Trains in Calgary

Trains in Calgary
Trains in Calgary
Railways and Rendezvous

Trains in Calgary

Your guide to the history and current state of trains in Calgary.
By
Andrew Bain
Born and raised in Calgary Alberta, Andrew is a real hometown tourist who loves to show off our city. Out on most weekends taking in everything that is Calgary, he has a genuine love for this city.

From humble beginnings, Calgary owes what it is, like most large cities, to the railway. It may not seem like it today, but when you do a bit of digging, you can find traces of it everywhere. Whether you're driving downtown as a train rolls along beside you or spending the day at Heritage Park, it is everywhere you look. Though the city no longer has a passenger train service leading out of town, you can still find different ways to enjoy trains and train history in and around Calgary.

This Ain’t No Horse and Buggy – A Brief History of Trains In Calgary

Fort Calgary was first erected in 1875, but the area didn't start flourish until the railway came through in 1883. As it expanded, it brought ranchers, explorers, and entrepreneurs. As people from all walks of life came to Calgary, the population rose over 4,000 and in 1885 Calgary officially became a city. The railway created such a population boom in Alberta that called for a new line to be run between Calgary and Edmonton. Being completed in 1891, the new line changed a 4-day stagecoach ride into a 12-hour train ride. By 1909 Calgary had expanded to a population of over 29,000 and something had to be done to get people around the ever-expanding city. Thus, the age of the streetcar was born.

Calgary is a hub for freight rail transportation

Calgary is a hub for freight rail transportation (photo: Andrew Bain)

Trains still run through downtown

Trains still run through downtown (photo: Andrew Bain)

Check out the remnants of a time gone by with tracks still found in the ground throughout Calgary

Check out the remnants of a time gone by with tracks still found in the ground throughout Calgary (photo by Andrew Bain)

The Reign Of Streetcars

First introduced to a promising start on July 5th, 1909, the streetcar service collected $450 from 9,000 passengers in its first day. Meant to serve all 4 corners of the city, it even ran to areas not serviced by the modern-day C-Train of today. As a large part of Calgary history, there are many different stories involving the streetcars. Calgary's first traffic accident involved a streetcar and Calgary's fire chief as he rushed off for duty. The brakes would occasionally fail on steep grades and in a separate incident, failed to stop before colliding with another trolley. No injuries were reported as the passengers jumped from the still moving trolley before the collision. The streetcar served the city until 1950 when they had to cease operations due to the service barn burning down and destroying 5 of the fleet. Though the tracks have been torn from the ground and rest of the streetcars were dismantled for parts, you can find a replica of Car 14 at Heritage Park. The discontinuation of trolley services in the city was only foreshadowing for what was next in Calgary rail history.

The C-Train downtown

The C-Train downtown (photo: Andrew Bain)

The End Of An Era – Passenger Rail Service Ends In Calgary

The Modern Age Of Transit

At The Heart Of It – Things To Do In Calgary

Though Calgary has no train station where you can catch a ride out of town, there are so many train-related activities inside the city that you won't have to worry about going off of the rails. Here is a list of a few different places you can check out.

Heritage Park’s Steam Engine
Railway Café at Heritage Park

Heritage Park

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Visit Thomas the Tank Engine in May

Visit Thomas the Tank Engine in May

A Day Out With Thomas

Why You Should Ride These Rails

If you’re fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, then this one is definitely for you. In early May at Heritage Park, you'll be able to take in an experience you and your children will never forget. With storytelling, face painting, and photos with Thomas himself, there will be so much to do you'll be glad that it runs for an entire week. The only issue that you’ll run into is that your kids will love it so much, you’ll be having to tell them “all aboard!” in order to get them to leave.

Local Tip

Purchase your tickets before hand to avoid having any issues. As one of Heritage Parks most popular events, tickets will eventually sell out.

Railway days

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Local Tip

The C-Train is free downtown

The C-Train is free downtown (photo: Andrew Bain)

Train Watching & Photography

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Places to watch trains can be found all around the city. This is because the train line that was first built through Calgary still exists and runs straight through downtown. This gives you the opportunity to catch them as the steam through the rail yards and into the distances. Speaking of rail yards, the CP rail yards are beautifully landscaped and make for a perfect afternoon walk. Displaying art pieces, it can also be a delight to photograph. If sightseeing isn’t quite your thing, then try doing long exposure photography with the C-Trains at night. The mix of light and movement can make for some interesting photos, and with the stations practically works of art themselves, it’ll be hard to take a bad photo.

Local Tip

Riding The C-Train

With easy access from downtown, the C-Train is an efficient way to get from point A to point B. Being one of the fastest ways around the city, the ride also provides you with some picturesque views that you can feel free to photograph as you enjoy the ride. Taking the C-Train west out of downtown can make for some of the best photos. As you exit downtown the train leaves ground level and meets up with Sunalta station, which is a station in the sky. From there you’ll get an amazing perspective of Calgary.

