Revisiting the Maritimes

I was in the Maritime provinces for a week in December 2019. Here are a few rail-related things I saw during my visit.

Train Stations

The Sackville, NB train station, Dec 2019.
The Sackville, NB train station, Dec 2019.

En route between Moncton, NB and Halifax, NS, I stopped at the train stations in Sackville, NB and Amherst, NS. They are not far from each other and are easily reached from the highway.

The Sackville station sits forlornly on the edge of town. It is no longer staffed and looks a bit forgotten. It is still in good shape, at least externally, but its days of serving passengers on multiple passenger trains are over. Nowadays only the Ocean stops here, but in the past the Atlantic would stop as well as trains to and from Prince Edward Island.

Amherst, NS train station, December 2019
Amherst, NS train station, December 2019

The Amherst train station is certainly more impressive than Sackville’s. It is currently being renovated to turn it into a restaurant, and there was a lot of wood working equipment in the shop and clear evidence that work was in progress. Nice to see.

Brookfield, NS train station, December 2019
Brookfield, NS train station, December 2019

There is a small train station at Brookfield, east of Truro, NS. This little station is owned by the community and it has changed since I first saw it in 2005. It is now pink and some extra window trim and plants have been added.

CN 305

CN 305 readying to head west out of Gordon Yard
CN 305 readying to head west out of Gordon Yard

Early on December 10, I found what must have been CN 305 readying to depart Gordon Yard in Moncton, NB. CN 3184 and another unit were on the head end, with the train still buried in the yard. Maybe a DPU was being added? It’s hard to know what was going on and I didn’t hang around to watch.

Autoracks at Gordon Yard
Autoracks at Gordon Yard

In the photo above, the main line is to the left and the yard is on the right. There used to be a “CN GORT” station sign by the power switch on the left, and in fact the sign is still there, leaning on the ground.

Slide Night

A group of railfans in Halifax have held a “slide night” for many years to share their photos and get together for a meal. It happened to be on the week that I was in Halifax, so I dropped by the meeting to see great presentations by Geoff Doane, Tim Hayman and another gentleman whose name I didn’t catch.

I enjoyed the presentations very much and it was nice to meet Tim in person, as well as catch up with Geoff and Bruce Hollett.

By the way, there’s talk about resuscitating Slide Night here in Winnipeg – stay tuned!

CN 121

The blur of CN 121 leaving Halifax
The blur of CN 121 leaving Halifax

There aren’t that many trains in the Halifax area. CN 120/121 are the main line trains for Halifax and CN 407/408 are their Dartmouth side counterparts, plus there’s a local gypsum train (CN 511?) that runs between Dartmouth and the Milford, NS mine, and a few local trains.

CN 120 normally arrives in the early morning and CN 121 departs around 9:30 PM. My hotel was on Bedford Basin with the CN Bedford subdivision running in front of it, so it was convenient for me to try to catch CN 121 leaving. Alas, it was always in the dark since it’s December and the days are short.

On December 10 I tried to catch it at the Sobeys in Bedford. There’s a nice curve there by the water and it’s a popular spot for railfans. I knew the train hadn’t left yet, so I waited impatiently for it to leave. I grew tired of waiting (in the rain) so I started driving back toward Rockingham to see the head end, only to see the train storming west toward me. I really need to learn patience.

I drove back to the Sobeys to take some long duration photos of the train going by.

It was quite dark, so the pan I did for the mid-train DPU was a little bit of a “Hail Mary” with ISO 3200, 1/25 seconds and f/2.8. There’s a lot of digital noise but at least I got something.

I tried again on December 11. It had snowed after the temperature plummeted from +12C to freezing, so it looked a lot more like December.

This time I waited pretty much right in front of the hotel for CN 121 to come.

The waiting is the hardest part

It wasn’t super cold but it was colder than I really wanted to be standing outside for. However, I was determined to shoot the train this time. I had my long lens on to get the train rounding a curve, and I waited a good half an hour for the train to come.

And come it did… sort of.

The frustrating thing was that it came up to the curve… then stopped… then backed up a bit and stopped again. I think what they were doing was backing onto the DPU and the second half of their train. The yard at Rockingham is not long enough to assemble the entire 10,000′ (plus) length of train, so they have to stick the pieces together before they depart.

Anyway, I did shoot them on the curve and I was pretty happy with this photo.

