Kootenay Central

Golden to Fort Steele, Kootenay Central Railway

This route, which is now a key part of the Canadian Pacific's system for hauling coal from the Crowsnest Pass, was for many years an obscure branch line. Traffic was sparse and mixed trains operated over the line three times a week.

It was chartered in 1901 but little work was completed until the Canadian Pacific formally leased the line in 1910. Trackage was built south from the CPR main line at Golden and northward from a point named Colvalli, on the Crowsnest Pass Route, near Fort Steele. Through service began in 1913 and passenger service was inaugurated in 1914. Options in the railway's charter to built south to the US border were never utilized. The branch line served a sparsely settled area developed for farming and sawmilling. The CPR also promoted the area around Lake Windermere as a tourist destination. The area was close to Kootenay National Park and the hotsprings at Sinclair Canyon and Fairmont. A Canadian Pacific brochure from 1919 described the area:

The scenery of this region, combining as it does pastoral softness with rugged mountain grandeur, attracted visitors from all parts of the world when the valley was comparatively difficult to access. Now that the valley is pierced by a railway line, linked at each end with other lines east and west, it is becoming a favorite playground for prairie people. The summer visitor will find there everything that he could wish. Making his headquarters at the pretty town of Invermere, on Lake Windermere, he will find fine air, beautiful surroundings, the very best riding, diving, bathing, boating and sailing that he has ever dreamed . For golfers, there is a popular nine-hole course, over which visitors can play for a small fee. Horse-breeding being a flourishing industry, ponies can be obtained for expeditions up the mountain trails to the foot of the great glaciers and ice-fields of the Selkirks, while the roads of the area are well adapted for automobiling.

The Columbia Valley is reached from the main line of the C.P.R. at Golden. From here a branch line, the Kootenay Central, runs through the upper valley to Athalmer, a distance of 74 miles [120 km], traversing en route a rapidly developing agricultural region. Automobiles from Invermere meet the trains at Athalmer Station. The railway continues down the edges of the lakes and beyond to Fort Steele, and joins the Crow's Nest Pass route of the Canadian Pacific at Colvalli. When entering the valley from the south, either from east or west, the visitor will find it most convenient to stay over at Cranbrook, a pleasant little city twenty-eight miles [45 km] west of Colvalli. A very delightful circle trip can be made by approaching the Columbia Valley from one direction and leaving it by the other. Travelling by the main line, one can stop at Banff, Lake Louise, or Field, in the higher altitudes of the Rocky Mountains, and by the south make connections with Lethbridge to the east or Nelson to the west. -The Lake District of British Columbia, 1919.

In the late 1960s the entire route between Fort Steele and Golden was rebuilt to main line standards with heavier rail, new bridges and other improvements to the right-of-way to permit the operation of modern unit coal trains from the Crowsnest Pass to the CPR main line at Golden. The line is approximately 142 miles (230 km) long. See Coal's Revival.

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