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Sunday, April 28, 2013

ONTC sale could cost $500M, MPP says

Ever since last year, there has been speculation that the divestment of the ONTC wouldn't save money.  In fact, many people said it would actually cost money.  Vic Fedeli has been in this group since the beginning and he is essentially predicting what he thinks the Auditor General will conclude later this year.  While northern Ontario roads get more funding, the ONTC is still in limbo as we await the upcoming budget.
ONTC sale could cost $500M, MPP says | North Bay Nugget

Friday, April 26, 2013

Leters about railways and terrorism (part 3)

And so we come to the third and final letter in relation to this week's foiled terror plot.  This one was sent to CN, CP, VIA and GO.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you in connection with the foiled terror plot to destroy a VIA Rail train this week and to express my concern that this incident may provoke unnecessary suspicion of Canada's railfan community.

Much of the world's media has latched on to one sentence from the RCMP's press conference which stated that the suspects were investigated as they had  “watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.”

Many perfectly innocent raifans do this every day, not only in the GTA, but across Canada.  Rather then being a threat to the country, we are in fact a great asset.  Railfans'  knowledge of rail operations allows them to quickly spot when something doesn't look right and could be a real threat.  Many of us have also called in a security concern at some point to help protect the railway network.

This level of knowledge has already been officially recognized by many American railroads, including Amtrak, BNSF and Norfolk Southern, who have all implemented initiatives to tap into the extra eyes and ears provided by railfans.  I would encourage Canadian railways to do the same.

As various details of this plot continue to emerge, I hope that sober heads may prevail and that the rights of railfans to enjoy their hobby may be accommodated in the need for sufficient security measures to protect Canada's railways.

This incident also happens to fall at the same time as Rail Safety Week.  Let us remember to be careful trackside as well as sensible when it comes to what is and is not suspicious.

Harper on terror arrests: Not a time for 'sociology'

Oh Mr. Harper.  Once again, the realities of a complex world have interfered with your simplistic, black-and-white perception.  See, sometimes people do bad things, which isn't good, but it is important to understand why they did them.  That way, you can try to change things to prevent people from doing these bad things again.  Terrorists are not the root of terrorism, they are the agents of an idea and we need to understand where the idea came from and what makes it attractive.  Oh, and by the way, you can't "commit sociology", don't make it sound like academic disciplines are a dirty word.
Harper on terror arrests: Not a time for 'sociology' - CBC News

"Our Collective Safety is a Team Effort" - VIA

In a posting today, VIA Rail took the time to thank the various parties involved in this week's terrorism-related issues.  While there is no mention of railfans specifically, I am cautiously optimistic that we are not automatically suspects.
Our Collective Safety is a Team Effort | VIAEvolution

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Letters about railways and terrorism (Part 2)

Here is the second letter I have written in response to the foiled VIA plot, this one is addressed to Jim Flaherty (my local MP) and Vic Toews (Minister of Public Safety).

Dear Minister Flaherty and Minister Toews,

I am writing to you in reference to the recently foiled plot to destroy a VIA passenger train in southern Ontario.  Like most people, I was shocked to hear the news and relieved that the attack has been prevented.

However, I am worried that perfectly law-abiding railway enthusiasts may now become suspects in future investigations.  Many of the world's media outlets have latched onto one sentence from the RCMP's press conference, which explained that the suspects were investigated as they had  “watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.”  I have watched and photographed trains in the GTA for the better part of a decade and I am now concerned that my perfectly innocent hobby will be under intense scrutiny.  Canada is home to thousands of railfans who provide extra eyes and ears to the security of Canada's railways.  While watching trains, enthusiasts (myself included) have called authorities on many occasions to report security concerns.  Rather than a threat, we are an asset to the safety of Canadians.

I hope that the government can strike a reasonable balance between protecting the country and allowing railfans to pursue their favourite hobby.

In this era so full of fear, it is important to consider how best to balance the desire for people to be protected, with their right to live as they please.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Letters about railways and terrorism (Part 1)

In the wake of the foiled plot to destroy the Maple Leaf, I am concerned that railfanning in Canada might become difficult, if not impossible, as it is clear that watching trains is now grounds for suspicion (or more so than it already was).  As such, I am writing a series of letters to various groups to highlight my concerns.

