Thursday, September 28, 2023

Cataraqui Spur Update

Living a mile away from CN's Cataraqui Spur, with its dubious record of recent derailments, it was not a surprise when CBC's Dan Taekama recently contacted me about his report (below). Dan's report was published on September 14, in the wake of an access-to-information request by CBC that garnered 22 pages of Transport Canada inspection reports of the Cataraqui Spur. At the time of the most recent Cataraqui Spur derailment, the third in as many years, Dan had interviewed me for background information on the condition of the track. Knowing how long it takes government agencies to provide information, I'm not surprised that it's already four months later!

Back in May, I expected CN to initiate a maintenance blitz with new ballast, a major tie program and surfacing, maybe heavier rail installation, and a new trestle north of Bath Road. Only by pouring money into the infrastructure on the spur would CN stop pouring chemicals and cars heading to Invista into sensitive wetlands, and perhaps onto bystanders and vehicles waiting at level crossings.
The spur runs between the CN Kingston Subdivision mainline and the Invista nylon plant on Lake Ontario, crossing the Little Cataraqui Creek and wetlands by at least four trestle bridges. Dan's reporting shows that CN knowingly ignored deteriorating conditions in the structure and condition of the trestle over the Cataraqui Creek. No plan, monitoring or ongoing evaluation of its capacity and condition was in place. Transport Canada safety inspectors raised 40 points, 32 of which dealt with signals and level crossings, four with track, and four with the bridge.

And who knew the trestle involved in the most recent derailment is scheduled for repair this November...

A 2020 underwater report did not meet the standard of CN's own Bridge Safety Management Plan (BSMP), but remained without follow-up by CN. Following the derailment, another underwater inspection this year did not deal with the condition of the riverbed, nor the lack of sampling of the wooden bridge supports. However, a 2022 inspection by CN noted some bridge bents were in poor condition at that time.

A 2022 CN inspection rated some bents — the piles and base that support a bridge over water — near Bath Road as being in poor condition, according to Transport Canada. CN performed subsequent inspections in November, 2022 and March, 2023. Indeed, Transport Canada noted that CN was not following its own BSMP reporting or recordkeeping standards.

Not surprisingly, CN provided little information for media requestors, giving a boiler-plate answer about regular inspections and prompt action when issues are identified on its network. Following the derailment, CN said (and it's OK to cover both ears, and repeatedly say "la-la-la-la-la" as you read the following because that's the response that this carefully-crafted corporate clap-trap deserves) that the railway has  completed a "thorough exploration" of the track structure using its automated technology, replaced railway ties, added crushed rock to the rail bed and made other repairs.

Really? I routinely drive over the level crossings on the Cataraqui Spur and all I've seen is a single pass by a brush-cutter on both sides of the spur. Perhaps this was to satisfy Transport Canada requirements for visibility at crossings (also making it easier for the clean-up crews to reach derailment sites!)

Dan reports that four months after the derailment, "'s still not clear whether the bridge collapse caused the cars to crash, or if it was the derailment that caused the bridge to break. Transport Canada said it has received CN's response to its inspection, including corrective actions, but those changes are considered businesses decisions, so it cannot share further information."

Business decisions? I greet that with derision. I'll be listening for the rumble of heavy equipment and the buzz of track gangs as further evidence of CN's maintenance blitz on the spur, and its bridge repairs supposedly scheduled for this fall. In the meantime, I decided to do my own, citizen's track inspection of the upper part of the Cataraqui Spur. Not wanting to have a blog post about my interaction with a CN Police constable, I limited my photographic vantage points to the four public access points/level crossings: Centennial Drive, Armstrong Road, Tanner Drive and Gardiners/Golden Mile Road.
Centennial Drive looking east toward Armstrong Road behind Frontenac Mall (above) with evidence of a rail changeout. Looking west there is evidence of tie replacement at some the past. The 'new' ties only look 'new' because the old ties are so bleached, like the bones of a whale skeleton on some long-forgotten seashore.The small-size ballast looks too undistrubed for it to be recent tie replacement.
A camera zoom view looking up the grade to the mainline. There is a trestle mid-way. Look at those joints!

