Kettle Valley Railway – Now Rails & Trails
Railway Rides in Summerland
In 1885 the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed across Canada, the promise of which had brought British Columbia into Canada’s confederation in 1871. However the rail line was too far north to be of much use to the people of the southern interior and a Kootenay to Coast Connection was on the minds of the people of southern BC. A railway was the answer to deter American miners helping themselves to the mineral riches being discovered in the Kootenays, close to the U.S. border.
Construction of the KVR was the result of the determination of KVR President J.J. Warren and CPR magnate Sir Thomas Shaughnessy. The job of building the five-hundred kilometer (325 mile) railway was given to chief engineer Andrew McCulloch, who was presented with the Herculean task of creating one of the most difficult railways ever constructed. The line which snaked its way over and around three mountain ranges connected the area from Midway in the Kootenays to Hope in the Fraser Canyon. McCulloch had his work cut out for him when he reached Myra Canyon above Kelowna. Undaunted he engineered the construction of 18 trestles and 2 tunnels from Mile 85 to Mile 90.4. The famous trestles were destroyed by fire in 2003 but have since been rebuilt as a national heritage site and component of the Trans-Canada Trail.
Another major feature of the Kettle Valley Railway (still in use for trains today) was the Trout Creek Bridge —at 619 feet long and 238 feet high, it was the largest steel girder bridge on the KVR and the third largest in North America at the time it was built in 1913. The structure which is located in Summerland originally had 450 feet of wooden trestle approaches but they were buried with fill or ballast during railway improvements over the next decade.
The KVR mainline was completed in 1915 and the first passenger train rolled into Penticton (KVR headquarters) on May 31st of that year. By July of 1916 the final section of this historic rail line through the Coquihalla was completed. In time the Coquihalla subdivision proved too much to handle suffering many washouts and snow and rock slides, so in 1959 it was closed. Passenger service was curtailed by 1964 and only one section through the Okanagan remained in operation for freight trains. This service was discontinued in 1989 and by this time most of the tracks had been removed – the decision came from the CPR to tear up what was left.
Thankfully not all the track was torn up. The Kettle Valley Railway Society was formed and with help of the BC Government, Royal BC Museum, Forestry Museum, the CPR and countless volunteers, 16 kilometres (10 miles) of the original KVR line at Summerland were preserved. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway began operation in 1995 and the sound of a steam locomotive could once again be heard on the historic Kettle Valley Railway.