ROUNDING THE BEND
ROUNDING THE BEND

Since they were stopped here, I could take three different exposures and combine them together into one HDR (high dynamic range) photo and get all that shadow detail.

Eventually they did get going and I photographed them as they approached. One thing I did not account for was the tremendous lens flare I got with the train’s headlights shining right into my lens.

So much lens flare
So much lens flare

It made the photos pretty unusable, in my opinion.

As the train approached, I left my camera on the tripod and used my phone to capture some pretty low quality photos of the locomotives passing.

CN 9449 on the move
CN 9449 on the move

It’s better than nothing!

Situations like this are where DSLRs and mirrorless “serious” cameras really shine over most cell phone cameras. Traditionally cell phones have struggled with low light situations and don’t do well. I understand the newest phones are better – Google has been doing a lot of work here – so maybe that quality gap is narrowing. I used my iPhone 8 for the photo above.

As the train passed, I swung the camera around to capture a “going away” shot as they passed the CN MILLVIEW sign and entered the main line.

CN MILLVIEW
CN MILLVIEW

I did not wait to see what the DPU was, as I was getting pretty cold. It was time to get back into the warmth.

I really didn’t intend to capture CN 121 on December 12, but the opportunity arose. I went out to supper with my friend Caleb Wentzell (you may remember we did some railfanning together), and on my way back to the hotel I noticed CN 121 stopped near my hotel, almost ready to depart.

This fairly grainy photo shows them just starting to pull as they left Halifax. Bedford Basin is just on the other side of the train with the lights of Dartmouth on the horizon.

CN 8917 leading CN 121 out of Halifax
CN 8917 leading CN 121 out of Halifax

Since they were just starting, I thought I might be able to get ahead of them to take another shot. I thought about that lost Sobeys shot but I decided instead to try another head-on shot at Millview, just a bit farther than last night’s shot. I drove there and parked and within a minute CN 121 came rolling by.

LIGHT THE WAY
LIGHT THE WAY

I really like how that turned out. There was a bit of lens flare but I’ve edited it out as much as I could.

Gordon Yard

CN 9454 and 4700 in Gordon Yard in Moncton, NB
CN 9454 and 4700 in Gordon Yard in Moncton, NB

Early on December 14, I stopped briefly at Gordon Yard to photograph what was around the shops before heading off to Fredericton. CN 9454 and 4700 were active in the yard.

Over at the shops, there was leased GMTX 2252 along with blue BCOL 4650, IC 2717, CN 2969, and CN 8806.

That was almost the end of trains in the Maritimes for me, but I did make one more stop.

Fredericton’s Station

Rain at the Fredericton train station

When in Fredericton, I always have to stop at the train station. I had a small part in saving the station, so I make the “pilgrimage” to visit it. It’s still doing well.

Just One More Thing

I want to wish you all the best in this holiday season – Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or whatever you choose to celebrate. I’ll probably post once more before the end of 2019 with a “roundup” post.

Thanks as always for reading!

14 thoughts on “Revisiting the Maritimes”

  1. Merry Christmas to you too Steve!
    I have a question: in the past you’ve recommended the Canon 77D as a good FAST railroad photography camera. Fine and dandy. But now with the Apple iPhone 11Pro with 3 lens. A wide, extra wide and a telephoto lens plus a better photoshop (I now have the iPhone 6 and the Photoshop works well if only for the basics), have you ever tried the 11Pro for shooting trains? Why or why not?

    Reply
    • Hi Ian, Merry Christmas! Good question… I don’t have experience with the iPhone 11 Pro. I’ve used my iPhone 8 Plus for train photography and I will say what I’ve always said for phone photography. They work very well in good light where the subject isn’t moving too fast.

      Part of the problem is that the phone picks settings for you, unless you override in manual mode, which is a pain compared to a DSLR because you have no knobs or dials to quickly change settings. So the phone might say that 1/200s is a good shutter speed for the environment when the train is rocketing by at 60 MPH and you get some blur.

      Phones will continue to improve and especially the software and the intelligence onboard the phone. They are getting better and better but I will still choose my camera over any phone. Five years from now? Maybe not.

      Reply
  2. Nice shot of the Sackville, N.B. train station. Brings back some memories from the Mount A days ! We used to take the train from St. Hyacinthe, Quebec to Sackville, CN at that time.

    Thoroughly enjoy your blog Steve. Merry Christmas to you & yours and keep it goin’

    Reply

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