Carlton Trail Railway

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Carlton Trail Railway
Ctrw map.JPG
CTRW in dark green, trackage rights with cn in light green
Reporting mark CTRW
Locale Northern Saskatchewan
Dates of operation 1997–
Predecessor Canadian National Railway
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Carlton Trail locomotives in Prince Albert, 2013

The Carlton Trail Railway (reporting mark CTRW) is a shortline railway with its headquarters in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. It is operated by OmniTRAX, an American transportation company in Denver, Colorado. Carlton Trail has been operating on ex-Canadian National track since Dec 8, 1997;[1] however, after the acquisition of the branch line CTRW also purchased from CN the Birch Hills-Fenton-Prince Albert branch line in 2001. Since the closure of the pulp mill in 2006, Carlton Trail has typically adhered to a schedule of twice weekly rail service, hauling approximately 2000 carloads per year. According to OmniTrax president Darcy Brede, when the mill reopens in 2014, the railway will begin six days a week service, hauling approximately 3000 carloads a year.[2]

Shortline railways[edit]

Over the past several decades many branch lines on the prairies have been discontinued as they have not proved cost effective for the two Federally regulated rail lines, Canadian National Railway & Canadian Pacific Railway. Often these lines carry grain or ship from mills in the north, shortlines help to fill the gap and continue to provide the service of rail.[3] In recent years Saskatchewan has seen a large influx of shortline railways as the two Class 1s find it difficult to draw a profit from remote locations. Many shortline railways cannot afford the maintenance work the lines desperately need and often need financial assistance from the Provincial Government.

Carlton Trail Railway
former line to Paddockwood
former line to Meath Park and
on to Torch River Rail
131 White Star
124 Pulp Mill
to Shellbrooke
and the Speer subdivision
North Saskatchewan River
117 Prince Albert
former line to St. Louis
South Saskatchewan River
Birch Hills
former line to Melfort
89.2 MacDowall
62.9 Duck Lake
45.3 Rosthern
24.9 Hague
7.1 Osler
0 Warman
trackage rights to CN
interchange at Saskatoon


The Carlton Trail was originally an overland transportation route connecting Winnipeg and Fort Edmonton during the early 19th Century and the latter days of the fur trade in the Northwest Territories. The Carlton Trail cut its way into what is now Saskatchewan southeast of Melville, headed in a northwesterly route towards Batoche; where the trail crossed the South Saskatchewan River and then towards Fort Carlton. The trail continued on past Fort Carlton along the northern banks of the North Saskatchewan River [4] for another 980 km to Fort Pitt and finally terminating at Fort Edmonton.[5] OmniTRAX had decided during the inception of the new shortline, that it should be named after this famous trading route; hence the name of the railway being Carlton Trail Railway.

Much of the southern portion of Carlton Trail Railway's Speers Subdivision straddles the proximity of the original Carlton Trail; which would have followed the North Saskatchewan River towards the Battlefords. Carlton Trail Railway had originally taken control of the Warman subdivision and the Speers subdivision. At Warman Carlton Trail transfers onto CN and has limited trackage rights into CN's Saskatoon Chappell Yard. The Speers subdivision extends from the Speers Jct north on both former Canadian National and Canadian Pacific rail line until it reaches Meadow Lake.

Speers subdivision
Meadow Lake
Medstead branch
Big River branch
Big River Jct
former Spiritwood -
Prince Albert line
Blaine Lake
CN Line to
Rabbit Lake
Speers Jct
CN Line to

The Speers subdivision[6] proved problematic due to past neglect, and on October 7, 2008 Carlton Trail gave notice that it was discontinuing rail services to Meadow Lake on April 1, 2009. Carlton Trail continues to own the Meadow Lake Branch, but has made no indication that operations will start up anytime soon. Many rural communities however have taken interest in the line and recent discussions indicate it could be purchased by the local Rural Municipalities,[7] under the name North Central Rail.[8] As of November, 2010 North Central Rail Ltd and OmniTRAX have yet to reach a tentive agreement in the transfer of ownership of the Speers Subdivision. According to Ray Wilfing, chair of NCR Ltd., OmniTRAX has delyed the sale of the line by not responding to North Central's formal offer in August 2009.[9] North Central Rail lodged a negotiating in bad faith complaint with the Highway Traffic Board in December 2009 in order to pressure OmniTRAX to return to the table to discuss the offer. OmniTRAX was given a deadline of February 15, 2010 to come up with a reasonable response to the offer for the rail line. On the 15th of February, OmniTRAX responded with a counteroffer that was well beyond what North Central Rail could afford. On July 16, 2010 OmniTRAX put the Speers Subdivision up for sale for 11.2 million dollars, a price the Rural Municipality of Meadow Lake along with 17 other municipalities would like a justification for.[10] Updated 2013 Google Street View imagery of the former railway crossing on the Yellowhead Highway at Denholm, Saskatchewan (the southern terminus of the branch and only connection of the branch to the rest of the North American rail network) and various other places along the line shows that the tracks along the length of the line have been torn up and the line abandoned.

