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Railfan Trip Reports > Quebec City Whirlwind Trip

Date: 02/25/07 10:08
Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

With a few days off and sparkling white snow abound, Isaac Greenlaw and myself embarked on a northern adventure that would take us to the reaches of Quebec City and the vicinity thereof. After working a 7p-7a shift on Wednesday night, Isaac arrived at my humble abode to pluck me from a potentially lonely weekend – wife and two children had gone back to visit family in Pennsylvania.

Departing St. Albans, ME, we set our course to Rt. 201 north and the Jackman passage into Quebec. During our 1.5 hour drive towards the border we discussed various aspects of what would make the trip ideal in terms of motive power and trains. We had hoped for a train on the Cap Rouge trestle, maybe a shot of the two New Brunswick Southern GP38-3s heading east, one export SD70M, night shots of the Ocean and some VIA at Drummondville, any of the 8000-series SD70M-2s and/or GEVOs and plenty of Ultramar action! After passing through Jackman it struck us – were we even going to be getting into Canada on this trip? Here we are two bald-headed males in their 30s, carrying thousands of dollars in camera equipment and possessing lots of maps of various forms, which included highlighted locations for trestles, bridges and other previously explored fabulous shots. Yup, we saw it coming – the cavity search and denial of admission to Quebec…

Arrival at the border takes us third in line to the Canadian agent. We rehearse our story for railroad photography in Quebec and solidify it by the time we arrive at the window. The young man asks for our ID and begins his questioning. What are you doing in Canada? Have you ever been across the border before and when? Etc. So after just minutes of the Q/A session, he tells us we’re all set and we head north for skies that are clear blue to forty-two.

Having a mutual friend in Ron Pelletier, Isaac and I had preplanned on calling to try and gather some info on the potential action. Lucky for us, the CN conductors had returned to work on Wednesday night and we were met by a flurry of French-ly spoken radio traffic. Ron – HELP! We headed to Joffre Yard for a quick inspection of anything potential for westbound departure on the Drummondville Sub. During our swing by there, we looked up VIA Rail schedules and found we had train 25 in the picture, so down the Drummondville we went – first stop Trudel. We promptly landed the M310 train heading for Joffre, just before the class P42-9DC – VIA Rail 900 – came west with the Quebec Corridor train 25. (Photo #1)

We headed back into Charny and conversed a bit more with Quebec Railfan Information Central – aka Ron Pelletier. We determined that train M401 was readying for departure, so after landing a few shots of the GP9u/slug sets working the class yard at Joffre, we headed out to West Junction to catch the 401. Once there, the 401 was held for the arriving VIA Rail 24 train. (Photo #2)

While landing some shots of the 401, the cell rattles off the interesting Latin dance tune that someone in my family so graciously programmed for me. Ron says that there will be a 427 going to Garneau – holy you-know-what batman – the Cap Rouge trestle shot is materializing! The 427 begins working out of Joffre so we beat feet for Cap Rouge to set up our desired shot and cross off one of our first desires for the trip, just two hours into it! Alas, the 427 eases onto the trestle with the roaming railfans caught still trying to settle in on a photo location. Doesn’t matter though, these two out-of-shape fans are up to the task as a pair of SD50Fs bracketing a C44-9W become clearly visible – shwing! Isaac (driving his new KIA Sorrento) commandeers a local driveway and we spring opposite directions to take position for ‘the trestle shot’ we had hoped for – maybe not exactly as planned, but some 7’ snow drifts were impeding our progress where we had originally planned. (Photo #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:17
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

After finally catching our breath from the mad dashes we made through the town of Cap Rouge, we hopped back in the car and headed back to Ste-Foy, where we had heard a local working. We arrived there to find a single C44-9W switching a cut of lumber cars. While facing east with a westerly sun, we hadn’t come nearly 4 hours to stop shooting now. A nice broom and high switch stand lent itself to our photographic needs and set up some artsy-fartsy shots that we were pretty happy with in the end. (Photo #1)

With the sun setting over the Fleuve Saint-Laurent, we headed back to Highway 20 for the trip down to Drummondville. Along the way we gave up a very late (only by two days or so) Q148 train, but we had our sights set on some VIA Rail night shots at the Drummondville Station. We arrived in Drummondville – and in case you wondering we hadn’t eaten yet – and were greeted with an approach signal. I saw a neat shot developing with a timed exposure and set it up to capture the moving crossing gates and then the train rolling through the crossing. Turned out kind of cool as you’ll see. Right after VIA’s passage a headlight illuminated and surprised us from the east end of the siding. We quickly moved into position to land that and voila – our first Ultramar train arrived. I captured some ghostly images of the U786 train and we readied for the next VI Corridor train – which was to be followed by the Ocean. All of those night images are presented for your perusal. (Photo #2 and #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:22
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

More of the night shots...

