The Empress Comes to Town

On April 26, 2024 a very rare train left Calgary, Alberta to make history.

Canadian Pacific Kansas City decided to send a steam train on a three country trip to commemorate the union of Canadian Pacific Railway with the Kansas City Southern Railway.

Their steam engine, CP 2816, had been partially restored for their Holiday Train in 2020. At the time, it moved around the yard but not on a main line.

This time, 2816 was going to stretch its legs.

The train went from Calgary to Moose Jaw on the main line, then south to enter the US near Estevan, SK. From there, it passed through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri. Passing through the new company’s namesake city of Kansas City, it touched Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana. To complete the three country tour, it entered Mexico at Laredo TX and passed through Monterrey, San Luis Potosi, and San Juan del Rio before arriving in Mexico City for a public show on June 7.

The steam train took the same route on the way home until Minnesota, where they took the north route near Glenwood and ended up at Noyes, MN just across the border from Emerson, MB.

After crossing the border, they paused in Emerson for at least an hour. There was customs work to be done, and I’m told that CPKC president Keith Creel boarded the train there.

I was waiting just north of Otterburne, Manitoba for the train. I arrived there at about the same time that they crossed the border into Manitoba. I chose this location because there is an “S curve” in the track and I thought the train would look good navigating the curves. At the time, I was the only one there.

It’s about 70 km by road between Emerson and Otterburne, so I knew I was in for a bit of a wait. I didn’t realize how long the wait would be…

After about an hour, a few railfans showed up. One of them was my friend Fred Shannon, so we started talking. Eventually the other two railfans joined us – Darcy W, and Bob G visiting from Wisconsin.

We sweated in the heat for a couple of hours with nothing moving trackside. It turned out that there were some significant “slow orders” on the line, due to the recent heavy rains, and the train was down to 10 MPH for several long stretches. Safety first!

Eventually we heard a distant “whoooo” and the headlight of 2816 emerged from the distant trees surrounding Otterburne.

It seemed like only a few moments before 2816 was upon us. It looked great snaking through the curve and I banged away with my camera, taking many photos as it approached.

The engineer looked like he was having the time of his life!

We four witnessed the train passing by, steel and varnish, steam and diesel fumes, maroon and gold.

After theater car SANDFORD FLEMING passed the mile 26 marker, we said our goodbyes to each other – and to the train – and went our separate ways.

I headed north on highway 59. The track doesn’t parallel the highway in most places, so it is hard to see if there are any trains on the line, and I never saw the steam train.

As I approached the floodway, I decided to exit at Grande Pointe to see if the train had passed yet. The cluster of vehicles and people near the rail crossing told me that 2816 was still approaching.

When I parked, 2816’s headlight was visible in the distance, and it was not long before the train passed me again.

I was grateful for one more chance to see this historic train.

Out of all the photographs I took, the next one was my favourite. Steam in motion.

Thank you to CPKC for organizing and executing this trip. I think a LOT of people are very grateful for the effort and expense involved.

Here’s my video of the train at Otterburne and Grande Pointe.

12 thoughts on “The Empress Comes to Town”

  1. Steve –

    Glad you were able to get a few nice photo’s – Reminds me of the S & H and our steam Trains with ex CN 1009 and ex CP 29 – A lot of work but well worth it – especially when we operated a double header or pulled the dinner train on occasion. Those trains had a lot of train chasers and photographers along the way.

    Regards

    Reply
  2. I loved the post, pictures, snd videos.

    Apologies if this is a dumb question, but there were additional diesel locomotives in the train.

    Were they needed or were they there “just in case”?

    Reply
    • Hi Glenn, thank you! I believe the diesels were mostly there “just in case” but were contributing some effort to the train… especially the SD70M-2 behind 2816. I’m not sure how operational the F units are these days.

      Reply
  3. Steve, love the shots of this epic locomotive and train trip.
    Can you comment on why the consist included those diesels, and on the story behind that observation car (Selkirk?) on the tail of the train in your Mile 26 shot?

    Reply
  4. Terrific story and photos Steve. I talked to a few of the crew of the 2816’s train at the Winnipeg event and they were having a blast. I understand that many of their family members were on board for the entire trip and everyone was enjoying the experience. Both members said that they were hoping that CPKC will run 2816 into eastern Canada. The ‘Empress” is a fantastic public relations asset and should be used. Who would have thought that in the first week of July, 2024, a CPR Hudson and UP Big Boy would be running at the same time.

    Reply
    • HI Dave, I saw many of the WMRC were out to see 2816! I’m glad the crew enjoyed the trip. It was a lot of work, I’m sure, but for many it was a trip of a lifetime.

      It would be great to see 2816 continue to operate on the main line as an ambassador for CPKC.

      Reply

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