Armstrong Road looking west toward Centennial Drive behind the Riverstone Apartments. Miscellaneous track materials and a low joint (blue arrow - above). Looking east toward the long trestle, aka the derailment site, this Armstrong Road-Bath Road stretch has had special attention. The ballast has been groomed, but the grooming ends just before the crossing.
A camera zoom view shows a rise up to the west end of the trestle (blue arrows). 
Tanner Drive camera zoom view looking east to Centennial Drive behind Arbour Heights Long Term Care Home. A rise up to the trestle, stretch of new ties mid-way but again...those joints!

Looking just east of the Tanner Drive crossing (above) it appears the weeds are overtaking the ballast. Looking west toward Gardiners Road (below) there's that small, granular ballast again! The switch takes the spur to the right, up to the mainline connection at Mi 178.0 Kingston Sub, with the team track, runaround and CN compound to the left of the cellphone antenna tower, which is on the flight path for Kingston airport runway Two-Five.
Notice the run-off allowance and culvert at left in the camera zoom view (below) with a substantial tie pile (double-ended blue arrow at right) perhaps from the derailment clean-up in May.
The scene at the CN compound (fibre-optic installation, team tracks and runaround track) at the top of the Cataraqui Spur. This is located at the end of Golden Mile Road off Gardiners Road. Three track machines, a CN equipment mechanic and an excavator right were here for some reason. I'm guessing for the Cataraqui Spur maintenance blitz, but maybe more likely mainline maintenance!

Knox Kershaw KSF 940 ballast regulator (above) and Harsco Mark IV HD production/switch tamper (below).
CN mechanic working on what looks like a Railavator:
My citizen's track inspection report reveals little evidence of what CN claims it has done, except perhaps at the derailment site at the long trestle north of Bath Road! Although professional railroaders will say the branchline trackage is safe for the expected train speed of 5-10 mph, I would suggest that for thrice-weekly CN service to a regular shipper of chemicals, through a protected wetland, with a regrettable record of disastrous derailments, this is NOT the best CN can do and definitely does not bear out its claims of adequate, recent maintenance.

Thanks to Dan Taekama not only for the link he sent, the tenacity of his reporting, and for keeping this important story in the local news headlines!

Running extra...

While this post includes my modest efforts at documenting railway infrastrucutre, here's a nice page of vintage Portage la Prairie, MB post cards here. It's always been an important railway and grain-handling point! Closer to home, Kingston photographer Paul Wash has been very busy prolifically preserving for posterity a plethora of Kingston construction projects, including the John Counter Boulevard overpass

Paul kindly 'gifted' me with his Dad's copy of Ralph Beaumont's excellent book on the heretofore-unknown photography of Grant Heckman. I already spent one afternoon immersed in Heckman's documenting of CPR infrastructure, and I'm looking forward to many more. Thanks, Paul! (As the author recounts, the prolific photographer of long ago did NOT photograph the CPR's Kingston & Pembroke Railway!) 
The Weather Network pointed out that Toronto had received only 9 mm of the normal average 70 mm of September showers. It's so dry that cows are giving evaporated milk. It's so dry that trout have ticks. It's so dry that dogs are marking their territory with chalk lines.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

VIA's Siemens Venture First Revenue Visit to Kingston

This week marked the first revenue visit of a Siemens Venture set to Kingston's VIA station. The first of the 32 new trainsets being built in California for VIA visited Kingston 19 months ago, having arrived in Montreal two years ago. VIA planned a soft commercial launch this September. Word slowly started making its way to the rail enthusiast grapevine via various VIA employees last weekend. Indeed, the Venture set was plugged into the VIA reservation system last week to operate on VIA No 63 (Montreal-Toronto). This is normally how anyone - passengers, railfans and some VIA staff - finds out which equipment be it LRC, Renaissance, HEP or Venture is operating on which train in the Corridor.

