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Saturday, June 29, 2013

GO Transit moves to 30-minute Lakeshore route service

Residents of north-eastern Ontario: you too can tear up your train schedules! Of course, that's because there is no train to catch, but I thought you might feel left out now that lucky riders in the GTA have nearly double the travel options. While the government pours enormous sums of money into GO Transit, it is dragging its heels on what to do with the ONTC. In many ways, this stalling is just as bad as divestment because no new money or developments are forthcoming and the indecision hurts the northern economy. If only a fraction of GO Transit spending went to the ONTC, it would mean so much.

All sarcasm aside, this increase in GO service is an important development for public transit in Canada. If only it extended to more places...
GO Transit moves to 30-minute Lakeshore route service | Toronto Star

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Suspend divestment until options explored

Cochrane Mayor (and candidate for the Progressive Conservatives) Peter Politis is voicing the concerns from the north in this clear letter to the provincial government. I think he is right: if divestment isn't the only option, then why does the government continue as if divestment was a done deal?
Suspend divestment until options explored | Timmins Press

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Duane Linklater: Two worlds, gently colliding

Up-and-coming artist Duane Linklater's latest exhibit, Learning, is a powerful representation of the iconic ONR chevron logo, a symbol so central to decades of mobility in northern Ontario. It is such a dynamic and instantly recognisable design. I love it!

I do, however, have to criticise the Toronto Star's report. It claims that the divestment of the ONTC is a "much-protested" issue. This is true, but where has the Star been for all these months? Their coverage has been patchy to say the least.
Duane Linklater: Two worlds, gently colliding | Toronto Star

Train groups band together for a louder voice

Various groups calling for better passenger rail links across northern and eastern Ontario have banded together to present a louder and united voice. One point of note is that many tourists decide where to travel based on rail links. It's not just tourists: I often decide where to go based on rail links. I wish them luck and hope that their efforts are successful.
Train groups band together for a louder voice

Friday, June 21, 2013

Premier open to options with ONTC

In a way, it seems that the government really is reconsidering its plans for the ONTC. However, we have yet to see any concrete developments that would indicate this.
Premier open to options with ONTC | Timmins Press

Sunday, June 16, 2013

43151 at London Paddington, 15 June 2013

Via Flickr:
This was my first visit to London Paddington. It is a very busy station, verging on chaos at times (as this scene indicates). With so much of the Great Western Main Line not yet electrified, Paddington is a space still dominated by the sounds and smells of diesels.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The VIA 92 Report

This week, the Transportation Safety Board released the highly-anticipated report into the derailment of VIA 92 last year. Having gone through the report (not read it entirely, but 'examined the contents' would be a more apt description), the findings present several interesting conclusions.

As in so many railway accidents, unusual circumstances were important contributing factors. In this instance, the presence of the third crew member in the cab may have changed in-cab interactions. Similarly, the track routing out of Aldershot station was unusual because of emergency track work and the request to unload at Oakville station's platform 1. That the derailment happened in the 1% of the time the crossover was used is not a coincidence.

I find that the report casts doubt on the structural strength of VIA's rebuilt F40 locomotives. The report concluded that the fuel tank was the original one (and thus not up to the newest standards of crashworthiness). Also, as the locomotive was built before the latest safety standards were implemented, it was not as strong as it might have been. Rebuilt locomotives do not currently need to be upgraded to the latest standards either.

I am sorry to read that the blame for the derailment has been largely placed at the feet of the locomotive crew. People do make mistakes, but it is still sad when they do in such safety-critical situations. It seems that the misread signal was likely the cause and I expect there will be a debate about some form of positive train control system, but I doubt one will be implemented.

This accident also highlighted the need for more recording devices to monitor activity on board trains. VIA 6444 did not have a cab camera, so we cannot know what the driver saw. None of VIA's locomotives have in-cab recorders, so we have no idea what the crew were doing or what actions were taken before the derailment took place. I hope that these measures can be adopted quickly for the safety of crew and passengers, not for employer surveillance.

In the end, this accident was an accident. I'm sorry that people died. I am also sorry that, due to the lack of cab recording equipment, we will never know what actually happened.

