Monday, April 30, 2018

Four Days in April, Part 2

CN 2315 meeting CN 2666
In a span of about a week in April, I made a point of getting out and photographing trains. I ended up shooting trains on April 14, 16, 17, 18 and 19, and I am going to share each outing in a separate post.

Monday, April 16th

I had an hour or so to spend railfanning on Monday afternoon, so I went over to the southeast corner of Winnipeg next to the Tinkertown Family Fun Park. CN calls this "Navin" and it's the end of the CN Sprague subdivision, which runs from Rainy River, Ontario through the United States and through Manitoba to Winnipeg.

As I approached the area, I noticed a train was coming into Winnipeg from the east. I drove to Navin to catch it coming into the CN yard.

The track has a few little curves as it comes into Winnipeg, so I elected to photograph it approaching one of those bends as it passed under the Perimeter Highway.
Leading lines
This was taken with my 70-200mm lens (what I call my "long" lens due to its reach) and I cropped it in a bit. I decided to process it this way, because I felt the high contrast of the image was well suited for black and white. I liked the leading lines of the rails.

After I took the shot, I stepped across the tracks (at the crossing) to photograph it from the "sun" side. That was one reason why I shot it from such a distance - I wanted to allow enough time for me to cross safely, before the lights started flashing and the gates started coming down. I like to take good photographs but I like living a lot more!

CN 2315 and a black snake
Still using the "long" lens, I took several photographs as it approached the crossing. I'm not sure which one I like better.

WEST - Perimeter Highway
Note the snow on the nose of CN 2315! It was a lovely day in Winnipeg. We've been fortunate that the majority of snow missed us; Ontario was suffering through some snow while we had blue skies and no snow. This train would have come from Ontario and I guess it didn't linger in sidings long enough to melt the snow.

I scooted down closer to the yard to shoot them again, because I wanted a better shot of that third unit, a leaser.

When I got to the south end of Symington Yard, CN 2666 was waiting to leave.
CN 2666 and company waiting to leave
CN 2666 East was on the closest track to me, and CN 2315 West went by on the farthest track. The two middle tracks are pullback tracks for the hump yard.

Here's that lease locomotive - GECX 9473.
GECX 9473, an ex Union Pacific locomotive
The outgoing train, CN 2666 East, had CN 2202 in second position. It must have been a bit toasty in that locomotive at one point!
Mmmmm... toasty
I returned to that area in the evening, and took this iPhone shot of one of the humpyard sets.
Puff puff
The set was sitting there, and GTW 5943 was periodically revving up and letting out a little puff of smoke. Odd.

That was April 16! Stay tuned for April 17 with some sunset photos.

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PS I added a few items to my Amazon shop if you'd like to check it out!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Four Days in April, Part 1

In a span of about a week in April, I made a point of getting out and photographing trains. I ended up shooting trains on April 14, 16, 17, 18 and 19, and I am going to share each outing in a separate post.

Saturday, April 14th

My son goes to a class in downtown Winnipeg on Saturday afternoons, so I ended up with some time on my hands in the area. With the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs, there are Jets banners and signs everywhere!

I went to the Forks, which is a prime tourist area where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River. The CN Rivers subdivision and the CN Redditt subdivision meet at VIA Rail's Union Station. These days the CN line is busy but it is sometimes challenging to get a good photo angle. I was in the mood to try something a little different.

I went over near the historic Nutty Club building. I was visualizing a photo that included that building and the CN line, and trying to figure out where to stand to incorporate both into a photo in a pleasing way. Ideally I would have a really tall stepladder so I could look straight down the bridge over the Red River and capture a train there with the Nutty Club building to the left. Since I don't have that, I tried this angle to see how it worked.
Nutty Club building and train, Winnipeg
I think it's OK but it's not ideal. I like the building but I don't like the large gap between the building and the rails, and I also don't like the trees obscuring a lot of the train. I keep thinking that it would be great to get some elevation. Maybe I need to make friends with someone in the office buildings nearby.

I'd like to try a shot a little further left from where I was standing to close that gap.

The baseball field, Shaw Park, is on the other side of the tracks and it would be nice to incorporate that too. I would need a wider lens, for sure. I tried this photo of the park with the CN line but the early afternoon light was all wrong.
Shaw Park sign, bridge, and train... a winning / Winnipeg combination?
I do think this angle has some promise with better light.

