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TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010

Spiral Tunnels, Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia

When British Columbia agreed to become a part of Canada, they had a condition - the railway was to be built to make transportation possible between the East and the West. However, engineers couldn't begin to imagine the challenges they would face - one being Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies on the Alberta/B.C. border which was initially crossed by what was known as 'Big Hill' in 1884 and subsequently replaced with the now famous Spiral Tunnels in 1909. Its route, carved into the mountainsides, consists of two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles which can be seen from a viewpoint along the Trans Canada Highway and is one of the steepest, most scenic railway lines in North America.

Trains like Engine 374 crossed from East to West via routes such as the Kicking Horse Pass, British ColumbiaBritish Columbia is the location of many daring feats of engineering, especially in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the regions mountainous terrain. Sections such as the Othello-Quintette Tunnels in Hope and the Myra Canyon Trestles near Kelowna are some most awe inspiring stretches of railway in British Columbia. Another such stretch are the Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass in British Columbia.

Pacific Railway train exiting the lower spiral at Spiral Tunnels in
Kicking Horse Pass, British ColumbiaThe railway through B.C.'s Kicking Horse Pass along the Rockies proved to be problematic for the CPR. The area was too mountainous and CPR engineers decided against blasting a tunnel through the mountainside, instead building over it. Big Hill was completed in 1884. The problem with its construction was the grade of the tracks was a whopping 4.5% (No railway was ever built above 2.2%) which was too steep for the trains to properly slow down. A Long freight train entering the Spiral Tunnels in Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbianumber of switchbacks were added, brakes were vigorously tested before proceeding and extra locomotives were required to prevent accidents. Even with all these precautions, many devastating accidents occurred and the Canadian Pacific Railway made plans to build a new passage through the region.

Opened September 1, 1909, the Spiral Tunnels replaced Big Hill and have become one of the most famous railway attractions in British Columbia. Two three-quarter tunnels were dug into two mountainsEarly
drawing of the Spiral Tunnels near Kicking Horse Pass,
British Columbia  (photo: Canadian Pacific Railroad) - the lower tunnel in Mount Ogden and the upper tunnel in Mount Stephen - reducing the grade to 2.2%. Today, visitors can see trains pulling upwards of one hundred rail cars entering the Spiral Tunnels from a viewpoint on the Trans Canada Highway in Yoho National Park (map) between the town of Field, BC and the summit of Kicking Horse Pass. The viewpoint (closed from October - April) also has exhibits showing how the tunnels work. National Park fees apply ranging from $3.90 to $9.80 per person. It is highly suggested to check out these amazing 100 year old tunnels and see trains make their way through (freight trains arrive often).

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