Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies

History of the cp route

This layout focuses on Canadian Pacific’s crossing of the Rocky Mountains - the current plan is to model both Roger’s Pass and Kicking Horse Pass, the 2 major passes the line passes through in British Columbia.

The line was originally built in the 1880s, as part of the Canadian Transcontinental Line. British Columbia had required a rail connection to Toronto as part of their entry into the confederation, and the line was started in 1881 near Toronto, on, and reached Vancouver, bc only 4 years later in 1885. Extensions also headed East into Quebec, leading to an entire length of 3,224 miles from Quebec City, pq to Vancouver, bc.

The transcontinental line can be divided up into 3 sections from Toronto to Vancouver. The first section from Toronto to Winnipeg passes through the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield - a dense forest, covered in marshes, small lakes and rocky outcroppings. cp decided upon a route following the coast of the Great Lakes for the first part of their route, before heading inland to reach Winnipeg. The line clings to cliffsides along the majority of the line paralleling the lakes, and it has been said that constructing this part of the route was just as deadly as the crossing of the Rockies - if not more so.

The second section of the route is the crossing of the plains - almost completely flat, the lines here are almost perfectly straight lines between one town and the next - and the majority of these towns originated from worker’s camps anyway. From Winnipeg, mb to Calgary, ab is 750 miles as the crow flies, and the railway deviates little from a straight line put between the two! As the line crosses into Alberta, it begins to encounter the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The main commodity moved by rail from the plains is grain, and trains of well over 100 cars of grain head both east and west from the plains after the harvest. In Saskatchewan, large potash mines move their goods to markets by rail also - potash is used in the manufacture of fertilisers. In Alberta, the Abathasca Oil Sands and other oil-rich areas move out large amount of petrochemicals and sulphur - a byproduct of refining. Much of this sulphur is sent to Vancouver for export to China, but some is sent to the us.

The final part of the line, which this layout concentrates on, is the Rocky Mountains. This name is not actually the correct term for the entire set of mountains - the Rockies are, in fact, only the first of multiple ranges of mountains stretching across bc.

The first pass the line crosses is Kicking Horse Pass, in the Canadian Rockies. The pass, at 1,627m, was reached in 1884. The major problem with the pass was the steep inclines needed to reach it, notably on the western approach. The cp was forced to build an awe-inspiring 4.5 mile long 4.5% grade, appropriately named “Big Hill”. - more than 4 times the recommended gradient at the time. Even these days, a 1.8% and over grade is considered a “Mountain Grade” and often requires special instructions and helpers on both sides. After multiple runaway trains and horrific accidents, cp rebuilt the entire western approach in 1909, including 2 spiral tunnels.

These lessened the grade to a “managable” 2.2% ruling grade on the western approach. Long trains passing through the tunnels can be seen to pass under themselves as they ascend or descend the pass. The line eventually levels off near Field, bc, a major crew change point.

The line then descends further from Field, heading towards Golden, bc, on the Columbia River. Golden hosts a large coal storage and servicing yard, which deals with the large amount of coal trains heading from the southern bc coal fields to Vancouver, bc for export. The line heading south from Golden heads towards the us Border, before heading east across Crowsnest Pass and into Alberta, about 100 miles south of Calgary and the main line.

The transcon follows the Columbia River north, before diverging to the east and entering the Selkirk Mountains. The Columbia River is flowing North at this point, but actually curves around the north end of the Selkirk Mountains and flows south again, meeting the railway on the other side at Revelstoke, bc.

Crossing the Selkirk mountains, the railroad uses Roger’s Pass. The line originally crossed the pass above ground, and was completed in the summer of 1884. However, the entire line was closed for the winter of 1884/85 - in order observe the avalanches. In response to these, about 4 miles of snow sheds were built. However, this did not stop the avalanches - many lives were lost, the worst of which came in 1910, when a snowplow and crew, clearing a previous avalanche, were buried under a second. A new route was demanded, and the 5 mile long Connaught Tunnel was finished in 1916, passing under Mount Macdonald.

This sufficed for the time being, but over time, trains became longer and heavier, and a severe bottleneck appeared after the double-tracked tunnel was single-tracked in order to allow wider and taller trains to pass through. In 1988, a second tunnel was opened, the 9.2 mile Mount Macdonald tunnel. This was also preceded by the the mile-long Mount Shaughnessy Tunnel, and had a much lower grade than the Connaught track. Currently, both tunnels are still used - the steeper grade of the Connaught Track is used for the mainly empty trains heading East, while the more relaxed Macdonald Track is reserved for heavy westbound trains.

