Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Yoho National Park



 


 

Kicking Horse Pass was named after a painful encounter between a horse and Sir James Hector who came to the region to reconnoiter road and rail routes through the Rockies. Although so severely injured by the kick that he was at first taken for dead, Hector was able to continue his expedition and the Continental Divide was crossed. The pass was so steep, however, that surveyors insisted the Canadian Pacific Railway take a more northerly route - a politically unpopular recommendation since it left an opportunity for the U.S. to take over some unprotected border territory. So after years of being thwarted by the height of the Rocky Mountain passes and the steepness of the western slopes, and against all engineering advice, railway officials chose Kicking Horse Pass as the route across the Great Divide. In 1884 the line was blasted through Yoho, creating the infamous 'Big Hill', a vertical drop of 275 metres in only 6.4 kilometres. The first train to descend met with disaster. Brake failure going down the hill was so serious a danger that three safety switches leading to steeply inclined spurs were installed and downgrade trains were required to stop at each switch to prove the train was under control. In many cases, runaway trains had gained such a momentum by the time a safety switch was reached that instead of being diverted, the train jumped the tracks. Runaway trains became so common that four whistle blasts was the well-known warning for trains careening out of control. The only viable solution was a pair of figure eight spiral tunnels - nine kilometres of track looped out to curl round on themselves, passing through Mount Ogden and Mount Cathed that sit astride the route. The tunnels, which required 1000 men two years to complete and involved the excavation of 63 713 cubic metres of rock, was completed in 1909 - the only ones of their kind in North America. The road built through Kicking Horse Pass in 1927 is now part of the Trans- Canada Highway.


 

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