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PRINCE GEORGE - VANCOUVER

THURSDAY 31ST JULY 1997

The BC Rail route from Prince George to Vancouver

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Prince George BC Rail station

The “Cariboo Prospector”, made up of two British Columbia Railway Budd RDC railcars, left Prince George BCR terminal at 07.00, but was then held in the yard for a northbound freight so eventual departure was nearly 45 minutes late. Initially the line is through farming country with numerous timber mills. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all included in the fare and came on airline style trays, although of slightly better quality. 

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BC Rail 2 unit RDC at Prince George before working to Vancouver

The landscape through to Quesnel remained a mixture of forest and farmland with two more large pulp mills being located there. An engineer riding to Williams Lake said there are 3 freights a day on the line in each direction. They load up to 10,000 tons and generally have two lead locos plus one or two mid-train radio controlled helper locos. 

One of the numerous rail connected timber industry plants

In places on this northern section the train travelled at up to 60mph. The Fraser River at this stage was to the west in a broad valley. At Alexandria the train was put in a dead end siding to allow a northbound freight to pass us, and then reversed out of the siding! A viaduct at Deep Creek was 312 feet above the creek- the train stopped briefly to allow passengers to enjoy the view - despite being late.

BC Rail RS18 #627 and RS3 slug #410 at Williams Lake (taken through window)

Williams Lake, (pop 28000) is a major centre with yet more sawmills. Here a large numbers of passengers joined, many of whom clearly had not had a bath for some days! After another delay for freight traffic the train set off and started its climb into the Cariboo. The line climbs from 1765 feet to the summit at Horme Lake of 3788 feet. The steep part comes after 100 Mile House/Exeter where the grade lasts for 16 miles. 

The Cariboo is a vast silty deposit scarred with canyons and streams. At Kelly Lake there is a turning Y for the daily excursion trains from Lilloet. The lake itself is in a deep ravine. Between Arden and Polley the line descends in to the Fraser Canyon and is the longest and most gruelling climb in North America with an average 2.2% grade. This section is patrolled by a pick up truck mounted on wheels which could be seen preceeding our train. 

The Hi-Rail vehicle that patrols the line in front of trains

The Fraser canyon north of Lilloet

The rock falls in the Fraser canyon are notorious. The Canyon is utterly awesome with bare rock or silt valley sides. almost sheer in places and with trees growing out of the bare silt. The track is 2000’ above the valley floor at the start of the grade. At Pavillion ,half vvay down the grade, is British Columbia‘s oldest general store established in 1862. Huge areas of the canyon floor were being used for growing the Chinese herb gin-seng . 

The line winds down the mountainside towards Lilloet

The crops were covered with black netting. There are two passing loops in the canyon and both are signalled from Lilloet, for safety reasons I presume, as there are sheer drops from the trackside. We passed or overtook freights in both loops. One Canadian woman asked if I was “trainspotting” when I took a particularly interest in one of them, something she'd heard British rail fans did! At the bottom of the canyon stands, for drying salmon, caught in the river by Indians, could be seen. In fact one of the flagstops hereabouts is called Indian Reservation. The railway crosses the lower part of the canyon on a girder bridge vvith sharp curves at either end.  

The RDCs stand in Lilloet station during a short break in the marathon journey from Prince George to Vancouver

The train arrived in Lilloet 2 hours late. BC Rail had dispatched the other RDCs, that were scheduled to be added here, earlier, so our train was able to omit a lot of the stops onwards to Vancouver. The conductor came through the train to ask which stops were required. During the stop at Lilloet, which again wasn’t shortened from the scheduled 20 minutes, I asked the driver if he would be able to make up any time. His reply was no because of the heat kinks in the rails. Indeed it soon became obvious that we were only maintaining the schedule from Lilloet by virtue of omitting the stops. 

Downhill from Lilloet the line ran along the shores of lakes reminiscent of Norwegian fords, with several hydro electric plants . Approaching Whistler, mountains with considerable amounts of snow became visible. Mount Garibaldi was the highest seen at 8787 feet. The line then descends steeply through the narrow and spectacular Cheakamus gorge, a narrow rocky ravine with waterfalls and cataracts.

The crew were changed at Squamish for the last hour and a half to Vancouver. In the workshops here could be seen several more RDCs. Then suddenly around a corner we came in sight of Howe Sound, the first sea water since Halifax - I’d done it and crossed North America from coast to coast by train. Strange really to feel such a sense of achievement when all I’d had to do was sit back and watch the miles roll by. I wonder what people felt when they crossed Canada before the railway?

The Howe Sound looking north (photo taken from on board ship)

In the water in pens were logs waiting to be processed for the saw mills. On either side of the sound mountains towered, most still covered with snow and ice. The line hugs the shores of Howe Sound all the way to Vancouver. By now, however, it was nearly dark and I was tired so I didn’t take too much notice. I knew I’d see the line in daylight from the "Royal Hudson" special train a few days later. The views coming into Vancouver with the lights of the city and the floodlit Lions Gate Bridge were pretty spectacular.

We were put in a siding again to be passed by yet another freight before arriving in North Vancouver nearly 2 hours late. Even then BC Rail hadn’t finished with us, as the evening dining car special train was occupying the main platform so we had to pass it and then set back into the platform.

I took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi driver who having found out who I was and that I was travelling alone suggested that I ought to find a "nice" girl and that he could help me find one!. He didn ‘t seem to impressed when I said that it was too much trouble and went quiet. I felt for the first time a little overwhelmed by a North American city, wide roads, tall buildings, bright lights and roaring traffic etc. but experience of travelling alone has taught me that tomorrow is always a new day so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Sleep and a nice bed are good healers!  

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1. Halifax-Montreal 2.Montreal 3.Montreal-Toronto
4.Toronto-Windsor 5.Toronto-Niagara Falls 6.Toronto-Winnipeg
7.Winnipeg-Jasper 8.Jasper-Prince George 9.Prince George-Vancouver
10.Vancouver 11.Vancouver Island 12.BC Rail Steam/BC Transit
Links Loco Observations Locos & stock photos
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