No Trains, But a Great Sky

I set out on the morning of Saturday, March 28 with great hopes for some sunrise train action. My plan was to visit the CN Redditt subdivision and the CP Keewatin subdivision on the east side of Winnipeg, maybe fly my drone, and capture some trains in that sweet early morning light.

I’ve already spoiled the story with the title of this post. I’m here to say it was still a great morning, even without any trains. Here’s why.

The Redditt

Sunrise track at Vivian, Manitoba
Sunrise track at Vivian, Manitoba

The CN Redditt subdivision runs between Sioux Lookout, Ontario and downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Most of the sub passes through some pretty remote territory in Ontario, and even in Manitoba it is fairly isolated and wild in comparison to the placid open prairie west of Winnipeg.

I drove east along highway 15 (aka the “Dugald Road”) through Dugald and Anola, not seeing any trains nor any signals indicating that a train was near. I came to Vivian, site of the CN inspection portal on the Redditt. There was nothing coming from the east, as you can see in the photo above. One of the great things about the track around Vivian and Nourse is that it isn’t flat and has some interesting dips and rises.

There were a number of deer around, and I paused to grab a photo of these two. They were well aware of my presence.

Deer, deer
Deer, deer

I drove just west of Vivian to take a photo of the rail inspection portal with the sunrise behind it. I think it turned out pretty well. This was taken from the next crossing west of the portal.

Rail inspection portal at Vivian, Manitoba at sunrise
Rail inspection portal at Vivian, Manitoba at sunrise

If you squint, you can see a green signal way off in the distance. That signal is facing west. I did see the signal, but I didn’t see any trains so I figured it would be quite a while before a train came. I decided to move on and take advantage of the lovely morning light while I had it.

My plan was to visit the grain elevators in Tyndall and Beasejour, then visit CP at Molson.

On my way to Tyndall, I passed over the Keewatin subdivision but there was nothing in sight and no signals were lit.

No trains on the Keewatin
No trains on the Keewatin

Tyndall

The grain elevator in Tyndall, Manitoba
The grain elevator in Tyndall, Manitoba

It was April 2014 when I last visited the Tyndall grain elevator, so it was time to pay my respects again.

I had every intention of flying my drone in Tyndall and photographing the elevator from the air. It would have looked so nice in that sweet sunrise light.

Selfie at Tyndall
Selfie at Tyndall

When I launched the drone app on my phone, it informed me that I was in class F airspace. This is “special use” airspace, and this particular chunk of airspace is designated CYA404 (T). The CYA404 is a location label (Winnipeg) and the T is for training airspace.

I was spooked by this so I decided not to fly my drone right there. The annoying thing is that the airspace basically ended just south of Tyndall, so I could fly my drone on the other side of the highway, but not in or around Tyndall itself.

Aerial view of Tyndall, Manitoba, 2020
Aerial view of Tyndall, Manitoba, 2020

I popped my drone up to get an aerial view of the town. You can see the elevator near the horizon. I think the large building at right is the school.

Further research seems to indicate that I could have flown there… I will have to dig more for confirmation.

Beasejour

Drone flying near Beausejour
Drone flying near Beausejour

Fortunately there are no restrictions about flying a drone near Beasejour! I went to the next grid road east of Beasejour and launched my drone.

The problem with that location is that the elevator was well over 500m away from where I was standing. In Canada you have to keep your drone in sight at all times, and by around half a kilometre, I can’t see that tiny drone any more. I’ve set the DJI Go app – that controls the drone – to only allow the drone to fly 500m away from me.

Anyway, here’s what I was able to get from the drone.

Drone view of the Beasejour, MB grain elevator
Drone view of the Beasejour, MB grain elevator

Note the locomotive sitting there. See below for a view from my camera with the “long lens”.

HLCX 4220 in Beasejour, Manitoba
HLCX 4220 in Beasejour, Manitoba

The Lake Line Railroad serves Beasejour, on the former CP Lac du Bonnet subdivision that runs from Molson on the CP Keewatin subdivision. They use leased locomotives, and HLCX 4220 is the current locomotive on this line. 4220 is a GP40, originally a Milwaukee Road locomotive.

