Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spiral Tunnels

This blog entry is in particular for Anne & Ian.

In 1884 the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) wanted to get a line through the Rockies, but in the Kicking Horse Canyon between Golden and Lake Louise the terrain was extremely steep. As a temporary measure they built a direct line at grade 4.5% (instead of the steepest ever built before of 2.2%). However, despite many safety measures there were numerous fatal accidents (typically brakes failing and trains running away as they decended the hill) and there were few engines powerful enough to pull trains up the steep hill.

Eventually in 1906 they found funding to build two huge spiral tunnels in the mountainside to enable the track to pass through the canyon at a lower grade. The tunnels opened in 1909. Whilst the tunnels were hugely expensive they had the great attraction that the track would not be subject to avalanches as the area was prone to.

These images show the lower spiral, tunnel entrance and general area. This entry is for Anne & Ian because they have actually been through these tunnels on the Rocky Mountaineer.



This is an old drawing of the valley, showing the layout of the track with the two spiral tunnels (the dotted sections being the tunnels).


Since our timing didn't include a train using the tunnels, I had to steal one off of the internet. The trains are often 80-100 carriages long, so are still going in the tunnel whilst the front has appeared below it as shown in this photo.

1 comment:

Anne & Ian said...

The Rocky Mountaineer's own newsletter included the history of these impressive tunnels. The train describes itself, modestly, as "The most spectacular rail journey in the world". Most of our fellow passengers were American and at that stage of the trip they were busy convincing themselves that any black cow was a grizzly. Inside any tunnel the views are not that great so the spiral tunnels were a respite from rubber-necking and a chance for even more eating and drinking. A couple who had driven from Vancouver in order to catch the train back spoke of seeing a freight train where the locomotives were emerging from the spiral before the final wagons had entered.