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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rally on the rails

Based on the press coverage, it would seem that the North Bay rally was a success, showing just how many people feel that the divestiture of the ONTC is a bad idea.  If the government felt it was an easy target - they were wrong.
Rally on the rails - Cochrane Times Post

Rally to support ONTC this Saturday

The campaign to save the ONR is ramping up again with another rally.  This time it will be in Cochrane, one of the most important towns on the ONR.
Rally to support ONTC this Saturday - Cochrane Times Post

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Olympics 2012: Carrying the flame

I don't much care for the Olympics.  Over the years it has become very political and I cannot call the athletes amateurs.  I feel the event has lost its spark.
That said, this collection of images on the Boston Globe website is very special and I think shows Britain at its best.  Not much good news comes out of the UK right now, from corrupt journalists to a dying economy.  Yet, despite this, here we have images of genuinely happy people and they made me smile.
Olympics 2012: Carrying the flame - The Big Picture -

Governments of Canada and Ontario support engineering study for Peterborough Commuter Rail Link

While the future of a government-owned Ontario Northland remains very much uncertain, new funding is being announced towards the reinstatement of passenger rail service on the Peterborough-Toronto line.  Previous studies have suggested elaborate stations and massive parking lots to accommodate passengers, I wonder if this new study might choose a more reasonable approach.  Small stations and some parking perhaps?  The goal here is to reinstate a passenger train, not build massive gateways to it.
Governments of Canada and Ontario support engineering study for Peterborough Commuter Rail Link - Transport Canada

ONTC divesture ‘not a fire sale’

While I am reassured that the government appears to be considering this sale seriously, I am still very uneasy regarding the lack of transparency surrounding the proposal.
ONTC divesture ‘not a fire sale’ - Timmins Daily Press

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

VIA Rail's Annual Public Meeting

During the afternoon of 29 May, 2012, VIA Rail hosted its annual public meeting in Winnipeg's Union Station, a building celebrating its 100th anniversary.  As I couldn't travel to the event, I sat at home and listened to the event online through a rather nifty website.

There were a few notable points in the meeting:
  • Over $1 billion has been invested in national rail service in the last few years.
  • VIA has required less government money in recent years.
  • Ridership has been stable 2009-2011.
  • Revenue increased by $15 million 2009-2011.
  • VIA Rail and the federal government share a common goal for passenger rail transport. (I question this as several federal politicians have suggested privatising some services - T.B.)
  • Major infrastructure projects from 2011 will continue through 2012.
  • Trains will be added as market demand increases.
However, it was also made clear that 2012 has so far been a difficult year:
  • First quarter revenue and passenger miles decreased.
  • The milder winter meant that there was less incentive for motorists to take the train in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto (MOT) corridor.
  • The two long-distance services, the Toronto-Vancouver Canadian and the Montreal-Halifax Ocean, cost significantly more to run, at 36 cents and 55 cents per passenger mile respectively, compared with the 21 cents per passenger mile in the MOT corridor.
  • The Canadian is a significant challenge as 70% of ridership is between May and October.  Off-season ridership is declining.
  • As with many other companies, VIA is facing increased costs for their pension plan and they may be required to mitigate future cost increases through changes to the plan.
  • One positive note, on-time performance during the first quarter was an impressive 88%.
VIA Rail has several plans to improve service over the next year and beyond:
  • Obviously, their goal is to sell more tickets.
  • VIA aims to increase revenue by better tailoring service to ridership demands, including more and faster trains in the MOT corridor.
  • VIA hopes that new plans to better synchronise with bus, plane, GO Transit and AMT services will attract more riders.  Starting soon, GO train, GO bus and VIA Rail tickets will be available to purchase together online.
  • Next month, a new VIA "Escape" fare will be introduced on select trains.  This lower-cost fare will be based on the cost of fuel for two people to drive the route, hopefully encouraging more people to travel by train and leave their car at home.
A special tribute was paid to the crew of VIA 92, the train that derailed near Aldershot in March.  VIA Rail reiterated its commitment to safety and boosting community awareness about being safe around railway property.

