Three of a Kind

In my last post, I talked about having railfan friends and the benefit of being plugged into the “railfan network”. On August 13 the news came out that westbound train CP 421 would have not one, not two, but three SD70ACu locomotives on it, including a “heritage” maroon and gold locomotive. Three of a kind… but not a flush, I guess. Enough with the poker analogies, let’s deal with the rest of the post before I get clubbed.

421 was due into Winnipeg in the evening of the 13th, maybe around 7 PM. I decided to try to get it on the east side of the city as it crossed the Floodway. The area was nice and open and it’s legal to fly my drone there. I hadn’t photographed there since August 2017 when the CP 150 train came through.

I left right after supper. I was concerned that I was going to miss the train, so I made as much haste as I legally could driving around the Perimeter Highway. My plan was to park at the public parking lot east of Gunn Road, then walk the public walking trail up to the CP bridge and record the train there.

After parking, I put my camera backpack on and carried my tripod as I hustled down the walking path. It was H O T outside and I was soon sweating as I was briskly walking north on the trail. It’s just short of a kilometre from the parking lot to the CP bridge. I had my camera in my hand in case the train came while I was still approaching the bridge, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary.

I arrived at the bridge area and set up in the weeds above the trail. I had my video camera on a tripod to record the sound of the train (and the sight) and intended to fly my drone to record the train from above. I had my still camera over my shoulder but my primary intent was to record with the drone.

My friend Jim was situated on the highway overpass over the tracks – behind me – and a few other railfans were in the city proper waiting for the train. We communicated via our phones but really had nothing much to say other than speculation on when the train would arrive and whether the maroon unit would be leading.

It wasn’t toooooo long before I heard the sound of a train blowing for a distant crossing. Show time!

Not the Right Train

CP 119 approaching the bridge at mile 118
CP 119 approaching the bridge at mile 118

I trotted down to the path to have a level surface to launch my drone from. I got it up in the air and sent it over the floodway itself so it wasn’t over the path – in case someone came walking along.

Soon the train came into view, and it was immediately clear that this wasn’t the train we were waiting for. It had two locomotives on the head end, and neither was an SD70ACu. What the heck?

Crossing the Floodway
Crossing the Floodway

I dutifully recorded this intermodal train as it rolled west across the Floodway and into the city. The lead units were a pair of red GEs, but hey, a train’s a train.

After the train passed, we communicated via our phones and determined that the train was CP 119… and that 421 should be following it. Great.

We waited… and waited… while a giant cloud obscured the sun and made everything dark. There were occasional patches of sunlight (“sucker holes”) but as the evening wore on, it grew pretty dim pretty quickly.

After an hour of waiting, I was starting to think about packing it in. The light was getting poor and there was no likelihood of it getting better. I messaged the group that I was leaving and packed my stuff up.

As I walked under the CP bridge on the path, I decided to fly my drone over the bridge once, just for fun. I did that and then started walking again.

Just then, Jim messaged the group to say that he saw headlights in the distance to the east.


Quickly I set things back up and got ready to record the approaching train.

As the train started crossing the bridge, I panned it with the drone to try to capture something in the dim light. The drone was recording at ISO 600 and the shutter speed was a little low. There’s some blur in the background but it did a decent job, given the available light.

CP 7030 leads the train
CP 7030 leads the train

Note that although the nose of CP 7030 is more or less in focus, the rest of the train definitely isn’t. This is due to the low light – a wide aperture gathers more light but reduces depth of field, so the whole photo isn’t in focus.

Fortunately, when you are panning, depth of field is less important because the whole locomotive is the same distance away from your lens. I elected to pan the heritage locomotive, CP 7010. I’m pleased with how this turned out.

Canadian Pacific script FTW
Canadian Pacific script FTW

I recorded the entire train with the drone and video camera, then packed everything up and walked back to my car. I was getting a little thirsty by that time!

Here’s the video:

Two trains, lots of waiting

It was time to head home… but as the Supertramp song goes, I took the long way home.


CN 8889 in Transcona
CN 8889 in Transcona

There was an east facing intermodal train in the CN Transcona yard. I note in the photo above that there’s a crew person on the ground, so they weren’t quite ready to head out. I didn’t hang around – I’d had enough waiting already!

I carried on past Symington Yard. As I drove past the southeast end of the yard, where the pulldown tracks for the hump are, I saw a train coming in off the Sprague subdivision. I pulled off the highway to take a few photos of the head end.

In The Falling Dark

Dim but usable
Dim but usable

By this time it was getting rather dark. I decided to give it a shot anyway – why not? it’s digital – and cranked the ISO up to 6400 on my camera and panned at 1/60s.

To my eye the result is somewhat grainy but quite usable. I wouldn’t want to print this in a magazine but it tells the story.

