Railway Construction

Building a railway into the remote mountains of southern Alberta and British Columbia in the late 1890s was a major undertaking. The territory was rugged, the climate, particularly during the winter months, was severe and the obstacles were many.

Railway construction began with surveyors determining the route and working out the detailed location of the right-of-way, bridges, rock cuts, tunnels and other major features of the railway. Usually a rough wagon road or tote road was built along the route of the railway so that materials and supplies could be moved in for the construction crews. Along the right-of-way, the trees and underbrush were cleared and then the actual road bed was graded and constructed. Next, the ties were laid in place, rails were spiked down and then ballast, usually "pit-run" unscreened sand and gravel, was placed around the ties and the track was leveled and finished. Bridges, tunnels and retaining walls were built as required. Trestles were often prefabricated at convenient sites and moved to the depressions, rivers and stream crossings and other places they were required. Nearly all work was done by labourers working with hand tools. In the 1890s, there was little in the way of mechanized equipment available to the construction crews.

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