Running the Route

I railfanned a lot in 2021. Looking back, it seems like every spare moment was spent trackside, or driving to and from railway tracks. I think it was an escape mechanism, to keep myself busy and avoid the sad thoughts I was having. It worked for a while.

Looking back at my backlog of photos, I come across totally forgotten excursions like this one, the morning of April 10, 2021. I know my wife and I stayed overnight in Gimli the day before, and she was probably working this Saturday morning, so I went out to look at trains and distract myself.

I left the house pretty early, as I photographed my first train at Hall Road just west of Winnipeg.

Blue Hour

Three-quarter view of CN freight train at blue hour before sunrise.

CN 2261 led this double stack container train past me at 06:36, still in the “blue hour”.

Heading west, I stopped at Diamond to make a photograph of the signals silhouetted against the sunrise. Winnipeg’s skyline is visible in the distance.

Silhouette of railway signals against a sunrise with Winnipeg's skyline in the background

We do get some nice sunrises and sunsets on the prairies.

Nothing much was happening at Diamond, so I drove west toward the Trans-Canada Highway.

Toward Portage la Prairie

CN freight train passing mile posts on the prairie

Within a few miles, I encountered another eastbound train. Here they are passing the mile 19 mileboards. I like that sweet morning light on the nose of the locomotive.

I had my drone up for this one and took video from the air and from the ground. If you watch the video you’ll see an ex Rock Island car and an ex Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain hopper on this train!

After that train, I kept on “running the route” – Winnipeg west to Elie and back. I did that circuit a lot – maybe too much.

On my way to Elie, I spotted yet another eastbound train, but I was on the far side of the highway and couldn’t get very close to the tracks. I “settled” for this shot, which turned out better than I thought it would.

Photograph looking down a gravel road toward a container train heading right to left across the background, on the prairie.

I pulled back to photograph the train stretching across the prairie. The field was “full” of haybales. Sometimes these are wrapped in white plastic. We used to tell our kids that those were marshmallow fields. I don’t think they ever believed us.

A photograph of a prairie field with haybales and a long freight train on the horizon.

Eventually I ended up at the mile 41.08 private crossing, just east of Oakville, Manitoba. I’ve been here many times. See my recent From the Pile post as an example.

Mile 41

A black and white photograph showing a three-quarter view of a CN freight train passing a very short siding, with telegraph poles silhouetted against the sky.

I was hoping for an eastbound train so I could photograph it with the Oakville grain elevator in the background. Alas, the train that came by at 08:20 was heading west.

Still, the “going away” shot wasn’t too bad.

A photograph of three locomotives heading toward a bright white grain elevator on the prairie.

The train had a trio of locomotives – CN 2240, 8862, and 2643.

I took a video with my drone.

Since my drone was in the air anyway, I used it to take a selfie.

Drone view of two track railway crossing and selfie

That crossing is a little rough to drive over. I usually park between the road and the tracks and don’t drive through the crossing.

Continuing west…


Photograph of a CN freight train rolling through a highway crossing under a bright blue sky.

I was driving west on highway 331 past Oakville, heading toward Portage la Prairie in the “back way”, when I was surprised by an eastbound freight train. I barely had time to pull off the road and jump out to snap a few photos with my phone.

Back in the car, and the chase was on.

Photograph showing a side view of a mostly black CN locomotive.

Reset, reload, keep driving… back to the highway to get ahead of the train again.

At Elie, another roadside shot. This yielded a different angle, always a good idea.

Photograph of a freight train passing a wooden grain elevator.

Pour on the miles… off the highway at 424, rush toward the track, another leap from the car to get the shot.

Photograph of a red-nosed CN locomotive leading a train, with high voltage towers and power lines in the background.

This time, there was plenty of time to sit and watch the train and wait for it to clear the crossing.

Back to the chase.

One more leapfrog, another seven or so miles east.

Closeup photograph of the nose of a red CN locomotive leading a train.

Practically in Winnipeg by this time, I chose to sit and watch the train again at 09:35. It had some interesting cars, including a trio of CSX hoppers. This ex Seaboard Coast Line car with the very faint “FAMILY LINES SYSTEM” lettering on it really caught my eye.

Side view of a battered CSX freight railway car
Closeup of faded lettering on a railway car

It worked out very well that I was able to chase a train back to Winnipeg.

Just One More Thing

I’ve stopped posting on Twitter. Since it was purchased by Elon Musk, it has become more and more toxic and I’m not interested in helping that platform at all in its current state.

I joined Mastodon. This is a somewhat Twitter-like social network based on “the fediverse”. All you really need to know is that nobody owns the fediverse and nobody will. There’s no algorithm deciding what posts it thinks you should see, and there are no advertisements. (More about Mastodon)

If you are on Mastodon, you can find me at (or here).

