Noise and Confusion

I was watching the progress of VIA Rail’s westbound Canadian (VIA 1) as it rolled through Ontario one Thursday morning, with growing interest. Under the current schedule, VIA 1 is due into Winnipeg at 7:30 PM, which in November after the time change is well after sunset. However, the Canadian on November 7th was running early… maybe early enough that there would still be some light in the sky.

The Chase

I left my house at 5 PM and zipped around the Perimeter Highway toward the CN Redditt subdivision, where VIA 1 would be rolling along through the wilderness of eastern Manitoba. It had been making good time, according to the VIA tracker web site, with speeds consistently above 100 km/hr. I had some hope that they would have a meet closer to Winnipeg where they would have to go into a siding so I could take some shots of them at rest.

As I approached the Dugald Road / highway 15, I pulled off to the shoulder to check the app again. They were already past Dugald! Oh oh! Too soon!

I quickly turned onto Dugald Road, looking for the first opportunity to pull off to the side of the road to at least grab a shot of them going by. As I crossed over the Floodway, I could see headlights in the distance. I quickly found a spot to pull over safely, rolled the car window down, and started shooting.

VIA En Passant

Roadside photography
Roadside photography

I left the side mirror in the photo above to illustrate where I was!

So my plan was sound… but the execution was off!

VIA 6439 and 6442, rolling on by
VIA 6439 and 6442, rolling on by

I took a lot of frames here, both because of the low light requiring a low shutter speed, but also because there were cars whizzing by and getting in the shot.

They looked nice against the sunset, at least… I think the power lines added a nice touch.

VIA Rail's "Canadian" at sunset
VIA Rail’s “Canadian” at sunset

I figured they were going to zoom right through Transcona and on downtown, so there was no point in pursuing them any farther… especially at 5:22 PM when rush hour traffic was still going on.

I figured that since I was here, I might as well continue on to Dugald and see if any CN trains were following VIA into town.


Cranes at the Dugald grain elevator
Cranes at the Dugald grain elevator

There was some significant activity near the elevator. I saw a couple of heavy duty cranes, a few flatcars with something on them, and some welding going on aboard one of the flatcars. I didn’t want to get too close.

I’m told that Manitoba Hydro is loading transformers here, rather than using the spur that they had built several years ago. The problem with the spur they built is that it crosses highway 15, so they have to close the highway and lay panel track down every time they want to use it. I guess maybe it’s easier to truck the transformer the few kilometres to the elevator track instead.

I went down to the east end of the siding to look at the CTC lights there. All red, but a nice view of the elevator silhouetted against the the fading sky.

Dugald grain elevator against the sunset sky
Dugald grain elevator against the sunset sky

Here’s another look at the work going on near the grain elevator, as seen from the main railroad crossing in Dugald.

Looking down the tracks in Dugald
Looking down the tracks in Dugald

Clearly nothing was going on, train-wise. I decided I might as well start heading home, and see if something came up on the Sprague subdivision or in Symington yard.

VIA, Again!?

As I drove west along highway 15 toward Winnipeg, I saw that the VIA Canadian was stopped just short of the Floodway bridge. It must have stopped just after I saw it. I saw that it had red over red signals facing it.

I drove along until I could find a place to pull completely off the road. I left my car there and walked through the ditch and up the hill, intending to photograph the train as it sat there.

However, once I reached the track, there was no train!

I figured I was just too far west. The problem was that I couldn’t go back, because there’s a divider. I decided I would go to the Ravenhurst Street crossing at the east end of Transcona yard, since the Canadian had to come that way anyway. So I thought.


CN 2968 holds the main in Transcona yard
CN 2968 holds the main in Transcona yard

When I arrived at Transcona yard, CN 2968 East was holding the main and there was nothing in the passing track. A taxi was receding in the distance, indicating that they probably just did a crew change.

I couldn’t understand why VIA wasn’t let through on the passing track. I still don’t understand…

A few minutes later, a CN train came creeping out of the yard onto the northernmost of the three tracks at yard’s end.

The culprit emerges
The culprit emerges

This train rolled slowly eastward, past CN 2968 and through the crossing.

Two trains, passing in the night
Two trains, passing in the night

I had my telephoto lens on my camera, so as the train neared, I switched to my iPhone to grab a few shots as they rolled into the crossing. It did a decent pan of the second locomotive, CN 3234.

