Eight Locomotives, One Train

Eight locomotives, one train!
Eight locomotives, one train!

Saturday, September 5th, 2018 was a big railfan day for me – and not just for flying my drone.

OIL and Foreign Power

The Rock Island Lives!
The Rock Island Lives!

My youngest son was busy downtown for a while mid-day, so I had an hour and a half on my hands. As I usually do, I drove up to the CP yard to see what was going on there. I found an ex Rock Island car in the yard, now lettered FURX 815447. There was an ex Chicago and North Western car, AEX 21874, a few cars down. There wasn’t anything else going on in the yard.

Normally I would go to the CP shops to see if there was anything interesting there, but there was a long, stopped, oil train in the way. Oil train… hmmm… sometimes there is some foreign power on those, especially on CP.

Sure enough, there were a pair of BNSF engines on the head end on the west end. Unfortunately, there was a big fence in the way…

BNSF 7226 and 9656 in Winnipeg
BNSF 7226 and 9656 in Winnipeg

I like those “Executive” BNSF units.

BNSF 9656 in Winnipeg
BNSF 9656 in Winnipeg

This colour scheme was adopted by the Burlington Northern starting in late 1990. It was applied to some of their business train units, and then new SD70MAC BN 9401 came out with the new scheme. BNSF 9656 is one of that fleet of SD70MACs with the “Grinstein green” and cream colours.

Parked SD90MAC locomotives in Winnipeg
Parked SD90MAC locomotives in Winnipeg

There are still some CP SD90MACs parked in the west end of the yard, near the intermodal facility. 30 of those long-parked units are being rebuilt by Progress Rail into SD70ACU locomotives.

I waited for the train to move, hoping it would get rolling before I had to pick my son up. Fortunately, it did get rolling…

Double-length oil train leaving Winnipeg

It ended up being a double-length oil train – the two BNSF units on the head end, a buffer car, a string of oil tanks, a buffer car – then two more locomotives and more tank cars! The two locos were UP 5552 and CP 8770.

UP 5552 in the middle of an oil train
UP 5552 in the middle of an oil train

I didn’t record the entire train as I was short on time. It was just another hundred tank cars anyway…

Droning On

First train photo by drone
First train photo by drone

In mid afternoon I went out west of Diamond along the CN main line to fly my new DJI Mavic Air drone. As I was unpacking it and getting it ready for flight, I heard a horn from the west and I saw that a grain train was approaching.

Up went the drone, and after I got the hang of flying it a bit, I took a few photos as the train went by. They were certainly nothing fancy, and neither was my technique – snap, rotate, snap, rotate, snap… but that Mavic is a great platform to take photos from!

CN 2644 and 2177 from the drone
CN 2644 and 2177 from the drone

These were JPEG photos, not RAW format. I’m hoping the RAW format from the drone will allow me to brighten the shadows more. We’ll see.

The "going away" shot from the DJI drone
The “going away” shot from the DJI drone

I had my video camera running on the tripod, and you’ll see and hear my drone buzzing around.

First “real” drone flight

The Eight

I packed up my drone and started heading east. As I approached the Perimeter Highway, I saw a westbound train rolling by. After a careful U-turn (the roads were slippery), I overtook the head end and saw that they had eight locomotives. This I had to photograph!

I tried to get far enough ahead of it to take video, but I was in danger of doing what I sometimes do – try to take video and photos at the same time, and do a poor job of both. I decided to just take photographs.

Here’s the consist of this 8 locomotive train. It had four SD70M-2 locomotives, one ES44DC, one SD60, one C44-9W (Dash-9), and a BC Rail C40-8M (Dash-8).

  • CN 2336
  • CN 8938
  • CN 5480
  • CN 8856
  • CN 8865
  • CN 2682
  • CN 8879
  • BCOL 4616

It was an impressive lineup.

Eight locomotives, no waiting - BCOL 4616 and company
Eight locomotives, no waiting – BCOL 4616 and company

As the head end receded, I saw they were meeting an eastbound oil train. I relocated a bit farther east so I could see the oil train approach.

More Oil

CN 3031 leading an eastbound oil train toward Winnipeg
CN 3031 leading an eastbound oil train toward Winnipeg

The oil train had CN 3031 on the head end, with an old SOUTHERN hopper car as a buffer car.

SOUTHERN 88845
SOUTHERN 88845

I watched the oil train roll by. In the distance, I saw something bright and yellow on the other end of the train. It turned out to be UP 8703, an SD70ACe.