On January 17, 2001 CTR purchased the line between Prince Albert and Birch Hills (40.87 km), though this line is rarely if ever used as it serves no economical purpose. CTR also briefly controlled the Arborfield branch line when CN placed it up for sale. Due to the long distance between the Aborfield subdivision and head offices in Prince Albert, CTR placed the line up for sale and later sold it to Arborfield Thunder Rail Ltd..[11]

Colours and Symbol[edit]

Carlton Trail's symbol is the Prairie Lily that grows abundantly in the fields and ditches in and around Prince Albert. The primary colours for the railway are green and yellow, the two primary colours synonymous with Saskatchewan and are present on both the Saskatchewan Provincial flag and the Prince Albert municipal flag. All engines in CTRW livery bear the lily, but are also similar to sister railways of Hudson Bay Railway and the now defunct Okanagan Valley Railway, in that the striping on the engines is the same except for colour. One possible reason for this is the constant exchange of motive power between OmniTRAX rail lines and the cost behind painting each engine a specific livery. Ironically, the only M420 ever painted in CTRW livery suffered a diesel fuel fire when the fuel return line leaked into the engine compartment, even after it was not reconmended to be run. The engine was severely damaged outside of North Battleford and was shipped to Prince Albert to be scrapped. Due to the increased cost of painting each new engine, CTRW has now resorted to patching over the reporting mark of the former railway.


Unit Model Built Acquired Retired Status Notes Example Image
208-2 RS-18 1968 1999 2002 Sold to (D)Ed Bowers Markings of INCO INCO runningRS18.JPG
602 C424 1965 2000 2000 Sold to (D) Ed Bowers Markings of Belt Railway of Chicago C424BELTRAILWAY.JPG
643 M-420 1973 1998 1999 Scrapped in 2002 Former BC Rail
681 M-420B 1975 1998 2003 Sold to (D)Ed Bowers Former BC Rail, only B unit to be used
1004 GP10 1955 1998 2015 Alternator Fire - Storage not operational CarltonTrailGP10.jpg
1006 GP10 1955 1999-2001 (2009–Present) N/A IN SERVICE - Returned from now defunct OKAN CTRW 1006 PA 2697439617.jpg
1012 GP10 1954 1998 1998 Acquired for parts - Markings of Midsouth
1020 GP10 1955 1997 2004 Scrapped 2003 - Frame scrapped and removed October 2012
1025 GP10 1957 1998 1999 Sent to CKRY, then to OKAN - Scrapped in 2005 48" Fans
1038 GP10 1956 1998 1998 Repainted then transferred to OKAN 1998 [13] CTRW1038Repair.JPG
1040 GP10 1955 1999 [14] (2001–2007)[15] 2007 Scrapped 2007 - Frame scrapped and removed October 2012 Spent some time on Central Kansas Railway (CKRY), had markings of CKRY at time of scrapping. CTRW 1040IM003425.JPG
1042 GP10 1955 1998 1999 Repainted and transferred to Chicago Rail Link
1049 GP10 1956 1998 1998 Scrapped, 2005 Scrapped by OKAN
1064 GP10 1955 1997-1998 (2001–Present) 2015 Damage to main generator - Not operational Markings of OKAN/CKRY Carlton Trail Railway GP10 1064.jpg
2250 GP38-3 1964 N/A Transferred to Kettle Falls International Railway Nee SSW GP35, OMLX rebuild
2253 GP38-3 1965 2003 2004 Transferred to Kettle Falls International Railway[16] Nee SP GP35, OMLX rebuild
2508 GP30 1962 2001–present [17] N/A Stored,out of Service Working order. Not allowed to be in service.
2674 GP38-2 N/A 2009 GATX lease unit* On HBRY Flin flon the pas 108.JPG
2683 GP38-2 N/A 2009 GATX lease unit* Utilized on Speers Subdivision
2686 GP38-2 N/A 2009 GATX lease unit* Utilized on Speers Subdivision
2687 GP38-2 N/A 2009 GATX lease unit, currently on HBRY [18] Utilized on Speers Subdivision
3005 GP40-2W 1976 2005 [19] 2008 née CN 9634
3372 GP9E 1954 2001 2012 Scrapped (Oct, 2012)Sold for parts, bell and number boards saved Loose injector line filled crankcase with diesel and crankshaft broke crankshaft in half. GP9PrinceAlbertSK.jpg
3532 M-420 1974 1998 N/A Scrapped 2008 by HBRY [20]
3538 M-420 1974 2001 N/A Scrapped 2008 by HBRY [21]
3540 M-420 1974 1998 2001 Severe fire damage near North Battleford Only M420 to be painted in CTRW livery. Number boards and marker lights saved, owned by local collector.
3541 M-420 1974 1998 2001 Scrapped in 2002
3547 M-420 1974 1999 N/A Scrapped by HBRY 2008[22] Carlton Trail Railway.jpg
3549 M-420 1974 1998 2003 Scrapped by HBRY 2008 [23] CN 3553 M420W.jpg
3764 GP9E 1957 N/A Scrapped by HBRY, was to be delivered to OKAN in 2001. Scrapped 2015 in The Pas, Manitoba Gp93764PrinceAlbert.JPG
5517 GP40 1965 2015 N/A NREX Leaser - Sent from HBRY
6568 GP35M 1964 2000 Transferred to HBRY Former Southern Pacific now owned by OmniTRAX; converted into GP38-3 in The Pas, Manitoba
6657** GP35M 1965 2000 Transferred to HBRY Former Southern Pacific now owned by OmniTRAX; converted into GP38-3 in The Pas, Manitoba Omlx6657PASASK.JPG
9570 GP40-2LW 1975 2004 N/A Operating on HBRY 2010 Nee CN 9570
  • Lease cancelled as of April 1, 2009 with the discontinuence of the Meadow Lake Branch, units sent to Hudson Bay Railway (HBRY)
    • 6657 was converted into 2253, GP38-3 and then returned to Carlton Trail Railway to be utilized on Speers Subdivision


