Friday, February 24, 2017

Hashtag Heaven

#trainbridgeweek on Instagram
As you may know, I'm pretty active on Instagram (@stevetraingeek) and I post a photo every morning. A few months ago, I decided to post to a theme every week. I add a hashtag to each photo and invite others to participate. A fair number of other Instagrammers have been joining in and it's great to see their contribution to the themes!

Here are the themes I've posted so far:
and this week, #trainstationweek (34 posts so far).

It's been really fun doing this. A lot of people have commented that they like the idea, as they can look through their archives for photos they can post that match the theme. Sometimes people are a little... loose... in how they interpret the theme, but I find it brings out some really strong photos.

For people on my mailing list, you've been seeing these photos in my weekly Sunday email.

I'm going to keep doing this until I've had enough. I'm sure I'll run out of ideas eventually but so far I haven't. Any suggestions? :)

Feel free to follow me on Instagram and comment with your Instagram handle so I can follow you!

See Also

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

BNSF Detours, Day and Night

BNSF is detouring trains through Canada on CP and CN due to an avalanche in the US - in Marias Pass, I believe. Many great photos have been shared on Facebook (RailsAB, RailsMBSK) and elsewhere, and I'm glad it is being well covered. Here's my small contribution to the documentation of this interesting event.

The First F306

CN and BNSF, together again
I heard that the first of the eastbound BNSF detours over CN was coming to Winnipeg on Friday, so I ventured out to try to catch it coming into the city. I thought I'd head up to the CN Rivers sub then head west until mile 20 (where the road diverges from the track) or until I saw it.

I saw a headlight from the west immediately, which turned out to be CN 8919 leading an intermodal train. One quick "3/4 wedgie" then off to find BNSF.
CN 8919 passing the former site of the Manitoba Pool grain elevator, mile 10.6
It was not long before I spotted another train coming from the west. I had a feeling it was the BNSF detour train, and the long string of brown I saw behind it confirmed it. CN F306 approaching the famous Diamond west of Winnipeg.

I hopped onto a snowbank to capture the train with CN 2841, BNSF 6127 and BNSF 6138 leading a long brown snake of BNSF grain hoppers.
BNSF 6127 approaching Winnipeg
CN put their own locomotive on the head end of all of the detour trains, due to union requirements (microwaves!) CP is doing the same on their railway.

BNSF 6138 approaching Winnipeg

I sped ahead of it and captured it again at Carman Junction as it passed a signal worker doing some servicing.
CN 2841 leading two BNSF engines through Carman Junction
The train stopped at Waverley, and that's where I met up with Jack, Mark and Christopher who were doing their own chasing.
The detour train at Waverley Street
I wasn't able to stay to chase it down to Emerson, but Jack and Mark did a fantastic job documenting that so I wouldn't have had anything more to contribute anyway!

The CN engine was taken off and a new crew took it down to Emerson. Jack took some great video of the train en route to Emerson.

The Second F306

I heard that the second CN F306 was arriving in Winnipeg late Friday night, and heading south on the Letellier sub early Saturday morning. I headed out around 11 PM to Waverley and I saw a train there but I wasn't convinced that it was the BNSF detour.

I drove around a bit in the Parker area hoping to find a shot but I'm not really familiar with the area, several roads are closed at the moment, and there are many water-filled potholes that really alarmed me. I decided to head south out of the city, and I was concerned that I had already missed the train and it was heading south ahead of me.

I drove all the way to Morris (about 70 km), finding nothing there. I knew that CN 533 was coming up from Emerson and would have to meet up with 306, probably in Morris. I went down to Saint Jean Baptiste and found nothing there either, except for 7 or 8 grain hoppers at the ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator and a few curious deer.

I drove back up past Morris to Ste. Agathe where I picked up the BNSF detour train heading south. I found a crossing right next to the highway and shot (and videoed) BNSF 4782 and BNSF 4390 leading 115 cars. I used my car's high beam lights to provide a bit of illumination.

After the train passed, I packed everything back in my Civic and continued on to Morris. I decided to catch them passing the older Paterson grain elevator in Morris. Camera back on the tripod... a little night focusing and I was ready to go.

I quite like how this turned out.
Star light, star bright, first train I see tonight
(camera settings: 20 second exposure, f/8, ISO 200, 17mm focal length)

They passed by me stopped just short of the north leg of the wye.