After that train passed, I went to the Winnipeg Railway Museum. I was contacted a while ago by someone who is making a detailed scratchbuilt model of the Countess of Dufferin, the historic steam locomotive at the museum. They wanted some photos and measurements of the main driving wheels and the underside of the locomotive, so I took those. While I was there, I heard the rumble of an approaching train, so I stuck my head out the Dutch door between the museum and the VIA Rail train shed. CN 2240 was slowly pulling an oil train east, so I framed it up with the VIA "YORK" diner parked in the shed.
CN 2240 passing the VIA Rail train shed in Winnipeg
I wanted to leave some empty space on the left for the train to "move into", but also include the diner car and the arch of the shed roof. It turned out pretty well, in my opinion. I was fortunate that the CN train was crawling along, so I could take the time to compose it the way I wanted.

I'm not sure why the diner and other car were in the shed. A VIA engineer, who should know, was pretty certain they were there for training.
Diner YORK and other VIA Rail car
I bought a couple of items from the museum's well-stocked gift shop, then left the station. The oil train was STILL crawling along, so I walked over to the bridge over the Assiniboine River and photographed the tail end crossing the river. Note the lack of a buffer car - not required in Canada.
CN 8013 on the tail end of an oil train
It was time to pick up my son, so that was the end of my railfanning for the day.

It's important to always be trying new perspectives, especially when you're photographing in a location you've been to many times before. Use your imagination and be willing to experiment. It's not always going to work out, but you can't find gold without sifting through some rocks. Stretch your photographic muscles and you'll be a better photographer.

Read part 2

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Heck of a Morning

I went out early on Sunday, March 18th (2018) to see some trains and grain elevators. I really wanted to photograph a grain elevator at sunrise. It turned out that it was overcast so there really wasn't a sunrise. No worries - the trains still move and the elevators are still there!

I decided to head toward Gregg and Harte on the CN Rivers subdivision. I was considering an overhead shot from the overpass by the Harte grain elevator. I headed out around 6:15 AM, before the sun came up.


I drove past Portage la Prairie to Bloom, by the new G3 elevator. I saw there was a train in the 134-car loop track. I pulled off the highway to take a few photos when I noticed a green signal facing west, and a headlight in the distance to the east. I set up my tripod to capture the action.

The sun was still below the horizon, so it was long-exposure time! A 2.5 second exposure captured the gate coming down, the train in the loop track, and the green-over-red signal.
Dropping the gate
21 seconds later, here's the train smearing through the scene. See anything unusual about the signal?
Both the green and red are lit in the top signal! The long exposure captured both the green signal at the start of the photo and the red that came on after the locomotives passed the signal. By the way, the train had CN 2428 and CN 2153 leading, not that you can tell from the photo!

Once the train passed, I spent a few minutes photographing the train and elevator. The train was periodically inching forward to line up the next hatch under the spout. That must be a boring job!
CN 5730 and CN 5667 loading grain at Bloom


The ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator at Gregg
I arrived at the Gregg grain elevator after an hour of driving. The ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator looked pretty much the same as when I saw it in May 2014. The equipment off to the side has changed - upgrades, I guess!

I took some photos of the elevator, then wandered around Gregg, photographing the nearby Kerfoot Church, the old school and an old barn. You can see those photos in my guest post on Everybody Has To Be Somewhere - a great blog.

No trains were around, so I headed west along the grid roads toward Harte.

As I drove along, I encountered a north-south railway track.

Petrel Junction

Looking toward Petrel Junction
This was the first road crossing of the CN Carberry subdivision, which branches off from the Rivers subdivision at Petrel Junction. In the photo above, you can see the Rivers sub left-right across the horizon.

The Carberry subdivision runs from here south through its namesake town, Carberry. South of the town, it takes a hard right to head west past CFB Shilo into Brandon where it meets the Cromer subdivision. This branch line serves the McCain plant in Carberry, the extensive Canexus plant in Brandon, and the spur at CFB Shilo.

There's a little two track "yard" at Petrel just south of the road I was on. It's a pretty lonely place.

I kept driving west, and as I approached Harte, I saw an eastbound train! I found a north-south road and beat it up to a crossing to capture the approaching intermodal train.


Long train on the lonely prairie
There's something about seeing such a big, long train on the open prairie. Even a ten-thousand foot long train looks pretty small when there's nothing around but a few gravel roads, the occasional house, and a whole lot of emptiness.

Anyway. CN 3028 was the power on the head end of this train. I assumed there would be another locomotive farther back in the train to provide a little more motive power. I know CN is pretty stingy with locomotives, but it's a lot to ask one locomotive to pull a train like this!

