Wednesday, May 30, 2018

CP Derailment Near Rosser

Derailed containers near Rosser, Manitoba
Late in the afternoon of May 29, 2018, around 4:45 PM I think, an eastbound Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed between Rosser and Winnipeg, Manitoba. About 13 double-stacked container platforms were blown over by strong winds.

Local railfan Felix Lesiuk passed by the scene before the highway was closed and took some photos. He graciously gave permission for me to post a couple. There are more on the Winnipeg Model Railroad blog.
CP derailment scene. Photo by Felix Lesiuk.
Truck and kingpin - a rare sight. Photo by Felix Lesiuk.
I was initially unaware of the derailment. After supper, I went out for a bike ride. When I returned home, I checked my email and a friend in the area had sent me a message about the derailment (thanks Sheldon!). It was 8 PM at this point. I grabbed my camera bag and rushed up north toward Rosser.

I arrived "on scene" at 8:40 PM. Highway 221, which parallels the CP Carberry subdivision, was blocked off just over 5 km west of the Perimeter Highway (road 3E), where the head end of the train was.

The marked location "2.77 km" is where the train was, on the west side of Winnipeg. The 2.77 km is the approximate length of the train.
The location
A closer look:

The local fire department was manning a blockade on the east end, with CP Police right behind them. I parked down road 3E then walked up to the barricade to take the photo above. The firefighters eyed my camera and cautioned me to be safe. I assured them I would stay on the public roads outside their perimeter.

Down highway 221
The train was headed by CP 8764 (which I last saw in Spillimacheen, BC), with a mid train DPU (CP 9769) and a tail end DPU.

There were about 8 or 9 autoracks in front of the tail end DPU and all were still upright, along with a couple of doublestacks.

I was glad to hear that nobody was injured, and there seemed to be no concern about hazardous materials. The road was blocked off so the cleanup crews could work without interference from passing cars.

There were a fair number of people gawking from their cars but I don't think anyone was walking around like I was. I talked to two gentlemen from a nearby farming colony who were pretty curious about the situation.

It looks like about 13-15 platforms blew over right behind the mid train locomotive. Lots of equipment was on site and cranes were in operation, with more arriving while I was there.

Reinforcements arriving
I brought out the long lens to get some shots from the grid roads around the train.

CP 8764 and emergency crews
I walked north up road 3E to get some decent angles. The 70-200mm lens was earning its keep.


I tried the road parallel to the highway, a mile north. You can see track panels on a truck trailer in the photo below, ready to install to patch up damaged track.
Note the track panels on the truck trailer on the right.
I took a video of the train, using my long lens and my monopod for a little stability. It's still a bit jerky but a lot better than it would have been hand-held.
It was getting fairly dark by this point - about 9:15 PM.
Looking through the bottoms of the cars
Working at night
I cropped the heck out of the above photo to show this worker cutting a doublestack apart. I guess they can't be unlocked in that position...
Cutting a doublestack of containers apart
I tried the west end of the blockade, but it was a long way from the train and there really was nothing to see from there.

I decided that I had all the shots I could get, so I wrapped up with a few more from the head end and prepared to leave.
CP 8764 and a fire truck
A few more photos of the scene...
The blockade and the train
As I was getting in my car, I heard CP 8764's horn blow. I watched as the front end of the train slooooowly crept forward, dragging the front end of the train behind it. This was 9:40 PM.
Pulling through the crossing
I headed for home after that.

Everyone on site was very professional and were working hard to clear the wreck and restore service. It's unfortunate that this happened just before the CP engineers and conductors went on strike. Fortunately they quickly reached a tentative agreement and they are going back to work.

News Links

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Making Lemonade

You know the old saying, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" Sometimes as railfans or as photographers in general, we appear to have limited options on what to photograph. Maybe you live in an area where there's only one train a day. Maybe you can't travel to "interesting" places and must make do with what is in walking distance. Maybe, like me, you find yourself by a train yard with only one locomotive in it. What do you do?

Make lemonade!

I had about an hour to spend at CP's main Winnipeg yard this past Saturday afternoon. I arrived at the east end of the yard at 1:15 PM and I saw this scene.
Obvious 3/4 wedgie
Newly rebuilt unit CP 8143 was on one end of an oil train. There were a few grain cars behind it, no
other locomotives in view, and nothing moving. snore

I decided to take that as a challenge and I sought to find more photographs than the obvious ones I took above and below.
Obvious side roster shot
I walked around a bit - staying by the roadside, no trespassing! - and I found this angle with a track panel lining up the locomotive.
Thinking outside the (cardboard) box
Not bad... it would have been better without that cardboard box, but I couldn't go move it without trespassing.

It's always good to include a "sense of place" in your photographs. I found this angle with the Winnipeg Cold Storage building in the background.
Winnipeg Cold Storage
No doubt about where that photo was taken!

