After nearly two years out of operation due to you-know-what, the Edmonton Radial Railway will fully reopen for service. The popular High Level Bridge Streetcar line reopens July 9, 2021 and connects Old Strathcona with downtown Edmonton.
Tickets for the High Level Bridge Streetcar line in 2021 are cash-only $7 round-trip ($4 one-way) for ages 6 and over. A family round-trip (2 adults with up to 3 minors) costs $25. Riders will need to wear facemasks for the time being.
We hopped on a ride with Edmonton Radial Railway Society (ERRS) Director of Operations Dustin Creviston ahead of the reopening as the operators recertify for the season after the long break, and discussed more about the volunteer run organization.
To run the streetcar lines requires a lot of volunteers, including drivers, rail maintenance, digital marketing, restoration, historic archivists, museum operators, and of course donations. Joining the ERRS is a $20 membership annually where members can volunteer, enjoy free streetcar rides (for those who actively volunteer in the operation of the ERRS), and participate in society matters and events. These events include holiday gatherings, barbecues, evening trips, and winter excursions at Fort Edmonton Park.
The society currently has a collection of 10 streetcars in its fleet (operational or under restoration), with three which can operate along the High Level Bridge Streetcar Line. Creviston rolled out the Edmonton 33 which took nearly 18 years to restore from the state it was taken in. The street car was built in St. Louis in 1912 (fitting since the High Level Bridge was completed in 1912), and the streetcar was operational in Edmonton until the end of the streetcar service in 1951.
As we rolled down the line, we were able to see the physical work that was required to get this popular tourist attraction up and running. From maintaining the interior and exterior of the car, to sweeping gravel from the tracks at roadway crossings, to the clearing of brush as it runs through the river valley, and to replacing signs at each station, this line is truly a labour of love.
Heading towards the University of Alberta Campus, we pass through an old CPR tunnel, which from what we can find is the only railway tunnel in Alberta apart from LRT tunnels in Edmonton and Calgary. Creviston says that despite the tunnel being gated when not in use, there is a concern that trespassers may be hurt or killed by climbing near the live electric cable overhead. Rail safety includes not only staying off tracks, but well away from overhead lines.
After the tunnel is of course the main attraction and the reason visitors around the world come to ride this streetcar line – the High Level Bridge. The High Level Bridge streetcar is the highest operational streetcar ride in the world. This track was in use by CPR until the late 1980s. While comfortably seated in the vehicle, enjoy 360 views of Edmonton’s river valley where you’ll see downtown, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, Walterdale Bridge, University of Alberta, and more from a height higher than Niagara Falls.
On the north side of the bridge, after passing the Alberta Legislature and Constable Ezio Faraone Park, is the historic Grandin stop where the current streetcar line terminated when it began operation in 1997 (there’s no word yet on the ERRS’ use of the Grandin name on their line). We end at the Jasper station along the Ribbon of Steel where cherry blossoms make a lovely picturesque scene in the spring, a perfect match when the Osaka 247 streetcar arrives at this northern terminus (the image is the Edmonton 33).
Returning back to the Strathcona terminal, we checked in at the streetcar museum. It’s open every Saturday from 10am-2pm from the Victoria Day long weekend until the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. During the Edmonton International Fringe™ Theatre Festival, it may be open extra hours (likely not in 2021). The streetcar museum was refreshed during 2020 with new displays, lighting, and artifacts. Admission is free, however donations are accepted.
The High Level Bridge line will extend to a new terminating stop across Gateway Boulevard to Whyte Avenue later this summer, taking it into the heart of Old Strathcona. A total extension of 800m is planned, so it will eventually cross Whyte Avenue as well.
The historical streetcar society also runs a streetcar line in Fort Edmonton Park which reopened July 1, 2021. The Fort Edmonton Park line is free with park admission. It runs from the tip of 1885 street along 1905 street, then turns down 1920 street to connect at the park gate.
For those wondering, if you want to become a streetcar operator the three prerequisites are a valid driver’s license, be at least 21 years or age, and an active ERRS membership.
If you’re looking to make it a day out with the family and want a streetcar/light rail themed day, an LRT ride to either Bay/Enterprise Square or MacEwan Station (or skip the LRT and just walk) is a quick walk to the Old Spaghetti Factory where you’ll be able to dine in the old Edmonton 15 streetcar.
One final note is that private bookings and charters are big fundraisers for the ERRS, and fun for everyone. Book a charter for a birthday, wedding, office celebration, sunset date, or a private event of your choice perched atop the High Level Bridge for only $360 an hour. There’s even regular musical concerts which take place in the CPR tunnel (not during streetcar hours of operation of course)!