Note the Harte grain elevator at the far left of the photo above.

My trusty vehicle, Railfan Two
My little 2014 Honda Civic has been on a lot of these grid roads. I bought it in February 2014. Later that summer, I said to my wife, only half-jokingly, that more than half of the first 5,000 km on the car was spent on gravel roads.

Soon the mid-train locomotive came into view. I was quite excited to see that it was not a normal CN locomotive.
Not a CN locomotive!
This was one of the recent batch of locomotives leased by CN. This one is CREX 1501, an ES44AC owned by Citicorp Railmark Inc. (Citirail). It's pretty new!
CREX 1501 rolling through the crossing


Harte grain elevator
After the train passed, I continued on to Harte. There is an ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator here, and a few houses just south of the tracks.

The shots above and below are from the (rare) overpass over the tracks. I am not sure why a middle-of-nowhere place like Harte warrants an overpass where other, more major roads like highway 5 have a grade crossing over the same railway line. It's a mystery.

Guess which track is the main line and which is the siding.
There was no sign of any more trains, and my time was running out, so I headed up to nearby Oberon to visit my favourite grain elevator before starting my trip back to Winnipeg.

I did see this neat old brick house in Harte itself. It looks like it is occupied and well maintained.


The Oberon grain elevator
Whenever I'm in the area, I always try to see Oberon. It's my favourite grain elevator in Manitoba.

I carried on down highway 5, and saw a train sitting down by the Gregg elevator... so, back to Gregg.

Gregg, Again

Cooling their heels in the siding at Gregg
CN 8830 West was sitting in the siding. "Death star" IC 1007 was the trailing unit. I like those black Illinois Central locomotives.
IC 1007 in the siding in Gregg
After about 15 minutes, another westbound train came rolling along on the main track. CN 5712 West rolled on past, pulling another couple of miles of containers, while the crew of 8830 were on the ground, giving it a careful rollby inspection.

Side by each
I didn't hang around to watch 8830 leave... time was running out for me.

I headed south on highway 5 to the Trans-Canada Highway, then east toward Winnipeg.

The CP line along the Trans-Canada is usually a disappointment... it sure was when I headed west earlier in the morning, but on the way back, it produced one train.

Near Austin

A really bad photo of CP 9772 West
Unfortunately, they were coming out of the mid-morning sun and I was on the wrong side of the tracks. I pulled over and grabbed a few shots, expecting them to be pretty awful. Look at that sky!

CP 9772 was the lead unit, with UP 7889 in second position and CP 8792 well back in the train. The going away shot was just as bad.

Oh well.

As I approached Winnipeg, I left the highway to travel along the road paralleling the CN main line from about mile 18 to mile 10 of the CN Rivers subdivision. One last chance to get more trains... and CN didn't disappoint.

Another Leaser

Wrapping around the curve
The Rivers sub is pretty straight, but there is a curve around mile 16 that is a favourite for railfans. I caught up to this eastbound and shot it coming around the bend. Cowl unit CN 2421 was leading, but what was that behind it?

GECX 9144 up close and personal
It was GECX 9144, an ex CSX Dash-8. Another leaser... and a lot older than the first one I saw that morning. It was originally built for Conrail as CR 6244 in June 1994. It became CSX 7379 and recently joined the GE rental fleet.

The train was plodding along, so I was able to get ahead of it for a few more shots... and a video.
Clearly ex CSX
Here's the video of the train pounding the diamond at CN Diamond.

That was the end of my railfanning... a great morning of trains and grain elevators.

Speaking of trains and grain elevators, Eric Gagnon's two new books are well under way. Follow their progress at

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: Faces and Places Along the Railway

Faces and Places Along the Railway
I recently found Elizabeth A. Willmot's book Faces and Places along the Railway at a used book store here in Winnipeg. You can consider it a sequel to her better-known book, Meet Me at the Station, and continues the same theme of an affectionate look back at railways in Ontario during the steam age.

The book is copyright 1979, so it is a little out of date, but since she was writing about the early days of railways it doesn't matter a lot.

A little over half of the book is devoted to photos and stories about 17 railway towns or topics, from Amherstburg through Kingston and Owen Sound and featuring locations like the Hog Bay Trestle and the Brockville railway tunnel. Each town or topic gets at least one photo and a few pages of history and stories about the railways that went through the town and the people who worked on them.