Following our flurry of night shots and an interesting conversation with one of the Drummondville locals, we headed for Pizza Delight and a nice pie. We fed the bellies and headed to check in at a nearby motel, where our laid out maps and equipment made it look like a war room for some major attack. We were anticipatory of catching a late Ocean train in the morning; however we had to navigate miles of back roads to find a location suitable for a morning westbound. With a plan formulated we were off to la-la-land and visions of grand CN trains…

Friday – O-dark-thirty
Holy mackerel that alarm was loud – and didn’t we just go to bed an hour ago? OK, I know we needed to head out early to get the Ocean, but it isn’t even light yet. We get in the car and I convince Isaac that it is in his best interest to stop for me to get a very grande cup of coffee. Following my caffeine intake, the car makes for Sainte-Perpetue-Station and a nice open field. After settling in behind a grain elevator that looks to be able to handle about one car at a time, we hear a westbound train calling signals. Is this the Ocean – then we realize that this will likely be a freight from what we are able to interpret on the radio. The M-series train materializes and creates quite the wash of snow in its passage. We hear an exchange between this train and another to our west, so we hold down the location for a looksee to decide on what our next course of action may be. As the train rolls towards us, Isaac sets up his spot and I mine, and we batten down expecting another dumping of snow from this fast-moving eastbound. I land a side view of the M308s lead motor passing a farm with the sun not exactly ideal for eastbounds here (remember we were setting up for the VIA Ocean). As I look up from my viewfinder I realize that the two New Brunswick Southern GP38-3s are tucked away behind a trio of CN power (which by the way made them look ackwardly small). Isaac and I began celebrating our next line item on our list and realize that there are two EJ Carajas SD70Ms near the headend of the train – you know, those export locos we had hoped to see! OK – under normal circumstances we may have waited a bit longer for the very late-running VIA, however this train had two of our list items and we knew he’d have to meet some other VIA trains, so off to the races. Actually Isaac wasn’t speeding – much – to get to Villeroy. We heard the M308 meeting traffic along the way and it arrived just 20 minutes after we did at Villeroy. Nice location and sweet shot of this mixed merchandise train with some real foreign power.

We’re not done with this one yet, we decide that since we hear traffic and know another VIA is due, we’ll be able to get it at Laurier Siding and then shoot for the Riviere Chaudiere bridge crossing in Charny. As we are passing north of the Laurier exit, the Pelletier Command Center (referred to as PCC after this and not to be confused with streetcars, eh?) phones in that the M308 has broken down on the single track west of Laurier and VIA would go in the hole to wait on a possible meet. Isaac grabs the first exit we find and begins navigating the frontage roads we are both fairly familiar with…or so ‘I’ thought. We land a few shots of the VIA train and hop back in the car with the west end of the Laurier Siding our next potential goal.

Date: 02/25/07 10:27
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

Rounding the first curve away from the tracks on the access road – that sees very little traffic – Isaac decided that he couldn’t be outdone by the CN and their out of service train, so he catches a bit of ice…spins us once, simultaneously reciting “we’re done, we’re done”, and then promptly lands us in a ditch. Now you ask if we had the four wheel drive locked – well no – wouldn’t have helped in this situation. So we now know that the M308 is broken down and so too are we. We get out and examine the car, which is sitting precariously at about 30-degrees in a very deep snow-filled ditch. I ask Isaac if he can use four-low to get us out. He tries to no avail. I step out and realize that we are teetering on the step bars and only one tire is touching any solid road. This was not going to be fun on this back road with no other traffic. I scramble to try and find some pine/spruce branches to try and provide some type of traction. As I calmly walk towards the woods, I quickly am up to my chest in a snow drift. We are both now laughing hysterically at our situation and wonder if we even have a chance at the M308 east of Charny? To make the situation even more amusing, Isaac breaks out his pretty little pink shovel and begins digging away – all for naught, as we are still not touching anything solid. PCC notifies us that the M308 is moving again and we inform him of our predicament…thanks for those laughs Ron! Just then, our angel arrives – OK, not exactly the classis example of angels, but we can overlook his beer belly, unshaven face and seeming lack of dental care, as he has chains and a truck! After an exchange in which he understands not a word from us and we likewise from him, he hooks up and begins the process of yanking us free. After tucking more tree branches under his tires for traction, we finally are back on the road. At exactly the same moment, the M308 passes in sight of us and we unhook the chains – graciously thank the kind gentleman who performed our rescue and make haste for Charny and the Rivere Chaudiere bridge crossing to try and redeem our disgraceful performance – which by the way the Russian judge gave only 1.0 for technique, however scored hirer for the artistic ability (since Isaac used the pretty pink shovel as a prop) of our skating performance. (Photo #1)

