The Rogers Pass Project


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Back in 1984 CP Rail, as the Canadian Pacific Railway was then known, had started construction on the Rogers Pass Project. To help explain the tremendous amount of work and cost involved CP Rail prepared a folder containing several press releases including a few photos of the project as it was then taking shape. Most of those releases are recorded here, and for historical sake, still make interesting reading today. Please carry on...
Canadian Pacific and Rogers Pass

When Canadian Pacific was founded in 1881, its charter provided that the main line would cross the Rocky Mountains by way of Yellowhead Pass, the route now used by Canadian National. This pass had been selected by Sandford Fleming during surveys in the 1870s, when the federal government had planned to build the Pacific railway as a public work.
   Click to enlarge
Rogers Pass Project press release folder prepared by CP Rail in 1984.
When the project was transferred to private hands with the incorporation of what now is Canadian Pacific, business and commercial questions became involved in the route selection, and the company's founders felt it imperative that a more direct route should be found through the British Columbia mountains.
Accordingly, in the spring of 1881, Canadian Pacific hired Major Albert Bowman Rogers, an American military-turned-civil engineer to find such a route.
Viable, more direct routes through the rocky Mountains existed, such as the Kananaskis, Kicking Horse, and Howse passes. The problem of location was centered on the Selkirk Range, the next range west of the Rockies, which seemed to pose an impenetrable barrier to the railway's location engineers.
As soon as he was hired, Major Rogers decided to approach the Selkirks from the west, rather than the east. He and his party proceeded up the Columbia River to the site of what now is Revelstoke, where they turned eastward into the valley of the Illecillewaet River, ascending that stream for about 35 miles (50 kilometres) until it appeared to terminate at the foot of the Illecillewaet Glacier, the "Great Glacier of the Selkirks".
Rogers and his party climbed some of the peaks to obtain a better perspective, and on 29 May 1881, he located the pass which would subsequently bear his name. In the season of 1882, he found the eastern approach to the pass by way of the valley of the Beaver River.
Canadian Pacific recognized Rogers' contribution by awarding him $5,000 and a gold pocket watch, and Rogers Pass entered the nomenclature of Canadian place names.
The construction railhead, advancing from the east, reached the foot of the Selkirks at Beavermouth at the end of the construction season of 1884. The laying of rails through the Selkirks and up to a connection with the construction advancing from the west, in Eagle Pass, occupied the whole of 1885.
The location up the east slope of the Selkirks by way of the Beaver Valley required a 21-mile (33 kilometre) railway line which was reasonably straight, and overcame a vertical distance of 1,907 feet (581 metres), an average of 90.8 feet per mile (17 metres/kilometre) or 1.7 percent. There were short stretches on this approach which were inclined at 2.5 percent, however. In the pass itself, the railway attained an altitude of 4,340 feet (1,323 metres).
The descent of the western slope of the Selkirks was quite a different matter. The access valley descended far too rapidly for parallel railway location:  more than 1,200 feet (366 metres) in less than three miles (4.8 kilometres). To maintain the target maximum 2.2 percent grade, the railway had to be located around three loops situated, respectively, in the valleys of Glacier Creek, Loop Creek, and the Illecillewaet River, to gain the necessary mileage. The 10 miles (16 kilometres) of railway line this achieved had an average grade of 96 feet to the mile (18 metres/kilometre) or 1.8 percent.
As if this sinuous course did not present enough difficulties, the line in the pass encountered a belt of heavy annual snowfalls, up to 500 inches (1,270 centimetres). This snowfall was caused by the action of warm air currents from the Pacific striking the cold Selkirk peaks, the first major mountain barrier east of the Pacific Ocean. The snow complicated winter train operation, not only when avalanches occurred, but also in the day-to-day routine of keeping the single-track railway clear for train traffic.
While the rails were put down through the Selkirks in the season of 1885 - and through Rogers Pass itself in August of that year - the completion of the whole transcontinental line with the driving of the last spike in Eagle Pass on 7 November 1885, left the season too far advanced for the task of completing the line.
