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Monday, March 31, 2014

Track Inspection / Inspection de la voie

Track Inspection / Inspection de la voie
9701 and  97304 on 1Q14 (Derby-Peterborough) at York, 31 March 2014. / 9701 et 97304 avec le train 1Q14 (Derby-Peterborough) à York, le 31 mars 2014.


150205 crosses the viaduct at  Knaresborough on a mild Saturday afternoon. 29 March 2014. / 150205 traverse le viaduc à Knaresborough durant un samedi après-midi frais. Le 29 mars 2014.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How VIA can get the government's attention

Anyone who follows the fate of passenger rail across Canada will know that governments are oblivious to the alarmingly rapid disappearance of passenger trains across the country. This cartoon from the Chronicle Herald has a novel way for VIA to get the government's attention: oil.

>>>2014-03-25 - Editorial Cartoon | The Chronicle Herald<<<

Note: Were it not for the victims of the Lac-Mégantic disaster last year, this cartoon wouldn't be as powerful. It is intended to make a statement, not trivialise the events in Quebec last year.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

219 Moves!

Back in April 2012, I saw #219 sitting forlornly rusting away in the Cochrane yard. Since then, the locomotive was put up for sale and bought by the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre to preserve it for future generations.

This week, a special flatcar designed for heavy loads arrived in Cochrane and #219 was rolled onto it for the journey to Capreol. According to Nickel Belt Rail's Dale Wilson, the transportation cost over ONR, OVR, CP and CN rails is being waived by the respective railways. I am heartened to see big corporations offering to help the communities they run through like this.

However, the Museum is still on the hook for the cost of loading and unloading #219. If you can offer them a financial donation, please contact NORMHC. Likewise, the museum is looking for volunteers to help with the restoration once the locomotive is safely in Capreol.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Call of the Northland Media Coverage

Since announcing Call of the Northland last week, there has been some good media coverage. Along with the Timmins Press, Sudbury Star and the New Deal for Northern Ontario, I was also interviewed by CBC's Points North, the afternoon show in Sudbury.

All this coverage is, of course, good for the book. But it is also important because it keeps the ONTC issue in the media spotlight during what has been a few very quiet months. Part of writing a book is promoting it, but Call of the Northland was not written to make me rich. I wrote it because I felt the issue needed to be addressed and I thought that a book would allow the space to present the issue in a detailed way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Should Trains Always Run on Time?

For the millions of people who travel regularly by rail, delays are a favourite topic of complaint. Running to a timetable, we expect trains to be on time and we often become annoyed when they aren't. However, what if expecting trains to run on time was actually a dangerous idea?

This question was the focus of a thought-provoking documentary recently aired on the BBC. Brakeless: Why Trains Crash recounted the 2005 derailment of a West Japan Railway commuter train and the corporate and national culture that led the driver to ignore the posted speed limit. Dreading the reaction of his superiors when they heard of his train's 80 second delay, the driver sped through a tight corner, which threw the train off the track and into an adjacent building. In a system where any delay of more than one second needed to be reported, no wonder the driver panicked about 80.

The home of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), Japan has long prided itself on having the fastest and most punctual trains in the world. This led to an obsessive corporate culture that was not only toxic to employees, but deadly to railway crew and passengers alike. The derailment began a discussion about the place of punctuality in Japanese culture which continues today.

This is not, however, solely a Japanese problem. People all over the world complain about their trains being late. Many railway companies offer refunds to delayed passengers. Have we all forgotten the old adage "better late than never?" I am not advocating a culture of poor timekeeping or laziness, but how many things are truly so critical that you cannot afford for your train to be a little late?

Technological determinism pushed us to go faster. Electronics schedule our lives and we always seem to be rushing around. Perhaps life doesn't need to be so fast. After all, who would want to die to save a few seconds?

The documentary offers a very critical perspective on Japanese railway culture and also offers a very personal account of how survivors are coping in the wake of the derailment. At times emotional, this documentary is an interesting watch for those interested in railways, Japan, or the speed of the modern world.

Brakeless: Why Trains Crash is available on BBC iPlayer until April 7.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


66505 leads a short container train near Colton, March 19, 2014. / 66505 aves un train à conteneurs près de Colton, le 19 mars 2014.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Call of the Northland: Official Announcement



Two years of ONTC debate have hurt northern Ontario, author argues
March 20, 2014

Two years after the Ontario government announced the divestment of the ONTC, the author of an upcoming book is calling on the government and stakeholders to find a resolution to the ONTC issue as quickly and as fairly as possible to avoid any further uncertainty for residents of northern Ontario reliant on ONTC services.