Back on solid highway, we make haste for Charny to a location we had previously scouted for just such a photographic event. We pull into the parking lot of a trail access and decide that our previous plan wasn’t looking so good, as we had around a ¾ mile hike to get in. We opt for plan B, which is a very snow-covered and drifted field. Isaac gathers his camera equipment and I blaze – maybe more like trundle – a trail for the river’s edge. As I try to keep my footing and not have a repeat of the roadside snow dip, it happens again – now I’m up to my armpits in a drift, but I saved my camera. The only thing protruding from this drift is my left arm with camera held high and my head. For those who don’t know, Isaac is an EMT and I a Flight Medic with Meridian Mobile Health in Bangor. So, with that said, I am now in need of rescuing – badly!! There is an old saying in our line of work – “Paramedics save lives, EMTs save paramedics” – and this was definitely requiring part B of this. I call for Isaac who is again laughing at my blunder and he comes over – oh no not to help me out, but to take my camera and prepare for this shot… Yes, I did make it out in time and photos are below. (Photo #2 and #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:33
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

Final EF Carajas unit... (Photo #1)

We rechecked the Joffre Yard and found – guess what – the fourth item on our list, SD70M-2s 8020 and 8021. We then hear the VIA 20 train calling signals and head for the Charny Station to land a shot of this train. (Photo #2 and #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:38
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

Off to a planned rendezvous with the PCC - as our interpretive abilities are less than desirable on this voyage. He hops aboard and begins a tour of the city, taking us to Lamiloux Yard on the harbor. Ron (who knows everyone in Quebec - including tourists who he has befriended along the way) begins chatting with various CN folks to try and get an idea of what is going on. With several trains in the works, we head out to Sainte-Charles to get another glimpse of the M308 with the interesting motive power consists. Ron enlightens us to a conversation that took place earlier when the M308 broke down ¡V the gist of that conversation was that the 308 spoke to the approaching VIA Rail train and said that he has seven locomotives on his train. "The three CN are all dead, the two little yellow ones are shut down and not part of the consist and those two on the flat cars are going to provide much help either". At least the crew too had a sense of humor about their misfortune. (Photo #1)

After landing some shots of the M308 and M402 (Photo #2 shows Isaac and Ron shooting the 402) at Ste-Charles, we work back towards West Jct. at Charny and set up to catch a departing westbound - or so we thought. The bell comes on, the units throttle up and that's it. All three units shut down and died on the M401 train. He's not going anywhere now. (Photo #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:43
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

An earlier conversation between the RTC and L520 had indicated that L520 was going to be held at Lamiloux Yard until after VIA Rail departs 30 minutes later. The crew isn't happy with the decision and a public conversation ensues in which the RTC Chief stepped in and gave the L520 permission to go to Ste-Foy and clear for the VIA. PCC says this would be a bad move and they would certainly delay the VIA train. Off goes the L520 and gets to Ste-Foy only to determine that the train was too big for the siding. Oh and did I mention a very big Q148 had arrived on the main other main track at Joffre, thus tying everything up. As the L520 came across the Bridge Sub for Charny, he began losing ground on slippery rail heads and then was awarded a nice Termine (Stop) signal at West Jct. Now the L520 is dead in the water and stalled, blocking all of the major crossings in Charny. The M401 was nearby and now determined to have a broken knuckle, so they remove the power and the M401 becomes a helper to the L520. VIA left the Ste-Foy station more than an hour late - oops. Should've listened to PCC...(Photo #1 of the L520 about to stall)

With nothing set to be moving anytime soon around Charny, we opt for a drive down Highway 20 to try and intercept something. By this time it is now snowing lightly and we are able to catch a departing Ultramar train. We head directly for Laurier-Station and await the arrival of this train.

Following those images we headed for Daveluyville and a scheduled meet between the Q120 and this U782 Ultramar train. With ominous skies I shot a little video at this location of the train crossing a half-decent bridge.

As the U782 headed down the siding, the Q120 – who was having some type of engine problems – began moving towards us. As it got to the east end of the siding, those engine problems were well pronounced as SD75I 5742 was doing its best impression of a Big Boy and smoking it up.

