Jul 052013
Cecil AB Bow River bridge

In part two of this report we look at the CPR’s Cecil Alberta bridge as it appeared way back in 1947. That spring heavy ice build up in the Bow River caused sections of the high structure to shift, buckle and tumble into the waters below. Pictures submitted by our readers document both the resultant damage, which was quite extensive, and the repairs that soon followed.

The first shot are from the Douglas R Phillips collection (used with permission) and come courtesy of Brian Hodgkins. They show thick and heavy ice build up in the river pushing hard against the bridge piers. In the shots we can see how parts of the structure have shifted due to the pressure, while others sections have collapsed altogether. It looks as though at least two spans fell into the ice choked river.

The damaged portion of the bridge is on the north half and while other sections appear unscathed in the pictures, it’s likely some shifting has occurred. Not only would the damaged portion need to be repaired, but the entire structure would have to be from top to bottom, thoroughly inspected.

These images show just how powerful mother nature is and even though the river here is shallow and slow it’s still able to pack a wallop.

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The next set of images are courtesy of Larry Buchan and are used with permission and were taken by his friend and former CPR employee Floyd Yates. Those images show how extensive the repairs were. While the damage took place in the spring of 1947, it took up to perhaps a year or even more for the structure to be repaired and traffic restored (sources differ on this).

By this date there was minimal traffic on this section of the line and I am pretty certain the CPR hated pumping this kind of money into what was a lightly trafficked branch. The railway was none the less obligated to provide service and only with government approval could they shut down a line. After this event I am certain that is what the CPR would have LOVED to do. In fact, this line would struggle on for another thirty years before the railway was finally given approval to abandon it.

One has a good view of how they went about fixing the structure and various types of machinery can be seen at the site. A temporary work bridge near water level is visible in some pictures and this allowed easy access to the piers, footings and lower steel work.

A number of boxcars can be seen on the north side of the bridge and these no doubt carried in the materials and supplies needed by the repair crews. It looks like they put in a few temporary sidings to hold the cars. A turn around (called a wye) was also constructed, used by the locomotives that brought in the supply cars.

Also seen is what was appears to be a cement batch plant. Lots of this material would be needed to pour the new bases and piers and in some pictures you can see the forms used to construct them.

This section of track and the bridge was built in 1913 and is along the CPR’s Suffield Subdivision that stretched from it’s namesake town along the railway’s east/west mainline, west to Lomond Alberta. There this line connected with the Lomond Subdivision which came in from the west from a point just south of Calgary – that part is newer and was built in stages between Lomond and Eltham Junction in the period 1925-1930. It closed around the turn of the twenty first century.

This section was finally abandoned in 1977. With few customers, only the portion from Suffield to Hays was pulled up. The branch had another connection in the west and the rest of the towns along the line could be served from there. The west end of the branch always had more business anyway. When this line was pulled up, the bridge was left behind, probably being to costly to dismantle. It stands to this day and further below there is a link you can follow to see what it looks like now.

By the time this bridge was being repaired, service by a weekly mixed train, typically a short freight with a single passenger coach tacked on to the tail end. Later, in 1958, passenger service was discontinued and only freight travelled the line. Later, freight only service was more sporadic and on an as-needed basis.

The last picture shows Floyd Yates at the time of his retirement in 1979. Floyd was author of a book called “Canadian Pacific’s Big Hill” and he shot the photos showing the bridge under repair.

To see part one of this report, where we visit the bridge seen here in the fall of 2012, click the link below…
Abandoned CPR Bow River bridge.

To see some other train bridges we’ve explored, go here…
Bridge hunting – Drumheller Alberta .
Bridge hunting – Bullpound Alberta.
Bridge hunting – Carmangay Alberta.

To visit Larry Buchan’s very interesting blog, where we shares stories about his time working the rails click the link below…

If you’d like to know more about this place, by all means contact us!

Date: Spring 1947.
Location: Near Cecil, AB.

Cecil train bridge damaged

The damaged bridge, spring 1947. From the Douglas R Phillips collection courtesy of Brian Hodgkins.

Damaged Cecil railway bridge

Some sections shifted and others washed right out. From the Douglas R Phillips collection courtesy of Brian Hodgkins.

Cecil AB damaged train bridge

Looking south. From the Douglas R Phillips collection courtesy of Brian Hodgkins.

Cecil Bow River Bridge

The bridge being repaired in the spring of 1947. Picture by Floyd Yeats, compliments of Larry Buchan.

Cecil Alberta railway bridge

Looking north. The river here is quite shallow and slow likely allowing work to proceed quickly. Picture by Floyd Yeats, compliments of Larry Buchan.

Cecil AB Bow River bridge

The ice did a lot of damage. Picture by Floyd Yeats, compliments of Larry Buchan.

Train bridge Cecil AB

The bridge is actually quite high. Picture by Floyd Yeats, compliments of Larry Buchan.

Cecil AB train bridge

This repair must have been costly, Picture by Floyd Yeats, compliments of Larry Buchan.

Floyd Yeats engineer

Floyd Yeats, who took the pictures showing the bridge being repaired, at the time of his retirement in 1979. Picture compliments of Larry Buchan.

Suffield Subdivision Timetable

The mixed train timetable from 1958.


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2 Comments on "Abandoned CPR Bow River bridge part 2"

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Great job! It’s wonderful that you have this network of friends and connections to help you round out a story.