Jul 022013
 
Damaged CPR bridge

Unless you’ve been living on the moon you have no doubt heard about the floods that ravaged many parts of Alberta in late June 2013. Record rainfall and melting snow pack in the mountains unleashed a torrent of water with nearly every river and stream overflowing its banks.

Many low lying sections of Calgary were flooded, ruining numerous homes and businesses. Included in those structures damaged is the CPR’s massive Bonnybrook bridge over the Bow River, which failed as a train passed over it. A weakened pier shifted or broke away, causing the centre spans to partially collapse. While the train did not fall into the river, some rail cars dangled precariously above it.

I wanted to go view the bridge and knowing there is a public pathway very near it, we decided it would be fun to bike in. We started at a point on the eastern edge of town, in an industrial area, using the Calgary to Chestemere canal pathway as our route in.

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It takes us little time to travel the approximately ten kilometres to our destination, with only a flat tire to slow us down (I get a lot of flats). Before checking out the bridge we take some time to enjoy lunch, with wine of course.

From our lunch spot we have a pretty good view of the action and it’s amazing to see the bridge damaged as it is. The site is a bee hive of activity with many workers moving about, and lots of machinery, all engaged in cleaning up and fixing the mess.

This event has severed the CPR’s east/west mainline and I am sure the railway is eager to get things back to where they were. This must be costing them, well, a train load of money, both for the repairs and the lost business that likely came about as a result of this event.

This bridge has sat here for approximately one hundred years and while there are those that may say it was its age that contributed to the failure, I don’t buy that. Railways have a philosophy when it comes to their physical plant and they always overbuild and a century old bridge is nothing odd.

Even in spite of its solid construction it could not stand up to the scouring effects of the flood which as I understand it, uncut the trailing edge of the effected support pier (the upstream section of the pier looked fine). There were ongoing inspections above water but there was no way to know what was happening below. However, as long as the bridge remained true, it was a pretty safe bet it was fine. Typically, a failing pier or foundation would be instantly noticeable as parts would shift out of alignment, but that did not happen here and so there was no way to know that a failure was imminent.

At the flood’s peak, the Bow River almost reached the top deck of the bridge.

There are four tracks here, three sharing the span that collapsed, and an additional track on top a second deck on the upstream side. They all share the same piers, which are very wide and this span, built in the 1970s I believe, seemed to be intact. Machinery was using it to get back and forth across the river and it’s possible that a limited number of trains could use this remaining link.

A nearby CNR bridge appeared for the most part, unscathed. I looked down the tracks and they were arrow straight, meaning no visible shifting happened. It is of course entirely possible it sustained some damage that can not be seen by my cursory “inspection”. This one is just upstream.

The majority of the train had passed over the bridge before it failed. A number of tank cars loaded with petroleum products did not make it across and these were a big worry. It was feared they would leak or maybe tumble into the river. In the end however, they were simply emptied of their contents and later re-railed and dragged away. What could have been a catastrophe was quickly averted in a very orderly and business like manner.

This author believes the local media somewhat over dramatized the event. It could have been a huge disaster, there is not doubt about that. However, on closer inspection it was clear there was little chance of the cars falling into the river or even leaking for that matter. They remained completely upright and for the most part unscathed and the bridge while shifted, was mostly intact. Even if it the structure collapsed further, the truss sides would have likely prevented the cars from falling off – even so as a safety measure, they were anchored to other freight cars to keep them from moving. This was a potentially dangerous event, handled systemically and professionally.

In addition to the bridge, it appears some of the track leading from it suffered some damage too and various pieces of machinery were at working realigning everything. Seen directly behind the Bonnybrook bridge is the CPR’s huge Alyth yards.

We take some time to look at the river itself and it’s brown and dirty and still quite high. It’s going to take a long time for things to clear up. So sad.

A quick bike ride back, with no flats this time (knock on wood), and we’re at the car, a good day exploring behind us.

Update: July 09 2013. We returned to the bridge and were able to photograph it from a different angle, again from a public pathway. It was earlier underwater, preventing access until this day. From this direction we have a good look at the damage, although it’s still hard to see exactly what happened. Some Mammoet cranes were stationed on each end of the bridge, ready to do some heavy lifting.

To see an updated report on the bridge, go here…
Collapsed Bonnybrook train bridge – two months later.

We did another report earlier in the year which included some pictures of this bridge, and to view them please click the link below…
Silver Streak movie then and now – cop chase.

