Tuesday, 22 October 2013

An emphasis on running

Being a runner I spend a lot of my time...running.  Running means training and if I expect to pop into the occasional race and not embarrass myself I need to get periods of solid miles in to meet the expectation.  With cooler weather and shorter days I get the chance to rise early and head out onto the darkened streets for morning runs.  The railfanning part has to take a bit of a hit since standing on bridges and at crossings isn't exactly developing my aerobic pathways.  Also the reno work I've been doing since spring leaves my weekends absorbed in stuffing studs with insulation, hanging dryall and running wires.

With this in mind I have a couple of months of dedicated training ahead of me that will encompass most of my extra time during the week.  Bedtime will be earlier so I can be up at 6ish and out the door.  Noon I get an extra 5 miles in from work as we have shower facilities and I take my gear with me each day.

Ideally I would be getting in 10-12 miles a day over two runs and longer stuff on the weekends.  That's not materializing and I've only managed those levels consistently for a few months a few years back.  However my brief foray into 70ish mile weeks granted me a 5 mile PR for race I'd done for many years.  Running is like building a fire from a forest you've grown.  The more time you put into building large, dense forest, the bigger the bonfire you can make when you fell those trees.  You spend a lot of time doing nothing but putting in as many miles as you can manage over periods of months at a time.  Then you switch gears, cut back the miles a bit and train hard, and bring that base to fruition.  This is hopefully my coming winter as I work to get as much time on my feet and see where it brings me come springtime.

How many trains can you catch in 30 minutes?

The nice thing about commuter traffic is that it's both predictable and constant.  Living close enough to the Lakeshore east line that I can listen to the engines throttle up from my back porch gives me a venue to catch a lot of commuter traffic.

Early mornings reflect a sequence of trains that have to cover a mix of long and short haul commuter traffic in a variety of services.  The nice thing about the mix of GO and VIA is the power options and the mix of express and local trains together on the same lines and makes for some interesting management.

Between 6:45 and 7:15 AM, you have 7 different trains in 6 distinct consists prioritizing themselves over the Kingston sub east of Union Station.  5 of those pass through in the first 15 minutes, often parallel to each other and can have as many as 3 consists over the stretch below Danforth Avenue at the same time.  On October 10th I decided I would capture all of this action into a single vid, which ended up being 5 minutes in length.

2 of the trains are on a single consist, being the VIA 50/52 trains that are tied together until Belleville, then split their respective ways to Montreal and Ottawa.  This is the first of the bunch that passes through and can often be in a drag race with a westbound GO express that departs roughly 1 minute later than the VIA depending on lateness of the VIA units.  With the GO units, the convention is to have express units use the same center track as VIA while the westbound GOs share the north track with local units.  Some track switches manage the overlap of westbound local and express trains.  All of this is within close tolerances as the units are often within short minutes of each other.

A couple of unique hits on this video.  One of the GO trains had dual MP40 units up front, an express EB train probably moving an extra power unit to Oshawa.  I also got a good throttle up for an F59PH leading WB with an MP40 pusher.  For the final sequence I managed to catch a head-to-head meet of the EB and WB units on the short bridge over Woodbine Avenue.  This was a good sequence of trains to catch in such a short period.

Monday, 26 August 2013

How to putty a window

Free time.  But is time really free?  Actually, yes it is, but it's also the precious item of all.  And this summer my free time, which is but isn't, has been spent doing some renovation work on an in-laws house.  Running and fanning has to play second fiddle for a while.  I still get most of my runs in but no time for any other casual activities.

But back to this reno thing.  Part of this is prepping the front of the propery for 'curb appeal'.  This is where people will look at it from the curb and get that good first impression.  It's important in this particular case and having a very windowy but aging front porch makes either a lot of work or a lot of expense.  Work, in this being time, is cheap, because it's free!  New windows aren't so cheap.  So my precious but free time this weekend was to tackle the task of tidying up these windows for curb appeal.  Well, not quite all of my free cheap time, but most of it.

This almost 80-year-old structure has original wooden single-pane windows surrounding the enclosed porch and time hasn't been kind.  We had a laborer do the work of cleaning off the paint and was also to remove the old glazing putty.  Problem is that putty after that period of time is in nasty bad shape and also hard as rock.  We tried lots of ways of getting it off but couldn't do it without breaking the glass, and it was clear that it would take a tremendous amount of time to do it if attempting to preserve the glass.  So we picked plan B, smashing every window and pulling out the old putty.  This proved more effective as well as faster and the windows were cleared of all the old debris in a couple of days.  Too bad they were also now cleared of all the old glass as well, leaving a well ventilated front porch.

