With the cold weather that settled in over the prairies in December, there hasn’t been much opportunity to get out and explore. We’ve been staying quite close to home and hiding out in the basement watching movies filmed in Alberta to try and find locations we recognize.
One exception was December 12, when we decided to brave the frigid temperatures and get out to follow the CP Holiday Train. Last year we saw it in Calgary but this time we decided to avoid the large crowd and see it in some smaller centers. We also thought it would be fun to track it along several stops instead of just one. We started in Cochrane and figured we would follow it as far west as our time, energy, and the weather would allow.
For those who are unaware, the Holiday Train has been an annual tradition since 1999. This year the US route started in Montreal, ran through Chicago and then ended in Regina, SK. The Canadian version also started in Montreal but stayed north of the border and ended up in Port Moody, BC. I find it interesting CP Rail touts the train as running “coast to coast” when it completely ignores our friends in Atlantic Canada. It really just runs “to coast”. Regardless, it is a wonderful tradition and it generates a lot of donations for local food banks across the country.
The scheduled arrival in Cochrane was at 14:45. Being middle of the afternoon on a Monday probably limited the crowd quite a bit, but it was still a decent showing of people. The featured artists on the train for 2016 were Canadian recording musicians Dallas Smith and Odds. I must admit I wasn’t really familiar with either artist, but they did a great job, especially in such cold temperatures.
The shows all follow a similar pattern. The train rolls up, the boxcar opens, there is some music, a presentation with the local dignitaries, some more music, and then the boxcar closes up and the train departs — all packaged into a tight 30 minute schedule.
There was quite a bit of traffic in Cochrane after the train left so we had to wait through several cycles of the traffic lights at Highway 1A and 4th Avenue W. before we could get on the road. That gave the train a chance to get a fair distance ahead of us, but since the tracks cross to the south side of the Bow River just west of town, the train wasn’t going to be visible to us most of the way anyway.
We did beat the train to Morley and were able to park along a road and watch it roll it. We then drove up to the gas station where the performance took place. I think the highlight was Emily managing to get a photo op with the ATCO Gas mascot Digger the Prairie Dog.
We left before the show was done because we weren’t sure where our next spot to see the train would be. We knew with the sun setting we wanted to get some shots of the train all lit up in the dark and we also wanted to see if we could catch it in motion somewhere along the lines.
There were some other people along Highway 1A also setting up for shots of the train. Just before the town of Exshaw, we pulled a safe distance off the road and Emily did some scouting for us and found a great spot above the tracks. We bundled up as much as we could and waited.
And waited some more.
In reality, it was only about 30 or 40 minutes before the train came through. We had one false alarm when another westbound train came through, but it was “just” an intermodal. With the temperatures well below freezing, I was shaking pretty good by the time the Holiday Train reached our location. Add that shaking to the fact that I was shooting with a cell phone in the dark and the quality of the video wasn’t all that great, but it was quite the sight to see in person.
Our biggest relief came when we got back to the Liberty. It had been parked in subzero temperatures for about 45 minutes with its emergency flashers on and I was worried about the strain on the battery. However, it fired up no problem and we were soon enjoying the warm blast of the heater and the hot chocolate that Emily had brought along.
We were cold enough that we decided to abandon any plans of catching the train in Banff. We drove as far as Canmore where we caught up with Highway 1 and headed for home.