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Canadian Railroads > BL20-2s in Northern Alberta

Date: 03/17/20 15:03
BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: andrewcastle

Back on September 1, 2004 I found myself on the hunt for BL20-2s in Northern Alberta.

During 1992 EMD built three demonstrator BL20-2 locomotives on the frames of ex-BN GP9s. The units spent a few years on the BN then around 1999 the three were painted for Railink and ended up on the MacKenzie Northern Railway. The Mackenzie Northern operated most of the former Northern Alberta Railway and the remaining section of the former Great Slave Lake Railway to Hay River NT from 1998 to 2006.

My story actually starts on August 31, 2004. After three years in Yellowknife NT getting my aviation career started I was moving on to a new job with Kenn Borek Air based in Calgary AB. I had worked my last day at Air Tindi and everything I owned was packed in my old Dodge Neon. I planned to collect my pay cheque on the morning of Aug. 31 and hit the road around lunchtime. My goal was to drive eight hours to High Level AB, get a hotel for the night, and drive the remaining 12 hours or so to Calgary on September 1. I was scheduled to be in groundschool in Calgary the morning of September 2 so I didn't have much extra time. I had read of the BL20-2s being on the Mackenzie Northern and planned my route to follow the railroad as much as possible with the hope of finding one along the way.

Of course things never go according to plan. Payroll was late getting the cheques out that day and I stopped for coffee with a friend before leaving town so it was 4pm before I hit the road. By 11pm I was still an hour north of High Level AB and there was no way I could keep my eyes open so I pulled off into a rest area and slept in the car for a few hours. The next morning I rolled into High Level around 5am, found some breakfast, and toured around to see if anything was happening on the railroad. Low and behold I found a BL20-2 parked in the small yard! The downside was it was too dark to get decent photographs and I didn't have time to stick around waiting for the sun to rise.

I continued south through Peace River without seeing any activity on the railroad then swung east towards Slave Lake. It was a grey overcast day but I was enjoying the drive and still had hopes of seeing a train. Just past the town of High Prairie I saw headlights coming towards me! I pulled over and got out the camera, coming towards me was not one but two BL20-2s! In one morning I had found all three! I snapped a couple shots then pulled a U-turn and headed back west with the goal of getting a good shot or two. I didn't have to backtrack far before I came to the grain elevator in High Prairie. Good enough!

I grabbed a couple shots as the train passed the elevator then I got back in the car and headed towards Calgary. I made it to Calgary that evening and the next morning started what would become six years of work and travel with Kenn Borek Air. The memories of the BL20-2s came up every once in a while but it was only the recent gift of a slide scanner that meant I could finally digitize the pictures and share my story.

Thanks for following along.

Andrew C

Date: 03/17/20 15:26
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: refarkas

Thanks for sharing these rare images.

Date: 03/17/20 20:38
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: TCnR

Rare equipment, rare location. Interesting post all around.

Just watched ' Ice Pilots NWT ' for the first time, I can see the attraction but that's freakin' cold.

Date: 03/17/20 21:49
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: joeygooganelli

I have photos of these engines in their demonstrator paint sitting in Jenks Shops, North Little Rock, AR. I was down visiting my brother who was stationed at Little Rock Air Force base and he took me exploring and railfanning. It had to be 1995 or 1996. They let us roam all over the yard. We saw all kinds of neat power too. Alcos. And the BL20-2's. 


Date: 03/17/20 23:39
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: wpamtk

Here's the 2120 working on the San Joaquin Valley RR at Goshen, CA on 3-25-13.

Date: 03/18/20 17:20
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: cn6218

Wow Andrew, great catch.  The complete production run, all on the same day.

I had heard about these, but other than some pictures in demonstratot paint, had never seen any photos.  I guess being exiled to Northern Alberta explains why they were so seldom photographed.  I'm glad ou were able to fill in the gap.

What did they use for a prime mover?  A rebuilt 16-645 or the modern ECO approach with a turbo 8-710?


Date: 03/18/20 19:25
Re: BL20-2s in Northern Alberta
Author: PHall

Too early for a 710. 567BC block with 645 power assemblies.

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