A Southern Tour

Crossing the Floodway
Crossing the Floodway

Monday, August 5 was a holiday here in Manitoba. It was Terry Fox Day, a provincial holiday to honour the heroic runner who attempted to run across Canada in 1980. See below for more information on Terry.

I noticed that VIA 2, the eastbound Canadian, was late again and was set to depart Winnipeg shortly after sunrise. I set out from home to catch it.

Change of Plans

As I crossed the CP Emerson subdivision on my way east toward Dugald, I glanced north and saw headlights! That meant a southbound Canadian Pacific Railway train. I quickly decided to abandon my VIA plans and chase the CP train instead. I don’t get the opportunity to chase CP very often.

I raced down highway 59 a few kilometres to Grande Pointe, intending to catch them crossing the Floodway. I had wanted to fly my drone here for a while and this was a ready made opportunity to record a train on the bridge from the air.

Before the change in Canadian drone laws on June 1, this area was totally off limits because it was too close to the Lyncrest airfield. Since June 1, I can fly here as long as I keep an eye (and ear) out for planes. It was go time!

I parked near the crossing and ran through the brush, drone and camera in hand, to get in position before the train arrived. I was regretting wearing shorts by the time I got to the ridge overlooking the Floodway, but there wasn’t time to find a nice path.

The next problem was finding a place to launch from! I need an open space to launch my drone from, and everything was overgrown with weeds and flowers. After a bit of frantic searching, and pulling a weed or two, I found enough space to launch the drone. I would worry about landing later.

As I was waiting for the train to arrive, I heard an aircraft flying nearby. I was ready to bring the drone down as I searched for the plane. It turned out to be a crop duster doing its work several kilometres to the south. I saw it pop up as it did its turn, and I was sure it wasn’t going to be in my area for a while, so I felt safe to continue to fly my drone.

CP 8051 South

Canadian Pacific Railway oil train crossing the Floodway bridge

The light was great on this side of the bridge as CP 8051 pulled the long oil train across. I popped off a couple of shots with my camera as the head end went by.

CP 8051
CP 8051

As the tail end approached, I was excited to see a Norfolk Southern locomotive pushing on the rear. I like the NS locomotives!

Norfolk Southern 4195
Norfolk Southern 4195

NS 4195 looked quite shiny. Apparently it has just come out of a refit.

A Discovered Meet

While my drone was in the air, recording, I noticed a path near the bridge that would be great for landing on. I brought the drone down and walked back to the road via the path. I glanced south down the track and saw there was a train in the siding in Grande Pointe. There was a meet!

I jogged back to my car and tossed the gear in, then drove up to the crossing to take a few photos as the northbound train came out of the siding.

CP 8733 coming out of the siding at Grande Pointe
CP 8733 coming out of the siding at Grande Pointe

Aside: Can I just say that I’m really happy that the above photo turned out as well as it did? I was half a kilometre away, shooting with my 70-200mm lens, and that image is severely cropped in. I’m surprised there wasn’t any heat haze to distort it over that distance; I guess photographing at 8:30 AM helped!

I was on the non-sun side of the train, because I wanted to be in position to A) record the tail end, and B) pursue the southbound train.

After the head end passed, I drove down to the crossing at the siding, and waited perhaps 30 seconds for the rest of the train to clear the crossing. A few shots of the tail end unit (BNSF 4962) and the chase was on!

BNSF 4962 on the tail end of an oil train
BNSF 4962 on the tail end of an oil train

The Chase

I navigated out of Grande Pointe and back onto highway 59 to head south. I was maybe five minutes behind the southbound oil train, so I knew I could catch up to them eventually… but where?

The problem with chasing CP on this line is that the highway is not near the track (almost 5 km east of the track, in fact), and they end up diverging significantly after La Rochelle. It is possible to see a train from the highway, but it’s not easy and I never actually saw the train when I passed it.

I didn’t think I could get far enough ahead of the train at Niverville, so I elected to continue down to Otterburne and try there. If the grain elevator at Carey was still there, I definitely would have tried there, but it was demolished on October 2, 2014.

So, Otterburne it was. I drove west from the highway into the town. The two dominant features of the town are Providence University (a Christian university located in the former St. Joseph’s College) and the Trouw Nutrition animal nutrition facility.

