Saturday, July 28, 2018

I Brake for Sunflowers

A tide of sunflowers... oh, and a train
As railfans, we get caught up in the details of locomotives and train operations. "Is that an ES44DC or an ES44AC? Check out those giant radiators on that Tier 4 locomotive."

Sometimes we have to stop and smell the roses... or sunflowers, in this case.

I was out looking for trains a few evenings ago, and I found one getting ready to leave CN's Symington Yard in Winnipeg. I set up for a "meh" shot - the light wasn't great - and then this hump yard set of power rolled in the way... so they got to be in the picture instead.

Hump Power Photobomb

It's funny how shooting into the sun really strips the colour from the image. When processing the photo above, I decided to make it a black and white image as there wasn't a lot of colour anyway.

Contrast that with the image below, taken half a minute later but facing away from the sun.
Lots of colour
Colour galore!

I've noticed that the SD40 sets of hump yard power seem to be used more often than the older GP38 sets, so I have been trying to photograph the Geeps.

(I've left off all the letters and numbers after the GP38 and SD40 units, as I don't really care. I believe the SD40 units used for hump service are SD40-3s and these GP38s might be GP38-2 units, but I often get those details wrong and they really don't matter to me. If you like those details, great! There's room for everyone in this hobby)

I drove around to Symington Yard proper.


GrainsConnect hoppers in Winnipeg
I spotted a line of shiny grain hoppers in the yard, so I took a few telephoto shots of them.

They are GrainsConnect hoppers. Presumably they are for GrainCorp's grain terminals in Maymont, and Reford, Saskatchewan. They are building two more, in Huxley and Vegreville, Alberta. Of course, GrainCorp also owns Canada Malting, which has a few grain elevators across the prairies.

I found it interesting that these cars all have "dents" in the same place. It must be part of the manufacturing process as I can't imagine they all got banged up so soon.
Not really a dent, I assume
Driving back toward CN Navin and the southeast corner of Symington, I saw that the train I saw earlier was on its way. I headed east on the Trans-Canada Highway (which parallels the CN line for quite a few kilometres), looking for a good location to make a photograph.

I was mindful of the sun's position, mostly behind the train, so I thought a side shot would be better than a "glint" photo toward the sun. When I spotted a field of sunflowers next to the tracks, I knew I had my location. I exited the highway and drove around the field to position it between me and the tracks.

Not long after, CN 3062 East came rolling along.

Sunflower Central

Passing Petro Canada
I fired off a series of frames as the train came rolling past. The photos toward the sun weren't as good as the "going away" photos, but I do love those sunflowers.

I liked the lead photo of this post the best. Here's one more, where I focused on the sunflowers and not the train.
Yellow Tide
They weren't going super fast, and I had a feeling they were going to do a meet at Lorette siding just down the line.

Sure enough, there was a train waiting on the main line.

Meet at Lorette

CN 3042 at Lorette siding outside Winnipeg
CN 3042 West was sitting on the main line while CN 3062 East went around them through the siding. I'm not sure why 3042 wasn't in the siding - maybe they didn't quite fit.

Meet complete
Once the train passed, the crew of 3042 returned to their locomotive. I didn't have any time to sit and wait for them to leave, so I took a few more photos and went on my way home.

CN 3042 waiting on the main at Lorette


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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Book Review: VIA Rail - A History of Canada's National Passenger Rail Service

This is a review of the book "VIA Rail  - A History of Canada's National Passenger Rail Service" by Christopher C.N. Greenlaw.

I've been meaning to read this book for some time. I borrowed it from Winnipeg's excellent library system and devoured it over the course of a few days.

As the subtitle says, it is a history of VIA Rail. It's not a picture book. It's a scholarly and definitive look at the origins of VIA Rail, from the passenger services of CN and CP through the formation of VIA in the mid 1970s through to 2007, the publication date of the book.