After the meeting, a few points of note appeared during the Q&A session:
  • VIA's representatives were slightly evasive on the question of whether one run per week of the Canadian would be cancelled.
  • The Toronto-New York train appears to be safe, but VIA has no plans to connect with other US cities, such as Chicago or Boston.
  • VIA Rail does not plan any service increases in western Canada.
  • VIA was not able to comment on the potential for high speed rail because it is not their responsibility to decide whether any lines would be built.
This was a very interesting exercise in transparency and I was pleased to be able to "attend" the meeting, even it it was hundreds of miles away.  Only time will tell if any of the above plans are successful, but I am glad to see steps being made towards a better passenger rail service in Canada.

Progress on the Green Bank Sub

It has been a long time since my last update on my latest model railway project - the fictitious ONR Green Bank sub.  The summer section, Heron Yard, is a refurbishment of the maintenance facility for my previous layout, Crick Road.  I am in the process of building switch stands and a new industry near the maintenance office.

The winter section is brand new and it has changed dramatically in the last month.
Earlier in the month, the overpass was nearly completed and the station and office building was also finished.  Then it was time to add the snow!
The transformation was quick and very convincing.  The main line has yet to be covered, but that will take some more research.

How to make snow for a model railway?

Despite the prevalence of snow in Canada, it isn't included on model railways very much.  There are several commercial snow products available, notably from Woodland Scenics.  However, I wanted to make snow myself.

I started experimenting with Poly Filla, a cellulose-based filler.  I had a box of the powder, which can be mixed with water to any consistency desired.  When wet, the product is grey and then dries white.  I opted for a soup-like liquid and poured it on the layout, moving it around as needed to form drifts or around objects.  The little-used siding was buried and then the rails cleared while the mixture was drying.  Of course, I ran out of powder and, when I went to buy more, I was annoyed to discover that the powder is no longer available and Poly Filla now comes pre-mixed - or useless for the task at hand.  In the end, I got a box of Sheetrock 90, a similar powder that behaves in much the same way.  It does not dry perfectly white, but it is close enough to not really be noticeable.  In all, this snow effect is very convincing and can be done for less than $10, or considerably less than conventional summertime scenery.

What about trees?

When it snows, the white stuff settles on every horizontal surface, including tree branches.  I chose a slightly different method for snow on the four trees on this part of the layout.  Firstly, I placed the trees in the bowl I use to mix plaster (any container that you don't mid ruining will work).  Then I sprayed the trees from above with a fine mist of water.  Then I sprinkled some of the Sheetrock 90 powder over the trees, as you would dust sugar on a cake.  The I waited a moment before spraying the trees again with a very gentle mist of water.  The initial spray makes the powder stick to the tree branches, then the second spray sets the powder.  Very little powder fell off and it really does look like snow!

CP Rail union, Tories battle over collective bargaining

While the strike dropped out of much news coverage this morning, the issues are still very much present.  Sifting through various speeches and news conferences yesterday, the two positions can be surmised as follows:
- According to the government, the Canadian economy must come before the rights of the striking workers to come to a fair collective agreement.
- According to the union, there was no chance of CP Rail bargaining in good faith as the employer knew that the government would step in and protect CP's profits.  That is perhaps putting it a bit crudely, but CP is currently a profitable company and wants to cut the worker's pension plan as it is too costly.
With special limits put on parliamentary debate, yet another unfair angle to this story, it is likely that trains will start rolling again on Thursday.
CP Rail union, Tories battle over collective bargaining - CBC News

Monday, May 28, 2012

CAPT Joins Northern Ontario Mayors: Ride the ONR to Help Save the ONTC

Despite the provincial government insisting that the divestment of the ONTC is a done deal, the movement to save Ontario Northland continues - and is growing.  On May 30, the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains will attend a rally in support of the ONTC in North Bay.  People will travel from Cochrane on the Northlander south, while a of screening of Dan Nystedt's film Derailed – The National Dream takes place on board.  This day of action is to show a united front from across northern Ontario as people show how important Ontario Northland, and railways, are to their lives.  I wish I could make it.  If you are able, I strongly encourage you to attend and show your support for the ONTC and to show that northern Ontario matters.
CAPT Joins Northern Ontario Mayors: Ride the ONR to Help Save the ONTC - Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains

