Saturday, July 04, 2009

Quebec-Ontario Passenger Railroading

White Mountain Railfest and Ottawa -- Part II
(Part one can be found here. Photos for both parts can be found in the Photologues section here.)

Day 4: June 15, 2009 -- Tanks But No Tanks
The morning was gloomy. Yuck. I had not seen the new power operating on the Agence métropolitaine de transport line between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Gare Central (Central Station in Montreal) so that was the first order of business. The Dorval station was a whopping three minutes from the motel, and the first train I shot had an F59 (one of the new locomotives) leading. The next train had a rebuilt (by Alstom) GP9 leading, followed by another train with an F59. Two more trains (GP9, then F59) rounded out the morning. At Dorval the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are side-by-side (and remain so all thee way to Dorion), with AMT using the CPR and VIA Rail Canada using the CN.

With the commuter rush dying down, I needed to get some Canadian currency from the nearby RBC branch, and as I was making my way to the bank I missed a westbound CN freight. Dang! But once the exchange was made I headed to Beaconsfield where a pedestrian walkway spanned both railroads. Here I bagged an eastbound CPR freight, then over on the CN I caught the VIA train to Windsor that operates with stainless steel Budd coaches. An eastbound VIA train, this one with the green Renaissance cars, concluded the action at the footbridge.

A mis-timed move to the Beaconsfield station resulted in a missed CPR eastbound freight, but once at the station I saw an eastbound AMT train, this one with a GP9 and this one in the first rays of sunlight to break through the gloom. Continuing west, I wanted to get a VIA westbound on the bridge at Vaudreuil-Dorion, but arrived just as the train crossed the bridge. The next VIA westbound was an hour away, so I decided to wait it out.
Standing on the shoulder of the highway bridge, I thought I noticed the westbound signals on CN light up all red (hard to tell now that the sun was coming out and the angle I had). Get the camera ready and -- yup -- an eastbound freight came onto the bridge. The VIA train going west soon followed, and I was on my way west towards Ottawa.

There were back-to-back VIA eastbounds on the way, so I stopped at a four-track signal bridge halfway between Vaudreuil-Dorion and Coteau to get them in fairly abysmal light. From there it was off to the diamonds at DeBeaujeu where the Canadian Pacific main line crosses VIA's/CN's Alexandria Sub. I had been to DeBeaujeu before, but never shot a VIA train on the diamonds. With two VIA trains due, it was worth the visit, and before they showed up I also nabbed a CPR westbound. (As it turned out, the two VIA trains met in the siding just west of the diamonds).

From here it was off to Dalhousie, literally on the Quebec-Ontario border. Friend George Pitarys has showed me this location a few years ago, where a railroad water tank still stands by the CPR. Upon my arrival I noticed the tank had been nicely repainted, and a town park was put in around its base. I decided that a westbound shot of a train passing the tank would be great, and the sun was out nicely at this point.

I hadn't emptied any of my digital camera cards yet on the trip, and I was running out of space, so while waiting I turned on my laptop to clear some cards -- and discovered that all of Dalhousie is on wireless internet! Well, this meant I just had to e-mail George with a "greetings from the Dalhousie tank" e-mail. A few minutes later my cell phone rang -- it was George and he and his wife Candy were only 30 miles away, just checking into a motel in Cornwall on the first leg of a cross-Canada adventure! They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner -- well, of course! They said they'd wait until I was finished at Dalhousie, so I waited patiently for my westbound past the tank. And waited. And waited. I could see thunderheads in the western sky, and soon I was counting down the minutes until the sun vanished. Three. . . Two. . . One. . . Done. No train past the tank on this afternoon (despite a wait of over two hours). Time to pack up the camera and head for Cornwall where I had a pleasant meal at St. Hubert's chicken with George, Candy, Hal Reiser and Tom Carver. From there, it was off to Ottawa for the night.

Day 5: June 16, 2009 -- Oh, That O-Train
I was in the lobby of the Comfort Inn for only a few minutes when Dave Stremes of the Bytown Railway Society showed up (after taking the bus there). A few minutes later Ray Farrand drove up, and away we went to check out Ottawa's non-VIA rail action. Our first stop (after the mandatory Tim Horton's pickup) was across the Ottawa River in Gatineau where we checked out the Quebec Gatineau, a Genesee & Wyoming subsidiary. Not much happening there (and wouldn't be until noon), so we scooted back across the river.

