Passenger Trains (9 of 12)


Kootenay Express and Kettle Valley Express

For many years a daily passenger service ran over the Crowsnest Route in each direction between Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Vancouver, B.C. The westbound train was called the Kootenay Express (Train No. 11) and the eastbound was the Kettle Valley Express (Train No. 12). The two trains ran from Vancouver across southern British Columbia, crossed into Alberta via the Crowsnest Pass and connected with mainline passenger trains near Lethbridge. These trains provided coaches, sleeping cars, and, depending on the years of operation, parlour cars and dining or buffet cars.

The route was a long one—961 miles (1 546 km) between Vancouver and Lethbridge. Travel was slow and leisurely. In 1940, for example, the trains were scheduled to cover the winding, climbing and twisting route in about 38-40 hours. The Kootenay Express left Lethbridge at 5:50 pm heading west and arrived at Crowsnest at 2:00 am (Mountain Time). It left 10 minutes later at 1:10 am (Pacific Time), reached Cranbrook at 4:25 am. Passengers could enjoy breakfast on the train as it wound its way along the shore of Kootenay Lake before arriving at Nelson at 9:45. Between 1898 and 1930 passengers would have boarded a CPR steamer at Kootenay Landing and then spent three to four hours for the scenic voyage to Nelson where they would have boarded another train to continue on west.

From Nelson, the train continued west. Lunch time would find the train high in the mountains east of Christina Lake and it reached Grand Forks at 2:55 pm that afternoon. By dinner time, the train was climbing through the mountains and spectacular canyon country east of the Okanagan. With no unforeseen delays the train reached Penticton at 10:25 in the evening. On through the night, the train headed west, passing through Princeton at about 2:10 am to pick up or drop off any bleary-eyed passengers. In the early morning hours, the train crested the famed Coquihalla Pass and reached Hope at 6:34 am. Once on the mainline tracks across the Fraser River, the pace speeded up and the train rolled down through the Fraser Valley, arriving at Vancouver's waterfront station at 10:00 am.

Eastbound trains departed Vancouver at 8:05 pm and reached Lethbridge at 9:50 pm the next day, gaining an hour with the changing time zones at Crowsnest Pass. Daily connecting services operated between Calgary and Lethbridge. Moreover, at Yahk, west of Cranbrook, connections could be made via the Spokane International to Spokane and Portland.

The Kootenay Express and Kettle Valley Express were equipped with diesel locomotives in 1953 and these new engines helped reduce the operating costs of the trains. However, the decline in passenger travel was not reversed. The trains stopped carrying the mail in the fall of 1957 and service was reduced to twice-weekly between Nelson and Penticton.

Bombings by the Sons of Freedom sect of the Doukhobor community prompted the CPR to operate passenger trains only during daylight hours through the southern Interior and the through passenger service was discontinued.


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