History of Motive Power Used by
the Railways of Central Alberta
Red Deer and Central Alberta witnessed the
evolution of motive power with a wide range of locomotive styles and
classes from steam to diesel over the past 120
Steam locomotives are identified mostly by wheel arrangement -- the
number of wheels at the front (small), the drive wheels in the
middle (large) and the trailing wheels (small). A 4-4-4 wheel
arrangement would have 4 wheels (2 axles) at each of the three
locations. Most of these wheel arrangements also had names
(sometimes varying from railroad to railroad). The 4-4-4 was a CPR
The earliest Canadian Pacific steam locomotives used on the
Calgary-Edmonton line for both passenger and freight were variations
of the American/Brown 4-4-0's during the 1980s and 1900s. Canadian
National used them until well into the 1930s.
The most common locomotive type stationed in Red Deer between the
mid-1900s until the mid-1950s were the 4-6-0 "Ten-Wheeler" d10
built between 1884 and 1915. They were used primarily for local
freights, branch-line freights and pushers out of the Red Deer River
valley by Red Deer crews. Over 500 of this class of locomotive were
purchased over time by the railway. In 1952, 7 d10s were assigned to
CP Red Deer. This class of locomotive was also popular with both
Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Pacific with some being in service
on Canadian National as late as 1958.
Introduced in 1906 and built until 1948, 4-6-2 Pacifics were the
backbone of both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National
locomotive fleets with hundreds used across the country for both
freight and passenger service. CP owned more than 400 of this type
and were some of the last steam engines in operation in the late
1950s. This class was used on all three
Calgary-Edmonton rail lines (CPR, GTP and CNorR).
Around 1929, Canadian Pacific introduced the 2-10-4 Selkirk, the
largest steam locomotive to run in the British Commonwealth,
primarily for mountain service. When the transcontinentals converted
to diesel in the early 1950s, Selkirks found themselves on the
Calgary-Red Deer fast freight service from around 1951 until 1957.
They were so large that they couldn't be turned on the Red Deer
turntable but had to use the wye to change direction. The last of
the Selkirks is on display at Heritage Park in Calgary.
4-6-4 semi-streamlined Royal Hudsons, used primarily for heavy
cross-country passenger trains, were known to make their way on the Calgary-Edmonton
line. The use of 'Royal' was sanctioned after a Hudson pulled the
train for King George VI and Elizabeth during their transcontinental
trip in 1939. Restored no. 2816 dubbed the 'CPR Empress' was
re-acquired by Canadian Pacific and is used for excursion service.
It has passed through Red Deer a few times in recent years. Another,
no. 2860 was operated for several years by the Province of British
Columbia for excursion service on the west coast.
Canadian National took delivery of 20 green and black Mountain 4-8-2
streamlined bullet-nosed steam locomotives in 1944, one of which,
restored no. 6060, is currently used on the Stettler train
excursions to Big Valley. Previous versions of the Mountain type
were used on the CN main lines since 1930 and a few remained in
service until 1960 on secondary lines.
Most steam locomotives were converted from coal to oil by 1951,
effectively putting an end to the need for Brazeau (Nordegg) coal
mines and to some extent the mines at Drumheller/East Coulee.
Passenger Steam Locomotives
The earliest passenger trains starting in 1890 and into the early
1900s were headed by 4-4-0 American locomotives. In the mid-1900s,
they were replaced primarily by 4-6-2 Pacific locomotives that ran
well into the early 1950s, although other types were also used.
Pacific introduced 'The Chinook' in 1936 on the Calgary-Edmonton
line through Red Deer as a new 'high speed' passenger train. It was
headed by 4-4-4 semi-streamlined Jubilee
F2a class locomotive no. 3001, one of only five of this
class ever built, designed specifically for fast inter-city passenger
service. The train was one hour faster between the two cities than
conventional passenger trains at the time, including
the daily 'Eskimo/Stampeder' trains
and two other intercity trains, one of which was an over-nighter.
Except during the war years
when heavier locomotives were required, 'The Chinook' ran until 1955
when it was replaced by the Budd Dayliner.
Unfortunately, none of the F2a class survived the scrap yard
but two of 20 F1a class of Jubilees (similar but significantly
survived -- one currently at the Canadian Railway Museum in Quebec
and one at Steamtown in Pennsylvania. F1a Jubilees were occasionally
seen in Red Deer on their way to Edmonton where they ran the
passenger line to Lloydminster.
