Like many, we have long wanted to take the train across Canada. That’s a long trip. The absolute best thing if you can’t do the train across is to take the Rocky Mountaineer train in the Canadian Rockies. Our itinerary is Banff to Kamloops on Day 1, with an overnight in Kamloops, and then Day 2, Kamloops to Vancouver.
Our train has 3 locomotives with 3000 horsepower engines. There are also two generator cars, one in the front and one in the rear, six supply/service cars for the staff and 8 gold-leaf dome cars. Our train car is a dome car – brand-new, fabricated in Germany. In total the train has 25 cars with 625 guests. Other interesting facts: Rocky Mountaineer has ordered 26 more dome cars; the Rocky Mountaineer Company is the only passenger train operating on a set of tracks that handles 30 freight trains a day; a very busy set of tracks. The longest freight train that can operate in Canada is 250 cars, 2-1/2 miles long. The train traffic is controlled by ‘Rail Traffic Control’ based in Calgary.
Now back to our trip. We signed up for the ‘Gold’ Service, which means our seats are in the upper deck of a double-decker train car, which have all glass tops and very comfortable seating and amenities. Each of these train cars has a staff upstairs serving drinks (all day) and a staff downstairs in the dining area serving meals. There is a galley with a chef and 3 assistants. Breakfast and lunch are served, the menu was interesting and the food delicious. Service is outstanding.
The train routes are divided into subdivisions. This morning as the train leaves Banff, the weather is crisp and cool. The train passes many of the places we saw by car while we were staying in Canmore – Castle Mountain, Lake Louise, Wapta Lake. The train comes to Field, which is the town we had visited to purchase our pass to enter Yoho National Park.
Just before Field, the train must go through the Spiral Tunnels.
We are lucky to be able to see a train as it is going through the lower spiral tunnel. In the picture, you will see cars of the train entering the tunnel and the other end of the train cars already out of the tunnel. This is a fascinating engineering feat – read more on Wikipedia for the detailed explanation of how a train can do a figure eight.
We are also lucky to see a couple of black bears along the way. One actually looked like he was waiting to wave at the train.
After the train passes through the town of Field, it enters another subdivision on our way to Revelstoke. Here we are again, this time by train, in the Yoho National Park, seeing again the Kicking Horse River, the Trans-Canadian Highway and the surrounding mountains in all their glory.
Next the train tracks follow the Columbia River and you see Kinbasket Lake, created by Mica Dam on the Columbia. The lake is just beginning to fill up as the flood control dam is releasing water into this reservoir and as the rivers feed it with snow- and glacial-melt.
There are more beautiful rivers and creeks as the train traverses around mountains and across bridges and trestles, as it makes it way towards our final destination for the day, Kamloops. The train enters the Connaught Tunnel, a dark five miles long, as we eat lunch. This tunnel was blasted through Mount Macdonald because Rogers Pass was known for heavy snowfall. The train passes through Canada’s Glacier National Park – said to be the equivalent of the Swiss Alps.
A covered area can be seen up on the cliff side where the highway is built to protect the road from avalanches. The terrain begins to change as we level off near the town of Revelstone. Here is where the Columbia River starts flowing south and another dam, the highest concrete dam in Canada, is located.
Beyond Revelstone is a stone cairn marking the spot where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Rail line was driven on November 7, 1885. It is called Craigellachie (after a legendary landmark – a large rock – in Banffshire County, Scotland) and has stones from all the Canadian provinces, along with many stones from Scotland counties.
Next, the train follows the Eagle River until we reach Sicamus. Here there are two expansive oft-visited recreational lakes, the Shuswap and the Mara. The train hugs the coast of the Shuswap. Beautiful – looks like Lake George in New York. A woman, named Doris, is known by the train staff because she comes out and waves every day. The Mountaineer rewarded Doris with a free train tour for her and her husband for her Swiss-clock-like loyalty.
There is another phenomenon for a train, a horseshoe curve where you come through a tunnel, go in a horseshoe up and you can see the tunnel behind you. Did Steve capture a picture? I couldn’t because one of the issues is glare on the windows so you can’t always get good pictures :-(.
Another beautiful area with rolling mountains/hills and lakes. There is also a change in the landscape. Farms, cattle, slow moving rivers.
The train host tells us about the Adams River which is the world’s largest salmon run – in September. Every four years there is a crazy migration up the river of salmon – 24 million in 2014! It is a beautiful area – very serene, bucolic.
Next the town of Chase…small place had a huge fire a couple of years ago. Lots of hay fields being irrigated. Quite a change from all the rivers and creeks we saw earlier. Cliffs beginning to form hoodoos.
Cocktail time and oatmeal raisin cookies? Yep, just about anything you’d like at 5 o’clock hour.
The train pulls in to Kamloops, the buses are waiting to take us to our hotel. Time to take a walk around and grab some food. Over dinner, we compare Kamloops to Grand Junction. Some locals at the next table tell us last year they had horrible fires here. Right now, its pleasant as the sunsets. Tomorrow – back on the train to Vancouver.