One of the crew threw the switch and the train rolled onto the wye to pull onto the former CN Miami subdivision to clear the main for CN 533.

I went up to 5th Street to record them coming up the Miami spur. They stopped short of the diamond with the CP La Riviere subdivision, and another crew member got off to do whatever magic was required to get the light to cross the diamond. He then took the derail off and hopped back on the train as it rolled west on the Miami "sub".

I took a few stills but they did not work out very well. There's a bit of video at the end of this post.

I went back to the main line and found the third crew member lining the switch back to the main. I asked him when CN 533 would be coming through, and he said they were just south of Morris.

It was not long before CN 533 came through with CN 2142 and 2003 leading a long train.
Streaky lights of CN 533
I popped off a few photos here and there, and I liked this one of the train sliding through the crossing the best. (30s, f/8, ISO 400)
Red train at night, railfan's delight
Once CN 533 passed, I hit the road for home, since it was 2:35 AM! I went straight home and went straight to bed. Image processing could wait!

Here's my compilation video.

See Also

Friday, February 17, 2017

That's My Fun Day

Head on into Sunday morning
I wish it was Sunday
That's my fun day
My I don't have to run day
- Manic Monday, Bangles

You may have noticed that I sometimes go out railfanning on Sunday mornings. Sunday is indeed my "I don't have to run day" as the Bangles so aptly sang. Saturday morning is usually spent at my son's curling rink and weekend afternoons are family time. Sunday mornings... often they are my time.

This past Sunday (February 12th) was one of those fun days. I woke up at a reasonable hour, had breakfast, then hit the road. I had a notion to visit the CN Rivers subdivision for a bit, then head up to the CP Carberry sub and hopefully catch a train there.

Track 1 - Manic Monday

First catch was an early train on the Rivers, a westbound heading out of the early morning sun. Not the best light, but you do what you can. I parked near Carman Junction and got the photos above and below at that location. The train was led by CN 5708 (SD75I) and CN 2153 (C40-8W) and featured a lot of autoracks.

CN 5708 rounding the bend at Carman Junction
I hopped in my car and headed west to try to catch them around Diamond. It was not hard to get ahead of them, as the road conditions were good. I shot them splitting the west-facing signals.

CN 5708 splitting the signals at Diamond
I didn't chase them any further. I wasn't really sure whether I should head up north to CP yet.

I had a feeling there was going to be an eastbound freight coming along. I'm not sure why I felt that way.

Track 2 - In A Different Light

I went westward a bit along the CN Rivers sub, and at the route 424 crossing I saw a headlight to the west. I looked around a bit for a suitable location and found a snow ridge to stand on to get a bit of elevation.

As the train hurtled closer I saw that it was a potash train, led by another SD75I, CN 5672, and a Dash-9, CN 2536. They were really moving!

CN 5672 and a lot of potash cars in the snow
Fortunately a westbound train in the morning put the train in a different light than the earlier eastbound.

Those PotashCorp hoppers kicked up a lot of snow.

Mmmm, potash
I decided to give chase and maybe get ahead of them for another shot. Since they were an eastbound, the light would be a lot better.

Track 3 - Walking Down Your Street

As I pursued them, it became clear that there was going to be a meet, as the headlights of another westbound were visible in the distance. I had one thing on my mind - to catch the westbound train quickly, then resume the chase.

Dash-9 (C44-9W) CN 2644 was leading the third SD75I of the day, CN 5716, and a solid grain train.
A different light - side light, in fact
The lighting wasn't great and the location wasn't so good either, but hey, I took a few quick shots and I was back on the chase again...

Track 4 - Walk Like An Egyptian

(man, I loved that song)

I passed Diamond, finally catching up to the end of the potash train. As I slowly gained on the train, car by car, I saw another westbound train rolling by on the south track - a container train. I made a quick decision and gave up on the potash train.

A quick U-turn brought me back toward Diamond to get the container train. No cops - maybe they were hanging out at the donut shop. I pulled over down the road and ran out to grab CN 2968 (ES44AC) at the head end of what I assume was Q101, a hot intermodal train.
CN 2968 leading a container train outside Winnipeg
The train rolled along pretty swiftly, and after a few minutes the mid-train DPU came into view, an ET44AC, CN 3069.