The first letter was submitted today, to the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and Globe and Mail:
Railways and Terrorism
Trainspotter, train buff, foamer, railfan.  These are but a few of the terms used to describe the colourful mosaic of individuals who like trains.  Apart from their shared passion for railways, there is one thing that unites all of them: they are not terrorists.
I can speak for all enthusiasts when I say that I was shocked to hear about the foiled plot to destroy a Toronto-New York passenger train.  I was equally disturbed to hear many media outlets around the world latch onto one point from the RCMP’s press conference: the two suspects were suspicious because they “watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.”
Railfans watch trains all across Canada and provide extra security by observing their surroundings.  Both US and UK railways have recognized this benefit.  I believe it is time Canadian railways did the same.  Real railfans are an asset, not a threat.
I hope they publish it!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

North Bay Premiere of De-Railed: The National Dream

If you haven't seen this documentary yet, this is an excellent (and free!) opportunity.
North Bay Premiere of De-Railed: The National Dream, May 8th

Alleged 'al-Qaeda-supported' plot against Via train thwarted

After a long day of studies, I ate dinner and settled down to watch Ken Burns' new documentary The Central Park Five (which I highly recommend).  Before I watched it, I noticed that the top story on the BBC involved Canada - this is never a good thing.  The only time Canada ever makes the BBC news is when the country has done something else stupid.  Apparently, a massive terror plot had been foiled.  I made a note to get details about it later.

Well, there was indeed a plot.  Apparently two men had plotted to blow up, or derail, depending on who was talking, a VIA train in the GTA.  According to some sources, the target was a train from Toronto to New York, which could only mean the VIA/Amtrak Maple Leaf, a train I rode several years ago.  There is little security on board, other than a passport check when you buy your ticket and then Homeland Security on the American side of the Border.  The Toronto Sun suggests that the explosion would have happened while the train was crossing the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls as the train crossed the border.

Here is the problem, according to CNN: "They watched trains and railways in the greater Toronto area."  I watch trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.

Since 9/11, it has become increasingly difficult for railway enthusiasts to freely enjoy watching trains.  Major stations are now essentially off-limits, cameras in subways make people nervous, rail yards are closed to visitors and police checks are more common.  I myself have been stopped by the police at least ten times, ranging from a few simple questions to an ID check.

In this age of super security and reversal of rights to protect us from an unseen threat, here are the potential 'doomsday' outcomes of this investigation:

  • Railfanning is made illegal: This would be difficult given the Charter implications, but photography could be made harder on private railway property and police could begin charging trackside photographers with loitering (or similar catch-all charges).
  • VIA Rail is deemed a security vulnerability and is cut: Secretly, I expect the federal government would like to cut VIA Rail anyway (especially considering their repeated budget cuts), but this would look like a cheap excuse to push through a government policy and probably won't happen.
  • The Maple Leaf stops running: This might actually happen.  The Maple Leaf (and the other cross-border trains in Vancouver and Montreal) have long-been a security issue with smuggling.  Given their unique funding and operational requirements, they are annoying for both Amtrak and VIA.  Until last year, the whole Toronto-New York route was under threat until the future of the Whirlpool Bridge was secured.  I could see a situation similar to what happened to the former Toronto-Chicago International, which now only runs as a VIA train to Sarnia and then an Amtrak train from Michigan, with passengers having to cross the border themselves.  This would remove the risk at the bridge and allow Canada and the US to close the dedicated border posts for the train.

I hope that none of these scenarios comes to pass, but when plots come to light there is always a discussion as to what should be done.  I tend to subscribe to the "carry on as normal" view.  Security is needed, but not to the point that it makes life unpleasant.

I intend to continue to watch trains and railways in the greater Toronto area.  After all, REAL railfans are one of the railway's best lines of defence.  Not only do we observe, but we often know enough about rail operations to know when something feels wrong.  We are free eyes and ears and railway companies should embrace this (as Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and BNSF have already done).

Hoping that sober heads prevail...
Alleged 'al-Qaeda-supported' plot against Via train thwarted - CBC News

(note: edited 23 April to include Norfolk Southern's security initiative)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

GO trains to run every 30 minutes all day on Lakeshore lines

At first glance, this is excellent news and shows that the Toronto Area might just be starting to catch up with the more enlightened parts of the world.  Indeed, there is much to be praised in this decision: the work required to boost capacity must not be underestimated; the cost of additional crews and the increased maintenance costs due to increased wear and tear are important.

However, consider that GO Transit currently operates seven rail corridors - yet this announcement only affects two of them.  Yes, they are the busiest and most densely-populated routes, but GO risks a sort of post-code lottery.   Consider the Richmond Hill line, standing-room only with few trains at rush hours and no service during the day (despite much of the Bala sub being empty).  I hope that service improvements will slowly be made to the rest of the GO network.

I have very different views on this decision when I see it from the perspective of northern Ontario.  While the Northlander was deemed surplus to requirement, residents in the Toronto Area are being told that they no longer need to follow timetables because increased frequency will make their journeys convenient.  In northern Ontario, much of the rhythm of life was dictated by the one Northlander train running six days a week.  The north-south divide is clear.
GO trains to run every 30 minutes all day on Lakeshore lines | Toronto Star

Northern leaders want ONTC sell-off paused

To briefly summarise: nothing new has happened in the fight to save the ONTC recently.  However, Michael Gravelle appears more open to discussion than Rick Bartolucci ever was.   In this article, FONOM makes it clear that nothing has been set in stone yet and that there is still time for a rebuilt ONTC to remain in public hands.
Northern leaders want ONTC sell-off paused | Timmins Press

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Keeping Toronto on Track for the Future

The latest town hall meeting for the National Dream Renewed is at Metro Hall in Toronto on April 20.  
Keeping Toronto on Track for the Future - The National Dream Renewed

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Forward to Flickr

I have decided to post my images to Flickr from now on.  My existing Picasa Gallery will remain live, but updates will now only be posted to Flickr.  I will of course continue to post updates to this site too, but the links will now direct to Flickr.

