Winnipeg is half encircled by the Red River Floodway, which can divert most of the Red River around the city during times of flooding. It was expanded after the 1997 “Flood of the Century”.
I’ve included the handy map from Wikimedia above. Remember that the Red River flows from south to north, coming from Fargo and Grand Forks North Dakota into Manitoba and emptying into Lake Winnipeg.
There are multiple railway bridges over the Floodway and I have recorded almost all of them. One I have photographed many times is the CN Sprague subdivision‘s bridge over the Floodway in the southeast corner of the city.
The usual angle for this bridge is to photograph it from the parallel Trans-Canada Highway, getting a more or less side-on view of the bridge and trains crossing it. The view below is from flood season in April 2020.
I’ve always wanted to photograph the other side of it, from the west. There’s no road over there, so it is rarely photographed from that side. There is a walking path that follows the Floodway so I figured I would use that to access the bridge. You can see the path in the photo above, on the opposite site of the Floodway. There are a few parking lots on the path but none of them are anywhere near the bridge.
I set out on October 25 on that mission – photograph the bridge from the west, preferably with my drone.
But First, A Meet
As I approached the area from the west, I saw an eastbound container train leaving Winnipeg. I decided to head to the Lorette siding and record it there. As I approached the siding, I saw there was a train in the siding waiting to head into Winnipeg.
Up went the drone, onto the tripod with the video camera, and away we go.
I managed to catch a bit of sun on CN 2932 as it approached the siding. The light was definitely hit and miss.
Turning around, I caught the meet as 2932 met 2911.
The westbound train was slowly creeping up the siding. One of the great things about having a drone is that you can take photos that are otherwise inaccessible. I paced the eastbound train down the siding to where the westbound was to get this shot.
Of course, like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben supposedly said, with great power comes great responsibility, so drone users must be careful where they fly and what they photograph. I didn’t feel I was invading anyone’s privacy. The crew was in the locomotive and not visible.
The fact that the train was creeping along the siding meant to me that they were anticipating getting a green light as soon as the eastbound train passed them by. If I wanted to record them crossing the Floodway bridge, I’d have to beat it back to the bridge ASAP.
As soon as the train passed, I retrieved the drone, threw my gear in the car, and headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway. This was at about 11:38.
I parked by the Floodway bridge, just off the ramp heading to the northbound Perimeter Highway. I grabbed my gear and briskly walked west along the path. I was pretty sure I would beat them to the bridge but I didn’t want to be complacent.
The Waiting Game
As I approached the bridge, I kept looking east to see if they were coming. I didn’t see them, but what I did see was the west-facing signal at the south/east end of the bridge. That signal faces trains coming out of Symington Yard and is normally flashing white when nothing is moving, or solid red if a train is “behind” it en route to Winnipeg.
The signal was green!
That meant that a train was lined up to leave Symington Yard, and all my rushing was for naught. CN 2911 would have to wait for at least one more train to pass before they could come into Winnipeg.
I still made haste over to the west side of the bridge, because I didn’t know when that train was leaving Symington Yard.
I got into position at 11:56 and launched my drone to take a few photos while I waited for the train.
I have two batteries for the drone, a DJI Mavic Air. The battery in the drone was partially depleted (63%), since I had used to record the train meet at Lorette, and the other was fully charged in my pocket. I decided I could use up some of the depleted battery taking a few quick photos, and swap in the fully charged one for the trains.
I flew my drone around, keeping an eye out for planes from the nearby Lyncrest airfield, home of the Springfield Flying Club. My license allows me to fly in the area as long as I keep out of the way of their planes. At the altitude I was flying the drone at, it wasn’t really a concern, but you need to scan the skies for any potential trouble!
I landed the drone when the battery reached 38%, and swapped batteries. Then it was time to wait.
When the path was built beside the Floodway, the province included a number of signs explaining the history of the area and different features. There’s a sign for the “CN Sprague line” as well… although it’s mostly about the bridge, specifically the “Lego bridge”, the temporary bridge built while the Floodway was being expanded.