ONTC sale not certain

Struggling all the mutual distrust between politicians, this article does have a key point: the Liberals now say that divestment is not the only option for the ONTC, so why is the sale of Ontera still moving ahead at this moment?
ONTC sale not certain | Timmins Press

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fedeli says Premier is playing games with ONTC

Vic Fedeli's comments regarding the ONTC divestment are probably accurate in that it is now clear that the divestment was not clearly thought through and the government now has a mess on their hands. However, beware the cropped version of the debate included in his press release, which makes it seem like the Premier did nothing. By consulting the official transcript, it is clear that the question was instead passed on to Charles Sousa, who then passed it on to David Orazietti. Either way, I would like the government to be more clear about what it plans to do, rather than stall everything with uncertainty.
Fedeli says Premier is playing games with ONTC

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

#Avgeeks: The new warriors on terror

I had never heard of this until I read the article, but here we have a model for trainspotting. In the UK, the benefit of photographers trackside is recognised unofficially. In the US, several railroads operate civilian observation initiatives.
In Canada: nothing. Here is the chance to secure the position of railfans in society. This is especially important following the foiled plot to bomb/derail a train in southern Ontario. Let's form Rail Watch!
#Avgeeks: The new warriors on terror -

Monday, June 10, 2013

Silly Cat

Silly Cat by Thomas Blampied
Silly Cat, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
While waiting trackside for my shot, I often like to watch the world go by. People and wildlife can be just as interesting as the trains. While waiting for a railtour, I watched this cat amble across the line before it stopped to sit in the sun. A magpie came up right behind it. I am pretty sure the bird actually pecked the cat! After a few minutes, the cat carried on its way, never once paying any attention to its companion. I hope this feline had an alternate food source because its hunting skills are quite poor.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Will the National Railway Museum Really Close?

Despite the fact that I spend a large amount of my time in the United Kingdom, I do not spend much time commenting on railway issues affecting the birthplace of railways as we know them. That is not to say that nothing is happening. On the contrary, between HS2 and the inevitable moaning about fare hikes, hardly a day goes by without some concern being voiced.

This week's focus has been squarely on the future direction of the National Railway Museum. The NRM has received a great deal of negative press over the cost of the temporary repatriation of the A4s, the ongoing restoration of Flying Scotsman and the poor turnout for last year's Railfest. This week, the Science Museum Group, the parent body of the NRM (as well as the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and the National Media Museum in Bradford) announced that, due to looming budget cuts, it was having to consider reinstating admission fees or even closing one of the three northern museums to balance the books.

The revelation has been in the news for much of the week, notably in the York Press, which has started an online campaign to save the NRM. Not only would the closure be a blow to York's tourist trade, but would mean job losses and the loss of one of the world's leading railway heritage centres.

At first, I thought that the threat of closure was a move to force the government to increase funding, but the degree of concern from local government leaders suggests that the closure of at least one of the museums is a real possibility. It is worth noting that nobody has suggested that a London museum could be closed. Once again, the north is to take the brunt of cost-cutting.

Which museum is most likely to close? I would guess the Media Museum in Bradford because, in my experience, the British do not value the history of the media as an important subject. The NRM is far too big to fail (of course, that didn't stop the 2008 banking crisis), but I do wonder about the future of the satellite location in Shildon.

Most commentary so far has suggested the re-implementation of admission charges would be the most likely course of action, but some commentators have even suggested privatising the museum by handing it over to the railway companies. This is not an approach I favour given the track record of privatisation in the UK rail sector. What is needed is increased funding from the public sector and perhaps fewer large-scale events such as the upcoming A4 gathering in York.

It is hard to say what the eventual outcome will be, but allow me to say this: Congratulations UK, you are catching up with North America's disregard for history!

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Toronto Union Station waiver rule for journalists criticized

The issue that Metrolinx wishes would go away is getting louder. After the arrest of a Toronto Star photographer last week, journalists from across Canada have been weighing in about the unfair policy of requiring photojournalists to sign a waiver before taking photos at Union Station. The latest article is of particular interest for railfans, because it concludes that "Metrolinx allows casual photography by riders"suggesting that there should be no problems with taking a quick photo before boarding a train. Let's hope so...

Toronto Union Station waiver rule for journalists criticized | Toronto Star

Railways to decide whether to install voice recorders in trains

As we prepare to learn the Transportation Safety Board's conclusions from the fatal derailment of VIA 92 last year, it looks like the government is still not taking the safety of Canada's railways seriously. By continuing to allow in-cab recorders to be a voluntary measure, there is a chance that more incidents will be harder to investigate. Both GO and VIA have installed in-cab recording equipment, so at least most passengers will be safe.