The line then slopes down towards Revelstoke, bc before heading onto Kamloops and Vancouver. Between these two cities, the line follows the Fraser River Canyon, crossing the river as needed to get the more sympathetic side. As an interesting aside, when the Canadian National built their route into Vancouver, they were forced to built on the sides of the canyon rejected by the cp - as there was nowhere near enough room to build parallel tracks in the canyon. In modern times, cp and cn have agreed to share trackage in the canyon, with cn running all Westbounds and cp governing Eastbounds.

The Layout

My current plan for the layout is to model the line from Revelstoke, bc, across Roger’s Pass, through Golden and Field, up Kicking Horse Pass, and then onto Banff, ab. However, there is theoretically enough room in the R3D layout space to expand West to Kamloops and East to Calgary - I’ve yet to decide if I will persue either of these eventualities.

Work so far

Update List

  • 14/1/2008 - Terrain, river and track completed up to the western entry to Roger’s Pass


I’m currently working from 1:50,000 maps of the area from the internet in the digitiser to work out the terrain. Terrain has now continued as far as the Western End of Roger’s Pass, and the rivers that the line follows are also put in up to here. Contours above 1600m have not been put in yet, and I intend to leave these out until I go over the route a second time to add detailed scenery.

In order to get the craggy feel of the mountains, I’ve put in a number of invisible tracks where small streams are marked on the map, and stitched terrain to these. This has worked very well - I chose not to use a “River” type track on these as much of these will (theoretically) be hidden by the trees. Some of the more major streams where bridges are marked will be shown, though.


The track is currently marked in between Revelstoke and Albert Canyon, and graded according to spot heights marked on the track on my maps, which do give the correct gradient. I believe these spot heights are here since it was cp who surveyed the pass, and so marked in the heights of their track on their own maps.

Between Revelstoke and Albert Canyon, the line is double tracked, with crossovers every 4/5 miles. Currently I only have 1 track in for the majority of the line - but hitting “Quick Track” won’t take long!

Revelstoke Yard is also partly in existence, with the longest tracks where trains are held for crew changes put in with yard ladders. Various shops tracks aren’t modelled yet - but aren’t vital either.

The track has been carefully examined all the way up the pass to make sure the terrain works well - at points, the line is literally clinging to cliffsides, with the river below and mountains stretching upwards on the other side.


My current plan is to convert models from msts, although I’ve yet to look into this. My current loco of choice is a Landrover.

Experiments have revealed that msts converts are more sympathetic on framerates than most R3D models, but having common components and the like on things such as coal hoppers and having strict


Nonexistent, currently. The majority of this will be lineside equipment, and trees. Currently, I’ve not worked out how to do trees - even with the scenery spraygun, I’m sure R3D would choke if I covered mountainsides with trees. Another disadvantage to that is that it would take me months to cover the entire area.

Maple Leaf Track’s msts version of the line uses trees on the side of the track only - this works well enough in the cab, but when in View 2 (etc.), the mountains do look very bare.

I’ve experimented with using a “tree” texture on the terrain, but this looks awkward next to the track - and again, it would be months if I tried to paint every terrain point that needed it.


The current us/Canadian signals are, to say the least, inadequate. I’ll likely need to put together my own model, and then have a script to help with all the various signal aspects (such as Slow/Medium/Limited speeds). For now, nonexistent.

Information Sources

The majority of information will be provided by:

  • The Atlas Of Canada - Free online maps of the entirety of Canada. These are useful for contours, rivers and actually grading the track (as it passes contours or spot heights).
  • Google Earth - This provides satellite images of about half the route, including the yards at Golden and Revelstoke. It also shows where trees should be (that is, everywhere.)
  • mlt’s Kicking Horse Pass and Roger’s Pass routes - these will be useful for getting an idea of signalling and trackside equipment, and also double checking gradients against (although msts seems to limit gradients to 0.5% increments).
  • Employee Timetables - mlt provided these as part of the documentation for the route. They show grading on the steeper parts of the line (“steeper” being 2.5%!), distances between points, where crossovers are situated, speed limits, and other useful information.
  • Canadian Trackside Guide 2008 - For trains that are common on the pass, signal aspects for modelling, and other miscellaneous information.