Can’t Reach It

Along with trains and grain elevators, I like bridges. Back in the days when Google+ was still a thing, I ran the “Bridges Over Tuesday” circle where people posted photos of bridges on that day. I have a lot of photos tagged “bridge” in my Adobe Lightroom catalog.

Manitoba doesn’t have a lot of significant railway bridges. Part of it is due to the number of rivers we have, and the fact that much of the province is pretty flat also contributes. By “significant” I mean more than one span.

Off the top of my head, these are some of the significant railway bridges in Manitoba:

  • CN St Lazare
  • CN Uno*
  • CN Rivers*
  • CN Nattress
  • CN Assiniboine (Winnipeg)*
  • CN Red River (Winnipeg)*
  • CN St. Norbert*
  • CN Floodway bridges (Winnipeg)*
  • CN Red River (Emerson)
  • CN Elma
  • CP Brandon
  • CP Floodway bridges (Winnipeg)*
  • CP Whitemouth

The asterisk indicates ones that I have photographed.

One that I haven’t photographed is the bridge just east of Elma, Manitoba on the CN Redditt subdivision. This is just over an hour east of Winnipeg. The bridge spans the Whitemouth River.

I did some searching via Google Maps and it wasn’t clear to me that it was accessible. There is a lot of private property in the area and no roads adjacent to the bridge.

On October 4th I set out early in the morning to see if I could reach it.

A Pre-Sunrise Train

CN 2956 before sunrise
CN 2956 before sunrise

I drove around Winnipeg and headed east on highway 15 (aka “Dugald Road”) through Dugald and Anola. The CN main line parallels the highway for the most part, although I think it would be more accurate to say the road parallels the rail line since the trains came first. Anyway.

I noted the signals were red in both directions, until I reached Anola. There I noticed the east facing signals were green over red (“CLEAR”) but I didn’t see any headlights in the distance. The Redditt subdivision is quite straight in this area so I should have seen a train if there was one.

I decided to head east a bit and then return to the rail line to check again. I don’t really like waiting for a train at the main road in Anola, as it is quite busy. I drove a few kilometres east, then headed south on Monominto Road to the crossing. Headlights!

After setting up my video camera on its tripod, I elected to pan the train with my still camera. Given that it was 7:16 AM, almost 20 minutes before sunrise, it was still a bit dark and I couldn’t freeze the train with the camera without using some ridiculously high ISO setting. So, panning it is.

Panning CN 3285
Panning CN 3285

After I panned the head end, I shot a few frames of the train blurring past the crossing.

OOCL and SM LINE, maybe?
OOCL and SM LINE, maybe?

That was fun!

After the train passed, I packed up and continued east. I kept ducking down side roads to check for more trains.

Purple Sky

Purple sky near Vivian, Manitoba
Purple sky near Vivian, Manitoba

As sunrise approached, the sky turned a lovely red and then purple. I pulled off just west of Vivian and took a few photographs facing east. I really like how this image of the automated rail inspection portal turned out.

Continuing east, I didn’t see any trains all the way to Elma.

I stopped to photograph this culvert a few miles west of Elma. It’s bigger than your average culvert but still not a bridge!

Culvert near Elma, Manitoba
Culvert near Elma, Manitoba

On to Elma.

Elma

There’s a CN maintenance depot in Elma. The station building is long gone so there are a few trailers around for CN to use. It’s also a VIA Rail stop – if the Canadian ever runs again – though it’s not obvious where someone should wait for the train.

In my research, I had identified two possible ways to get to the bridge. One was behind the Ukrainian church in town, and the other was from the northeast from Juno Road.

Possible approaches to the bridge
Possible approaches to the bridge

I visited the church grounds and, although it’s a lovely church, I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to walk through the graveyard and stumble through the woods behind the church to get to the bridge.

Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church in Elma, Manitoba
Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church in Elma, Manitoba

The Long Way Around

To get to Juno Road, one has to drive south out of Elma for a few kilometres, then drive several kilometres east and cross the Whitemouth River, then back north again to cross the tracks. It’s not simple!

