The construction of the railway went hand in hand with the development of coal mining in the Crowsnest Pass. Communities including Fernie, Michel, Hosmer, Coleman, Blairmore, Hillcrest and Frank developed around the mines and coke ovens that were established along the railway. In turn, the coal fueled the silver, lead, copper and zinc mining and smelting industries that were booming through the Kootenays and the Boundary District to the west in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

In many ways, the hard rock mining at Kimberley, in the Slocan, West Kootenay and Boundary District owed its prosperity to the development of the Crowsnest coal field and the railway which provided efficient transportation for the coal, coke and ores. Coal from the "Crow" was also burned in the steam locomotives used on the railways. The Great Northern Railway also built a branch line from northern Montana into the Crowsnest Pass to provide quick access to the coal fields.

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