The book goes into detail on many of the decisions that were made by CN, CP and the federal government that led to the formation of VIA Rail, first as a "company within a company" in CN and then as a crown corporation. I knew the overall timeline already, but the book really delved into the reasoning and the political pressures and realities that led to the VIA we have today.

One of the main problems with VIA Rail today, and indeed ever since it was founded, is that it is a political football, subject to the whims of the government in power. It was formed through a "back door" political maneuver (an Order in Council) rather than through a bill passed in Parliament. This has hamstrung VIA from the start and really prevents a lot of long-term planning, as VIA's funding is dependent on how the current government feels about passenger rail and other competing funding priorities. The book goes into a lot of detail on why this came about and why it continues to persist to this day.

The book talks about the start of VIA, dealing with the passenger fleets of CN and CP for the first few years, and then talks about the devastating cuts of 1981 and 1990. The book is new enough to be able to talk about the Renaissance period at the turn of the century, but not new enough for the refurbishment of VIA's F40 and LRC fleet.

The book has a multitude of photos illustrating VIA throughout the ages. As I said, it's not a picture book, but there are many photos and they complement the text very well.

If you are a fan of passenger rail, or Canadian railways in general, you should read this book. It's one of the few books on VIA Rail and is well worth a read. You can buy it on Amazon or perhaps get it from your local library.

My Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon after using this link, at no additional cost to you.

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Visiting the Souris Railway Museum

Interior of the Souris Railway Museum
My family toured southwest Manitoba over the Dominion Canada Day weekend in 2018. We stayed in Boissevain and visited the International Peace Gardens, then visited "small town Manitoba". It was a nice, low-key weekend and I really enjoyed the gardens, and especially revisiting many grain elevators that I had last seen on my two-day elevator tour in 2014.

One town we visited was Souris, Manitoba. This is a lovely town that has a great downtown full of interesting shops, and it also hosts the Souris Railway Museum.

The Souris Railway Museum, from the outside
The museum is in a building built to look like a bay window caboose. The interior is filled with many railway artefacts from the area, from Canada and beyond. There is a lot to see in a small space, and I spent a good half hour in the building, looking at the displays and talking with the two enthusiastic ex-CP volunteers there.

One end of the museum contains a diesel locomotive simulator, a device they are quite proud of. It is really only available "by chance", as not everyone is trained in how to use it. The two volunteers there couldn't operate it but did show it to me.
Diesel locomotive simulator, Souris
This is a purpose-built simulator, not a control console taken from a real locomotive. It's pretty high tech and the volunteer didn't want to mess with it. He said it was quite a good simulation.

The museum is well worth visiting if you are in the area. Visit their web site for more information!

Other Attractions

While you're in the area, see caboose CP 437180 just up the road at the Hillcrest Museum.
Caboose CP 437180 in Souris, Manitoba
Don't forget the famous swinging bridge - just on the other side of the Hillcrest Museum.
Souris Swinging Bridge

Happy Accident

CP 2201 in Souris, Manitoba
We went to get some ice cream after touring Souris. As we were walking to our van, I heard a distant horn. I hustled the family into the van and headed trackside, to find CP 2201 and 2212 running light through the town. A lucky catch!

Postscript - Train Register

One artifact I was particularly interested in was this train register book from Lyleton, Manitoba, containing entries from 1955 to 1964.
Lyleton, Manitoba train register book
The page shows trains 105, 123, 124, 230, 251, 530 and 551. Some of those trains are interesting because the 1955/04/24 employee timetable only shows trains 123 and 124 (first class passenger trains) and mixed trains 253 and 254.
CP Lyleton subdivision, 1955/04/24
Those train numbers are a bit of a mystery to me.

Lyleton must have been 2-6-0 "Mogul" territory at that time, as the locomotives listed on the register are CP 1274, CP 1285 and CP 1291.

The trains weren't huge, as the CP Lyleton subdivision was a "dead end" subdivision starting on the CP Napinka subdivision in Deloraine and ending in Lyleton. The register shows 3 or 4 passenger cars and no more than 10 freight cars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Review: Heartland

"Heartland", by Greg McDonnell
I'm ashamed to say that I had never read Greg McDonnell's classic book "Heartland" until last month. This book was published in 1993, for goodness' sakes!