I got trackside and looked north, but I didn’t see (or hear) a train. I wasn’t 100% sure that I was ahead of the train.

I drove around a bit, trying different crossings and angles. I got a few side-eyes from passing motorists, probably wondering if I was looking for something to steal. I get that.

As I was driving around, I heard a distant horn. Train time! I was set up to do a 3/4 wedge type shot, but at the last minute I decided to relocate. There was a train bridge over the creek that runs through town, and I thought that would be a lot more interesting than a wedgie photo. I had given it a look when I was last in town, for a “fallen flags” train in May 2017.

I got to the bridge with seconds to spare.

Crossing the Bridge

CP crossing the bridge in Otterburne
CP crossing the bridge in Otterburne

That turned out just as I had hoped.

As the train rolled on, I banged out a few photos of the tank cars and then, the trailing Norfolk Southern unit.

Tank cars crossing the bridge
Tank cars crossing the bridge

I’m not so happy about the tail end locomotive photos. I would say that my shutter speed (1/250s) was a little too slow and the locomotive isn’t sharp. I was shooting at f/8.0 so depth of field shouldn’t have been an issue. Oh well, a lesson for next time.

Norfolk Southern 4195 crossing the creek
Norfolk Southern 4195 crossing the creek

I was very pleased with my choice of location. There was absolutely no time to set up video or fly my drone, but that’s OK.

Changing Railways

I decided to cross over to the CN Sprague subdivision (to the east) and follow that back to Winnipeg to return home.

The drive east was pretty uneventful. I ended up at Giroux on the Sprague sub, where a small collection of maintenance vehicles were parked by the siding. Giroux itself is a pretty small town!

I noted that the east-facing signals were lit, red, so I drove over to the west end of the siding. Sure enough, the west-facing signals were green over red, indicating a train should be on the way. I set up my video camera, got the drone ready, and waited for the train to arrive.

There was a nice corn field nearby so I tried to put that in the foreground of the video.

Once the train was in view, I launched the drone and got everything recording. Soon, CN 5645 East came rolling by, with a nice red-white-blue BC Rail unit (BCOL 4623) trailing.

CN 5645 East at Giroux
CN 5645 East at Giroux

Here’s the picture-in-picture video of the train. Sorry for the angry buzz of my drone at the beginning and end of the video; I was basically flying directly above the video camera.

BC Rail at Giroux, Manitoba

After the train passed, I packed up and headed home. I didn’t encounter any more trains along the Sprague subdivision, and the south end of Symington Yard was empty. No more trains – which was fine! I was very satisfied with the CP chase and with recording in a new location (Giroux).

About Terry Fox

Statue of Terry Fox in St. John's, Newfoundland
Statue of Terry Fox in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Terry was born in Winnipeg in 1958. In 1977 a malignant tumour was discovered in his right leg and it was amputated just above the knee. In 1979 he decided to found the Marathon of Hope, a cross-Canada run to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.

After training in 1979, he began his run in St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980. He ran an average of 42 kilometres (26 miles) per day over the next 143 days. Unfortunately, he had to give up outside Thunder Bay, Ontario as the cancer had spread to his lungs. Terry died on June 28, 1981, but the Terry Fox Foundation continues to support Terry Fox Runs every year in his honour.

We saw his statue in St. John’s when we visited in 2016, at the starting point of his Marathon of Hope. Back in 2000 my wife-to-be and I visited the memorial outside Thunder Bay where he brought his marathon to a halt. Terry continues to be an inspiration to me and to many Canadians.

Please consider donating to the Terry Fox Foundation.

4 thoughts on “A Southern Tour”

  1. Hi Steve. Great catches and a great post. A question for you about the siding on the Emerson sub: is it CTC controlled or is it manually operated? The tail end of train #2 with the BNSF locomotive makes it look as though it is a manual siding. How does it work? Thanks in advanceé

    • Hi Patrice, the siding at Grande Pointe is manually controlled. Most of the subdivision is “dark territory”. I imagine the conductor lined the switch after the southbound train passed by, then left it for the next train to deal with. There was nobody around to reline it for the main. There must be some special instructions to deal with this. I remember that the New Brunswick East Coast Railway had a similar plan at Nepisiguit Junction near Bathurst; it was OK to leave the switch lined against the main.


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