The O-Train is one of two diesel-powered light rail lines in North America and operates a five-mile line southward out of Ottawa. While not serving downtown directly, it does feed into an express bus system and the trains are quite busy. We went to the Bayview station of the O-Train where we shot two sets of up-and-down trains (Bayview is the north end of the line and all trains immediately turn back south upon their arrival). We then went to the Carling station on the O-Train and then walked south to get the train in a deep cut. Driving further south, we went to the line's tunnel and stood basically on top the north portal shooting southbound trains, still in a deep cut.

Ray knew of a great sandwich shop, and despite the long, long lines we quickly had a tasty hoagie (don't know that they're called "hoagies" in Canada) and headed back to the Quebec Gatineau. We found them getting ready to make their one move of the day, shifting a paper mill. We chased them to the paper mill and enjoyed some switching action from the "grassy knoll."

Now it was time to head back to Ottawa for more O-Train action. We headed to a great location where the O-Train crosses the Rideau River just south of (and across the river from) Carleton University. The river was down, so we could get almost to mid-river on rocks, and we also got some nicely framed photos from the shore line.

Now it was time to get ready for the evening. The purpose of being in Ottawa in the first place was a presentation I was making to the Bytown Railway Society at the Science Museum. After a tasty dinner and working through a technical glitch with the museum's sound system, the program went rather well -- the Bytown group is a great audience -- bringing to an end a productive day.

Day 6: June 17, 2009 -- Corridor Finale
Somehow I managed to leave the motel five minutes too late to catch a Toronto-bound VIA train leaving the Ottawa station, but a quick check of the timetable showed that I could easily beat it to Brockville (where the line joins the Montreal-Toronto main corridor). Since Brockville was on my hit list anyhow, I made the quick run down there and waited. It didn't take long for the westbound signals to light up and I got ready to shoot my VIA train. Except a westbound CN freight showed up. So I waited and waited and waited some more, but still no train. With a westbound due, I decided to go west of town seeking a shot, but all this did was get me out of position for two eastbound VIA trains -- I got a grab shot of one of them on a fill.

Okay, take a deep breath and regroup. The sun was still good enough for a shot of an eastbound from the overhead bridge at the Brockville station, and there was an eastbound due. Also, the westbound train to Windsor with the stainless steel cars was due through as well, so I settled down to concentrate on those two trains without getting myself out of position. The payoff came when the eastbound rolled into the station in good light.

A Canadian National local that had been working the yard just west of the station came through next, moving under the bridge to get to the crossovers so it could spot a boxcar across the main line from the station. While it was spotting the car, I moved down to the grade crossing and set up for the stainless steel train. It showed up, I got the shot and all was well again.

The weather was still somewhat marginal, so instead of spending all day in Canada and getting home late I decided to start working towards the border. However, I was approaching the town of Gananoque, a place I had never shot before. Additionally, there was a mini-rush of four VIA trains scheduled through there in the span of about 40 minutes, so I figured it was worth checking out. I discovered that the depot was pretty far out of town (and contained the local model railroad club layout), and with about an hour before the VIA rush I scoped out the signal bridges about a mile east. While doing the scoping I got a westbound CN freight passing the signals, and then a few minutes later got an eastbound freight snaking through a sag in the topography.

The sun popped out for the first VIA train, a westbound (which didn't stop), and it got hazy again for the second VIA train (also an eastbound that stopped long enough to notice there were no passengers boarding or detraining). Next up was an eastbound (the stainless steel train from Windsor) with a second train (Renaissance cars) right on its heels. That wrapped up the rush and it was time to head home.

Unlike the border crossing into Canada a few days earlier where the customs agent was friendly, the U.S. agents were snippy and short, making people (U.S. citizens, mind you) feel like they had committed a crime by making a border crossing. U.S. customs agents are simply the worst. Anyhow, with customs behind me, I headed through Syracuse and Binghamton without stopping, and finally arrived at home.

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