Since the closure of Weyerhaeuser Pulp & Paper Mill in Prince Albert Carlton Trail's loads have considerably gotten smaller as they have less to haul. Their primary customer in Prince Albert is the Viterra Inland Terminal, in White Star, but also serve Carrier Lumber, transport steel for a local business and serve Belle Pulses within the community of Duck Lake. Agriculture products include wheat, barley, canola, peas, flax and oats. In recent years Carlton Trail has begun to store rolling stock belonging to Class I railways. Much of the rolling stock stored along the shortline are Liquefied Petroleum Gas from the gas fields of Alberta. Carlton Trail has also serves many northern communities by hauling calcium chloride into Prince Albert where Tiger Calcium Services constructed a distribution centre located on the south side of the rail yards. Calcium chloride is used to reduce the amount of dust created on grid roads.

Carlton Trail Railway hauling an empty centerbeam car to Carrier Lumber, 2013

Post CN Era[edit]

Prince Albert's CN rail yard has gone through severe attrition since the 1990s; having lost the scale house, sanding tower, bulk fuel tanks, CN station (now a strip mall) and many other rail related buildings. Since 1991 branchlines in the Prince Albert area began to disappear, including the abandonment of the Canadian Pacific Railway yard. Carlton Trail however began reusing the roundhouse and turntable shortly after purchasing the Canadian National line. The roundhouse provides cover for their equipment and engines (CN would leave their engines outside next to the roundhouse). Carlton Trail continues to repair cars that have been damaged during derailments along their line. In recent years, larger shortline railways have removed oddball motive power, such as ALCO and MLW units from their roster; as such Carlton Trail now strictly operates used EMD units that they have purchased. Currently the only operational engines are three GP10s that run between Saskatoon & Prince Albert.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Carlton Trail Railway Overview". Archived from the original on 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  2. ^ "Carlton Trail PA Herald". Retrieved 2013-12-04.
  3. ^ "Shortline Railways (Gov't of Saskatchewan)". Retrieved 2008-12-13.
  4. ^ "The Red River Cart Trails". Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  5. ^ "Carlton Trail". Retrieved 2010-04-16.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Rail Line NW". Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  8. ^ "NC Rail". CBC News. 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  9. ^ "Local Bid to Purchase Rail Line Stalled". Shellbrook Chronicle. March 5, 2010.
  10. ^ "Rail line Sale". Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  11. ^ "Thunder Rail". Retrieved 2008-12-13.
  12. ^ "Train Web Rosters for CTR". Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  13. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  14. ^ "Canada Calling". Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  15. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  16. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  17. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  18. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  19. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  20. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  21. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  22. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. Canadian Trackside Guide. 2011. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  23. ^ Canadian Trackside Guide 2011, CTRW roster. |access-date= requires |url= (help)

External links[edit]