UP 8703 on the tail end of an oil train
UP 8703 on the tail end of an oil train

I had to get another photo of that Union Pacific locomotive. They weren’t going very fast, so I was able to get to Hall Road and take a few panning shots of the UP loco as it rolled by.

I was pretty happy with this one
I was pretty happy with this one

It was a good day!

Just One More Thing

I just finished reading Burlington’s Zephyrs by Karl Zimmermann. I didn’t know much about the Zephyr trains other than the weird shovel nose power units, and the intimate relationship between the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR and the Budd Company.

This was a great book. Zimmermann went into great detail on the origins of the first Zephyr, its tours around the country, and the follow on Zephyr trains. Special attention was paid to the revolutionary Vista-Dome cars that the CB&Q and especially the California Zephyr were known for.

Highly recommended! Buy it on Amazon or find it in your local bookstore or library.

First Impressions of the DJI Mavic Air Drone

DJI Mavic Air drone
DJI Mavic Air drone

I’ve wanted a drone for a long time. I’ve seen drone photos and video from talented railfan photographers like Jeff Wizniak, and I appreciate the change in perspective that a drone can bring.

I had some “found money” late in 2018. I looked at a few different DJI drones – I considered a discounted Phantom 4 – but I decided on the DJI Mavic Air. I liked it for these reasons:

  • Very small size
  • 4K video
  • Control via remote controller OR phone/tablet
  • “Reasonable” price

The size was definitely important to me. It’s small enough when folded up that I can keep it in my camera bag all the time.

I expect to have it with me every time I go out to photograph trains, so that if the conditions are good and I am in an area where drones can be flown, up it goes. I know that if I have to think about bringing it, it’ll be left behind.

So… what do I think of it?

I like it. The size is good – what I expected – and it’s easy to bring along. So far I’ve only flown it a few times, with only one “real” flight where I consciously took photos with it, so I don’t have a good feel for battery life yet. I only have one battery but I expect I will buy one or two more. They are rated for about 25 minutes of flight, so one battery won’t be enough for any serious outings.

The photo quality is… well, it’s hard to know. The photos I took were JPG photos, not “raw” format, and it wasn’t a great day for photos anyway. You be the judge.

First drone train photos
First drone train photos

It’s backlit so it’s not going to be great, and since it wasn’t in RAW format, I couldn’t do a lot about the shadows. It’s a 12 megapixel camera, so it’s not going to be as good as my Canon 77D, but it has enough pixels for me.

My biggest frustrations to date have been with the controller and my phone.

The remote controller looks like a video game controller, with two control sticks and a few buttons. There is a cradle to hold your phone and a cable to connect it to the controller. I had a lot of problems syncing my phone to the controller, and reading through forums, I discovered that the supplied DJI cable is crap and you should use your own cable to plug into the standard USB port in the controller. Once I did that, I had zero problems connecting.

The other problem I had with the controller was that it kept beeping at me, with no indication of why. Worse, I couldn’t actually fly the drone. I could auto take off and auto land, but that was it… no lateral movement or altitude changes were recognized.

More forum searching suggested that I needed to calibrate the controller. It’s a quick procedure to move the control sticks in all directions so the controller knows where the physical limits are. Once I did that, the beeping went away and it let me actually fly the drone.

My frustration with my phone is due to the rapidly failing battery in my iPhone 6. It basically shuts down whenever it is cold, within a few minutes of being in a cold environment. This can be a problem when you are flying with it! Ask me how I know…

In the video below, I launched the drone with the “auto takeoff” function in the app on my phone. In previous flights I used the auto land, but in this first “real” flight, my phone shut down so my only control was with the remote controller. I tried landing it but the drone is a little too smart for its own good…

First real drone flight

There are cameras on the front, back and bottom of the DJI Mavic Air for collision avoidance. The bottom camera looks at the ground and the onboard software decides whether it looks like a good spot to land. If it doesn’t think you should land there, it will resist – and if the app is online, it will tell you. In my case, it basically hovered when I was pushing the stick down to bring the drone to the ground.

I was seriously wondering what I would do if I couldn’t get it to land. I knew the battery would run out eventually, and the drone will land when the battery is critically low. That still didn’t seem like a good option to me.

Anyway, after a few tries, I got it to land by holding the stick down after it started resisting. The drone landed safely and automatically shut itself off. WHEW.

I’m working on the phone problem and I may end up getting a cheap Android tablet just for flying the drone.

Now I am waiting for warmer weather so I can go fly my DJI Mavic Air again! Much more to come…

Book Review: Railways: Their Life and Times

Railways: Their Life And Times

I received “Railways: Their Life and Times” as a Christmas gift in 2018. To be fair, I did ask for it on my Amazon wish list… and I’m glad I did.