The other side of this issue is the serious concerns voiced by the railway unions about how recorded data would be used. This is a fair point: will it be used for safety investigations, or to spy on train crews? This entire issue needs to be taken seriously.
Railways to decide whether to install voice recorders in trains | Toronto Star

Friday, June 07, 2013

Visiting Network Rail Signal Boxes

Last month, I was lucky enough to visit three Network Rail signal boxes. You can read about my trip on the Toronto Railway Museum's website.

Minister says ONTC cost estimate is outdated

Backtracking from the Liberal government, but it does seem to be open to new directions.
Minister says ONTC cost estimate is outdated | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario

Monday, June 03, 2013

Can I take photos at Union Station?

Can I take photos at Union Station?

This age-old question is a most complicated one to answer and I have never been able to get a straight answer from anyone. According to the tour I took with the Toronto Railway Historical Association, I could take photos of the Great Hall, but not the GO Concourse or the platforms. According to GO Transit, there are no restrictions anywhere in the Concourse or on the platforms. The events of this past weekend call this into question.

It is important to note that these are specific circumstances that will likely not apply to most railway photographers. The arrested party was a journalist with the Toronto Star, meaning that he was not part of the general public. He was photographing an altercation between passengers and GO Police (who are technically not full police) when he was arrested for trespassing. The difficulty with Union Station is that it falls under multiple jurisdictions: GO Police, Union Station Security and Toronto Police all operate in different parts of the station.

While I feel that the reaction was excessive, there are specific regulations pertaining to the media. That said, I would support anyone wanting to document a police procedure, such as the one the Star's reporter tried to, because this is a way to assure police accountability for their actions.

The fight against photographers lead by transit authorities around the world will not be resolved. The problem is this: cameras are increasingly small and discreet, many are in mobile phones. Unless security is willing to confiscate ever person's phone (which would not go down too well), the battle against photography is lost. The internet is already full of photos of Union Station and the new roof over the platforms is bound to attract photographers to what will be one of Toronto's largest architectural landmarks.

So, can I take photos at Union Station? This is an educated attempt at an answer. If other people around are taking photos, it is probably fine. If there is a problem, be polite and try to work it out - try and get a concrete reason as to why you are being stopped. According to GO Transit's by-laws:

No person shall operate any camera, video recording device, movie camera
or any similar device for commercial purposes upon the transit system
without the express written permission of the Corporation.

Seeing as GO does have jurisdiction over the Concourse and many of the platforms, it sounds like the average railway photographer should have no trouble if they want to grab a quick photo getting on or off a train. Any more than that and loitering can come into play. In short, it's a tricky issue and likely will only be solved if and when you happen to be questioned.

Read the story: Toronto Star reporter arrested, ticketed after taking photos of injured GO transit officer | Toronto Star

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Fallout from Fedeli's announcement

Vic Fedeli's announcement yesterday has not gone down well with the ONTC unions or with the other political parties. Both groups have accused Fedeli of merely trying to gain political points and that his information is not new at all. I beg to differ.

It is important to remember that it was the Conservative Party that started the whole mess of divestment back in 2000, although they did later back down. The latest attempt to sell off the ONTC was a Liberal policy, with both the NDP and Conservatives opposed to the idea. I am sceptical of how much the Conservatives would actually do to protect the ONTC, but I also believe that what Fedeli has uncovered is important new information.

Until yesterday, nobody had numbers on a piece of paper. All speculation were just that - speculations. Of course, the projected cost of $790 million is a worst-case scenario and purely theoretical, which is why it was printed in a confidential government document. But it is important to note that we now have an actual number to throw at the government which is just as 'accurate' as the government's claims that the process will save money. The other important piece of information uncovered is that the united front for divestment is a weak façade: civil servants have called for the process to be delayed as the numbers do not work. Instead, the government has (until recently) insisted on continuing as fast as possible, ignoring the wise advice contained in these documents.

I strongly believe that the ONTC divestment mess should not be a partisan issue. I think that northern Ontario deserves all parties to work together for the benefit of the people - not political prowess. While it is fair to criticise what Fedeli said yesterday, please don't believe that the Liberal and NDP attacks are altruistic. They too have a political motive.