CN 3069 mid-train outside Winnipeg
It was turning into quite a nice morning!

Remember these chairs? Still here, apparently.
Another ES44AC was on the tail end, CN 2961. This one was pretty snow covered, which made me wonder if maybe this was the leader on an eastbound train earlier, and was now heading back west.

Ummm, you have a little something on your face.

After that, I figured if I was going to go see CP, I'd better get on with it.

Track 5 - Standing in the Hallway

I headed up the Perimeter Highway to the CP Carberry sub. There were two CP trains there, passing each other on the two tracks!

I was amazed, because it's good luck to see even one CP train these days. One was heading east into Winnipeg and one was heading west. I had no chance of getting the eastbound before it reached the yard, so I went west, young man.

It took a while to catch up to it, as you have to slow to 50 km/hr through Rosser and the road isn't parallel to the track all the way along. I got ahead of it before Meadows and elected to shoot it with the elevator. Here's the "coming" shot as they approached the Paterson grain elevator, which was off to the left of the photo.

CP 9371 West through Meadows, Manitoba
Since it was morning and the sun was in the east, I couldn't shoot a conventional "passing the elevator" photo without some severe backlighting. I decided to try this shot instead. I'm fairly happy with it.

CP 9371 and the Meadows elevator
Note the birds deserting the elevator as CP 9371 and CP 8702 rumbled by.

I moved around a bit to try different angles as the seemingly endless container train rolled by. I shot the DPU locomotive, CP 8828, from more of the sun side.

CP 8828 passing the Meadows grain elevator
I tromped through the snow to get the last shot of the tail end of the train passing the elevator. Good thing I had my winter boots on!
Container train and grain elevator
I see that CP is carrying Canadian Tire containers again. For a while they were on CN... maybe they are on both now. Anyone know?

So that was fun, but it was time to start heading home.

Track 6 - Return Post

I passed through Rosser again - 50 km/hr grumble grumble - and as I approached the Viterra elevator by the Perimeter Highway, I saw headlights on the rails. Another train!

The funny thing was that the headlights were high on the hood, not in the nose like Canadian locomotives have. At first I thought it was an American locomotive like a Norfolk Southern engine, but it turned out to be CP 2304 running long hood forward.

CP 2304, running long hood forward
CP 2304 is a GP20C-ECO locomotive, one of the rebuilt Geeps featuring a standard cab and an 8 cylinder 710 prime mover. I'm not sure why it was running long hood forward; I'm sure the crew wasn't big fans of the reduced visibility.

I'm quite sure this locomotive and train were headed to Portage la Prairie. The train had the following cars:
  • CRYX 5362, 5349, 5359, 5353, 5590, 4037, 4033, 5374 - Cryo-Trans refrigerated cars, likely for McCain Foods in Portage;
  • TGRX 854834 (lettered for Richardson) and GACX 10003 (lettered for GATX) - for the Richardson plant on the west side of Portage;
  • TILX 793096 (Trinity Industries Leading) - refrigerated car for Simplot just west of Portage; and
  • CRYX 5381, CRYX 5377, CRYX 5364, and CRYX 5296 - probably also for McCain

CRYX 5296 and other refrigerated cars
Often there is a CP locomotive stationed in Portage la Prairie, but I understand that recently the crew either takes the locomotive from Winnipeg to Portage or taxis from Winnipeg to Portage.

I didn't chase the train, but instead headed south. I had some time left so I thought I'd touch base with a few grain elevators and maybe get lucky and catch one more train.

Track 7 - If She Knew What She Wants

There was nothing moving on the CN Rivers sub, nor the CEMR Carman sub, so I headed down the CP La Riviere sub toward La Salle and Domain.
The La Salle grain elevator
The La Salle grain elevator looked much the same as the last time I saw it. The elevator has a bit of a lean toward the track, but it's had that for several years at least. Hopefully it doesn't get worse.

I went to the south end to shoot and a few snowmobilers were zooming by, so I caught one of them in the photo.
Snowmobiling in La Salle, Manitoba
I'd say this looks like fun, but I haven't been on a snowmobile since I was a child. My dad was involved in two snowmobile incidents and let's just say that they didn't exactly endear me to snowmobiles.

