This book is a compilation of the blog post series I wrote, plus reviews of the three railway museums I visited, plus additional content just for the book. It’s all in one convenient 143 page PDF, with over 200 photographs!
Back in May 2000, I was driving across half of Canada with my girlfriend (and future wife). She had been living in Regina, SK and was moving to Fredericton, NB to be with me. It was a long drive, spanning almost a week, and we were mostly just trying to get to New Brunswick as fast as we could. There wasn’t time for tourism or, heaven forbid, railfanning.
However… I did grab these photos. As we were driving along the Trans-Canada Highway, I saw what appeared to be a RailLink train beside the highway. I stopped, took three quick photos on film, then kept going. I made no record of where I was, or even what day it was, so until today, these photos were a bit of a mystery to me.
Today, I was scanning some photos and found these three and decided to scan them too. I posted them on the excellent Canadian Trains Facebook group, and within minutes, Christian Base had the answer. This was taken in Mattawa, Ontario about 50 km east of North Bay.
RLK 2002 is/was a GP38, originally B&O 4813.
The passenger cars in the background were from the Timber Train that ran between Mattawa and Temiscaming, Quebec. That tourist operation ceased operation in late 2001 when its assets were seized by the Royal Bank. The cars were purchased by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad in New York and may still be in operation today. Here’s a photo of one in Ithaca, NY in 2013.
The below photo of RLK 3585 is probably the only photo I’ve taken of an MLW HR412W. At first glance, it looks like an MLW M-420. The “HR” stood for “High Reliability”, and the 412 meant 4 axles, 12 cylinder engine and the “W” means a wide cab. This unit was listed as out of service by 2003. It’s obviously ex-CN.
This is the Ottawa Valley Railroad, a former CP line that was taken over by RailLink on October 30, 1996. RailLink was acquired by RailAmerica in July 1999. The line ran both local trains and through CP trains between Sudbury and Smiths Falls.
Today RailAmerica and the Ottawa Valley Railroad are owned by Genesee & Wyoming. The line runs for a total of 157 miles from Sudbury through North Bay to Mattawa, then up to Temiscaming, Quebec. It interchanges with CP in Sudbury, and CN and Ontario Northland in North Bay.
I’m glad that 18 year old mystery is finally solved! Thank you, Christian and others from Canadian Trains!
Continuing my trend of reading old railway books, I recently read “Canadian Pacific Railway” by Patrick C. Dorin. This book was published in 1973, so it is more than a little dated.
This 176 page book covers the Canadian Pacific Railway from the confederation of Canada and the tumultuous start of the CPR, through its rapid growth in the early 20th century, the transition from steam to diesel and the precipitous decline in passenger service.
The book is organized into seven chapters and four appendices:
A history of the Canadian Pacific (rail and non-rail assets)
Freight and Mixed Train Services
The Soo Line
The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic
Other Canadian Pacific Railway subsidiaries
The four appendices list steam power, diesel power, freight and passenger equipment.
All photos in this book are black and white, which is unfortunate (in my opinion) but to be expected for the year that the book was printed. A lot of the photos are roster photos, but there are a fair number of “action” photos from photographers such as Jim Scribbins, Elmer Treloar, Jim McRae, Gerry Burridge, Harold K. Vollrath and Dale Wilson.
I’d like to say that I liked this book, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I liked parts of this book. I found that the author described different aspects of the CPR in wildly different levels of detail. For example, the Dominion Atlantic Railway (a rather interesting internal shortline of the CPR in Nova Scotia) was afforded 2/3 of a page, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway (on Vancouver Island) got one column, while the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic got its own 9 page chapter. I guess you write what you know, and maybe the author was far more familiar with the DSS&A as an American living in Minnesota.
After more than a year, a train has reached Churchill, Manitoba. Three locomotives, a caboose and a flatcar arrived at the northern town just before 6:45 PM on October 31. This was the first train to visit the town since the rail line between Gillam and Churchill was washed out in late May 2017.
That train had no freight on it, but it shows that the line is essentially fixed now. The Arctic Gateway Group, new owner/operators of the line, says that repairs are “essentially complete” after over a month of hard work.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Churchill today to announce that full passenger and freight rail service should resume by the end of November.
