Across  a  Sea  of  Mountains


42 Images

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All photos are in sequence from west to east.

East and westbound intermodal trains meet at Redgrave in the Columbia Valley.


The Canadian Pacific Railway was completed between Port Moody on the Pacific Coast and Montreal, Quebec on 7 Nov 1885. This required the crossing of a "sea of mountains" in British Columbia and Alberta. This short story contains photos recently taken along the Shuswap, Mountain, and Laggan Subdivisions of the CPR in the center of this "sea of mountains".

Grade Profiles

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The Route

On Canadian Pacific Railway's main line between Vancouver and Montreal there are approximately 26 subdivisions. The Cascade sub begins at Vancouver running east to North Bend where the Thompson sub continues to Kamloops. While these two subs traverse the Coast Mountains I have photographed them quite extensively in the past so decided to focus solely on the subdivisions to the east, Shuswap, Mountain, and Laggan. The grade profile for this route looks like one long roller coaster ride between Vancouver and Calgary.
Shuswap Subdivision - As far as the railway is concerned this subdivision begins at milepost 0.0 in Revelstoke with the mileage ending at 128.5 in Kamloops. ( All subdivisions are still measured in miles today, not kilometres, as the railways were exempted when Canada changed over to the metric system many years ago. )
On the Shuswap there are two grades that come to mind. The hill westward from Revelstoke to Clanwilliam as the railway climbs out of the Columbia River Valley and the location known as Notch Hill at milepost 80.2 where a large circular loop has been constructed to ease the grade westbound. Loaded westbound coal trains pull by at no more than 10 miles per hour here with AC4400CW units producing an ear-piercing screech with locomotives running just below the wheel slippage point maintained by computer software. It amazes me that engineers running on this sub have any hearing left at all.

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Last Spike sign.
Mountain Subdivision - Field mile 0.0 to Revelstoke mile 125.7 - Mountain is an apt name for the existing grades on this sub. The most famous being located in the Rogers Pass area. When the line was constructed in 1885 it very nearly followed today's route of the Trans-Canada Highway. This route was so expensive to operate in terms of effort, time, expense, and lives lost that the Connaught Tunnel was completed in 1916 beneath Mount MacDonald to ease the grade and avoid severe winter avalanches. The Connaught was the only line through this area until two new tunnels and a viaduct were completed in 1988 at a lower elevation thereby easing the grade once again. Today both tracks are in use. The Connaught Track and the MacDonald Track, as they are known, carry a huge volume of traffic. With the lesser grade on the MacDonald Track heavy coal trains use it westbound returning empty eastbound on the Connaught Track.
Probably not realized by most railfans there is also a stiff grade for trains travelling eastwards from Revelstoke through Albert Canyon to Ross Peak. As with all trains, going upgrade is easy, put it in notch eight, sit there and wait till you crest the hill. Its coming down that may become problematic. Especially along this section of the hill where accidents have occurred.

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Safety switch 1.
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Spiral Tunnels.
Laggan Subdivision - Calgary mile 0.0 to Field mile 136.6 - There are two well-known grades on the Laggan but the most famous is the "Big Hill". So named because it consisted of three safety switches ( The railway version of a highway runaway lane for trucks that lose their brakes. ) on a whopping 4 percent grade when originally constructed. ( I think that's 1 in 25 for you people in the U.K. ) Today's Trans-Canada Highway follows part of the original grade. If you look to the south side of the highway near the top of the hill you will see an abandoned bridge that lies on the original grade. To overcome this 4 percent grade the Spiral Tunnels were completed in 1909 reducing the grade to a manageable 1.66 percent.
One other notable grade exists at the Lake Louise Grade Separation. Sometime in the 1970s a second track on an easier grade was added between Lake Louise and Divide.
Trains on This Route

Probably the most common sight are coal trains. Coal mined in southern B.C. joins the Mountain sub at KC Junction, just west of Golden, B.C., traveling westwards. Typical power consists of two AC4400CW units on the head-end with a pusher, or DPU ( Distributed Power Unit ) on the tail-end. Coal trains return empty eastbound along the same route. A large shop for maintaining coal gondolas is located at Golden.
Second most seen train would be double-stack intermodal containers. An increase of trade with China has caused an increase in this type of movement along the route.
There are also local mixed freight trains that may pick-up and drop-off cars along the route. Occasionally a solid train of hoppers carrying potash traverses the route. Solid tank trains are rather uncommon and are known by railroaders as "bomb trains".
Passenger trains? Don't hold your breath over these. The Rocky Mountaineer runs to Calgary on occasion. If you're really lucky you can catch the Royal Canadian Pacific or even better, steam locomotive 2816 along the route.