We were lucky that our window supplier offered to cut the glass panels, admittedly he wasn't expecting to cut 34 individual panels.  So it took a bit longer than expected and we reimbursed accordingly.  On Friday I was able to pick up my new panes of glass, carefully transport them in the back of the Mazda 3 with generous layers of paper towel keeping the panels stable and safely together.  I managed to get them to the site each in one piece and double checked the sizing of each.  The windows held either 3 or 4 panels each, with some windows differently sized.  The cut has to be no more no less than 1/8 smaller than the openings so size is crucial.  Fortunately, they were all bang on in sizing and worth every penny paid.

The window frames had spent 3 weeks covered in plastic to keep out the elements and keep the frames dry while awaiting my new glass.  With 34 panels to install, I bought all of the packs of pushpins my local Home Depot had in stock and still ran out.  Plus a pint of interior/exterior primer for the openings, 3 tubs of DAP 33 glazing compound and a new 2 1/2 inch flexible putty knife.

Saturday was clean the frames, prime, and carefully pin the panels in place.  And I had a couple of hours left to practice my glazing technique.  I had already checked out some info on-line, watched vids, an so on.  It's a given that it will be harder than it looks so practice was imporant before I get to the real thing.

Sunday was glazing day.

Now, the DAP 33 is thick and doughy.  The instructions say to mix thoroughly before using, easier said than done.  You have to disregard the 'avoid contact with skin' notice on the label, grab a handful and knead it up like a small ball of pizza dough.  After you play with it a bit, it softens up and is more workable and sticky.  Your hands and your knife handle will be covered in this stuff before you're done anyway.

At first, this seemed impossible as the putty just wouldn't apply properly, it would fall off, curl and tear, and so forth.  The couple of hours of practice were important, and trying different techniques, since I have a whole batch of these to do.

A few things become clear.  First, patience is critical.  Second, softening up the putty helps.  I rolled it in my hands like making snakes out of modelling clay and pushed it along the edges with my fingers a little at a time at roughly twice the volume I would need, doing the whole panel at once.  Third, clean the area below, it's not horribly expensive stuff but you don't want to waste it.  So get rid of all the dirt and debris below to reclaim what falls.  Fourth, putty knives are specially made for this.  They are thin, flexible, and have rounded dull edges,  Since you are gliding this thing right against the glass you don't want sharp corners scoring your panels, that's not good for appearance nor longevity.  Don't use anything else thinking it will work just as well, it won't so invest a few dollars in a proper knife, mine cost $7.

Now, when you pull the knife along the edge, this is where technique really comes into play and it takes practice to get it right.  These windows are old, they don't have perfectly straight square edges, there's little nicks and groves and dips in the wood.  The knife has to follow this edge so those grooves reflect back onto that nice flat straight bevel you are trying to make.  Here's where the flexibility of the knife comes in.  When you draw the knife, press into the middle of the blade to force the end flat along the bevel.  This does two important things.  Those nicks and cuts in the wood have less effect on the layer of putty because the flat blade glides over with less variance, which makes the putty nice and flat with just slight waving on the surface.  Also, if only the end of the blade is against the surface, the putty tends to curl and tear.  This is because it is under pressure at the end of the blade and releases once it's free, causing the above problem and leaving a messy line.  With more of the blade surface against the putty, it isn't under pressure when it finally gets to the end of the blade, and stays perfectly smooth and flat.

After a while it was easy to get a long clean bevel in one smooth draw.  You also have to learn to play with how the blade is oriented along its length.  Keeping it straight in line with the edge gets a good full volume of putty into the grooves but can tend to gather a lot of excess on longer lines.  Too much excess, the putty pulls away from the edge, while too little doesn't fill the edge properly. Slightly turning the handle away helped clear the excess when necessary.  You learn to play with the orientation a bit to get the best result depending on how long the edge is and how much excess putty is forming.

The corners provide their own challenges.  To start a corner, I set the end of the blade to form the exact angle and bevel I wanted, then turn the blade on it's corner point until it was straight along the edge, as I note above, and then start the draw.  When I reached the far corner I'd set that angle using the side of the knife instead of the leading edge, drawing the knife out and away from the window.  Then clear the knife of excess and repeat on the next edge.

Finally, when done you carefully remove the excess materal from the glass and the frame.  This takes a steady hand because it's a free handed action.  Move slowly placing the knife edge near the material and gathering it up...more patience.

The smaller panels were about 13 inches by 5 inches, and I had 25 of them.  I got to the point I could glaze and clean one in 5 minutes, down from 10-12 minutes when I started, and a lot neater by far.  The 9 bigger panels at 27 x 15 took about 30 minutes each when I started to about 15 minutes at the end.

