For this railway themed “then and now” post we find ourselves in Cochrane Alberta, along side the CPR’s east/west mainline. The first image is from thirty years ago and shows an eastbound freight at the edge of town. We’ll return to that location to see what it all looks like today and hopefully we’ll also capture a train like in the original image.
Let’s check out the first picture – what in it can be seen that could help us compose our shot? There is not much to work with here – the tracks look like any other and the low rolling hills in back are fairly featureless – is it even worth it? Wait, what about the telegraph poles? Yes of course, they look to be in the same position as they were thirty years ago (one has lost some cross bucks though). Perfect, that’s just what we needed to help line things up.
Now if only a train would show…
And so we waited and waited and waited and finally just as we were about to call it a day, one appeared. We hoped to capture one heading in the same direction as in the original photo, but were happy to settle for any train, regardless if its direction. Is it me or do trains show less often when you wish to photograph them?
The freight seen in the old photos is lead by four General Motors model SD-40 series locomotives. The lead engine, #5993, was built in the early 1980s while the others, #5710 and #5715, were from the mid-1970s. The road number on the last engine can not be seen.
In 1984 these were the most commonly seen locomotives across the CPR system and the railway had a love affair with them. Starting in the 1960s and ending twenty years later, the CPR purchased hundreds of these across three sub-models – SD40, SD40-2 and SD40-2F – the SD40-2 was the most numerous and all the engines seen in this report were that specific type.
These were built in London Ontario at the now closed General Motors Diesel Division (GMDD) plant. Established in 1950, the factory was shut down in 2012, and this was a big blow to the city. While originally used to fulfil Canadian orders, the plant also did a brisk export business and near the end, also built for US railways after an affiliate factory in the States closed down. This was the last locomotive factory in Canada, which once had three – Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) which closed in the mid-1980s and Canadian Locomotive Company (CLC) which lasted until the late 1960s.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you also have heard us mention the GMDD plant when talking about GM transit buses. They were also produced there. Railway business has always been cyclical and so when locomotive orders were slow, they had this second product to keep them busy (they also made mine dump trucks and military vehicles).
While the CPR’s SD40 series roster is thinning quickly, the lead unit is still at work as of the writing of this report. The second and third locomotives were sold off, one in the late 1990s and the other more recently and these old timers were last seen working lease assignments in the US (yes, you can rent a locomotive). Note how layout of the safety stripes differ from engine to engine.
The freight seen is in the original photo is an intermodal and carries a mix of containers and trailers. Trains of this sort, then and today, are usually of the highest priority and typically operate under an expedited schedule. Called hotshots, all other movements get out of the way when one passes. The CPR does not carry trailers any more and now the containers are stacked two high per car (or well as they are called).
The freight seen in our 2014 picture is a lowly grain hauler. It’s lead by two General Electric model AC4400CW locomotives, plus a third mid-train. These today, much like the SD40 of old, are the most common engines in the CPR fleet and the railway has hundreds of them. They were built in Erie Pennsylvania. The lead engine, the blue one, is leased to the railway.
Included in the train are a few old “government” hoppers (those cylindrical shaped cars) from the 1970s and 80s. They were built under a subsidy at the time to elevate a grain car shortage and many are close to retirement age.
The rail line seen here is the CPR’s Laggan Subdivision and this busy mainline sees many, many trains per day.
Not seen in our picture is the housing development to the left of the tracks, just off screen. When the original picture was snapped, that location was an empty field. Cochrane was once a quaint little village but not so today. Instead it has become a sprawling bedroom community, devoid of any charm. It looks like more housing will be put in place to the right of the tracks.
We had a good view of the snow covered mountains to the west on our visit. While things have been warming up in our area, it’s still winter in the hills.
While we always strive to duplicate an original picture as closely as possible, many variables conspirator to make that near impossible. None the less, we get pretty close most of the time, like here.
The original image is copyright Richard Hart and is used with permission. If you have an old image like this and would like us to revisit the spot seen in it to check out what things looks like today and then document it on this blog, by all means send it to us. Contact information can be found below.
To see another railways themed then and now post where Richard supplied the original image, follow this link…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Sunalta Calgary.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Cochrane, AB.