A Juggling Act

I heard that the CP “business train” was running empty through Winnipeg on its way to the east coast of Canada. Canadian Pacific has recently reacquired the “Short Line” through Maine, sold in 1995 as part of CP’s abandonment of the east, and has made a partnership with the NB Southern Railway to ship to Saint John, NB. The train was to end up in Saint John with President and CEO Keith Creel and other CP executives on board.

As the train headed east from Calgary, I tried to estimate when they would be approaching Winnipeg so I didn’t spend too much time trackside. I ended up cutting it a bit close.

From my home, I headed north to the CP main line, where I found a grain train heading west. This meant that the business train would have to wait at Meadows or further west. Some railfan intelligence had indicated that it was already at the Meadows siding.

Initially I thought I’d stop at Rosser, but I decided to push my luck and go to Meadows. When I arrived there, fellow railfan Mark Perry was already pointing his cannon of a lens westward to capture the grain train going by the CP heritage units in the siding. I quickly launched my drone, set up the video camera and grabbed my still camera.

As the tail end of the grain train passed by, the business train was revealed in the siding behind it, rolling forward in anticipation of a clear signal to proceed to Winnipeg. Time to start recording the moment.

The business train at Meadows
The business train at Meadows

The ground view was pretty good, and so was the aerial view. They had one of the “new” SD70ACu locomotives leading two “F” units. It was a bit of an odd combination. Apparently the original leader had died en route and was quickly replaced with a CP 7000 series unit in heritage colours. It looked pretty good, in my opinion.

Aerial at Meadows
Aerial at Meadows

Mark was busy with his long lens, capturing the approach and departure of CP 40B.

Railfan and prey
Railfan and prey

As soon as the train passed, I decided to drive around our great city and set up shop at Springfield on the east side to wait for the train to continue eastward. It took well over half an hour to get there!

At this point, I considered the battery situation for my drone.

I have two batteries for my DJI Mavic Air (“1” and “2”, great names) and each is good for about 21-22 minutes of flight. After the flight at Meadows with “2”, I had battery “1” at 100% and “2” at 43% capacity. I swapped in the full battery “1” and waited for the business train.

Eventually I saw a headlight in the distance, and at an appropriate time I launched the drone and prepared to record the train.

It turned out to be this container train… not the business train.

CP 8731 East

Once I recorded that train, I landed my drone and considered the battery situation. “1” was now at 44% and “2” was still at 43%. This was trouble.

Usually I travel with an inverter in the car, powered from the 12V that cars have available. This gives me 120V AC to plug the drone’s battery charger into. As it happened, the inverter was still in our van from our trip to Toronto, so I had no way to recharge my drone batteries.

I decided to leave battery “2” in the drone and keep it close to me when I flew it. The drone “wants” to return home when it has low battery power, and it will automatically return to its launch position unless I override it. Since the business train was short, the flight shouldn’t be long and I could squeeze it in before the battery ran down too much.

Soon I saw another headlight to the west. This time I took a shot with my camera, and zoomed in to verify that this was indeed the business train. Go time!

I launched my drone, and quickly noticed that the camera wasn’t behaving properly. Drone cameras are mounted on gimbals so they can pivot on multiple axes. Sometimes a little dust or grit gets into the mechanism on my drone and jams the camera.

I hastily landed the drone and cleared the debris before launching it again. That cost me 2% of battery power, some approach time, and maybe a few months off my life from stress!

I flew the drone close to the tracks and a little west of my position. I wanted it relatively close to the tracks (and me) but not in a dangerous position.

I think I ended up with a reasonable compromise.


I’m pretty pleased with that image.

Here’s the ground “approach” view of the train. I elected to process this as black and white.


It didn’t take long for the train to pass by me – 3 locomotives and 12 cars isn’t a long train!

The “going away” shot really shows the variety of cars on the train.

Sandford Fleming on the tail end
Sandford Fleming on the tail end

When the drone landed, battery “2” was at 27% – still a few minutes of flying time remaining.

Here’s the video, combining footage from Meadows and Springfield.

Just One More Thing

There’s a new Canadian grain elevator book out, Grain Elevators: Beacons of the Prairies. This book features gorgeous photos by Chris Attrell and text by Christine Hanlon. I wrote about the book here. It’s a great book – although I am biased, since I edited the book. Buy it from Amazon or from McNally Robinson.

As always, I earn a small commission if you purchase something from Amazon using my links.

6 thoughts on “A Juggling Act”

  1. Nice pictures. That last car is an odd looking observation car (if that is indeed what it is/was). I am surprised they don’t have anything nicer for the tail end. Having the second engine, an F-unit, facing backwards was also an odd choice. Oh well, it made for some great shots and memories!

    • Hi Benjamin, that last car was owned by CN and is an observation car. There are a few rows of seats, theatre style, facing backwards.

      I understand the engines were shuffled around in Montreal or elsewhere to put the F unit leading, facing forward.

  2. Wow that is an amazing train! Even better than having your own train set haha. Great shots and video Steve. And I just bought that elevator book and looking forward to getting it. You can take the boy out of the prairie, but you cant take the prairie out of the boy.

  3. Hi Steve,
    I saw this train heading West through Thunder Bay recently and did not realize what it was. What do they use this train for

    • Hi Edward, it’s used for company dignitaries to entertain important clients, mostly. The cars are used for the annual Holiday Train and other celebrations as well.


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