May 042015
Abandoned CNR line

Canadian National Railway’s recently abandoned route in the Drumheller area of Alberta is home to around sixty bridges. Yes, that many, amazingly all along a stretch of line perhaps thirty or forty kilometres long (roughly). The track shares the narrow valley with the meandering Rosebud River and is forced to cross it and recross it again and again. There was no way around it. In this report we look at four of these bridges found in quick succession along a stretch if this very line.

The track that used to run here was built in the mid-1910s by the Canadian Northern Railway under the charter of the Alberta Midland Railway. It become a Canadian National Railway property in the early 1920s, when it took over operations of the CNoR (and some competing companies).

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The line, with many side branches, ran between Saskatoon and Calgary. It was last used for through freights around 2008 although I understand local trains continued for a short time after. The rails, by then rusty and weed choked, were only recently pulled up. All bridges remain.

This line near the end saw a few trains per day but was hindered by a lack of business along the middle section, heavy grades coming in and out of Red Deer River valley, unstable soil in the badlands and finally the bridges we’ve been speaking about. A few are no problem, but sixty (or what ever the true number is – no one seems to really know) is a costly maintenance headache.

It’s not known what officially will happen to the roadbed. Often old rail lines are converted to trails, but no solid information on what could be in store here was found. The CNR is being tight-lipped on this. We called them and they told us to bugger off.

In the meantime, people have been using a the lane-width roadbed for recreation purposes. Evidence of 4×4 tire marks and a passing motorcyclist confirmed that. With some work, it’d sure make a good a multi-use trail, in fact it’s ideal for this unlike most prairie lines so converted (which travel through the featureless plains). This one instead passes through the very scenic Alberta Badlands, home to lots of nature and very few people. It’s nice and remote and amazingly scenic, as our pictures will prove. It’s got a lot of potential.

The section we explored, perhaps a click or so in length, crosses the river four times, three on deck-plate (open top) spans and one using a through truss (it’s a Pratt style, commonly used by railways). All the bridge piers are dated, showing they are from the 1940s. They replaced worn out wood-pile trestles – some of the current spans still have pile ends – which go back to the time when the line was constructed.

It’s not known who built the current steel components. We looked for builder’s plates or evidence of factory marks, but could find none. Dominion Bridge maybe? They were the country’s biggest and longest lasting bridge making firm.

Two of the bridges have side walkways. On the others, we had to tie-hop, taking great care as it’d be easy to fall between them and snap an ankle. This author is rather scared of heights and even though these bridges are not that high, looking through the grates or ties with a view down to the water, was, well, a bit uncomfortable at times.

The Rosebud River, as with all prairie watercourses, is slow and muddy. The valley here eventually meets up with the Red Deer River near Drumheller, (technically Rosedale), the most well known area within the Alberta Badlands. This offshoot valley, in contrast is not well know and has few roads passing through it. That’s what we like.

We’d love to explore the area more. There are a lot of bridges left to see. Four down, some fifty something to go. That will keep us busy for a while.

More adventures from the area…
Badlands’s Collection.
Stirling Mine – Commandeer Mine – Nacmine Alberta.
Dorothy Alberta.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: April, 2015.
Location: Rosebud River Valley, AB.
Article sources: CNR company records, University of Alberta Press.
The land status of this railway line is not known and therefore one should be cautious when exploring it.

Railway Bridge

One of many railway bridges found in the Rosebud River Valley.

Rosebud River bridge

This was the only truss style example seen this day.

CNR Rosebud River

This line (ex-CNR) was built in the 1910s and closed recently.

Bridge Rosebud River

The second bridge.

Rosebud River CNR bridge

Looking back.

Bridge pier

This one is from 1945.

Deck railway bridge

The third, of four.

Old railway bridge

Connie follows.

CNR Rosebud River bridge

I climb a small hill for this view.

Rosebud River

These bridges are one reason the line was closed (read the report to know more).

Abandoned railway bridge

The last one explored this day.

Dated bridge pier

This one’s dated 1942.

Alberta Midland Railway

This line was built under the Alberta Midland Railway charter.

Telegraph pole

Remains of a telegraph pole.

Walking old railway line

A motorcycle can be seen in the distance.

Bridge deck

A look down to the muddy river.

Abandoned CNR line

Heading back.

Bridge abutment

This bridge is from 1945.

Rosebud River Alberta

The Rosebud River meanders though the valley here.

Alberta badlands

In the beautiful Alberta Badlands.

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16 Comments on "Bridge Hunting – Rosebud River Valley"

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Great pictures and story.
The Rosebud river valley really looks great when it greens up in the spring.
There was a group called Bad Land Railway Co that tried unsuccessfully to lease the line arround 2010.
They had plans to run a Tourist Train from Drumheller up the valley to Rosebud.
There was an article in the Drumheller Mail about the city of Drumheller asking CN to use the rail bed as a path way.
They were turned down by CN because they said they might have plans for a heavy gauge rail line
in Ten years or so?


Hey, Chris and Stewart.
I just got back from Drumheller and I got to chat with a CN official walking along the line near the crossing at MP53 of the Drumheller Sub collecting spikes (I got 3). When I asked why they took down the crossings that have a ladder and go over the road, he said this:
“Because they pose a safety issue if they collapse, and if people climb them. We are planning to relay track in a few years? I don’t know, but pretty soon we will re-lay heavy-gauge track. I can’t tell you much more than that.”
I am pretty excited because I am very guilty on not photographing the like while I had the chance.

Chris Lyon
Chris Lyon

(via Facebook)
Wonderful inspiring scenery. Thanks for posting

Mark Perry
Mark Perry

(via Facebook)
And where are the photos of trains running through here back in the day? The photo angles are impressive…

Tim Berry
Tim Berry

Awesome, thanks for sharing these images.

Bill Wolff
Bill Wolff

What stunning scenery!

Richard S.
Richard S.

One of the reasons that CN has shut down this line was that many bridges and trestles needed servicing and repairs. CN felt it was more feasible to dismantle the line rather than repair and replace many of the 110+ bridges on the line.

Michael Ridout
Michael Ridout
I talked to the company dismantling the line. CN sold the line, rails, ties, spikes, signs, signals, “everything” to a country in South America (Chile perhaps, I don’t recall). Obviously it is/was more economical to ship the lot than to maintain it here. IMHO CN does not have the customer base to warrant relaying the line with heavier rail. Most of the ties were in good shape (otherwise they could not have sold them) so that would not make economic sense to remove them just to re-lay new ties and rail. I’m hoping they do actually make it into a trail, however with lawyers around, the ROW would have to be sold or donated before that could happen due to liability issues, not to mention the hazardous materials cleanup that would need to be done. Unfortunately I think its going to be left to fall into a state of disrepair… Read more »