Canadian Pacific strikers face back-to-work legislation

Given the willingness of this government to legislate strikes, this move was inevitable.  Essentially, the collective bargaining process in large Canadian companies is now useless.  All management have to do is stall long enough for the government to sort out an agreement for them - often against the workers.
Canadian Pacific strikers face back-to-work legislation - CBC News

Sunday, May 27, 2012

GO Train Sabotaged

Yesterday morning, around 8am, a westbound GO Train struck a piece of rail just to the west of the Danforth GO Station.  According to police, the short section of rail was placed across the track deliberately.  The impact caused one wheel on coach 2028 to derail.  The train remained upright and stopped safely, no injuries were reported.  Damage to the train is estimated at up to $100,000.  The investigation continues.

Coincidentally, I was travelling to Toronto yesterday morning on the next train.  As we approached Danforth, we were informed that we would be stopping to collect the passengers from a disabled train and that we would be delayed for around 20 minutes.  Passengers were invited to leave the train at Danforth.  Curious, I stayed on board.  After Danforth, we pulled up alongside a stopped GO train and I immediately noticed the derailed wheel (pictured).  After a while, we continued on having collected the passengers from the disabled train. 

By early afternoon, the coach had been re-railed, but the train remained on site.  As a result of the incident, slow orders were in place through the area, meaning that all GO trains were running at least 20 minutes late. 

This incident is very worrying as it could have been much worse.  The stretch between Danforth and Toronto is the fastest on the Lakeshore East line with trains routinely travelling over 80 mph.  Had the train reached full speed after its stop at Danforth, it is likely that the derailment would have been much worse.  Track maintenance has been ongoing in the area and this is likely where the piece of rail came from.  The location is also poorly fenced in places and people often walk along the tracks here.  This apparent act of sabotage was a very close call.

GO Transit's safety record is exemplary, with few serious incidents.  The most serious incident occurred in November 1997, when two GO trains collided at Union Station during rush hour, injuring 50 passengers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happy Birthday GO!

On this day in 1967, Government of Ontario Transit (GO) began its first day of service, carrying 8,000 passengers.  Its success has been truly remarkable, with growth outpacing capacity.  The network of trains and buses continues to expand every year and GO now serves about 219,000 riders each day.  Of course, not every development has been positive and various governments have cut services (often with eventual reinstatement), but in a place so wed to the automobile, GO's history is excellent.

To celebrate, I went to the Whitby Station (although it only opened in 1988) to watch some of the morning rush.  Today's GO Trains feature 10 to 12 bi-level railcars and can carry roughly 4,000 people. These are the longest commuter trains in North America.

GO Transit has put together an very interesting photo gallery charting GO over the years.  Take a look!

Happy Birthday GO!  I wonder what the next 45 years will bring?

CP Rail Workers on Strike

Nearly 5,000 members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference walked off the job at Canadian Pacific last night after an agreement could not be reached between management and the workers.  The main grievances concern work rules, fatigue and a proposed 40% cut to the pension plan.  With a strike mandate of 95%, it is clear that these employees are committed to their position.

The strike covers CP's engineers, conductors, trainmen, yardmen and rail traffic controllers, meaning that continued operation would be impossible.  Despite the strike, commuter services operating on CP track in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are operating as normal thanks to an agreement reached between the union and CP management.  Earlier in the week, commuter services and media had warned of cancellations in the event of a strike - a warning that proved premature.  However, VIA Rail services in Ontario are affected as the White River-Sudbury and Ottawa-Brockville trains operate over CP trackage.  Despite media reports to the contrary, Toronto-Sarnia is operational according to VIA Rail.

Even before the strike began, federal labour minister Lisa Raitt was speculating on the prospect of back to work legislation.  While she has stated that she hopes the sides can continue to negotiate towards a settlement, the legislation to end the strike is already being drafted.  Parliament is not sitting this week, so it is unlikely that any legislation would be tabled before next Monday at the earliest. 