Zooming in to focus on details never hurts...
The new Golden Beaver
You saw the Winnipeg Jets flag and the locomotive as the lead photo in this post. I have a Jets flag on my car, and I used it with the locomotive to make a statement.

Don't be afraid to use props!

I saw a few opportunities with the freight cars behind CP 8143... starting with the buffer car itself, BNSF 808686.
So you're saying we shouldn't try to load grain into this car any more?

A few cars down, I saw a Canadian Wheat Board logo between two tank cars.
Would be better without the graffiti
Speaking of tank cars...
UTLX 675953 - The Tank Car People
I spotted the old Robbs Glass building and wanted to include it in a photo. While I was walking there, a CP switcher came rumbling out of the yard in a cloud of smoke.

The switcher pulled ahead, then a belt-pack-wearing worker walked back to uncouple battered MP 652005 from a tank car. That was my signal that it was time to move on.

I hope you've enjoyed this little batch of lemonade, and you can take some inspiration for turning your own photographic lemons into lemonade.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Stainless at Sunrise

When I was going to sleep Sunday night, I checked VIA's web site for the current position of VIA 1 and 2, the west and eastbound "Canadian" trains. They have been consistently late all winter and this spring has been no different. VIA 2 is due in at 20:45 on Sunday night, but last night it was showing an arrival time of around 06:30 or around 10 hours late. I decided to get up a bit early on this Victoria Day Monday to see if I could catch it coming in at sunrise. Eastbound trains at sunrise... nice.

I woke up at 05:25 and checked the web site, and sure enough, it was showing a 06:45 arrival. I threw on some clothes, left a note for my wife (who sadly is working today), and hit the highway. I figured I would get to the CN line, then head west to Diamond to wait there for VIA 2 and shoot it in the wide open prairie.

As I took the exit for Wilkes Avenue, that plan was shot all to heck when the lead engines of VIA 2 shot by the nose of my car.

I took a hard right and brought my Civic up to speed in pursuit of VIA 2. Since they were within city limits, they were down to a reduced speed, so it was actually possible to catch up to them. I'm not sure what the speed limit for them is, but I overtook them in the 90 km/hr zone and crossed the tracks at Elmhurst Road.

I pulled to the side, threw the car in park, and jumped out with my camera and sprinted to the crossing. As I arrived, the lights started flashing and the bell started ringing. This didn't deter one approaching motorist, who gunned it through just before the gates started to drop.

I did some quick settings changes - low light, gotta go with ISO 1600, need a decent shutter speed, try 1/800s, f/8 aperture to get enough of the train in focus - fired a test photo, checked it, exposure looked good, let's go...

VIA 6449 at sunrise
VIA 6449 and company looked pretty good in that morning light!

I fired off several frames as the train approached, then banged a shot off for every car so I could get the full consist. There's no art in the recording of numbers, just a quick pan and click for every car to get the number or name off the side.

Skyline 8516
Back to "art" mode for the "going away" photo, the EVANGELINE PARK looking very nice in the golden sunrise.
VIA's Evangeline Park at sunrise
It wasn't the location I wanted, but you take what you can get, and I'm glad I actually caught VIA 2 this time. I tried this stunt a week or two ago and missed VIA 2 by about 30 seconds, so I'm grateful that I "got the shot".

After the adrenaline faded, I headed west along the CN line to see if anything else was around. CN 8875 East was stopped just short of Hall Road, presumably waiting for their turn to enter Symington Yard.
CN 8875 East
That face... these SD70M-2s mean business. There's no curves anywhere, just brute power.

This train wasn't going anywhere for a while. I drove along the train, looking for a DPU engine, but the two at the head end were the only locomotives on the train.

At the highway 334 crossing, I photographed the train all stretched out along the prairie.
Sunrise train
There were tons of red-winged blackbirds around, so I photographed a few of them too. They are very talkative and it was nice to hear them chirping and see them fluttering about.

Red-winged blackbird
I also saw one of these - not sure what it is, but it's cute!
Pretty bird
I decided it was time to head home, so I hit the highway back to home and back to bed for a little while. It was a nice way to start off Victoria Day.

How's your day?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum

CN Lunenburg sign
In October 2017, I visited the excellent Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum in scenic Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I had always wanted to visit and I had the opportunity to do so, so I took it.

The museum is billed as "a railway display of Nova Scotia's South Shore". It is located in a former industrial building (here) on highway 3 directly east of Lunenburg.

Museum Entrance
When you enter the building, you'll see a replica ticket counter, with a gift shop to the right and the museum entrance to the left. Behind the ticket counter, the station agent's office looks very realistic.
The station agent's office
Once you pay the entrance fee, you'll get a ticket, stamped for Yarmouth and punched for the current date. Check mine out!

