Since the global shutdown due to Covid-19, a lot of transit services have reduced service or stopped running entirely. VIA Rail is no exception to this, and has shut down all long distance travel with the exception of the Winnipeg-Churchill train (see The Longest Train Still Running) and a few shorter haul trains in Quebec. The Canadian is currently not set to return until at least November, the Ocean is offline, and the Jasper-Prince Rupert train (formerly known as the Skeena) is also on hiatus.
VIA decided to haul most of their remaining passenger equipment from British Columbia east to Toronto for cleaning and inspection. To do this, they made up a train with equipment in Vancouver and sent it up through Jasper to pick up the Skeena remnants, then carried on through Winnipeg toward Toronto. This was numbered VIA 12. A similar train, VIA 11, arrived the next day in Winnipeg from Toronto with two locomotives and five cars… maybe replacements for the Churchill train.
Several of the Winnipeg railfan gang geared up for recording VIA 12 as it rolled through Winnipeg. The word was that it would be passing through Winnipeg in the evening of May 17, stopping briefly at Union Station downtown to recrew and refuel. The “crew” has agreed to share their photos and I’ll present them in the order that VIA 12 encountered them.
Young Tyler Kowalski spent four hours perched on a hillside near St. Lazaire, Manitoba to get this shot. He had to be in position for the expected time that it would pass the location, but unfortunately it was delayed due to some meets with CN trains. Tyler got a little red in the sun but I think it was worth it for this great photo.
The group of us were in constant communication via Facebook Messenger, so we knew when Tyler got his shot and could do some math to figure out when it “should” reach Winnipeg. Jim set up at mile 21, just west of the hotbox detector, while I was at mile 15.5 (or so), Brian was at mile 10, Jack was at Portage Junction and Mark was downtown at the station. Another railfan, Andrew, was at mile 13 and he graciously agreed to have his photo included here.
Jim Burnside was stationed at mile 21.8 and provided some very valuable intelligence about approaching trains. We did see one freight train before VIA 12, so I guess we got a “two-fer”.
Here’s Jim’s video of VIA 12 lit up by the declining sun. This video is proof that there’s nothing wrong with shooting an eastbound train near sunset, as long as you get enough of an angle to get some sun on the side. Well done!
Initially Jim sent a message saying that a green light had come on, indicating a train was nearby with a clear signal. When he sent another message saying that he could see headlights, I launched my drone and sent it a few hundred metres west of me to hover there while I turned on my video cameras and got ready.
I had set up close to the bend in the track at mile 16. Since it was evening and the sun was setting, and the train was coming out of the west, a head on shot would not be the best bet. I wanted to have the drone to the north of the track to catch the train going around the curve. I thought I would get some nice glints off the stainless steel cars.
Soon I could see the train several kilometres away across the flat prairie. I turned on the Akaso camera, located low and close to the tracks, and prepared to turn on my T1i on the tripod. I took a few shots with my still camera (see above), then put that away to concentrate on operating the drone.
I combined the video from the drone, the Akaso and the T1i together into this video.
I was quite pleased with the drone video. Those stainles steel cars practically glowed.
One great thing about filming in 4K is that you can extract a pretty high quality still photo from the video. The lead photo in this post is from the drone video.
Andrew Zommer was at mile 13 and caught the train rolling past. This is one of my “usual spots” as there is a former crossing here and it’s the first wide open prairie location west of Winnipeg on the CN main line. Note STRATHCONA PARK as the second car; it’s very unusual to see Park cars anywhere except on the end of a train.
Brian Schuff was at mile 10 waiting for the VIA train to roll by. He caught some nice sun on the north side of the train as it rolled under the Perimeter Highway.
Jack Hykaway was set up at Portage Junction to capture the train with his new still camera. He had a nice “going away” photo with the signal tower and some downtown buildings in the background. I think that’s a rail train tucked away on the left side.
Mark Perry had his long lens (the “bazooka”) ready to capture VIA 12 approaching the train shed. He was east of the station and shooting wayyyy down the track for this one!
The light was pretty poor by this time so we decided it wasn’t worth trying to shoot it on the east side of town as it continued on to Toronto.
Andrew was out the next afternoon to catch VIA 11 coming in. Here’s his video near Nourse, out on the CN Redditt subdivision east of Winnipeg. VIA 11 terminated in Winnipeg.
I’m guessing the cars on VIA 11 were replacements for the Churchill train. Normally the Canadian would bring replacement cars to Winnipeg from Toronto, but since that train isn’t running… they have to get here somehow.
Just One More Thing
I want to take a moment to remember Captain Jenn Casey, who perished when the Snowbird plane she was in crashed near Kamloops, British Columbia. Capt. Casey was a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds and was riding in the aircraft with pilot Capt. Richard MacDougall.
The airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Kamloops. Capt. MacDougall ejected and was injured, but is expected to recover.
I saw the Snowbirds fly near my house when they left Winnipeg on another leg of Operation Inspiration, a Canada-wide tour intended to lift our spirits during this pandemic.
My heart is full of sadness for the family of Capt. Casey, Capt. MacDougall, and all the extended Snowbirds family.