Revelstoke Railway Museum. Photos by Bruno Long
By John Jennings
We decided to end the second wonderful day of train spotting at the beautiful Three Valley Lake Chateau. Built and operated by the Bell family, this is an ideal spot for the rail fan. With excellent accommodation and restaurant, the feature for us was Three Valley Gap Ghost Town which includes a roundhouse with several rail cars and locomotive. And the meticulously dismantled, moved and reconstructed CPR’s Bellevue Hotel – complete with the original crockery and the historic menu of the day. Get a great preview from 3valley.com.
After a sumptuous breakfast we continued eastbound over Eagle Pass Summit and the 12 mile (15 kms) drive to Revelstoke. We were rewarded with a slow moving eastward-bound freight train pulling into the divisional point. After the bridge we turned right onto Victoria Avenue leading to the town centre. As soon as I saw the rail yards I had memories of my several trips on the CPR Canadian or Dominion on route to Vancouver in the 1950s. I remember people scrambling off to get a quick meal trackside and running to get onboard before the train pulled out.
We turned left on Pearson Street/Long Avenue to one of the best railway museums in British Columbia. Don’t miss it! There are many wonderful exhibits including a huge CPR Mikado Locomotive 5468 and many cars, even an interactive diesel locomotive simulator where you can control a train in the mountain division. The website to check this out is railwaymuseum.com.
We now headed east to one of the most challenging sections of the railroad, Rogers Pass. With 40-50 feet of snow at the summit, keeping the railroad open all winter was a mighty task. As we left Revelstoke we followed the Ilecillewaet River Canyon – there are a few pull outs to view the track below, and the massive Selkirk Mountains ahead. The right of way has been adjusted over the years to avoid the frequent snowslides that occur in the many kilometres ahead.
About 22 miles (35 kms) east of Revelstoke is Canyon Hot Springs Campground. It has mineral pools and services for all types of camping vehicles. When we tented here I chose a site near the tracks and I can tell you the eastbound freights thundering up the long grade toward Rogers Pass was a real extra attraction for us. As we continued east several kilometres, on the right was the entrance to Mount MacDonald Tunnel, the second CPR tunnel, 9.1 miles (14.7 kms) long under Mount MacDonald that was opened in 1988, to give westbound trains a much easier grade. Another 3.4 miles (5.5 kms) brought us to the west entrance of the Original Connaught tunnel, completed in 1916, at 5 miles (8 kms) this was the longest tunnel in Canada at the time and avoided the difficult Rogers Pass.
The next 9 miles (15 kms) are worth taking time to explore. There are many remnants of the original right of way graded in 1885 to climb to the Rogers Pass. We saw several abandoned bridge pilings showing the many loops that were required to gain the altitude of 4,360 feet (1,330 metres) at the pass. We took the last steep grade up to what was Glacier on the railway, now the site of the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre which has informative displays on the history of the pass. Continuing eastward we descended into the Columbia River Valley with the massive Selkirk Mountains to our right and the majestic Rocky Mountains to the left with the highway paralleling the railway to Field, where the rail line from the coal fields of Southeast BC joins the main line to Vancouver.
Now we headed into another breathtaking section of the trip! Again, we paralleled the railway up the narrow Kicking Horse River canyon. We crossed the soaring Park Bridge 292 feet (90 metres) over the river and entered Yoho National Park. I’ve travelled this route many times and am always in awe of the beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains. There were several railway photo opportunities with great mountain backdrops along the next many kilometres. At the CPR Divisional Point of Field, there were two or three trains heading east and west, waiting for new crews to advance them on toward their destination.
Continuing eastward we could see the railway grade climbing the side of Mount Stephen. This part of the line at the base of the “Big Hill” was the most difficult and dangerous section of the railway in 1885. With a very steep grade, despite several runaway spurs, there were numerous runaway trains and derailments on this section with the loss of life. Because the highway follows the original rail bed up to the summit we were able to see just how steep this would be for very heavy trains steel on steel. To reduce these challenges a major engineering project was started in1907 and completed in 1909. Known as the Spiral Tunnels, the track was re-routed through two tunnels that created a “figure eight” that reduced the grade to an acceptable level of 2.2 % and added 8.2 miles (13.2 kms.) to the line.
This is an absolute must-see for any train buff. At about 6 miles (9.6 kms.) east of Field is a spectacular viewpoint where we were able to view both tunnels. We waited long enough to see an eastbound train thunder into the lower tunnel, then emerge just below us and enter the upper tunnel and then emerge eastbound above us heading for the Great Divide and into Alberta. What an incredible ending to our Trainspotting Journey along Highway One.
For the other two legs of our train spotting journey across British Columbia read my Train Spotting blogs. Train Spotting: Highway 1 Vancouver to Lytton. Train Spotting: Highway 1 Lytton to Craigellachie.
Published: July 7, 2016
Born in Edmonton Alberta, John is a graduate of BC Institute of Technology in Hospitality Management and has enjoyed a successful 45 year career in Management of Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Destination Organizations in Canada and the UK and was the recipient of the William Van Horne Visionary Award for designing the coveted ‘SuperHost’ (now World Host) Program while with Expo ’86, where he travelled around North America speaking to all business opportunities. John is co-author of “Paralyzed without Warning”, is now semi-retired, performing occasional tourism & hospitality contracts and enjoys living on Vancouver Island with his wife Suzan and their SPCA rescue dog Lady.