1. While we were living in the Soviet Union, we were staying at a dacha [cottage] outside Moscow for a few days. My dad borrowed or rented a snowmobile, which happened to have a broken windshield so it had a jagged edge on it. While driving it, he managed to get into an accident and cut his chin on the windshield, requiring stitches... without anesthetic, of course, because this was the Soviet Union.
2. Back in Canada - either before or after our trip to the USSR, I'm not sure - we were visiting my mom's parents at their farm outside Fredericton. My dad had a snowmobile and I was on the back, and we headed out to run over the farm land. My grandparents had a few hundred acres so there was plenty of room to ski or snowmobile. I did a lot of cross-country skiing there.

Anyway, at one point I fell off the back and my dad didn't notice for a while, so I was left alone in the "wilderness" for a while until my dad noticed and came back for me. I wasn't interested in snowmobiling after that.

Track 8 - Let It Go

After La Salle, it's a short drive over to Domain to see the ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator there.
I love these Prairie town signs
I'm pretty sure the elevator is privately owned now. I've seen single grain cars spotted at the elevator so it is still in use.
The Domain, Manitoba grain elevator

That was the end of my "fun day" morning. I hope you liked it, and I'll leave you with a question:

What is your favourite Bangles song?

Leave a comment and tell me why!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

AmazonBasics DSLR and Laptop Backpack Review

I've had a sling-type camera bag for a while, but I wanted to get a larger bag that also included a spot for a laptop. A few blogs had mentioned the Amazon Basics DSLR and Laptop Backpack so I decided to give it a shot.

I lucked into a little sale and got it for $45.99 (Canadian) with free shipping. It arrived quickly and I took a little video while I unboxed it.
The backpack has three compartments - a slot for a laptop up to 17" in size, the main compartment with sections for camera bodies and lenses, and a smaller accessory compartment with pockets and slots for cables, pens, etc.

The Camera Compartment

The main compartment has dividers that you can move to fit your own equipment. I would say that you could easily fit two complete cameras in here.

In my backpack, I've put my camera, with my two main lenses (and my "nifty fifty"), a flash, battery charger, rain cover, and a few other doodads. There is room for more.

I can fit my camera with a telephoto lens on it very comfortably in here.

I think I will be fiddling around with the compartments a little more to get just what I want. I may wish to have the camera closer to the top so I can just unzip the top and slip the camera out, rather than having to open the compartment fully to get the camera out.

The Laptop Compartment

There's not a lot to say about the laptop part. Most laptops will fit here no problem at all. I have two laptops, a giant 17" Dell workstation and a smaller 14" laptop. Needless to say, the 14" computer fits in with no issues. The Dell, however... it's a tight fit. The zippers do close but just barely.

You should keep in mind that my 17" Dell is a large laptop and most people comment on its size when they first see it. There's a tasteless joke in here somewhere.

Here's a photo of my smaller laptop in the bag.

I'm confident that the vast majority of laptops will fit in this bag.

The Front Compartment

Front compartment
The front compartment is for all the miscellaneous doo-dads that you carry around. Laptop charger, cables, pens, business cards, breath mints, whatever you normally carry along when travelling.

The compartment zips open about 60% of the way. The rest forms a deep pocket to retain larger items.

You can see from the photo that half of the compartment is a large mesh bag, closed with a zipper. I plan to use that for passports, boarding passes and other documentation that I don't want to lose.

The other half has a pouch with a number of small pockets for pens and small items, as well as a clip thingie to attach keys or carabiners to. I would use this to attach the little key generator devices I have to carry around for customers' VPNs.

Other Features

The backpack has straps on the outside for securing a tripod to the backpack. I tried this for a little while and it does work, but I generally don't carry a tripod around and I found the tripod was banging into things as I wore the backpack. To me this isn't a very useful feature but "your mileage may vary".

The backpack comes with a rain cover bag. I haven't had the opportunity to use it yet but it's nice to have. I pretty sure the backpack is not waterproof so you would want to use the bag in heavy rain. I know I have used the integrated rain cover on my Lowepro SlingShot a few times.

Wearing the Backpack

Of course I had to try the backpack on to see how it feels. It has the normal backpack shoulder straps and also has straps to go around the waist.
Wearing the backpack
I don't think I will wear the waist straps.

It's comfortable enough and you can see the shoulder straps are nice and broad so it shouldn't dig into my shoulders.


