Between the Buildings

During our planning for my trip to Waterloo, Ontario, my son Nick suggested that we should try to catch the CN local running down the Elmira spur through town. It’s a really interesting operation. One highlight on the route is where it runs between two buildings in downtown Waterloo en route to Elmira. You can read some history of the route here.

The spur starts in Kitchener, just east of the train station, and wanders west / northwest through Waterloo, before turning north past the University of Waterloo toward St. Jacob’s, past the Waterloo Central tourist railway and terminating in Elmira. There are a couple of rail-served industries in Elmira:

The only other customer on the spur that I am aware of is the Fairway Lumber facility in St. Jacob’s; it has a short spur.

One of the unique aspects of this CN job (train L566?) is that it can only run through Waterloo in the middle of the night, because it shares some track with the ION LRT (Light Rail Transit) system. The ION trams don’t run between 11 PM and 4 AM and that’s when CN gets to sneak through.

The Chase

I met up with Nick and his wife Onie and their friend Alan at McCabe’s Irish Pub for supper. It is a nice restaurant and is conveniently two doors away from the railway tracks. I enjoyed my nachos!

We left the restaurant at around 10:30 PM. We knew that if the train was running that night, it wouldn’t be through for another half hour at least, so we elected to drive a little east to see if we could find it. As we were driving along Moore Avenue, I spotted the train crawling along the spur.

I turned the car around and we stopped near the John Street crossing. I grabbed my phone and took a few shots as the “lengthy” train rolled through at 10:44 PM.

A CN train at night approaching a crossing

I was happy to get any shot at all with my phone!

People photographing a train at night

We piled back into the car and drove back to King Street. I was directed to a nearby free parking zone, then we sprinted over to King Street to await the train.

We didn’t really need to run, though. We talked about different camera angles and I took a few test shots. There is a bright streetlight very near the spot where it emerges from between the buildings. I found an angle I was satisfied with.

Locomotive between two buildings

The nose of the locomotive emerged at 11 PM sharp. Before they crossed King Street, the conductor dismounted and protected the crossing as the train slowly rolled across the street.

The train attracted a bit of a crowd!

Train crossing a street at night

I was really happy with this photo. It was just what I wanted.

Since the train was running so slowly, I was able to take a half dozen shots as it rolled across the street.

Note the sign at the right edge of the photo above – “Waterloo Spur”. There’s a bike trail that parallels the track to Kitchener.

For posterity, I recorded the rest of the train.. which didn’t take long.

Locomotive crossing a street at night

CN 7025 was the trailing unit. It’s an old friend to me; I saw it at least three times in Saint John, New Brunswick in 2001.

For those who are interested, I was shooting with ISO 1600 and a shutter speed of 1/50s at f/2.8. The scene was pretty well lit between the streetlights and the businesses around.

The solitary car on this train was white tank car TILX 200109, which carries nitric acid according to the writing on the side. I think the hazmat placard says UN 2031, which is nitric acid.

White railway tank car at night

I have to give a big thanks to the ION bus driver who stopped her bus before it blocked my shot. You can just see the bus on the left edge of the photo above. She gave me a smile and I gave her a wave in thanks.

We had a quick chat on the way back to the car and decided to try for one more shot of the train. The Waterloo natives decided that we should try for it in St. Jacobs near Fairway Lumber.

We drove north and stopped here, just south of St. Jacobs. We didn’t need to hurry here, as it was a good ten minutes before the train showed up.

It was challenging to photograph the train here. There wasn’t much ambient light around so I used ISO 1600, 1/25s at f/2.8 and it wasn’t really enough. I should have tried a higher ISO. The challenge in shots like this is the train headlights are far brighter than anything else, so you have to be careful that the image isn’t overwhelmed by headlights.

Train crossing aroad at night

I was honestly just glad that my camera was able to focus on the train in the dark.

As the train passed, I dialed the shutter speed down to 1/13s and panned the tank car. It turned out surprisingly well.

White railway tank car at night

That was a great night-time chase. Thanks to Nick and Onie and Alan for the idea, the company and for the navigation!

Just One More Thing

Actually, a few more things..

You might be interested in a few other Kitchener-Waterloo area railfan posts:

I’ve updated the list of Newfoundland railway books, in case you’re looking for something to supplement Trains of Newfoundland!

Please consider joining my mailing list to get a weekly list of posts, so you never miss one!

6 thoughts on “Between the Buildings”

  1. hmm.. I hate when they run switchers nose to tail (elephant style)..then running long hood forward.. it s pain…Great Night shots

  2. I like the three pictures showing CN crossing King Street, Steve. I’m impressed with the shots themselves because of all the variation in the scene’s lighting and the subtle reflection of light off of the slides of the locomotives. Also, it’s interesting how the track appears to run right alongside the building, giving the impression that the train is just coming out of the alleyway. Trying to move an over-dimension car through there isn’t going to go well.

  3. I have some daytime pictures in the same area of Waterloo from a trip my family took this summer. It is interesting to see the operations at night. I knew that CN still served the Elmira Spur in off hours, but it’s cool to actually see it in action.

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