Sunday, November 15, 2009

Spiral Tunnels 100th Birthday Party! (Updated)

Kicking Horse Pass, BC. Don't you feel bad when you miss someone's birthday? We certainly missed a big one last month! The 100th anniversary of Canadian Pacific's most challenging achievement, the "Spiral Tunnels" beneath the Canadian Rockies.

Often overlooked by Yankee rail fans, perhaps due to it's remote location. Nonetheless, the Spiral Tunnels ranks amongst railroads greatest engineering feats.

Back in 1871, when British Columbia became a legitimate entity, one provision that had to be met was the completion of a transcontinental railroad linking BC to the east. Canadian Pacific rose to the challenge, and in 1884, the last spike was driven uniting the Confederation.

However. There was a Big Problem. The Big Hill in the Canadian Rockies, with a gradient reaching a wheel spinning 4.5% up in Kicking Horse Pass. Not only was it a dangerous challenge to climb, the descent was worse.

The solution was monumental, and and in 1909, the Spiral Tunnel route was opened. Last month, the achievement was celebrated with a special train through the tunnels.

I would encourage you to "click" on my associates button in the right hand margin, "Canadian Railway Observations," and select the October, 2009 edition. Cor Van Steenis submitted an excellent report on the engineering solution and centennial train.

There are two viewpoints where you can safely watch trains and learn more about the Spiral Tunnels and Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site of Canada.

On average, 25 to 30 trains pass through the Spiral Tunnels daily, though not on a regular schedule.

• From the viewpoint 7.4 km east of Field on the Trans-Canada Highway, you can see the Lower Spiral Tunnel in Mt. Ogden.

• The Upper Spiral Tunnel in Cathedral Mountain can be seen from the pull-off 2.3 km up the Yoho Valley Road.

I've been able to ride through the tunnels, albeit on DVD, and you can too. The Short Line Shop has the "Cab Ride over Kicking Horse Pass" available, which I highly recommend. The video quality is excellent (god love a guy who carries a tripod!)

The cab shot is locked down, with few distracting mickey mouse shots. And an unexpected stall yields some nail biting moments as the hogger does a great job of restarting his train on grade, minus a power pack!

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