Diesel locomotives were named differently than steam locomotives.
Instead of by wheel arrangement, manufacturers used model numbers
with letters designating purpose or some of other feature of the
locomotive and usually a model number. Until recently, most diesel
locomotives in western Canada were manufactured by General Motors
Diesel. GMD GP (General Purpose) locomotives have 2 axles front and
back (sometimes referred to as B-B) and were used almost everywhere.
As larger locomotives were developed, they were used more for yard
work. General Motors SD (Special Duty) locomotives have 3 axles
front and back and replaced the GPs for yard work. The earliest
diesels were switchers (S) and streamlined cab units used for both
freight and passenger service. Early General Motors cab units were
mostly 4-axle F units, sometimes followed by a P designating
passenger service, and a few 6-axle E units.
The first CP diesel locomotive to visit Red Deer was in 1949, likely
an S-2 or S-4, but diesels did not become the norm until the
mid-1950s when they effectively brought an end to steam. Except for
special occasions, the last CP steam locomotives had left Red Deer
by 1959 and even then were rare. The last Canadian National steam
locomotive was seen in Red Deer in 1955 when the CN station on 47
Although Fairbanks Morse C-liners and Trainmasters occasionally
moved CP trains from the early 1950s to the late 1960s between the
two major cities, 4-axle General Motors Diesel FP7s, GP7s and GP9s became the most
common diesel locomotives on the line from the mid-1950s well into
the 1970s. Canadian National also heavily invested in these classes
of locomotives but received a few early version F3s in 1948. In the
mid-1960s second generation 4-axle units, mostly of the GP35 variety
started replacing some of the earlier CP versions.
Alco/MLW C424 diesel freight locomotives were common from 1965 to
the mid-1980s when western Canada became almost exclusively General
3,000 hp GMD 6-axle SD40 locomotives were introduced in 1966 and the
SD40-2 in 1972 of which CP acquired 535 of the two types to become
the main road work-horses for the next couple of decades, most
equipped with dynamic brakes. In 1988, CP ordered 25 SD40-2Fs,
commonly called 'red barns', a state-of-the-art modified version of
the SD40 with a cowl style body, that were seen regularly on the C &
E line. Canadian National had several SD40s but only 100 had dynamic
brakes due to gentler grades through the mountains and later
versions sported the cowl style noses introduced by CN.
Passenger Diesel Locomotives
Early diesel passenger locomotives were streamlined cab units
referred to as F units, sometimes with the letter 'P' indicating it
had a steam generator for heating passenger cars such as the GMD
In 1955, Budd
RDC (Rail Diesel Car) 'Dayliners' (introduced in 1954) replaced the
Jubilees on the CP line. Dayliners cut the travel time from Calgary to Edmonton to
3-1/2 hours compared to the five hour run of the Chinook.
Dayliners also ran on the Canadian National lines between Calgary
and Edmonton starting in 1956. One ran on the former Grand Trunk
Pacific line through Three Hills, Delburne, Mirror and Camrose and
another ran on the former Canadian Northern line from Drumheller
through Big Valley and Stettler to Camrose where the two were
combined for the rest of the trip to Edmonton. The service was
discontinued in stages between 1971 and 1981.
When VIA Rail took over all CP and CN passenger service in 1978, the
Dayliners continued on the CP Calgary-Edmonton corridor until 1985
when the service was cancelled.
Several types of diesel motive power were used during the last 30
years of passenger service on the CP line including E8s in 1973 and almost any
other type of locomotive that was available when the Dayliners were
out of service or there was a particularly high demand, usually
In the early 1980s, Via Rail tested a new style of passenger train
in the corridor called the LRC that was proposed for the
Calgary-Edmonton run but ended up only being used in Eastern Canada.
Colour Schemes and Logos
In 1968, a new action red 'pacman' colour scheme replaced the tuscan
red and grey for CP that had been used since the first diesels went
into production. On the Canadian National, it was 1961 that the
railway introduced its new look with the 'wet noodle' logo, diagonal
black and light grey stripes (on its road units -- yard units were
black) and orange-red noses on its locomotives replacing the green
and black livery of its earlier diesels.
The Alberta Prairie Steam Tours that run from Stettler to Big Valley
have a Consolidation 2-8-0 steam locomotive similar to those run by
CN from 1920 to 1960 and a Mountain 4-8-2 6060 that ran on CN from
1944 to around 1960. It also boasts several vintage passenger
coaches and a caboose.