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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The C.P.R.’s capacity and investment strategy in Rogers Pass, B.C., 1882-1916 Backler, Gary G.


CP Rail is currently confronted by a capacity problem on its main line in Rogers Pass, at the summit of the Selkirk Mountains. The single-track, steeply graded facility is inadequate for the forecasted demand for traffic flows in the westbound direction. The Company must decide whether to continue to operate over the present line, incurring high operating costs and escalating congestion costs, or whether to invest in an 8.9-mile tunnel which, by reducing the gradient against westbound traffic, will stem congestion and reduce the level of operating costs in future years. CP Rail must make a trade-off between construction costs and operating costs. The Company has made such a trade-off in Rogers Pass on at least two previous occasions. The first occasion was that prior to completion of the initial transcontinental rail link, when the decision was taken to breach the Selkirk Mountains by a surface crossing through Rogers Pass. The second occasion was that prior to the decision, taken in 1913, to abandon the surface alignment through Rogers Pass in favour of a five-mile tunnel beneath the summit of the Selkirks. This thesis identifies the factors which impelled the taking of trade-off decisions in each situation, allocates an appropriate weighting to the factors, and examines the criteria upon which the investment decisions were based. Previous historians of the C.P.R.'s operations in Rogers Pass emphasise the influence of avalanches upon the investment decisions taken. Many of these historians interpret the C.P.R.'s surface operations as an unremitting campaign to protect its traffic against snowslides, and they interpret the Company's decision to construct the Connaught Tunnel as an acknowledgement of defeat in the campaign. This thesis emphasises the economic and commercial aspects of the C.P.R.'s operations in Rogers Pass, and a quantitative approach towards the analysis is adopted. Part One of the thesis is concerned with the initial decision to construct the C.P.R. main line across the surface of the Selkirks through Rogers Pass. Part Two is concerned with the decision to abandon the surface alignment. Part One begins with an explanation of the engineering and economic problems of locating railway lines through mountainous terrain, and examines how these problems were handled by the C.P.R. in the specific circumstances of Rogers Pass. The expectations of the railway builders for construction and operation through the Pass are compared with the realities which were encountered. Analysis reveals that the gap between expectations and realities was not wide, and that the surface alignment adopted by the C.P.R. provided an adequate, economical solution to the problem of breaching the Selkirk Mountains by rail, at least until the turn of the 20th Century. Part Two begins with an analysis of the influence of avalanches in Rogers Pass upon the decision to relocate the main line underground. The analysis strongly suggests that neither the 1910 avalanche disaster in particular, nor the cost of protecting traffic from snowslides in general, were sufficient to justify investment in the Connaught Tunnel. An examination of the operating conditions, traffic growth and traffic forecasts through the Selkirk Mountains in the early years of the 20th Century reveals that the C.P.R. faced high operating costs and escalating congestion costs on the surface route by 1913. The Company had already invested in system improvements elsewhere in the mountains in order to reduce these costs. Confronted by the inadequacy of its existing facility for forecasted demand in Rogers Pass, the C.P.R. decided in 1913 to drive a double-track tunnel beneath the summit of the Selkirks, and to abandon the surface route. Analysis of the C.P.R.'s evaluations of alternative proposed tunnels confirms that the principal economic benefit of the project was the savings in train-haulage costs, and not the savings in the cost of avalanche defence.

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