On September 20, firm plans were released to VIA operating employees of the impending Venture revenue run. Initially, a deadhead 'Legacy' set was to tag along, perhaps to keep the Corridor equipment cycle intact because it was not clear how the Venture set would be returning to Montreal. Though crews are trained in Toronto, there is no maintenance base yet. In fact, the ground-breaking at VIA's Toronto Maintenance Centre (TMC), or should I call it a ballast-breaking, only took place on July 10, 2023. For the time being, a Montreal crew can operate a Venture set to Toronto, where it can be fuelled and watered only before returning to Montreal.

The grapevine lit up this Thursday morning. The departures board at Montreal's Central Station let the secret out around 0600, and the 'socials' spread it, including Transport Action Canada but strangely not VIA. That's because VIA was intending this to be a surprise, with additional crew 'ambassadors' accompanying the first revenue run over CN's Kingston Subdivision (before you ask, no, the tiny part in Quebec doesn't count.) I'm talking Kingston Sub as in Kingston, baby!! Also on the train was a California-based Siemens train rider to deal with any on-board issues. The assembled local railfans:
The lighting might not have been favourable, but I wanted to be on the shadow side of the train. Why? Because a Siemens running through, or stopping at, Kingston station has already happened. But a revenue run implies paying passengers, and I want to see what happens when this happens! Video captures showing station staff and coach passengers before and after the car doors open, then the first Business Class passenger boarding:

 I was left wondering just how many of these passengers suspected, knew or cared that this was neq equipment on its first revenue run. I didn't hear anyone yelling, "OMG, OMG, OMG!" or anything like that. Well, except the railfans! View my Youtube videos of the train arriving and departing.
VIA No 63 comprised Siemens Set 3 led by SIIX 2203 with Business Class cars 2602-2702 both in service, coaches 2902-2802 and cab-car 2202. Set 3 arrived at Central Station late and left 20 minutes late. The 'Legacy' set (planned as 6456-3452-3305-3321-3329) had been cut off and left at the MMC due to unknown issues. Darn! A combined Venture J-train would have been quite a sight!  
Thirty minutes late Cornwall to Kingston, 25 down at Belleville and arrival at Toronto Union was only 17 minutes late! We were witnesses to history. Rich Stewart, whom I run into occasionally, caught the first revenue run arriving Brockville. Watch this post to keep track of further trainset deliveries, revenue runs and roll-out of more Venture sets in more frequencies and services.