I rectified that error, and I'm glad I did. This is a book about railroading in the heartland of the United States of America - the states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The book features hundreds of photos by Mr. McDonnell and many other talented photographers, together with the author's engaging and informative captions and essays.

Greg McDonnell has a certain style of writing. It conveys a breathless excitement for the power and history of railroading, and one can't help but be drawn into the glory and excitement of railroading and the courage and determination of the men and women who work with trains.

I would say a solid 80-90 percent of the photos in this book are great. They are great by virtue of the subject matter - rare locomotives or long-abandoned locations - or by the setting and composition. I'd say there are a few "meh" photos, but art is in the eye of the beholder.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book. You can buy it on Amazon, or even better yet, find it in your local library like I did.

See all my book reviews

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Logos Galore

Autoracks in the sunset
In the past few years, I've been paying a lot more attention to the freight cars in trains. The locomotives are certainly the stars of the show, but the freight cars are the ones that actually earn money for the railway. Flatcars, boxcars, autoracks, tank cars, covered hoppers, container cars... there is a lot of variety in today's trains.

I was watching a train full of autoracks a while ago and decided to photograph some of the logos on the train. Autoracks carry road vehicles like cars, trucks and SUVs, and in North America are usually multi-level and fully enclosed. Structurally, these are built on top of flatcars, which are often leased from TTX or other companies and are not owned by the railways whose logos they sport.

I took the opportunity in June to photograph one train and document some of the logos on the autoracks. Here they are, in alphabetical order, except for CSX which I listed first. You'll see why.


CSX logo
 I saw four different varieties of CSX logos on that train!

CSX - how tomorrow moves
 A lot of people don't like this (newest) variant of CSX' logo. I'm OK with it.

CSX - how tomorrow moves - on silver
This is the same logo, but on a silver background.

CSX logo
 CSX underscored.


BNSF railway logo
Note the clips holding the BNSF "swoosh" logo onto the car.


CN railway logo
The CN logo is quite simple - the CN "wet noodle" on black.


Conrail logo
The Conrail logo was an interesting find.


Canadian Pacific railway logo
No "logo" here - just "CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY" in block lettering.


Ferromex logo
 It's not unusual to see Ferromex autoracks through Winnipeg. Autoracks travel a long way!

Ferromex Grupo Mexico
This seems less common to me.

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern thoroughbed
 I am an unabashed fan of the Norfolk Southern "thoroughbred" logo. I think it really conveys speed and power, something that a railway should be proud of.

Norfolk Southern
Not so interesting but still nice.

Union Pacific

Union Pacific
The Union Pacific "shield".


So there you have it - eight railways' logos on one train. Not too bad! The only one I didn't see that I often do is Kansas City Southern.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Chasing CN with Caleb

I was in Saint John, New Brunswick in mid May 2018. I met up with Caleb Wentzell in the evening for a little... OK, a big chase.

Our target was CN 406, the daily Moncton-Saint John train. It usually heads down to Moncton in the afternoon and returns in the evening. Railfans were excited about this train because it had two leased units, CREX 1505 and CEFX 1011.

On the way down, CREX 1505 was in the lead. Since I was working, I missed that, but I knew it would be returning in the evening. Caleb was in town and wanted to meet up, so we arranged a rendezvous along Rothesay Avenue in Saint John, by the Ocean Steel rebar plant.

This is a good location because it's at the "throat" of Island Yard. All of the yard tracks converge just south (railway west) of the crossing there. When I arrived, I could see CN 2977 on the "bypass" track in the distance. I took this long shot using my 70-200mm lens and cropped in a fair bit.

CN 2977 pushing back in Saint John
As I watched, they pushed back and around the bend, out of sight. I imagine they were pushing the potash cars back onto the back half of their train to make up the whole train.