For the railfans, the train had HBRY 5005 and 5004, LLPX 2606, Cando caboose CCGX 200001, and a flatcar. 5005 and 5004 were recently repaired by the Hudson Bay Railway after laying idle for years under the previous owners, Omnitrax.
The CBC has a couple of videos of the event. The second video has some great views of the train.
It’s currently not possible to reserve a seat on the VIA Rail train to Churchill yet, but I’m sure it will be enabled in the next few weeks as inspections progress and the line is certified for full use.
This is great news and it’s thanks to the hard work by Arctic Gateway and its contractors, and the support of the federal government.
Golden slumbers fill your eyes Smiles await you when you rise – the Beatles
Photographers talk about the quality of light. We talk about soft light, hard light, direct and indirect light. It’s not until you start making photographs seriously that you really notice the quality of light.
I’m a huge fan of sunrise and sunsets because of the soft, warm light you often get at those times. This summer, I made a point of getting up and getting OUT early to make photographs. With the long days of summer, it was easy to get out and make some photos, then get back home to shower and get to work.
August 9, 2018 was one of those days. I had resolved to get up early and head east out of Winnipeg to capture the VIA Rail “Canadian” coming into the city. It was due into Winnipeg at 8 AM, which was a great time as the sun would be over the horizon.
Hit the Road
I woke up, used the washroom, threw on some clothes and hit the road. It was very foggy that morning, which is highly unusual for a city surrounded by prairie! I was practically rubbing my hands together with glee in anticipation.
The CP Emerson subdivision runs north-south through Winnipeg, and it’s located about three kilometres east of my house. I can hear trains blowing their horns for crossings from my living room, but sadly I can’t see them.
As I drove through the railway crossing on the Perimeter Highway that morning, I glanced north and saw headlights. Train!
I quickly exited and got trackside. I wanted to be sure to include a bit of fog, so I composed the scene, fired off a test shot, and the train was upon me.
CP 8641 was leading an oil train south on the Emerson subdivision. Given the relatively low light at 6:17 AM, I had set my Canon 77D to ISO 800, f/4.5 and a shutter speed of 1/160s. In retrospect the shutter speed was a bit slow and the train blurred just a bit.
The train went by quickly, with CP 8534 bringing up the rear a mere 2 minutes later.
I continued on my way around the Perimeter, heading toward the east-west Dugald Road that parallels the CN Redditt subdivision that the “Canadian” was coming in on. I pulled over briefly to check VIA Rail’s app to see where VIA 1 was. I decided I had enough time to get to the east side of Dugald and set up there.
I don’t know how many times I have photographed that elevator, but there’s always room on my hard drive for one or two more!
The Waiting Game
There’s a quiet railway crossing not far east of Dugald that is a favourite of mine. You get good visibility in both directions and there aren’t any clanging crossing bells for videos, just a set of crossbucks. I arrived there at 6:45 AM.
It was foggy there too, with grey fog to the west and lovely golden, diffused light to the east. Magic!
I took time to smell photograph the flowers. I do love sunflowers.
At 6:52 AM, the west-facing signal lit up, red, indicating that a train was in the block. It had to be VIA! I double checked my camera settings, turned the video camera on, and waited.
Two minutes later, I saw headlights emerging from the golden fog as the “Canadian” hurtled toward me. I popped off a number of photos using my telephoto lens. The lead photo of this post was my favourite. This is one of the approach photos.
Standing a safe distance back, I made a few photographs of Canada’s flagship train zooming by. That train looks great in any light!
“Laurentide Park” was on the tail end. I wanted to include the sunflowers in the shot, and I managed to shoehorn them in behind the train.
There was no chance of catching that train, so I took a moment to appreciate the beautiful light, the beautiful morning, and my good fortune to live in a place and have a life where I could experience this. Then I packed up!
Here’s the video.
That evening, we went camping! We went to the beautiful Whiteshell region of Manitoba, near the Ontario border. We set up our trailer in Opapiskaw campground, and at 9:19 PM I enjoyed the other end of the beautiful daylight – sunset over a little inlet a few steps away from the campground.
I’ve been watching season 2 of the show Mighty Trains and so far it has been really enjoyable to watch.