You will end up with a lot of smeary putty medium on the glass, especially near the edges.  Leave it for a few days until the putty sets up,  The edges will still be soft even then so take care in cleaning the glass.  Painting it first might be best as the paint will offer some protection for the putty.

If you mess up, you can just start again.  I had plenty of mishaps and had to refill the edge with putty and try again.  As I went along it got progressively easier and better in the end result.  Just keep the key items in mind: soft warm hand-worked putty, press the knife down flat from the middle, and watch the excess material to clear it effectively.

And be patient, time is free, sort of.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Recording under a bridge

Yesterday morning I ran over to the Danforth GO station to catch the morning commuter runs.  On weekdays it's a mix of services, VIA, GO regular service, GO express runs.  The regular services stop at each/most of the stations and the express units sail right on through.

The bridge grants a nice straight view along the westward tracks and you get a head-on type of shot of the oncoming eastbound units.  I usually shoot from Main Street on the bridge over the station but thought I'd shoot at track level for this one.

VIA 50 / 52 is a connected pair of trains that head to Montreal and Ottawa.  They depart together from Toronto and then separate in Belleville.  It makes a few stops along the way but not at this station so it has time to pick up speed before blowing through on it's way toward it's first stop at Guildwood station.

On this morning 50 / 52 was a few minutes late.  Waiting on a bench I caught sight of it's lights far down the track and positioned myself against a post, using it to help steady the camera.  The train was on the center track of three and my view is straight down the middle, it's a quite warm morning and the heat is eminating from the surfaces as it approaches.  Since I'm staying focused on the viewfinder and pointed westward, and it's noisy, I'm unaware of a GO express from Oshawa bearing down from the east on the track immediately to my left.

Trains, being rather large, displace a fair amount of air.  One train moving in open air pushes it out and up and draws some along with it as it goes.  Two trains in opposite directions and both moving quickly gives some additional dynamics to the whole process.  Have it occur under a bridge adds jan extra element.  Thus as I'm anchored to this post, VIA zips by on center track and at the same moment the express GO blows past me from behind.  A brief but violent swirl of air throws the viewfinder of the camera shut, immediately terminating my recording.  I quickly reopen the panel and feverishly hit 'record' until it started up again.  It would have been a good clip had it all been a single shot.  Unfortunately I ended up with two scenes and had to blend them together in editing, making the GO passing seem oddly brief.

Anyway, here's the outcome.  All part of the fun.

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.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A collection of recent weeks

A lot of my time is taken up working on some renovations so running and certainly hanging around crossings have been curtailed for the time being.  I have managed a few outings, mostly early on weekday mornings.

A couple of weekends ago I got a lucky break a caught an early arriving VIA Canadian train #2 trundling down the Bala on it's way into Union Station.  I've hung out at this trail crossing a few times but with limited success.  There's not much warning for approaching rail traffic and the noise of the nearby DVP tends to drown out the growls of throttled-down engines.  Occasionally they wail a horn for someone near the lines where they shouldn't be and that offers some advanced warning.  On this day I had to scramble to get the camera ready as I had just arrived.  Some sprinkling rain kept me from prepping the camera settings as I usually would have done.  A sudden rumble north of the crossing and a gleem of lights off the rails told me it was the Canadian approaching the turn and I wasn't one the side of the tracks I wanted but had to make do with the location to avoid crossing during the warning lights.

Later that week I got up and out bright and early a couple of mornings and put together this sequence of VIA train 52/50 to Montreal and Ottawa followed by regular GO service into Danforth Station off Main Street.  The VIA and GO units have similar departure times and often end up side by side on this stretch.  No luck catching them that close on that morning but I am hopeful that I can get some footage of that very situation one day.

On Friday before the long weekend I took some time on my return home from work to catch a scheduled GO Stouffville service heading north.  The GO trains have a lot of level crossings to deal with on the Uxbridge sub and make generous use of their horns to let traffic know of their approach to these busy roadways.  I used my older Sony SD camera which lacks the better image stablization of the CX-250 and shows a bit of wobble, especially when the engineer laid on the horn when exactly next to me.

I also moseyed down McCowan towards the western end of the CP Toronto yards in Scarborough as I've not gone around that area before and it was on the way.  Locations are inconvenient but I did catch a pair of GP9Us doing switching duty and shot a bit of footage from a lower level, but not very good positioning at all.  I'll need to find more time to scout out a better location sometime.  I can't really run out to that area, a further than my current long runs encompass.