I’m not sure why I initially put it on my list. The cover certainly doesn’t appeal to a non-steam fan like myself. I guess I saw that someone I trust recommended it.

The book is basically a book of semi-random facts about railways all across the world. Chapters on specific countries’ railways (e.g. Canada, Albania, Russia, the list goes on) are intermingled with more “themed” chapters like “Railways at War” or “The Gauge Question”.

It’s not a book that you read in one setting. It’s great to have on the coffee table, so you can pick it up, read a few pages, and put it down again to resume later that day… or week.

I think this book makes a great gift – to me – and it may make a good gift to a railfan you know.

Buy it on Amazon

As always, my Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that if you buy something after following the link, I get a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Mission… Accomplished?

The new rail inspection portal at Nattress in Manitoba
The new rail inspection portal at Nattress in Manitoba

You may recall that I went out on a mission to find the new rail inspection portal at Nattress, west of Winnipeg. You might also recall that I didn’t find it.

Well, I did some research, and consulted a few people, and determined exactly where it was. Consulting Google satellite views, I wasn’t sure that I could get right up to it but I could get close. On a cold December 29 morning, I set off before sunrise to find it.

The Winnipeg West Parking Lot

CN 2615 and CN 5467 at Hall Road

I started out along the CN Rivers subdivision. As usual, there were a series of eastbound CN trains waiting to come into the city. CN is very busy these days!

The first of three trains was just past Hall Road (around mile 11). I was too lazy to get out of my car, so I just pulled off to the side and photographed it there. See above.

I should mention that it was pretty cold out. At this time my car was saying it was -17C outside. The Environment Canada web site says the air temperature in Winnipeg was -18C at 9 AM with a wind chill of -29C. That’s brisk.

The next train was an oil train at Wescana Street, around mile 15, west of the CN-CP diamond. This train had no buffer cars – not required in Canada – and had ex CSX unit GECX 7342 as the second locomotive. It says “CW40-8” on the side under the numbers.

CN 8947 waiting at Wescana Street, west of Winnipeg
CN 8947 waiting at Wescana Street, west of Winnipeg
GECX 7342 on an oil train outside Winnipeg
GECX 7342 on an oil train outside Winnipeg

The third train was just west of mile 20, with lone unit IC 2711 at the point.

A CN freight train with IC 2711 leading.
A CN freight train with IC 2711 leading.

I left the tracks and drove north to the Trans-Canada Highway to continue west. I passed Elie with no sign of trains.

CN 2259 East

Blowing snow!
Blowing snow!

As I approached Fortier (between Elie and Oakville), I spotted a train coming out of Oakville. I looked for a place to get back to the tracks for a closer look. In the prairies, there are cross roads every mile, so it’s not hard to find a road that meets the tracks. In retrospect, I should have gone one more road west to get closer to a bend in the tracks.

I stopped and fiddled a bit with my tripod, losing time. I abandoned the idea of video and just took stills as the train rolled by, casting a cloud of loose snow in its wake.

CN 2259 and GECX 7365 near Fortier, Manitoba
CN 2259 and GECX 7365 near Fortier, Manitoba

The train had CN 2259 leading, with leaser GECX 7365 behind it.

I did enjoy this BC Rail flatcar full of wheels.

BCOL 990340 with a lot of wheels
BCOL 990340 with a lot of wheels

After the train passed, I continued on to Oakville. There were no trains in sight, so I carried on west along provincial road 331 through Newton to “road 31W”. This area is called “Curtis” on Google Maps, but if you head north on 31W you reach what CN calls Nattress.

Nattress

Not quite close enough
Not quite close enough

As I drove north on 31W I saw a train was rolling east. I knew I wasn’t going to get to the tracks before the head end passed, and the road was snow covered as you can see in the blurry photo above. I drove as far as I felt I could, then pulled over and jumped out to snap that long distance photo using my telephoto lens. It was CN 2263 East.

I saw the portal from that area, and took the lead photo of this blog post. Here’s a CSI-enhanced version.

A closeup of the rail inspection portal
A closeup of the rail inspection portal

I believe that’s a reflection of the lights in the portal visible in the “mouth” at right.

The eastbound train had a distributed braking boxcar on the rear. These are a common sight on CN trains in the winter. They have an air compressor in them to help maintain air pressure in the cold, and are now equipped with enough electronics that they behave like a distributed locomotive (DPU) for purposes of braking.

