Well, COVID-19. What a thing.
Years from now, I hope we’re all able to look back on this and shake our heads at just how life-changing this was.
One of the big phrases of the year is “social distancing”. This is the act of keeping a distance from everyone else, something I happen to be good at anyway. I’m not really a touchy-feely kind of guy with anyone except my family. I really don’t like receiving hugs. I’ll shake hands with people, but that’s it… and these days, shaking hands is “out”.
It’s a good thing that railfanning is often a solitary pursuit, and it doesn’t require getting within spitting distance of other humans!
Anyway, on to the trains. Hope you’re staying safe out there.
Aluminum or Aluminium?
On March 14 I caught this eastbound train along Wilkes Avenue as it ran the last few miles into Winnipeg. The front end was pretty normal – a couple of locomotives, some boxcars, a bunch of loaded centrebeam lumber cars…
Then there were these cars. As the train was rolling past, I thought they were concrete blocks. I dutifully photographed each of the four cars (RTAX 19025, RTAX 19007 above, COER 804838 below and RTAX 19022).
The RTAX reporting mark should give it away. It’s owned by Rio Tinto Alcan, who operate a recently modernized aluminium smelter in Kitimat, BC. These are big slabs of aluminum, or aluminium, your choice of spelling.
Slightly farther down in the train were a set of flatcars carrying several big chests.
The SOXX reporting mark is owned by SMBC Rail Services Ltd., who lease rail equipment like these 85 foot 286K flatcars. Note the cushioned drawbars to absorb some of the slack run-in.
These big boxes have a blue UN 3170 placard on them. What’s UN 3170, you ask? Aluminum smelting byproducts.
Blue placards are not common on trains. A blue placard means “dangerous when wet”.
According to this page, aluminum dross forms dangerous gases (methane, ammonia and hydrogen) when in contact with water. Also, some dross is apparently transported in flammable liquids. I guess that’s why they are in these sturdy looking boxes!
This page has a really good explanation of the UN placards.
This was a quick iPhone grab. I overtook a westbound train and pulled off to grab it just as it rolled under the Perimeter Highway just west of the Rivers subdivision’s mile 10 hotbox detector.
I think this was a Prince Rupert bound train, because it had a lot of general freight in front, followed by double stack containers on the rear. That’s an unusual combination for CN freight trains.
It had a very shiny distributed braking boxcar in the middle.
I didn’t record the whole train – just some snapshots – but I did record the point where it transitioned into double stack containers.
The mile 10 hotbox detector is just off the photo to the right.
Just One More Thing
So many things have been cancelled because of the coronavirus. I was supposed to go to the PI World conference in San Francisco next week, but of course that was cancelled. My wife was coming with me and we were going to go to Big Sur and Monterey and a few other spots. They will still be there next year.
Once that was cancelled, we decided to go to Toronto instead. My wife is a big Hamilton fan and we bought tickets to see Hamilton at the Mirvish Theatre. I had visions of visiting the Toronto Railway Museum and perhaps others in the area. Well… that lasted about two days and then we cancelled everything. Things are changing so quickly.
Now we’re hunkered down in the house. My wife continues to go to work – she’s a pharmacist and people need their medicine – and I continue to work from my basement as I have for the past decade. We’re keeping our kids home and we’ll find things for them to do. We’ll all do our part to flatten the curve.
We are living in unprecedented times and I think we are going to see some permanent changes in the way we act as a society due to the coronavirus… some good and some not so good, like most societal changes.
Be well. Be kind to one another. And try not to let your family drive you crazy! 😉