The latter portion of the book is more photo-heavy, with photos of "Faces From the Steam Era" with short captions, and 12 railway stations in the "Meet Me at the Next Station" section with full page photos of each station and a one or two sentence caption for each.

I freely admit that I don't know much about railways in Ontario, so this book was a great introduction to towns I have never been to. It also helped draw together the little bits and pieces I have learned about Ontario's railway history into a more coherent story. I have been to Amherstburg, Ingersoll and Woodstock, but I still enjoyed seeing the photos of those stations from the 1970s.

All photographs are in black and white.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian railway history, and especially to those interested in Ontario's railway history in particular. It's an easy read.

Find Faces and Places along the Railway on, or on
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See all my book reviews

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Not Just Waffles and Chocolate - Sunrise and Sunset

For my last post in the "not just waffles and chocolate" series of Belgium train posts, I'm going to post some passenger train photos, in the order I took them.

February 13 - sunrise in Aalter
Here's a train at sunrise on the 13th. I'm fascinated by the electric overhead lines. Have a look at the little details as we go through these photos. Power wires, support wires, support poles, tensioners, weights... lots of little things.

February 15 - sunset in Aalter
A Desiro ML trainset at sunset in Aalter.

A Belgian signal light in Aalter
With a busy line like the Antwerp-Brussels line, you have to have signals to control traffic. Signals like this are everywhere.

I can't claim to understand Belgian signals after observing them for two weeks, but I can tell you that red means "no train coming" and green means "train imminent".

This page has a ridiculous amount of detail on Belgian train signals.

Note that in Belgium, trains normally go on the left track when there are two tracks.

February 15 - train in dying light
It was getting pretty dark but I managed to capture a Desiro ML train zooming into Aalter. There's a road bridge over the tracks down from the station, and I stood to the side to capture the train. I would have liked to have been right over the train, but there are walls on either side of the overpass preventing any view of the tracks. I imagine that's to prevent any debris - intentional or otherwise - from falling onto the tracks, but it also prevents photography!

February 16 - VIJF VAKKEN
"Vijf Vakken" translates to "five boxes" or "five pockets". I think it means there are 5 parking spaces at this location, which I confirmed by using Google Street View.

February 16 - blue skies
Literally one minute later, the Desiro left and this train was still waiting at another platform. You'll notice there are a lot of tracks here - maybe six - with four of them at platforms. The outer two seem to be used for through trains that don't stop.

February 17 - on board
On board a train on February 17. I think this was a Desiro ML trainset but I'm not sure. This was early on Saturday as I took the train to Brussels to meet my wife at the airport.

February 18 - TGV!
I caught a French TGV train out the window as we rolled past at sunset. This must have been Ghent.

February 19 - Passing by
A Desiro ML trainset comes rolling into Aalter as a double-decker train waits on the adjacent track.

February 19 - switches in Aalter
These are a bit of a mystery to me. These rotary switches are located on a post or wall on every train platform, as far as I can see.

Here's the sequence that I observed whenever a train was readying to depart.

  1. All of the onboard train crew blow their whistles.
  2. They look up and down the train to confirm nobody is trying to get on or off.
  3. All but one person gets on the train.
  4. The last person walks over to these switches and turns one.
  5. They get onboard, press a button on the train, and the train departs.
My guess is that this is a request to depart the station, or a signal to the traffic controller that they are departing. It doesn't change the signal being displayed - it was already green before they turn it.

February 20 - 137 km/hr
We were rolling along at 137 km/hr when we were heading into Brussels for some night photography.

February 21 - Sunrise in Ghent
By this time, I was staying in Ghent and commuting to Aalter by train. I was waiting for my train when I photographed this Desiro ML trainset. I like that clock tower, part of the Gent-St-Pieters station.

February 21 - there's my train!
Turning the other way, here's my 07:46 train coming out of the sunrise. I was taking L578 toward Zeebrugge-Dorp. Train L578 starts in Mechelen, north of Belgium.

30 minutes later, I was in Aalter taking this photo.

February 21 - Sunset in Aalter
It was a nice morning for train photography, apparently!

February 23 - Onboard display
Here's the onboard display in the Desiro ML train, L578. It was 07:47 so it was just about to depart, ready to roll to Aalter. Note that I was in 2nd class!

February 23 - 1867 in Aalter
Some sweet sunset light on the nose of 1867, a EuroSprinter ES60U3.

Finally, here's my last train photo in Belgium, our train from Gent-St.-Pieters to the airport.
February 24 - last train
Thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed this series featuring trains in Belgium.

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