the La Riviere Subdivision, but I couldn't figure out what it was; however, it was coming my way. Before it could cross, it had to wait for a couple of CN trains to cross the diamond.

Right after the second CN train crossed, the thing on the CP La Riviere Subdivision crossed over, heading south. It turns out it was some kind of self-propelled rail crane, with a couple of flatbeds surrounding it, CP in front and SOO behind.

Once it passed by, I made my way over to Grant Avenue to get set up for BNSF. As I rode past the ADM area, I noticed that they were already active, moving tanks around. I got to Grant Avenue, set up, and waited. Then I noticed something to the north, there was a CP train coming!

As CP came closer and closer, and the BNSF was finishing up and getting ready to go, I wondered which one would pass by first.

In the end, BNSF passed by first with BNSF 1523 (GP28-2) and 7 tanks in tow.

I was very relieved to see that their caboose, BN 12580, was on the tail end to "complete" the train.

The BNSF freight met the CP train a little bit north of here, and just a few minutes later, CP passed by with CP 2304 and 2211 (both GP20C-ECO's) hauling a relatively long train south. This was most likely the train that goes to the Altona, MB area.

Once it finally passed, I packed up and biked north. I crossed the combined rail and foot bridge (which is very useful, and you can get very close to the action!) across the Assiniboine River, looking for a spot to try. After a few minutes, I realized that the BNSF was approaching! I decided to bike back across the bridge, and set up near Wellington Crescent. A couple minutes later, they came into view with the caboose leading mostly tanks heading south.

Immediately after they passed, I packed up and gave chase, which is not easy on a bike! Slowly, bit by bit, I passed them, and I was able to beat them to Taylor Avenue.

I noticed that their signal onto the CN Rivers Subdivision showed Slow-to-Stop (Red over Flashing Yellow), which indicated that they would probably be stopping at Waverley Street, so I gave chase again. Sure enough, BNSF stopped short of Waverley Street. After a little while, a westbound CN train roared past. Once that train passed, BNSF got clearance to Fort Rouge Yard, and they passed by.

After that, I decided to head back north to Wellington Crescent and look around for a shot there. After waiting for awhile for BNSF to return, I could hear some horn blowing coming from the north. It sounded like it was coming from the St James Industrial area.

After thinking for a bit, I decided to take a risk and abandon the BNSF, and ride up north to see if there was anything going on. I went up to Saskatchewan Avenue, which parallels a CP spur that serves a few industries. There is also the ex-CN Oak Point Subdivision, which CP uses a few miles of to serve a few industries.

Most of the CN Oak Point Subdivision was abandoned in 1996, but a few miles in the city survived, which CP now uses as a spur. I didn't see anything at all going on, then I noticed that the switch that leads to the Oak Point was set to go to the former branch line. With the track layout, I knew instantly that there must be something up there!

I rode up a few streets, until reaching the area where King Edward Street (Route 90) crosses under Oak Point and the CP Carberry Subdivision. From there, I was able to see a CP locomotive doing some switching near Brookside Blvd, which is where the track ends.

After awhile, they appeared to be done switching and were heading away from the industries, so I decided to ride away and set up somewhere. While coming up here, I noticed a small wooden bridge where the track crosses over Omands Creek and I decided that I would set up there. When I arrived, they were in view, but still a fair distance away from me. Eventually, they very slowly passed me with CP 4428 (GP38-2) pulling 3 cars at around 5 MPH.

When they passed, I immediately packed up and chased them back to Saskatchewan Ave, where a curve takes them off the Oak Point Spur, and back onto CP's main lead for the area. The CP crew stopped before coming around the curve, which helped allow me to get set up again. After a couple minutes, they came around the curve. Once they came off, they threw the switch back and pushed the cars back towards a siding.

Afterwards, I decided to head home. I rode south down Empress Street, when I heard a train horn. From the north. You might think it was just the local freight I just saw, but the horn was completely different, it was a horn only used on GP20C-ECO's. At Omands Creek, I took a look, and sure enough a train was coming south on the CP La Riviere Subdivision. I setup on a nearby foot bridge, and captured CP 2317 (GP20C-ECO) and 3068 (GP38-2) leading a local made up of hoppers and a few tanks.

That was the end of a great day of railfanning, made up of lots of branchline action, some caboose action, and even a little mainline action!

