Connaught Tunnel Celebrates Anniversary

Posted by Daniel on Dec 4, 2009 - 7 comments

Chuck Davis writes:

The 94th anniversary of the completion of the Connaught Tunnel beneath Rogers Pass is coming up. The Connaught became the longest tunnel in North America to that time (5.022 miles, or 8.08 km) when its two parts were connected on December 19, 1915. The CPR had planned the $6 million tunnel to eliminate miles of snowsheds over the line, and to lower the summit that had to be reached to get over the Pass.


It was named for the Governor General at the time, the Duke of Connaught.


“With no ceremony whatever,” the Province newspaper reported, “except the ceremony of touching off the fuse that fired the big blast, the centre heading of the big five-mile tunnel of the Canadian Pacific Railway company under Mt. Macdonald, at the highest point in the Selkirk range of the Rocky mountains, was blown through this morning.”


Deep within the mountain itself two crews had been burrowing their way toward each other for two years. Now only a thin barrier of rock separated them. A group of men gathered for the 8:00 a.m. blast, led by John G. Sullivan, the railway’s chief engineer. They asked Sullivan if he was sure the two holes would exactly meet, and he said: ‘The sides will be within one-half inch of each other.’ They were.


The two groups of workmen groped through the dust of the explosion, grinning, and shook each others’ hands.


When the tunnel was built it was double-tracked, but in 1958 a single set of rails was installed in the centre of the tunnel to allow for higher loads. Then, my railway buff buddy Jim McGraw informs me, “the Connaught Tunnel route was becoming a bottleneck because many westbound freights had to have pusher locomotives added to get them over the 2.2 per cent grade leading to the tunnel. So a decision was made to build a new line and tunnel with a lesser grade. In 1988, the new 9.11-mile (14.66 km) Mount Macdonald Tunnel (360 feet or 110 metres below the Connaught Tunnel) was opened. The new line has a maximum grade of 1 per cent meaning westbound trains no longer need pusher locomotives to help them get over the grade. The old Connaught Tunnel is now used by eastbound trains while the Mount Macdonald Tunnel is used by the westbound trains.”