The engineer gave me a couple of toots of the horn as they passed – thanks!

I got back on the highway and continued around the Perimeter Highway. As I crossed the CP Emerson subdivision, I glanced right and left – TRAIN!

Northbound Hail Mary

CP 9808 going to school
CP 9808 going to school

I found my favourite spot just north of the Perimeter Highway and parked quickly. As I hopped out I noticed that a group of people were having some kind of tailgate party there. Kind of a strange location for a party, but who am I to judge?

As CP 9808 North came rolling by, the engineer tooted the horn a couple of times – but I think the horn was for the partiers, not for me.

The settings for my camera were similar to the shot 7 minutes earlier: ISO 6400, shutter 1/125s, aperture f/5.0, 17mm zoom.

I felt pretty lucky to get a train on the Sprague and on the Emerson back to back. It was a good end to the evening.

Just One More Thing

The Army Arid Regions locomotive
The Army Arid Regions locomotive

While we’re talking about CP heritage units, here’s a “quickie” addendum to this post. A day before, I went to Grande Pointe just south of Winnipeg to capture CP 7021 as the sole power on train 681 coming into the city.

This is the “Army Arid Regions” locomotive. I mentioned CP 7021 in a previous post where three SD70ACus were in the city, but I didn’t see it myself. This was my chance to see it.

All I really had to do was show up and wait. It was hot this evening as well but I was close to my car and could turn on the air conditioning now and then to cool off.

The video features the drone and ground views of the train.

Check out that “Wellens & Company” car at 3:17. The train had a lot of battered old hoppers.

I really like the look of this locomotive. Nice work, CP.

CP 7021
CP 7021

9 thoughts on “Three of a Kind”

  1. I really like those Military Units. The drone shots over the floodway are cool too. Gives a different perspective for sure. I saw how hot it’s been up that way, down here in Georgia we’ve been having rain and lots of highs in the 80F’s which is remarkable for August.

  2. I like the CP ES44ACs with the three windows (8700 series I believe) on the side rather than the ES44ACs with the four windows. That is my personal taste. It looks now like CP is using GM EMD power (SD90MAC). Before it was exclusively CN that was using such power on the Canadian railroading scene.

    Very nice photos and videos Steve!

    • Thanks, John! The GM EMD power is making a comeback now that many of the SD90MACs have been rebuilt as SD70ACu locomotives.

  3. Hi Steve,
    Just spent three days chasing north of Toronto With my friend Bill Hall at: Spence/Allison (there’s a Honda plant there on CP), Parry South (the start of Directional Running – near Parry Sound), Huntsville-North Bay (chased CN# 451 to North Bay – train was literally waiting for us to show up!), North Bay ONR shops (always a great place to watch trains), Englehart (ONR main yard north of North Bay), Mattawa (caught the once a day switcher going to Tamiskaming, QC!!) and last but not least Smiths Falls where we caught CMQ 9017/9011 on the rail train idling in the yard.
    Had wanted to shoot a heritage unit (or two) on CP but they turned out to be mostly “out your way” not around my area.

    • Hi Ian, that sounds like a great three days of chasing! I have never been to that area. I would love to see the ONR.

  4. Your luck was better than mine! My kids and I got skunked in Kitchener yesterday. We waited for quite some time at the station (time as measured by a 5 and 9-year old) for a battered old local freight to leave the yard east of Lancaster Street. Signals to the west stayed red the entire time. We decided to move on and finish some errands, and just as we got buckled into the car, there it goes, rolling by. It looked like three ancient Geeps, with 5 mixed freight cars, including a blue and gold Ontario Northland box car. Lots of power for a short little train. Not a single photo, of course! At least the coffee from Smile Tiger Coffee (great coffee shop next door to the station) partially made up for it.

    • Hi Brian, oh, bad luck! I’ve had a few like that. At least you saw it… my son lives in Waterloo now and he spotted a local with a couple of grungy GP9s for power, maybe they were the same type as you saw.

      • I suspect they were indeed GP9s. Now that CN has taken over the Guelph Sub again, the mix of locomotives is more eclectic. I even have a photo of a GMD1, which I’d never seen in the flesh. The Goderich and Exeter actually had more consistency toward the end of it’s time on that stretch, with most of their roster being repainted in the orange and black scheme. That said, I’ll be seeing the G&E again, as they have replaced Ontario Southland in Guelph, after 20-odd years of service. That one makes me sad – I’ll miss that TH&B paint scheme and awesome collection of vintage power.

        • The OSR has the best short line power, doesn’t it? F units in freight service? Who would have thought?

          I’m glad you saw a GMD1 in person.

          The G&E power seems to be growing more and more homogeneous, at least the paint schemes. Orange and black everywhere!

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