Back Before 11 – Portage la Prairie

I often go railfanning on weekend mornings. I’m an early riser, while the rest of my family likes to sleep in, so it’s either putter around by myself or go look at trains. The trains often win.

On the last weekend of February 2021, my wife and I made a deal. I would go railfanning as long as I was back before 11 AM and I brought coffee home. Good deal!

I decided to head west to Portage la Prairie, following CN’s main line there and maybe following CP back.

CN 8816 East

CN 8816 Eastbound at Hall Road
CN 8816 Eastbound at Hall Road

As soon as I arrived at the CN main line, by the Perimeter Highway on the west side of the city, I found an eastbound train at Hall Road, waiting to go into the city.

Shortly after I saw it, it started moving. It was rather cold out – around -20C – so the train had a distributed braking boxcar in the middle to provide extra air for the train brakes.

Distributed boxcar CN 0069
Distributed boxcar CN 0069

After I photographed that train, I continued west along the CN main line. I didn’t see any trains all the way to Elie. I paused there briefly but there was no sign of any trains. There was a green signal facing east at Elie, but since I had just come from the east, I knew it would be a while before any train came along. I elected to continue west.

At Oakville, I left the highway and drove into the town to meet the main line again. From there I continued west through Newton. I decided to head to Nattress, a location I’ve been at before, and hope for a train to come along.

Nattress is where the two-track CN main line narrows to a single track to cross the Assiniboine River. I don’t know why this bridge has never been replaced with a two track bridge. I suppose it isn’t worth it for CN to spend the millions on that when the rest of the track between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie is doubled. Because it’s single track, it’s not unusual for trains to pause here to wait their turn to cross the bridge.

There was no train waiting when I arrived. I parked near the crossing and waited in my car. Every now and then, I’d get out and walk to the crossing, look east and listen for a train, then retreat to my car. It was too cold to stand outside for an extended period of time.

While I was waiting, someone came driving past in a pickup, pausing to check to ensure I was OK. Country people are good people.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, I stepped out of my car for the third or fourth time and heard a rumble from the west. I grabbed my camera and video camera and rushed to the crossing to set up.

IC 2721 East

Rounding the bend at Nattress
Rounding the bend at Nattress

It wasn’t long before the train came rolling around the curve. This was the main reason why I set up here – that curve. There aren’t a lot of curves in the track between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie!

The conductor returned my wave as they rolled past, and I watched as the train rolled by.

Here’s the video.

Satisfied with that, I packed up and continued west to Portage la Prairie. There was nothing happening on the CN line there, so I headed the kilometre or two north to the CP main line.

As I drove up to the crossing, I saw the east facing signals light up, red. That told me there was a train “behind” them heading east. I quickly set up to record it.

CP 8735 East

Storming out of Portage la Prairie
Storming out of Portage la Prairie

CP 8735 led a long doublestack train. I liked the snow they kicked up as they rolled past.

CP 9808 was the mid train locomotive, with a mismatched panel under the conductor’s window. At least it was still red!

Mismatched paint
Mismatched paint

Here’s the video for that train.

I headed into the city.

In Portage

Across the tracks, I saw this burned out hulk of a refrigerated boxcar. Maybe it was the boxcar from this October 14, 2020 news report?

As I was “admiring” this boxcar, another CN eastbound train came rolling past. I didn’t get any good photos of CN 3867 and CN 2999 leading the train as I was out of position.

I caught the tail end passing by the former CN train station… defaced by graffiti.

CP had a locomotive in their “cage” in Portage, CP 2299. They have several local customers so it is not unusual for a local switcher to be in the city. In the past, CP had one stationed there permanently (see Eric Gagnon’s post) but these days the locomotive is brought in on a freight train and returned to Winnipeg when it’s done. CP has it in a fenced off area, I assume to protect it from vandals.

Back to the CN station. It’s no longer used by CN, nor by VIA I believe. I’m glad that the heat is still on, at least.

Still here... for now
Still here… for now

Soon another CN eastbound came along. There were a lot of eastbound trains!

CN 3883 East

CN 3883 passing the ex CN train station in Portage la Prairie, MB
CN 3883 passing the ex CN train station in Portage la Prairie, MB

This was the fourth CN eastbound train I saw that morning!