CN 3234 on the blur
CN 3234 on the blur

Well, clearly VIA wasn’t coming through any time soon!

I decided to drive back east, take a few shots of VIA sitting there, then head home.

Whither VIA?

As I drove along highway 15, I kept glancing left toward the track to see where the Canadian was sitting. It quickly became clear that they weren’t where I last saw them.

At first I thought they slipped past me through Transcona earlier, but I didn’t think that was possible.

I pulled over and checked the handy VIA Rail tracking site, which said that the Canadian was… IN DUGALD!?


VIA had backed up four and a half miles to take the siding in Dugald.

I couldn’t believe it.

Why wouldn’t the rail traffic controller (RTC) have stopped them at Dugald to start with? I’ll probably never find out.

Anyway, off to Dugald I went (again).

Dugald, Again

VIA's "Canadian" chilling in the siding at Dugald, Manitoba
VIA’s “Canadian” chilling in the siding at Dugald, Manitoba

Sure enough, there was the Canadian, in the siding, headlights off and waiting patiently.

I wished I had thought to check for them backing up, but to be honest, it never even occurred to me that they would back up. That would have been quite a sight to see them rolling backward that far.

I took photos from various angles, since they were just sitting there.

Sitting at the Dugald grain elevator
Sitting at the Dugald grain elevator

I should mention something.


I didn’t have a tripod with me. I was kicking myself the whole time!

Normally I leave my tripod in my car’s trunk. It’s just always there, so I never think about taking it.

However, I had winter tires put on my car earlier in the week, so I took everything out of the trunk to make room for the tires. Guess who didn’t put the tripod back in?

This ended up limiting the shots I could take and the quality I could take. Since I couldn’t take multi-second photos, I had to increase the ISO in my shots to be able to get any kind of photo out of the darkness. Most of the night photos in this post were at ISO 1600 with a few at ISO 3200.

Even then, I was getting a lot of blur. Where I could, I propped my camera up on something or against something to try to get some stability.

Out of the 335 photos I took with my Canon, I kept 75. That’s 22% – a rather low “keeper rate“. Here’s a typical reject:


Typically I take 3-5 shots in rapid succession of the exact same scene. During editing, I look at the set and pick the sharpest of the set. In some cases it is obvious which ones to throw out, but in some cases I have to zoom in 1:1 to determine which one is the best.

A Few More Shots


Some of the photos have some pretty bad digital “noise” in them. The above photo was taken at ISO 1600 and it looks OK at the exposure I took it at, but when you edit it and increase the exposure, the noise comes out. It looks like static and it’s something you try to avoid.

If I had a tripod, I would have taken the shot at ISO 100 at maybe a 10-15 second exposure and it would have been much clearer. But… #NoTripod, so you do what you can to get the shot.

VIA Facing the Red
VIA Facing the Red

I was there for about 25 minutes, taking photos from various angles. The glow in the photo above is Winnipeg to the west (left).

I managed to catch a few stars.

VIA 1 at Dugald at night
VIA 1 at Dugald at night

I didn’t hang around to wait for the train. I was home before it even left Dugald (at 7:30 PM, when it should have been in downtown Winnipeg).

That was exciting – and confusing – with a healthy helping of digital noise.

Just One More Thing

Here’s another post with VIA Rail at Dugald, Manitoba: Double Wrapped Math!

I’m currently reading Gary Zuters’ book “CP Rail 1993 Review“. So far, GREAT photography and great information in this book.

10 thoughts on “Noise and Confusion”

  1. Liked those evocative night shots, Steve.

    I wonder if kicking oneself (no tripod) is a curse we all face when trackside, just like ‘chimping’!

    Thanks for sharing the chase,

    • Thanks, Eric! It may be a common curse. We all have our railfan regrets, but you can’t worry too much about what you missed!

  2. What a crazy night for the VIA crew. That must have been a tough one to explain to passengers onboard…

    Great images though!!

  3. Thank you! I used to travel Hwy 15 a lot but rarely do now so I was surprised to see what I thought was an incomplete spur heading… nowhere? Now I know.

    • It was a weird idea from the start to put that spur in. It would have been closer to run the spur from the GWWD but I imagine their track isn’t able to handle heavy transformers.

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