Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Rainbow Railfanning 'Round Rivers

On June 19th I was in the Carberry-Brandon area of Manitoba and had a free evening. I had seen some photos from a location just east of Rivers (the namesake of the CN Rivers subdivision) and I wanted to check it out.

Little did I know how many rainbows I'd encounter around Rivers!

Warning! This is going to be a long post, and very picture heavy. Let's go.

In Rivers

From Brandon, I headed north on highway 10 past the old grain elevator at Forrest, under the CN main line, and then turned west on highway 25. This road parallels the CN line a few kilometres to the north and I saw a train go by as I was rolling west.

I arrived at Rivers and drove through town. I noted a locomotive parked by the former station (more on that later) and I continued to the west end of town.

I saw an approaching container train in the distance, so I set up to photograph and video it by the former Cargill grain elevator(s).

Soon, two of CN's finest, ET44ACs CN 3035 and 3048 rolled past the elevator.
CN 3035 and 3048 passing the Rivers grain elevator
It was nice to see the elevator's  doors open, indicating that it is still in use. In fact, later on I saw a grain truck drive up to the elevator.

The skies were pretty interesting that night, as you'll see later.

Recording.... recording...
Here's the video of that train.

Once the train passed, I headed back into town. I stopped by the VIA station to check out CN 2438 idling away.

CN 2438 is one of CN's GE Dash 8-40CM (or C40-8M) units with the "Draper taper" behind the cab for greater crew visibility. Opinions are very mixed on whether the visibility is improved very much, and I don't think many crews like them.

Many of the 55 CN units that were built have the "CN North America" logo on them.
CN North America Logo

Grant's Cut

The location I wanted to shoot at is nicknamed "Grant's Cut". I don't know why.

To get there, you drive east from Rivers on highway 25, then hang a right on Road 120W - basically the first right after crossing the Little Saskatchewan River. Drive straight through the 4-way intersection and keep going and you will cross over the CN Rivers subdivision. This is Grant's Cut (Google Maps).

Looking north
Note the skies! It was really threatening to rain by this time, and the clouds were moving swiftly. I parked off the bridge - it's really just one lane - and stayed relatively close to my car just in case it started to rain.

This is the view to the west...
Looking west from the overpass at Grant's Cut
And this was the view to the east after a few minutes...
Double rainbow! What does it mean?
Rainbows were the theme of the night. The weather was very unsettled and there were some very dramatic clouds around. I was pretty concerned that I was going to be rained on - or hailed upon - but the nasty stuff passed by to the north. I did feel a few rain drops now and then. There was even some lightning in the distance.

So, nice broad curves to the east and west... and an overpass with no traffic. A lovely location! One other nice feature is that you can look straight down the track toward the east...
Mile 140.8
Wait... what's that in the distance? Red lights and a set of headlights?

CN 347

I was really hoping the rainbow(s) would stick around for the train's arrival. How cool would that be?

I've had some luck with rainbows and trains in the past. I just barely included a rainbow with a CP SD40-2 back in August 2014 and with a CP GP38/GP9 pair in Winnipeg. Back in 2010 I was railfanning in the Calgary area and caught a sunset rainbow at Keith.

Alas, it didn't happen here. The rainbow was gone by 19:03 and the train didn't arrive until 19:06. So close!

The sun was very spotty indeed. Notice the train rolling through the rural crossing and the "sucker hole" of sunlight here.
Catching the sun
This is a highly cropped view with my 70-200mm lens. The train was still a long way away.

Here they are just about to take the curve... in the dark.
Back in the dark
A few seconds later, they've emerged into sunlight again and are taking the curve.
Taking the curve at Grant's Cut
CN 2151 and BCOL 4641 were the power on this train. The profusion of empty centerbeam flat cars means this is CN 347... a train I have photographed many times. It is very distinctive.

The weather was so strange that night. Here's a shot of them a few seconds later and it looks like a beautiful day!
Gorgeous evening!?
The train rolled on, endlessly, centerbeam after centerbeam after centerbeam. I counted from my video and I think there were 138 cars. I think these were all 73' cars so that's a 10,000' foot train.

I've heard CN 347 called a "sail train" because of the appearance of the empty cars, and also because they have a sail effect and create a lot of wind at ground level for trackside crews who have to inspect the train as it passes.

No CN crew has ever said anything nice about this train!

As I said, the light was very variable and part of the time the train was in relative darkness. Challenging for photography and video!

After that train passed, there was a lull for almost an hour.

Green = GOOD
I was thinking about whether I should hang around or hit the road, but eventually the signal lit and that told me a train was en route.

Or maybe I heard the engines before the signal lit.

I can't remember which came first, but either way... TRAIN.

I knew it was coming from the west, which is not great light for evening photography, but what can you do? Take pictures anyway, that's what!

Oil Train

CN 2957 East
CN 2957 East was an oil train. They had a single unit on the head end, a CN grain car as a buffer car, then a long black snake of oil tankers.

I think the above photo turned out pretty well for shooting somewhat toward the sun. It took a fair amount of processing in Lightroom but I like that side glint.

The going away shot shows the dark and foreboding clouds and some rain on the horizon... plus a little shadow selfie.
Going away
Of course, if you crop in far enough, it looks like a beautiful evening...
Dark clouds? What dark clouds?
Pictures can be deceiving.

There was a tail end unit, CN 3041, with another buffer car between the locomotive and the tank cars. You can see it in the video I compiled.

I hung around another 10 minutes or so but it was starting to get late (8:15 PM) and I wanted to check Rivers out one more time. The clouds were still pretty dramatic... and if you look closely, you'll see a wee little rainbow on the horizon just left of centre.
Not your normal clouds

Back to Rivers

Time for.. a crew change..
Apologies to the Little River Band
I drove back into and through Rivers. On the west side I saw there was a train pulling up to a stop... out of town.

