Monday, 15 July 2013

Railfanning without a scanner

In radio-free land, catches are luck and observation.  Well, really just luck.  And schedules.  Commuter trains run on schedules you can usually look up.  This works great near the source end but the destination end is considerably less reliable.  Such is true of catching the Canadian as it rolls through the Don Valley on it's four day trip from the west coast.  I've caught it by pure luck as late as 26 hours after it's scheduled arrival time.

I'm not big on long waits at crossings and locations, I give maybe 15-20 minutes if I have time, less if my run is more critical than catching some video.  The Canadian is a frequent target since it's in my running territory and usually the only train rumbling through lower Bala on a Saturday morning.  Since I don't know when it might arrive, I generally stop at a level trail crossing and look for signs that a train may have passed through, usually a clean path along the top of the rails free of the mud and dirt left behind by cyclists and foot traffic.  The line signals help but only one is in a convenient spot, and it's for the south section so won't tell me if the north section is occupied by traffic.

Last Saturday I ran over to the valley and stopped at the bailey bridge crossing near Don Mills Road to check.  The signal south was full green, unusual as it's normally yellow since it's not far before it feeds into the Union Station corridor.  I decided to check the north signal which meant following some trail near the rails that offers a peak at one point.  The signal glowed red, indicating a closed line north.  Southbound train?  Maybe, or maintenance work or something else.  I ran a few hundred metres further to an open viewing point and prepped the camera just in case.

Within a minute came a heavy rumble form the north, and the sound of a ringing bell, definitely the Canadian.  Passenger services through here always ring the warning bell.  The Northlander when it would pass through had a quite loud and distinctive bell that could be heard well before it arrived.  Sure enough, seconds later the Canadian pops into view, and on this morning had a decidedly sprite pace, unusual along this winding and aged section of Bala.  6435 lead, 6446 second, 19 Budds.  The location granted a slightly lowered view and from the bright sunlit side.  With the camera held well overhead to clear the ROW fencing, I grabbed my minute of video, another successful catch VIA's train #2 from Vancouver to Toronto.

After packing up the camera and heading back along the trail I rechecked the north signal...still red.  I'm not sure how long the interval is before it switches status, or maybe there was something up line still holding it closed.  Hard to tell.  Maybe I just got lucky.

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