Distributed braking boxcar CN 0035
Distributed braking boxcar CN 0035

There’s a signaled crossing (with gates) on road 31W. I parked a bit south of that and walked up to the crossing. I noted a nice bend in the tracks to the west.

Seems scenic
Seems scenic

That had possibilities!

IC 2708 East

IC 2708 East at Nattress, MB
IC 2708 East at Nattress, MB

Soon I heard a train to the west. I set up the video camera (Canon T1i) on a tripod and waited for the train to arrive. It was led by IC 2708 and CN 2452.

It looked really nice coming around that bend! Since it was overcast, it didn’t matter what side of the track I was on, so I was able to take numerous photos of the train coming around the bend.

I think I like this one the best.

Rounding the curve at Nattress
Rounding the curve at Nattress

I took a few photos of the train as it passed. Not every photo has to have a locomotive in it… or so I’m told. ūüėČ

#noloco
#noloco

It was a solid train of containers, except for the autoracks on the rear.

Autoracks at Nattress
Autoracks at Nattress
Here’s the video

Only a few minutes later, I heard a train coming from the east.

CN 3077 West

Here comes CN 3077
Here comes CN 3077

It was CN 3077 and CN 2036 leading a westbound general freight train.

No Thru Road
No Thru Road

This train also had a distributed braking boxcar, CN 0041. This one was in the middle.

Another distributed braking boxcar
Another distributed braking boxcar

The train disappeared around the curve, but there was another train following fairly close behind it.

CN 8839 West

CN 8839 West
CN 8839 West

It was another westbound general freight train, led by a pair of brutish SD70M-2 locomotives – CN 8839 and 8829.

The brutes at Nattress
The brutes at Nattress

I heard another train to the west, but I checked my watch and I was running out of time. I packed everything up in the car.

I was a little chilled after standing outside for so long, but I had bundled up pretty well. I had proper winter snow boots and thick socks and jeans on my lower half. I wore a T-shirt and hoodie and parka so my core was warm. I had a toque on my head and heavy winter mitts with Little Hotties hand warmers, so my ears and hands were warm.

The one part that wasn’t well covered was my face. When I sat down in the car, I noticed that my nose was pretty pale and numb. That’s not a good thing. I held a hand warmer on my nose for a couple of minutes, and then it turned red – a good sign. I’ve since purchased a balaclava and I will wear that outside on cold days like this to prevent that from happening again. I might look like I’m robbing a bank, but at least I’ll be warm!

CN 2600 West

There's always another
There’s always another

As I drove east along highway 331 toward Newton, I saw the crossing lights come on at the highway crossing. I pulled off to the shoulder and photographed CN 2600 West rolling by.

In the background of one of my photos, I believe I see a small grain elevator at the Elm River Hutterite colony. I never knew that was there… I’ll have to try to get another look some day.

A grain elevator - maybe?
A grain elevator – maybe?

That was five trains in 60 minutes – two eastbounds followed by three westbounds. CN is busy!

CN 2263 East, Again

That boxcar looks familiar...
That boxcar looks familiar…

As I approached Winnipeg, I saw a familiar distributed braking boxcar – CN 0035. The first train that I saw at Nattress was stopped just west of Winnipeg, in one of the “parking spots”. The head end was by Hall Road, with red-white-and-blue BCOL 4610 trailing CN 2263.

BCOL 4610 in Winnipeg in red/white/blue BC Rail livery
BCOL 4610 in Winnipeg in red/white/blue BC Rail livery

There was an interesting load on the train – some very long poles overhanging a flatcar, with a spacer flatcar on each side.

Some very long poles
Some very long poles

Summary

I was able to photograph the portal, so I’m calling it a win. Mission accomplished! Send the troops home!

But seriously, it was a good outing. I saw nine trains in just over three hours, so the quantity was good, and I now know Nattress is a good location for photographing trains!

See Also

Just One More Thing

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Breaking Trains News

Several days after I visited Nattress, there was a collision between two trains at mile 50.2. An eastbound and westbound train collided, and two locomotives from the eastbound derailed, along with eight freight cars from the westbound train. One conductor suffered minor injuries, but fortunately nothing more serious occurred. The location was about 0.5 miles west of the crossing I was at.

Top 12 of 2018

Snowy train on January 14, 2018
Snowy train on January 14, 2018

I’ve picked one photo from each month in 2018 as my “best”. I know it’s subjective. Here we go.

January’s photo was taken on the 14th on a very snowy day – it was a terrible day for driving but a good day for railfanning!

