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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bisson: ONTC fight still on track

Gilles Bisson is still taking flak for the NDP's decision to support last year's provincial budget.  When the NDP voted for the recent Throne Speech, old wounds were reopened.  The new provincial budget will be tabled soon and the fight to save the ONTC will resume again.
Bisson: ONTC fight still on track | Timmins Press

Friday, March 29, 2013

Call of the Northland Website Gets a New Look!

Well, Call of the Northland might not be ready for publication, but the web presence is now properly live.  Take a look at the new design:

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meeting a first step, mayors say

I wouldn't call the first meeting a wholly optimistic affair.  Yes, many of the concerned stakeholders in the divestment process now have a direct line to the government, but the province still intends to continue with the divestment process.  Also, the government has confirmed that, due to the confidential nature of the divestment, employees and their unions will not be allowed to join the advisory committee.  To summarise: divestment will continue, but now the north will be allowed to express its opposition in a direct manner.
Meeting a first step, mayors say | North Bay Nugget

Massachusetts Plan Starts Small for Big Upgrade to Rail System

It is good to see the country so in love with cars actually looking to boost passenger rail.  Meanwhile, in Canada, the government is cutting passenger rail funding as fast as possible.  Isn't it odd how countries can shift their priorities?
Massachusetts Plan Starts Small for Big Upgrade to Rail System -

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bus to Barnetby

On Wednesday, I braved the supposed travel chaos and used the rail replacement bus between Doncaster and Scunthorpe (click here to see why the train isn't running) to reach the small Lincolnshire town of Barnetby, a mecca for freight photography.  My trip was handsomely rewarded with a wide variety of trains, including two class 60 locomotives within the space of 10 minutes.  I met several other railway enthusiasts too, making for a very enjoyable afternoon.  It was also a chance to push my "BWT".

Barnetby East signal box as seen from the station footbridge

"BWT", or Bad Weather Threshold, is the required weather conditions before a railway photographer gives up and goes home.  When I booked my trip to Barnetby, the forecast was calling for sun and 10 degrees.  By the time the trip actually rolled around, I awoke to rain and 1 degree.  I decided to go anyway and managed just over four hours of standing on a platform in rain, damp and snow before heading back to Doncaster for another hour before I really hit my "BWT" for the day.

60019 at Barnetby

There are many reasons to visit Barnetby.  By my reckoning, there are usually at least 6 freights per hour and enough fellow enthusiasts around to tell you what to expect.  The town is quiet, as is the station, so it is possible to spend a peaceful afternoon, only punctuated by the sound of diesel locomotives.  Barnetby is also one of the few locations left in the UK with working semaphore signals, and the signal boxes to go with them!  This is especially interesting as you get plenty of warning of oncoming trains as the signals will be set as much as five minutes before the train arrives.  The whole area is being modernised at the moment, but I am told that the semaphores will survive until 2016.  Make your pilgrimage while you can!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Passenger Rail Exhibit in the Soo

Northern Ontario is spoiled for choice this year in terms of museums exhibits about railways (shame the same can't be said for passenger rail in the north today).  The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains is taking part in an exhibit at the Sault Ste Marie Museum running from April to June.  Details are here.

ONTC GCA reps want a seat on the Ministerial Advisory Committee

The GCA would be a good member of the committee, I'm surprised they aren't already included.
ONTC GCA reps want a seat on the Ministerial Advisory Committee

ONTC Divestment: One Year On

Here we are.  It has been one year since the Ontario Government announced that it would divest the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.  Since then, Ontario has a new Premier, Rick Bartolucci has resigned his cabinet post, the Northlander stopped running, a lot of people got upset and still nothing has been sold. 

To date, Ontera is the only division up for sale.  What was to be a speedy way to save government money has become a long and emotional series of protests, prorogations, resignations, accusations and anxieties.

This also marks one year since I planned my trip to Cochrane and my book based on this incredible series of events.