This fall, author and photographer Thomas Blampied, who specializes in rail transportation, will release Call of the Northland: Riding the Train that Nearly Toppled a Government. The book charts the uncertainty of the past two years, which saw the iconic Northlander passenger train cancelled and northern life made more difficult by the doubtful future of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“The McGuinty government was not the first to attempt to divest the ONTC, but its lack of research and consultation meant its plan was doomed from the start,” explained the author, who began work on the book while aboard the Northlander in April 2012.

“The trip made me aware of how hurt northerners were by the loss of their Northlander and how they felt the McGuinty government was ignoring them. The ONTC is an integral part of life in the north.”

“The recent joint management/union business plan and the Wynne government’s decision to transform the ONTC are both promising signs. However, it is important to remember that people are suffering because of the ONTC fiasco and that a fair and sensible resolution is needed quickly.”

The book traces the 112-year history of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, the various attempts to dismantle it, and the political drama of the past two years, all retold through the author’s round-trip journey from Toronto to Cochrane aboard the Northlander.

“As the December 2013 Ontario Auditor General’s report showed, the 2012 divestment plan was not clearly researched and the government was not fully aware of the financial implications of divestment. In the end, northern Ontario residents are the ones who have paid the price for a careless government policy.”

Call of the Northland will be released in late September 2014. For more details, visit the book’s website:


To read the full release, click here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Terrorism on public transit: workers ramp up vigilance

Ever since the authorities announced that they had foiled a plot to blow up a VIA Train (in fact, probably Amtrak crossing the border at Niagara Falls) last year, people have been waiting to see what might change in terms of security on public transit in Canada. Anyone who has visited Toronto Union Station in the past few years will have noticed the new security office in the Great Hall, the emergency buttons scattered around the GO Concourse, the plethora of security guards and the GO "Transit Safety" (special constables really) officers, usually patrolling in packs in the station and across the network.

Now, GO have made public that they are ramping up security again, this time with the help of RCMP counter-terrorism training. I'm not sure why they agreed to disclose this. However, two of the potential suspicious behaviours discussed in one the videos accompanying the story were disturbing to me. The two, taking photos of the network and asking about train frequencies, are apparently not normal activities for the public. I beg to differ. I have been a railway photographer for over a decade, during which time I have become familiar with railway networks and the best places to take photos (legally). I use this knowledge whenever I travel and it helps me to spot things that are out of the ordinary.

In the UK and the US, railways have recognised the immense security benefit that railway enthusiasts bring to rail safety. In the UK, there is an agreed code of conduct regulating rail enthusiast behaviour, including the request that enthusiasts "take note of any unusual behaviour and activities and report anything suspicious to police or a member of staff." In the US, Amtrak has adopted a "See Something, Say Something" policy among its passengers and its PASS system for members of the public to remain vigilant. BNSF has also adopted a similar system called Citizens for Rail Security, which states that "There are many publicly accessible sites that provide great views of passing trains. CRS members are encouraged to enjoy train watching from those locations and to report anyone who trespasses on railroad property."  GO Transit has a similar policy for passengers to report suspicious behaviour, but the CBC report suggests that photography would be considered suspicious.

There is no doubt that, for better or worse, 9/11 has changed the way the world works. The challenge ahead is to balance the need for security with the personal freedoms that make life worthwhile. If railfans want to take photos of trains in an open and obvious way, they should be allowed to do so. They are not terrorists. In fact, they are one of the railway's greatest allies.

Note: GO Transit By-Law #2, Section 3.22 only prohibits unauthorised commercial photography. That is to say that non-commercial photography is allowed, provided your activity is not construed as Loitering (Section 3.27). Buying a ticket to travel and then taking some photos while waiting for the train should not be a problem.
take note of any unusual behaviour and activities and report anything suspicious to police or a member of staff - See more at:
take note of any unusual behaviour and activities and report anything suspicious to police or a member of staff - See more at:
take note of any unusual behaviour and activities and report anything suspicious to police or a member of staff - See more at:

>>>Terrorism on public transit: workers ramp up vigilance - CBC News<<<

Friday, March 14, 2014

Save Algoma Passenger Rail

There is now a website dedicated to the fight to save passenger service on the Algoma Central. So far, the campaign has been quite successful, with CN agreeing to extend the service by one month.


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Ontario Northland restructuring plan in minister’s hands

A few more details have emerged about the ONTC/GCA business plan. Essentially, the plan appears to call for the ONTC to be made into an independent government agency (separate from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines?) run by industry experts, rather than political appointees. Makes sense to me.

However, there remains the issue of Ontera. While divestment is largely off the table, the government have not officially stopped the sale of Ontera. Will Ontera remain government-owned? We simply don't know.

>>>Ontario Northland restructuring plan in minister’s hands<<<