While the story takes place in the US, many scenes from the movie Silver Streak were actually filmed in and around Southern Alberta. In the first picture from this then and now series, the train speeds past a depot which is marked for Rockdale Illinois. In truth we are some 1700 km west of there and the station seen is in reality located in High River Alberta, just south of Calgary. At the time of filming it was a sleepy little town but is now a bustling vibrant bedroom community. In this scene the train is an unmanned runaway heading for Chicago, culminating in spectacular crash at the end of the film.
How the film ended up being shot in places so far removed from the actual locations portrayed in the movie is an interesting story. For one, the US passenger carrier Amtrak did not wish to associate itself with a disaster movie as they felt it portrayed trains in a poor light. The CPR however took no such stance and since it was soon to be out of the passenger train business (later transferring equipment to VIA rail, Canada’s national passenger train operator) it was more than happy to help. The equipment was underutilized and available and there were lots of locations that could pass for those in the US. Why not?
And so here’s a movie where the story takes place between Los Angeles and Chicago whose location scenes were filmed almost entirely in Alberta!
Originally this station was the CPR’s main Calgary depot, built in the 1890s. As the town grew and grew this handsome sandstone structure proved too small and so in 1911 was dismantled and a new larger station built in its place. Always the frugal organization, the railway decided to reuse the old building and so half of it ended up in a town called Claresholm (south of High River) and the other half is what we see here. It has been modified somewhat but still retains a lot of the flavour of the original structure. It’s one of the few small town stations in the west not made of wood.
At the time of filming it had been several years since a passenger trains passed by the station. Dayliner service ended in 1971 although the station itself had closed some years earlier. In the interim it either sat abandoned or it may have been used for storage of materials and such, a fate that befell many of these surplus buildings. It was cheaper than tearing them down I guess.
The building has been home to the Museum of the Highwood since the mid 1970s and beside it is a passenger car turned into a restaurant, the Whistle Stop Cafe. At the time of my visit the yummy smells of breakfast coming from it were enough to drive us crazy.
The station is listed as a provincial historic site. This author has seen a picture of High River’s earlier wooden depot which the current one replaced, and it was a fairly typical building of the era. Nothing noteworthy there.
The rail line here is along the CPR’s MacLeod Subdivision and while tracks still lead into town and pass the station, service is now cut back to point just north of town, at a meat processing plant. The rest of the subdivision was abandoned in sections, most of it being torn up ten or more years ago. The section through High River however and to a point just south of it was retained for some time, up until a couple years ago, to store excess freight cars (a fate which befell many of these otherwise unused lines).
Being along a sleepy branch line, this likely made filming easier. In this scene the Silver Streak blasts though town at breakneck speeds, much faster than one would expect given where we are. They must have had people stationed at every road crossing in town to make sure no vehicular traffic got in the way. At those speeds it would have been a big mess if a car or person decided to cross in front of the fast moving train.
In the movie the train is headed east and only a short distance from its destination. In reality the train shown is headed south and is no where near Illinois.
In the first picture and across from the station one can see the annex from one of the many grain elevators that used to call High River home. And sitting on the tracks beside it is one on the CPR’s very common (at the time) grain cars. Soon to be replaced by the more efficient grain hopper, at the time of filming these old and inefficient boxcars were still a very common sight on prairie branchlines. Today the only elevator still standing in town is a small fertilizer plant just south of (and behind) where they filmed.
This same station was used at a different point in the movie, an earlier scene before the train becomes a runaway. Given how the story plays out it could not be Rockdale, and instead our station substituted for yet another depot which in the movie is not named. In those scenes one of the characters can be seen burning some papers inside the train as it slowly passes by the station.
Images from the movie are copyright 20th Century Fox.
To see another scene from the movie where the station stands in for yet another town, go here…
Silver Streak movie then and now – paper burning scene.
To see some other Silver Streak then and now posts we’ve done, follow these links…
Silver Streak movie then and now – walking the tracks.
Silver Streak movie then and now – bridge jump.
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Date: March, 2013.
Location: High River, AB.