Sunrise train in Ghent, Belgium

February’s photo is in Ghent in Belgium. I was there for work and I was waiting for my train to take me to Aalter (blog post).

Potash train glinting at sunset, March 30, 2018
Potash train glinting at sunset, March 30, 2018

I was out at sunset on March 30 and I was super pleased with this “glint” shot of a westbound potash train outside Winnipeg.

CN 2272 nose to nose with CN 8010

In April I was out railfanning a lot – I had a series “4 Days in April” and the above photo was in part 3 of that series.

CN 2977 passing the Rothesay train station
CN 2977 passing the Rothesay train station

In mid May I was in Saint John, New Brunswick and I chased CN 406 with Caleb Wentzell. The above photo was taken at the historic Rothesay train station.

The oldest grain elevator in western Canada – Elva, Manitoba

In late June, my family went to southwestern Manitoba for a long weekend. We visited the Peace Gardens on the border, and I had the opportunity to revisit some grain elevators that I first visited on a marathon two-day trip in 2014. The above is the oldest grain elevator that remains in western Canada, Elva.

IC 1000 on the point
IC 1000 on the point

The above shows one of Illinois Central’s “Death Stars”, black IC 1000, leading an eastbound freight train toward Winnipeg on July 22.

A golden sunrise for the VIA Rail "Canadian"
A golden sunrise for the VIA Rail “Canadian”

The above might be my favourite for the whole year. It was a magical morning on August 9 when I went out to photograph the approaching VIA Rail “Canadian”.

VIA 6441 leading the "Canadian" into Winnipeg
VIA 6441 leading the “Canadian” into Winnipeg

Different view, different day, but a similar train, the “Canadian” coming into Winnipeg.

The CP Rail business train approaching Winnipeg
The CP Rail business train approaching Winnipeg

In October I heard that the Canadian Pacific business train was coming through Winnipeg. I went out on October 25 and caught it near Rosser.

Train passing the Elie grain elevator
Train passing the Elie grain elevator

On November 17 I was on a mission to photograph a new rail inspection portal near Newton, Manitoba. I didn’t find it but I did capture this train passing the grain elevator outside Elie.

The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, Manitoba.
The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, Manitoba.

The final photo of these 12 is the CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, Manitoba… a good night.

I want to thank you for reading and commenting this year. I look forward to another great year!

PS I just finished reading John Varley’s “Red Thunder“. It’s a light-hearted science fiction novel about a group of young people teaming up with an ex astronaut and his genius brother to build and launch a spaceship to Mars. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, it’s a good read! (buy it on Amazon)

PPS Christmas was good to me – lots of chocolate, and two more books to read – More Abandoned Manitoba by Gordon Goldsborough and Railways: Their Life and Times by Robin Bromby.

Amazon links may be affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you buy something after following the links, at no additional cost to you.

VIA Rail To Get New Trains

Early depiction of new trainsets with new VIA colours, from VIA Rail Canada

VIA Rail has selected Siemens Canada to provide new trainsets for the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. These trains will replace the existing MLW-built LRC cars, built in the early 1980s. Siemens was selected over Quebec-based Bombardier.

VIA Rail’s LRC cars at the Windsor, Ontario station, September 2012.

The LRC ( Light, Rapid, Comfortable or Léger, Rapide, et Confortable) cars were designed together with their locomotives to provide a (relatively) high speed passenger train. The locomotives were based on the well proven Alco/MLW 251 prime mover, but the cars incorporated a number of new features, from their aluminum bodies through to their active tilting mechanisms.

The LRC locomotives were retired by the end of 2001, but the cars have continued in service in the Corridor behind F40PH and P42 locomotives. The LRC equipment has never operated outside the Corridor in Canada.

VIA 918 pulling four LRC cars, Windsor, Ontario

The LRCs have been refurbished and upgraded over the years, but they are getting pretty tired.

The New Stuff

VIA Rail’s requirements for the new trainsets included: bidirectional operation, operation at speeds up to 125 MPH; enhanced accessibility features; and potential for operation in both diesel and electric modes.

The trains will be powered by Siemens Charger locomotives, already in use with Amtrak California, the Illinois DOT and MARC in Maryland. There’s no detail yet on the rolling stock itself.

Former LRC locomotive VIA 6921 on display at Exporail in Delson, Quebec.

The new trainsets will also have modern features like LED lighting, USB ports, bike storage and so forth.

32 trainsets will be built at Siemens’ facility in the USA, with the first available for winter testing in 2021 for in-service operation in 2022. VIA has an option for another 16 trainsets.

