Switching On: New book discusses the history of Tumbler’s Electrified Railway System

By Trent Ernst, Editor

For people who never visited Tumbler Ridge before the housing sale, the thought that the railway that gets the coal into and out of town could be something of note, of historical significance, is probably ridiculous. There’s nothing special about the Tumbler Ridge subdivision. 
And there isn’t. At least, not anymore. But when it was first built, the line was known far and wide as one of the most audacious bits of railway engineering in the province. 
You see, when it was built, the Tumbler Ridge subdivision was electrified. It was the only electrified rail system in the province, and the only 50 kw railroad in North America. 
The decision to run electric trains along the route came after construction had started on the line itself. Because the route would go through Canada’s second and fourth longest railway tunnels, there were only two real options: build a second set of parallel tunnels, weighing in at nearly four miles and over five and a half miles respectively, for ventilation, or go electric. They chose to go electric. 
P H Bridge was a professional engineer who worked for BC Rail. He recently wrote a book about the building of the Tumbler Ridge line. 
Well, calling it a book might be overselling it just a bit. Weighing in at 25 half-pages, plus eight pages of pictures, plus another 20 pages of technical information, this is more of a chap-book, or even a glorified pamphlet. 
The pamphlet motif is carried by the fact that it is merely 8.5X11 paper folded in half and stapled together. They didn’t even bother to trim the white border on the cover, which would have improved the appearance immensely. 
The interior suffers from its own issues, with different sections being formatted slightly differently, creating subtle but disconcerting shifts in the appearance of different paragraphs. 
Perhaps I am overly sensitive, having typeset a number of books. Because the important information here is the content, which, while thin, is interesting reading, if you’re into this sort of thing. As the author is an engineer, the things that grab his fancy are mostly technical. If you’re looking for the human story of what it was like to build an entire railway in 995 days, look elsewhere. But if you like to hear about cunning technical solutions to keep the masts that hold up the overhead wire from twisting and turning…well, look no further. 
The book was produced as a fundraiser for the Railway and Forestry Museum in Prince George, where the last of the seven locomotives used on the Tumbler Ridge Line still resides. However, the price seems steep for what it is. 
Someday, perhaps, someone shall write an epic story that captures the whole of the Tumbler Ridge subdivision but this is not it, though it is an interesting piece of the story.