We headed back for the Big City and to deliver the PCC to his residence. The three of us headed to the St-Hubert Chicken restaurant and enjoyed a nice sit-down after an eventful day. We scouted a few more locations and graciously thanked our host for the day – who by the way very much enjoyed the opportunity to drive Isaacs new car, especially when I told him to ‘drive it like you stole her’.

Isaac and I had decided that we’d go to the Charny Station and catch the nighttime arrival of VIA 14, which should have the stainless steel consist and third F40PH for the Chaleur train to Gaspe. We set up and waited at the station, landing a few more nice night images of VIA Rail and those steel cars. (Photo #2)

By this point we were beyond tired – it was now 23:00 – so we settled in at a motel in Sainte-Nicholas to again plan out our actions for Saturday. With a not-so-early morning rise planned after the weather forecast was for some morning snow showers giving way to mid-day sunshine.

Saturday 07:00H departure
Awakening to cloudy skies could have been disappointing, however the forecast was for improving conditions, so we took our time getting ready and headed over to Charny to see if anything was ready to leave in either direction. Nope, nada, nothing…but wait – there was a multi-mark ex-CP Rail turned NBEC MLW RS18 (#1834) attached to road power, but not moving anywhere just yet. There was a potential for the Quebec Gatineau to run an empty grain train back to Trois-Rivieres, however it had departed nocturnally and was now out of the picture. We explored the QGRY line west of Quebec and began hearing CN signal calling on the Drummondville Sub. The clouds were still fairly prevalent with some big blue holes available. We headed back across the Fleuve Ste-Laurent and on to the Drummondville Sub. On the access road – yes, the same one Isaac was now is familiar with – we found a U782 Ultramar train in the hole at Sainte-Appolinaire. A quick look at the VIA schedule and nothing materialized as to why it was in the siding. Cloud cover was abounding, so we hung out alongside of the train for a period of time until the clouds subsided and a big hole opened up. Almost simultaneously with the hole, the RTC gave the Ultramar the high green and Levis-bound he went, with us returning to hard road and getting ahead of him on Highway 20. We exited at Ste-Nicholas for an overhead shot of the train parallel to Highway 20. The blowing snow was so widespread from this train that we were covered while standing on the overpass.

Date: 02/25/07 10:46
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

The PCC phoned to advise us that Q149 was arriving the yard and would get a new crew and go. We opted to grab a shot at the yard and head back out the Drummondville Sub. We knew we had a VIA eastbound in the picture, so we tried to figure on the meet location between the 149 and VIA 620. We headed for Saint-Janvierde-Joly (the west end of the Fortier Siding) and and figured that would be our best bet to catch both trains. Shortly after our arrival we had signal illumination to indicate the eastbound VIA was on its way. The VIA 620 flew by and wasted little time getting to the meet with the Q149 at the next siding – Laurier. (Photo #1)

After a bit of repositioning, the Q149 and VIA 620 completed their meet and the 149 arrived. The sun had been shining briefly but disappeared behind a nice snow cloud. The resulting image was still fairly suitable. (Photo #2)

PCC notifies us that there is a M308 in the yard getting ready to go east, so with the Ultramar train earlier, the M308, and potentially a 402 to go, we head west. PCC also told us that there was a 516 crew on duty to go to Ste-Pierre and retrieve a cut of cars that was left in a siding to reduce a train earlier in the morning. On the way out we pick up radio traffic at Valier. We head that direction to find the M305 in the siding and apparently waiting for an eastbound train. The sun is getting much brighter now and so too are our chances of getting a meet and/or a half-decent shot of the 305 with the 2442 leading. We set up shop at Valier and wait, but not very long as we again hear the signal calling of an eastbound approaching. Alas it is the M402 with the NBEC MLW RS18 1834 trailing the consist. (Photo #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:49
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

The sun was playing hit or miss with the few remaining clouds, but that’s alright, as the 305 stayed holed up in the siding for a while longer. Just as the sun broke through brightly, the 305 left the siding and headed west. Following photos of this train we headed back for Ste-Charles as we had previously seen an Ultramar loaded train readying for departure. (Photo #1)

Just as we arrived at Ste-Charles the Ultramar train began rolling off the Levis Sub onto the Montmagny Sub. We formulated a new plan to go west and catch the Ultramar on the Ste-Nicholas side of the Riviere-Chaudiere. We did some map navigation and figuring and plotted our course for a location to nail the west side bridge shot we had been talking about since we arrived. Great idea – but something we learned about snow is that the depth is rather deceptive and the drifts along the river are deep. That being said, Isaac and I trudge into this wooded area riddled with snow drifts and almost simultaneously drop to our waist at two different locations. We were again laughing at ourselves to the point of losing bladder control. And, the Ultramar train was coming out at West Jct., so we had little time to lose to set up. The shots were worth the fight through snow drifts. (Photo #2)