Other Refurbishment

VIA Rail is also modernizing or refurbishing other cars in its fleet: 17 cars are being made more accessible by Bombardier; 25 cars are being refurbished by CAD; 4 dining cars are being refurbished by Rail GD; and 33 cars are being refurbished by VIA Rail itself. All of this work is being done in Quebec.

Further Reading

One More Thing

Totally not train related, but I just finished reading the book War Dogs by Greg Bear. This is a science fiction book about marines (called “Skyrines”) fighting aliens on Mars. It’s a gritty, psychological novel very much in the David Drake Hammer’s Slammers style. I liked it very much and I look forward to reading the second and third books in the trilogy. I like Greg Bear’s work.

Book Review: Southern Pacific Railroad

Southern Pacific Railroad, by Brian Solomon

I just finished the book “Southern Pacific Railroad“, another fine work by Brian Solomon. This is part of the MBI Railroad Color History series, published by Voyageur Press in 2007 as the second edition.

The book covers the historic Southern Pacific Railroad, from its inception in the mid 19th century through its growth, decline and eventual merger with Union Pacific in 1996.

“Southern Pacific Railroad” is divided into six beefy chapters. The first two cover the history of the “Espee”: “Building an Empire” and “The Twentieth Century”.

“Riding the Friendly SP” covers passenger operations on the Southern Pacific, including the famed Daylight streamliners and the Overland Limited. Its electric suburban lines and commuter trains are also given some space in this book.

SP’s freight operations are discussed in detail in “From Beets to Berries and Staples to Stacks”. The SP was a leader in intermodal operations, and partnered with American Car & Foundry to design the first “double-stack” container car, which are ubiquitous today.

The final two chapters cover Southern Pacific’s motive power, between “Steam Locomotives” and “Sixty Years of Diesels”. I admit I skimmed the steam section, as I am not a big steam fan, but the SP’s “cab forwards” and 4-8-4 Northerns are well known, even to me.

Ex Southern Pacific unit UP 1485 in Phoenix, Arizona, September 2010

I enjoyed the book very much. It’s an easy read, with lots of detail on the Southern Pacific and its component railroads. The photographs are great in general, although there are a few that are pretty substandard. I did find several typos in the first few chapters and in the last few – these may have been edited or added as part of the second edition.

If you are a fan of American railroads, or are just curious about the Southern Pacific, this is a good book to have in your collection. You can buy it on Amazon or perhaps find it in your local library.

Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission when you buy something after following that link, at no additional cost to you.

Ex Southern Pacific locomotive UP 1530 in South San Francisco, August 2007

See Also

Out of Time

Frosty IC 2463 outside Winnipeg
Frosty IC 2463, outside Winnipeg

“Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the railfan way
The time is gone, the train didn’t come,
Thought I’d something more to say.” – “Time”, Pink Floyd, with a few revisions

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went out on December 2, 2018 to photograph the first passenger train to Churchill in over a year. However, that didn’t work out… but I did see some trains.

Usual disclaimer about this post originally appearing at www.traingeek.ca/wp/out-of-time/ and that no permission has been given to repost anywhere – anywhere.

Yet Another Oil Train

I found an east-facing oil train sitting near mile 10 of the CN Rivers subdivision. This train had new, frost-covered CN 3823 on the head end. It has become common for eastbound trains to pause here on their way into the city, as CN’s line has become saturated and trains wait their turn to proceed.

Older CN 2807 was on the other end, not in a photogenic location.

My intent was to wait around the Diamond area so I could get a nice, wide shot of the VIA Rail train, especially the newly wrapped “Expedition to Churchill” diner car. 

I noted that IC 2463 was at the head of another east-facing train, also waiting… around mile 16 this time. The lead photo shows that frosty engine. As I photographed that, I noted a westbound train approaching.

CN 8873 West

CN 8873 outside Winnipeg
CN 8873 outside Winnipeg

CN 8873 and 5404 were at the head of a westbound container train. I recorded the meet between the two trains, with video and with my Canon 77D.

IC 2463 and CN 8873 meet - with waves all around!
IC 2463 and CN 8873 meet – with waves all around!

Waves were exchanged between the crew of CN 8873 and the crew of IC 2463, on the ground for the rollby inspection.

Here’s the video:

Once the meet was done, I relocated back to the other side of Diamond to wait for VIA. I kept checking the VIA tracker app and, although VIA 693 showed up in the list for once, it wasn’t moving.

I waited… and waited… and… well, waited… however, the next train was…

The ICeman Cometh

IC 2463 and pigeons!
IC 2463 and pigeons!