And finally I tried some footage off the biking trails in E T Seton park near the high CP rail bridge that crosses over the Don.  This location is outside the end of the fence of the Tremco plant near Thorncliffe Park/Leaside and sits high above the valley below and level with the rail crossing for a different angle than most people will see.  In late fall to spring it's pretty barren up there and the view is much better, but the summer has lots of foliage in the way.  I didn't stay very long but managed to catch a pair of eastbounds with likely empty returns heading for the yards in Scarborough.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Trains in the news, for all the wrong reasons

This week has been a particularly downer week for rail related news.

It started just over a week ago with a pair of commuter trains colliding in Connecticut, then on the 25th with a collision of two trains in Missouri, then today we have a derailment in Baltimore that resulted in explosions, fire and evacuation and more locally a delay in commuter service for a trespasser strike by a GO train near East Gwillimbury

early this morning.  I'm surprised at how casual people consider railway tracks to be.  I see them all the time crossing them, walking across bridges, walking along the tracks often in enclosed areas.  When I'm out shooting images or vids of trains, sometimes I'm near some high speed areas.  It doesn't take much time for a train doing 70 or so miles an hour to come up on you, especially if it's near a bend in the track as the sound doesn't always make the turn very well.  I'm often caught flat footed trying to get my camera turned on when I finally realize a train is rounding the curve and very often I'll miss the shot, it's often just a matter of seconds.  Even lower speed trains are deceptively fast, and often much quieter if they are powering down.  An approaching GO train at the non-powered is already pretty quiet with the engine 10 cars away, and when powering down it's almost impossible to hear until it's right there.  One hopes the operator is aware enough to blast the horn.

Speaking of the operators and engineers, I can't image being in that position where you see someone on the tracks ahead, you blast the emergency horn and thrown on the brakes but there's no way to stop in time and you have to be there witnessing this from the front row.  It has to be the most stressful aspect of rail work there can be.  It's no wonder the rail security and police are unforgiving when it comes to dealing with tresspassers and barrier crossers.

My main rule for shooting images and vids is to make sure they're taken from legal and safe positions and stress whenever I can that it's a big no-no to venture onto the tracks or poke around inside right-of-ways.

Take this guy for instance:

This is on a busy right-of-way, closed off all around by high ROW fencing, and yet there he is strolling along.  I'm surprised nothing came around the bend at that time and I'd be really curious about how the operator would handle this one, particularly since this is a freight line with large, heavy and hard to stop trains.  Hopefully it would have a non-tragic ending but you can be sure that many of the strikes are exactly like this, someone tresspassing on rail property and right-on-the-tracks at that.

What's more surprising, I see adults taking their kids over bridges and inside fencing onto tracks and I keep thinking they should know better than that.

Railways are risky places.

Monday, 13 May 2013


A brief trip to Ottawa gave me a small bit of time to scout around the local trackage and see what was happening.  Our hotel was a couple of kliks aways from the main VIA Rail station near Vanier Parkway of Tremblant Road.  I had been down that area last year scoping out viewing locations.  A local trail near the transit road offers good sitelines and for westbound traffic out of the station.

I timed it on Sunday morning to catch train #643 on exit.  I had little time for neither running nor fanning so I had to keep my wait period down to a minimum.  I arrived about 5 minutes before departure and had enough time to pick an angle and focus points.  The trail pathway is however on the northerly side of the tracks which means you don't get a direct sunlit view on departure.  Trains will get full sun once they round the bend and turn southward so the morning sun catches them full side, as seen in the Youtube thumbprint.

For this morning, 643 was lead by F40PH unit #6455.  I believe the parked unit on the right is #6415 but hard to tell in the shot hear, the original 1080 vid reveals the numbers a bit better but I'm still not positive if it's 6415 or not.

The departure is quite slow.  The train doesn't start to throttle up until it rounds the bend so it's a fairly quiet pass.  Next time I'm in the area I'll venture down line a bit, there are some level crossings further south that should offer good views and units at higher power output. 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Bright mornings, fast trains and some poking around

I haven't had much time to be out taking images of trains lately.  There is a bridge under repair that connects my local area of Taylor Creek with Sunnybrook and it's throughly fenced in until the workers have completed their tasks.  If you're familiar with the area, it's the bailey bridge that crosses the CN Bala tracks near Don Mills Road.  The area has been undergoing renovations to replace the aging footbridge under Don Mills.  That work is completed and now they are doing the decking on the bailey bridge.  Before the bridge closure you could still navigate across Don Mills but a deckless bridge isn't very useful.  Most people are just going around the fencing and cross the tracks but I have this inate refusal to tresspass on the Metrolinx right of way so I'm staying away from the area until the work is done.

