The Grand Trunk Unit

I heard through the railfan grapevine that one of the CN heritage locomotives, the blue and red Grand Trunk unit, was in Winnipeg and about to head out on train CN 347 early in the afternoon. The crew was ordered for 12:30, which is when they show up for duty. They have to get their orders, board their train, possibly do some switching in the yard, then get on the road.

I had some free time so I grabbed my camera gear and headed north to the CN main line. I decided that I wanted to get a side shot of the unit, since A) it was early afternoon and there wouldn’t be too much light on the nose, and B) the nose of this locomotive isn’t that impressive – it’s red. Just red.

To me that meant I needed to be on the wide open prairie, which meant the area around Diamond just west of Winnipeg. Here the road parallels the track and there are few obstructions to photographing trains.

I arrived trackside close to 2 PM, and headed to around mile 15.5 (here: 49.8353, -97.4379). There’s a closed crossing there which is a great spot to set up a tripod… off the road but not too close to the tracks.

My friend Jim was west of me at mile 21 and other friends Mark and Jack were closer to downtown. Mark was close to the yard and was able to give us updates on signals and such.


Train CN 853 leaving Winnipeg
Train CN 853 leaving Winnipeg

Mark let us know that train CN 853 was on its way toward us. This train leaves the main line at Portage la Prairie and heads up the CN Gladstone subdivision to Dauphin. There are a few gypsum cars behind the locomotive that go to the Gladstone for loading.

When I saw the headlight in the distance, I launched my drone and prepared to record the train. In the photo above you can see my drone as a tiny black dot above the distant tree and above the power lines. I intentionally flew it a fair distance away from me so the video camera wouldn’t pick up its buzzing, and also so I would have a chance to pan the drone, then use my camera to take a photo as the train passed me.

That train was followed fairly closely by a westbound intermodal train.


CN 3119 from above
CN 3119 from above

I didn’t bother taking any still photos of the head end of this train, relying on the video on the ground and the drone’s camera.

It has been unseasonably warm in Manitoba this January, so it was quite pleasant to stand outside and watch trains. I think it was around -5C – the snow wasn’t melting – but there was no wind. I was wearing my parka, photo gloves and Winnipeg Jets hat and I was comfortable as can be.

CN 2927 on the tail end
CN 2927 on the tail end

It was exciting to have two trains within 20 minutes of each other, but unfortunately that was the end of trains on the Rivers subdivision for a while.

After a bit, Jim came driving up and we had a socially distanced chat while we waited. It took almost an hour, but eventually another train came along – from the west, alas.


CN 8838 near Winnipeg
CN 8838 near Winnipeg

This was a general freight train heading into Winnipeg. I shot it coming around the bend at mile 16; Jim was a bit closer to the curve than I was.

This train had 3 locomotives on the head end (8838, 2237, 2101) and it had some interesting cars in it.

I flew my drone for this one too, but I had to recall it before the train had finished passing because it was getting low on battery power. This was its third flight on that battery and I guess that was enough!

I have two batteries for my drone, but I wanted to save the other battery for the heritage unit to be sure I could fly the drone for that one.

After this train passed, Mark gave us the heads up that CN 347 was on its way toward us. Shortly after we heard that, we saw a headlight to the west. It was clear the eastbound train would get to us well before CN 347.

The train seemed to be going fairly slow, and we thought it was going to come to a stop, perhaps right beside us. Jim and I were a bit concerned that the stopped train would block our view of the Grand Trunk unit. He elected to move west to be behind the train if it stopped, and I headed east to mile 15 to be in front of it if it stopped there.


Wescana Street Train
Wescana Street Train

As it turned out, the train didn’t stop at mile 15. It kept going and stopped a few miles east of us at Hall Road.

It was on the north track, so it wouldn’t have blocked our shot in any case, but I know I didn’t want a train behind the heritage locomotive and I don’t think Jim did either.

Here’s the trailing locomotive on that train, nicely lit by the late afternoon sun.

CN 3901 bringing up the rear
CN 3901 bringing up the rear

Does anyone know what those triangular signs mean?

After the train passed, I returned to the same location that I had been photographing from.

By this time, the sun was getting fairly low in the sky and the shadows were getting long. I was hoping the train would arrive before the sun went behind some low cloud.

There’s a power line south of the tracks with tall transmission towers. I looked at where the shadows were falling and noted a location where I could fly my drone to record the train without shadows on the head end.

Soon I saw a headlight in the distance. I waited until they drew a little closer, then launched my drone and flew it to “the spot” to await the arrival of the train.


The blue and red leading
The blue and red leading

The light was just great as the train rolled past. Good, even side light… sweet.

I panned it a bit with the drone, then photographed it with my camera as it rolled on past and around the bend at mile 16.

The sky was pretty nice!

The "going away" shot
The “going away” shot

From my view of the drone’s camera, I could see how long the shadows were getting behind the train. Here’s a snapshot from the video showing the shadows of the empty centerbeam cars.

Long shadows
Long shadows

As soon as the train passed, I packed up all my gear and headed home. I had spent enough time trackside and it was time to get home and think about supper.

I was very pleased with the outing and the photos that came out of it. Another CN heritage unit checked off!

The Video

Video of the Grand Trunk heritage unit, and more

I made a compilation video featuring 4 of the 5 trains that I saw (I didn’t record the fourth train on video). I hope you enjoy it!

Just One More Thing

So far I have seen three of the five* CN heritage locomotives:

  1. CN 3008 (Illinois Central)
  2. CN 3115 (BC Rail)
  3. CN 8952 (Grand Trunk)

The two I haven’t seen are CN 3023 (EJ&E) and CN 3069 (Wisconsin Central). Hopefully I will see them soon… they’ve both been through Winnipeg but I haven’t caught them.

* There’s also CN 8898 which has the same “IPO25” sticker that the others have, but it’s otherwise a pretty standard CN paint scheme.

4 thoughts on “The Grand Trunk Unit”

  1. Hi Steve,

    A nice set of pictures. The locomotive colours really contrast against the snow.

    According to my somewhat dated copy of CN’s general operating instructions, the yellow triangle sign indicates Station – One Mile. A Station can mean a switch for a siding, a train order signal, or a station name sign.

    The white triangle with the black outline indicates a railway crossing at grade in one mile in CTC territory. In non-CTC territory, it can also indicate the end of the main track, or the end of two or more tracks, in one mile.

    • Thanks, Brian! That would be a mile to the Diamond station sign, and the railway crossing at grade would be the CP Glenboro subdivision. That makes perfect sense.

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