An observation party, in charge of Chief Engineer G.C. Cunningham, was left in Rogers Pass for the winter of 1885-86, to make observations of snowfall and avalanche paths. The resulting report enabled Canadian Pacific, in the spring of 1886 to begin the construction of the necessary snowsheds to cover critical parts of the line between Bear Creek, at the eastern entrance to the pass, and Summit Lake in Eagle Pass. The majority of these 31 snowsheds were concentrated in the 15 miles of track between Bear Creek and Ross Peak stations. The aggregate length of these structures, built of wooden timbers to eight different designs, totalled about 5 miles (8 kilometres).
Where the rails, descending westward from Rogers Pass, entered the first loop at Glacier Creek, within a short distance from the foot of the Great Illecillewaet Glacier, Canadian Pacific began construction of a hotel in the autumn of 1886. This work was stimulated by the establishment, in that year and by the federal government, of Glacier National Park, an 821 square mile (1,350 square kilometre) natural wilderness. Opened in 1887, the Glacier Hotel was the pioneer hostelry in the Selkirks, enabling passengers to disembark from the transcontinental trains and enjoy a stay in this mountain wilderness.
The railway authorities, conscious of the publicity value of the view of the Glacier as westbound trains descended from the pass, had a "summer track" constructed on the outside of several of the snow sheds, so that train movements in summer avoided the snow sheds at these locations. As soon as the first snow fell in the autumn, a simple replacement of a few rails at each end of the section routed the trains through snowsheds for the winter. The Glacier Hotel remained open to the public until 1925, nine years after the railway itself had been diverted through the new Connaught
The consistent grade through the pass posed its own problems. A small railway yard and engine terminal were located at Rogers Pass summit, which was the operating base from which powerful pusher steam locomotives assisted trains up both slopes to the pass. These helper locomotives usually operated between Beavermouth, on the east, and Revelstoke on the west. The men who manned the station, shops, and locomotives, and their families, made up a small but hardy permanent community around the station, which was located about 2 miles (3.2 kilometres) east of the actual summit.
The station and yard remained at this location for 13 winters, until 31 January 1899, when a snow slide destroyed the railway station and killed seven people; two telegraph operators, an engine wiper, a cook, and a woman with two children. Instructions were given immediately to locate a new and safer site for the station and yard, and a position about one mile nearer the summit was selected. Work began in the summer of 1899, and the new facilities replaced the old ones early in 1900. Here, a larger yard was constructed in more secure surroundings.
Ten years later, the railway suffered its worst disaster in the 30-year occupation of Rogers Pass. During the day of 4 March 1910, a large crew of men was sent to clear an avalanche which had blocked the main line at Seventeen Shed, about one mile west of Rogers Pass station. Near midnight, as the men still worked, a second slide came down from the opposite side of the valley, burying the gang alive. Sixty-two men died in this disaster. The next morning, Vancouver-bound Train No. 97, with 400 passengers on board, arrived from the east, to be held until the line at Seventeen Shed had been cleared. While it was waiting, another large avalanche came down at Sixteen Shed, about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) east of Rogers Pass, this blocking the line in both directions.
Even as these events were occurring, an alternative route was in the offing. During the first decade of the 20th Century, the first capacity crisis was facing the railway main line. The response to permit freeing the flow of relatively frequent, comparatively short freight trains by present-day standards, was to double track the main line from coast to coast.
A start on this program saw the main line between what now is Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Winnipeg converted to double track operation between 1906 and 1909. Other sections, in northern Ontario and on the Prairies, followed. When plans began to be formulated for this program in the mountain areas, Rogers Pass presented a problem, especially the western slope and the "loops" needed to gain access to the summit. Double-tracking the loops was impracticable, and the engineers reached the conclusion that a double-trackedtunnel, which would avoid the pass area entirely, was necessary. The tunnel which was decided upon would eliminate curvature equal to seven complete circles, shorten the line by 4.3 miles (6.9 kilometres) and lower the summit by 551 feet (168 metres). An added bonus would be the elimination of the need for snowsheds along the abandoned line.