The first episode featured Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer cruise train. Host Teddy Wilson traveled on two of the “Rocky” trains – from Vancouver to Banff and from Jasper to Vancouver. The show did a good job of featuring the on-board experience, the experience from the locomotive cab, and the preparation for the trip itself.
The photography (cinematography?) is excellent. They show the view from the cab, from the train, the railfan’s trackside view; but the best views are from helicopter! Seeing the Rocky go over the bridge at Cisco was pretty special.
I was worried it would be a little corny when viewed with a railfan’s eye, and there is a bit of that, but in general it is interesting even when you understand railways and their operation. There wasn’t a lot of made-up drama – the worst was a balky air-conditioning unit on one coach and having to sit in a siding for a couple of freight trains.
Episode 2 featured Ecuador’s Tren Crucero, luxury cruise trains in that tiny South American country. There are actually two trains – the “Train of Wonders” from Quito to Guayaquil, and the “Train to the Clouds” from Guayaquil to Ecuador’s capital Quito, high in the Andes Mountains.
Tren Crucero (meaning “Cruise Train”) is a narrow gauge train, revived in 2013 after heavy rains in 1982 and in the 1990s destroyed much of Ecuador’s rail network. The government invested the equivalent of $280 million to restore railway operations.
The train is hauled by a steam engine for a portion of the route, and by diesels for the mountainous portions. It has four coaches, carrying only 50 passengers, and provides a luxury cruise experience. Tickets cost a minimum of about USD $1,700 per person for a four day trip.
Here’s a promo video from Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism. It’s in Spanish but you can turn auto translate on if you want English closed captions.
It was very interesting to learn about Ecuador’s rail system and this train in particular. I liked how they described the locomotive’s sanding system in detail, and how it provides “grip” for the train’s journey on steep grades.
The show spent a lot of time showing railway maintenance, from track inspection through brush control and rail maintenance. Apparently Ecuador has a lot of problems with people stealing the fishplates and other portions of the track infrastructure to sell for the metal. They are also replacing some wooden ties with concrete ones to better withstand the heat and humidity .
In the four upcoming episodes, Teddy will ride trains in New Zealand, India, Sweden and Spain.
Production is underway on a third season of Mighty Trains right now.
How to Watch
Episodes are broadcast Sundays at 7 PM Eastern time on the Discovery Canada channel on most cable networks.
I had a tip that Canadian Pacific was running its business train east through Winnipeg. The story was that it was headed to Montreal, where it would then head into the US to tour one of CP’s subsidiaries, the Delaware and Hudson.
A “business train”, often called an “officer’s special”, is a passenger train owned by a railway and used for the railway’s business. You can’t buy a ticket to ride it and it’s not open to the public unless they are invited. These trains are often used to court investors or shippers, to honour veterans or active duty military personnel, or to host employees on special occasions.
I knew it was due into Winnipeg around 1 PM. I had an errand to run mid-morning, so I packed up my camera and laptop so I could sit near the track and work while waiting for the train.
As I approached the CN Rivers subdivision on my way north, I spotted an eastbound CN train. I took a few minutes to photograph faded CN 5772 and CN 5720 leading a container train.
I used to see those SD75I units all the time in Saint John, New Brunswick. It’s nice to see them still out earning their keep.
On to CP
Again I saw a train as I approached the tracks. This time it was an eastbound CP train on the CP Carberry subdivision. A little driving found me in position to grab CP 8144 East. This might have been train CP 100.
That train had CP 8745 mid-train, and blue leased unit CEFX 1049 was bringing up the rear.
I parked off the highway on a side road – often called a “grid road” because prairie roads are laid out on a 1-mile wide grid – near “CP Makwa”, just west of the Perimeter Highway. Every now and then I would take a look at the signals facing west to see if they were A) lit or B) showing green.
The Portage Rocket
I did notice red-lit signals, and it turned out to be a westbound train. CP 2297 was rocketing along toward Portage la Prairie with its train of refrigerated cars for McCain and Simplot and hoppers for Richardson Pioneer. CP used to keep a locomotive in Portage for these local customers, but in the past few years they just run the train out to Portage to serve them, and then it comes back to Winnipeg.
There is double track from this point east to the CP yard in Winnipeg. They were on the south track, coming onto single track for the run west.
