Paul Pettypiece consulting research logo 4 image slide show

Paul Pettypiece


The Forth

Rails and

   Historic Trails

    Rail History of
    Central Alberta

    Rail Heritage

    High Speed
    Rail Corridor
    for Alberta

    The Trans
    Canada Trail in
    Central Alberta




 Rail History

 Red Deer
 and Area

Trail over former CPR bridge Red Deer

Paul on CN 6060 at Stettler

Trans Canada Trail pavilion Red Deer

Canadian Pacific locomotives

Alexander Way Red Deer

Mintlaw ACR trestle


Rails and Trails
revised July 2012
Red Deer River 
The first transportation corridors in Central Alberta were the rivers and their many tributaries. A series of trails used by native peoples, fur traders and explorers opened up the region for the earliest European settlers and missionaries. The original locations of Red Deer, Innisfail and Tail Creek were determined by the confluence of a river and trails.

Some of the more famous trails in the region include the Calgary and Edmonton Trail (an ancient trail that had been formerly known by explorers and traders as the Wolf's Track Trail, Bow Trail and Old North Trail), Morley Trail, Rocky Mountain House Trail, Burnt Lake Trail, Cowboy Trail, Explorer's Trail, Coal Trail, Boomtown Trail and First Nations' Overland Trail.
excursion train 2816 through Central AlbertaHowever the most profound mode of transportation that determined the location of new communities and the sustainability of older ones was the coming of the railroad. The railroad encouraged an influx of settlers from many corners of the world and made possible the distribution of agricultural products and the many natural resources of the area. It also displaced trails and waterways as the principle means of moving people and goods. 
Communities were created, disappeared or relocated as a result of where the railroads chose to build. The town sites of Red Deer and Innisfail were relocated and the new towns of Lacombe, Blackfalds, Bowden, Delburne, Sylvan Lake, Benalto, Eckville, Mirror, Big Valley and Stettler were determined by where one of the railroads built its line, its water tanks and its grain handling facilities.

historic CPR station downtown Red Deer
Major distribution centres, including Red Deer, were determined in large part by where the railroads established their divisional points. At one point, four railroads were built or were planned to be built in nine directions out of Red Deer. In many cases, when the railroad left, communities stopped growing or even declined. For fifty years, the railways enjoyed being the major means of transportation for people and products as well as the centre of communication and social interaction.
But as historic trails became roads and the affordable automobile gave people flexibility and freedom of mobility, the railways' role of being the only dependable way for people on the prairies to get from place to place started to decline. With the advent of air travel combined with the popularity of motor vehicles, many passenger trains were discontinued, especially in the mid to late 1950s. As rail lines became less profitable, many were abandoned over the next 40 years and the railways increasing concentrated on freight and bulk goods.
Innisfail trailsBut history has a way of going full circle.

On the one hand, more and more people are looking for organized trails as a means of healthy and inexpensive recreation in a natural and diverse environment. People are looking for active transportation corridors that are safe but provide the opportunity to appreciate culture, history and various uses of the landscape.

The logical extension of that quest is the use of abandoned railway lines where available. These lines are natural linear corridors that connect communities, recreational areas and provide an appreciation of our agricultural roots.

Trans Canada Trail marker at Waskasoo ParkThe construction of rural bicycle and walking trails represent an alternate and economical form of getting around. In addition, they are necessary for the safety of our children and youth by providing an alternative to walking or bicycling on busy and dangerous highways.

While some trails can be dedicated to walkers, runners and bicyclists, other trails could be dedicated to snowmobiles, off-road vehicles and/or horses, depending on the needs and efforts of communities and interest groups.

The Trans Canada Trail in central Alberta, when completed, will, in some sections, generally follow the historic Calgary and Edmonton Trail corridor, some portions of which may be built parallel to Highway 2A.

former CPR bridge over river at Red DeerAlready excellent trail systems, including sections of the TCT, exist in Red Deer, Innisfail, Lacombe and Ponoka. A former CPR railway bridge in downtown Red Deer has been preserved and is now part of the extensive Waskasoo Park trail system. Trans Canada Trail rural linkages are being planned and/or developed to join these communities together.

Two major pedestrian bridges were constructed in 2010 at the Blindman and Battle Rivers. Lacombe County has made considerable progress -- first, linking the Blindman River bridge to Blackfalds, and then, linking Blackfalds with the city of Lacombe. Plans are under way to link Red Deer with Bowden through Springbrook, Penhold and Innisfail as well as Lacombe with Ponoka. Some areas, including from Red Deer to the Blindman River bridge, are using the historic former Calgary and Edmonton Trail.
Alberta Central Railway bridge
Some trail corridors may be established using former railway rights of way, including Red Deer to Sylvan Lake on the former Alberta Central Railway subdivision of Canadian Pacific Railway which was abandoned in 1983 and purchased by Red Deer County in 2009, Rocky Mountain House to Nordegg on the former Canadian Northern Western Railway operated until 1955 by the Canadian National Railway, Torrington to Irricana on the former Acme subdivision of Canadian Pacific Railway, and Big Valley to Morrin on the former Canadian Northern line that became the southern portion of the Stettler subdivision of Canadian National.

Other possible future trail corridors may include: along the Red Deer River east and southwest of Red Deer, Red Deer to Delburne, along the Medicine River from Benalto to Glennifer Lake, the Boomtown Trail along Highway 21, and other areas, Further down the road, more trails could develop with linkages to Pine Lake, Buffalo Lake and Gull Lake.
Edmonton LRT and pedestrian crossing next to historic high level rail bridgeOn the other hand, as gas gets more costly, highways get more congested and there's a greater awareness of our carbon footprint, passenger travel by rail is gaining more attention both within urban areas and between them.
As the population of the region grows with migration of people from areas where a high level of public transit is normal, as the resident population ages, and as the cost of fuel increases, there will be an increasing trend to use alternative transportation if it is available, efficient and environmentally-friendly. Dedicated right of ways need to be established that could some day evolve into a mass transit system like light commuter rail or street cars.
high speed railFor longer distances, a proposed high speed train between Calgary and Edmonton could whisk people between the two major centres in as little as 85 minutes. A Red Deer terminal site has yet to be determined but one option is an intermodal terminal at the Red Deer Regional Airport. An integration between those two modes of travel could be very beneficial to the growth and economy of the region providing that an efficient feeder system is established from downtown Red Deer and surrounding communities to the terminal. Rights of way need to be determined in the very near future for various forms of rapid public transportation.               

          Historic Trails in Central Alberta
               The Calgary and Edmonton Trail
          The Railway History of Red Deer and Central Alberta
               The Calgary and Edmonton Railway (Canadian Pacific)
               The Calgary and Edmonton Railway near Red Deer (Canadian Pacific)
               The Alberta Central Railway (abandoned Canadian Pacific)
               The Canadian Northern Western Railroad (Canadian National Brazeau sub)
               The Canadian Northern Railroad (Canadian National)
          Railway Heritage Preservation in Central Alberta
               The Alberta Central Heritage Model Rail Project
               'Moving People by Rail' Themed Community Proposal
                    Historic Rail Background for 'Moving People by Rail'
          The Vision of Inter-Urban Rapid Passenger Transportation Corridors in Alberta
          Progress on the Completion of the Trans Canada Trail in Central Alberta

Paul Pettypiece consulting research logo2The Forth Junction Project
Central Alberta Regional Trails



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