The entrance to the museum portion is built to look like an antique railway car for the Halifax and Southwestern. In the photo below, you'll see Duane Porter, the friendly curator of the museum. I've corresponded with Duane a few times and it was great to finally meet him in person.

Duane is a super nice guy, very dedicated to preserving the history of the railway, and a great tour guide too!

Duane Porter and the Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum
Inside the "car", you'll sit in one of the authentic railway car seats and view a short video introducing the railway and the museum. Once you see that, you can proceed through into the museum itself.

The museum features many model railway scenes of the former Halifax and Southwestern / CN railway, complemented with many, many signs and other items from the railway itself. Numerous photographic displays explain portions of the railway and its history.

The model railway scenes are very detailed and, I presume, accurate. I never saw the railway lines when they existed, but I trust they accurately represent what used to be here.

This winter scene shows Bridgewater. The iconic station is visible in the distance.
Model railway scene of Bridgewater, NS in winter
Some scenes are really "lit" and can be viewed with lights out.
By night
There are numerous displays throughout the museum, including one with railway dishes, one with keys and a timetable display that I drooled over.

Brief History of the Halifax and South Western Railway

The actual Halifax and South Western Railway ran from Halifax to Yarmouth along the east coast of Nova Scotia. It was incorporated in 1901 by the dynamic duo of William Mackenzie and Donald Mann, who later created the Canadian Northern Railway. Mackenzie and Mann purchased the charters of a few paper railways in Nova Scotia to help cobble together their railway.

The line was complete by the end of 1906. The railway started at a junction with the Intercolonial Railway in Africville (Halifax) and wandered along the eastern shore through Chester, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg, Bridgewater, and Liverpool before terminating at Yarmouth on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia.

It became part of Mackenzie and Mann's Canadian Northern, which went bankrupt and was acquired by the federal government in 1918 and became a part of the new Canadian National Railways (CNR).

The CNR built a new passenger station in Halifax after the original station and area was destroyed by the Halifax Explosion. This new station, and the new tracks through the railway cut across Halifax, meant that the H&SW line now started at Southwestern Junction, very near today's Fairview engine servicing facility.

Under CN, the railway consisted of four subdivisions:
  • Chester, from Halifax to Liverpool, with a junction in Bridgewater to the Middleton Sub (109.1 miles)
  • Yarmouth, from Liverpool to Yarmouth (136.6 miles)
  • Middleton, from Bridgewater to Bridgetown (66.9 miles) with a junction with CP's Dominion Atlantic Railway at Middleton
  • Caledonia, from Calendonia Junction to Caledonia (21.9 miles) 
Lunenburg itself was served by a 7.7 mile spur from "Blockhouse".

Traffic on the railway declined, and in the late 1970s it was proving to be very uneconomic. In 1982, the Yarmouth, Middleton and Caledonia subdivisions were abandoned. The majority of the Chester spur was abandoned in the early 1990s, and only a small spur remained to industrial parks. By late 2010, all tracks of the Halifax and Southwestern Railway were gone.

The railway was served by SW1200RS units, and later MLW RSC-14 locomotives. The Middleton subdivision was especially light and CN's unique RSC-24 locomotives were known to operate there.

Visit the Museum

The Halifax and Southwestern Railway Museum
The museum is located at 11188 Highway #3, just east of Lunenburg (see Google Maps). In the extended summer season, from May 1 to October 31, it is open Monday to Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM and on Sundays from 1 PM to 5 PM. Please visit their web site for updated details.

PS - The late David Othen wrote a book on the last 25 years of the Halifax and Southwestern. You can buy it at Blurb as a book or eBook. Other books on the railway include Along the Tracks (of the Dominion Atlantic and the Halifax and South Western Railways) by Tony Kalkman, and a reprint of Summer Resorts Along the Road by the Sea, originally produced by the railway itself.  (some of these are affiliate links - I earn a small commission when you buy it through that link, at no additional cost to you)

PPS - Check out my list of Canadian railway museums!

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Canon 77D - First Thoughts

The Canon 77D camera
I bought a new camera body a while ago - a Canon 77D. Since I bought my previous body in June 2010, it was time for an upgrade.

In this article, I'll go through my reasons for upgrading, my camera selection process, general comments about the camera and my experience with low light photography with the 77D.

Why Upgrade?

Night photo with Canon 77D
My Canon T1i was and is a great camera. I've taken close to 60,000 photos with it, and I still use it on occasion for video or as a second camera. In fact, I just used it to shoot a half marathon.

However, it had a few weaknesses that were really bugging me. The biggest one was that it had poor low light performance.

When it's dark, you have only three ways to get a decent exposure for a photo:
  1. Open the aperture up (limited by your lens);
  2. Slow the shutter speed (need a tripod and a stationary subject); and/or
  3. Increase the ISO (increases digital noise).
The problem with the T1i is that above ISO 400, it got very noisy and was pretty much unusable above ISO 800. This meant that I couldn't take star photos, especially not Milky Way photos. Also, sports photography in dim rinks weren't really successful.