Thanks for the guest post, Taylor! You can see Taylor's other guest post here and please go visit his YouTube channel.

Friday, July 08, 2016

CN 15 Years Logo

CN was privatized on November 17, 1995, ending a decades-long ownership by the Canadian federal government. Just under 15 years later, CN started applying a "The journey continues / L'aventure se poursuit" 15 year logo to selected locomotives. In typical CN fashion one side of the locomotive received the English version and the other received the French version.

It's not unusual for CN or CP to apply special liveries to their locomotives. CP decorated a number of their locomotives for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and several CN locomotives have received stickers for Ecoconnexions.

CN applied the 15 year logo to six of the ex Union Pacific C40-8s it acquired: CN 2107, CN 2112, CN 2113, CN 2115, CN 2124 and CN 2128. I've seen 3:

CN 2113 in Winnipeg, June 25, 2016

CN 2115 near Winnipeg, January 20, 2014

CN 2128 in Winnipeg, April 21, 2014
Two other locomotives received the 15 year logo that I am aware of: CN 7505, one of the humpyard dogs at Symington yard in Winnipeg, and CN 7258, a Winnipeg-assigned switcher.

CN 7505 in Symington Yard, Winnipeg, March 25, 2015
CN 7258 in Symington Yard, Winnipeg, June 17, 2011

Have you seen any other "15 year" locomotives?

You might also be interested in LogoDesignLove's article on CN's logo evolution, Trackside Treasure's post on the logo's 50 year anniversary, and Oil-Electric's post on the "bent paper clip".

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Two Trains Over Two Subdivisions (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by photographer Ken McCutcheon. He participated in my 10 Questions series a while ago. Recently he shared a pair of emails and I asked permission to share them with you as a guest post.

Last week on Thursday and Friday [June 16-17]  the Great Western Railway ran a couple of interesting trains.

Colour Me Green

GWRS 2000 and 2001 prepare to leave Shaunavon, SK. Ken McCutcheon photo.
The yard is full of stored empty tank cars.
Thursday's movement from Shaunavon, Saskatchewan to Assiniboia, SK featured MLW M420's 2000 and 2001.

I had made a comment on Facebook regarding this train. Next thing I know, Trevor Sokolan was on his way down from Edmonton to photographically record
the event.

There was really nothing out of the ordinary with this operation other than: GWR have the M420's for sale. There were two operating Alcos this day. How much longer will they be in service?

So there was an urgency to have one more experience with the M420's.
Approaching Admiral, SK - Ken McCutcheon photo
After driving through a monsoon enroute from Assiniboia to Shaunavon early Thursday morning, I hooked up with Trevor, chatted and waited for the "chase" to begin.

During this time a minivan with Ontario plates rolled up with a couple more railfans. Ted and Robin from Cobourg, Ontario just happened to be in southern Saskatchewan and on the GWR this day. I'd say they were blessed.

At 1015 Thursday June 16th the chase was on.
Approaching Pontiex, SK. Ken McCutcheon photo.
Trevor Sokolan shared a photo of the units switching the Admiral elevator here.

Colour Me Orange

Leaving Rockglen, SK. Ken McCutcheon photo.
On day two, GWR ran a potash car storage train down the Fife Lake Sub to Coronach. (The Fife Lake subdivision is used mainly now for storage of railway equipment)

Under a clear dome the two B40-8's 563 and 575 (handled 67 empty potash cars going into storage. Once again the four photographers had a great day of chasing.

Approaching Lisieux. Ken McCutcheon photo.
Trevor Sokolan shared a photo near Bexkill, SK.

For me the chase was bittersweet.

I found out the following Monday that the locomotive engineer for both these trips, Doug Knuff, had pulled the pin.......retiring from the GWR.

Doug was a gentleman and a blessing.  He was always friendly, with a wave from the cab; he shared whatever information I requested; and he will be sorely missed.

All the best, Doug, in your retirement and THANK YOU for the memories. Be blessed and enjoy your free time away from the railway.

Ken McCutcheon

Approaching Scout Lake. Ken McCutcheon photo.
Thanks for the post, Ken!

Here's a photo of Ken enjoying the GWR's Alcos in July 2015, by Trevor Sokolan.
Even the Locals Get in on the Action!

Further reading: