The portal at the west end of the CPR tunnel just west of the
downtown Cordova Street station, 1934.
Vancouver City Archives photo: A21787
The SkyTrain Tunnel
At midnight on July 16, 1933 all trains of the Canadian
Pacific Railwaywhich had been running at street level through
downtown Vancouver for decades, infuriating motoristscame
off the citys busy streets and switched to a new tunnel. The
railway would use the 1,396-metre-long (4,579 feet) tunnel for nearly
50 years. Today its used by SkyTrain.
The CPRs trains used to regularly tie up street traffic on
Alexander, Columbia, Cordova, Hastings, Pender and Carrall in getting
from the waterfront station to the railways False Creek yards.
Downtown traffic would come to a standstill as trains often blocked
all six streets simultaneously for up to 20 minutes. By the early
1930s a decision was made to build an alternate rail route to solve
the traffic problem. That alternate route included a tunnel under
what is downtown Vancouver today.
||Tunnel construction photo
taken November 16, 1931 by Leonard Frank. VPL photo (12419)
Construction on the tunnel began in January 1931 and was completed
in July 1933. Shaped roughly like an elongated S curve,
it started from the CPRs main line just west of the station
under Thurlow Street, up to Dunsmuir and along to Cambie where it
cut under Larwill Parknow a big parking lot at the southeast
corner of Dunsmuir and Cambieand came out near the western
abutment of the Georgia Viaduct. It was built by Northern Construction
Co. and J.W. Stewart, and cost $1.6 million.
The tunnel worms its way through the Vancouver underground from
18 to 24 metres below the surface, although in some placesDunsmuir
and Richards for oneits just six metres below you. Thats
why those of you working in that part of the downtown can sometimes
feel the SkyTrains rumbling by beneath.
Today's SkyTrain passengers, jammed onto rush hour trains, might
have a hard time believing that between 1955 and 1979 Canada's most
luxurious passenger train passed through this very tunnel twice
a day. It didn't carry passengers, though . . . only crew. Every
day The Canadianwith dome cars, dining car and sleeping
cars from Montreal and Torontowould arrive in the late morning
at CPR's Cordova Street station (called Waterfront Station since
1980). After passengers disembarked and luggage was removed, the
train would then continue west with just the crew . . . going into
the tunnel where it would slowly turn back toward the east, emerging
at the tunnel's east end. From there it would slowly trundle over
to the Drake Street yards to be cleaned, serviced and readied for
another trip back to the east. In the very early evening the empty
train would come back from the yards and head into the station,
ready again to receive eastbound passengers.
|Tunnel construction photo
taken November 16, 1931 by Leonard Frank. VPL photo (12416)
The chaps who built the tunnel did a good job. They started at
the Georgia Viaduct end and headed northwest. Someone pinned a red
handkerchief to the earth bank on the waterfront to show where the
edge of the tunnel should be when they emerged at that end. The
final series of blasts blew the handkerchief away, and the workmen
came blinking out into the sunshine to discover they were less than
the width of a hand off target.
Now automobile, streetcar and bus passengers could travel through
the area unimpeded. And so, wrote one reporter at the
time, thousands of workers had to think up a new lie to explain
why they were late in the morning.
By the end of 1982 the railways False Creek yards were empty.
The stage was set to use the tunnel for daily commuters. SkyTrain
groundbreaking was March 1, 1982. Single-tracked when the railway
used it, the tunnel was extensively rebuilt for SkyTrain service.
A concrete deck was built along most of its length to allow two
tracks to be placed one above the other. Major excavations reached
down to the tunnel's south side where Granville and Burrard station
platforms were later built.
The tunnel's eastern end was also rebuilt. A short new section
of tunnel was bored ending at the Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain Station.
The old portal, says transit buff Jim McGraw, is
to the south of where the SkyTrain comes out from under downtown
to Stadium-Chinatown Station. The original portal, which is near
Georgia, is now completely hidden by a new condo. You can't see
the other end either because Cordova has now been extended west
and new buildings now completely hide it from public view.
July 16, 2008 will mark the tunnels 75th birthday.
Our thanks to Jim McGraw for contributions to this
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