About the Kettle Valley Railway

kvr locomotive

the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR)

  • The Kettle Valley Railway was built just after the turn of the century. It is one of the most remarkable sections of railway ever built in North America and stems from a desire to link the Kootenays in the eastern part of British Columbia with the Coast.
  • Conditions were treacherous for the construction crews. One of their greatest problems was an abundance of rattlesnakes who were blasted out of their homes in the rocks above Naramata.
  • Many of the retaining walls along the railway are mortar less. The largest steel girder bridge of its kind on North America spans trout creek in Summerland (619 feet long and 241 feet high).
  • Penticton was the centre of the line and provided a very important divisional point employing hundreds of workers at its peak. Produce of the valley was brought on barges, to be transported on the rails to the hungry markets of the west coast or the prairies.
  • There were two train stations in Penticton – one at the lake, where the sternwheelers and barges would meet the trains, and one at the south end of town. The train would enter Penticton from the south, back down to the lake, and then go south again to the station, where it would begin its ascent onto the benches in Summerland. A new station was built in South Penticton and opened in December 1941.
  • Connections were available by steam boat (Including the S.S. Sicamous and the S.S. Okanagan) between Penticton and Vernon, where passengers could connect with the Trans-Continental railway. The railway, together with the steamboats, were vital to the development of the Okanagan valley.
  • The railways were completed in July 1916. The route of the KVR was carved out of the most rugged sections of the mountains and was more that once called an impossible undertaking. The engineering genius of Andrew  McCulloch and the muscles of thousands of workmen allowed the rail to be laid and the region opened up to development.
  • The average speed of a passenger train was limited to 26 miles per hour. Snow often amounted to 500” in the Coquihalla Valley. Despite the appalling conditions, the line maintained one of the best records on the continent.
  • The Kettle Valley Railway never made money. The only year it operated in the black was in 1926 when there was a mild winter. Cooper Mountain reopened south of Princeton, and there was a need for automobiles to be shipped between Princeton and Hope. There was no road at this time. Construction costs of $20 million were never repaid.
  • The KVR was taken over by the CPR in 1930. Many bridges were changed to steel structures or filled in. Many portals were changed from wood to concrete. Heavier rails were laid at this time. Steam changed to Diesel in the 1950’s.
  • The rails have now been lifted and some of the roadbed has been turned into bicycle trails. The Othello Tunnels, part of the Coquihalla subdivision outside Hope, have been made into a linear park. Originally five tunnels were connected by two bridges which spanned the Coquihalla River. The subdivision had fifteen snow sheds, thirteen tunnels, and countless bridges and trestles.

Hiking and Biking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

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   The Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Map of the Full Kettle Valley Railway Route

From Hope to Midway, British ColumbiaFull Map of the Kettle Valley Railway Route - From Hope BC to Midway

Full KVR Map to Hand Out 2014_Page_7

The History of the Kettle Valley Railway

kvr locomotive

The Kettle Valley Railway

  • KVR was originally a subsidiary of CPR
  • Gave the CPR rail lines service to the South-West corner of BC
  • CPR took it over on December 31, 1930[1]
  • The construction of the KVR may have been spurred on by encroaching competition of the CNR who had finished surveying a rail line from Osoyoos, through Okanagan Falls, to Penticton.[2]
  • James J. Warren and Andrew McCulloch met with town council on June 21, 1910 to discuss KVR coming to Penticton[3]
  • Warren was the president of the KVR and McCulloch was responsible for the construction of the railroad.
  • Town council decided to pass a by-law to raise $25, 000 in order to give the KVR a section a lake-shore property that extended from the mouth of Penticton Creek to the foot of Martin Street. This would be the site of the wharf and depot.

Constructing the KVR

  • Work in the KVR began in June 1910.
  • McCulloch’s survey found there were 5 natural sections of terrain:[4]
  • Midway to Hydrolic Creek Summit -76 miles up-hill
  • Hydrolic Creek Summit to Penticton -58 miles down-hill
  • Penticton to Osprey Lake – 39 miles up hill
  • Osprey Lake to Cold Water Summit – 65 miles varied terrain
  • Cold Water Summit to Merritt – 30 miles downhill
  • Construction went from Midway westward and Merritt eastward[5]
  • The railway was completed in 1915 and the first train arrived on May 30, 1915.[6]
  • First service was a tri-weekly mixed train
  • Train would reach Penticton late in the afternoon and met a similar train from Midway
  • on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the train would head to Merritt and Midway
  • Was in full operation after WWI
  • KVR headquarters were in Penticton
  • Warren built his retirement home at 434 Lakeshore Dr.

[1]Ibid: 9.


[3]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 31. Bridget Trainor claims the first train left Midway on May 31, 1915 traveling westward.

[4]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 45.

[5]Bridget Trainor, “The Kettle Valley Railway: The Little Track That ‘did’,” West Life:The B.C. Magazine (July 1988): 8.

[6]MacDonald, 75 Years to Remember, 17.


The Kettle Valley Model Railway Club

The Kettle Valley Model Railway Club held its first meeting on March 20th 1988. It is dedicated to capturing the spirit and atmosphere of the KVR. Work on the layout began in the fall of 1989 and it was completed by December 1993.

The 46’ x 14’ layout is constructed in HO scale, on board the cargo deck of the S.S. Sicamous, now landlocked on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Most of the buildings were scratch built by members. The trestles, bridges and two boats and all the trees were handmade. There is approximately 500 feet pf track, and members have invested well over 6,000 hours in the construction.

Hiking and Biking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail

Click here to learn more:

The Kettle Valley Railway Trail