June 1, 2001
By Sophie Kneisel
Piling into a rented 15-passenger van to chase trains may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this Canadian version of British "trainspotting" is both faster-paced and more practical than the original. ...
Piling into a rented 15-passenger van to chase trains may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this Canadian version of British “trainspotting” is both faster-paced and more practical than the original. Not content to take down the serial numbers of locomotives as they stop at stations, Bob Martin, P.Eng. and his fellow train enthusiasts use a combination of topographic maps, a global positioning system and a radio scanner to track (no pun intended) their quarry. They follow as closely as they can by road, and then photograph or videotape the train at crossings.
“It’s a good stress reliever,” says Martin, who grew up close to the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks in London, Ontario. “There’s something about a locomotive going by you at full speed.”
As outgoing president of Consulting Engineers of Ontario and head of his 12-person consulting firm in St. Catharines, Martin has to move at full speed himself just to keep up. He and 10 or more members of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association, Niagara Division, embark on two long trips a year, as well as day trips, one of which involves actually riding on a train. “The major trips are usually no longer than a week,” he says, explaining that he’s tired out after seven days of touring rail yards and museums, following and videotaping trains, and socializing at the hotel at night. “We’ve been to Baltimore (Maryland), to New York City twice, and to mid-Ohio on several occasions. We’re planning a trip to Roanoke, West Virginia.” Last year the group spent a week in British Columbia where they documented trains on mountain routes. Several North American “hot spots” warrant annual visits: the famous horseshoe curve in the Appalachian mountains near Altoona in Pennsylvania, and busy Bayview Junction in Hamilton, Ontario, where they usually spend their longest day.
During a recent trip to Barrie, Ontario to photograph the Allandale station, these fast-moving amateur historians realized that they’d left one of their number behind. “Everyone was getting back in the van when we noticed we were short one man,” Martin says. “One-and-a-half hours later we went back to the restaurant where we’d had lunch, and Dick was standing in the doorway. He’d gone to the washroom and had come out of the building just in time to see us pulling away.” Apparently Dick’s plea that he wanted to visit a station where the tracks had been pulled up was not convincing enough to get him a ride from a policeman, so he had to stay put until his friends noticed his absence.
As rail service is cut and routes are abandoned, particularly in Canada, this hobby becomes a more serious historical pursuit. This June, Martin’s group is taking a four-day trip to Ontario’s far north because Ontario Northland may be cutting its service from Toronto through North Bay to Cochrane. “It’s sad,” says Martin, adding that at least their efforts will ensure there is a visual record of the route that has been such an important link to the province’s vast, sparsely populated north.
Martin’s passion for trains hasn’t rubbed off on his children, but that is good news for Canadian railroad enthusiasts. Rather than remaining in the family, his many miles of videotapes and photographs will eventually go to the historical association.