I knew this would take some time to complete, as they would have to do a full air test before coming back to my location. I ducked out to grab some supper, then returned to the location to wait for the train and wait for Caleb.

Caleb showed up, and we said our hellos. He had a few model train cars for me - part of a trade we made more than a year ago but never actually completed in person. Patience pays off...

Eventually CN 2977 pulled up, followed by the lease units.
CN 2977 with leased locomotives
As they pulled past, I took the opportunity to photograph the leasers.

Leased locomotives in Saint John - CEFX 1011 and CREX 1505
We didn't wait for the whole train to pass. We had discussed shooting it by the Rothesay train station, as Caleb had never shot a train there, and I always like that location. We were traveling in separate cars, because Caleb was going to carry on to Nova Scotia after the chase, and I had to return to Saint John to work the next day.


CN 2977 passing the historic Rothesay train station
Well, that shot worked well.

We arrived several minutes before the train did. Since there was no sun out, we had our choice of angles. I decided to shoot from this angle to include the historic station. Caleb was a little closer with a wider angle.

I shot the other leaser, CREX 1505, as they passed by us.
CREX 1505 on train CN 406
This time, we were trapped by the train, so it was time for a selfie by the train.

Caleb Wentzell and yours truly. He's quite a bit taller than I am!
We discussed our next move, and we decided to get them at Hampton. It's fairly easy to get into from the highway.


When we arrived in Hampton, I suggested going to the one lane iron bridge just before town to get an overhead view. We arrived just in time to catch the train snaking around the curve and blasting underneath us.

Overhead view of CN 406 at Hampton
While breathing in those tasty diesel fumes, I grabbed overhead views of the two leased locomotives as well.
Overhead views of CEFX 1011 and CREX 1505
Next up... Norton! I had never been there, but Caleb had, so he led the way.


CN 406 at Norton
I liked that old building, now used as a recycling depot. I think this location would work well for westbounds as well, because you could include that yellow building seen in the photo below, plus there are a few interesting buildings on the other side of the tracks.

CN 406 rolling through the crossing
The next shot was a grab shot near Apohaqui, by the highway. It was getting pretty dark so the photography was getting challenging.


Roadside view near Apohaqui
Caleb was showing good shooter form as he photographed CN 406 going away.

Bang bang
Caleb suggested another overhead view just west of Sussex. This was a good choice, as going into Sussex would be challenging to do in time, and we'd have no chance of another shot after that.


Overhead CN 406
This would have been nicer with more light, but what can you do? I think the location was good and the photos turned out OK.

CEFX 1011 from above
Our final location was Penobsquis, by the shuttered potash facility.


Here I elected to shoot video, as I hadn't done any video, and I knew this was the last spot. It's pretty dark and backlit, but here it is.

Once the train went by, we took a few photos of the potash facility... and its lonely locomotive.
PotashCorp plant in Penobsquis
Their locomotive is an EMD SW900, originally CN 7253.
Penobsquis switcher locomotive
The angle wasn't great but it was all that was available.

I said my goodbyes to Caleb and I headed back to Saint John. It was great to see him again, and I look forward to railfanning with him again!

Running Extra

NB Southern's yard in Saint John
I didn't do much railfanning the next evening, but I did take this photo of NB Southern's yard and shops from the nearby overpass. You can see their passenger equipment on the left edge, a few tracks in. A GP38 and a blue MP15 are at the shops, with a GP38/slug set on the side, and a few locomotives in storage at the back.

In Fredericton, I bought the latest book by Owen Laukkanen, noted Canadian mystery writer (and railfan!), Gale Force. It's a thriller based around a salvage tug and its crew. If you like thrillers by Clive Cussler, you'll love this book.

I had a very early flight and I intended to sleep on either the Saint John-Montreal leg or the Montreal-Winnipeg leg, but this book is such a page turner that I read it straight through with nary a yawn. Highly recommended. BUY THE BOOK

Owen Laukkanen's "Gale Force" on a plane

See also