Bala below Doncaster sees not a lot of CN action these days.  VIA's Canadian #2 still uses it and Richmond Hill GO service on weekdays, but I haven't seen freight action there in months.  CP's Belleville and North Toronto subs are my freight train sources these days.  The bridge work at Don Mills makes this less accessible for the time being.  I can still get around through the area near Cottonwood Flats if I have time for longer runs.  The level CP crossing at Wicksteed needs only 25 minutes for me to get there with the bridge open, but over an hour with the bridge out.  Summerhill is more accessible right now and Summerhill has better viewing, albeit not at track level.  I did try a few longer shots of the Leaside yard area from Cottonwood Flats but there are just too many trees in the way.

The reliable Kingston sub is always nearby.  6:30AM and on that is one busy line.  Mutliple GO trains an hour, plenty of VIA trains coming in and going out.  Being wakey wakey with the ever earlier sun shining in through the window and the window opened a crack for air, the Lakeshore line gets mighty noisy.  This morning I headed down Woodbine Avenue to the crossing north of Gerard Street just in time to catch VIA combo 50/52 heading to Ottawa and Montreal with it's unique two train tandem.

Blink and you'll miss it:

They don't have the high-speed train warning signs posted everywhere on that line for nothing.

While scoping out some other locations on the streets nearby I'm glad I had the camera rolling here for this GO eastbound unit:

Not the best location, it was over a fence at the base of Westlake Avenue just south of the Danforth, but it was a unique catch.  This double-ender had two of GOs refurbished F59PH units, #564 up front and #563 tacked onto the rear.  These 59s have to double up to meet the performance demands of 10 car passenger service as they lack the oomph of the MP40PH 4000HP powerhouses on most of GOs trains.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Marathon

I have run the Boston Marathon.  I unexpectedly qualified by running 3:27:30 at the Mississauga Marathon one fine spring day.  The next April, my family and I drove down to beantown and stayed in a hotel in Brookline right on the marathon route and about 2 miles away from the finish line on Boylston.

We had perfect marathon weather that Patriot's Day, with cloudy skies, temperatures in mid 50's, light west breeze, it couldn't have been better running conditions and far removed from the blistering temperatures that prevailed that day a year earlier.

When are are one of the runners in Boston on marathon day, you are treated like royalty.  People high five you, they nod as you pass, despite the thousands that will toe the line that day they find it amazing that you are there to run it.  The day before, during and after, if you are a Boston Marathon runner it really is all about you, or so they make you feel.

The crowds persist over the entire 26.2 mile route.  They never seem thinner than 3 rows deep anywhere.  The screaming wall of women at Wellesley College can be heard a mile out and is the perfert mid-race pick-me-up.  You do have to reign it in a tad to make sure you don't overcook at, since the college sits nearly right on the 13.1 mile marker.

You battle the hills in Newton and your quads seem cooked by 20 miles.  I could only discern the infamous Heartbreak Hill by the signs in the area, as the whole region at this point seems like you're either climbing up or scampering down.  As you make your way into Boston proper, you see the Citco sign looming into view, the crowds thicken and it gets impossibly louder.  If the marathoners are tireless in their pursuit of the finish line, the crowds that scream every number and every name along the way must be twice so, because they start when the first wheelchair athlete passes by and don't stop until the last straggler has is through.

This year, somebody, or some group, decided to take advantage of the openess of the venue, and attack the spectators, the runners, the volunteers, the passers-by, the curious, the media, children, adults, unselective, unforgiving, inhuman.  The projectiles that were blasted out of some hidden devices arbitrarily tore through one victim and another, and another, with deadly force, set with utter disregard for the who, all within an instant and without warning.

I don't even understand what this was an attack on.  An 8 year old boy?  29 year old woman?  Athletes from around the world?  Just, people?

Runners will run.  People will watch and cheer.  This won't change.  I haven't run a marathon since 2006 Boston.  Maybe that part will change.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Winter blahs - in spring

It's starting to brighten up out there.  However, I will have to have a talk with those gophers that predicted an early spring because it's been anything but for the last several weeks.

I managed to turn an ankle while running frozen trail a couple of weeks ago on some ruts and sidelined myself for a week.  I could have run as it doesn't really affect straightline running but I wanted to play it safe, and the less than desireable weather meant I didn't feel too bad about sitting around for a few days.

The trail system is peppered with signs informing users to stay off the trails in muddy conditions as this damages the slopes and really messes up the surface.  I've been running them all winter and conditions have been good but it looks like plenty of people ignored the signs when the temps crawled over freezing and the trail was heavily rutted from walkers and a small handful of cyclists.  After it froze over, which is when I ran it, it's like cobblestones turned on their edge and I managed to misjudge on a downhill, rolled my ankle and hobbled home.  The swelling a couple of days later let me know it needed some rest.