That was exciting, but unfortunately it meant there would be no business train for a while, as 2297 would be occupying the single track west of me!
It took 50 minutes. They must have met at Meadows or Marquette.
Making an Entrance
There was a glimmer of light as the sun struggled to shine through the overcast skies. I took my tripod over to the “sun” side of the tracks and leveled it, then I locked my Canon T1i on and confirmed the horizon was more or less level. I know my tripod has a level indicator on it but it is never really that accurate.
While I waited for the train to get “in range”, a pickup truck pulled up to the crossing. The driver turned out to be Felix Lesiuk, a local railfan and occasional contributor of train photos to the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club blog. Here an example of his work.
He happened to be driving by and saw I was waiting for a train. Felix has a bit of “railfan luck” as he happened to drive by the recent CP derailment in Rosser not long after it happened, and captured some great photos, which he graciously gave permission for me to show.
Anyway, we worked out where we were going to stand so we didn’t get in each other’s shots, and went to work as the train passed by. Here’s the video, with a lot of clicking noises as we both fired off some frames.
Those three “F” units looked pretty sweet.
The train had refurbished “F” unit CP 1401 followed by CP 4106 and CP 4107. The irony of these “CP” units is that they were all originally CN units.
All too quickly, they were past us and taking the south track into Winnipeg. I believe the train was empty, and the dark observation car seemed to confirm that.
Felix and I stood and chatted for a few minutes after the train went by, then he went west and I went east (and south) toward home.
One More Train
On my way down, I noted an eastbound CN train, so I had to exit and grab it – since it was there, you know.
The train had boxy CP 8016 leading, and “black widow” IC 1020 trailing.
I just finished reading the book “Ancillary Sword” by Ann Leckie. It’s the second book in her Imperial Radch trilogy. Good book, not as good as “Ancillary Justice” but still well worth reading. I’ve downloaded the third, “Ancillary Mercy“, and will be reading it digitally… a new experience for me. These are military science fiction books, leaning toward the social / interpersonal “soft” science. Think C.J. Cherryh more than David Drake. Recommended.
(these links are affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you purchase something by following them, at no extra cost to you)
Octobers in Winnipeg can be pretty cold. Season temperatures are a high of 10C (50F) and low of -2C (30F). So when it’s warm, everyone gets out and enjoys it while it lasts, before the cold winter sets in.
On October 18, it reached a high of 23.6C (74.5F). Time to get out of the house!
As the sun was setting, I drove up to Wilkes Avenue. The sunset was gorgeous and I was concerned that I had missed the light. As I approached the track, I saw an eastbound train rolling along. I got ahead of it and photographed it approaching Carman Junction.
I always find it interesting how the light changes so much between facing the sunset and facing away from the sunset. Check out this “going away” photo, taken from the exact same spot but pointing the other way.
It’s like the two photos were taken on different days, instead of just 33 seconds apart.
Here’s the video I took.
I was pretty pleased with the photos – and the video.
For those who are interested, my camera settings were: shutter speed 1/500s, aperture f/4.0, ISO 800. I was using my 70-200mm (f/4.0) lens. I wanted to use a relatively high shutter speed to freeze the action, so I had to bump the ISO up to get the right exposure.
After the train went by, there was no evidence that another train was coming, so I headed home. On the way home, I decided to stop into La Salle to take a few photos of the grain elevator there.
It had been a while since I was in La Salle, so it was time to take an up to date photo… or two.
I’m crossing my fingers for a continued warm fall. Let’s hope!
The Arctic Gateway group and its subcontractors have been very hard at work fixing washouts and repairing track along the rail line between Gillam and Churchill, Manitoba. It has been a tale of triumph and tragedy so far.
They have made tremendous progress since the line was purchased by Arctic Gateway in early September. The clock was ticking, as the construction season is short in northern Manitoba and the possibility of an early freeze made it imperative that crews work as fast as possible to repair the line before winter came.
Paradox Access Solutions was engaged to provide ground stabilization services using their Tough Cell technology. Cando Rail Services has been doing the rail repair once the surface was prepared.
A major milestone was reached when high rail vehicles reached Churchill on October 10. Churchill’s mayor, Michael Spence, greeted the pickup trucks as they rolled into the town. The trucks were followed by a Holland rail test vehicle, looking for defects.