The move towards back to work legislation is in line with previous Conservative policy towards Canada Post and Air Canada.  In the case of CP, Minister Raitt cites economic loss as a result of stopped freight traffic as potential justification for forcing an end to the strike.  Unlike either of the former organisations, Canadian Pacific has always been a private company and the threat of legislation must call the motives of the government into question.  Is the government concerned about the economic loss due to a stoppage at Canada's second-largest railway, or are they attempting to redefine how unionised labour in Canada operates?  Of the three major strikes in Canada in the past year, the government has stepped in quickly to either table back to work legislation or to threaten it.  Media reports on the strike are focusing on the potential for economic loss, not the grievances.  Combined with the fact that commuter service is operating, the general public will have a skewed view of the strike and the union's position.

CP Rail has also been in the news recently because of a major shakeup in the board of directors last week, including the departure of President and CEO Fred Green.  Negotiations with the Teamsters began last October, so any link between the management changes and the strike is unclear.

Negotiations continue between CP and Teamsters Canada.

(With information from CBC, Teamsters Canada and CP)

A long weekend wandering

 CN 2224, 2453 & 2113, Whitby - 20 May 2012

This past long weekend was truly perfect weather-wise, except for the smog alert.  With such good weather, I decided to head down to the South Blair Street crossing in Whitby for a few hours.  There were two highlights: CN 5953 (former KCS grey) and the above freight, which I managed to shoot just as I was leaving.  The third unit is CN 2113, painted in the 15th anniversary of CN's IPO scheme.  This time of year is special as the humidity has not yet arrived, meaning warm temperatures and blue skies.

No plan in place yet for ONTC sale

It would appear the government is so obsessed with killing the Ontario Northland Railway, that they forgot to figure out how to do it!
No plan in place yet for ONTC sale - Timmins Daily Press

ONTC campaign hits the GTA

This article includes a link to the advertisement that was placed in Metro.  There has been so little coverage of the ONTC sale in southern Ontario that I feel that I may be the only person to even know that the ONR exists.  I think the issue boils down to this: why should commuters in the south get comprehensive, and subsidised, public transit while the north can't even be allowed one train a day?
ONTC campaign hits the GTA

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CP Rail workers poised to strike

With no luck in negotiations since last October, over 5,000 workers at CP Rail are set to strike.  I have heard that trains in the Toronto area may stop as early as today.  A worrying note in this article: the federal government may once again consider forcing the workers back on the job in the interest of the Canadian economy - or killing the union movement, depending on how you see politics. 
CP Rail workers poised to strike - CBC News

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UN official sparks debate over Canadian food security

The visit has shown that roughly 8% of Canadians have food security issues - that is they cannot supply the required amount of nutrition they need to be healthy.  Not surprisingly, many of these people are native.  The findings rightfully embarrassed the government and Jason Kenney's response was simply rude.  Canada is not on some pedestal and the UN may investigate where it chooses.  We often think of all problems being in the developing world, but Canada too has many things that could be improved.  The UN deserved better that its recent treatment in Canada.  Mr. De Schutter, I am sorry for how the Canadian government has treated you.
UN official sparks debate over Canadian food security - CBC News

G20 report slams police for 'excessive' force

As I sat down to watch the city of Toronto disintegrate one weekend in June 2010, it was already clear that the police at the G20 were behaving well beyond the limits of their job.  The injustices have been well documented since and this report concludes what people have know for the past two years.  It must be said that most police officers behaved appropriately and conducted themselves as police officers should.  However, as the report outlines, many did not: name badges were hidden, protestors were beaten, people were arbitrarily stopped, searched and harassed and the Charter rights of Canadians were ignored.  The G20 should serve as a wake-up call that the increasing militarisation of Canada must stop and that a similar event must never be held again.  Further, police tactics must be reviewed so that the rights of people are protected and trust between police and society is rebuilt.
G20 report slams police for 'excessive' force - CBC News

Toronto Railway Museum Progress

Last week, the TRHA was able to meet with Toronto Hydro regarding the future of the Toronto Railway Museum.  Dale Goldhawk caught up with TRHA President Orin Krivel after the meeting: click here.

