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Encyclopedia > Big Hill
“Big Hill” on the CPR, 1890. An uphill spur and safety switch are shown foreground and right.
“Big Hill” on the CPR, 1890. An uphill spur and safety switch are shown foreground and right.

The Big Hill on the Canadian Pacific Railway main line in British Columbia, Canada, was the most difficult piece of railway track in all of Canada. It was situated in the rugged Canadian Rockies west of the Continental Divide and Kicking Horse Pass. The area has long been a challenge to the operation of trains and remains so to this day. It cannot be said that the railway ever conquered the mountains, only that the railway copes with the challenge and the mountains tolerate the railway. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high-resolution version (1100x876, 139 KB)“Big Hill” on the Canadian Pacific Railroad, British Columbia, in 1890. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high-resolution version (1100x876, 139 KB)“Big Hill” on the Canadian Pacific Railroad, British Columbia, in 1890. ... An eastbound CPR freight at Stoney Creek Bridge in Rogers Pass. ... Motto: Splendor Sine Occasu (Latin: Splendour without diminishment) Official languages English de facto (none stated in law) Flower Pacific dogwood Tree Western Redcedar Bird Stellers Jay Capital Victoria Largest city Vancouver Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo Premier Gordon Campbell (BC Liberal) Parliamentary representation  - House seats  - Senate seats 36 6 Area... Ringrose Peak, Lake OHara, British Columbia, Canada The Canadian Rockies comprise the Canadian segment of the North American Rocky Mountains range. ... A continental divide is a line of elevated terrain which forms a border between two watersheds such that water falling on one side of the line eventually travels to one ocean or body of water, and water on the other side travels to another, generally on the opposite side of... Kicking Horse Pass is a mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta/British Columbia border, and lying within Yoho and Banff National Parks. ... A typical North American steam train In rail transport, a train consists of rail vehicles that move along guides to transport freight or passengers from one place to another. ...


To complete the Pacific railway as quickly as possible, a decision was made to delay blasting a lengthy 1400-foot (430 m) tunnel through Mount Stephen and instead build a temporary eight-mile (13 km) line over it. Instead of the desired 2.2% grade (116 feet to the mile) a steep 4.5% grade was built in 1884 (some sources say 4.4%). This was one of the steepest railway lines anywhere. It descended from Wapta Lake to the base of Mount Stephen, along the Kicking Horse River to a point just west of Field, then rose again to meet the original route. Mount Stephen is a mountain located in the Kicking Horse River Valley of Yoho National Park, ½ km east of Field. ... Wapta Lake is a glacial lake in the Canadian Rockies of eastern British Columbia, Canada. ... The Kicking Horse River is a river located in the Canadian Rockies of southeastern British Columbia, Canada. ... Front entrance to the townsite Field (51° 23′ 48″ N 116° 29′ 9″ W) is a town of approximately 300 people located in the Kicking Horse River valley of southeastern British Columbia, Canada within the confines of Yoho National Park. ...


Three safety switches were built to protect against runaway trains. These switches led to short spurs with a sharp reverse upgrade and they were kept in the “uphill” position until the operator was satisfied that the train descending the grade towards him was not out of control. Speed was restricted to eight miles per hour (13 km/h) for passenger trains and six (10 km/h) for freight, and elaborate brake testing was required of trains prior to descending the hill. Nevertheless, disasters occurred with dismaying frequency.


Field was created solely to accommodate the CPR’s need for additional locomotives to be added to trains about to tackle the Big Hill. Here a stone roundhouse with turntable was built at what was first known simply as Third Siding. In December 1884 the CPR renamed it Field after C.W. Field, a Chicago businessman who, the company hoped, might invest in the region after he had visited on a special train they had provided for him. Cyrus West Field c. ...


At that time, standard steam locomotives were 4-4-0’s, capable enough for the prairies and elsewhere, but of little use on the Big Hill. Baldwin Locomotive Works was called upon to build two 2-8-0’s for use as Field Hill pusher engines in 1884. At the time they were the most powerful locomotives built. Two more followed in June 1886. The CPR began building its own 2-8-0’s in August 1887, and over the years hundreds more were built or bought. Baldwin Locomotive Works builders plate, 1922 The Baldwin Locomotive Works was an American builder of railroad locomotives. ...