Knowing that there is a potential meet down the line with a VIA Rail 622 train, we opt to work west and get ahead of the Ultramar for one more shot. Did I tell you that it isn’t easy to get ahead of trains on the Drummondville when they have a traveling speed of 65 mph and you have exits, etc. Anyway, we go back to Laurier Station and get a shot of the Ultramar passing the station-turned-maintenance shed. (Photo #3)

Date: 02/25/07 10:55
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: KevinB

Following the passage of the Ultramar train we head back east and pick up conversation about Sainte-Apollinaire. We head that direction knowing that VIA was getting close and hoping that a freight, maybe our M305 train, would meet the VIA there. Figuring that VIA was the sure shot and the sun angle was all wrong, we set up at the Sainte-Apollinaire station sign to try and get a going away shot. So back into the head-high snow drifts and a swim across them to a vantage point for the sign and train. We waited and waited and even waited a bit longer and the signal stayed dark. Hmmm, something was amuck. All of this effort into the snow drift and the only thing to show for it was some toes getting cold. We are perplexed at this situation, knowing that the VIA was supposed to be in Ste-Foy by now and we hadn¡¦t seen it yet at Sainte-Apollinaire. As we begin driving back towards the Highway 20 and just as we were about to make the turn onto the on ramp, a westbound freight called the advance signal to Sainte-Apollinaire ¡V alas the M305 was found and approaching us. Guess where we headed back to after digging through some more snow drifts and our previous passages? (Photo #1)

The M305 was nearly stopped as he approached us and I heard the VIA blowing its horn to the west. Isaac was battening down - OK more like he was stuck to his neck in snow - so I did what any good friend would do, I took the car and drove to the end of the siding to land the VIA/CN meet... Yes, I did go back for him - it was his car after all. When I returned I had a difficult time finding him as he blended right in with the snow drifts - the abominable snow Isaac!

With the 305 now stopped on the siding, we opted to go to the town site of Sainte-Apollinaire and land one more shot of it and then head home. Our parting shot of the 305 was a nice end to a quick 2.5 days of Quebec railfanning. (Photo #2) I was on the Highway 20 side of the 305 and Isaac on the other, so we communicated that I¡¦d meet him down on the entrance ramp. Another great plan. I began walking down the hillside and quickly discovered that the snow pack here was firm and I wasn't falling 3-4 feet in with every step. As I gained confidence on the way to meet Isaac, it happened - down I went and disappeared from anyone's sight who may have been watching from the highway (and probably now laughing!!). I had become quite proficient at crawling in this deep snow to avoid further sinkage, so the camera got tucked in my jacket and crawl I did. Isaac arrived and I was standing roadside as if nothing had happened.

I had discovered that I had lost my good pair of sunglasses at the earlier Ultramar bridge shot, so we discussed our plans and formulated a stop there. It was a two-fold stop with observation of West Jct. possible and to retrieve my sunglasses. We hiked back into the depths and yup, there they were, right where I tangled with a tree ¡V and I thought I had walked away the winner, but it had taken my glasses. They were back though and that seemed to be the kind of luck that lead us on this trip.

One more passage of Joffre Yard and it was back to the states. The adrenaline rush of the trip was wearing off and we were now reminiscing some of the events of the trip. We also briefly discussed our thoughts on the border crossing going back home. An uneventful drive was had to the border and as we arrived there, we knew we had reached the first bad luck of the trip ¡V two buses and some snowmobilers with issues. We spent nearly 15-20 minutes before agents opened another window and we were back in Maine in an instant. Just under 4 hours back to my house from Quebec City with a few short stops along the way and this trip was history. What a trip it was¡K

In case anyone was wondering, our winter railfanning in the north country was made possible by various manufacturers of winter garments, which included very well insulated socks and boots, ski pants and jackets and full protection hoods. It got very cold with the winds blowing, but very worth the efforts for the photos and memories we take away from this adventure. A very special thanks to our Director, Ron Pelletier and the supporting cast of CN Rail!

Kevin Burkholder - still thawing out today!

Date: 02/25/07 19:24
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: B36-7

Just amazing photos! You might wanna post these photos to the "Eastern Board" as not as many folks look @ the Railfan Trip Reports section. Thanks for sharing, truly awesome material!!

Date: 02/26/07 17:28
Re: Quebec City Whirlwind Trip
Author: stlrailfan


A great read with some great images as well, please keep up the good work.
Mark Mautner

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