Three Trains on the Sprague

Steve was restless.

He was never the type to be content sitting at home, day after day. He’s not that patient. Every now and then, he had to do something.

Steve’s father George was like that, but on overdrive. George was never content to sit still, often visiting someone for only ten or fifteen minutes – maybe half an hour – before rushing off to another appointment, another meeting, another house to show to a prospective client. George was like that all of his life, until the stroke took him.

Steve isn’t quite so restless, but he can’t sit still forever.

Often he chooses to go look at trains when he’s restless, and this was one of those days.

After one quick thought about where to go – “east” – Steve threw his camera gear into his Honda Civic and started driving.

He had a pretty standard route to maximize his time trackside. He would drive east from his house onto the Perimeter Highway around Winnipeg, crossing the CP Emerson subdivision – with a quick look north for headlights – then look at the CN line coming southeast out of Symington Yard – the Sprague subdivision – for traffic. If there was something there, he’d chase it.

If nothing was going on around Symington, he’d continue counter-clockwise around Winnipeg to the CN Redditt subdivision coming east out of Transcona. That one has less traffic these days, but there’s the CP Keewatin subdivision a few kilometres north that occasionally has a train on it.

Going home, the process was reversed but the plan was the same. Cross a bunch of tracks and hope to see a train. It’s a lot of driving, but it’s better than sitting around. At least to him.

On this day, luck was with Steve and there was a train. Three, in fact.

The first train was westbound, and he found it while driving east along the Trans-Canada Highway. Sometimes he’d drive a few kilometres along the Sprague sub, hoping for a headlight, then head north on Deacon Road to the Redditt sub. This time, that strategy paid off as he saw a headlight in the distance.

Pulling off at one of his favourite spots, a little rural crossing on what is charmingly called “Settlers Road 55N“, he quickly set up his equipment to record CN 3212 West.

Squinting into the mid morning sun – Steve doesn’t wear sunglasses, he loses them or sits on them – he decided to fly his drone on the west side of the train to avoid flying near the highway, but stand on the east side of the train to get on the “sun side”.

As usual, Steve was trying too hard to record every angle.

As the train was approaching in the distance, a car pulled off the highway and paused beside Steve. The driver rolled the passenger window down.

“Am I going to be in your shot if I park over there?” he gestured over toward where Steve’s car was parked.

“Not at all, just park behind me and it’ll be fine,” replied Steve.

The man parked his car, then walked back across the tracks to near where Steve was.

“Hey, are you Steve Boyko?” the man asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“I’m Patrick. I read your blog and follow you on Instagram.”

Steve would’ve shaken Patrick’s hand in greeting, but these are COVID times and we don’t do that sort of thing any more. Instead, he gave a small grin and turned toward the oncoming train, trying to indicate that maybe they could chat after the head end of the train passed.

Both men took their positions and photographed the locomotives as they passed by. Steve set his camera aside and took up the drone controls to pan the train… but the drone wasn’t responding. The controller said it was losing contact with the drone, and the video feed from the drone was intermittent. It was clear that the train was blocking the signal between Steve, on one side of the train, and the drone on the other.

Eventually a few empty centerbeam flatcars came along, and their large areas of open space allowed the signal to go through and Steve commanded the drone to fly higher so there would be nothing blocking the signal between controller and drone.

Mile 141.24
Mile 141.24

After the train passed, Patrick and Steve chatted for a few minutes. Patrick is an artist and has an Instagram account (@patrick_dunford) where he features his work, including some impressive train paintings.

Eventually they saw the headlights of a westbound train in the distance, coming out of Winnipeg. Patrick decided to relocate to the Dufresne area and Steve chose to remain in place.

Learning from his experience from the previous train, Steve elected to stand on the west side of the train and fly his drone from the same side.

CN 3056 East
CN 3056 East

This train was a grain train, with a locomotive on either end.

CN 3238 on the tail end
CN 3238 on the tail end

Two trains in the same spot was enough for Steve. It was time to move on.

He chose to drive up Deacon Road to check out the CN Redditt and CP Keewatin subdivisions. Deacon also crosses the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway line, where Steve had some luck in the spring.

While Steve was driving, he was listening to the Photo Geek Weekly podcast. The name is accurate, as this is a seriously geeky podcast with Canadian host Don Komarechka and guest.

Many people listen to music or talk radio while they’re driving. Steve usually listens to podcasts. He thinks of them as today’s talk radio. There are so many to choose from and Steve has his favourites, most about photography or online business.

The Redditt and Keewatin subdivisions were both quiet, with no signs of any nearby trains, so Steve decided to start working his way home by driving west on Dugald Road through Transcona.

CN’s Transcona yard had a couple of intermodal trains staged in it. Parking on the shoulder near Dugald Road, Steve walked to the Ravenhurst Street crossing to take a long distance photo of the yard with the Winnipeg skyline behind it.

Trains in Transcona
Trains in Transcona

Returning to his trusty Civic, Steve drove west on Dugald Road then turned south on Plessis Road to pass along the eastern edge of CN’s Symington Yard. Nothing remarkable was by the hump, but a train was leaving the yard, heading east on the Sprague subdivision. It was time for a third train on the Sprague.

Steve drove east on the Trans-Canada Highway, accelerating up to 100 km/hr after Deacon’s Corner and overtaking the head end of the train. He thought of where he’d like to catch the train, and chose the middle of the Lorette siding. That would give him enough time to get the drone in the air to record its passing.

It turned out to be barely enough time.

CN 3274 at Lorette siding
CN 3274 at Lorette siding

Steve decided to fly the drone fairly close to the train this time. He tends to fall into the pattern of taking the same angle of shot every time – the famous “3/4 wedge” – and he has to prompt himself to try something different.

Once that train had passed, he put his gear in the car and headed west on the TCH toward home.

The restlessness was cured – for a while.

2 thoughts on “Three Trains on the Sprague”

  1. I’m at a loss to figure out why those trains are sitting at the Transcona Shops on stub end tracks. Could Steve (or someone else) please explain this to me?

    • Hi Rick, you can’t see from this angle but there is a track that branches north off the main line to go to the yard proper where those trains are sitting. They aren’t on stub tracks.


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