It is hard to tell what the future will hold.  I think everyone expects that the divestment process will continue, but nobody knows how long it will take.  If there is one positive note, it is that the government is looking for greater input from the public as they continue to sort out the mess that the ONTC divestment has become.  The various groups opposed to the divestment have been able to organise into one united voice behind the New Deal for Northern Ontario.  It is now up to the government to decide if it wants to save face or continue on its current path.

What I take away from this anniversary is a feeling of sympathy for all those who have watched this mess directly affect their lives.  I only got to experience the ONTC as a visitor - I was not reliant on it.  To thousands, the Northlander was an employer, a link to the wider world, a friend.

Friday, March 22, 2013

ONTC advisory committee established

On the eve of the divestment announcement's one-year anniversary comes word of a new plan to make the divestment process more open and accessible.  At least it's progress...
ONTC advisory committee established | Cochrane Times Post

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wynne Liberals plan to continue ONTC fire sale

According to a press release from Vic Fedeli, the new government has confirmed that the divestment process will continue.  One would hope that they will at least be more open about the process than their predecessors.
Wynne Liberals plan to continue ONTC fire sale

Monday, March 18, 2013

ONR Exhibit at Discovery North Bay

I previously mentioned Discovery North Bay's exhibit on the ONR.  I can't make it, but the ONTC have been kind enough to upload a video outlining some of the exhibit.  Unfortunately, the sound is appalling, but it still gives a good impression of the exhibit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Northerner leaders were united

It is coming up to budget time again and the consultations have started with community leaders.  Chief among the concerns expressed at a meeting in Timmins was the future of the ONTC, not just for people who rely on it to get around, but also because northern industries are growing tired of waiting to see what sort of transportation infrastructure they will have to contend with.  It is worth noting that FONOM president Al Spacek was unable to attend the meeting because Highway 11 was closed due to an earlier collision.  Imagine, with a proper passenger rail network in the region, Spacek would have made it to the meeting in person, rather than having to speak by telephone.
Northerner leaders were united | Kapuskasing Times

Give North final say on Northern issues: Bisson

Gilles Bisson is calling for the new northern issues committee to be formed from all parties and for it to include a strong representation from the north itself.  It is back to the age-old north-south debate.
Give North final say on Northern issues: Bisson | Timmins Press

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Do you remember?

When I go out to shoot railways, I never delete any images until I am looking at them on my computer at home.  The files I decide are good enough to keep are renamed and filed away on my hard drive (and backed up regularly).  The very best, usually less than five from a day out, will be edited and printed to put into albums.  When I was compiling Rails of the GTA and Rails of the GTA Volume 2, I started my search for suitable images with these albums.  Most of the time, they sit on the shelf, guarding hard copies of my favourite images.  Now that I am working on Call of the Northland, it is to these albums that I will turn to select images to include (should I decide to use images at all - I haven't gotten that far yet).

Once in a while, I like to open one of these albums and browse through the best images I have captured over the years.  I enjoy looking at the shots and seeing how my techniques have improved or evolved over time, not to mention how I might redo a shot differently now.  This past weekend, I decided to look through my Canadian and British railway albums to look back on a decade of railway photographs.  It was an enjoyable way to while away the hours, but it was also a little unsettling.  There was a time that I could tell you in what context each shot was captured, what the day was like, what I was doing and sometimes even what camera settings I used.  Thanks to the wonders of digital images, the number of images we can take has grown exponentially and we can literally be overwhelmed with data.  Some of the shots I came across seemed a little foreign.  "Did I really take that?" was uttered a few times.  There is nothing wrong with my memory, I simply have too many shots to keep track of now.  I know that if I navigated through my nicely organised computer folders of images (honestly, they are kept in order) I would be able to recall more by looking at dates and location information, but it was still a bit of a surprise to realise how much I had done.

I then decided to see how many railway shots I had taken over the years and came up with a staggering number: there are over 10,000 railway images on my hard drive.  Given that I usually reject around 70% from any given shoot, that means that I have probably taken somewhere in the range of 30,000 railways photos over the years.  In film days that would have amounted to over 1,200 rolls of film - thank goodness that digital is effectively free after the initial purchase.