Construction of what was originally known as Selkirk Tunnel, but which was officially opened as the Connaught Tunnel, started in August, 1913. Just slightly more than five miles long, the excavation was expedited by the construction of a small "pioneer" tunnel parallel to the main bore. At periodical intervals, a short connecting tunnel was cut to the centre line of the main tunnel. Using this method, excavation of the main line tunnel could go on from a number of faces at once, the spoil being removed through the pioneer tunnel.
The main tunnel was constructed to accommodate double track. Construction proceeded quickly, and the first train passed through the Connaught Tunnel on 9 December 1916. Due to the priorities of the First World War, a halt was called to further work on the double-tracking program until the close of hostilities. In fact, the 5.4 mile (8.7 kilometre) double track, which ran through the Connaught Tunnel from Connaught station on the east, to Glacier at the west end was never extended.
The introduction of higher capacity steel railway cars and much heavier and more powerful locomotives - allowing more tonnage per train - eliminated the need for the double track program. In fact, in many areas of the system the double track was taken up in the 1930s, and the rapid movement of trains in both directions over single track was expedited by the use of Automatic Block Signals and later Centralized Traffic Control.
The system met the capacity demand of the Second World War era. By the early 1950s, a radical technological change - the conversion of motive power from steam to diesel-electric - once again came to the rescue by enabling longer, and hence fewer, trains on main lines. The double track in the Connaught Tunnel itself was removed in 1959, and the single track positioned in the centre of the bore, allowing higher clearances for the new specialized piggyback, container, and auto carrier cars which were then being introduced.
In 1956, four decades after the railway had been abandoned in Rogers Pass, the decision was made to reactivate the area for public travel as part of the Trans-Canada Highway system, which had been authorized by an Act passed by the federal government in 1949.
When the Highway was completed in 1962, the last section was that through Rogers Pass. A monument at the summit of the Pass commemorates this event on 3 September 1962, at which Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker officiated, and which was otherwise marked by an official motorcade which travelled across Canada from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Victoria.
The avalanche hazard has persisted, and as a result, five large concrete snowsheds, with a combined length of 4,964 feet (1,513 metres) have been build over the highway at known avalanche paths, along with lesser works in the form of earth dikes and dams on the mountain side which deflect the snowslides over the sheds. Finally, the Canadian Armed Forces play a role by using mortar fire from predetermined concrete pads, to start smaller, controlled avalanches and thus eliminate the larger, potentially-disastrous ones. In spite of these measures, the highway through Rogers Pass is still blocked occasionally.
An ever-increasinggrain crop, the addition of new bulk commodities such as potash and sulphur, and the conclusion of contracts with Japan which would necessitate the uninterrupted movement, on a regular year-round schedule, of millions of tons of coal from the Crowsnest Pass area to a new superport at Roberts Bank south of Vancouver, forced new studies to be undertaken in the late 1960s, to increase line capacity.
Since the preponderance of tonnage was westbound, to the Pacific Coast, attention was given to double-tracking the line in areas where long grades were against westbound trains. Another technology examined at this time was the electrification of the whole main line between Calgary and Vancouver, as well as the secondary main line from the Crowsnest coal area to Golden. While the conclusion reached by these studies that electrification was desirable, the enormous capital costs associated with the project would take decades to amortize, and the decision was made to postpone this project.
However, all new construction and renovation work allows sufficient clearance for the overhead electrical catenary - wiring system - to provide for the possible future electrification of the main line.
Meanwhile main line capacity expansion was continued. In the 1970s four major bottle necks were identified on the Calgary-Vancouver main line. At each bottleneck, grades of more than one percent necessitated smaller trains or pusher locomotives to assist trains over these heavy grade sections. By 1979 the projects at Salmon Arm and Revelstoke were complete and that at Lake Louise was completed in 1981. In each case, a second main line track was constructed to a maximum grade of one percent. The existing track continues to be used for eastbound trains while all heavy westbound traffic moves on the new track.
