Social Distance

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?

A normal start to a train
A normal start to a train

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…

RTAX 19007
RTAX 19007

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).

COER 804838
COER 804838

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.

SOXX 20351
SOXX 20351

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.

RTAX 10005
RTAX 10005

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!

Big Red

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.

CN 0077
CN 0077

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! 😉

15 thoughts on “Social Distance”

    • Just a word, Taylor. Generational perceptions of COVID are different. We should definitely discourage paranoia while understanding the truths about this novel virus.

    • (Steve if this is too off topic for your page, feel free to delete)

      Hi Taylor,

      As I recognize your handle, I don’t think that you are here trolling, so I want to give you as honest and clear an answer as possible.

      COVID-19 is a very big deal. I’m sure that Steve sees it every day with his wife’s work. My daughter is also a pharmacist and I get news too. As it stands now, there will be hundreds of thousands of deaths arising out of this. While China seems to have taken control of the situation, both Italy and Iran have lost control. As I write this (9:20 a.m. EDT, 21 March 2020), over 4000 people had died in Italy (over 620 yesterday) and an unknown number in Iran, certainly much larger than the 1433 that they are officially reporting. The USA is next as they lost control of the outbreak. While the fatality rate in the USA is comparatively low for the time being (“only” 384 ) it’s 32 times that of Canada (currently at 12), but they only have 8.9 times our population. New York State, Pennsylvania and California are on complete lock-down right now to try and curb the spread. Accordingly to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modelling, between 200 000 and 1.7 Million could die in the USA alone if nothing was done. In Canada, we’ve acted earlier to ensure that it doesn’t get to that.

      So, I get it that COVID-19 might seem that big a deal to someone that’s in their early 20s. But you don’t want to be responsible for spreading an illness that has the potential to kill. As I read somewhere else “you don’t want to be responsible for killing your grandma.”

      Stay safe, both out on the tracks and during this outbreak.

      P.S. you can track what’s going on around the world and here in Canada at this website: COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK


    • Taylor – Much better to overreact than to do nothing then find out that the virus is really deadly. I would suggest you listen to what our Prime Minister is saying and what the scientific community is saying and stop listening to Trump!

  1. I like your train pages. Telling what on the train is good and I always try to take pictures of all the train and try to spot different loads. Keep safe.

    • Hi Clayton, thanks for stopping by! I am taking photos of freight cars a lot more than I used to… lots of interesting loads to see.

  2. Hi, Steve-
    With all the strangeness in our lives now, I’ve been feeling a little down lately. Seeing your familiar blog this morning was just what I needed to remind me what normal life feels like – that magnificent shot of the CN train at the top of this blog cheered me right up. Kind of a shot in the arm. Thanks!

  3. Hey, Steve!

    Glad to see you’re still enjoying the hobby in these strange times.

    Someone told me a while ago about those containers on the bulkhead flat cars. If I remember correctly, they come from the smelter in Thompson, MB and travel to Newfoundland.

    • Hi Jeff – that’s interesting! I know the Thompson mine has shut down its smelter and is sending the concentrate to Vale smelters in Ontario and Newfoundland.

  4. Your blog is much appreciated. No trains where I live anymore so I rely on this type of information. The pics of the different loads on the train are super. I have never seen anything like this. I model – but I am stuck with what I remember from the 1950-60 era – only a few 50 foot cars – mostly 40 footers that are now almost totally extinct. Keep up the good work – look forward to your posts.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for reading and commenting! The rail cars of today are certainly different than they were in the 50s and 60s.. but there are many car types that are rare or extinct now. The 40′ boxcar. Tank cars with domes. Stock cars. Even flat cars and 50′ boxcars are pretty rare!

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