Shuswap Subdivision
Mountain Subdivision
Laggan Subdivision

Mapping Software

Streets & Trips is a mapping application sold by the Microsoft Corporation. This article provides a downloadable file so you may locate photographs by their latitude and longitude co-ordinates with mapping software on your computer. You require Microsoft Streets & Trips software installed on your computer for this file to be useable.


History of the Canadian Pacific Railway
Lamb, W. Kaye
MacMillan Publishing Co. Inc. 866 Third Ave. New York NY USA 10022
Excellent record of the company.
Lord Strathcona
McDonald, Donna
Dundurn Press 2181 Queen St. East Toronto ON M4E 1E5
Excellect biography of Donald Smith.
Life and Work of Sir William Van Horne, The
Vaughan, Walter
Century Co. New York NY USA
Biography of this renown figure of CPR history.
Memories of Notch Hill
Notch Hill Heritage Society, The
Hucul Printing
A collection of personal histories of local citizens living in Notch Hill. A few railway photos with reminiscences by locals. Map shows station, coal tower, engine shed, various buildings, and railway yard layout but may not be accurate.
Canadian Pacific in the Selkirks Volume 1
Booth, Jan
British Railway Modellers of North America 5124-33rd St. Northwest Calgary AB T2L 1V4
Photos and captions. * See CP Rail News Vol. 16 No. 5 "Photo Book Covers First 100 Years"
Canadian Pacific in the Selkirks Volume 2
Steed, Roger G.
British Railway Modellers of North America 5124-33rd St. Northwest Calgary AB T2L 1V4
Photos with captions of Rogers Pass Project construction, tunnels, and John Fox viaduct.
Rail Tales From the Revelstoke Division
Nobbs, Ruby
Friesens Corporation Altona MB R0G 0B0
Ruby Nobbs was an archivist at the Revelstoke Museum for many years who collected personal local stories and newspaper articles which are included in this book.
Trackside Guide to CP Rail
Morris, Jackie
Friends of Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier Box 2992 Revelstoke BC V0E 1G0
Guide book to CPR points of interest between Banff and Craigellachie.
Glacier House Rediscovered
Finch, David
Friends of Mt. Revelstoke & Glacier
Photos and brief story about CPR's Glacier House Hotel near Illecillewaet Glacier in the Selkirk Mountains.
Railroaders Recollections from the Steam Era in British Columbia
Turner, Robert D.
Provincial Archives of British Columbia 675 Belleville St. Victoria BC V8V 1X4
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
Photos and captions of Rogers Pass area.
Railway Contractors, The
Taylor, Geoffrey W.
Morriss Publishing 1745 Blanshard St. Victoria BC
Information about company that constructed the Connaught Tunnel.
Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill, The
Pole, Graeme
Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd. PO Box 1410-1408 Railway Canmore AB T0L 0M0
More about the Big Hill than the Spiral Tunnels.
Canadian Pacific's Big Hill a Hundred Years of Operation
Yeats, Floyd
British Railway Modellers of North America 5124-33rd St. Northwest Calgary AB T2L 1V4
Photos and captions.
Initial Environmental Evaluation Lake Louise to Stephen
Slaney & Co., F.F.
Canadian Pacific Limited 500-Gulf Canada Square 401-9th Avenue SW Calgary AB T2P 4Z4
Prepared by F.F. Slaney & Company. Proposals for Lake Louise grade changes.
Associated Links

Canadian Pacific Railway
Canadian Pacific Railway Archives
Royal Canadian Pacific
Station 29 - CPR Store
Canadian Pacific Railway - Wikipedia
CPR Diesel Locomotive Roster
The Last Spike
360 Degree view of Craigellachie
Revelstoke Railway Photo Library
Revelstoke Railway Museum
360 Degree view of Loop Brook stone bridge abutments
History of Rogers Pass ( taken from Snow War )
Connaught Tunnel - Wikipedia
Major A.B. Rogers - Wikipedia
Spiral Tunnels

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