The good news was overshadowed by a freight train derailment on September 15, near Ponton, Manitoba (south of Thompson). Both train crew members were seriously injured by the derailment, and the 38-year-old conductor died on the scene. The train had three locomotives and 25 cars; all three locomotives and four cars derailed.
The derailment occurred in a remote location, and it was spotted by a passing helicopter who alerted authorities. It took a significant amount of time for aid to get to the site and for the crew to be extracted.
The Arctic Gateway Group issued a statement, which in part said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those involved in the accident, and with our employees. We thank all of the first responders and emergency services workers that have assisted in the initial response to this incident, and we remain committed to cooperating with these emergency services teams and all other stakeholders to provide information and support in the wake of this tragic incident.”
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is investigating, and their initial assessment is that two culverts were washed out. Jerry Berriault, the TSB’s senior investigator for Manitoba, told the Winnipeg Free Press that “it looks like there was an upstream release of water somewhere, possibly related to beaver activity.”
This section of line is traversed by VIA Rail’s trains as well as the Hudson Bay Railway freight trains. The line was last inspected two days before the derailment. VIA suspended passenger service between The Pas and Gillam until the track was repaired.
Now that the washouts have been repaired, the focus turns to repairing the rails themselves and ensuring they are in good shape to support freight and passenger rail traffic.
There is a lot of work ahead for the crews, but they can feel proud of what they have accomplished to date.
It’s amazing how much progress has been made. One wonders why Omnitrax never did any repairs to the line – although the $117 million investment that Ottawa has made in the repairs and future operations probably has a lot to do with that.
Good progress has been made so far. Let’s hope the weather stays good so they can finish the repairs and get trains moving on the line before freeze-up.
Thanks to Arctic Gateway for giving their permission for me to use their photos in this article. Follow them on Facebook for updates!
On August 7, I heard that the VIA Rail “Churchill” * train headed to Winnipeg had a 40th anniversary unit leading the train. With the current schedule, it would have come into Winnipeg at 13:45, during my working hours. After checking its forecast arrival time using the VIA Rail tracker site, I found it was significantly late. I decided to try to catch it coming into town, after a quick supper. I ended up catching it in a three way meet with two CN trains.
I headed up to the CN Rivers subdivision. As I arrived trackside, an eastbound train was heading into the city. I quickly grabbed a photo at 17:54 as it passed under the Perimeter Highway overpass.
It had CN 5489 and CN 2677 leading.
I continued west to Diamond to wait for VIA. I saw that there was another east-facing train in the distance on the north track, but it was not moving. I elected to leave it for now and get VIA framed by the east-facing signals at Diamond.
While I waited, a westbound train came creeping up toward Diamond on the south track. It stopped short, setting up a three-way meet.
At 18:10, VIA 692 came rolling along, threading between the two waiting CN trains.
It passed the first train on the south track, then crossed over to the north track to pass the second train.
The CN crew was on the ground for the quick rollby inspection. VIA 692 had Kokanee Park on the tail end, a relatively rare occurrence for this train.
Once VIA passed, the westbound train started moving and rolled past me, with a nice wave from the conductor.
Here’s the meet between the two CN trains. The east-facing train was just getting underway.
The eastbound train (CN 2199 East) passed Diamond at 18:20. The photograph below shows them about to cross the CP Glenboro subdivision.
I waited around for a bit, and after about 20 minutes, another train came rolling along at 18:42, with CN 5700 and CN 8862 in the lead.
That was enough for me, so I packed up and headed home. I chalked that up as a success – I got the VIA train I wanted, plus 4 CN trains!
* I know it’s not actually the “Churchill” train at the moment, as the line between Gillam and Churchill is still closed at the time of writing. You’re lucky I don’t still call the VIA Winnipeg-Churchill train the “Hudson Bay”.
I took video of the VIA train, and it’s the first train in this video.
P.S. I just finished reading The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s a worthy prequel to The Hobbit and to the Rings trilogy. Fans of minute details will like the extensive notes that Christopher Tolkien included along with the story. Personally, I am a more casual fan and, although I enjoyed the story itself, I skimmed a lot of the pages after the story as they were really “meta” information. It was interesting to read the first mentions of Legolas and Elrond, though!