They were stopping at a rural crossing and there was a CN vehicle there.

I suspect they were doing a crew change there to avoid blocking crossings within the town.

CN 2242 was the sole power on the head end of this long freight train. It had a lot of autoracks.

I was at the highway crossing on the edge of town.

I decided to do something a little different and shoot with my "long lens" (70-200mm) to get a telephoto look, then use my iPhone to take a quick wide angle snap as the train passed.

The problem with the telephoto / long shot was that there were a few shrubs (visible in the photo above) that prevented a nice full train shot, and then there was the crossing gate itself to get in the way. I'm not 100 percent happy with the shot below.
Making the best of a bad angle
It would have been a better composition had I stood closer to the tracks, but that's not safe and so I settled for this.

I prefer the iPhone shot I took a few seconds later.
The iPhone wins!
After that, I rushed over to the other end of town to shoot them passing the train station, with the grain elevator in the background.
Backlit in Rivers
Imagine this shot in the morning... golden sunrise light on the nose of the locomotive, elevator and station lit... that would be nice.

Not this time.

I had a notion to get them on the bridge just east of town.. before Grant's Cut. I knew I couldn't beat them there but maybe I could get a silhouette shot against the sunset. Worth a try!

Silhouette shot
Yep, pretty much what I wanted. Jeannette Graves has a similar shot on Flickr.

I drove back east along highway 25. Looking to the south I could see a container train slowly rolling west in the distance.

There was another rainbow. Of course.

Rainbows were definitely the theme of the night.

Did you know that "rainbow" comes from the Latin arcus pluvius, meaning "rainy arch"?

In school everyone learns ROYGBIV, the seven colours decreed by Sir Isaac Newton. I always knew it was VIBGYOR - not sure why - but I think Roy G. Biv is a lot easier to say.

Here there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow... just a container train. Nice enough for me.

The photo to right was with my telephoto, cropped in. Check out the wide angle photo below.
That's a big old cloud
I couldn't stop taking photos of the sky!

Taking a LEAP

Another rainbow...
On my way to Rivers, I had noticed a major north-south road, highway 270. As I was returning east I decided to drop down 270 to the tracks and see what I could see.

When I got there, I very quickly saw CN 2242 approaching from the west. I took a video of the train (see bottom of post) and then took a few photos of the area.

This is "Leap", a new control point / set of crossovers on the Rivers subdivision. It has all new shiny LED signals. This is part of a 9 mile stretch of double track between Knox and Levine.

There used to be a Manitoba Pool grain elevator here, at "Smart". It was demolished in 2002.

While admiring the signals, I was surprised by a westbound train.

I was so surprised, in fact, that I didn't have time to adjust my settings and shot a full two stops too dark!

Fortunately, I shoot RAW files so there is enough information in the file to recover a decent shot, despite underexposing the image so badly.
Remember, kids, always shoot RAW. ;)

I liked the going away "glint" shot.
Glint FTW too
The train had CN 2953, 2969 and 5796 on the head end.

This post has been picture-heavy already, so I'm not going to post any photos of the cars, but I did want to mention that it had not one but two 2001 Census hopper cars (DCLX 7490 and DCLX 8096).

Photos by Last Light

It was getting pretty late by this point, so I went back up to highway 25 and then down highway 10 past Forrest. I couldn't resist stopping to take a few photos of the old Forrest grain elevator.
Forrest grain elevator at sunset
I combined three photos into one to get enough of a dynamic range for the above photo. A little "HDR trickery" if you will.

I was sure I was done taking photos by this time (9:36 PM), but as I passed the Brandon airport, the old T-Bird on display at the highway caught my eye.

Fine, just one more photo...

Then I was truly done for the night.

The Video

Here's my video combining the two trains at Grant's Cut with CN 2242 at Leap.

I hope you like it. I am trying a new video editing program, Hitfilm Express. So far I like it - and it's free!


It was a good night. I:

  • Explored two new locations (Grant's Cut, Leap)
  • Photographed five trains
  • Photographed two grain elevators
  • Saw a bunch 'o' rainbows
  • Got a bonus plane photo
Good times and good photo opportunities. Thanks for reading.

PS - hey, do me a favour and sign up for my mailing list! I'll send you a weekly summary of photos I post on social media (if you opt in to that) and occasionally I'll send you reminders of blog posts like these. That's it. Thanks!

PPS - check out George Dutka's White River Division blog! He posts a great mix of model and 1:1 scale trains.. always worth a read.


Jenn said...

Great photos Steve! Love all the rainbows and dramatic skies with and without trains!

One of the very first things I was told after getting my Nikon was to shoot in RAW. I always do but don't have much editing skills yet.

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks, Jenn! I could not stop taking photos of the sky. :)

The editing skills come with time. You'll be happy you shoot RAW because you can always go back and re-edit some favourites and make them even better!

Anonymous said...

When I worked for CN we called center beam flats "sail boats" because the wind would push them around the yard.

Canadian Train Geek said...

"Sail boats" - that must be why crews call CN 347 the "sail train"!

Jim Griffin said...

Great photos! Hard
To imagine the length of these trains where I live - old abandoned line to Owen Sound - my rail fanning is vicarious now. The skit and clouds are something else. Your opening phot is excellent but I enjoyed them all. Nice to hear about the Churchill line - saw a post about some motor cyclists who followed the rail and didn't think the damage was as bad as has been
Rreported. Your last comment about nothing being done until it is sold is probably accurate. It looks though, as nothing will be done until next year unless they get going - the window for fixing the road is limited by the weather!