Contents

The Spiral Tunnels

Lower portal of “Number Two” tunnel, Spiral Tunnels, Field, British Columbia. The locomotives are passing under the train they are pulling.
Lower portal of “Number Two” tunnel, Spiral Tunnels, Field, British Columbia. The locomotives are passing under the train they are pulling.
Panorama of the Kicking Horse Valley, showing the famous Spiral Tunnels
Panorama of the Kicking Horse Valley, showing the famous Spiral Tunnels

The Big Hill “temporary” line was to remain the main line for twenty-five years, until the famous Spiral Tunnels were opened on September 1, 1909. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (1024x685, 699 KB) A Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive exiting the Lower spiral tunnel. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (1024x685, 699 KB) A Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive exiting the Lower spiral tunnel. ... A spiral is a hill climbing technique for railways when the topography rises faster than the train can climb. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (800x601, 137 KB)An old map of the Spiral Tunnels. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (800x601, 137 KB)An old map of the Spiral Tunnels. ... September 1 is the 244th day of the year (245th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1909 (MCMIX) was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ...


The improvement project was started in 1906, under the supervision of John Edward Schwitzer, the senior engineer of CPR’s western lines. The first proposal had been to extend the length of the climb, and thus reduce the gradient, by bypassing the town of Field at a higher level, on the south side of the Kicking Horse river valley. This idea had quickly been abandoned because of the severe risk of avalanches and landslips on the valley side. Also under consideration was the extension of the route in a loop northwards, using both sides of the valley of the Yoho river to increase the distance, but again the valley sides were found to be prone to avalanches. It was the experience of severe disruption and delay caused by avalanches on other parts of the line (such as at the Rogers Pass station, which was destroyed by an avalanche in 1899) that persuaded Schwitzer that the expensive solution of digging ‘‘spiral tunnels’’ was the only practical way forward. Rogers Pass is the pass (elevation 1330 m) through the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia used by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans-Canada Highway. ...


The route decided upon called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. The higher tunnel, “number one”, was about one thousand yards in length and ran under Cathedral Mountain, to the south of the original track. When the new line emerged from this tunnel it had doubled back, running beneath itself and fifty feet lower. It then descended the valley side in almost the opposite direction to its previous course before crossing the Kicking Horse River and entering Mount Ogden to the north. This lower tunnel, “number two”, was a few yards shorter than “number one” but the descent was again about fifty feet. From the exit of this tunnel the line continued down the valley in the original direction, towards Field. The constructions and extra track would effectively double the length of the climb and reduce the ruling gradient to 2.2%. The ruling gradient (or ruling grade) of a section of railway line is the steepest section of that line. ...


The contract was awarded to MacDonnell, Gzowski and Company and work started in 1907. The labor force amounted to about a thousand and the cost was about 1.5 million Canadian dollars.


Even after the opening of the spiral tunnels, Field Hill remained a significant challenge and it was necessary to retain the powerful locomotives at Field locomotive depot. Field was created solely to accommodate the Canadian Pacific Railways need for additional locomotives to be added to trains about to tackle the Big Hill. ...


See also

A spiral is a hill climbing technique for railways when the topography rises faster than the train can climb. ... An eastbound Santa Fe train passes over itself on the loop in April 1987. ...

References

  • Pierre Berton The Last Spike McCelland and Stewart Ltd. 1971 Toronto/Montreal 0-7710-1327-2
  • W.Kaye Lamb History of the Canadian Pacific Railway Collier MacMillan Canada Ltd. 1977 ISBN 0-02-567660-1
  • Omer Lavalee Van Horne's Road Railfare Enterprises Ltd. 1974 ISBN 0-919130-22-4 Library of Congress Number 73-86285
  • Graeme Pole The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill Altitude Publishing 1999 Canmore 1-55153-907-1
  • Robert D. Turner West of the Great Divide Sono Nis Press 1987 Victoria BC ISBN 0-919203-51-5
  • Floyd Yates Canadian Pacific's Big Hill BRMNA Calgary, Alberta 1985 ISBN 0-919487-14-9
  • Buck, George H (1997): From Summit to Sea. Fifth House, Calgary. ISBN 1-895618-94-0

External links


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