Just over two months ago many parts of Southern Alberta were under water. Unusually heavy rains, combined with melting snow pack in the mountains caused widespread flooding and many people were affected. The Bow River in Calgary, normally a pretty pristine and otherwise fairly calm river burst its bank in places, making a mess of many neighbourhoods.
The railways fought this onslaught of water by doing regular bridge inspections. They also parked loaded rail cars on them in a effort to weight then down so they would not shift. This is common practice in the industry yet the inept local media reported that trains we stalling on the bridges. They typically will park cars loaded with grain or gravel, so that in the off chance the bridge fails and the cars tumble into the river, that what ever is spilled will do no real damage.
In spite of these precautions, downstream from the city’s core, the CPR Bonnybrook bridge shifted as a freight passed over it, one span partially collapsing into the rushing waters below. Fortunately the train was not moving fast and the tank cars that remained on the failed section (why is it always tank cars) did not overturn and remained upright. They were carrying various nasty chemicals, which would have been disastrous had the cargo leaked. But it didn’t and they were quickly emptied and hauled away, allowing repairs on the bridge to start almost immediately.
Our first report on the bridge was quite popular, our most read and most tweeted post, and we’ve been asked numerous times to return. So we did – how can we refuse?
On our last visit, we could see the one span that has shifted. It appears to have slipped off the western most pier. It did not touch the river bottom but was partially submerged for a time. Once the muddy mess receded it was left dangling above the water.
On approaching the site, we see a lot of metal chunks cut from the bridge lying about. Looking at the bridge however, it does not appear much has been done and it looks much as it did on our fist visit. I’m sure the crews are working hard, it just doesn’t look like it from this angle. No matter how fast they work though, I sure it’s not nearly fast enough for the CPR.
The span that shifted held three of the four tracks that cross the river here. Down to only a single track now, this must really be creating quite a bottleneck for the railway, The bridge that was unaffected was a newer span built in the 1970s. The collapsed structure was older, built about a hundred years ago.
I know what most are thinking, but I am not completely convinced the structure’s age was the main factor in its collapse. Railways ALWAYS overbuild and a century old bridge is nothing – and while I can’t back this argument up at the moment – since no one is talking about the REAL reason WHY the bridge collapsed as it did – I believe there is more to the story yet to be told.
It’s not clear what they railways will do once the old bridge is finally dismantled. Will they build a similar bridge? Will it hold three tracks as before? Who knows? Does the CPR even know?
This bridge is located on the east side of the CPR’s huge Alyth yard, along the railway’s east west mainline. This event must have cost the company a fortune in lost business and repairs.
The last time we visited the bridge, we biked in, but this pass we walked a short distance from a nearby road. The public pathway passes close to the structure allowing photos to be taken without resorting to trespassing.
I’m pretty sure I’ll revisit the site at least one more time. There is lots of work left to be done, which I’d like to document.
Be sure an read our original report from two months ago…
Collapsed Bonnybrook train bridge.
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB