Sep 052014
CPR Lethbridge AB

In case you’ve not seen one of our trademark then and now posts before, we take an old image supplied to us by a reader of the BIGDoer blog and then we visit the location seen to document what things look like today. But that’s not all. We usually go a step further and do our best to duplicate the angle, composition and content of the original. We want our picture to match the old one as closely as possible. This helps connect the two eras together, provides our readers with an usual and interesting way to look at the subject matter and is both huge, huge fun and a great big challenge for us.

Today’s theme is railways and we’re standing along a stretch of track near Lethbridge Alberta looking west. Our old picture is from 1974 and we return to the spot where it was photographed to see if we can shoot something similar.

In the first photo, supplied to us by the incomparable train photographer Greg McDonnell, we see an eastbound CPR freight heading towards his position. Pulling the short train are GP9 #8659, a leased GP9, #144 and F7B #4433. These locomotives, all built by in London Ontario by General Motors Diesel (GMD), date from 1957, 1955 and 1951 respectively.

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It appears, amazing given its age, the lead locomotive is still in service. It was thoroughly rebuilt in 1986 and today is numbered #1620. Based on recent reports (early 2014), it was last seen working on the west coast where its used in switching and transfer service. It’s close to sixty years old!

The second locomotive originally belonged to the Quebec, North Shore and Labrador Railway, an ore hauler in that province’s north, and is still in that company’s colours. In the early 1970s this engine, and many of her sisters, ended up being sold and found their way into a lease fleet. Yes, you can rent a locomotive, just like you can a car and the CPR often did this when there were temporary power shortages. The engine’s owner, when Greg’s photo was shot, was Precision National Corporation, who in the 1970s was a leader in the rent-a-locomotive field.

A couple years after the old photo was shot, #144 made its way to the US where it remained until it was retired in the 1990s.

The final engine was retired by the CPR sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s (exact date unknown). It’s configuration lacks a cab which means it was only used as a trailing locomotive.

The GP9 model was one of the most popular locomotives made. Over six hundred were built for Canadian Railways and several thousand more were made in the US (at GMD’s sister plant: Electromotive Diesel, near Chicago). Even today many GP9s toil away including about seventy on the CPR roster. That sure speaks volumes on how good of a design it is.

The Canadian plant that made the GP9s and F7B seen, and many successor models, closed down in 2012. It was the last locomotive factory in the country. There used to be many.

The old train is comprised of one old refrigerator car and a string of company service ballast hoppers. The latter is used to spread gravel (ballast) along tracks that are under repair or being replaced. The refrigerator car, or reefer as its called, also appears in company service and could be used to transport supplies of some sort or another.

Rules of exploration: show respect, don’t trespass and take only pictures.

The locomotives seen in our now photo include CPR #9574, a General Electric – and you thought they only made home appliances – AC4400CW built in 1995. This model is one of the most common on the current CPR roster. They have several hundred of them, built in the years 1995-2004.

The second engine belongs to the Union Pacific Railway in the US. It’s not uncommon for one company’s locomotives to be used on another. It may be in run-through service or it could be a short term rental. This is is a GE model ES44AC from 2005 which visually looks much like the older lead locomotive. The UP has somewhere around a thousand examples of this model. The CPR has close to three hundred.

The freight we captured is a lowly grain train. It was a good sized one. I did not count the cars but it took a long time to pass.

The track seen here is the CPR’s Crowsnest line which runs west from Medicine Hat, passing through Lethbridge on it’s way into Southern BC. It’s a moderately busy stretch of track.

Let’s look at the pictures and see what’s changed since 1974. Hmm…not much, as it turns out!

The grain elevator seen in the far background in the original photo is gone – I believe it was torn down not long after Greg shot his photo – and some distant background details have changed. Otherwise, the railway line looks the same, the power poles seen in the distance are still in place, the small canal is still there. It today looks as it did then and outside the obvious differences in railway equipment, one would be hard pressed to know that four decades separate the two images.

Our shooting location looks pleasant. However what you can’t see is the Crowsnest Highway which runs in behind, making this a very noisy place. Our position did not allow us to see westbound trains and we didn’t even hear the one we captured approaching on account of the din.

I am really happy how well we lined up our now photograph. Recall, we do not crop photos to make them fit. We reverse engineer, shooting free style and hand held and lined up only by eye – any other way would be too easy. Then use the best results, be they good or not so good.

The original photo is copyright Greg McDonnell and is used with permission. Greg is well known and highly respected in the field has been passionately photographing trains for decades now. That he allowed us use of his work in these then and now posts is a great honour. He sent us a number of other photos, all shot in Southern Alberta and BC, which will be fodder for future articles.

To see some other railway then and now articles, follow these links…
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – West End of Alyth Yard.
Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Downtown West End Calgary.
Irricana then and now – CNR tracks.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: September, 2014.
Location: Lethbridge, AB.

Greg McDonnell Coalhurst AB

The CPR tracks near Lethbridge AB in 1974. Photo by Greg McDonnell.

CPR Lethbridge AB

Forty years later…


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8 Comments on "Canadian Pacific Railway then and now – Lethbridge Alberta"

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J Gardiner
J Gardiner

I really enjoy Greg McDonnell’s work. It was nice that he let you use the photos.

B Salmi
B Salmi

nice pics, btw. love your stuff


Wow, good job! You lined it up almost perfectly.

Joshua Soles
Joshua Soles

Great work! Do you know what the name of the elevator or company was?