My Canon T1i didn't have a flip out LCD screen either. Beyond the obvious selfie potential, I could see that as being useful for composing shots when the camera was on the ground or other positions where I can't look through the viewfinder.

Choosing a Model

Top view of Canon 77D
I had decided to continue with a Canon body. If I was starting fresh, I'd pick a mirrorless camera instead of an SLR, but I have a big investment in good glass (lenses) so I am sticking with Canon.

I didn't want a full-frame SLR, because one of my two good lens isn't compatible and I had already decided that it was unnecessary for my needs. I had been lusting after a Canon 7D Mk II for a while, but after a little research, I found that the Canon 80D was a better camera for a lower price!

A little more investigation showed me that there were three very similar cameras in Canon's lineup:
  1. Canon T7i, consumer grade
  2. Canon 77D, prosumer grade
  3. Canon 80D, semi-professional grade
Here's a table comparing those three camera bodies, along with my old T1i on the left.

Canon T1i Canon T7i Canon 77D Canon 80D
Megapixels 15 24 24 24
Max ISO 3,200 25,600 25,600 16,000
Focus Points 9 45 45 45
LCD Fixed 3" Flip-out 3" Flip-out 3" Flip-out 3"
Frames/second 3.4 6 6 7
Video 1920x1080, 20 fps 1920x1080, 60 fps 1920x1080, 60 fps 1920x1080, 60 fps
Other features - - Built-in interval and bulb timers; top LCD panel Weather sealing; pentaprism viewfinder
Price Discontinued $ $$ $$$
Amazon Buy on Amazon Buy on Amazon Buy on Amazon

You can see there are more similarities than differences between the three "7" cameras. I didn't want the T7i because I wanted a higher-end body to resist weather. The 80D seems like the superior camera but its ISO performance isn't as strong as the T7i or the 77D, because it has an older processor in the camera.

I went to Henry's and asked to look at the 77D and 80D. I held them for a few minutes then bought the 77D.

General Comments

Controls on the Canon 77D
So far I've taken a little over 3,000 photos with the 77D and I am very impressed with it. It operates very much like the T1i, being another Canon product, but it has some definite improvements.

The focusing performance seems better on the 77D, presumably due to the dual-pixel technology that these cameras have. I rarely have a focus miss now, something that I had fairly frequently when using my 70-200mm lens in lower light. I'm also impressed by how well it focuses in lower light, where my T1i would hunt and not focus.

One small thing is that the shutter sound is much quieter on the 77D. My T1i's shutter was super noisy, loud enough that it would sometimes turn heads if I took a photo in a quiet room. The 77D is by no means silent but the shutter isn't very loud.

A few controls have moved - notably, the power switch - but in general, it wasn't a big learning curve for me to move to this camera. I like that there is a separate button to change the ISO. I wish there was a button to change the focus type between "one shot" and "AI Servo".

The 77D has a touch screen. To be honest, I have not used this at all. I've locked it out for the moment, as I am afraid I am going to touch it and change settings that I don't mean to change. Maybe I should try enabling it, as I could change the focus type pretty quickly using the touch screen.

This camera has wireless (wifi and Bluetooth). I've used the app on my phone to receive photos from the camera, but I haven't played with it much. I think it will be more useful as a remote trigger for the camera. More to come.

Low Light Performance

Ooooh, stars!
Here's the important part. I bought the 77D primarily to get better low light performance, and it delivers. I'm very impressed by how much better it is in low light, both when shooting at a low ISO and also how well it performs when I shoot at ISO 1600 or higher.

Here's a photo at a ridiculous ISO 25600 - something I would never ever attempt with the T1i. In fact, you couldn't even select it on the T1i.
ISO 25600 photo with Canon 77D
There's some quality issues, but it is still quite usable at such a high ISO. I was also shooting from across the rink!

In case you're wondering what's going on here, this was a little game they were playing in the stands during a curling competition in Portage la Prairie. The person who could get the most tissues out of the box won a prize.

Here's a more reasonable ISO - ISO 1600. My friend Jason Paul Sailer is giving the wave to a train at sunrise.
ISO 1600 photo of a train with Canon 77D
I'm very happy with the quality of this photo.

Another ISO 1600 photo - curler Kaitlyn Lawes' intensity is apparent as she is delivering a shot at the Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Trials in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
Kaitlyn Lawes throwing a curling stone
I am super happy with the low light performance of this camera.


I love my new camera! The Canon 77D has met my expectations for low light performance and I've been impressed by its focusing capability and picture quality. I have very few complaints.

I was not compensated in any way to write this article. I just want to share my experience with the camera!