To see the shots, visit:

Pendolino Pan

Pendolino Pan by Thomas Blampied
Pendolino Pan, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.
A recent outing to Carlisle (via the Settle-Carlise line, a wonderful trip) offered me the chance to photograph Virgin Trains' Pendolino EMUs. In operation for years now, I have never gotten around to actually shooting them (I'm not usually on the West Coast Main Line - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!).


Atmosphere by Thomas Blampied
Atmosphere, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.
Steam at Carlisle, 11 April 2013. It came complete with soot make-up job that needed removing from me and my gear afterwards, but it was worth it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Le bleu à toute vapeur

Le gouvernement Harper aime la couleur bleue - c'est la couleur du parti Conservateur.  Malheureusement, il paraît que cette belle couleur deveint de plus en plus répandu dans le secteur public.  Prenez cette photo d'une locomotive MP40 de GO Transit, un p'tit peu de Photoshop et le vert est maintenant une bonne locomotive conservatrice bleue.  Ce phénomène a été découvert par l'Ottawa Citizen et ensuite par Jean-René Dufort (Infoman).  Le gouvernement nie toutes idées conspiratoires, mais c'est assez évident qu'il y a un plan bleu. 

En plus, les trains AMT sont bleus.  Et bien, on aurait pû éviter les soupçons en utilisant une photo de Montréal.  Ben non!  C'est une ville francophone!  We can't touch that mon ami...
Le bleu à toute vapeur | Infoman |

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Recent photographic wanderings

Having thawed out from my outing to Barnetby, I have been back out and about photographing the railway scene in the north east of England.

First up was a trip to Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon to see how restoration work on Dominion of Canada was progressing.  The tender is just about ready, but the rest of the locomotive still needs a lot of work.

Dominion of Canada in undercoat

A week later, I was out again for two days of special workings in York.  Here is 8F 48151 with a Crewe-Scarborough special, having just started off again from a water stop near York Hospital.

48151 sets off for Scarborough

The next day, I stood on a chilly, but mostly sunny platform waiting for a Millerhill-Derby working.  It was almost an hour late, but was worth it as the two class 37s roared through the station.

37s roar through York station

The weather here is very bizarre this year.  While the light is now close to the intensity of summer, the temperatures are more reminiscent of January.  Climate change?

Friday, April 05, 2013

KWG makes it case for a Ring of Fire railroad

A new report has recommended what most of us already know: rail is the obvious transportation choice for mining.  Rail moves bulk commodities cheaply and safely, while costing considerably less to maintain than roads.  As the evidence mounts in favour of rail, maybe the Ontario Government will realise just how valuable an asset the ONTC is to the province. 
KWG makes it case for a Ring of Fire railroad

Monday, April 01, 2013

An Accidental Discovery

The internet is tangential.  The curious mind is tangential.  Put the two together and the outcome can be surprising.  This is how a browse of UK thesis titles became the discovery of a century-old map of Whitby, Ontario.

Before entering my present phase of ONR-obsession (ie. my current book and the ONTC divestment process as a whole), my writing and photography centred on the Toronto area and, more specifically, Whitby.  Whitby formed the basis of my second book, Stand Clear of the Doors, which I hope to update in future as new information comes to light.  As such, I am always looking for interesting tidbits that might further outline the story of Whitby's railways.

My thought process from UK theses to Whitby maps went a little like this:
  • Is there a database of Canadian theses?
  • Sort of, through Library and Archives Canada
  • Does Library and Archives Canada have records online?
  • Yes!  Do they have any for Whitby?
  • Yes! Here are the maps, and some descriptions of records that have yet to be put online.

Record number 3844664 is a set of fire insurance plans for Whitby dating from 1911.  These plans are invaluable evidence for historians and archaeologists alike.  Not only do they outline what, and who, was around in 1911, but they also provide a clear outline of where buildings were.  Since the street plan of downtown Whitby has changed very little, these maps give the best outline of the route the Whitby, Port Perry & Lindsay Railway took through town.  The maps are available as high-quality images to browse at your leisure.  Another piece of the Whitby railway history puzzle falls into place.

P.S. I checked to see if such maps exist for Cochrane.  According to Library and Archives Canada's search facilities, they don't.  Of course, through the 1910s Cochrane was burned to the ground on multiple occasions, which probably doesn't help either.