The most restrictive remaining capacity bottleneck is Rogers Pass. Here a westbound grade of more than two percent at present requires the addition of as many as six pusher locomotives to westbound freight trains. The tunnelling and double-track project planned for Rogers Pass is the single largest project since the transcontinental main line was completed in 1885.
The financial obstacle to construction of the Rogers Pass project was removed in late 1983 with the passage of the new Western Grain Transportation Act. The new legislation eliminates the long-standing railway losses from transporting grain and makes it possible for CP Rail to raise the additional capital required for the $600-million-plus construction project.
The long planned double tracking in the Selkirks, which will involve two new tunnels, one of them 9.11 miles (14.58 kilometres) in length. The approach grade for westbound trains on the east slope of the Selkirks will be reduced to one percent from the existing 2.2 percent average on the steepest of that line. Work on the approach grades has already begun with construction of the long tunnel (the Macdonald Tunnel) beginning in 1984. The new track is expected to be in use in 1988. Finishing work, including environmental rehabilitation will continue in 1989 and beyond as required.
The John Fox Viaduct

CP Rail will build six bridges having a total length of 5,491 feet (1,674 metres) and four major culverts as part of the railway's $600-million Rogers Pass grade reduction and tunnel project.
The largest bridge project involves construction of a 4,032 foot (1,229 metre) elevated bridge deck, (the John Fox Viaduct) which will cross an area of extremely steep slopes near Stoney Creek just west of the east gate of Glacier National Park.
John Fox, vice-president, engineering special projects, says the elevated structure was selected over conventional "cut-and-fill" methods for both environmental and economic reasons.
"The existing slopes in the area are about 41 degrees. If we had used cut-and-fill methods, extremely long and high retaining walls would be required - in effect, to support the mountainside", Mr. Fox said. "By going the elevated structure route, we determined our costs would be cut in half and there would be substantially less environmental impact".
Culverts will be constructed at Alder, Cedar, Raspberry, and Surprise Creeks.
Rogers Pass Tunnels

31 January 1984 - CP Rail has requested proposals from contractors for construction of a 9 mile (14.5 kilometre) tunnel under Rogers Pass in British Columbia's Selkirk Mountains, it was announced today.
"We expect to receive proposals from about 12 tenderers representing some 30 companies", said John Fox, CP Rail vice-president, engineering, special projects. "In addition, later this year tenders will be called and contracts awarded for excavation of a 1 mile (1.8 kilometre) tunnel, construction of six bridges, grading of the 11 mile (17.1 kilometre) surface route, and site preparation and excavation of a ventilation shaft to the long tunnel".
Those tendering are to submit their bids by the end of March. Contracts will be awarded by the end of April with a view to starting construction by 1 July 1984.
The tunnel is part of a $600-million project to reduce to one percent the existing 2.2 percent average grade from the Beaver River Valley to Rogers Pass. The grade reduction is necessary to provide increased main line capacity required by 1990 to meet projected traffic demands between Calgary and Vancouver.
In the planning stage since 1972, the Rogers pass project is the biggest single project undertaken by CP Rail since driving the last spike in the transcontinental line in 1885.
The 1984 work program was triggered by the new Western Grain Transportation Act which puts railway grain traffic on a paying basis for the first time in decades.
It will take until the end of 1988 to complete the project, which will create construction employment measured in the thousands of man-years.
CP Rail will establish two 400-person work camps to accommodate construction workers employed on the tunnel portion of the project. One will be located in the Beaver River area near the east portal of the long tunnel, the other in the Flat Creek area near the west portal. Both camps are within the borders of Glacier National Park.
West portal 1  -  West portal 2  -  West portal 3
Provision is being made for a third camp near Rogers siding, outside the National Park, to accommodate those working on the surface route.