After it passed, I decided to follow it into Winnipeg. I hit the road.

As I passed Oakville on the Trans-Canada Highway, I saw a westbound train in the distance.

I quickly exited onto a grid road and headed toward the tracks. I didn’t expect to be able to reach the tracks before they passed, but it turned out that they weren’t going at full track speed. I was able to get reasonably close.

CN 2504 Meets CN 3883

CN 2504, meet CN 3883
CN 2504, meet CN 3883

The westbound train was led by CN 2504, and it turned out that they were meeting CN 3883 East, the train I just saw leave Portage la Prairie.

I managed to stop my car at the right spot to catch the meet.

After snapping a few photos, I took off east to catch CN 3883 again.


CN 3883 passing Fortier
CN 3883 passing Fortier

I drove through the tiny community of Fortier to capture them again, stretched out across the prairie. Fortier is basically a collection of a few houses. At one time it was a station stop.

I grabbed a few shots of the head end and continued on to catch them one more time.


CN 3883 at Elie, Manitoba
CN 3883 at Elie, Manitoba

I elected to try a new spot in Elie. Normally I would be south of the tracks to be on the “sun side”, but you can see that the sun wasn’t out to play that morning. That meant I could try any angle, so I tried this one. There used to be a siding in the foreground to serve the elevator, but it was removed some time ago.

I like this angle. I’ll try it again.

Continuing west, I found a few more trains.

CN 3867 East, Again

Oh hello again! CN 3867 and 2999 waiting at mile 15
Oh hello again! CN 3867 and 2999 waiting at mile 15

There was CN 3867 East, stopped at mile 15 short of Wescana Street. That was the train I didn’t get a good photo of in Portage la Prairie earlier. I paused to take a photo of it and carried on east.

IC 2721 East, Again

IC you again - IC 2721 and crew at Hall Road
IC you again – IC 2721 and crew at Hall Road

There was another train from earlier in the morning, headed by IC 2721, the one I saw at Nattress. They were stopped short of Hall Road.

My time was up, so I headed home… picking up a coffee along the way for my wife.

Just One More Thing

I think I mentioned earlier that I am developing a database of Canadian railway books. It’s up to 251 books now and I’m still looking for more to add!

You can view the database in a few different ways. I’m working on adding another view to see it by railway.

View the Canadian railway book database

View Canadian train books by province

14 thoughts on “Back Before 11 – Portage la Prairie”

  1. Good stuff as always Steve!
    The shots of 2721 coming out of the curve and CP 8735 are great!
    Really like the depth of focus shots at Fortier, Elie and 3867 also.

  2. Even though there is some graffiti on the side of the station, I think that the close-in shot of the tank car passing the station is especially interesting. The picture really shows the detail of the truck side frame and the wheels sets, as well as the double shelf coupler and the end of train device. Other things such as the placard and the details on the tank shell add interest to the picture too.

    If neither Via or CN are using the Portage station, does it have some other use? It looks to be well maintained.

    • Hi Brian, I’m glad you liked that shot of the tank car passing the station. I’ve always been grateful for people taking photos of seemingly pedestrian views, because future historians treasure that kind of photos for the details they preserve. I know Eric Gagnon has commented on that more than once.

      I heard that a security company was using the Portage station as an office, but I have no verification of that.

  3. My Dad was always amazed how an entire train could be visible between Winnipeg and Portage la Poop. You’ve captured it well.

    I noticed the Bob Hope reference in an earlier comment response. It reminded me of his ‘Road to…’ movies!

    Thanks for sharing,

    • It’s not hard to capture an entire train out here… the hard part is waiting for it to finally arrive.

      Bob Hope – now there’s someone I haven’t watched in a long time. I remember my parents watching his specials “back in the day”.

  4. We got double track west of Portage all the way to Firdale now on the CN side. I don’t think you’ll be home by 11 though!
    If you ever want to add some pics of what’s left of CPs Varcoe sub, let me know!

    • Hi Duane, I have to spend more time on the west side of Portage la Prairie! I might need a few more minutes, though…

      I would love to see what’s left of the old Varcoe subdivision. Please contact me!


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