Friday, September 15, 2023

CP's Portal Subdivision, 1985 - Part 1

In September, 1985 I was exploring western Canada with a $230 VIA Rail Canrailpass, riding in coach. My itinerary included Kingston-Montreal-three days in Portage la Prairie-Vancouver-Edmonton-Prince Rupert-Winnipeg-Regina. After spending two days driving and exploring various CN and CP branchlines south of Regina, I made my way to Weyburn, SK to spend the night before returning to Regina the next day to head home to Kingston via Toronto.  I overnighted at Weyburn's Big J Motel. From the window of my room I photographed the only train of the weekend (above): CP 5840-5610-3032-8707, van 434673. It was running on CP's Portal Subdivision, right across from the motel - the subdivision I largely planned to follow north-west the next morning. The next day was Sunday, September 29, 1985 was overcast. And cold. And wet. Again.
One wonders, years later, why while munching on my McDonald's drive-thru breakfast, I neglected to make my way any further down Weyburn's elevator track (above), nor to the Inland Terminal. Young and impetuous, I was eager to get my 21 year-old self on the road to adventure, I guess! The CP Portal Subdivision ran south-east from Pasqua, SK near Moose Jaw to Estevan thence the North Dakota border at Portal, ND where it connected with the Soo Line - a major CP artery into the US, eventfully extending eventually to Minneapolis. Interestingly, quantities of lignite coal for use in CP stationary boiler-houses at roundhouses in Fort William, Ignace, Kenora, Winnipeg, Brandon and more were carried on the Portal Sub, as described in this 1957 Supreme Court of Canada case!
McTaggart, at Mile 75.9 of the Portal Sub had seen better, more prosperous days. None of these elevators had received any additions, attention or annexes, except for one brown wartime annex. But then, in the mid-80's, what were the chances of coming across three simple elevators like these? (I found at least three the following year!)
McTaggart and Yellow Grass once rated day the steam era. I positioned myself across a harvested field (on the current road SK-621) for the shot of Yellow Grass' expansive and elongated elevator row at Mi. 67.3. The 1985 harvest was reported to be the worst in the previous 30 years, with drought assistance provided by the Saskatchewan provincial government and farmers spraying for a grasshopper infestation. Thee conditions may have led to the near-total absence of any grain cars spotted for loading at any of these elevators. It was easy to see cold, dead grasshopper bodies in fields like these:
Unfortunately, the town's elevators were all gone by 2014, with the United Grain Growers' modernized plant, later owned by Viterra, the last one to go. All the remains is this Prairie View Historical Site at the corner of Souris Street and Highway 39. I liked the UGG's new look, with high yellow skylights, new grey and sky-blue tin, plus the smaller, now attached, logos. UGG was already leading the way to multiple track spots and enhanced drying capacity on their revamped shipping points like Yellow Grass:
I was so inspired by this design that I built an HO-scale model upon returning home. 
The track side of the UGG elevator:
It was not uncommon to find various tractors, augers, trucks or other agricultural implements around the backs of the elevators. In transit or used for odd jobs, they added some detail and hinted at the workaday existence of these small, Saskatchewan towns. Spot the sign to the nearest Mountie (I'll give you a hint, it Maintains The Right side of the road).
Lang (above and below) was my next stop, 12 miles east at Mi. 55.3. Accounting for the unusual gap, more than the expected 6-8 miles between towns is the former shipping point of Ibsen, named for the author of A Doll's House. I have fond memories of this play, my only remembered though otherwise seemingly-obscure work of the notable Norwegian playwright, because I shouted it out as a question once during Jeopardy. Immediately my wife shouted back, "How do you KNOW THIS STUFF?" Well, I didn't know any of Henrik Ibsen's other plays, so it was a good guess! But let's get back on track - Ibsen was just a portable station and three elevators built between 1911 and 1928, with Sask Pool No. 740 the last to be demolished in 1975. Ibsen also once rated a 78-car siding. Again in Lang, a roadside slough and a moment of sun permitted me a rare interlude of artsiness:
Here's a calendar view of Lang in wintertime. Something I'd never to - venture into the wilds of Saskatchewan anytime after well, the end of September! Note that Inter-Ocean became the Pioneer elevator.

One of NM Paterson and Sons' squared-off, tin-clad diamond-logo elevators along with the open-door policy of my Tilden Chrysler Fifth Avenue rental car. I mean, who was even on the road this early on a Sunday morning out here? (below) By contrast, many of my other photos from the road were lazily taken through the lowered power window. Not only because I was quite comfortable in the warm and plush interior, and there was occasional drizzle, but because I didn't want to sully the blue upholstery (above - note overturned floormat, hat and lens on seat) of my sweet ride with puddle- and stubble-jumper bootprints!
Sask Pool's augmented elevator in Lang proudly portrayed the Centennial logo applied in 1967. The distant annex was removed by 2001.
This was a successful morning of elevator photography. Though the cloud persisted, I continued making my way to the eventual sunny evening, enjoying elevator rows while watching the gas needle drop like a sunset. In Part 2, we'll continue along the Portal Sub on the way back to The Queen City.

Running extra...

