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Canadian Rail Photo Spots


 
Update: January 21, 2017: This page is no longer updated. The information below may not be accurate anymore.

Over the years, I have tried many different rail photography locations across Ontario and Quebec. These are my top locations for the benefit of anyone thinking of trainspotting in the area, with the main focus being the Toronto area.

 
 
Gare Lucien L'Allier, Montreal, QC
Gare Lucien L'Allier, Montreal.

Location: Montreal's main commuter rail station.

Directions: Take any Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT) commuter train bound for Lucien L'Allier. Alternately, make your way to downtown Montreal by bus or metro (Service de Transport de Montréal, STM).

Map: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: AMT commuter trains.

Remarks: A clear view of AMT commuter locomotives can be seen from the station building of this busy commuter terminus. The best light is early morning, which also features the best train frequency.

Updated: 11 April 2015

Exporail
Exporail.

Location: The Canadian Railway Museum, Saint-Constant, QC.

Directions: Take the 9:35 AM (Mon-Fri only) AMT Candiac line train to Saint-Constant station. Walk north along rue Saint Pierre to the traffic lights and cross to Exporail. NOTE: the last train back to Montreal is the 1:28 PM train from Saint-Constant station. It is possible to make the trip with a combination of buses, but this will take hours.

Map: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Static displays, train rides at various times of the year.

Remarks: A remarkable museum with plenty of artefacts from Canada's rich and varied railway history. Locomotives and other rolling stock are on display both inside and out, with many preserved buildings, a model railway and an extensive archive to boot. Although bilingual, une bonne maîtrise de la langue française aide beaucoup. For more information, visit: http://www.exporail.org/.

Updated: 11 April 2015

Cochrane, ON
Cochrane

Location: A major hub for the Ontario Northland Railway. Cochrane station and the ONR shops are worth investigating.

Directions: Cochrane is located at the point where Highway 11 turns west to continue across Ontario, you can't miss it. The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission also operates buses connecting Cochrane to Hearst, Timmins and southern Ontario.

Map: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Polar Bear Express 'mixed' train to Moosonee departs Monday-Friday at 9am, freight trains during early morning or late afternoon, yard switching during the late afternoon and evening.

Remarks: Cochrane is a quintessential railway town, the sound of diesel locomotives punctuates daily life. With the demise of the Northlander in 2012, rail traffic has decreased, but the Polar Bear Express and freight services continue to operate. Ask at the station for permission to visit the shops, chances are you will get a quick tour. ONR people are generally very friendly.

If you are interested in the Ontario Northland Railway, consider acquiring a copy of my 2014 book, Call of the Northland.

Updated: 11 April 2015

Memory Junction Museum, Brighton, ON
Memory Junction Museum, Brighton. 

Location: A railway museum in Brighton, Ontario, situated in the original Grand Trunk Station.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to exit 509 and head south to Main Street. Turn right onto Main Street and left at Maplewood. The museum is at the end of the road.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Canadian National Railway freight, VIA Rail passenger services, Canadian Pacific Railway freight.

Remarks: A railway enthusiast's dream. The museum is full of interest artefacts (both railway and agricultural). The CN Kingston sub is literally on the doorstep and the CP Belleville sub is also visible (although not great for photos). No doubt your visit will be punctuated by frequent trains! Outside the museum, there is a collection of rolling stock ranging from a GTR steam locomotive to CP Angus cabooses.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Cobourg Station, ON
Cobourg Station. 

Location: A small town in southern Ontario. The VIA Rail station is in the middle of town.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to exit 474. Head south along Division Street. The turn into the station is between the two railway underpasses, on the right. Quite a few VIA services stop at Cobourg.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Canadian National Railway freight, VIA Rail passenger services, Canadian Pacific Railway freight.

