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Canada inland port conference 2017 by Van Horne Institute

08 October 2017


Wednesday October 3rd StigΔ opened the 2017 Canada Inland Port Conference, organised by the Van Horne institute. Arènso Bakker is follow of the Van Horne instutute. Format of the opening was an interview by Coleen Shepperd of the Calgary Regional Partnership on inland port developments in an international context. After the interview the participants had the opportunity to interact.

Logistics and supply chains in Canada are different from other regions. About 90% of the Canadians (30 mln) live in a corridor from east to west near the US border. This makes logistics complex and connectivity is key. The two railway systems (CP and CN) play a mayor role in Canada logistics (together with the ports at the east and the west coast). Going from east to west and vice versa is impressive because of the distances and the presence of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier between east and west.

Canada is importing for local consumption and exporting ‘raw’ materials like forest products, oil and beef. Both import and export could become more important for the economy if value would be added. Regarding the development of inland ports StigΔ challenged the participants to choose the ambition level: transport-hub, value-hub or industrial-hub. So far Canada is mainly transport hub and should move forward.


In order to experience the importance of rail in Canada a trip to the Kicking Horse Pass was a good trip to digest the conference. The effort of Canada  to connect the several regions is ultimately visible at the border of Alberta and British Colombia. When British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, it was on the condition that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald would build a railway to link the province to the rest of the country. Building a railway across such a large continent was a major undertaking and one of the most serious obstacles was the Rocky Mountains. Several passes were considered for the route and despite its rugged terrain, Kicking Horse Pass was chosen because of its proximity to the US border and its shorter distance to the Pacific Coast.

In first instance trains had to go up the steep pass (Big Hill Grade), however this caused accidents and danger. Therefor the Spiral Tunnels were built and finalised in 1909. This is how its works:

An eastbound train leaving Field climbs a moderate hill, goes through two short, straight tunnels on Mt. Stephen, under the Trans-Canada Highway, across the Kicking Horse River and into the Lower Spiral Tunnel in Mt. Ogden. It spirals to the left up inside the mountain for 891 metres (0.6 miles) and emerges 15 metres (50 feet) higher. The train then crosses back over the Kicking Horse River, under the highway a second time and into the 991 metre (0.6 mile) tunnel in Cathedral Mountain. The train spirals to the right, emerging 17 metres (56 feet) higher and continues to the top of Kicking Horse Pass. (based on info of the Canadian Governement).

Going up to the spiral tunnels is a great adventure. Small pathways up the mountain and waiting for trains with a length of 4 KM in order to cross the railroad

The functioning of the upper spiral is visible in the movie. The train enters the tunnel in the tunnel located above the tunnel were the trains exits in the opposite direction.

The lower spiral is more exiting: if you look at the movie you see three trains going …. but actually it is one and the same train.

The construction of the spiral tunnels was a difficult job because of the rough scenery of the Rocky Mountains. The remains of an old Baldwin 2-6-0 still can be discovered in the forest near the entrance of the upper spiral tunnel.

Impressive: late 19 century locomotive Baldwin 2-6-0


Fallen aside and abandoned


Even the tender is still present