Edmonton High Level Streetcar

Attention train/transportation/transit fans:  There’s a great streetcar ride available in Edmonton, Alberta.  Coming from Vancouver, I have enjoyed our own local historic streetcar.  Unfortunately for 2012, the Transit Museum Society didn’t run the streetcar. However, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society seems to be fairly robust with at least 3 streetcars in their rolling stock and trams that run daily during the summer.

First off, we had to find where to get the streetcar.  Many websites and reviews that I read gave general directions, but I wasn’t entirely clear on the exact location.  So to find the actual starting point, I had to weave my way around the Old Strathcona Farmers Market to find the almost unremarkable loading platform.  The Dropped Pin above marks the exact spot.  I came off of 104 St SW to find the stop, but it might be easier to walk up Gateway Boulevard to the stop.

I was expecting a classic old-timer streetcar, so I was surprised when I saw this modern Siemens tram roll its way towards the platform.  The Siemens car, known as Hannover #601, dates back to the 1970’s.  So that makes the car 40 years old.  I guess it qualifies for a heritage rating now.  The car was actually originally purchased by the BC government as demonstration streetcar to showcase light rail technology for Vancouver.  Eventually, the BC government settled on Bombardier’s automated SkyTrain system and the car was no longer needed.  In 1985, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society purchased the vehicle.  You can read more about Hannover #601 on the Society’s website.

We bought our roundtrip tickets and boarded the tram.  The steps folded down to the platform level to allow passengers to board.  There was a wheelchair door, but unfortunately for all the baby strollers, it was out of service.  This classic 70’s streetcar isn’t much older than the Siemens U2 light rail cars that serve the Edmonton LRT system, so the seats and interior are quite modern and minimal.  It wasn’t the heritage feel I was expecting, but I just arrived on the wrong day for that.

The car made its way northwest down the tracks past the north side of Strathcona and the busy Whyte Avenue.  The tracks ran through a large swath of green.  Sometimes we would pass by a community garden or two.  However, it was like an unofficial linear park flanking the rail lines.

One of the major draws of this particular streetcar line is that it traverses the very loft High Level Bridge.  The bridge towers high above the North Saskatchewan River.  In the summer, the bridge can be an artificial waterfall with gallons upon gallons of water spewed off the side.  It’s great for celebratory occasions like Canada Day.  It’s an outstanding view from the streetcar to see the river valley below.  Also, the streetcar tracks actually are above the southbound automobile traffic.  So car drivers can see and feel the shadow and rattle of the car as it passes overhead.

Edmonton Streetcar #33 crosses the High Level Bridge © Hans Ryffel, ERRS

The streetcar’s final stop at Jasper Plaza just half a block south of the busy Jasper Avenue.  A lot of the locals would get off because they had planned a one-way trip.  I got off the car to take a few photos of passengers waiting to go back over the bridge.

On the way back over the High Level Bridge, I spotted the Edmonton LRT on the LRT bridge crossing below.  The five-car Siemens LRT is the actual full-time working rail transit in Edmonton.  It was also one of the first LRT systems in North America.  The bridge also doubles as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge which can seen just under the LRT.

So our round trip took roughly an hour.  It was well worth the $5 to take the High Level Bridge ride with the vast and wide river valley view.  Check off another transit ride from my bucket list.


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