Nonetheless, back at it this weekend and inspected the trails on Sunday.  They seemed fine until I got to some messy muddy sections near Bayview Avenue and had to run off-trail.  While high in the section near Bayview I heard a consist trundling it's way southbound on Bala near the trial crossing at the 5 mile mark.  I had my camcorder with me and was a bit out of position for a clear shot which left me finding a reasonable opening through the trees.  Much to my surprise, being a Sunday, it was VIA train #2, the Canadian, running more than a day late after being held up by snowstorms in Saskachewan.

Related news article:


Quite the catch as there isn't much activity on south Bala outside of the Canadian and the weekday GO commutes.  I used to see a lot more freight action along this line.  For freight action these days I hang out around the level CP crossing at Wicksteed when time allows:

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Some notes on the new camcorder - Sony HDR-CX250

Having now played around a bit with the new camcorder (Sony CX250B) I thought I'd write some notes on its use and performance in case anyone is considering purchasing one or its current incarnation.  It previously looked like Sony was reducing options in this segment, but I returned to the .ca website today and see the range is similar although the 250 and 260 versions are no longer offered (the 260 versions shows available on the US website).

The CX250 I have is the same as the more common CX260 versions but without internal memory.  Same G lens, imager, processor, interfaces and so on.  While I'm plenty happy enough with it, the G lens has some obvious chromatic aberration which is particularly pronounced at long zooms.  The winter has made this much more apparent with strong contrasts between bright white snow and just about anything dark in the frame.  It becomes even more apparent when you have dark tree branches against a white cloud background.

The low light performance is pretty good and you can get a lot of detail that's hard to see even with dark adapted eyes.  I'm quite surprised at how good it is especially compared to my older SX63 standard def.  With low lux on (sensor backlighting) you can see stars in the sky and subtle shadings albeit with some definite graininess, but the images are quite usable.  I'm hoping to do some night shooting on some busy lines when it warms up outside and compare it to a couple I did with the older 63.

The optical Steadyshot is much better than the electronic version of the 63.  You can zoom in near max and still get a usable image, although you'll never completely eliminate the shake without a tripod.  Normal wider shots appear rock steady.  The optical Steadyshot also avoids the tendency to chase a moving image.  With the 63 I had to kill Steadyshot when close shooting a train.  If I didn't you could see the background and side areas shift as the camera tried to lock onto the foreground object, which in this case was a moving train and it renders the video unwatchable without feeling seasick.  The optical version doesn't do this since it works to reduce physical lens motion.  I've been keeping it in optical mode only.

Colours are much better.  The 63 always seemed washed out while the 250 is much closer to what you see.  It's not up there though with some of the higher end non-pro models.  To be fair, I've had mainly dull grey conditions to shoot in, with brighter sunnier summer weather it might show better.  The interference with the chromatic aberration cuts into some of the colour accuracy as well since it tints darker areas slightly towards the purple side even when it's not otherwise noticeable.

Autofocus works better than the 63.  I think the higher definition has a lot to do with this.  Manual focus, as with a lot of these models, is wretched.  Much better is spot focus by zooming in preshot and getting it sharp at the critical point, then zooming back.  I prefer to disable auto focus when I can to prevent focus motor noise in quiet settings.  Mind you, passing trains aren't known for quietness so it hasn't been an issue.  It also helps to not have the autofocus jump away at an awkward point.

The white balance is basically indoor, outdoor or auto, with auto just switching between the two.  I leave it on auto and so far so good.  Manually selecting means I might blow it when outside as the screen is hard to see and detect in bright outdoor light.  I have one vid I did (Richmond Hill New Year's Eve GO Train) that would have been great except it was outdoors with incandescent white balance on and everything looked purple.

One peculiarity, I have had to stop/start it a couple of times when it indicated a failure to detect media.  Some searching says this can happen if the camera is jostled a bit (shocked) and simply needs resetting.  It hasn't happened in a while now so maybe I'm just being more careful in transit.  I use a soft case when I run with it held in one hand to keep it from being banged about.  I've also noticed the memory card picks up some scoring on the terminals, which I didn't seem to see happen on the 63, perhaps the connectors are a lot tighter in this model.  Nonetheless, I've decided to use the USB dongle to transfer content instead of removing and reinserting the card.

Battery life is better than in the 63 even though it's the same capacity battery.  A virtue of more efficient circuitry.  I think I could get a good hour and a half or more out of a charge and I've only had to recharge once every couple of weeks despite now having 3 batteries on hand.  HDMI connector works great, I could use a longer cable though, this one is a bit short and stiff when connecting up to the TV.