Another example of premier's 'disconnect' – ONTC unions

Looks like a clear north-south division to me.
Another example of premier's 'disconnect' – ONTC unions - The North Bay Nugget

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Deal for Ontario Northland

Various municipalities in northern Ontario have banded together to form the New Deal for Ontario Northland.  This group aims to fight the government's plan to sell the ONTC.  Their new website includes information, contact details and a poster to print off.  This cause deserves as much support as possible.
New Deal for Ontario Northland

Where is Canada's National Train Day?

This past weekend was National Train Day in the United States.  The event, mostly promoted by Amtrak, is billed as a day to remember America's connection to rail and the joy of travelling by train.  There were major events in several cities that featured tours, special trains and locomotive displays.  There were also hundreds of smaller events in towns celebrating the train.  This is an excellent idea and makes me wonder where Canada's National Train Day is?

Canada's existence is just as intertwined with railways, yet the train is never celebrated here anymore.  No railway hosts major community events, except for CP's Holiday Train.  In Canada, trains are business and do not interact with the country at large. VIA Rail is struggling while Amtrak prepares for more high speed rail.   This is a shame and it should change.  The United States has more tourist lines, railfan parks, more museums and major railroads that welcome the public.  Security cannot be stopping this in Canada - after all, we are supposedly the non-paranoid ones - so what is?  Is it simply that the railways couldn't care less? 

Cricket stars fume, wait to be paid for Toronto event

Canada and cricket have a strange relationship.  In the country's earliest days, cricket was in fact the national sport!  Over time, the sport faded away and it is only in the last ten years that the sport has reappeared strongly in Canada.  Despite this, few people in the country know anything about cricket, or want to.

This particular story also highlights a darker side of Canada.  It has long been know that Canada has a high rate of online fraud and other crime, but I worry that this story might further hurt the country's reputation internationally.  This simply isn't cricket!
Cricket stars fume, wait to be paid for Toronto event - CBC News

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gag put on ONTC protest

The Ontario government is not only ignoring the north, it isn't letting them voice their views.  The signs must stay!
Gag put on ONTC protest - Timmins Daily Press

Mayors fed up

The north is fighting to save the ONTC.  I hope that they can make enough of a stink that the ignorant south actually hears them.
Mayors fed up - Timmins Daily Press

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

More Toronto Railway Museum Coverage

Dale Goldhawk has once again covered the imminent loss of the machine shop at the John Street Roundhouse.  This time, he visited the site with Orin Krivel and Derek Boles and explained how important the site is to Toronto's history.  To hear the discussion, click here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Latest on the Ontario Northland Sale

In recent days, it seems that news of the impending sale of Ontario Northland has dried up.  However, with a little digging, a few more facts surface.

Northern mayors recently met in Cochrane to plan their next steps towards trying to save the ONR.  They decided that they need to mount a full campaign against the sale.

The rumoured date for the cancelling of the Northlander appears to be around the beginning of October - just in time for bad winter road conditions?

Most interestingly, the actual intentions of the government are now becoming confusing.  The reason behind the sale of the ONTC is, supposedly, because it can no longer be sustained and is losing money quickly.  The unions dispute this.  It now appears that perhaps the government is in fact trying not only to sell Ontario Northland, but also to make it unattractive to prospective buyers.  Recently, VIA Rail cancelled a major refurbishment contract with ISRI in New Brunswick.  The ONR's North Bay shops would be an ideal candidate for this work, valued at over $100 million, but apparently the government has prevented the ONR from bidding.  This is similar to a deal a few years ago when the ONR lost the contract to refurbish GO Transit coaches (another government agency by the way) to Quebec-based CAD.  Losing this particular contract meant a significant loss of revenue.  What is the government really planning?  Details of this can be found here.

