On a Mission

I went out early in the morning of November 17th on a mission. I was looking for a new structure on CN’s main line.

CN and partner Duos Technologies has been building rail inspection portals at four locations around Winnipeg. These devices will do automated rail car inspection at high speed. I’ll write an article on them soon.

This is the portal at Vivian, east of Winnipeg. It wasn’t operational when I visited it. There are lights that illuminate the train for the high-speed cameras.

The Vivian, MB rail car inspection portal.
The Vivian, MB rail car inspection portal.

I’ve photographed 3 of the 4 portals, but I haven’t seen the one to the west of Winnipeg. That was my mission – find and photograph the portal.

I set out early in the morning, as I had to be back in Winnipeg by 10:30 AM. I knew the portal was at Nattress, which you won’t find on a map. It’s near the tiny town of Newton, Manitoba. Since it’s new, it doesn’t appear on satellite images or Google Street View, so I only had a vague idea of where it was. How hard could it be to find? These are the prairies!

Elie, Manitoba

The former train station in Elie, Manitoba.
The former train station in Elie, Manitoba.

On my way to Newton, I stopped in Elie to see if any trains were around. I took a quick photo of the former train station, which is now a private residence. I had heard it was refurbished and indeed it looks like it has new windows, a new roof, and the chimney was removed. Compare it with my photo from April 2010.

Elie, MB train station, April 2010.
Elie, MB train station, April 2010.

Moving on, I photographed the Elie grain elevator outside of town.

Elie grain elevator at sunrise
Elie grain elevator at sunrise

Newton

Container train at sunrise
Container train at sunrise

I drove to Oakville – a larger town just east of Newton – then drove on the road paralleling the tracks toward Newton. There was an oil train stopped between the two towns that I ignored. I was on a mission, remember?

I drove through Newton without seeing the portal. Continuing west, I saw another stopped train. This one was a container train, with leased locomotive CREX 1511 beautifully lit on the rear.

I haven’t photographed a Citirail (CREX) unit leading yet. I still haven’t, but this one on the rear, facing the rising sun, was pretty close.

CREX 1511 near Nattress, MB
CREX 1511 near Nattress, MB

As the tail end locomotive, it was unoccupied.

It was pretty cold outside – about -19C with a bit of wind – so I didn’t linger. As I walked back to my car, the train started moving west. I picked up the pace and chucked my gear into the car, then gave chase.

I hoped to cut it off at or near Portage la Prairie. Fortunately, I was able to get well ahead of it and saw it as I got on the bypass highway around Portage.

A New Perspective

I had long wanted to photograph a train from the overpass over the tracks, and this was my chance. I pulled off the highway and ran up the shoulder to get this photo of CN 3091 West passing yet another stopped train.

Sunrise Stacks
Sunrise Stacks

I am pretty pleased with that photo.

Here’s a closeup of CN 3091 rolling past.

CN 3091 near Portage la Prairie, MB
CN 3091 near Portage la Prairie, MB

I didn’t take any video as I didn’t have time to set up the tripod. Also, it was cold and I didn’t want to linger out there. I knew what the tail end locomotive was, since I had just photographed it!

I got back in my car and continued around on the bypass highway, back on to the Trans-Canada Highway heading east. I thought I might be able to spot the portal from that side.

I think I saw it as I drove over the Assiniboine River, but it was a long way away.

Soon I was back at the Newton exit, so I took that to circle back again. I spotted a train coming from the east, so I set up at the curve in Newton. I like this location, especially for westbound trains.

Train #1 on the Curve

CN 2315 on the curve at Newton
CN 2315 on the curve at Newton

There aren’t many curves on the CN main line between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, so you take advantage of them when you have them!

A little more "head on"
A little more “head on”

The train wasn’t exactly zooming through the curve. Note the superelevation in the tracks that causes the train to bank through the curve.

CN 2315 with a glint
CN 2315 with a glint

Gotta love that side light!

Here’s the video of CN 2315 West.

I retreated to my car after the head end passed, and sat there while the video camera (my Canon T1i) recorded the rest of the train. Discretion is the better part of valour!

Once the train passed, I left Newton in search of the portal again. I found this unauthorized but neat modification of a town sign.

Newton Rules!
Newton Rules!

However, I did not find the portal. I was scratching my head, trying to figure out why I couldn’t find a giant structure here. There were a lot of trees around, but still… this is the prairies.

Anyway, I ended up back in Newton in time for another westbound train.

Train #2 on the Curve

CN 2560 on the curve
CN 2560 on the curve

Another container train… such “variety” 😉

Here’s the going-away version of the train.

CN 5631 heading away
CN 5631 heading away

This was precisely the same scenario – shoot the train as it rounded the bend, then cower in the car while the video records.

I was running out of time, and I still hadn’t found the portal. I resolved to give it up and do some more research at home. I packed up my gear yet again. As I was driving over the crossing, I looked west and saw an eastbound train!