Construction of the tunnel will be carried out from both ends. Designed to carry westbound trains, the tunnel will head in a southwesterly direction from the east portal through Mount Macdonald. It will pass 358 feet (109 metres) below the existing Connaught Tunnel, and 950 feet (290 metres) under the summit of Rogers Pass. It will emerge from beneath Cheops Mountain, crossing the Trans-Canada Highway to merge with the existing main line about 3.1 rail miles (4.96 kilometres) west of Glacier station. The overall project involves 21 miles (33.5 kilometres) of new main line including 11 miles (17.1 kilometres) of surface track, a 1 mile (1.8 kilometre) short tunnel under the Trans-Canada Highway and the 9 mile (14.5 kilometre) long tunnel.
The project begins at Rogers siding with the new trackage running parallel to the existing main line until entering the short tunnel under the highway. This section will involve construction of six bridges, including a 4,032 foot (1,229 metre) elevated bridge deck. Emerging from the so-called "short" tunnel, the route crosses Connaught Creek, then continues on the surface for about 4,500 feet (1,400 metres) before entering the east portal of the long tunnel.
Construction of the surface route will involve excavation of more than 1.5 million cubic yards (1.14 million cubic metres) of rock. The elevated bridge deck (later named the John Fox viaduct) will cross an area of extremely steep slopes. This type of structure was chosen over convention "cut-and-fill" methods for both economic and environmental reasons.
Half of the tunnelling will be through rock formation similar to those in the existing Connaught Tunnel. It is basically a dry tunnel and indications are that similar conditions will exist in the new tunnels.
Both new tunnels will be constructed to accommodate future electrification. The finished interior will be 17 feet (5.18 metres) wide on straight track and 18 feet (5.49 metres) on curves with an over-all height of 25 feet 10 inches (7.8 metres) above the top of rail. The entire length of the long tunnel will be concrete lined and both tunnels will be illuminated.
The long tunnel requires a ventilation system which will be the only one of its kind in the western hemisphere.
The system must provide air to cool the locomotives and purge exhaust fumes from a passing train before the next train enters the tunnel. To enable a frequency of one train every 30 minutes, a 1,145 foot (348.9 metre) vertical shaft will connect to the tunnel near the mid-point. It will have a concrete-lined finished diameter of 28 feet (8.5 metres), partitioned so that air can be moved through both sections of the tunnel. The mid-tunnel facility, featuring a door which closes after a train passes the midway point, allows the eastern portion of the tunnel to be purged of exhaust while cooling air is supplied to the train passing through the western portion.
Since the project is located for the most part within the boundaries of Glacier National Park, extensive environmental impact studies have been conducted, including examination of avalanche hazards, visual impact of cuts and fills, terrain impacts, animal movements, water course studies, and land reclamation.
An environmental assessment panel established by the Ministry of the Environment has conducted public hearings on the entire project. CP Rail has maintained close contact with Parks Canada in planning the project, and arrangements have been made to have full time Parks Canada representatives on site during the construction period, at CP Rail's expense.
Macdonald Tunnel Ventilation System

CP Rail's 9 mile (14.5 kilometre) Rogers Pass long tunnel will embody engineering concepts unique to the Western Hemisphere, said John Fox, the railway's vice-president, engineering special projects.
"Perhaps one of the more complicated aspects of the project will be the tunnel's ventilation system which, as far as railway tunnels are concerned, will be the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere", Mr. Fox said.
The Rogers Pass project will enable CP Rail to move more traffic in the Calgary-Vancouver corridor and permit higher sustained shipments of potash, coal, grain, sulphur, and other commodities.
The ventilation system is important because exhaust fumes from one train must be purged from the tunnel before the next train arrives. if the ventilation system works slowly, then fewer trains can use the tunnel, thus creating a capacity problem that the Rogers Pass project was designed to solve.
"In effect, what we had to do was bisect the tunnel and construct a mid-tunnel ventilation shaft", Mr. Fox said. The shaft will allow twice the train frequency that would otherwise have existed. We will now be able to run a train through the tunnel every half hour".
