CN Sprague Sub, Mile-by-Mile

This is a detailed look at the CN Sprague subdivision, mile by mile. Detail items like bridges, crossings and so forth will be discussed, as well as historical notes along the line.

This format is inspired by the Railway Mileposts series of books by Roger Burrows, who approved my use of the format.

Sprague Subdivision History

This railway line was originally built by the Canadian Northern Railway. Today it is owned by CN and is part of their transcontinental main line.

It is fairly unique in that it is mostly in Canada but dips into the United States near the eastern end of the subdivision. This was done to go south of the Lake of the Woods.

In the April 28, 1968 employee timetable #17, some of the mileages differ from today’s employee timetable. The mile locations shown below are current as of 2020.

Trains on the Sprague Subdivision

The April 25, 1954 CN employee timetable shows four daily freight trains and a daily except Monday passenger train.

  • CN 940 departed Paddington at “24:30” and arrived at Rainy River at 08:15 (7h45m)
  • CN 942 departed Paddington at 06:00 and arrived at Rainy River at 13:30 (7h30m)
  • CN 944 departed Paddington at 10:00 and arrived at Rainy River at 17:45 (7h45m)
  • CN 946 departed Paddington at 19:20 and arrived at Rainy River at 02:45 (7h25m)
  • CN 34 departed Paddington at 18:50 and arrived at Rainy River at “24:05” (5h15m). Its counterpart, CN 33, departed Rainy River at 04:10 and arrived at Paddington at 09:22 (5h12m)

In addition, the twice-weekly mixed train from the CN Ridgeville subdivision came to South Junction but did not proceed further.

The East End

Mile 0.0 – Rainy River

The first mile of the Sprague subdivision is in Ontario. Mile 0.0 of the subdivision is in the town of Rainy River, Ontario. The town has a preserved railway station which is now the municipal office.

There is also a small train display, featuring steam engine CN 4008, a baggage car in CN black and green paint, and a red CN caboose. The steam engine is protected from the elements by an awning.

There is a small yard in the town as well as a long passing siding.

Rainy River used to have a grain elevator.

Mile 1.0 – International Border

The border between Canada and the US is at approximately mile 1.0, in the middle of a six-span truss bridge that spans the Rainy River.

The American Portion

Mile 1.6 – Baudette

The town of Baudette, MN sits just west of the Rainy River and hosts the US customs service that inspects trains passing through.

Baudette used to host an Air Force radar station a few miles south of the town.

Baudette features a preserved train station.

Mile 3.9 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 6.1 – Single Span Steel Bridge

Mile 7.9 – Pitt – former station.

Mile 11.3 – Graceton

Mile 14.5 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 16.1 – Single span steel bridge

Mile 17.8 – Williams

The town of Williams, Minnesota features a small grain elevator, one of only two remaining on the Sprague subdivision. It also hosts a 6,700′ passing siding and a back track.

Mile 22.9 – Blueberry – 10,303′ passing siding

Mile 25.3 – Roosevelt – former station.

Mile 28.2 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 31.7 – Swift – 6,674′ passing siding

Mile 38.1 – Steel bridge crossing the Warroad River

Mile 38.4 – Warroad

Warroad, MN features a handsome station, now used as the city office.

Mile 38.6 – Former Interlocked Crossing

Before 2012, there was a railway junction at mile XX heading west (according to Google Street View). It was an at-grade crossing by the Great Northern Railway. In 1970 the GN merged with other railways to form the Burlington Northern and later it became BNSF.

Mile 42.2 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 43.6 – Longworth – former siding

Passengers were not permitted to get on or off the train at Longworth, nor was freight to be loaded or unloaded, without the permission of US Customs. The siding was meant for meets only.

Mile 45.0 – International Boundary

The Western Canadian Portion

Mile 46.3 – Middlebro

Former Ukrainian church in Middlebro, MB
Former Ukrainian church in Middlebro, MB

Middlebro, Manitoba is the easternmost town on the Sprague subdivision. There are a few houses here, and an abandoned Ukrainian church.

The siding in Middlebro is 10,378′ long.

Western end of Middlebro siding

Mile 49.6 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 52.2 – Hickey – former station.

There used to be double track between Hickey and South Junction – sources: April 25, 1954 CN Manitoba District employee timetable, memories of Terry Viddal.

Mile 56.9 – Sprague

CNR Street and Main Street sign, Sprague
CNR Street and Main Street sign, Sprague

The namesake town of the Sprague subdivision has a number of businesses and services serving the region, including an RCMP detachment, a museum, a school and a hotel.

Sprague had a small yard, featuring a wye, a pump house and water tower west of the station, and a coal dock by the west leg of the wye. Steam engines in the CN 6000 series were instructed to take water from the stand pipe on the eastward track instead of from the tank. Sources: CN Manitoba District ETT, 1954/04/25, recollections of Terry Viddal.

There is a 9,690′ siding just east of the town.

West end of Sprague siding
West end of Sprague siding

Mile 58.7 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 62.2 – South Junction

Former Ridgeville subdivision track in ground at South Junction
Former Ridgeville subdivision track in ground at South Junction

At one time, the CN Ridgeville subdivision branched off to the west from the siding in South Junction, giving it its name. A small section of track remains in the ground.