Remarks: Situated between the CN Kingston sub and the CP Belleville sub, Cobourg station once boasted excellent sight lines for CN and VIA trains as well as passable angles for CP. In recent years, a new station and enormous footbridge were built, which have seriously impaired the possible angles. That said, you can still get very good photos and the footbridge has provided new possibilities for overhead shots (and a great place to stay warm in winter). The location is popular with trainspotters and it is likely that you will meet a few. Fridays, especially during the summer, are 'official' railfan meet days.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Port Hope Viaducts, ON
Port Hope Viaducts. 

Location: A small town in southern Ontario. The viaducts are on the lakeshore.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to the Toronto Road exit in Port Hope. Head south and turn left at Ridout Street. Ridout Street becomes Walton Street. Turn south on Queen Street and you will reach the twin viaducts. There is plenty of free parking in the area. A very limited number of VIA trains also stop at Port Hope Station.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Canadian National Railway freight, VIA Rail passenger services, Canadian Pacific Railway freight.

Remarks: There are several excellent locations for rail photography in Port Hope. The most obvious is the twin viaducts (the southern one carries CN and VIA while the northern one carries CP) which make for excellent photographs at all times of the day. Traffic can be somewhat anticipated by listening for the hornblasts from either direction as trains near the viaduct. From the viaducts, you can walk west along Hayward Street towards the VIA station if you want photographs of CN and VIA up-close, CP is not clearly visible from the station.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Lovekin, ON
Lovekin. 

Location: Intersection of Stevenson Road and Lakeshore Road near Newcastle, Ontario.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to the Mill Street exit in Newcastle. Head south on Mill Street and follow directions to the Port of Newcastle. At the water, turn left onto Lakeshore Road and follow it to the railway bridge.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Canadian National Railway freight, VIA Rail passenger services, Canadian Pacific Railway freight.

Remarks: Lovekin is only a crossroads on the map. This is an excellent spot as the CN and CP main lines run parallel. The CN lines pass under a very nice wooden bridge while the CP lines are protected by a level crossing. There is normally a good deal of traffic and both lines are clearly visible at all times of the year.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Oshawa GO/VIA Station, ON
Oshawa GO/VIA Station. 

Location: Intersection of Bloor Street West and Thornton Road South in Oshawa, Ontario.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to the Thickson Road exit (Whitby). Turn south on Thickson Road and turn left at Victoria Street. Follow Victoria Street to the station, it is on the south side (by then the road is renamed Bloor Street West). Alternatively, take a Lakeshore East GO Train from Toronto Union Station to Oshawa. You can also take any VIA service stopping at Oshawa.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains, VIA Rail passenger services, Canadian National Railway freight and some switching on the Canadian Pacific Railway spur.

Remarks: VIA's platforms at Oshawa have been rebuilt and an enormous footbridge has been installed to reach the new island platform. The VIA Rail platforms are open to the public and photography is permitted. You may be asked to leave the island platform when no trains are due, but the north platform (next to the station) is still fine. The GO Transit platform is a fare-paid zone only. With GO trains running twice an hour, there is always traffic of some sort in Oshawa. You can watch CN freights travelling through the station. Sometimes you can watch switching in the CN yard directly south of the station (CN autorack switching is especially busy around 3pm). To the east of the platforms, a CP spur crosses over the line and switching can be observed daily.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Hopkins St. Overpass, Whitby, ON
Hopkins St. Overpass, Whitby. 

Location: Hopkins Street South in Whitby, Ontario.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to the Thickson Road exit (Whitby). Turn south on Thickson Road and then turn right on Victoria Street. Follow Victoria Street until you reach Hopkins Street South, turn left and drive to the overpass.

Map link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains, VIA Rail passenger services and Canadian National Railway freight.

Remarks: This overpass offers a great view of the railway lines below. With increased GO train service, traffic is usually busy. This view is completely unobstructed and great for a camera with a good zoom lens (100mm+). From here, you have plenty of warning of approaching trains as you can see the Oshawa GO/VIA station to the east and the Whitby GO station to the west. Be careful as there is a pedestrian walkway on only one side of the bridge and road traffic is quite heavy on weekdays. The bridge is also quite a windy place and is not recommended during the winter months due to the wind-chill. This spot also allows you to observe construction of GO Transit's new maintenance facility on both sides of the bridge. When the facility opens, the bridge will be closed, so get shots while you can!

