February 1942, No. 5 Upper Canada Railway Society Bulletin (Toronto) Page 4

The Kettle Valley Railway

John A. Wood

The Kettle Valley Railway is situated in British Columbia serving the southern part of the province end is part of an alternative C.P.R. route from Medicine Hat, Alta. to Vancouver, B.C.; it traverses some country, which in the writer's opinion, is as spectacular and awe-inspiring as the C.P.R. main line through the Rockies.

The K.V.R. was incorporated in 1901 as the Kettle River Valley Railway and as such built the greater portion of its main line westward from Midway to Princeton which it reached in 1912. The year previous it had changed its name to the present title. From Princeton to Brookmere lay the tracks of the Victoria, Vancouver and Eastern Railway and Navigation Company, over which the two companies jointly operated their trains. From Brookmere to Merritt the line was bui1t during 1912-15 thus enabling the K.V.R. to make connections with the C.P.R. main line at Spence's Bridge. However, in 1913 the line was leased to the C.P.R. which in 1916 placed in operation a shorter route to the coast than the Brookmere-Spence's Bridge line; this is the famous Coquihalla Pass cut-off, effecting a saving of 104 miles, and joining the main line at Petain.

I would like to dwell awhile on the Coquihalla Pass as I am well-acquainted with it, having spent some time there during the summers of 1936 and 1937. The line extends from Coquihalla Station down a practically continuous 2.2% grade to Hope, where it crosses the Fraser River to join the main line. At the start of the descent the Coquihalla River is level with the track but after five miles have been passed the track is clinging to the mountainside 500 feet above the river and before the halfway mark is reached the river is 1,000 feet below. However the river flattens out here and continues its downwards course until both are level again near Hope. All freight trains must make two stops and passenger trains one stop for a thermal test besides one at Coquihalla before starting down the grade. In 1927 this rule was not operative and after passing through Coquihalla without stopping a freight train hauled by engine 3401 lost control and dashed madly downwards for almost 20 miles before being derailed on a trestle killing the engineer and fourteen hoboes. The fireman jumped and escaped with a broken arm; eyewitnesses state that the train was travelling 80 or 90 miles an hour just before being derailed and the wheels were all red-hot.

This section of line is patrolled day and night as rock slides are numerous and derailments of a minor nature are frequent. In 1937 train No. 11, the Kootenay Express, was derailed, overturning the engine and mail and express cars, but with no loss of life. The line is often closed for from two to six weeks or even six months from December on owing to the very heavy snowfall. During the last eleven years it has only remained open all winter once and on two occasions has been closed from December to June. At such times trains are operated by the alternative route from Brookmere to Spence's Bridge.

Until 1930 when the 5100 Class engines were relieved by the 2700's on the main line passenger service, the Kootenay Express and the Kettle Valley Express were hauled by 2519 and 2649 over this difficult route. In that year 5100's took over the job but were relieved in 1939 by 2706 and 2709. Freight on this section is ably handled by 3400, 3500 and 3600 Class engines and are usually double-headed both ways. This is to provide sufficient braking power when descending the stiff grade.

Railways: C.P.Ry., K.V.Ry.