Do trainspotters know when there's going to be a train?
November 18, 2012 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Can I know in advance when a train will pass by a location? How do trainspotters do it? I'm in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

For a video project, I'd like to set up a camera on a tripod and record the entire length of a train passing by.

There's a track not too far from where I live, but I'd rather not spend a really long time waiting for a train to arrive. (Especially since it's winter, now.) So it would be very nice to know in advance roughly when one will pass by.

I've found some things on the VIA Rail site for when passenger trains will arrive in Winnipeg, but only for the train coming from Churchill and the route between Toronto and Vancouver, while the tracks where I live head south from the station. I think I would need trains coming from the States and I don't know which companies to check for that.

There should also be freight trains, but I don't know where I would look for schedules for that.
posted by RobotHero to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

To a certain extent, freight trains run on a schedule, though it tends to be a pretty loose one, and can change on a day-to-day basis depending on what else is going on.

A lot of trainspotters have scanners and listen in as the trains talk to the dispatcher and to each other. If you know the territory, you will know exactly where the train is, and can work out roughly when it will get to any particular point. Sometimes, you can find an internet stream, but a quick search isn't turning up anything for Winnipeg. ( and are the usual sources, though they don't have everything.)

Also, for some lines, the communication between the dispatcher and the signal system is also over a radio link (called Radio Code-Line or RCL), in which case you can also monitor that. ATCS Monitor is the program most people use for that. It requires someone to have decoded the communications for your particular area of interest, and then host a server that will capture that data and stream it to the internet. (Or you can use a modified scanner to capture it over-the-air yourself.) This map indicates that there's some RCL in Winnipeg, but unfortunately, looking through the group files I don't see any indication that anything is decoded, much less that there's a server for your area.

The link xingcat posted is a good roundup of sites. If you know the railroad that operates the tracks you're interested in and the name of the subdivision, you'll have a lot better luck searching those sites. An easy way to figure this out is to go to a crossing with an active warning system (lights/gates). Somewhere nearby, either on a sign, or on the silver/grey bungalow with the crossing electronics, the name of the railroad and milepost should be posted (along with a phone number to call in the case of an emergency). From five minutes of research, it appears that the lines heading south from Winnipeg to the US are the CP (Canadian Pacific) Emerson Sub, and the CN (Canadian National) Letellier Sub, though I can't find any railroad maps that confirm that. CP and CN do have interactive maps, but they don't show the subdivision names.
posted by yuwtze at 10:40 PM on November 18, 2012

FYI, the two trains you mentioned are the only passenger trains that serve Winnipeg. There isn't any passenger service from the US. So you'd only be seeing freight trains on the subdivisions you mentioned.
posted by dry white toast at 10:12 AM on November 19, 2012

I'm sure I've seen passenger trains headed north, but couldn't remember what line. It's in the city, the closest control point identified by the ATCS map is labeled "Subway, mp 1.2 on the CN Rivers" near where it crosses Osborne Street. And looking at the CN map, trains coming from the west might come through here. ( Earlier I had assumed anything coming from the west would be coming through Rosser but I overlooked the line running through Carman. )

If the signals aren't already decoded, as appealing as modifying a scanner and everything is, camping out for half a day might still be the quickest solution for my specific case.
posted by RobotHero at 11:02 AM on November 19, 2012

Thanks for your help.
posted by RobotHero at 11:02 AM on November 19, 2012

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