Great Northern's Crow's Nest Southern Railway

The Great Northern (GNR) was the major competitor for the Canadian Pacific in Southern British Columbia. The GNR was the completed across the northern plains and through the Northwest States to Seattle in 1893 under the guiding force of James J. Hill. Like the CPR it was in need of traffic to sustain its long transcontinental main line and looked to mining and agriculture as major sources of revenue. The GNR began acquiring and building branch lines that ran north into British Columbia's rich mining districts and came into keen competition with the Canadian Pacific. This competition drove both railways to build into several of the mining districts.

In the Crowsnest region, the Great Northern acquired the charter of the Crow's Nest Southern Railway in British Columbia and used this authority to build between the Crowsnest mining centres and the Montana border. To the south, the GNR used its subsidiary, the Montana and Great Northern, to build a line from its main line at Jennings, Montana, north to the border. The railway was an excellent one with few grades. Coal and coke were keys to industrial development and the GNR wanted the coal for use in its locomotives as well as to supply smelters and other industries in Montana, Idaho, Washington and British Columbia. The GNR branch line provided a direct outlet for coal from the Crow's Nest Pass Coal Company which, in the early 1900s, came under Great Northern control.

In 1904, the southern part of the railway was used for rerouting the main line of the GNR northwards through Rexford. By 1908, the GNR extended its tracks as far as Michel in the Crowsnest Pass. During the early mining boom years and through the First World War the Crow's Nest Southern was a very busy railway but traffic declined with closure of many mines and smelters. As well, the Great Northern began to convert its locomotives to burn coal for fuel and other sources of supply for coal were developed elsewhere along the Great Northern. In 1926, the GN abandoned its trackage between Elko and Michel and used Canadian Pacific trackage to reach Fernie. However, all service was abandoned in 1936 and the tracks were removed the next year. Highway No. 3—The Crowsnest Highway—now uses sections of the Great Northern right-of-way. In the railway's last years, passenger and express service was provided by gas-electric motor cars.

Proposals were developed in the 1960s to build a new railway over sections of the abandoned Great Northern between the GN main line in Montana and the Crowsnest Pass when new mining developments were being considered in the area. However, the idea was not politically acceptable in British Columbia and the coal was routed over the Canadian Pacific instead. The proposed railway was chartered as the Kootenay and Elk Railway in 1966.

This short section of track was built in 1978 over part of the old right-of-way of the Eastern British Columbia Railway from a junction on the Loop west of the Crowsnest Pass to the Byron Creek Collieries coal loading facilities. The 11 and one half mile (18.5 km) long line was built to modern standards to handle the high capacity coal cars used in unit coal trains.


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