These images, scanned from 35mm prints taken in 1997, show a little bit of the rail line in and around the old coal mining town of Nordegg Alberta. Some pictures from this series have gone missing in the years since, however you can still get an idea of what the area is about.
Rather than go into too much detail on the town and mine, neither of which are seen the photos, we’ll concentrate on the rail line only. Perhaps in the future we’ll revisit the area to make further reports on the other bits I mentioned. It’s a wonderful historical place and I’ll be sure and try.
The abandoned rail line into town was once the Canadian National Brazeau branch. Built by predecessor company Canadian Northern, the rails arrived here in early 1914, The line was built to tap the coal mines in the area and there was one large underground mine in Nordegg, the Brazeau Collieries, and a number of smaller ones further east down the line in Saunders and Alexo. The Nordegg operation appears to be both the largest and longest lasting in the area.
The pictures seen here cover a spot just east of town to a point just before the mine surface plant. In this distance there are a couple trestles, the location of the train station, a small yard before the mine and other bits and pieces. The rails remain in place, at that time of our visit anyway, to a point a kilometre or so east of town. Beyond that the rail bed appeared bare and is used by qauders and snowmobiles. We did not go from east to west on our visit bur rather we started midpoint and initially went east, then turned around at the end of steel and went west to the surface plant (gated and fenced and an historical site).
Between the two trestles sits the location of the former train station. In some pictures the station says Nordegg and in others Brazeau, but I have not found solid data regarding when the change happened and why.
Near the station site at the time of our visit was an old CN railcar, a former Manitoba Buffalo boxcar actually. These cars, the last grain hauling boxes on the entire CNR system were used on lightly built grain branch lines (covered hoppers were generally too heavy for these and they damaged the infrastructure). They were only for unloading in either the Churchill Manitoba or Thunder Bay Ontario grain terminals.
This car was built in the mid 1950s and was rebuilt into it’s current form in the mid 1980s. By the mid 1990s these cars were no longer needed, many branch lines having been abandoned at that point, and they were retried and scrapped. Except for this one of course.
So what was a grain boxcar doing here? The Brazeau Collieries surface plant and mine is an protected historical site as I may have mentioned and the car was to be placed there and repainted to represent a traditional coal hauling boxcar. Funny, since this car never was used for coal service and was built after the mine closed. When we visited the site in 2001 the car had been moved to its permanent location within the plant.
Moving west from the boxcar we come to the second trestle. You’ll see it has shifted a bit, but otherwise seems solid.
Just beyond that is an small yard to service the mine – it’s still intact and the rails and even switch stands remain in place. Off to the side there was an old rail car, minus its wheels. The cupola may have you think it’s a caboose, but actually it’s a maintenance of way car. More specifically, a flanger which is used to clear ice and snow from between the rails – build up of these can derail a train. The car appears quite old, but I could not find a number on it (or perhaps saw it but have since misplaced that). So for now, I don’t know it history and why it was here.
Perhaps it was retried and later used as some kind of office or crew shack. It seems logical, since we are near the mine and switching crews would be working in the area. The current state of it is pretty bad so I doubt it has much time left and since it is outside the historical site, it may not get any attention. There was an old pot-bellied stove seen near the car.
Just west of the flanger is the fence and gate for the mine site. There are frequent tours in the summer but not on the fall day we were there. Outside of these tours, people are not allowed in (reasonable since its a huge and potentiality dangerous place for one).
After world war two demand for coal was waning and throughout the province the mines were closing. The Brazeau Collieries lasted until the mid 1950s and with the resultant loss of coal traffic, the rail line followed suit right after. Or so it would seem – oddly, I’ve been told the line wasn’t officially abandoned until the mid 1980s. It’s not sure why this was and what happened to the line in the interim. Perhaps it was being rail banked in case demand for coal returned or maybe was used to store excess cars – who knows (see update below)?
I hope we’ll return to the area to further document the town of Nordegg, the mine and others interesting bits around it. Writing this article has (re)piqued my interest.
An update October 2012 – taken from the book “Small Moments in Time: The story of Alberta’s Big West Country” by Anne (McMullen) Belliveau”. According to the chapter “Bright Spaces, Special Places”, trains were running on the line after the mine closed. In 1961, the only date given by the author, it was stated that the CNR was running weekly pulpwood trains. There is no mention of when this practice started, when it ended, where the wood originated from and where it was going. However it at least confirms that the line was not fully abandoned immediately after the mine closed. In addition to this I am still suspect that the line was rail banked in case coal mining made a comeback. There were and still are huge reserves in the Nordegg area and perhaps CNR felt (for a time anyway) that there may be some future traffic yet to exploit.
To see what this place looked like in 2001, follow this link…
Nordegg revisited (or 2001 a Nordegg Odyssey).
To see some other rail line articles, follow any of these links…
Unfinished Canadian Northern Railway line Fort MacLeod.
Princeton BC train station and rail yard.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: September 1997.
Location: Nordegg Alberta.