The server is run by Chad, a fellow who lives in Alberta, and it experienced tremendous growth when Twitter was taken private. It continues to expand and there are a lot of great people on Mastodon and more are arriving every day.

To join it, follow the link below. You first pick a server (for Canadians I recommend joining, but there are so many others) then you choose your user name. There are plenty of Mastodon apps for your mobile device, or the web version is quite usable as well.

Join Mastodon

13 thoughts on “Running the Route”

  1. I like the long shot taken on the gravel road, with the telephone poles and the home to the left. These are the types of images that I am trying to capture more an more myself. They are images that place the train in the context of its surroundings.

    As someone who has lived with mental illness my entire life, I can say without a doubt that “keeping busy” is a legitimate strategy, although not a permanent solution. I often keep myself busy on days where I feel I just need to make it the finish line. Eventually, whatever is affecting me needs to be addressed, but there is no shame in simply deciding to fight through a day with something you enjoy. As I tell anyone, the fight is never over. The best I can do is claim a victory every moment, every minute, every hour and every day when I can.

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your comment. I’m trying to capture more “environmental” images and less “here’s the TRAIN” photos.

      I appreciate your comments on your own experience with mental illness. For me “keeping busy” eventually wasn’t enough and I realized I needed help. One thing I learned from my counseling is to be kinder to myself. We are our own worst critics, but we deserve the same forgiveness we would extend to others in the same situation.

  2. I agree with Michael H. regarding the photo, ” long shot taken on the gravel road, with the telephone poles and the home to the left.”
    There is something mesmerizing about that image that keeps me coming back to study it again and again. It is simple and complex at the same time.
    The crowned road and grassed edges along with the line of poles draw ones eye to the focal point of the photo, which is the locomotive. At the same time I am drawn to the house and buildings, field of hay bales and cultivated ridges on the left.
    The haziness of the white washed sky meeting up with the equally hazy bush line in the distance.
    I also think that what sets this image apart for me is the balance of the early morning light.
    It evokes images that I captured using the early morning light.

    Your “settled” photo turned out quite nice indeed. Good thing for you and us is that you discovered those forgotten photos from nearly two years ago.
    No harm in ‘Running the Route’ Steve. Look what wonderful pieces of artwork that resulted because of that.

    Keep on keeping on Steve.


    Glen, aka Busman
    Along the CEMR Right of Way
    Sanford, Manitoba

    • Hi Glen, thanks for your comments. I used to look at others’ photos that featured trains at the end of a city street or long road and think, “well, I guess they just didn’t get to the crossing on time and settled for that.” Eventually I realized that the photographer probably MEANT to take that shot over the 3/4 wedgie crossing photo that everyone else takes. It still takes a conscious effort for me to photograph more than just the train.

      I do appreciate good light, though. Photographers talk about the quality of light and I can see it now. One of the nice things about photographing in winter is that the sun is never high so you always get some side light!

  3. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention your subsequent photo, the field of hay bales.
    One has to squint to see the long train in the distance, until you bring the photo up to full size.
    Nice fade of the blue sky to the hazy horizon.
    Can’t beat that morning light.

    More early light morning shots please.


    Glen. aka Busman
    Along the CEMR right of way
    Sanford, Manitoba

  4. Nothing wrong with using trains as a distraction, IMO. There are lots of times in life where it is nice to be able to just forget about all of ‘real life’s’ problems for a while.

    I shot far more trains during the worst of the pandemic in 2021 than I ever have before or since, and it was one of the things that kept me sane through it all.

    To put it in perspective: according to my notes, I shot 155 trains in 2020…. and 346 in 2021. Suffice to say I was trackside along the Rivers and Carberry Subs a LOT.

    • Hi Brad. 346 trains in 2021! I’m not sure how many I photographed that year but it was probably in the vicinity. Like you, I was trackside a lot in 2021 and I think we crossed paths a few times.

  5. Hello, Steve;
    I enjoyed the Elie shot from the different angle. You’re right, it’s good to mix ’em up and get a different perspective but I also like this photo because it’s not something I ever see living around Montreal.
    Good decision about Twitter. I stayed off it because it was way too political; now I stay off it because it is too commercial. Same result !
    Be happy Steve, that’s what counts.

    • Hi Steve East, someday I would like to photograph around Montreal and experience what’s different there. More trees, more people, more buildings, less flat, I expect. I haven’t photographed trains much there and not for decades.

    • I love sunrises… more than sunsets, I think, because most people see sunsets but don’t get up early enough for sunrises. To me a sunrise is more personal and solitary.

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