Trainspotting – Field BC edition
Story and photos by Chris & Connie.
If you follow our adventures, you know the BIGDoer.com crew is always go-Go-GO! We’re always doing something! Every now and then we like to drop a few gears and slow right down and unwind, taking an hour or two break where we do nothing but relax, sip wine, talk, maybe read a book or daydream, and of course train spot.
One of the best places ever to watch passing freights is Field BC. The nearby Spiral Tunnels and the steep (by railways standards) Field Hill are a pinch point, all trains move very slowly here, and as a result often bunch up. As soon as one passes, another shows. It’s an endless parade.
Add to that the scenic wonder of the place, it’s simply stunning with towering mountains all around, and the fact there are good public viewing spots close to the tracks, and you can see why we like it so much. We often stop here to unwind on BC bound trips.
Our absolute favourite train spotting location in Field is on the steps of the old CPR telegraph building just as you enter town. This stone and brick structure has lots of nearby shade trees so it’s usually cool, there is a place to sit, the steps themselves, and a nearby parking lot and grassy area allow one to catch the action without trespassing on railway property. There are particularly good views of trains coming down off or heading up the hill to the east.
Hot shot double stack container trains, often times mixed with some auto carriers, seem to be the most common freights seen. In one we even saw a string of single stack cars, rare for the CPR, around here anyway. There is also a smattering of unit potash trains from Saskatchewan, lowly grain trains from across the prairies and some mixed consist manifests. Coal is not normally seen on this route. Rocky Mountain Rail Tours Trains are the only passenger movements since the early 1990s.
Given this is difficult territory, only the CPR’s newest and biggest motive power will be seen here. Expect an endless procession of GE model AC44000CW and ES44AC locomotives (the two types are very similar visually). Of the former we photographed #9823, #9652 and of the latter #8724, #8764, #9378, #8856, #8725. We saw others too that didn’t make it to this article plus some we simply neglected to write down the numbers to (we’re easily distracted).
The oldest of these is from the 1990s, the newest only a few years old. Most trains had mid and/or end train Distributed Power Units (DPU, simply remote controlled locomotives NOT at the head end), which help spread out pulling and braking forces better in hilly country such as this.
Some Union Pacific engines where seen too. Locomotives from other railways are not rare on the CPR and can be seen due to run-through agreement or some type of short or long term lease. The UP too also rosters a lot of GE locomotives (they are the largest firm of its type in the world). Numbers #5341 and #5511, both AC44AC types from the 2000s, where recorded.
You will not see older nor smaller locomotives here. The conditions are just too tough or challenging.
To the east of Field is the steepest section of track on the CPR mainline (2 percent and some change). The track heads up dramatically right after leaving town, snaking their way up the valley via the famous Spiral Tunnels (an engineering marvel) without any sort of break, before topping out just west of Lake Louise. As the crow flies it’s not many kilometres between those two points, but by train, due to all that meandering about, it’s much, much further,. Track speed is very low and it takes freights quite some time to negotiate this bottleneck. Slow up because it’s a hard pull, slow down, so they don’t get away from themselves.
Prior to the Spiral Tunnels, built about a century ago, trains had to negotiate an even steeper grade (aka the CPR’s “Big Hill”) which caused no end of operational problems.
At any one time, many trains can be negotiating Field Hill…ever…so…slowly. The grade west of Field in comparison is rather negligible.
Field is a crew change point so trains will stop briefly to make an exchange. There is a small yard to the west (it was much bigger in the old days), where some freights lay over.
Towering over our train watching spot, is Mt Stephen. It dominates the scene and other mountains around it seem almost modest in comparison. It can be climbed and has been many times, but is pretty hard core in nature.
A break in the trees allows us a narrow view of the Trans-Canada Highway across the Kicking Horse River. Between everything else, we keep an eye open for Bolers, but only catch a Lil’ Bigfoot clone. A fairly rare find, it’s still not a Boler.
Field BC is a picturesque and serene little mountain village founded when the railway came though in the 1880s. It’s home to a charming little restaurant, well known and regarded, which we’ll never be able to afford. We sometimes walk past it and dream…
Maybe I can get inside Truffle Pigs under the guise of writing an article on fine cooking. Hmm…
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2015.
Location: Field, BC.
This telegraph building is publicly accessible.
Article sources: Canadian Trackside Guide, CPR archives.