As IC 2463 charged toward me, it disturbed a group of pigeons, who flapped around for a while before finally giving it up and heading elsewhere.

I watched the train roll by, and noted distributed braking boxcar CN 0031 on the tail end. It’s still weird to see a boxcar on the end of a container train.

Distributed braking boxcar CN 0031
Distributed braking boxcar CN 0031

Here’s the video for IC 2463.

IC 2463 on the move

Unfortunately, I ran out of time and had to head home. I checked the VIA app when I got home and noted that the Churchill train had just started moving when I got home, so I would have had to wait a good half an hour longer to see it, and I didn’t have that time.

Oh well… you can’t catch ’em all!

One Last Thing

Did you know I have a new book out?! “Passing a Half Century” tells the story of how I spent my 50th birthday driving around Alberta and British Columbia, photographing trains and grain elevators. It’s now in paperback and available for order. Check it out!

VIA Rail Returns to Churchill

VIA 693 leaving Winnipeg - photo by Mark Perry
The train to Churchill, leaving Winnipeg on December 2, 2018. Photo by Mark Perry.

VIA Rail has resumed passenger service to Churchill, Manitoba. Service was interrupted in late May 2017 when portions of the rail line were washed out. Since the rail line was sold, repairs proceeded rapidly and now service is back to the northern Manitoba town.

This article was originally published on www.traingeek.ca and is¬†not¬†to be copied elsewhere, especially not on “railpage”.

The resumption of service was well covered in the media. The CBC covered both its departure from Winnipeg and its arrival in Churchill.

The “Expedition Churchill” car – aka the “Emerald” dining car. Photo by Mark Perry.

The dining car, “Emerald”, was wrapped in an “Expedition Churchill” wrap. This is an initiative by the University of Manitoba, in partnership with the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, the Winnipeg Zoo, Travel Manitoba and VIA Rail. (Winnipeg Free Press article)

People in Churchill are very excited about the return of passenger and freight service to the town. Food and other prices skyrocketed after the rail line was severed, and with the return of freight service, they should return to normal for Churchill. It will still be expensive, but not as ridiculously expensive as it has been. Since there is no road anywhere near the town, meaning air travel was the only way to get to and from Churchill until the resumption of VIA Rail service.

VIA 693 near Newton, Manitoba. Photo by Morgan Turney.

I went out on December 2 to photograph the departing train. I was out at Diamond on the CN line just west of Winnipeg, waiting for it, but it ended up being a little more than 2 hours late and I couldn’t wait that long. However, railfans Mark Perry and Morgan Turney did catch it, and graciously allowed their photos to be shared here.

The train to Churchill, rolling through Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Photo by Morgan Turney.

The train continued past Portage la Prairie, up through Dauphin, dipping briefly into Saskatchewan before returning to Manitoba for the trip through the lonely wilderness to Churchill.

Here’s a great video, posted by Arctic Gateway, showing the train approaching Churchill and then coming into the station there.

You can book tickets on VIA Rail now – $434.70 round trip between Winnipeg and Churchill in coach, or $1,344.00 in a lower berth. That compares to flying on First Air for $1,622.25… you can see why people missed having the train!

I’ve never been to Churchill. A train ride to Churchill has been on my “bucket list” for a while. After the train stopped running, I worried that I would never get to cross that one off. Now, the chance is back!

VIA 693 leaving Thompson, November 2015

The 2018 CP Holiday Train

The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, MB
The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, MB

Every year, Canadian Pacific Railway runs its Holiday Train across Canada and the USA to support local food banks. This is its 20th year of operation. It actually runs two trains, one through Canada and the other through the US.

I try to catch it every year, with varying success. I caught it in 2011, 2014, 2015,¬†2016 and 2017. I’ve been trying to vary the locations I photograph it at, so it isn’t the “same old train, same old location”. In 2017 I photographed it in daylight in Portage la Prairie. This year, I decided to photograph it in Whitemouth instead of Winnipeg.

This post originally appeared at https://www.traingeek.ca/wp/2018-cp-holiday-train/ and is not approved for copying to any other site.

About the Train

Traditionally the train has one locomotive, several boxcars, a stage car, and passenger cars on the rear. The boxcars show the words “Canadian Pacific Holiday Train” – one word per boxcar – as well as winter scenes. The passenger cars are from CP’s fleet and carry the performers and staff. I believe there is a generator car in the train as well to provide power for all of the lights.

Whitemouth

The town of Whitemouth is located a bit over an hour east of Winnipeg. It’s about 60 km from the Ontario border, and is on the CP Keewatin subdivision, part of CP’s main line through Manitoba. I’ve been through Whitemouth before and I noted how open the area was around the tracks through town. I thought it would be a great place to photograph the Holiday Train.