Perhaps the most incredible thing is that those numbers are going to keep going up.  Every time I go out to shoot, more shots get added to the computer and a few will be added to the albums.  From time to time, I will browse through them and be reminded of moments I had completely forgotten about.  Perhaps that is the joy of images: over time, you come to see them afresh and with a whole new perspective.

So, do you remember?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Class 56 before the whiteout


In all my years taking photographs of the UK railway network, the class 56 had somehow always eluded me.  They were withdrawn from the mainline before I started taking photos and I have missed their previous reinstatements (notably Fastline) or the right heritage railways to see them.  While browsing through my inbox of sighting reports the other day, I noticed that 56311 was apparently sitting in York Holgate sidings.  Since I was heading in that general direction, I swung by to take a look.  The angle wasn't ideal, but with the "super-zoom" and a bit of balance, I was able to get this shot from the footbridge off Love Lane.  If you look closely, you can see a few snowflakes floating down.  As soon as I took the shot, the weather closed in and the snow turned to whiteout conditions - anything further than the locomotive became invisible.  Within ten minutes, about 1cm was on the ground and still falling.  Two days on, it is bitterly cold and still somewhat snowy in the north - what a strange country!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Call of the Northland - ETA: Unknown

This week, the Ontario Auditor General agreed to look into the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transporation Commission.  The report is expected to be released this fall.  As such, I have decided to suspend the deadline for the release of Call of the Northland.

When I started this project, I was planning to chronicle my trip on the Northlander in April 2012.  However, I soon realised that the divestment was a far more important subject and it has become the focus of the book, with my trip forming a backdrop to the political events.  I had initially wanted to release the book in September 2013 to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Northlander's last run, but the Auditor General's report is too important to ignore.  Likewise, the divestment process, whether it is halted or carries on, shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

I have always wanted this to be a good book that does justice to the subject and that must come before any deadline.

Rest assured, I do intend to publish Call of the Northland, but only when the story has an ending.

Until then, I will continue to write, rewrite, scrutinise and follow the events as they unfold.

Auditor to probe ONTC sale

Vic Fedeli's cries have been answered!  The Auditor General will probe the divestment of the ONTC and is expected to report to the legislature this fall.  While this doesn't stop the divestment, we will at least understand what is really going on.  I look forward to the report.
Auditor to probe ONTC sale | North Bay Nugget

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

No timelines given for ONTC divestment

Initially, the government thought that the divestment process would be wrapped up this month.  In reality, not a single part of the ONTC has been sold and the only change so far has been the end of the Northlander.  As long as this process drags on, there is hope that the New Deal will be considered.
No timelines given for ONTC divestment

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Research supports reviving rail

Although the construction costs of building rail are higher than building a road, a new report suggests that rail is a far cheaper mode of transport for the Ring of Fire in the long run.  There is an event in Sudbury this coming Thursday at Science North from 6:30-9pm discussing what life will be like in 2030.  Linda Savory-Gordon, of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, will be one of the speakers and the future of rail transportation in northern Ontario will be one of the main discussion topics.
Research supports reviving rail | North Bay Nugget

Province assessing bids

The deadline for submitting a bid to buy Ontera has passed.  Now we wait.
Province assessing bids | North Bay Nugget

Sunday, March 03, 2013

York Avoiding Line

To the south of York station is an avoiding line used to keep most freight traffic from running through the platforms.  While this helps with the efficiency of passenger trains, it is annoying for those of us who like freight trains to spice up our time trackside.  Given, some freights do travel through the station, but most do not.

There is a footbridge over the avoiding line and I decided to try a shot from it yesterday.  The overhead wires are very obvious in this location and the bridge guardrails are very high (even for UK standards).  In my few minutes standing there I managed to catch two freights, the flat cars (left) and the empty coal hoppers behind 66550.  Less than ten minutes later, two more went through - missed them!