After more than half an hour of waiting, I was starting to run out of time, or at least patience! I decided to use my fresh battery to take a few more photos and then head out and try again another time. I felt it was still a successful outing, as I had photographed the bridge from this angle.
I flew the drone at 12:31 for about 8 minutes, and landed it back on the path. As I was folding it up at 12:40, I heard a train horn blow!
Finally the train was leaving Winnipeg. I quickly unfolded the drone again and waited for the train to come. The drone’s battery was at 53% so I didn’t want to launch it too early.
The sun was touch and go, still, but as the train came under the Perimeter Highway at 12:46 the sun came out to play.
A Train on the Floodway Bridge
I launched the drone as soon as I saw them, and flew it over the Floodway to wait for their arrival.
The engineer cranked his window open and gave me a big wave as they approached the bridge. Thank you!
Even without the drone, this angle was pretty nice for photographing a train on the bridge!
My focus was definitely on getting the drone shot.
I love how the drone can basically act like it’s a camera on a tripod… it is very easy to turn it to follow a train as it passes, just like you would pivot a camera on a tripod. It’s an amazing tool.
After the head end passed, I flew the drone back toward me. I was keenly aware of the remaining battery life and I wanted the drone near me when the battery power ran low.
I kept recording video with the drone, trying different angles. Here I am in the bottom right of this shot, with the tail of the train still rolling under the Perimeter Highway overpass.
As the tail end started onto the bridge, the drone’s battery reached 20% and it started threatening to “return to home”. This is an automatic feature of the drone where it will return to where it launched from when the battery reaches a critically low level.
I managed to complete recording the end of the train passing before landing the drone. It was at 17% or 2 minutes of flight time when it landed. Just in time!
I knew I could get CN 2911 coming west across the bridge, eventually… but I didn’t have enough time to wait, and in any case the drone’s batteries were depleted.
After making my way back to the car, I drove off. Since I had parked off the ramp, I was forced to head north on the Perimeter Highway to Dugald Road before I could turn around. As I approached Dugald Road, I saw an eastbound container train rolling through the CN yard in Transcona. Might as well grab that one…
A Bonus Train
I headed a little east on Dugald Road and set up at a rural crossing to record the train. It ended up being CN 8851 and 2651 leading a container train east out of the city.
On my way back to the city, I drove along Dugald Road then south down Plessis Road, which runs along the east side of Symington Yard. There was nothing unusual going on in the yard, but as I crossed under Fermor Avenue I saw my old friend CN 2911 rolling into the yard, finally. This was a good two hours after I first saw them. 2 hours to run 10 miles… not a high velocity!
I took care to record the third unit, CN 2454, as those C40-8M “cowl units” are becoming very rare… especially ones like this with the short lived “CN North America” logo.
I was quite happy with that morning of railfanning. Lots of trains and I accomplished the mission.
As I drove down Fermor Avenue back toward the Perimeter Highway, thinking of the groceries I was going to buy, I saw… one more train!
CN 2893 was leading a train off the Sprague subdivision. It must have been waiting in Dufresne or further east while I was in Lorette… busy times.
Another Bonus Train
Note the overpass at far right in the photo above, the same one I saw from the other side when I was photographing the bridge over the Floodway.
The train had a few interesting cars, including OFCX 125102 with the impressive sounding “Lake Erie, Franklin & Clarion Railroad Company” title on the side.
The LEF&C was a shortline in Pennsylvania. Its name is almost as long as the railway was!
That was the end of my railfanning for the morning. What a run! Thanks for reading through.
Just One More Thing
I read the two books in the Railway Mileposts series of two books (vol I and vol II) by Roger G Burrows (review of volume II, at the bottom) and really enjoyed them. I especially liked the format, where the author described each subdivision in great detail.
I decided to start a new project* to do the same for railway subdivisions in Manitoba. I’ve started with the CN Sprague Subdivision, Mile by Mile. Please check it out and offer your comments and input. I intend for these to be living documents, to be expanded and revised as new information comes out.
* I have so many projects. Too many.