There’s a caboose on display in Whitemouth, if you’re in the area.

CP 437189 in Whitemouth, MB, April 2017.
CP 437189 in Whitemouth, MB, April 2017.

Incoming

I set out from Winnipeg just after 5 PM. I wanted to photograph the train as it rolled into Whitemouth at 6:45 PM, so that gave me a bit of time to set up. I drove straight east from Winnipeg along highway 15 toward Elma. This parallels the CN Redditt subdivision in places, but I didn’t see any trains there.

At Elma, I turned north on highway 11 and drove to where it intersects highway 44, which goes east through the Whiteshell to the Ontario border. I had scouted the area using Google Maps and I found a small crossing just north of that intersection that looked promising. From the satellite view, I didn’t see any trees or buildings obstructing the view of the train.

I drove over the crossing, turned my car around, and parked it at the side of the road. I set up my tripod, then went back into my car to wait and stay warm.

At about 6:46 PM, CP 2249 came rolling along, towing a bright neon train.

The CP Holiday Train near Whitemouth, MB
The CP Holiday Train near Whitemouth, MB

As the train was approaching, a pickup truck came up the road behind my car. I was afraid they were going to pull up to the crossing and totally get in my shot. Thankfully, they stopped before they passed my car, and killed their headlights. I gave them a wave of appreciation!

CP Holiday Train near Whitemouth, MB
CP Holiday Train near Whitemouth, MB

For those who are interested, I was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/40 seconds, aperture f/2.8 and ISO 6400. Yes, that’s right, ISO 6400.¬† I’ve never used that before, but I had to go that high to get a half decent shutter speed. I would have liked to go faster than 1/40s, but it was super dark with no lights around and an overcast sky.

My Canon 77D is so much better at high ISO settings than my old T1i was, one of the main reasons why I bought the 77D this spring.

In Whitemouth

The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, MB.
The CP Holiday Train in Whitemouth, MB.

After the train passed, I drove into Whitemouth. The fire department was out in full force, directing traffic and routing people to parking spots. Thank you!

I parked and walked toward the train. Most people were down toward the tail end of the train, watching the show. You can see from the photos that the train was very visible, and the lack of lights around it really made it “pop”.

CP 2249 with the Holiday Train in Whitemouth, Manitoba.
CP 2249 with the Holiday Train in Whitemouth, Manitoba.

CP 2249 is one of the two “ECO” rebuilds pulling the Holiday Trains. The other is CP 2246, which must be pulling the American version of the train.

I walked down toward the show, taking a few photos along the way. I took this panorama with my iPhone.

Panorama of the CP Holiday Train
Panorama of the CP Holiday Train

The Show

Terri Clark and the CP Holiday Train
Terri Clark and the CP Holiday Train

The train carries its own staff and performers along with it, and they perform at each stop in a converted boxcar with drop-down doors on the side. It makes it easy to set up a stage quickly, do the show, then fold it up and move on to the next stop. Since they often perform four shows a day, you need to be quick!

The Canadian train is featuring three-time Juno winner¬†Terri Clark¬†along with¬†Sierra Noble and Kelly Prescott. I’m not a country music fan, but I’ve definitely heard of Terri. The American train has the Sam Roberts Band and JoJo Mason. Sam Roberts’ Where Have All The Good People Gone is on my phone right now.

Concert on a train
Concert on a train

When I reached the stage area, Terri Clark was performing and she was putting on a great show.

Terri Clark on the Holiday Train
Terri Clark on the Holiday Train

Departure

Ready to depart
Ready to depart

I wandered up to the head end again, took a few photos, and headed for my car. I wanted to be ready for the departure. As I neared my car, I heard the engine bell start and the engineer gave a few toots as the train got underway. Perfect.

I set up the tripod and recorded the train’s departure from Whitemouth. My camera wouldn’t auto focus so I switched the lens to manual and focused using these techniques.

Getting out of town was difficult – so many cars! It took close to 30 minutes to leave. While I was waiting in line, a westbound freight train rolled through town. Maybe I should have sat trackside until the cars cleared out…

Video

Here’s my video of the train, including its arrival in Whitemouth, some views of the train, and its departure toward Winnipeg.

 

Donate

The Holiday Train runs to raise funds and collect food for local food banks. I had forgotten to bring food, so I made a cash donation on site instead. You can make a donation too – visit Foods Bank Canada to make a donation.

See Also