I can't say I have any real dislikes for the backpack, other than it is different than my Lowepro SlingShot 102AW. I am used to wearing the SlingShot and being able to slide it around to the front and get my camera out fast. With a backpack, you have to actually take the pack off and set it down somewhere before you can take the camera out.

I really see different uses for my backpack and my sling pack. The backpack is for travelling and for having on the passenger seat next to me while driving. I think that is an excellent use for it as everything will be accessible. The sling pack is good for being a tourist - to have the camera easily accessible - but not good for carrying a lot of stuff.


This backpack does exactly what it promises to do - carry a DSLR and a laptop in a backpack. The price is great and it is a good basic backpack for carrying your computer and camera around. I'm happy with my purchase.

Buy the DSLR / Laptop Backpack

(The Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you follow the link and purchase something on Amazon, at no additional cost to you. I was not compensated for this review in any way, nor did anyone ask me to review the backpack. I just wanted to share my experience.)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Philadephia Freedom

I used to be a rolling stone you know
If a cause was right
I'd leave to find the answer on the road
I used to be a heart beating for someone
- "Philadelphia Freedom", Elton John / Bernie Taupin

While looking through my Lightroom catalog for Amtrak images, I stumbled across some photos I took when I was in Philadelphia, PA back in April 2005.

I've never blogged about this trip before, because this was a few months before I started blogging!

This was the only time I've been in Philadelphia (to date) although I have been in Pittsburgh a few times.


I went to Philadelphia for work, for a conference. I did some research and determined that you could take a train from the Philadelphia International Airport via SEPTA, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.

I arrived at PHL and took this train. It was a pretty short trip on the Airport Regional Line to Jefferson Station downtown, maybe 30 minutes.

I'm pretty sure I was staying at the Marriott where the conference was, and it was a short walk from Jefferson station to the hotel. I stowed my bags and took a short walk to the 30th Street Amtrak station.

Amtrak's Station

Amtrak's 30th Street train station in Philadelphia
Columns at Amtrak station
This imposing structure was built for the Pennsylvania Railroad and opened in 1933. It is the busiest Amtrak station in Pennsylvania, being situated on the Northeast Corridor and serving more than 10,000 passengers a day.

Amtrak trains like the Acela Express, Vermonter, Cardinal and Keystone Service stop here. It also sees many SEPTA trains and NJ Transit's Atlantic City Line starts here.

I walked through the large Art Deco waiting room and looked around for a bit. I was a lot more self-conscious about my railfanning in 2005 than I am now, so I didn't do much exploring and I definitely didn't try to go on the platforms. I did notice that there were some great views available from the parking garage...
The cavernous interior of the Amtrak 30th Street station

Return to Amtrak

I went back to the Amtrak station on the 5th after the day's activities ended. I went straight to the parking garage to take some photos of the engine servicing area.

Amtrak yard, Philadelphia
Notice the collection of ballast hoppers on the left side. A little closer view...
Amtrak 200 and ballast hoppers
I was intrigued by the loco in the distance and zoomed in even farther.
AMTK 723 in Philadelphia
Apparently AMTK 723 is a GP38-3, originally built for the Penn Central as GP38 PC 7758. From photos it looks like it is used for yard and maintenance service.

Sister AMTK 724 was nearby with an electric locomotive on the next track.
AMTK 724 in Philadelphia
I took a little bit of video too.
Later that night, I had to have a Philadelphia standard... a hoagie. It's the "official sandwich of Philadelphia", after all!
Mmmmm... hoagie.
It was pretty delicious.

SEPTA Transit Museum

On the 6th I visited the SEPTA Transit Museum briefly. I didn't have a lot of time but it's a small museum, just up the street, so it was all good.

They have a restored PCC trolley car there, #2733. She's a beauty!
PCC car 2733 in Philadelphia
It's pretty nice inside.
Streetcar interior, Philadelphia
I liked the nose of this transit car sticking out of the wall.
Part of car 1312
There was a model train display there as well.
Mmmm, three rail


To wrap up, here are a few miscellaneous photos I took while I was there. My apologies for the poor photo quality of some of the photos. These were taken with a 1 megapixel digital camera...
Part of the Philly skyline

Mural below the Jefferson station

The Liberty Bell and I

See Also