Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill (2009)

    Graeme Pole. The Spiral Tunnels and the Big Hill (2009) A nicely done compilation of text and photos covering the history of the Spiral Tunnels that carry the CPR up the Kicking Horse Pass. It begins with the original surveys that resulted in the terrible 4.2% grade over the Kicking Horse Pass and follows with the construction of the tunnels to bring the grade down to a manageable 2.2%. The information is comprehensive and interesting, with a lot of incidental human interest and juicy economic details. The construction of the CPR really was one of the engineering feats of the 1800s.In the 20th and 21st centuries, much larger works have been undertaken, so that the audacity of building that railroad across four mountain ranges is hardly appreciated. Pole’s narrative gives us a glimpse of the difficulties, which reminds us that while modern engineering works may be bigger, in proportion to the available resources the 19th century achieved much more.
     Pole repeatedly mentions what can still be seen from the highway and the trails, and adds a summary guide to the sights at the end, which makes this a handbook as well. The photo-reproduction varies, but is generally good, and there are a few too many typos. The maps don’t use standard  graphics, which makes them a little difficult to interpret. A fold-out map to a larger scale would be nice touch, but I suppose the costs of providing one were too high. Recommended. **½

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