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Rouge Park Bridge, Scarborough, ON
Rouge Park Bridge, Scarborough. 

Location: A rail bridge seen from the Lake Ontario waterfront.

Directions; Take a Lakeshore East GO Train to Rouge Hill station. Cross to the south side of the tracks (at the level crossing) and follow the lakeshore path 2 km to the east, where you will find the bridge.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains, VIA Rail passenger trains.

Remarks: An excellent vantage point, especially on very calm mornings when the water reflects trains on the bridge. The best shots are before 8:30 AM as the sun lights the trains well. A quiet location and a pleasure to visit.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Rosedale Footbridge, Toronto, ON
Rosedale Footbridge, Toronto 

Location: A pedestrian footbridge over the CP North Toronto Sub in the Rosedale area of Toronto.

Directions: The bridge is located on Summerhill Avenue and parking is limited in the area. The easiest way to reach the bridge is to take the 82 TTC bus from Rosedale Subway station.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Canadian Pacific Railway freights, yard transfers and locomotives moves.

Remarks: A very good spot to view CP activity. The area is residential and the locals are both friendly and used to people photographing trains. Despite being CP's main route through Toronto, traffic density can vary enormously and it is possible to see nothing for hours. The view for westbound trains is somewhat restricted due to the bridge and hydro wires, but the view for eastbound trains is very good. The road noise is distracting, but the 'singing' rails should give you ample warning of uncoming trains.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Skywalk Entrance, Toronto, ON
Skywalk Entrance, Toronto. 

Location: At the base of the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario.

Directions: Take any train to Toronto Union Station. Don’t bother trying to drive as parking is either expensive or non-existent. At Toronto Union, walk to the Great Hall, admire it and then begin to follow the signs for the Skywalk or the CN Tower. Walk west through the Skywalk and follow it over the tracks. When you arrive at the doors at the west end of the Skywalk, turn right and you will find a lookout beside the tracks.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains, VIA Rail passenger services, Amtrak passenger services (to/from New York City) once per day and one Canadian National Railway freight daily, Union Pearson Express trains (from spring 2015).

Remarks: This is an excellent location at all times. Here you can clearly see the west end of the Toronto Union platforms. I would recommend visiting this location between 7am and 9am (weekdays) for the most trains and an overcast day will make for better lighting angles. During the morning rush hour it is not uncommon for three or four trains to be arriving/departing at the same time, which creates a very dynamic atmosphere and makes for good photos. Directly south of this excellent trainspotting location is the former CP John Street Roundhouse. Several stalls are being restored by the Toronto Railway Historical Association and house the Toronto Railway Museum. You can see vintage stock being stored on the site. While you are in the area, the CN Tower also offers some good (albeit expensive) aerial views of the other rail facilities in downtown Toronto.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Toronto Railway Museum
Toronto Railway Museum 

Location: Near the base of the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario.

Directions: Take any train to Toronto Union Station. Don’t bother trying to drive as parking is either expensive or non-existent. At Toronto Union, walk to the Great Hall, admire it and then begin to follow the signs for the Skywalk or the CN Tower. Walk west through the Skywalk and follow it over the tracks. When you arrive at the doors at the west end of the Skywalk, follow the path down between the CN Tower and the aquarium. Cross Bremner Boulevard. The roundhouse cannot be missed.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Static displays, miniature railway (summer only).

Remarks: The Toronto Railway Museum officially opened at the end of May 2010. While much of the roundhouse is now occupied by Steam Whistle Brewing and a Leons Furniture store, three bays are dedicated to the museum. The turntable is fully restored and several railway buildings have been moved to the site (incuding the Don Station and Cabin D). There are simulators, a miniature railway and many equipment displays. There is always lots to see and definitely a spot to visit in Toronto. For opening times and more information, visit trha.ca.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Bathurst St. Bridge, Toronto, ON
Bathurst St. Bridge, Toronto. 