The mid-tunnel facility allows the eastern portion of the tunnel to be purged while a train is passing through the western portion.
As a train approaches the tunnel's east portal, a specially-designed portal door will open automatically while a mid-tunnel door will remain closed. Fresh air will be forced down the eastern section of the 1,145 foot (348.9 metre) vent shaft and along the length of the advancing train to cool the locomotives and force exhaust fumes out th east portal.
When a train reaches the middle of the tunnel, the mid-tunnel door will open and when the rear of the train has passed the middle of the tunnel, the mid-tunnel door will close. Air will then be force along the train and exhausted up the western section of the vent shaft.
The fan system will have a total output of 11,250 horsepower - more than the power generated by three main line diesel-electric locomotives. A power line will run from a transformer station at Revelstoke to power a substation located at the ventilation building. There will also be auxiliary power provided by a 3,600 horsepower generator.
The tunnel doors will consist of a structural steel frame with breakable wooden panels designed to fail upon impact, in case of emergency. The portal doors are counter-weighted and will automatically open should there be a power failure.
CP Rail conducted extensive investigations of the environmental impact of the tunnel ventilation system in co-operation with Parks Canada. These studies included examinations of visual impact, noise evaluation, access and construction considerations, and emission levels.

 Click to enalrage
After completion of the Rogers Pass project traffic normally flows eastward on the Connaught Track as shown by this nearly empty eastbound coal train returning to the mine for another load in 2002.
The Shaughnessy Tunnel, the short tunnel, was closed for a brief period during 2002 for repairs. About 200 feet of lining was required near the east portal, and more inside the west portal. This necessitated the return of pushers to handle westbound traffic on the Connaught Track once again. The foresight of building the MacDonald Tunnel became readily apparent once use of it was lost. Going back to single track operation required CPR to dust off practices from the past. Crews experienced with pusher operation became a distinct asset. Since the old pusher station no longer existed crews were housed at Glacier Park Lodge at the summit of Rogers Pass. The tunnel work was complete by the end of September so the pushers once again became history.

Railroaders Recollections from the
Steam Era in British Columbia

Turner, Robert D.
Provincial Archives of British Columbia 675 Belleville St. Victoria BC V8V 1X4
1981 - Soft cover
7.25 x 10.5 inches - 18.5 x 26.5 centimetres
92 pages
49 photos
2 drawings
2 maps
Bill LaChance's personal survival story of the 1910 Rogers Pass avalance in which many perished.
Snow War
Woods, John G.
National & Provincial Parks Association of Canada
1985 - Soft cover
8.5 x 11 inches - 21.5 x 28 centimetres
52 pages
50 photos
0 drawings
2 maps
Photos and captions of Rogers Pass area.
Railway Contractors, The
Taylor, Geoffrey W.
Morriss Publishing 1745 Blanshard St. Victoria BC
1988 - Hard cover
6.25 x 9.25 inches - 16 x 23.5 centimetres
144 pages
64 photos
0 drawings
0 maps
Information about company that constructed the Connaught Tunnel.
Great Glacier and its House, The
Putnam, William Lowell
American Alpine Club Inc. 113 East 90th St. New York NY USA 10028
1982 - Hard cover
9.5 x 12.25 inches - 24 x 31 centimetres
224 pages
168 photos
0 drawings
5 maps
Oversize book. Details of the people and activity around Rogers Pass and Glacier.
Glacier House Rediscovered
Finch, David
Friends of Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier
1991 - Soft cover
11 x 8.5 inches - 28 x 21.5 centimetres
46 pages
33 photos
2 drawings
2 maps
Photos and brief story about CPR's Glacier House Hotel near Illecillewaet Glacier in the Selkirk Mountains.
Associated Links

Canadian Pacific Railway
Rogers Pass British Columbia
Glacier National Park
CP's Mountain Sub and Rogers Pass DVD
Connaught Tunnel
Canadian Avalanche Association

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