Mar 312014
Richard Hart CPR Calgary cropped

Join us for another BIGDoer then and now! For this report we’ll visit the Canadian Pacific Railway’s mainline just west of downtown Calgary (train themes, one of my favs). The first image is from 1984 and was contributed by the photographer who captured it and we visit that same spot to see if we can duplicate his shot. Finding the location and lining things up was a both a breeze. We hoped for a train to show and we waited and waited for well over an hour, but none were seen. We tried!

In the original image we see four locomotives smoking it up as they head west. Passing under Crowchild Trail, in the community of Sunalta, they’ll soon enter a natural wooded area bordered by the Bow River to the north and a large escarpment to the south. Surrounded by the city, this park is a very un-urban like environment, only seen by train crews and those on foot or bike (there are lots of trails).

Leading the the train are a quartet of GMDD model SD40 series locomotives. At the time they were the most commonly seen engines on the CPR roster – the railway eventually owned almost 600! From the mid-1970s and well into the 2000s, nearly every train seemed to be powered by them. Even today a few stragglers can be found although their numbers are quickly thinning. Mostly relegated to local service in 2014, at the time the first image was captured, they powered the majority of mainline freights. Any I’ve seen recently have all looked pretty rough.

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These were built at the General Motors Diesel Division plant in London Ontario (closed in 2012). The railway first sampled this model in 1966 and continued to purchase them up until 1988 (models SD40, SD40-2 and SD40-2F). It was a love affair.

Only two of the locomotives are identifiable. The first, #5703, is from an order of 43 engines built in 1974-75. It lasted in CPR service until 2005 when it was sold to a US based locomotive leasing company, National Railway Equipment, who put it into their rental fleet (yes you can rent a locomotive). It looked pretty bad by this time. After a couple years in that service it found a new calling and made its way to Brazil finding work for the railway, América Latina Logística. This author has seen photos showing it in that service as late as 2009 but nothing after. It’s not known what its currant status is.

The second locomotive is #5871 and was one of 75 built in 1980-81. Photos from as late as 2009 show it in CPR service – they sure got good mileage out of these SD40s. As some point after that date it was sold to a locomotive parts dealer (Progress Rail) and was last seen languishing in their scrap line. It’s old and probably well worn out and is likely to be torched and parts salvaged off of it.

The numbers on the other two locomotives could not be read. It’s possible, however remote, that one or both are still in service today. The railway still rosters a fleet of SD40s, albeit a beat up rag-tag and ever shrinking fleet, some twenty five years after the last one was built. Maybe, just maybe, one or two of these unidentified engines is among that group. I doubt it though. In all likelihood, they are gone from the CPR system and are either working elsewhere or have been scrapped.

Note that the lead locomotive has red with white safety stripes while the others are black with white. It’s not clear why one or the other scheme was used. We do know they were to help make the engine more visible to pedestrians and cars at grade crossings.

Looking at our photo, you can see how easy it was to line things up. The bridge in back was a great help. That structure carries busy Crowchild Trail over top both the CPR line and the Bow River. The latter is just off scene to the left. While the road signs seen in the old image have been moved, their old mounting pad can still be seen in our shot, just to the left of the yellow car.

There used to be two parallel train tracks here, one the mainline and another a side track which was used to access various industries in the area.

In the original image not much can be seen in the background, outside the road bridge that is. In our sans-train view however, things open up. The Calgary Tower and many other skyscrapers in downtown can be seen to the left. Many of these buildings would have been in place when the first image was captured.

To the right, the blue bridge in back carries Bow Trail over this same rail line. Above it is a viaduct supporting the west leg of the LRT, which was only built a few years back. The area next to all the crooked trees on the left is a public green space paralleling the Bow River.

The track here is along the CPR’s east/west mainline which spans most of Canada. This section is known as the Laggan Subdivision. Lots of trains pass here, but alas they were shy this day and we saw none. Back in the 1970s I went to school not far away and often walked this section of the line on my way to and from home.

The original image was contributed by and is copyright Richard Hart and is used with permission. Thanks Richard we had fun! If you have an old image where you’d like us to revisit the spot seen in it to check out what things looks like today and then document it on this blog, by all means send it to us. Contact information can be found below.

To see other train themed posts on this blog, follow these links…
West Canadian Collieries #1 – then and now.
Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions train Big Valley Alberta.
North Vancouver waterfront trains 1989.

If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: March, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.

Richard Hart CPR Calgary

A westbound CPR train just outside downtown Calgary (circa 1984). Photo by Richard Hart.

CPR tracks Calgary

The same view in 2014 – we waited over an hour for a train but none showed.


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6 Comments on "Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Sunalta Calgary"

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Bernie Nemeth

I ride bike beside this track occasionally in the summer just west of here. Always enjoy catching a view of a passing train. One day I caught sight of a quite different locomotive.

Here comes engine 2816

Rick and Mary
Rick and Mary

Hi Chris,
Thanks for sending me the results of your efforts. I enjoyed your article very much and you did a great job on the photo.
Rick (Ed: who shot the original photo)

Matthew Hicks
Matthew Hicks

The reason for black vs red stripes is actually quite simple – They were always red on the front, but were black on the rear of units with the multimark logo and red on those without.