In this then and now, we visit the same spot in downtown Calgary twice. We’re along the Canadian Pacific Railway’s east/west mainline, first in 1977 and then again in 2014. In the original image, sent to us by a reader of this blog, we can see the CPR’s transcontinental passenger train heading westbound – this train is now a distant memory. We’re lucky enough to catch a freight heading out though, (then in, then out, then in again), followed by a hi-rail truck, and then another, followed by (finally) a short maintenance of way train being pushed by a converted highway truck. All within five or ten minutes!
While shooting, off railway property by the way, we were watched closely by a CPR police unit locating in a parking lot across the tracks from us.
Let’s take a look at the passenger train. It’s known as the Canadian and was established in the mid-1950s. During the peak summer season, it could swell in size and trains of 25 cars or so were not unheard of. Carded as #1 (westbound) and #2 (eastbound) the train had priority over all others.
Within a year and a half of the original photo being taken, the CPR’s passenger train network would come under control of Via Rail. This government subsidized origination allowed both the CNR and CPR to get of out the passenger business, which was a money looser for them by this point. Via Rail inherited its equipment from each of the the respective carriers and appearance wise, the trains changed little in the beginning, in spite of this new ownership. In fact, for years, before most of the cars and locomotives were repainted in Via colours, one would be hard pressed to know any change took place at all.
Via Rail retained the Canadian name when it took over the run. Later, in 1990, it was cancelled, leaving Calgary without any form of train service. The Canadian name was then transferred to a second transcontinental run, which uses CNR tracks and travels a more northerly route. This train was formerly called the Super Continental. Confused?
The locomotives seen pulling the train include in front, #1404, is a 1953 model GMDD (General Motors Diesel Division, London Ontario) FP7A. This locomotive was transferred to Via Rail who rebuilt it in 1980, renumbering it to #6553. They used it until it was sold in 1995 to the Algoma Central Railway of Ontario who used it for their Agawa Tourist Trains. Retired in 2002 it found its way to a railway museum in Squamish BC (West Coast Railway Association) where it will be restored and put on display as CPR #1404. Things will come full circle.
The second locomotive, #8527, is a GMDD model GP9 built in 1955 and was a dual purpose locomotive. It could be seen in freight or passenger service. It was rebuilt by the CPR in the mid-1980s and was still hard at work as late as 2012, when it was finally retired. The CPR got good use out of it.
The passenger cars seen were built by the Budd Company (US) specifically for use on the Canadian. Cars from this series, approximately 140-150 of them, were transferred to Via Rail and many, probably including the ones seen in the old photo, continue in service today. They are old indeed, but up to the task. They are made of near indestructible stainless steel which means they’ll likely continue in service for some time. Being so old however, makes Via Rail, in a way, an operating museum.
Let’s fast forward to today. A lot has changed, Calgary’s skyline in particular. Look at all those buildings, most which were built after the original picture was captured (Calgary has a young downtown). All those seen in the old photo as still there, although some are now blocked other buildings and out of view. Interestingly in the 1970s most towers in downtown were apartment complexes – today there are a lot of office buildings in the mix too. The Calgary Tower, sort of off by itself, in 1977 dominated the skyline but today seems insignificant in comparison. The Ford dealership seen in the old photo is still there.
The trains still run past here as they have always done. The are exclusively freights (Rocky Mountain Rail Tours excepted) and if one plants themselves along the track, on public property of course, you’ll see an endless parade of trains. This is a busy section of track and is the CPR’s main east/west line. Along here it’s the Laggan Subdivision, which was opened to traffic in the 1880s.
On visiting the spot we quickly figure out where the original photo was shot. From this position we have a good view of both the east and west facing “Christmas trees” (signal clusters) which will give us a bit of warning when a train is due.
We do not have to wait long and within minutes, one shows. It pulls out, backs up, pulls out and backs up again. In between doing that, two hi-rail trucks are seen heading out, followed later by a that maintenance of way train mentioned earlier.
Pulling this freight is #8788, is one of the CPR’s ubiquitous ES44AC model locomotives, built in 2006 by General Electric. This model and the otherwise similar looking (but older) AC4400CW models make up the majority of the CPR roster and nearly every train you see, around here anyway, is pulled by one or more of them. In fact, they make train watching in some ways quite mundane.
Adding interest is the second locomotive, a type rarely seen in the area, #6228, a former Soo Line (CPR US subsidiary) General Motors SD60 model built in 1989. The train was quite a short one (relatively speaking) and as it switched its train, it would move the cars about with sports car-like acceleration, the rear end crew hanging on for dear life.
The three hi-rail vehicles are simply modified trucks that can travel either by road or rail. This comes in handy, especially in regards to maintenance work. The largest one, known as a Brandt Power Unit, is strong enough to pull or push a small sized train, as you can see. They were picking up metal scrap along the line and did so using a modified excavator with a special boom mounted lifting magnet.
The original image is copyright Glenn Courtney. Thanks for allowing us to use it. If you have an old photo 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 some other railway themed posts, follow these links…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Cochrane Alberta.
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions train Big Valley Alberta.
Crunch! Train hits van.
See more of the Mewata Armoury seen in this report, go here…
Calgary then and now – Mewata Armoury.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.