Location: A road bridge over the Toronto Terminals Railway just to the west of downtown Toronto, Ontario.

Directions: Bathurst is a 20 minutes walk west along Front Street from Union Station. The 511 Bathurst TTC Streetcar also crosses the bridge. Parking in the area is limited and is not recommended.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: Mostly GO Trains and VIA Rail passenger services (including VIA equipment moves from the VIA TMC to and from Union). There are also two daily Amtrak trains (The Maple Leaf), New York-bound in the morning and Toronto-bound in the evening. There is usually one CN freight each day.  Union Pearson Express trains will run from spring 2015.

Remarks: A classic spot for rail enthusiasts in Toronto. Looking west, the Toronto Terminals Railway splits into the CN Oakville and Weston Subs as well as the CP Galt Sub. Looking east, GO's Bathurst North Yard is to the left, the flyunder is central and more lines are to the right. This is a busy location with lots of traffic at all times of the day. With a wider lens, the CN Tower makes a good backdrop for trains. The sidewalks on the bridge are protected from road traffic, making for a safe place to watch the busiest stretch of track in Toronto.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Willowbrook/TMC, Toronto, ON
Willowbrook/TMC, Toronto 

Location: Islington Avenue Overpass between Judson Street and New Toronto Street in Toronto, Ontario.

Directions: Take Highway 401 to the Islington Avenue exit (Toronto), turn south and follow Islington Avenue to the overpass that crosses the facility. Parking in the area is extremely limited and always involves a lengthy walk. Alternatively (and much simpler) is to take a Lakeshore West GO Train to Mimico. Leave the station heading west and you will arrive at Royal York Road. Cross at the lights north of the station and head south to Judson Street. Walk west along Judson Street until you arrive at the Islington Avenue overpass. You may then cross the overpass and enjoy the trains.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains, VIA Rail passenger services, Amtrak passenger services (to/from New York City), a single Canadian National Railway freight each day and plenty of stabled stock from all of the above and other railways.

Remarks: The GO Transit Willowbrook Yard and the VIA Toronto Maintanance Centre (TMC) are always busy as all of the trains to and from Union Station are maintained here. In the early morning and the late evening, Amtrak stock may also be seen. The overpass is massive and usually busy, but the pedestrian area is very generous and you are quite safe. One note, the railings are about 5’ tall so shorter people may have trouble seeing (sorry). There is always something happening at one of these two parallel facilities and the sheer amount of stock is fascinating to watch. One note, do not try and enter any of these facilities as they do not accept visitors.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Bayview Junction, Aldershot, ON
Bayview Junction, Aldershot. 

Location: Footbridge to the east of Bayview Junction, Aldershot, Ontario.

Directions: Take Highway 403 to the Highway 6 exit. Take the York Road exit and head south on Plains Road. Turn left at Spring Gardens Road and park. The footbridge is clearly visible from the parking lot. Alternatively, take a Lakeshore West GO Train to Burlington and take a Burlington Transit Route 1 (Plains West) bus to Spring Gardens Road.

Map Link: Google Map - click here.

Rail Traffic: GO Transit commuter trains (morning and evening rush only), VIA Rail passenger services, Amtrak passenger services (to/from New York City) and Canadian National Railway freight.

Remarks: This is probably the best-known location for railway photography in the Toronto Area. The footbridge is located off Spring Gardens Road near the Royal Botannical Gardens. The three-track mainline is clearly visible with best light from sunrise until mid-morning. Rail traffic has been lighter in the last few years, but the location remains popular. If you follow the path from the footbridge, you can also walk down to the marsh and the bay, which also offer good views looking up at the track. There are many other bridges in the area, so it is a good idea to consult local maps for more possible photo locations.

Updated: 27 June 2015
 
Safety

Some of the above locations are quite remote and while crime rates are quite low, always be alert and watch your camera gear!

