Louis Riel Day Railfanning

VIA Rail: 40 years and counting!
VIA Rail: 40 years and counting!

Back on February 18, 2019, I was sitting at home, wondering what to do. It was Louis Riel Day, a holiday here in Manitoba, which always amuses me. As someone who was schooled primarily in eastern Canada, I was taught that Louis Riel was a traitor to Canada who was justifiably hung for his crimes. When I started visiting the west, I quickly realized that they had a different story, a lot more nuanced than the plain tale of treason that I learned as a child. In Manitoba, Louis Riel is hailed as a founding father and his name is everywhere in Winnipeg. But I digress.

The Obvious Answer

When I’m wondering what to do, railfanning is something that immediately comes to mind. It was a Monday, so the westbound Canadian (VIA 1) is always a good train to catch. However, VIA 1 was super late, so that was out.

However, VIA 2 was also super late, which meant it was coming into Winnipeg during the daylight hours. Normally the eastbound Canadian snuck into town in the middle of the night, but this was a rare opportunity to photography it. Off I went.

The Chase

I reached the Rivers subdivision and immediately saw a westbound train around mile 11. I gave chase along the road paralleling the tracks, mindful of the snow and ice on the road. The train I was chasing had CN 2232 with five other locomotives – a bit of a power move, I guess.

There was a train stopped on the south track at mile 15, CN 2836 East. I didn’t get there before CN 2232 West passed them, so I didn’t pause to get 2836. Six locomotives on one train is pretty rare, so I stuck with that.

As I continued on toward mile 17, I spotted the Canadian in the distance, stopped on the north track. I got ahead of the CN train and screeched to a halt, hopping out to record the approaching train with my phone.

Plenty of power on this train!
Plenty of power on this train!

In a cloud of blowing snow, I pivoted to catch the train passing the stopped Canadian.

CN 2232 passing the stopped "Canadian"
CN 2232 passing the stopped “Canadian”
CN 8870 was the last of six locomotives on the train
CN 8870 was the last of six locomotives on the train

The train had CN 2232 / CN 2931 / CN 8925 / CN 2303 / CN 8930 / CN 8870.

Container after container thundered by, while the VIA Rail train sat and waited. I’m not sure why they weren’t able to proceed east on the north track, but clearly they were not the highest priority train out there!

VIA 6434, biding its time
VIA 6434, biding its time

There was a collection of general freight cars on the tail end of the train. Finally the last tank car passed VIA 6434…

Tanks for getting out of my way...
Tanks for getting out of my way…

I thought VIA would start moving right away, but they continued to sit there. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to linger, so I took some photos and then went on my way.


Back eastward I went to see CN 2836.

CN 2836 East

CN 2836 at Mile 15
CN 2836 at Mile 15

They were still stopped when I arrived, but shortly afterward they started moving. I took video.

You’ll note that the train had a mid-train locomotive, CN 2982.

CN 2836 and 2982 heading east

VIA Again

After watching that train go by, I decided to check on VIA one more time before heading home. As I drove west, I saw them heading toward me, so I pulled off and recorded a short video of the train passing by.

VIA Rail’s “Canadian” in winter

So that was a good Louis Riel Day – a couple of CN trains and VIA Rail. Not a bad way to spend an hour or two on a holiday.

Just One More Thing

In 2010, I went out with my kids for Louis Riel Day railfanning – and caught two CN trains and VIA Rail then as well! Read the post

On Louis Riel Day in 2015, we were heading home from Grand Forks, North Dakota and caught CN 532 near the border. Read the post

2 thoughts on “Louis Riel Day Railfanning”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Really enjoy your blog!
    Question: why does VIA run the Skylines backwards? They’ve done that pretty well from when they bought them but why? CP never ran them that way.

    • That’s a good question! I seem to remember something about the chairs being turned around during a refurbishment but I am certainly not an expert.


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