Likely this was the train that I saw earlier outside Portage la Prairie, from the overpass.

I decided to beat it to Oakville to record it passing the grain elevator there. I didn’t have a lot of time but I had enough to set up the tripod for the video, and grab a few quick shots as the train zoomed through town.

Oakville, Manitoba

Pretty meh
Pretty meh

I wasn’t very impressed by the “coming” shot – pretty pedestrian – but the “going away” shot was better, in my opinion.

Train photos are better with grain elevators in them.
Train photos are better with grain elevators in them.

Here’s the video.

That was good.

Once the train passed, I headed east on the Trans-Canada Highway toward home.

I did a little time estimating in my head and decided that I did have time to grab the train passing the Elie grain elevator. You might recall I photographed it at sunrise at the start of this day.

Elie, Again

I set up at a closed railway crossing to get the train as it passed the squarish ex Manitoba Pool grain elevator.

CN 2612 passing the Elie grain elevator
CN 2612 passing the Elie grain elevator

That was nice. There’s nothing like sweet morning light on the nose of a train.

Naturally… there’s video.

I was getting pretty good at packing my gear up! Since it was so cold, I was taking precautions to avoid getting condensation on (or worse, in) my camera. I took the camera bag out of the car, unzipped it, and left it outside while I did my shooting. When I was done, the gear went back into the bag, I zipped it up, and put it in the car. That kept the camera gear cold and didn’t expose it to the warm air inside the car.

Bonus Train

Just... one... more... train...
Just… one… more… train…

I estimated that I had a few extra minutes, so I took the “long” way by cutting up to the CN Rivers sub through Headingley instead of staying on the Trans-Canada Highway. This paid off as I saw a westbound oil train as I approached the road crossing. I got there about a minute before the train did, so I was able to photograph new CN 3809 on the head end.

Aboriginal Affairs logo on CN 3809
Aboriginal Affairs logo on CN 3809

All of the new GE locos on CN sport the Aboriginal Affairs logo on the nose. This symbolizes CN’s relations with Canada’s First Nations. The feather is a common First Nations symbol, the inukshuk is for the Arctic peoples, and the infinity sign is a Métis symbol.

On the tail end of this oil train was another Citirail unit, CREX 1518.

CREX 1518 on the tail end of an oil train.
CREX 1518 on the tail end of an oil train.

So my morning began and ended with a Citirail unit. I can appreciate a pair of CREX bookends!

Reloading

Even though I failed in my mission to find the portal, I did photograph several trains in some nice settings, so it’s a partial win in my books.

I talked to a few CN engineers and I now know where the portal is. It’s basically here (Google Maps) just on the east side of the Assiniboine River, where the two tracks converge to one to cross the river. It looks like the area is accessible by road both to the north and to the south of the track.

Time for another mission!

Just One More Thing

Christmas Ornaments by Bettina and Mark Wong
Christmas Ornaments by Bettina and Mark Wong

If you’re looking for something a little different for holiday gift-giving, consider some of these great ornaments from B-Line Design aka Bettina and Mark Wong. These fine metal ornaments are fantastic and reasonably priced.

My wife and I have seen Mark at the local Christmas craft show for the past three years. He’s a super nice guy, very friendly and knowledgeable, and obviously he and his wife are very talented. They live in British Columbia but travel around to various shows around this time. Their email is bmwong@xplornet.com if you want to reach them. I don’t get anything for mentioning them, except a warm feeling knowing that others appreciate their work!

7 thoughts on “On a Mission”

  1. Hey Steve, there is another one of those inspection structures on the Letellier Sub right at the Perimeter, if you’re interested.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Great post. Two things: firstly, I’m surprised that crossing at Newton is whistle-free. Is the area quite built up for CN not to whistle at the crossing? Secondly, I’m even more surprised that CN has never double-tracked the Assiniboine River crossing. Does that explain some of the delays between Winnipeg and Portage?

    • Hi Pat, there are houses around, a few local businesses and a post office, but it’s not a big place. I don’t know why it’s whistle-free except perhaps that it has crossing arms and therefore maybe doesn’t need whistling.

      I’m not sure why the bridge over the Assiniboine hasn’t been double tracked. It was recently rebuilt and CN didn’t add a second track then, so I guess it wasn’t deemed necessary. It’s a small single track section on the otherwise 50 miles of double track, so I don’t think it’s a big bottleneck.

  3. Hi Steve, have you ever come across or heard of photos of the old train station at Newton? It apparently burned down in past (i’m guessing 60’s or 70’s?).

    My partner’s father worked there, and the family lived nearby when he was the stationmaster there. He lost his father pretty young, so I’d like to get a pic of it for him if I can track one down.

    • I haven’t come across a photo of the Newton train station, but I will keep my eyes out. I have to think it was pretty small.

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