Canadian Pacific 2816 Returns Home After Historic Tour

The craftsmanship of designer Henry Blaine Bowen and the builders at Montreal Locomotive Works is on full display as CP 2816 roars south at Ashdown, Ark., on May 22. On Wednesday, the Final Spike Steam Tour returned home to Calgary after 76 days on the road. Photo by David Perkins.

Canadian Pacific 2816 Returns Home After Historic Tour

By Justin Franz

Seventy-six days and nearly 10,000 miles after departing back in April, Canadian Pacific H1b 4-6-4 2816 and the “Final Spike Steam Tour” triumphantly returned to Calgary on Wednesday, capping off one of the biggest steam tours in decades. 

The Hudson and her crew made a fast sprint across the Brooks Subdivision from Dunmore, Alberta — where the train spent its last night on the road — to Calgary’s Ogden Yard, the very route the locomotive was built for more than nine decades ago. At CPKC headquarters in Calgary, the crew was greeted by friends and family, and a sign with 2816 and the words “Welcome Home.” 

The tour marked the first anniversary of the historic merger between CP and Kansas City Southern. But it was history-making for several other reasons: 2816 became the first steam locomotive to visit Canada, the United States and Mexico; it was the first main line steam locomotive to run in Mexico since the 1960s; and at nearly 10,000 miles long, the tour will likely go down in the history books as the longest steam excursion to ever feature a single locomotive. 

By all measures, locomotive 2816 performed flawlessly over nearly three months on the road. The engine, dubbed “The Empress,” also proved that the general public is still fascinated by steam. So far, the railroad has been tight-lipped about future plans for 2816, and the first order of business for its crew will be a well-deserved rest. But for a company that puts an emphasis on community engagement (most notably its annual Holiday Train), it seems unlikely that CPKC would let such a great resource sit unused for long. 

Canadian Pacific 2816 is seen heading south at Estación Candela, on May 30, while traveling from Laredo, Tex., to Monterrey, Mexico. Photo by Nathan Kaufman.

There are a number of important anniversaries in the years ahead that could warrant a steam-powered celebration. The 140th anniversary of the completion of the CP main line to Saint John, N.B., will come in 2028, and the anniversary of the first regular run to the Atlantic seaport will come the following summer. Not only has CPKC put an emphasis on its “East Coast advantage” following the 2020 acquisition of Central Maine & Quebec — one of the short lines that operated the line east of Montreal after it was spun off by CP in 1995 — but there is a precedent for marking the anniversary with steam; in June 1989, CP borrowed G5a 4-6-2 1201 from the National Museum of Science & Technology and sent it east to Maine and New Brunswick to celebrate. Next to come is the 2816’s own centennial in 2030. Then will come perhaps the four most important anniversaries worthy of celebration — the 150th anniversary of CP’s founding in 2031; the 10th anniversary of the CP-KCS merger in 2033; the sesquicentennial of the completion of the CP main line at Craigellachie, B.C., in 2035; and lastly, the 150th anniversary of KCS’s founding in 2037, just a year before 2816 would need to be taken out of service for another 15-year overhaul. 

It also appears 2816 has fans at the highest levels in the company, most notably CEO Keith Creel. Afterall, it was Creel’s idea to bring the locomotive out of storage to celebrate the CP-KCS merger. 

Regardless of what’s next for the locomotive, one thing is clear: The Final Spike Steam Tour will go down in history as one of the biggest steam events of the 2020s, the memories of which will last for years by all who saw it, from tiny hamlets like Maple Creek, Sask., to metropolises like Mexico City. 

The CPKC steam crew in Calgary on Wednesday, July 10, after 76 days and nearly 10,000 miles on the road. Photo Courtesy of CPKC. 

This article was posted on: July 11, 2024