Rocky Mountain Express

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Journey back to the age of steam, when colossal feats of engineering and epic risk-taking united a vast, rugged continent. Award-winning filmmaker and train enthusiast Stephen Low brings you aboard a steam locomotive to retrace the original route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Ride alongside deep river canyons and over high mountain passes — through some of the most beautiful and rugged landscapes on Earth — and discover the stories behind a railway that shaped a nation.

Photo © Stephen Low Productions

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Additional Background: Building a Transcontinental Railway

In 1870, a rail link from sea to sea was needed to make Canada a viable nation. ‚ÄČAn American link to the Pacific had just been completed in 1869, connecting Sacramento, California, with Omaha, Nebraska, and ultimately the eastern seaboard via multiple railroads. The Canadian venture, hundreds of miles to the north, would be different, a single sea-to-sea line traversing over 2,850 miles and a mountain landscape so rugged and impenetrable few adventurers had ever crossed it on foot.

The future of the railway and of the nation hinged on an improbable and impossibly steep route. The railway would be built simultaneously from the east and from the west beginning in 1880, with the converging lines meeting in the mountains. Tens of thousands labored to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway; ‚ÄČit was an effort that engaged British investors, Canadian government financing, American engineering know-how, and laborers from North America, China, and around the world.

The hammering of the Last Spike on November 7, 1885 deep in the mountains at Craigellachie, BC, signaled the completion of the railway. The line was a triumph uniting far-flung communities into a single dominion. While the railway would struggle to keep the route operating through the high mountain passes, the rail link would endure and with it, a growing young nation.

More about the Empress (Locomotive CPR 2816)

Locomotive 2816 is a class H1b Hudson-type locomotive built by Montreal Locomotive Works in December 1930. The 2816 worked with the top passenger trains of the 1930s between Winnipeg and Calgary and subsequently in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. After logging more than two million miles in active service, it made its final revenue run on May 26, 1960.

After a complete three-year rebuild, the resurrected locomotive re-entered active service in 2001 as the Empress, a roving ambassador for Canadian Pacific Railway. CPR Empress is now the only surviving H1b Hudson and one of only a handful of preserved and operating CPR steam locomotives in North America.

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