There is a large church in South Junction – the Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic church.

Our Lady of Assumption Church in South Junction
Our Lady of Assumption Church in South Junction

There used to be double track between Hickey and South Junction – sources: April 25, 1954 CN Manitoba District employee timetable, memories of Terry Viddal.

Mile 69.3 – Vassar

CN Vassar
CN Vassar

The town of Vassar features a large church and a few small businesses. CN has a long 13,529′ siding here as well as a back track.

The former La Brocquerie train station was moved to Vassar.

Former La Brocquerie train station in Vassar, MB
Former La Brocquerie train station in Vassar, MB

Mile 71.4 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 73.4 – Moodie – former station. (source: CN ETT 1954/04/25)

Mile 77.5 – Badger

Former train station in Badger, Manitoba
Former train station in Badger, Manitoba

The community of Badger has become a popular cottage town. The town is well maintained and it is larger than it ever has been.

Two railway artefacts are used as cottages in town – a former train station (from Marchand) and a former railway car that appears to have been used as a bunkhouse by CN before becoming a cottage. There is also a caboose behind one house.

Apparent former bunkhouse in Badger, MB
Apparent former bunkhouse in Badger, MB

Badger has a small setoff track but no siding at this time.

Mile 83.1 – Carrick

Welcome to Carrick sign
Welcome to Carrick sign

Carrick is a small community along the line. It is notable for having several signaled crossings in 2020, more than one would expect in a place like this.

The town was originally named Spurgrave but the Canadian Northern station was called Carrick, named after Lt. John James Carrick, a politician in the Port Arthur-Thunder Bay area.

Carrick historical buildings
Carrick historical buildings

There is a fairground / museum area in the town that has several historic buildings, including the former Spurgrave school. In 2020 the miniature steam engine that used to be in front of the McPhillips Street Casino in Winnipeg was stored there.

Carrick features a 12,400′ siding in 2020, the second longest on the subdivision.

Carrick used to have a water tank in steam days. Ref: Last Days of Steam by Allan Peden

Mile 85.8 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 88.x – Woodridge

CN 2914 passing through Woodridge, MIB, June 6, 2020
CN 2914 passing through Woodridge, MIB, June 6, 2020

The town of Woodridge is on the edge of the Sandilands Provincial Forest and has several businesses to service visitors and local residents.

Woodridge features the St. Alexander Roman Catholic Church, built in the 1920s.

At one time Woodridge had a coal dock, used to refuel steam trains on the subdivision.

Mile 94.3 – Baynham

Mile 96.0 – Sandilands – former station. Sources: CN ETT 1954/04/25, ETT 1968

Mile 97.0 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 99.6 – Bedford

Mile 100ish – Marchand

A CN train passing through Marchand, Manitoba
A CN train passing through Marchand, Manitoba

The town of Marchand is fairly sizable for the area. One prominent building is the Marchand Hotel, visible above.

Mile 108.5 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 113.0 – La Brocquerie

Train passing the HyLife facility in La Brocquerie, MB, June 2020
Train passing the HyLife facility in La Brocquerie, MB, June 2020

There is a 6,633′ siding in the town of La Brocquerie, Manitoba.

Mile 119.2 – Giroux

CN train at Giroux, May 2019
CN train at Giroux, May 2019

There is a 10,581′ siding at Giroux. The siding is west of the town itself.

Mile 120.7 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 126ish – Ste. Anne

There used to be several industry spurs in Ste. Anne, including the Co-op, Cominco and a Federal Grain elevator.

Mile 130.9 – Dufresne

Grain elevator in Dufresne, June 2013
Grain elevator in Dufresne, June 2013

The town of Dufresne hosts the only grain elevator remaining on the Canadian portion of this subdivision. This elevator was built by Manitoba Pool and is now privately owned.

Dufresne has a 6,690′ siding and the elevator track. The latter is sometimes used for storing maintenance of way equipment or bad order cars that have to be set out.

Mile 133.1 – Hotbox Detector

Mile 138.2 – Lorette

CN 2236 in the siding at Lorette
CN 2236 in the siding at Lorette

There is a 10,300′ siding at Lorette that is frequently used for meets. It is the first siding east of Winnipeg.

Mile 142.4

There was a large Manitoba Pool (ex Searle) grain elevator here, with the uninspiring name of “Mile 142.4”.

Mile 14x.x – Bridge over Floodway

CN bridge over Winnipeg Floodway
CN bridge over Winnipeg Floodway

The CN girder bridge over the Winnipeg Floodway features 12 steel spans on concrete footings. This bridge was replaced as part of the Floodway Expansion project in 2009.

Mile 145.2 – Navin

CN 2660 and 7528 at Navin, December 2016
CN 2660 and 7528 at Navin, December 2016

Navin is essentially the south/east end of Symington Yard. The pulldown tracks that feed the hump at Symington extend to the Navin sign and frequently the remotely controlled hump locomotives are at work here.

It is common for ground crews to perform a rollby inspection of trains leaving Winnipeg as they enter the Sprague subdivision.

There was a road crossing at Navin but it was closed when the pulldown tracks were extended in the 2010s.

Mile 147.9 – Paddington

Prior to CN’s construction of Symington Yard, the Sprague subdivision terminated at Paddington where CN interchanged with CP.

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