That G lens tho, it's a shame about the chroma issue because it's otherwise quite sharp and zooms well.  The Zeiss lens on the 63 also had chroma issues so it seems a trait to all of the lower end Sony camcorder lenses.  I have no experience with the higher ends or the SLR lenses to compare.  If I keep the zoom to a reasonable level it's pretty decent.  A lot of the higher end cameras keep the zoom range down anyway to more modest 10x or 12x instead of 33x or 55x.  A sort of a paradox that lower end cameras have longer zooms, I guess because that's what sells.  Nice to have if you want it but I need to discipline myself to avoid the long zoom in the interests of quality.

Audio was really good in the 63, with Dolby digital stereo.  Same on this one and it is selectable in two steps of sensitivity.  You get a good rumble on the low end and the stereo has great separation.  It also has a jack if I want to upgrade but I don't see too much of a reason beyond reducing some of the clicking and clacking as I work the controls and maybe get more low-end thump from a better external.

Bottom line, it works pretty well.  I've been recording in 1080 60i (instead of the max 1080 60p) at max quality.  I haven't seen any diff between 60i and 60p and 60i saves a lot of disk space.  I use windows movie maker to reduce the vids down for upload to youtube in 720 30P to preserve bandwidth since we're on Rogers and they cap limits to 80 gigs before adding a hefty per-gig-surcharge, and that's between 4 of us in the house sharing it.

This will do for a while.  I might start pining for a Panasonic 720 or higher down the road.  We'll see how it images in bright summer weather with high overhead sun.  I did some test vids yesterday in bright morning sunshine and they looked quite smashing without noticable chroma, but that was all wide angle.

I think about how it compares to cameras from the past, big clunky things that sat on your shoulder with crappy resolution, tape media and iffy colour.  These cameras are tiny, much less expensive and blows all of those old units away.

My channel is here if you wish to peruse some of the content.  All of the HD entries are shot on the 250 while the SD entries use the 63.


Thursday, 21 February 2013

101 tankers

Without aid of a scanner, railfanning becomes part luck and part experience.  Over time you get some idea of when certain trains tend to pass and plan accordingly but most of the time it's just winging it and depending on lady luck.

After a few trips to the Summerhill pedestrian bridge crossing CP's North Toronto Subdivision I figured out that a mixed westbound consist, likely originating from the Markham yards, passes under the bridge at about 11:25 on Sunday mornings.  It means a crossing of the high trestle bridges in the Don Valley a few minutes earlier.

An outing two weeks ago had bad timing as I was late making my way through the snow into the valley and caught only the last car and EOT device disappearing over the bridge.  After hanging around a bit I headed up the valley walls only to hear another westbound unit crossing the trestle bridge.  Out of position to vid I got back in time to see a lengthy crude consist which I had not seen while hanging out in Summerhill.

Last Sunday, February 17, with sunny skies and fresh fluffy white stuff down it was back to the trestle bridge and try for the mixed consist.  Sticky snow on ice is pretty good to run on but light cold snow over ice is tough slippery going.  I got to the bridge just a shade to late to catch the power units on a surprise eastbound mixed slowly crossing on the north track.  Within a couple of minutes, with the e/b in motion, a trio of engines appeared westbound on the south track in bright sun and towing two boxcars and 404 axles worth of crude tankers.  Likely headed stateside (train CP 605 perhaps?) with two CP SDs and a DME SD sandwiched between.

This is shortened to save bandwidth but it's 3 locos, 2 boxes and 101 crude tankers. The lead is SD60 CP 6245 followed by SD40-3 DME 6068 and SD40-2 CP 5941.

Edit: It was train 609 as caught in this vid by SD402F:


Monday, 11 February 2013

VIA Canadian doesn't quite fit - Google maps

Check this out, it's a location link in Google maps.  Zoom a notch and pan after you open it.


This is Union Station in Toronto.  The train that juts out the east and west ends of the platform appears to be the VIA Canadian, the giveaway being the observation dome on the tapered end car on the east (right) side.  A pair of engines, the first car and part of the second car protrude the west side while the trailing 3 cars and part of the 4th protrude the east side.  Obviously too long for the platform, I guess to board and de-board, either shunt the cars to position in stages or everyone passes through to the platform adjacent cars.

I'd never noticed it before in the maps.  Neat.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Snowy morning at Danforth GO station

Having been sidelined with a cold for the last while, rail vids had to take a back seat.  Oh, I've done plenty of running.  I just can't be standing around in the cold waiting for something to show up.  The closest I've gotten is a couple of visits to the pedestrian bridge over the CP tracks at Summerhill to see if I could get a lucky strike.  The one time I was there and had a chance, I managed to double pump the rec button on the Sony and came up blank as a beauty of a mixed CP consist trundled by.