Chicago Train Congestion Slows Whole Country

An interesting article that illustrates the problem of rail congestion around Chicago.  What struck me was that Chicago sees 1300 trains each day!  Nowhere in Canada even comes close.
Chicago Train Congestion Slows Whole Country -

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Cochrane Trip: Part 3

The final selection of photos from my trip to Cochrane.

Locomotive #137, built for the Canadian Northern in 1913, is the main item in the Cochrane Railway and Pioneer Museum's display train.  Sadly, both of the museum's cabooses were destroyed in an unsolved arson attack last August.  It is also sad that the entire museum train is in a poor state of repair.

An overview of the ONR freight yard.

As 1601 switches in the yard, 2105 arrives with train 213 from Englehart.

 On my way back south, ONR and Ontera (the ONR's telecommunications division) maintenance trucks are seen at Porquis Junction.

So ends my trip to Cochrane.  I returned to Toronto where the weather was mild and snow free.  The people I met in Cochrane were very friendly and helpful.  It is a crime to try and sell the ONR, it's government picking on people it believes won't fight back.

All of my trip will be described in my upcoming book - all I have to do is actually write it!  I will also continue to monitor developments in the unfair sale of the ONR. 

Friday, May 04, 2012

Cochrane Trip: Part 2

Part 2 of a selection of photos from my trip to Cochrane.

The town is served by two passenger trains: the Toronto-Cochrane Northlander and the Cochrane-Moosonee Polar Bear Express.

The southbound Northlander pulls into Cochrane station, ready to begin its journey south to Toronto.

The consist for the northbound Polar Bear Express is put together in Cochrane Yard.

The Polar Bear Express is one of the last mixed freight and passenger trains left in North America.  Because Moosonee has no road access, the only way to get cars in and out is by rail.  Ontario Northland use these chain cars to transport road vehicles to the remote community.

On my last morning in Cochrane, I was treated to this lineup of four GP38-2s ready for the day's work.

Tomorrow, I will post the final installment of shots from Cochrane.  Research for the book continues.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Toronto Hydro Derails Plans for Railway Museum

More coverage about the future of the Toronto Railway Museum.
Toronto Hydro Derails Plans for Railway Museum | Torontoist

Cochrane Trip: Part 1

Here is part 1 of a selection of photographs from my recent trip from Toronto to Cochrane aboard Ontario Northland's Northlander.

Before Cochrane, the train passes through the town of Englehart, an important point for the ONR's freight trains.  SD75i #2103 was sitting in the yard as my train passed.

Just before the stop at Cochrane, the main line passes #219, a steam locomotive built for the Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway in 1907.

Cochrane is a service town as well as an important logging centre.  Log trucks travel at all times of the day (and night).

Finally, the Empire Theatre is an important meeting place in Cochrane's downtown.

More photos will follow.  This trip will be documented in a book, Call of the Northland, which I am currently researching.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

More coverage of the imminent loss of the TRHA museum

TRHA president Orin Krivel spent an entire episode of Goldhawk Fights Back outlining the threat that the Toronto Railway Historical Association's planned museum now faces.  It is an articulate and well-presented argument.  I do not know if Toronto Hydro was asked to comment or not, but their position remains against the museum plans.  Listen to the show here.

May Day: A look at the labour situation in Canada

Today is May Day, the international day for labour.  In Canada, like in the United States, the traditional labour holiday is the first Monday in September, but May Day is still an important event.  To celebrate, I want to look back on some of the Canadian labour issues that I have noted on this website.

One of the most pressing issues at the moment is the impending sale of Ontario Northland.  If the sale goes ahead, it is likely that there will be layoffs and poorer collective agreements as workers are absorbed into a larger company.

The closure and relocation of EMD's London manufacturing to the United States set a dangerous precedent for companies bargaining for poor pay deals while threatening to remove jobs altogether.

Still ongoing is the saga of the various unions at Air Canada.  In this case, the federal government is coming dangerously close to taking the rights of unions away.

It is often thought these days that trade unions have outlived their use.  However, the above incidents show that unions still have much to offer workers.

Happy May Day!