By John Jennings
I have been a “foamer”–that is a fanatical train buff since I was a kid in Edmonton (1950’s), and I never miss an opportunity to watch and experience trains whenever I can. Travelling east from Vancouver to the Rockies at the Alberta border has given me many wonderful opportunities to view and experience Canada’s major trains. The Canadian Pacific (CPR) is the trans-continental railway that was first built in the 1880s to secure British Columbia as part of Canada. Highway 1 parallels the CPR most of the way through the Province and there are many spots well worth stopping at to be a regular Train Spotter; and a terrific bonus is that we get to experience trains in some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Above all, be careful! As I travel along I am always mindful of safety–I have found that in my excitement of seeing or following a train it is too easy to take my eyes off the road. I always try to pull over to stop to view and take pictures safely.
Earlier last year, I started an eastbound sightseeing trip on Highway 1 from Vancouver. I left the freeway at Exit 66 north to check out Historic Fort Langley only 12 kms off the route. Fort Langley (which was the Colony’s Capital in the 1850s) was a great visit, with a wide variety of antique stores as well as the Historic Hudson’s Bay Company Fort. This has been restored and is operated by Parks Canada. With many interactive displays, such as the blacksmith shop it is a must to study BC’s history–don’t miss it!
For me, the bonus is that our other national railway, Canadian National (CNR), which was constructed in the early 1900s, has its main route through the town near the Fraser River. I parked near the main crossing to observe. Soon I was rewarded with an eastbound freight, pulled by what looked like 2 GE EMD locomotives, roaring through at a speed of 70-80 km per hour, followed by at least 80 cars of various types–freight, tanker, flat cars and lumber cars. The ground shook and with the blare of the Canadian style locomotive horns; it was deafening. What a rush!
Another 110 kms east on Highway 1, I reached the town of Hope. I left the freeway to continue on the Trans Canada Highway 1 into the Fraser Canyon. The Fraser Canyon is a “foamer’s” paradise. As the canyon cuts deeply into the Cascade Mountains, our transcontinental railways, the CPR and CNR, cling to the steep cliffs on either side, with the CP on the west side and CN on the east side. There are several highway pull-outs where both may be viewed. I, again stopped in a park near the Old Alexandra Bridge. Here trains could be seen on each side of the turbulent rushing Fraser River. This river, named after Simon Fraser, an early Scottish fur trader and explorer, traversed this canyon in 1808 and followed it to nearby present-day Vancouver. A few kms along, I came to Boston Bar, divisional point on the CNR and across a short bridge to North Bend, divisional point on the CPR. Here train crews change for the next division of the respective railways. I spent an hour checking out the locomotives and rolling stock. And, bonus – I was here in the afternoon on a scheduled day when the westbound Rocky Mountaineer arrived. The Rocky Mountaineer provides a scenic daylight deluxe trip from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper, stopping overnight in Kamloops. With 15 or so very colourful dome cars in its consist, this was a beautiful train set!
Another 35 kms north-eastward along Highway 1 is the Village of Kanaka Bar, and a few kms beyond that, near the Village of Cisco, there is a spectacular view of the two railway bridges crossing each other to change sides. Because the CPR was completed first, the CNR had to take the remaining side along the Thompson and Fraser River canyons. There is now an agreement between the railways that westbound trains will use the CPR tracks and eastbound use the CNR on this extremely busy route from Kamloops west to Mission BC. This allows much more traffic to be handled. Although it didn’t happen for me on this trip, with the amount of traffic in both directions, it is sometimes possible to see one train passing over the other, even in this remote location.
Just along the highway, I took the road down to Lytton. I felt the heat in the centre of this desert town, which often has Canada’s hottest temperatures. More important, both railways pass through here. Here the Lytton Museum and Archives was built by the CNR in 1942 and is well worth a visit to discover the railway history of this town.
But it had been a long eventful Summer day of travel and train spotting. Now it was time to set up camp and rest for the night. Where better than the fantastic and complete Kumsheen Rafting Resort just a few km’s east of Lytton. But more about that in my next blog!
Published: March 10, 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.