The Viterra grain elevator is the only customer on the line that I am aware of. The rails used to go through downtown Beasejour but now they terminate not far past the elevator.

After flying my drone, I headed to Molson.

Molson

A frosty leaf in Molson
A frosty leaf in Molson

Molson is a little east of Beasejour. When CP was first building their transcontinental line through Manitoba, they were going to build through Selkirk (north of Winnipeg) and cross the Red River there, and bypass Winnipeg entirely. There was considerable pressure brought to bear on the federal government and the CPR changed their plans. There’s a lot of detail on that here.

Anyway, there’s a junction at Molson with the main line, the CP Keewatin subdivision, running through here with a branch following the original planned main up to Beasejour. There’s a long siding in Molson and a few back tracks.

Mile 88 at Molson
Mile 88 at Molson

I spent an hour in Molson, hoping for a CP train to come along. While I was there, I wandered around, taking photos of whatever struck my fancy, like the leaf above.

As I was doing that, I felt really at peace. It’s been a stressful time for everyone due to the coronavirus, social distancing, business closures and job losses. It was nice to just “be” and walk around in the fresh air, alone, and take photos while listening to the birds singing.

1910 Joint Bar, Molson
1910 Joint Bar, Molson

I only saw one person while I was there early in the morning. One fellow drove out of the area, then drove back in a few minutes later and paused beside me. He rolled down his passenger window and commented on my camera, then asked what I was doing there. Fair question! After I told him I was waiting for a train, he was satisfied and went on his way. We kept our “social distance” while having a brief chat…

At one point I heard a train horn, far off in the distance. I waited eagerly for the train to get closer… but I never saw it. Eventually I ran out of time and I had to go, with no sign of any train. That was OK.

I drove back along the CN Redditt subdivision on my way home, with no trains in sight there either.

Dugald

Telegraph poles and the Dugald grain elevator
Telegraph poles and the Dugald grain elevator

I stopped in Dugald briefly to look down the tracks toward Winnipeg – still no trains. I do like those telegraph poles, though!

Here’s a map I drew to show my route (in blue). I didn’t show the return route from Molson – Beasejour – Vivian – Anola – Dugald.

Driving around east of Winnipeg

Just One More Thing

I just finished re-reading Passing Trains by Greg McDonnell. I had read it years ago but I recently acquired my own copy.

This is a great book, filled with great prose by the author, and featuring fantastic photography by Greg and other noted railway photographers.

It made me a bit sad to read it, however. So much of Canadian railroading has changed over the past sixty or seventy years, and most of the scenes in this book cannot be repeated. The era of 40′ grain boxcars, MLW locomotives, mixed trains, steam engines in roundhouses is over.

I’m glad that this book has captured those scenes.

You can buy it on Amazon or perhaps find it in your local library – once those reopen…

8 thoughts on “No Trains, But a Great Sky”

    • Thanks, Eric! I agree that they are often in the way, but I realize they won’t be around for much longer so I am a little more forgiving of them and often will include them in a photo now.

      Reply
  1. Very interesting read. With my new job, the company that does final assembly of our engines (Standard Aero) is in Winnipeg. We gather the components and send up there to have them built and tested right now. I would have probably visited already if it wasn’t for the plague.

    I always enjoy seeing the scenery around the tracks, even if I don’t get to see a train. Train traffic is really off around here between the “precision railroading” improvements and now a huge reduction in traffic due to the economy.

    Reply
    • Hi Gene! Standard Aero is a big employer here. They have a pretty large facility near the airport.

      Traffic seems to have dropped a lot around here due to the economic slowdown caused by the virus. I’m sure it’ll pick up once we all get back to work.

      Reply
  2. The Lake Line Railroad trains are run by the Central Canadian Railway (CCR). CCR also operates the Forty Mile Rail trains out west at Foremost.

    Reply

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