Local Tip

Purchase day passes or remember to ask for a transfer in order to help keep costs down.

Alberta Ballet’s offices is a former train station

Alberta Ballet’s offices is a former train station (photo: Andrew Bain)

 

Exploring Local Railroad History

Heritage Park isn't the only place in the city where you can check out some of the artifacts from the train boom. Though passenger trains no longer come through Calgary, there is still one hidden station inside of Calgary. Now housing the creative offices for Alberta Ballet, you can feel free to walk around the outside of the building and even check out the other history around it. Walking down what used to be the station's platform, it's easy to imagine a once bustling area full of people waiting for a train. Nearby, you'll find a train bridge which has been converted into a pedestrian walkway. With iron rails still in the ground, it's easy to see it's original intended use. 

Local Tip

You can head to the City of Calgary run inventory of historic resources and do a search for any railway related historic buildings. Using this as a guideline, you’ll also be able to plan out your own railway history tour of the city.

Iron Horse Park

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Railway Gate Southwest in Airdrie is a short drive outside of Calgary, where you can find Iron Horse Park. Featuring miniature trains, the landscape is meant to represent the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from the prairies to the coast. Taking a ride, you're able to experience what it was like for all the settlers so many years ago, but only in a snack size.

Local Tip

Only open on Sundays, from May to October, you can book for birthday parties or other events. For more information, be sure to check out their website.

Alberta Strong – Activities Outside Of The City

Though passenger railway travel is no longer active inside of Calgary, there can be an great deal of activities to take part in outside of the city. Many experiences, each highlighting different parts of life on the rails, can be found all around Calgary. If you’re looking for a day trip, or even a long-haul experience, then these can be the perfect way to blow off some steam.

Stay in a restored caboose cabin at Aspen Crossing

Stay in a restored caboose cabin at Aspen Crossing

Aspen Crossing

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Located about an hour outside of the city in Mossleigh, Aspen Crossing provides multiple different activities that you and the family can enjoy. There are so many things to do here, that listing them here would take a serious case of tunnel vision. Presenting scenic train tours, escape rooms, and a dining car restaurant, you’ll be able to work on this railway all the live long day. Also hosting special events, there are a couple different gatherings that may draw your attention.

Train Days, taking place during the Father’s Day weekend, may just be the “trainiest” time of the year. The highlights include model trains, train rides, a pancake breakfast, and a brunch buffet.

Local Tip

If you’re looking to stay overnight, there is a couple of different options. You can either stay in the campground provided or if you’re looking for a more authentic experience, check out the caboose cabins. Each situated on their own real railway tracks, you’re able to enjoy a taste of life on the railway without the issues of trying to sleep while in motion. Be sure to check out the website for availability.

Rocky Mountaineer tours begin or end in Calgary, with luxury coach service taking you to the train’s departure or arrival in Banff National Park

Rocky Mountaineer tours begin or end in Calgary, with luxury coach service taking you to the train’s departure or arrival in Banff National Park

The Rocky Mountaineer luxury tours are one of Canada’s gem experiences

The Rocky Mountaineer luxury tours are one of Canada’s gem experiences

Rocky Mountaineer

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Rocky Mountaineer is the closest experience you can get to taking a passenger train trip to or from Calgary, as their awesome tours can begin or end in the city. You’ll take a luxury coach to or from Banff for your train journey through the Canadian Rockies, where your train travel will begin or end.

Local Tip

Book early as it will save you a decent amount of money, and signing up for the newsletter can keep you up to date on any specials they have. Check out the website for all the info.

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions are a great day trip outside of Calgary

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions are a great day trip outside of Calgary

Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions

Why You Should Ride These Rails

Local Tip

The Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions website makes it easy to make plans. Check the schedule to decide on your own experience, and feel free to use the built-in currency convertor in order to know exactly how much you’ll be spending and saving. 

Calgary is a train-lover’s paradise

Calgary is a train-lover’s paradise (photo by Andrew Bain)

The Sun Shall Rise Again

From the steam-powered beasts built by our ancestors to efficient electric powered railway systems and everywhere in between, Calgary has seen it all. It can be a bit surprising to find out how much the city has been and still is influenced by the railway. The downtown core might look completely different hadn’t the tracks been laid out the way they were, and Calgary may even not exist today had it been because of it. Though the past has been a bit shaky, it's obvious that the future holds great things for the railway and Calgary. Steps for future C-Train lines and stations have already been taken to better serve the city as it grows, and improvements on existing lines are always in the works. The fun thing about rail adventures in and around Calgary, is that you’re able to make these experiences your own. With the multiple different packages and so many different events, the only issues that you’ll have are slimming down the list of actives you want to take part in.