You may be stopped by the police (be it railway police, city police, regional police, provincial police or RCMP) while you are trainspotting; be polite and answer all their questions. Once you tell them that you are trainspotting, they are normally happy to let you continue. MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT TRESPASS ON RAILWAY PROPERTY, it is illegal in Canada and you may be fined. CN, CP and GO Transit operate their own police forces and frequently patrol around rail property, they have the same powers as the other police forces listed above. In my years of trainspotting, I have been stopped several times by the police and have never had any trouble. They normally want to ascertain that you aren’t a drug dealer and that you are not trying to jump under a train.

Remember that trains cannot stop quickly, do not put yourself in danger while trainspotting. If you see anyone in immediate danger on the railway (eg. car stalled on level crossing), it is recommended that you call 911 immediately (or 0 in some rural areas) and give your location, then call the appropriate railway police:

-CN Police (when at a CN track) at 1-800-465-9239
or
-CP Police (when at a CP track) at 1-800-716-9132
or
-GO Transit Safety (when at a GO track) at 1-877-297-0642

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Photography

Photography in public places in Canada is legal (except for sensitive areas such as prisons, military installations, courts etc.). Trainspotting is also legal. The above locations have all been checked (at time of writing) for photography and all permit it. Note: photography is permitted on the Union Station platforms provided you have paid to travel (it is a fare-paid zone), and the Great Hall is always fine. In recent years, over-zealous security paranoia has increased the number of (unwarranted) problems for photographers, but the law remains essentially the same: public property = photography OK; private property = photography at the discretion of the owner. Check this very useful guide for details: http://ambientlight.ca/laws/.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Canadian Trackside Guide

A useful tool if you will be trainspotting in Canada is the Canadian Trackside Guide, published each year by the Bytown Railway Society. The online summaries do not really explain what it is, so here I will try and explain it, section by section (based on the 2009 guide):
  1. Mainline and shortline locomotives: a list of all locomotives, organised by railway and number, giving details as to the type and manufacturing information.
  2. Industrial locomotives: details of industrial locomotives, by location.
  3. Preserved railway and traction equipment: a list of all preserved railway equipment (including a potted history) by location.
  4. Passenger cars: a list of all current passenger cars in Canada, sorted by location and company.
  5. Urban rail systems: fleet lists for urban rail systems (such as subways and streetcars) by location.
  6. Cabooses: list of cabooses still in use (ie. not on tourist railways) by location.
  7. Rail mounted cranes: list of cranes used by railways, sorted by company and location.
  8. Snow fighting equipment: equipment used by railways by company and location.
  9. Rail service equipment: equipment used by railways sorted by company.
  10. Work service cars: old stock now used for maintenance listed by company.
  11. Scale test cars: equipment sorted by company.
  12. Radio frequencies: radio frequencies (for the benefit of those with access to scanners) sorted by company and location.
  13. Train numbers: train numbers by company.
  14. Guide to Canadian railways: includes indexes of locations, maps of major rail locations, subdivision lists.
  15. Passenger train schedules: timetables for passenger rail, including some tourist lines (note: this section goes out of date quickly, so use as a rough guide only).
  16. Signal, horn and sign information: a guide to signal, horn and sign recognition.
  17. Major rail centres: railway maps for rail hotspots.
  18. Reporting marks: a list of all reporting marks followed by an appendix of company abbreviations, acknowledgements, a locomotive timeline and a speed table.
The book is a useful size and could be taken with you without much bother. It is also an interesting read simply because of the wealth of information. I strongly recommend it.

Updated: 11 April 2015
 
Disclaimer

All of the above information was accurate at time of writing (see each entry for specific date). I will not be held responsible for other people’s actions as a result of the above information. I am not responsible for the content of external websites. The above information is designed solely as a guide and should not be construed in any other manner. I have personally visited the above locations and I do not list any location which I have not personally vetted.

Questions, comments and corrections regarding the above trainspotting locations and guidelines should be directed to me using the "Contact Me" box at the top right of this page.