Mike is an avid cyclist, artist and railfan who shared this Youtube video of a Kingston-Napanee area ride last week. I've been on most of these roads (maybe not the same Napanee-Odessa ones. Mike found all the good locations that I've contrasted in this post from 2010 that compares and contrasts some of those locations with 1976 views. Be sure to check out Mike's Youtube page for an expansive variety of topics and settings!

The set of four large-yellow-VIA-wrapped LRC cars (3476-3361-3350-3338) has been together since at least mid-August. But the sighting specialness shoots stratospheric when a wrapped locomotive is at the head-end! After capturing such a set on August 31 with VIA 907, it continued to head the consist until September 10. Wrapped VIA 6416, one of only 8 wraps of the nearly 50+ F40 fleet, took its place, and the quest to capture a differently-led all-wrapped set was on!

Thanks to Paul Hunter for the heads-up, and with additional assistance from Jordan McCallum, I was able to catch VIA No 40 on a grimy but dry September 14 (video capture - below). I'll try to get better results, both photographically and meteorologically. The kinetic keystone to a komplete konsist is one-of-a-kind Business Class car 3476, marshalled behind the power! Here's a youtube video link! UPDATE: The F40 era is over! Saturday's No 52 revealed 904 in the lead.

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Blue & Red Cushions Construction Co. - 2023

As the summer draws to a close, it's time to look back on those lazy, hazy, crazy days of the past two months and just what the heck I accomplished model railway-wise. The Blue & Red Cushions Construction Co. was my main focus - an outdoor option - to do some modelling up and away from the layout room. With outdoor layouts last attempted in 2021 (this link includes links to previous outdoor layouts) I moved some individual modelling projects outdoors in 2018, 2022 and now 2023.

Train show finds from the March, 2023 Napanee Train Sale (above) included my main rolling stock project (top photo). Though my haul included many structure sections, I didn't have the space nor inspiration to use them this summer. Back to those hoppers. First, removing the underframe, trucks and couplers to replace them with X2F's while on the blue cushions of the front patio:
A box of X2F's at the ready:
Then some weathering with water-based craft paints after reassembly:
The Conveyor with Industrial Accessories box (below) was a little above my price-point. But once I opened the box, I decided the whole thing was worth assembling and painting. Originally produced in Europe by Piko, mine is by Model Power. I really wanted it for the coal elevator for my Anglin's Coal Yard - lots of other goodies like tools, tanks and garbage cans. A fun couple of afternoons of gluing, painting and grunging-up by the Red & Blue Cushions Construction Co. !
Since the conveyor was two identically-tooled sprues, I ended up with a few spare parts! I'm not sure if I'll keep the bottom unloading hopper, but it's there for now. The wheels turn.
All the tools, barrels, carts, garbage cans and pallets painted while in the red-cushion sunroom!
The warm, late-afternoon sun beams benevolently upon my modelling efforts (below). At top centre there are three sprue parts I severed and painted for a scrap load:
I liked one of the two sprues of figures in my finds, so painted them up. These are most likely two of eight sprues in an original Plasticville box of 48 figures. I haven't yet decided how to approach those rather large, though very stable-looking bases:
Once the fall weather arrives, and the front porch doesn't beckon in daytime nor the sunroom in the evening, it'll be back to nightly operating sessions in the basement layout room!

Running extra...

Ever wanted to take a commuter train from Montreal's Central Station to CN's Taschereau yard? Now you can in this ride-along tail-end commuter train video of a short-lived detour! Check out 'That Van' at the 7:15 mark and the transload at 7:37ish.
Another Napanee event is upcoming - the Greater Napanee Valley Train Show September 16 and 17. Just west of Napanee, CN's Belleville yard power is now BNSF 2926-CN 4798. Most eclectic yard power ever. Fellow Kingston railfan and ARK member Paul Hunter caught the pair being wyed on September 4th. Thanks, Paul!