Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lethbridge's High Level Bridge

Potash train crossing Lethbridge's High Level Bridge
Lethbridge, Alberta hosts the largest conventional trestle railroad bridge ever built, the High Level Bridge. This bridge was started during 1908 and was completed in 1909, and is just over a mile long at 5,331 feet (1,624m) and rises 314' (95.7m) over the Oldman River.

This colossal structure crossing the Oldman River replaced the more circuitous original route over the St. Mary's River. The bridge was built by the CPR with 12,200 tons of steel and 17,090 cubic yards of concrete, among other materials.
Train crossing the Lethbridge trestle
The bridge was built with the use of a "traveller". This large device was basically a large crane on rails, and it was used to build each section of the bridge.

As that was completed, it was rolled forward on the newly-constructed piece to begin the next section.

The traveller was built on site and placed the last girder in June 1909.

I suppose this method would require a lot of confidence in the bridge piece that you had just completed! (image at right from the Crowsnest Pass Railway Route site)

Looking through
It's interesting to compare this bridge with the Salmon River trestle, the second longest railway bridge in Canada.

  • Length: Lethbridge - 5,331' (1,624m); Salmon River - 3,920' (1,194m)
  • Height: Lethbridge - 314' (95.7m); Salmon River - 195' (59.4m)
  • Towers: Lethbridge - 33; Salmon River - 51
It's notable that the Lethbridge viaduct has 35% less towers yet is 35% longer.

Lethbridge's towers are much wider than most (67' / 20m) and the spans between towers are also longer than most (97' / 30m).

Everyone likes to look at this bridge
The bridge dominates the area and is easily accessible by foot. I've walked under it on the public paths along the river and you can easily see the western end by parking in the Heritage Heights area of western Lethbridge and walking over. It casts an impressive shadow on Google Maps.

I first visited Lethbridge in August 2013. I was lucky to spot a train crossing the bridge but didn't get the head end. You can see that photo above in black-and-white.

I visited again in May 2016 and spent several hours around the bridge one beautiful evening. I parked in Heritage Heights and clambered down to the Oldman river. It's quite a long trip down!

The bridge is quite impressive from all angles. It's difficult to capture the entirety of the bridge without being very far off. I took a little break and just sat and took it in.
Just taking it in
After quite a while, I started back. I heard a thrum in the distance and it turned out to be a potash train, led by a trio of Union Pacific locomotives. They looked tiny way up there on the viaduct.
UP 5522, 5374 and 5546 crossing the Lethbridge viaduct
The train went on and on and on. I think the speed limit is 30 MPH on the bridge but it could be less.
Canpotex cars on the Lethbridge viaduct
Unfortunately this bridge appears to be popular for suicides. I noticed prominent "no trespassing" signs at the end along with a large "LIFE IS WORTH LIVING" sign with a phone number for the Suicide Crisis Line (1-888-787-2880).

If you're ever in the area, I highly encourage you to check this bridge out. It's very impressive.


I found a few videos of the bridge that you might like.

For More Information

Other Bridge-Related Posts


AJ said...

Nice post about the bridge. I made a point of going to Lethbridge to check this out during my last trip west in 2012. It was definitely worth visiting the area for that reason alone. Despite being skunked on the first day we were in town, I was lucky to catch a CP chugging along slowly while I was underneath (Something I highly recommend doing) along the banks of the Oldman, the morning we were to head home.
I think next time I am going to check it out from the Heritage Heights side - with your pics, you've definitely sold me on it!

Canadian Train Geek said...

Thanks AJ, I also recommend walking under the bridge along the river. It's a nice area!

AJ said...

It's beautiful down there by the river. I was surprised at how much wildlife there was too considering that it is pretty much in the city. The morning I saw the CP roll over us, walking down from the parking lot, we somehow managed to surprise a deer and then saw a family of raccoons strolling around further down the river.

BWBandy said...

I have been here and it is an interesting sight. To me it is one of those things you do not expect to see on the prairie.

Canadian Train Geek said...

I agree, BW, giant bridges and prairies don't come to mind at the same time, but here we are! There are several large bridges in the prairie provinces... Uno on the CN Rivers subdivision in Manitoba comes to mind as well.

Jenn said...

I have always loved this bridge, it's awe-inspiring.

jean said...

Here's mine on the bridge:

Unknown said...

I was in Vancouver last week and visited the Telus Science center near Pacific Central Station.

They were showing the bridge on Omnimax in the feature film Rocky Mountain Express.

It was really nice...

Canadian Train Geek said...

Hi Bruno, that must have been impressive on the big screen!

Unknown said...

HI Steve!

Yes it was!