If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: June and July, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB

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Fixing bike flat

First things first, I fix a flat, which I get all the time.

Bike ride lunch

After a nice ride it’s time for lunch (with wine).

Bow River floods

The very muddy Bow River as seen from our lunch spot.

CPR Bonnybrook bridge

Our first look at the flood damaged CPR Bonnybrook Bridge.

CNR Bow River bridge

The CNR bridge just upstream seems to have made through the flood unscathed.

Damaged CPR bridge

The middle spans collapsed as a train passed over.

Failed CPR Bonnybrook bridge

This severed the CPR’s east/west mainline.

Fixing CPR Bonnybrook bridge

Crews busily work to repair the damage.

Damaged Bonnybrook bridge

This must be costing the railway train loads of money due to lost business.

CPR Bonnybrook tank car

One of the tank cars involved in the incident. Note the missing coupler.

Bike Ride Calgary Canal

Riding back along the canal.

We revisited the site July 9th and took the following photos…

CP Bonnybrook bridge

A couple weeks later and work continues on fixing the structure.

Collapsed CPR Bow River bridge

The tracks have been removed.

Bonnybrook train bridge

A close up of the damage.

Collapsed CPR bridge

This public pathway was underwater on our last visit.

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36 Comments on "Collapsed Bonnybrook train bridge"

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Stephens Family
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Stephens Family

Wowzers, that bridge is now officially toast. This must be a total nightmare for CP Rail. That bridge is going to have to be completely replaced. Let’s hope that the bridge doesn’t collapse further.

Willis
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Willis

“The bridge, built in 1912…”
There’s your problem. Maybe it’s time to build a new one.

Bobho Walter
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Bobho Walter

Fortunately rail ways have considerable experience dealing with assorted catastrophes and disasters. Should have this one taken care of in no time.

William Jobs
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William Jobs

Today (July 4th) while biking to work I saw a train pass over the undamaged span on the north side. It traveled slowly and there were inspectors watching at each end of the bridge. Or at least I think they were inspectors, as they watched the train very closely.

Yoga granny
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Yoga granny

My Grandfather had a job with CP Rail, this position was track maintenance/watchman, and he would have to walk the tracks in a certain section to check the rails and do minor repairs, bang in a spike, clear dead animals off the rails, etc,

Stanley Lucas
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Stanley Lucas

Were cars purposely left on that bridge over the coarse of the flood as a means to try and stabilize the bridge? Could this company be so stupid as to use dangerous cargo as dead weight over our water ways. People tell me this is a common practice done be the Railway industry.

Gerry Bowers
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Gerry Bowers

I’m glad the train crew made it safely across. Sometimes these things just happen and you know, there’s not much you can do about it.

Praise God
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Praise God

My son works for the railway in Alberta. He told me the infrastructure is not being maintained and it’s all falling apart with disaster is looming.

Great blog by the way!

Billy BL
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Billy BL

Great shots! I am totally surprised no other bridges in Calgary failed.

Zelok
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Zelok

Kudos, a standing ovation to those skilled workers who have cleaned up and are cleaning up the mess. Well done and I thank the lord you professionals are on the job.

Van Der Hall
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Van Der Hall

Based on others comments mine might be a little off topic, but how do you deal with flats? I’ve tried fixing my own but never seem to pull it off. They still leak and I always have a hard time getting all the parts back together. Any advice you could share would be helpful.

Neil Doll
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Neil Doll

I was willing to accept this accident as unavoidable act of nature but with the recent train explosion in Quebec I’m starting to think that the railroads are unsafe.

John BC
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John BC

Your reporting is better than anything I’ve seen on the news. Factual, without over the top dramatics.

Yvonne M
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Yvonne M

I drove past the bridge this morning and it appears it’s being completely dismantled.

Rollie the Human
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Rollie the Human

Amazing reporting! Have you plans to revisit the site again? We’re all waiting!

Ed Murphy
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Ed Murphy

Thanx for posting info about the rail bridges in the Calgary area. My great uncle Thomas Murphy who I am researching worked for the CPR on the bridge and building crews during the early part of the last century.

Dina Sutherland
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Dina Sutherland

Good Afternoon,

I am doing a presentation on the Bonnybrook bridge and I was wondering if I could use one of your photos with the crane on the bridge; I would really appreciate it.

Thanks,
Dina

N Thompson
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N Thompson

This article introduced me to your work many years ago and I come back often to catch up on what you two are doing. Keep it up!

Norman

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