So with this biggest storm of the last 4 1/2 years upon us, I thought a quick jaunt over the Main Avenue timed for a couple of scheduled passes would be in order and chance to get some footage in nasty conditions.  It's not far away, less than 15 minutes.  I had my trail shoes outfitted with hex screws for traction and my full winter wear on.  Camera in a carry bag, in a plastic bag and all wrapped up nice and tight.

Made it with a minute to spare as the eastbound VIA tandem of 52 and 50 headed for Montreal/Ottawa came peeking through the blizzard like conditions at speed.  6442 was in lead for Montreal bound #52 up front but the unit leading #50 in tow lacked number lighting and I didn't catch what was on the side as it passed.

An Oshawa bound GO train would be next.  It would normally arrive just before the VIA but I'm guessing was a bit late on it's Union Station arrival and took a few more minutes to reach Main Ave.  In the meantime I taped a TTC streetcar climbing the hill on Main on it's way to the station.  No slipping here, the tracks were clear from plenty of traffic.  I think the vehicles with tires fared a bit worse in the city today.  This is tacked onto the end of the clip.  After that, the GO unit finally arrived.  Autofocus took a bit to kick in with the snow flying about, and again I couldn't catch the lead unit number in the poor lighting.

Sunshine promised for tomorrow.  Down into the valley for me, camera in hand, and see what I can come up with.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A warm midwinter weekend

Too nice to hang about this weekend.  It's not often we get temps in the teens in January. Getting them for a full weekend makes you wonder what you did to deserve it.  Shorts on, a couple of t shirts and out the door to catch some Kingston sub action.

Saturday was dropping by nearby Danforth GO station, enjoying the sunshine and catch what I could.  I headed out to try and catch VIA 60 as it passed through Danforth and got there just in time to miss it.  I did get a few seconds of it's rear end disappearing to the east.  Some bits of a couple of scheduled GO units had to suffice.

I did grab a couple more segments at a section on Eastwood Avenue thats pretty close to to rails but hard to get good position.  The southern track is so close to the ROW fencing that eastbound units seem like they're going to roll right over you.  The houses nearby must have their dishes glued down just in case.

I returned to Danforth a little after noon to see what else may come by.  I noticed the signals on the north and centre tracks switched from yellow to red while standing on the bridge.  The north track would be the scheduled westbound GO.  The centre track would be VIA, but I wasn't sure which one.  Later checking it was VIA 643 Kingston/Toronto.  The GO had already passed, the VIA came by 10 minutes later.

On Sunday I headed out to an area just off St. Clair Avenue E and Midland Avenue, a little N/E of Scarborough GO station and see if it offered a decent viewing location.  It rained all night but by morning had moved off to the east leaving just a hazy day behind so no problems taking the new Sony along.

I scoped some sections along a street adjacent to the tracks called National Street.  The hillside leaves the ROW fencing well below the viewing angle, although a bit steep and hard to get a good footing.  Also, lots of trees planted to offer some separation from the tracks for the nearby new housing development making some spots more obscured than others.  At the north end of the street the view of Kingston sub to the north east is nice and unubstructed although the property beyond the roadway is CN owned.  No need to step into the field though, the view simply standing at the end of the street is as good as it gets.

First came VIA train #60 out of the southwest.  The heavy haze carried the unmistakable roar of a locomotive from well down the tracks.  The haze also gave it neat effect of the lights piercing through as the train powered it's way through Scarborough GO station and along the long straightaway until it bends to Brimley.  Lead loco was P42DC VIA 919.  I shot it from the embankment in a slightly flattened area with decent footing an no tree or fencing in the way of the shot.

Next up, I headed to the north end of the street to catch an eastbound GO unit reversing it's way toward Union Station, nothing particularly interesting and I failed to have the Sony on as it appeared around the corner so we'll leave that vid in the archives.

For the last I waited for the eastbound GO which would be a few minutes after the w/bound unit.  Staying in position at the north end of National, I picked up the lead loco as it passes on the southern track and appearing through the trees of the embankment.  As it passed and I switched to the N/E view I noticed the lead loco was not alone, with an older EMD slotted in second place.  The second unit was 558, an F59PH.  A quick lookup in google and youtube shows a few other hits for this locomotive for the past couple of years.  Not sure if it has been in continuous service or temporarily retired but it was a surprising catch nonetheless!

Trails were too messy to run this weekend with the snow melt and the rain.  Kingston sub is never far away for a street run, always manages to deliver and even the occasional surprise can be had.