THE "ROCKY MOUNTAINEER"
missed the train ride from Banff to Kamloops via the Spiral
Tunnels in June 2013 due to a freight train derailment in the
Spiral Tunnels west of Banff and Lake Louise. We still wanted to
see that portion of the route. RM management had offered a free
two-day trip as compensation, so we took them up on it.
After ignoring our emails for two months, RM finally agreed to honour
their promises. It wasn't exactly free as we paid
for the hotels.
Since we had done the rest of the complete circle tour earlier, we really didn't want to repeat the
Kamloops to Vancouver leg then fly home, so we asked to do Banff
-- Kamloops -- Jasper instead. This is not a standard two-day
trip but RM agreed.
It was a great trip, with its own share of misadventure.
LET'S TRY THAT AGAIN
: BANFF -- KAMLOOPS
It started inauspiciously. Two hours late leaving Banff due to
freight congestion near Calgary, we stopped again (guess where!)
at the entrance to the Spiral Tunnels. This time it was a work
crew in the tunnel that couldn't get its act together. Three
hours later we were finally on our way but made up little time
following the freight train ahead of us. By Revelstoke, it was
full dark so we missed seeing the lakes around Salmon Arm and
the Shuswap, and the arid semi-desert approaching Kamloops. To
soothe us, the chefs prepared a very credible supper from unused
lunch items. And the wine continued to flow.
Close on 1 AM we hit the hay at a downtown Kamloops hotel. We
could sleep in next morning but the rest of the passengers and
crew were up at dawn to move on to Vancouver.
The Spiral Tunnels on the CPR mainline, the cause of the
cancelled trip in June and the delay on the replacement trip in
September, are world famous and not normally a source of
problems for train crews. The complex track design is
shown here to illustrate the interesting sightseeing
possibilities of the route.
Map of CPR Spiral Tunnels -- Upper Spiral is at bottom of
map, Lower Tunnel is near top of map.
Each tunnel drops the elevation by about 50 feet, reducing the
grade from 4.5% on the "Big Hill" down to a more manageable 2.2%. Kicking Horse River is at the left and Trans-Canada Highway (#1)
crosses the CPR twice between the two tunnels. The road on the
left goes north to Takakkaw Falls. All this is just west of the
Continental Divide on the border between Alberta and British
Columbia. Lake Louise AB is off-screen to the top right and Field
BC is off-screen to the lower left. The upper tunnel is under Mt
Stephen, the lower under Mt Ogden.
Lake Louise Heritage Station
Ballast Spreader parked at Banff
Lower Spiral Tunnel from Upper Spiral
Kicking Horse River
Old CPR Station at Field, BC
Park Bridge from the Mountaineer
Impressive waterfall west of Field, BC Revelstoke to Kamloops,
too dark to see
A Very Fine Day: Kamloops
Downtown Kamloops is a lovely old-fashioned town of stone and
brick buildings with an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.
Light traffic, quiet buses, and lots of heritage buildings to
look at made a very restful day. Riverside Park between downtown
and the North Thompson River includes the railway station and a
heritage park, a Japanese Garden, riverside beach, swimming pool,
water slide, tennis, lawn bowling, and music nightly in the
band shell during the summer.
The 1912 vintage class M-3-d steam locomotive ex-CNR 2-8-0
Consolidation #2141, now called "Spirit of Kamloops", was out of
service and out of sight undergoing a boiler rebuild. Some
antique rolling stock was on display.
Train watching in downtown Kamloops
Railway bridge over Thompson River
Fort Kamloops history
Snowplow at the ready
Kamloops Heritage Railway cars
Kamloops Heritage Railway Logo
A strange caboose
Kamloops famous "Red Bridge"
up the Thompson River: kamloops -- jasper
This leg of the journey is very reminiscent of the Fraser River
route to Quesnel, with forestry and cattle operations spread
across the landscape. Skirting the edge of a river that once had
paddle wheel steamers, the train climbs slowly to the same
climax -- Mount Robson. This time it was pretty cloudy beyond the
halfway mark. Across the Continental Divide to Jasper was
uneventful and we arrived in plenty of time to walk the streets
Thompson River, named after David Thompson, who walked, canoed,
and rode horseback for more than 50,000 kilometers to survey and
map most of western Canada and northwest USA during the late
The Mountaineer is turned on a wye here and Via's Canadian
spends a couple of hours at the station nearly every day.
A neat 2-foot gauge mine
engine (decorated as CNR #9) lives in front of the fire hall, as
well as the CNR 6015 on display at the station. These plus the hourly
freights give a train fan lots to watch. If you are here for the
mountains, there's a gondola to the top of The Whistler, the
boat ride on Maligne Lake, the trip onto Athabasca Glacier, and
much more. Brewster Bus Lines will give you a grand tour.
The 2-foot gauge mining locomotive at the Jasper Fire Hall
Rear end and driver details
Cab interior showing firebox and pressure gauge
THE ADVenture Ends
Next day, we took the Brewster commuter bus via Lake Louise to
Banff, grabbed our car and drove home. The adventure was over,
102 days after it had begun, and we had seen Banff and Jasper enough
for one year.
Advice: If you want great scenery, fine dining, and super service, try the Rocky
Mountaineer. If you want
"on-time", go to Switzerland.
Jasper the Bear - part of Jasper National Park since 1948
Rocky Mountaineer: Westbound