I did all that and arrived at the tracks. I could see the west end of Elma siding (mile 195.6).

Elma siding, mile 195.6
Elma siding, mile 195.6

Driving on Juno Road, I couldn’t see the bridge at all. I think it is a flush deck bridge so it’s not easy to see from afar. Since it was early Sunday morning, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to go knocking on doors to ask permission to walk through their property. I kept driving until I returned to Elma.

I saw a CN hi rail truck getting on the rails at the crossing in Elma, so that meant no trains for a while.

Time for plan B! There’s a CP bridge in Whitemouth, and that was only about 11 km north of Elma…

Whitemouth and Beyond

I arrived in Whitemouth without incident. I checked a nearby crossing and didn’t see any trains nor any lit signals.

I drove around the town trying to find a way to get to that bridge. I did get close enough on Front Street to get a glimpse of the bridge. It’s a single span flush deck steel bridge, not as impressive as I thought it would be. I didn’t take a photo.

After that disappointment, I headed west toward Winnipeg. I figured I would stop at Tim Hortons in Beasejour for a drive-through breakfast, then continue on home.

As I approached Beasejour, I decided to duck into Molson to see if there was a train nearby. Molson is where the Lake Line Railroad meets the CP Keewatin main line. The Lake Line is on the original CP main line before it was rerouted through Winnipeg.

Almost empty track at Molson, MB
Almost empty track at Molson, MB

All was quiet in Molson. It looks like the main line has some fresh ballast. There were four battered gondolas in the back track.

Battered old gondolas
Battered old gondolas

I didn’t linger.

Passing through Beasejour, I took a couple of photos of the Viterra grain elevator there. I recently learned that this elevator was the first concrete elevator built by UGG.

Viterra grain elevator, Beasejour
Viterra grain elevator, Beasejour

Locomotive HLCX 4220 is still there. I spotted it in April when I did a similar tour through the area.

I went to the Tim’s in Beasejour but it is closed for COVID-19 reasons. Dang it!

I drove south from there to rejoin highway 15, then I headed west toward Winnipeg. As soon as I could, I ducked south (on Queens Valley Road) to check on CN. There was an eastbound train coming!

Train Number Two

CN 3054 East with a touch of fall colour
CN 3054 East with a touch of fall colour

There’s still a bit of fall colour around, and I was able to get some in the photo with the train. I had stepped across the tracks – well before the train arrived – to ensure I was on the “sun” side. This was at 10:06 so it was about 2.5 hours after sunrise.

Relatively new CN 3161 was pushing on the tail end.

CN 3161 pushing hard on the tail
CN 3161 pushing hard on the tail

I was quite pleased with the light in these photos. Nothing like an eastbound train near sunrise!

This was only about 5 km east of where I caught the first train.

Once the train passed, I returned to my car and continued my journey west. I passed through Anola and Dugald without seeing any evidence of more trains. I drove past Transcona yard, which was full of containers but no locomotives, then turned south on Plessis Road to pass CN’s Symington Yard, which was relatively quiet.

I decided to pass by the TinkerTown Amusement Park so I could cross the CN Sprague subdivision and check for trains there. As luck would have it, there was a westbound train coming into Symington Yard.

Train Number Three

CN 2657 coming into Winnipeg
CN 2657 coming into Winnipeg

This was a northbound train at 10:55 AM, so the light wasn’t ideal. You do what you can.

Here’s the video for this train.

I returned home without seeing any more trains. Three was pretty good!

Looking On The Bright Side

Although I didn’t see the bridge I wanted, I did get some valuable intel for next time… and I ended up with a couple of photos that I am really happy with. I would call that a solid win.

I did find a 2016 photo of the Elma bridge at this site, which recounts a train collision that occurred on the bridge in 1926. The bridge is flush decked with two steel spans, much like the CP Whitemouth bridge.

Even if I didn’t come up with decent photos, just being outside in this crisp fall weather would have been well worth the trip. I hate to say the “W” word but it’s not going to be much fun to be outside soon…

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