|The Railway Civil Engineer
J.E. Schwitzer and Ron M. Bailey
The Railway Civil Engineer - this category is represented by the late J.E.
Schwitzer, Canadian Pacific and CN retiree Ron M. Bailey of Edmonton.
Critical to the past, present, and future of the railway industry, individuals
performing the role of civil engineer on Canada's railway network have made
an incredible contribution to not only the industry but also to the nation
as a whole. Historical engineering works such as Canadian Pacific's famed
spiral tunnels and the Grand Trunk Pacific - now CN - transcontinental mainline
remain a legacy to the contribution of such individuals. Modern engineering
programs, such as those led by Mr. Bailey on behalf of CN during the 1980’s,
ensured continued capacity and efficiency fir railway companies dealing
with today’s burgeoning growth.
While the locomotive engineer remains for many the identifiable position
within Canada's railway industry, it is the railway civil engineer who
has been historically - and remains today - a key figure in designing,
maintaining, and maximizing network efficiencies.
The legacies of the railway civil engineer remain as important today as
they were nearly a century ago. Consider the legacy of John Edward
Schwitzer, for example.
in Ottawa in April 1870, Mr. Schwitzer entered the service of the Canadian
Pacific Railway in 1899. In only eight years at the railway, Mr.
Schwitzer rapidly rose through the ranks to the senior engineering post
on CPR's Western Lines. It was in this position that he was confronted
with two challenging tasks that would lead to spectacular engineering
The hectic construction pace of the 1880's and 1890's necessitated
the adoption of temporary routes where major engineering was involved.
On the CPR main line, by far the most difficult stretch of track to maintain
and operate was the four-mile section immediately west of the Great Divide
in what is now Yoho National Park, British Columbia.
At Stephen station, located at the summit of the Rockies, the main line
followed the Kicking Horse River westward down a 4.4 per cent grade -
more than double the maximum grade specified for main line operations.
Known as the "Big Hill" - this was an extremely difficult section
of line to operate and maintain. Since its construction in 1884
– operating managers at CPR had all agreed that it required elimination.
solution proposed by Schwitzer was based on the European example
of "spiral tunnels". Specifically, the line was doubled
back upon itself to create four new miles, allowing a more leisurely grade
than the "Big Hill" afforded. The new eight mile alignment,
upon which work began in 1907, followed a consistent grade of 2.2 per
cent. The net effect was to add capacity to the CPR main line, as
it not only doubled the capacity of contemporary locomotives in terms
of hauling power, but provided for safer and additional train operations
over this section of the line.
As completed, the Upper Tunnel under Mount Cathedral was 3,255 feet in
length carrying the track through 288 degrees of curvature and a difference
in level of 56 feet. The Lower Tunnel, under Mount Ogden, was 2,922
feet long, possessing 226 degrees of curvature and a vertical difference
of 50 feet. The now famous "Spiral Tunnels of the CPR"
saw their first traffic on September 1, 1909, and continue to be an integral
part of the CPR's transcontinental main line operation today.
Regrettably, Mr. Schwitzer died of complications from pneumonia three weeks
after this appointment. His name is commemorated by CPR at a railway
junction near Souris, Manitoba.
And while work on the Spiral Tunnels was underway, a massive three-mile
long Viaduct was being constructed some two hundred miles to the south-east
at Lethbridge, Alberta. This project, also led by Schwitzer, was
designed to eliminate a long climb down into the valley of the Oldman
River that had been incorporated into the original "Crowsnest Line"
constructed in 1897. Supported by 33 steel towers resting on concrete
pedestals, this spectacular structure is 314 feet high and 5,328 feet
in length making it Canada's highest railway bridge.
Opened for service three months after the Spiral Tunnels in November 1909,
this structure continues to accommodate CPR's modern coal unit trains,
and general merchandise freight trains today. These two major projects,
together with other less spectacular but equally important projects earned
Schwitzer advancement to the post of system Chief Engineer in January
Ron M. Bailey
The Canadian railway industry can look back with pride at the legacies
of civil engineers who had the vision and foresight to ensure that the
capacity of the Canadian railway system was upgraded in the 1980's, allowing
continued growth of Canada's economy, and ensuring the modern-day success
of the industry. While these accomplishments were not as spectacular or
publicized as the Spiral Tunnels, they were certainly of equal economic
importance In western Canada, it was engineering leaders like R.M. (Ron)
Bailey, who exemplified this effort.
Born the son of a Canadian Northern Railway locomotive engineer, Mr.Bailey
began his railway career on the Canadian National in 1946 as part of a
survey party at Maryfield, Saskatchewan. Mr. Bailey would spend his summers
away from University on chain gangs throughout western Canada, living
in bunk cars and learning the profession.
As a railroader working for Major J.L. Charles - an infamous Chief Engineer
on the CNR system - vacation time during the busy construction season
was rare - including time off for such occasions as weddings! The result
of these edicts was Ron and his new bride Marion were married in Jasper
in May of 1951. The honeymoon cottage was an outfit car on CN's BC north
line at New Hazelton, B.C.
Serving in engineering postings throughout the prairies, it was as Chief
Engineer of CN's Mountain Region in the 1970's and early 1980's that Mr.
Bailey's legacy was created. The burgeoning growth of coal, sulphur, grain,
and potash traffic challenged the CNR to research and implement new technologies
in a bid to effectively handle high volumes of heavy bulk products designed
to move in unit trains.
With Mr. Bailey directing the engineering efforts, CN's Mountain Region
was at the forefront in developing the infrastructure required to handle
these volumes. Concrete ties - the first such installation on a main line
in Canada, the installation of new centralized traffic control technology,
double-tracking, and the de-bottlenecking of the Edson/Albreda Subdivisions
west of Edmonton, and the Yale/Ashcroft Subdivisions in the Fraser Canyon
were all part of a massive project to increase the capacity of the railway.
As a result of unit train operations, rail and wheel wear on cars emerged
as a serious problem in the late 1970's, particularly on curves. "We began
to notice extreme deterioration of rail, to the extent that our standard
rail service life was reduced to about three or four years from around
10," recalls Mr. Bailey. As a result, self-steering trucks were added
to the railway's coal fleet, heavy-duty alloy steel was placed on curves
and high volume areas, and new maintenance technologies such as rail grinding
to reduce corregation, and rail lubrication to reduce rolling resistance
Today, the CN system continues to benefit from this foresight and from
these capacity upgrades in western Canada.
Following Mr. Bailey's retirement in 1984, CN honoured his service with
the naming of a centralized traffic control point on its Wainwright Subdivision
main line just east of Edmonton. "Bailey" station sees a parade of transcontinental
and local trains each day, commemorating the contribution of Mr. Bailey
to CN's success.